Race Recap: Napa Valley Marathon

13 Mar


It only took me 10 days to have ample time to process this race, download the pictures, and sit down to type….

In so many ways, the marathon was amazing.  So the fact that I feel a little disappointed by it (it was 2 minutes slower than my Philadelphia marathon when it should have been 10-20 minutes faster based on my long training runs) makes me feel selfish.

Everyone keeps saying “But you ran a marathon.  Isn’t that enough? Most people can’t even do that.”

It is enough. I do not, for an instant, feel that I did poorly.  Or that my friends and family care how fast I run.  They love me regardless of my silly marathon times. Still, I got teary-eyed at the end of the marathon and I don’t think it had to do with being finished. It had to do with disappointment.

Because it is also not enough.  Spending 4-6 months training for something: acing your practice runs and your fueling plan and your mental toughness and then still falling short of the goals you had set for yourself (even a second faster than Philly would have still been improvement…) is discouraging.

It’s also life.  Particularly when it comes to racing.

Because the truth is: you cannot compare marathon times on different courses with different weather. A relatively flat November marathon on the East Coast where the entire course is filled with cheering spectators and pacers are provided cannot be compared with a rolling hill course in March on the West Coast with banked roads and sparse spectators and no pacers or even timing clocks.

And the truth is that other runners understand this.  I was nervous about telling one of my friends about the race. I didn’t want to sound as if I was making excuses for my performance but I also wanted to be honest in that there were some adverse circumstances.  His response: “It sounds like you prepared well for it which is really all you can do. I learned early on that a lot of race day is luck and outside of one’s control. Road conditions (running on slanted roads sucks) and weather are outside of your control. Your ideas for improvement seem reasonable and logical. I think that having a pace team would have helped a lot. You’re doing what you need to do to get better. Reflect on your race, make adjustments, and try again. You’ll get there.”

That is reality. A lot of race day is luck and outside of one’s control.

But this post isn’t all negative.  I made a list in my journal of all the positives that I experienced and contributed to such a wonderful day:

  • Ease of logistics (from the race expo being at my hotel to the buses that picked us up at 5 AM, to the portapotty line being 3 people deep – thanks to a race of 2600 and not 30,000, everyone friendly and cheery
  • Running without headphones, while challenging for many, is the only way I’ve run marathons so I felt prepared and it made everyone so chatty, like a community (more on this in my next post)
  • My half marathon split time (the only time I know besides my finish time) was excellent.  I paced myself well during 13.1 miles of banked roads and rolling windy hills
  • My IT band was fine. I got my first ever blister but even that didn’t really affect me.
  • My fueling strategy worked until mile 22 when I couldn’t handle any more.  Yes, it wasn’t a perfect fueling day but it was far better than my last marathon, slightly better than most of my training runs, and I forced myself to stay on schedule even when I felt nauseous.
  • The scenery. Oh, the scenery. In case I never get to run in Italy, now I know what it will be like.  It was amazing, breath-taking, mostly gorgeous (minus the last mile in a cul-de-sac type neighborhood, but really, by the last mile no one even notices scenery anymore).
  • I had enough energy to sprint the last mile.  I passed a lot of people, no one passed me.  On one hand, this means I didn’t push myself hard enough during the rest of the race. On the other hand, I had probably already sabotaged my race by being nervous that I would injure myself/be sore/be exhausted and miss out on the rest of my birthday and our travel plans in San Francisco.  I was cautious.  And I’ll never know if that was the right choice but I do know that I was not sore at all, was happy to walk around all that day and all the next day.  Any complaints about my quads were limited (as far as I recall, check with my family to confirm this) to climbing the stairs on Lombard St.  And I probably would have complained even if I hadn’t run 26.2 the day before.
  • I had amazing family there to cheer me on!  It makes me cry just to think about how much more fun it is running a race when you know your Mom and sisters are in the crowd somewhere.  Some people have no one screaming their name, some people have 1 person. I was always envious of people who had huge crowds of friends and family.  In a race this size, my 3 person cheering squad was pretty substantial.
  • I was mentally strong.  Running is 99% mental.  My taper had gotten off-kilter when I spent the weekend beforehand throwing up blood (don’t take ibuprofen on an empty stomach) and was incredibly dizzy for the next two days. And severely dehydrated.  Add that to a crazy work week + packing + travel + wine tasting and redwood tree gazing and sharing a hotel room with 3 others + time change + running in 65-70 degree unshaded heat instead of cold conditions (where I run better) = I could have been discouraged. I could have run slower. I could have given up. But instead, I loved the race. Every single agonizing second of it.  That is not to say that I wasn’t looking forward to each mile marker as much as the next person. But I also chose to be present – to enjoy the scenery, to enjoy the advent of a new decade of my life, to feel alive and sun-bathed and gloriously sweaty. I smiled. I encouraged others. And I celebrated my birthday exactly how I wanted to.Maybe I didn’t meet all of my race goals. But maybe my race goals weren’t the point.

    photo(12) photo(11)


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