Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

The 2014 Napa Valley Marathon was my 8th (maybe 9th) marathon to complete, but it also represented a few firsts for me.  This training cycle was the first time I have trained for a marathon WITHOUT a time goal in mind.  My goal was just to finish. I approached this training and race with a very relaxed mindset, and saw it as more of an opportunity to run with friends and take an amazing trip with my wife. Mission accomplished!

The Holland House: Gilbert's Gazelles
Part of my training group from Gilbert's Gazelles

Pre-race (Saturday):
This was the first marathon Amy had the opportunity to be a part of with me.  By all accounts she probably thought I was a nervous, uptight wreck but indeed I was not.  The morning before the race we do an Aussie Carb Load routine. I will spare our readers the details but it entails eating an obscene amount of carbs.  This year I had decided to dial it back.  As a point of comparison, in previous marathons I had consumed 700 grams of carbs before the race.  In Napa, I managed to top my tank at approximately 450 grams of carbs.  Although considerably less, it still left me feeling a little less than ideal.  

The Holland House: Track Workout
Track workout before the Aussie carb load

After the Aussie Carb Load workout and subsequent “Carb Fest”, we decided to drive the race course since none of us had any experience with running this race route.  This was another first for me.  I typically like the surprises along the course (oh look at that beautiful river!) but I felt it may be beneficial to our pace group if at least one of us knew where we were going the next day.  It was a beautiful drive containing slight ups and downs (uh yeah-right) and gentle curves (sure Hank).  After the drive it was time to head back to headquarters, the house we rented, and spend the rest of the day relaxing-and eating more carbs.  On an aside, it was roughly at 2pm that I decided I may never be able to drink water again.  Of course, I immediately went and refilled my glass.

Race Day (Sunday):
What a glorious day to go for a long run!  The weather was perfect (temps in the 40’s and overcast) so I was excited about the possibility of all the PR’s that would be had by my running friends.  Our pace group (which consisted of 5-6 fellow Gazelles) had all trained together very consistently.  So naturally I quickly adopted their goals as my own for their race.  The “team” settled on a goal of 3:18 for the race and we would follow the MARCO method.  This consists of dividing the race into 4 segments and essentially running negative splits.  We had agreed to the following goals: miles 1-2 at a 7:45 pace, miles 3-9 at a 7:37 pace, miles 10-18 at a 7:32 pace and finally closing at a 7:27 pace.  This conversation dominated the loooong bus ride to the start which almost distracted me from the fact that I had to pee, very very badly.  

The Holland House: Napa Valley Marathon Starting Line

The start line was awesome!  The race was small, only 2500 runners, so we were able to just hang out at the start without much restriction.  At 7am, the gun went off and away we went!  Becky, Mike, Craig, Elizabeth and I quickly settled into our plan.  There was not a great deal of crowd support so it was key that we stayed together as long as possible.  Mike was communicating our pace every mile while I directed the team on how to best run the curves so we didn't run a REALLY LONG race.  We caught the attention of several other runners around us who asked if we were an official pace group.  We quickly had a large following of runners.

The landscape was gorgeous and weather was perfect so Becky and I decided to push the pace around mile 10.  I felt we were behind schedule as a result of the not-so-gentle curves.  At a few points, I do believe Becky was cursing me about the hills that I had proclaimed to be “not bad at all”.  I had lied.  We hit the half mark at 1:40 and were right on schedule.  I like to be a little early than late, so we decided to push the pace some more.  At this point we were already running 7:25 pace.   I figured at this rate we would come in around 3:16-3:18 which would accomplish Becky’s goal.  Around mile 16, we had lost most of our pace group but picked up two guys from San Francisco who were running their first marathons.  My hardest miles were ahead, 18 to 26.2.

The Holland House: Napa Valley Marathon
Mile 16

Yep, there it is at mile 18.  It is called doubt (and leg cramps).  At this point my quads were extremely tight but I thought I could just push through the pain for 8 more miles.  I can do anything for 8 miles!  Then the hill at 20 hit me.  It was a long gradual climb but the worst part for my aching quads was the long gradual decline.  At mile 22(ish) I decided to let Becky and my new friends go.  Today was not my day and I just wanted to enjoy the day and finish with a smile.  From mile 23 on, everyone seemed to be passing me like I was standing still.  At one point my entire right leg cramped so badly that my foot was turned in an unnatural direction.  All I could think of was get to the finish because Amy is there and probably is worried about me now since most of my friends have finished. I managed to put on a smile and hobble through the finish line.  My time?  A pretty respectable 3:30 considering there was some stopping and walking.

The Holland House: Gilbert's Gazelles Finishers
Gilbert's Gazelles enjoying some much deserved wine

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this race to anyone considering. The goodie bags were incredible and you cannot beat running down the Silverado Trail.  Although I did not have a PR, it was extremely satisfying to share this entire experience with Amy every step of the way.  

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