2015 Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon Race Recap

Race summary:  Point-to-point race (starting just outside of Napa and finishing in the heart of Sonoma).  Course is mostly flat running on country roads through various vineyards and wineries.  Decent on-course support with water stations every few miles.  Spectators were scattered throughout the course though not as much support as you’d get at bigger races (such as Rock’n’Roll races in the bigger cities).

In a YOLO moment, my friend KT and I decided to try to sign up for the 2015 Napa to Sonoma half.  This race fills up every year usually within an hour of registration opening.  It also tops many race lists for must do race or races to travel for.  Since I live not too far from Napa, I figured it’d be worth it to see if we could register.

Luckily I was off work the day that registration was to open.  KT, however, was not.  She gave me her info so that I could try to sign us both up for the race.  As I anticipated, the registration web site was very slow and sluggish.  I managed to get myself registered within the first 15 minutes.  However the site became super congested and I could not get KT registered.  I even tried using my cell phone to see if I could get on that way.  Somehow I did manage to register her about 45 minutes after registration opened.  I believe the race filled up by about 1-1.5 hours.

The race weekend coincided with celebrating my MIL’s birthday so we were to make a weekend of Napa.  This was my first time staying at a B&B.  I must say that I was quite impressed with it.  We stayed at the Beazley House, which is the oldest B&B in Napa.

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Beazley House

They had fresh homemade chocolate cookies all the time (yum!).  At checkout, they also provide you with their cookie recipe because it has been requested by so many patrons.

As this was my second race after my strange knee issue (see NVM 2015), I was running this for fun and didn’t have any specific time goals.  This worked out because since we were having a celebratory weekend, I knew that I’d be eating/drinking in a way not conducive to running.  Two nights before the race, we ate at Solbar at Solage Calistoga, which is Michelin starred restaurant.  I must say it was a tasty meal.  The night before the race I wanted to semi-carb load and we ate at Oenotri.  This was my 2nd visit to Oenotri and I was very pleased with it – homemade pastas with in-house made charcuterie.  While I only had 2 cocktails, I knew this may affect my race.

Packet pickup: Hanna Boys Center.  My biggest complaint with this race was the packet pickup.  They chose a location that could not handle the traffic – parking was a nightmare.  They then had everyone lined up (~10 rows) in a small gym so you couldn’t even tell which line you needed to get in.  The lines weren’t clearly marked with the bib number ranges (they previously had emailed you your bib number).  I was able to pick up my bib within about 5 minutes.  However, I was picking up KT’s bib number and waited in line for about 45 minutes to get hers.  There were various vendor booths and nothing too special.

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They did have interesting race bibs I must say.  Thus far all previous bibs I’ve had are either rectangular or square

Race morning I ran through my usual routine and was dropped off at the race start (Cuvaison Carneros Winery).  They had a decent amount of porta-potties at this location and it was a nice setting for a race start.

 

I felt fine at the initial outset except the very beginning starts with an uphill about 1/4-1/2 mile.  This really drained me and I started feeling the effects of having some drinks the night before.  After only making it about 3-4 miles into the race, I told KT that I would need to slow it down and for her to go on without me.  This was going to be a long day.  The weather (middle of summer) started to warm up.  We ran through mostly vineyards and other rural/farm type lands.  It wasn’t the most scenic race.  There were scattered populations of spectators.  I just kept telling myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  The last few miles brought us into Sonoma and then we finished at Sonoma Plaza.

The post-race is what makes this race.  As part of the finishing amenities, each runner receives a wine glass.  There are numerous (~30+?) wineries with tables set up and pouring free tastings (most places had one red and one white) and you could enjoy as much as you’d like.  This was a little strange because it was still well before noon and here you are sipping on wines.  Since I was dehydrated and wiped from this race, I only sampled from 3-4 different wineries.  Some tables also had some snacks such as cheese (and who doesn’t love some cheese!).  The medal also was fairly neat in that it was multi-functional (wine stopper, wine corkscrew, bottle opener.

Finish time: 2:24:26

This was my 2nd slowest half-marathon, only faster than the very first half that I ran in 2010 when I had some setbacks (shin splints, knee pain).  Overall can’t complain since I had done some serious celebrating prior to this race.

It was a fun experience though I don’t know that I’d run this race again since it has been the costliest half-marathon race I’ve done.  But I can mark it off my list!

-StewsCat

 

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2015 Napa Valley Marathon Race Recap

My 3rd attempt at the marathon distance I knew was not going to go well.

Race summary:  Point-to-point race, beautiful scenery though some people complain that it is all the same (lots and lots of wineries).  Rolling hills for the first half of the race, a few small hills towards the latter part of the race.  Spectators are sparse and scattered to certain intersections (you run on the same road for most of the race and there isn’t a way for spectators to get to the side of the road).  Weather during this time of year is usually good (March 1, 2015) – this year’s race started at a good temp but was hot by the end.  Good swag – duffel bag, long sleeve tech shirt, medal, food at the end, shuttle to the start line.

About 1 month before the race, I went out for an easy 3 mile run (I actually elected not to run a 13.1 race/training run because of heavy rain).  About 1/2 mile into my easy run, I felt a strange pain the lateral aspect of my right knee.  I figured it would work itself out as I warmed up and continued and finished my run.  Later that evening, my knee continued with an aching pain.  In the past, I’ve had knee pain during runs but they usually subsided during regular daily activities and walking.  Over the next week small amounts of knee pain would crop up during daily activity.  The following week I stepped out to see how the knee was doing.  I made it less than 1/4 mile and the pain resumed.  With my history of small aches and pains, I had in the past been able to run through knee discomfort.  This pain was different and would make it impossible to continue running and make walking hard as well.  I decided to take as much time off as I thought it would take for my knee to recover.  Luckily I had already completed my 20 mile long run the week before my injury.

Speaking with my running buddy in OH, she mentioned that she had knee pain and used KT tape for her first marathon.  A week before the NVM 2015, I purchased some KT tape, watched the video on how to apply it for knees and went on a run.  I made it 3 miles with minimal to no pain.  That run convinced me that I should still attempt to do the race even though I know my fitness had dropped from not having run the previous 3 weeks.

The Expo was held at the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa.  Packet pickup was very smooth.  There was a small room with vendors and tables for some other races.  NVM is known for their duffels that each runner receives with their registration.  This year they were celebrating the 1976 Olympic marathon team (Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Don Kardong) – hence the following duffel:

NVM also provided a long sleeve tech shirt (again with the 1976 Olympic theme):

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I think they went a little overboard with the Red, White, and Blue theme.  Previous year’s duffels were a nice looking purple and grey that I would have no problem using for short trips.  I haven’t traveled much with the above duffel because it is a bit…something.

The race

The race starts in Calistoga and winds its way through the historic Silverado Trail to the city of Napa.  The finish line was at Vintage High School.  Since this was a point-to-point race, they offered parking at the high school with a bus (actual school buses, made me feel like I was back in middle school) from the finish line to the start.  It took almost an hour to make the 26 mile drive and by then my bladder was about to burst.  When we arrived at the start, the buses parked on a side-street and no one knew where the actual start was (they had yet to set up the below start line when we arrived:

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Nobody knew where the porta-potties were either.  The race start was located in front of the Solage Calistoga (a resort hotel).  Many people contemplated relieving themselves in the shrubbery of this resort but there were signs warning us not to do this.  Eventually someone with NVM pointed out that the porta-potties were about 1/8 mile north of where we were all standing.  Because of the early start time, the sun had yet to rise and no one could see them.  Just my luck, the porta-potties still had their zip tie locks on them.  Luckily there was one runner who had some nail clippers that kindly went down the line and popped the zip ties.  During this time, they erected the above start line inflatable and we were getting ready.  This was the 2nd marathon that I’d be running with my good friend KT.  I’ve been lucky the previous few years to have her living relatively close because we run with similar paces.  I told her that depending on how my knee held up, she may have to go on without me.  Temperatures started out in the 40s and were to warm up into the 70s by the end.

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Just prior to the start

With my knee taped up, we were off.  I’d been training with two different Saucony Guide shoes.  Most of my prior races had been run in various Saucony shoes.  I think part of why I did suffer an injury though was because I had been alternating 2 Saucony Guide shoes and therefore they were using the same muscles.  (Since this race, I started rotating between 3 shoes that are all very different).  This race remains on paved roads and starts with rolling hills for the first many miles.  My right knee felt good and we were keeping our usual pace.  There were many views of various wineries and the hills in the background.

Around mile 13, I started to note my right knee giving me a small protest.  As we continued between mile 13 and 14, I told KT to go on ahead as I needed to take a walking break.  This is where the wheels fell off my race.  I had made it to the halfway point around 2:22:18.  After walking for about a mile, I attempted to start jogging/running again.  However, my right knee yelled at me that it wasn’t going to cooperate.  So then I was relegated to a brisk walk (luckily my knee was okay with this).  I started to play a game in my head as to how fast I needed to walk to make the race cut-off (6 hours).  Through miles 14-25, I would attempt to run.  Each time either my right knee would say “NO” or my left calf would cramp.  My mind told me that since I hadn’t been running for 1 month prior to this, my body was not ready to tackle this distance and length of exercise.  I resigned myself to walking.  The highlight of the race is that around the 20 mile mark (I may be wayyy off as the sun had put me in a heat-induced daze and I was parched), there’s a B&B that hands out home-made sorbet.  Luckily even with my slow pace, they still had plenty as I passed.  I had 2 different flavors and they were fantastic.

The last few miles of the race are through residential neighborhoods in Napa.  I continued my walk and received dirty/disappointed looks from the photographers who were surprised I didn’t even attempt to jog/run as I passed them.  I didn’t care what they thought, I just wanted to be done.  Finally I came to the last 0.2 miles and KT was there, she encouraged me to run it in and I managed to run the last 200 yards to the finish.

The finish line amenities did include showers (in the school gym), massages (did not partake), and hot soup and some other snacks.  I had some soup and water and then parted ways with KT.

My official finish time was a disappointing: 5:43:32.  This race and result made me want to do another full marathon to show I can improve on my time.

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The center of the medal spins.  The medal again celebrates the 1976 Olympic team.

I most likely would not run this race again mostly because if I were to do another full, I’d want to make it unique.  The lack of crowd support and somewhat monotonous scenery don’t give me enough incentive to do the race again. But I am glad that I did the race.

-StewsCat