Napa Valley Marathon 2011: A Post-Mortem Report

I admit that calling this a “post-mortem” is a wee bit dramatic (if not insensitive) because I finished the race and didn’t die (FYI, there were no fatalities). However, I was very disappointed with my performance that day and it has taken two weeks for me to gather the motivation to write about my experience.

Since I haven’t posted any updates during my marathon training, I’ll provide a brief summary of the last four months… When I registered for NVM in October, I estimated my time would be about 5:00. After consulting a few pace calculators, I realized my goal time should be closer to 4:30. I was pretty consistent with my training, with a few exceptions. In December, I slacked off when I went to Europe with my family for 10 days, logging a total of 11 miles (a 4 miler and a 7 miler along the beach in Barcelona). In February, I was in Boulder, CO for a week when they were having record low temperatures and got sick, forcing me to spend a week in bed. I managed to avoid any serious injury, but the two weeks prior to the race, my right ankle and foot started to hurt when I walked. Thankfully, those issues cleared up a couple of days before the marathon.

The race day forecast called for a heavy dose of rain, but most of the recent weather predictions were wrong, so I remained optimistic. To be prepared for most weather outcomes, I packed several race day outfits.  The picture below is a good illustration of my ability to pack lightly.  My stuff is the pile on the left, B’s is on the right.  I was running a marathon and he was merely working on his PhD thesis.

I carry a lot of baggage…

Saturday morning, we loaded the car and dropped Dylan off at her doggie “slumber party”, and started the two-hour drive to Napa.  The first stop was at the hotel, but they didn’t let us check in before 3:00 (LAME!).  Next stop was the race expo.  I’m not one to linger around the vendor booths or attend speaker sessions and this was no exception.  I picked up my bib, long sleeve technical shirt and goody bag (I opted for the duffel) then spent a few minutes trying to find the car and left.  After the expo, we drove to the Franciscan Estate to pick up my wine club shipment then headed to St. Helena for lunch.  We opted for a Mexican restaurant where I ate a huge veggie burrito and way too many chips.  It was finally late enough to check in at the hotel so we went back down to Napa to unpack.

To avoid stomach issues during the race, I didn’t want to eat anything after 5pm and I wasn’t going to eat anything with gluten (so a gigantic bowl of spaghetti was not an option for me).  Unfortunately, social engagements derailed these plans and my “dinner” ultimately consisted of two bananas and two oranges.  Although fruit is full of carbs, I think most would agree that mine was a terrible pre-marathon dinner!  I went to bed around 9:00 and hoped for the best.

At 4:00 am, the wake-up call and alarm clock sounded simultaneously and I hopped out of bed.  I pulled back the curtains and saw that it was raining.  After allowing a few expletives to escape, I recomposed myself and donned my “rainy day” race outfit.  I stuffed 4 cherry chocolate Clif Shots and a handful of Endurolytes capsules in my pants pockets, creating unsightly bulges on my thighs.  In my stylish fanny pack, I stashed my phone and extra socks (both in plastic bags to stay dry).  The pocket of my water bottle holder carried a mini tube of Glide and lip balm.  Finally, I packed a change of clothes in my NVM duffel that smelled like someone filled it with gasoline.  After the gear was assembled, I nudged B out of his slumber and he drove me to Vintage High School to board a stuffy school bus to take me to Calistoga for the start.  My original plan was to walk over to my teammate’s hotel until the 7:00 am start, but the bus ride was longer than I expected and there wasn’t enough time.  I dropped my bag, survived the long port-a-potty line and waited for K to arrive as we planned to run together.  A handful of FMRC members were racing Napa this year and I was happy to see a few familiar faces in the final moments before the starting gun.  I found K and her support crew and a few minutes later, we were starting our first marathon!

We were both aiming to run a 10:00-10:15/mile pace after a slow first mile.  Of course, we started out way faster than intended and had to slow down.  Most of the course is on the winding Silverado Trail, notorious among runners for its canted surface.  I have a history of IT band issues so I ran in the bike lane because that was the most level part of the road.  In the end, I added 1/3 mile because I didn’t run the tangents.  The extra distance was a small price to pay for avoiding injury.

The rain soaked my shoes and socks and I was starting to get hot spots on the bottoms of my feet despite a generous application of Glide.  At the mile 12 aid station, I changed into my dry socks and ditched my arm warmers and gloves then we were back on the road.  At the half, my feet started to cramp and I realized that I wasn’t taking my Endurolytes often enough.  Despite corrective action, I was losing steam and by mile 14, K was pulling ahead and I was running solo.

Shortly after passing the 16 mile mark, I pulled off the road to stretch my legs.  When I grabbed my foot to stretch my quads, my hamstrings cramped up so I gave up on stretching and walked the next mile.  For the last 8.something miles of the marathon, I was a run/walker.  Before the marathon, I was confident that I could at least run 22 miles before I would need to talk walk breaks.  I became angry at myself because I knew that I could perform better.

Digging deep in the last miles of the race.  Photo Credit: MarathonFoto

As I finally approached the end, I was surprised to find B on the side of the road.  When he told me there was only a quarter-mile left, I gathered all the energy I had left and bolted for the finish.  5 hours, 24 minutes, and 59 seconds after I crossed the starting line, the marathon was finally over.

Missing my goal time by 55 minutes really hurt my confidence.  I’m especially frustrated because I know my performance would have been much better if I ate a real dinner the night before and was more diligent with my nutrition on race day.  I hope that I will eventually take pride in the fact that I finished, regardless of the time.  I certainly learned some important lessons that will help me in the future.

The end of a long journey.  Photo Credit: MarathonFoto