Ran the fabulous Napa Valley Marathon today. It is fabulous for three reasons: the course (rolling), the organizers (very well done), the location (one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions). In addition, my running club was out in force today, which meant I ran into friends (pun intended) from start to finish. I highly recommend this race. I put it in my top 5 marathon list, somewhere after Boston and London, but in close proximity to Big Sur and Prague.
The course is a net down, but you can’t really tell. It is the easy rolling hills that make it nice. They are consistent from the start to about mile 20. None are too steep in either direction, just enough so that you switch gears off and on, keeping things interesting and your legs fresh.
The event is extremely well organized. Everything from the website, to the race day instruction email, expo, shuttles, aid stations, post race showers / food / massages, medical, drop bags, etc. are top notch. It is as efficiently run as any event I have ever done. Schwag isn’t really important to me any more, but even so I was impressed with the duffle bags and very cool medals.
As you run from one beautiful vineyard to the next you can’t help but get a little swept up by the realization that you are running in the world famous Napa Valley. It is often easy to take Napa for granted when you live in the Bay Area, but today was not one of those days. Napa Valley is a trip of a life time for people around the world and here we are running right through it.
Today’s event was a training run for my upcoming 100K, so my only goal was to run smart. I can’t afford any recovery days this week. I knew my friend Craig, who is also running the 100K, was in the pack somewhere so I spent the first four miles trying to find him. During that time I found friends Kathy, Kim, Raina and Allison. I hung with them for a mile and then scuttled off. A mile or so later I spotted a red pony tail tossing side-to-side and I knew it was Andrea, running with another club member, Dennis. I hung with them for about a half mile and when they mentioned Craig had passed ten minutes earlier, I took off. Along the way I saw Stacey and Allan. Stacey was trying to qualify for Boston and Allan was pacing her. Allan does a terrific job coaching and helping club runners meet their goals, whether they want to break a 10K personal record or run a marathon. He also is a dedicated volunteer and race director.
Finally, at around mile 4, I spotted a crazy dude running in a kilt. Ahhhh…. there is Craig!
Craig and I had a wonderful time. We chatted for 20 miles. I know we must have driven some runners crazy with all our yammering, but I also know others enjoyed it. I would catch someone laughing at one of our stories or they’d chime in from time to time. Because Craig was wearing a kilt, he attracted a lot of attention and that was great fun. The cheers of, “Go Kilt,” kept us smiling. Before we knew it we were halfway done at about 1:55. Although we both were targeting 4:15 for our training run, we knew we were on course to hit four hours. I have an unspoken goal in all my marathons to run an even split. I have only done it really well once, at Boston in 2010. I knew I risked jinxing it, but I said to Craig, “I think we can run an even split if we keep this pace.”
We continued just chugging along easily. A few more stories, a few reenactments of our favorite sitcom, “Modern Family,” another GU, some more aid stations, and we were suddenly at mile 20…21…22…23… and feeling solid. We knew we had a sub-4:00. I for one was feeling pretty proud of us. We hadn’t worried about our pace, we just didn’t want to push it. We ran comfortably and it was working.
Around mile 23 we caught up to Greg from our club. He was walking so we helped him rally. Greg said something that all marathoners can understand, “Mile 20 really kicked me.” He stuck with us for about a mile and then had to walk. He ended up just four minutes behind me, finishing a great race and marathon PR.
Craig started to slow down at this point but I was feeling fresh so I kept on going, finishing strong at 3:53. It was a perfectly even split, a perfectly run marathon.
A couple notes for folks who have never run Napa before. I highly recommend you stay in Calistoga. I like it much better than Napa. It’s smaller yet livelier, and I was able to walk to the start line. In fact, I wasn’t even out of bed when the shuttles were leaving from Napa to the Calistoga start. My husband and I were in a nice little bungalow with a kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and bath. It was no more expensive than a local B&B. Also, don’t forget soap, shampoo, towel and hair drier. After the race you can shower in the high school gym. It’s a great treat, but I forgot a towel and hair drier.
I rarely repeat events, but this one will be on my “do again” list, probably the next time I try to qualify for Boston.