Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mission Accomplished: Calistoga to Napa, 26.2 miles

Well, I finally did it: the Napa Valley Marathon, a year later than planned, definitely much more slowly, but with a wonderful running companion by my side the whole way and a pleasantly strong finish. Because I'm tired and writing this only for some closure, here's the brief version:
  • Grumbling knees during training made me very nervous about completing the course within the 6-hour limit. My longest training run was just under 20 miles and my pace snail-like. My goal became simply to finish.
  • The weather was pretty stinky - but after all, what kind of idiot signs up for a March marathon? :)
  • The rest of the pack hared off like they'd heard there would be free wine at the finish. (Was there? Did we miss it?)
  • We set out slowly and for several miles were in the rather depressing position of third-from-last. But we did overtake a fair few folk after mile 22 :)

  • The only scary part was when my knee squawked suddenly and very loudly at mile 18. Yikes, 8 miles still to go. I fed it 2 Tylenol, walked for a bit and made a deal: if it settled down and allowed me to continue, I'd never ask it to go this far again. We reached a truce, the jogging re-commenced, amazingly pain-free.
  • By mile 20 I figured out I had a 'budget' for 15 minutes per mile and would still be within the time limit. This gave me enormous confidence, and we started to overtake a few folk who had started out perhaps a bit fast. Far from hitting the wall, I realized I was plenty strong enough to finish and sped up a little for each remaining mile.
  • We crossed the line in 5 hours 36. More importantly, our marriage had also stayed strong, with no cross words or insults traded!
  • I was the very lucky and surprised recipient of a Wholefoods gift basket as a result of a random drawing during the awards ceremony. Hubby kindly carried it for me, and reported lots of respectful looks from people who presumably thought he'd won the race :)
  • The distance was far, far easier than I'd anticipated, probably because my pace didn't drain my glycogen reserves. The training (both the time commitment and fatigue after long runs) were the truly hard part for me. That, and the deal I made with my knees, mean no more marathons for me. But I'd love to do some more halves and the Skirt Chaser sounds like a whole lot of fun! I'm switching now to shorter and hopefully faster distances.

Tips & thoughts for slow/first-time runners considering signing up for Napa:
  • This is a small marathon with lots of thoughtful touches and great volunteers.
  • If your pace is likely to be under about 4.5 hours, or you have a running buddy, I reckon it's a nice one to do.
  • But if you're on your own and slower, it's likely to be a long and lonely slog at the back of a thinly spread pack: I would have struggled hugely without hubby to chat to.
  • If you're slow, bring your own Gu: this was supposed to be available at two aid stations but the first had run out.
  • Also if you're slow, be aware of somewhat inconsiderate traffic which won't hesitate to share the road with you, especially during the first half :(
  • Plan for rain and if you get better weather, that's a bonus. In any case, you'll be able to wait on the warm, dry bus until shortly before the start.
  • Much has been written about the unkind camber of the road - in fact I didn't find this a particular problem. However, if you're slow, you'll probably have to run in the bike lane anyway, to steer clear of the cars.
  • It's not an ideal course for supporters, but definitely possible at strategic points.
  • Worst case, there is a sag bus to pick you up and get you home.
  • Finishing facilities are great and indoors, with proper restrooms, showers, and food.
Many thanks to:
  • The NVM organizers, especially for deferring my entry from 2010 to 2011 and allowing hubby to do likewise, so we could still run together.
  • The hundreds of wonderful volunteers who worked in the rain and cheered us on.
  • Oak Knoll Inn for their unofficial aid station featuring home-made sorbets!


  1. Well done, Pauline! I'm so impressed that you not only finished but were able to speed up in the latter miles. That demonstrates that you had your strategy planned just right and you must have done sufficient training (or just be young and fit) or you wouldn't describe it as positively, I don't think. Half-marathons are much more fun, I promise!

  2. I’m sitting here planning out my weekly menu and searching through my favorite blogs for ideas and I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for your blog and your wonderful dishes. This black-eyed peas dish looks so amazing. It’s quick with just a few ingredients. I love it.

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  4. i live in napa. GO NAPA!!!!! good bye


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