When I started training for my first half marathon, I thought I could finish in under three hours. A few weeks into training, I set my “A” goal as 2:45. With a few miles left in the race, I surprised myself by realizing that if I kept pushing I could finish in 2:40, and I barely made it…my official time was 2:40:01!
I headed up to Napa on Saturday with my friend Becca, who is the one who convinced me that I could run a half marathon in the first place, and her friends Ashley and Desi. We first stopped by the expo, which was small but well organized. We picked up a few samples, and I bought Run The Edge and met Adam Goucher! I’m still fairly new to running culture and don’t know about many running celebrities, but I know his name and that his wife Kara is about to compete in the Olympics. He was really nice, and I look forward to reading the book.
We were really hungry but didn’t want a heavy lunch since we had an early dinner reservation, so we stopped by Oakville Grocery and had a little picnic.
I took carbo-loading as an excuse to have a big strawberry lemonade, and it was fantastic. To kill some time before our hotel check in, we drove up to Cain Winery, just to see the building and the view. Desi apparently has the hookup though, and we ended up with a suprise private tasting, even though they were technically closed!
After checking in and getting settled, we went to Mustard’s Grill for an early dinner. I had called ahead to ensure that they could provide me something vegan. The waitress offered a vegetable pasta or a bean tostada, and I figured I’d go with the typical pre-race dinner of pasta.
Doesn’t look like much, but this was a really flavorful penne dish, with lots of little bits of onion and garlic.
After dinner we toured the gardens outside the restaurant, then headed back to the hotel to turn in early. I hadn’t been nervous before, but after the lights went out and it was just me and my thoughts, I started to get a little excited.
The alarms rang at 5AM the next morning, and we got ready quickly to catch a bus to the starting line at 5:30. Breakfast was a Trader Joe’s whole wheat cinnamon roll (tasty) with some peanut butter, and hotel room coffee. The bus ride to the start line took about ten minutes. I meant to take a picture of the porta potties, it was the most porta potties I had ever seen! One pit stop, to the will call registration to fix an issue with Becca’s timing chip, a final pit stop and bag check, and it was time to walk to the start line.
I lined up near the back by the 2:45 sign. Some pre-race announcements, the national anthem, and we were off! Well, the leaders of the pack were off…we in the back shuffled forward slowly until we got to the start line.
(I took these photos during the race by holding my iPhone above my head and seeing what happened. For the most part, they came out pretty well!)
The first half mile of the race is known as “butt burner hill”; it’s a slow, steady climb. It was tough to start out going uphill right away, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. Good way to get your heart rate up!
After butt burner hill, the next two miles are mostly downhill, a decent into Napa Valley. The course was still pretty crowded, and I tried to go with the flow without going too fast. I was feeling a little tired after two miles and reminded myself that I needed to run my own race and not pace myself off anyone else, as tempting as it was. I decided against listening to music for the race, so that I could fully enjoy the course and the experience, and I mostly just listened to other people’s conversations. The TeamChallenge members in orange were very loud and enthusiastic in cheering for each other.
mile 1 – 11:44
mile 2 – 11:06 (too fast!)
mile 3 – 11:35
mile 4 – 11:46
At four miles, I took a short walking break to take a gel and some electrolyte drink. The fifth mile was a gradual downhill, but I was starting to feel fatigued and begging for the gel to kick in.
The sixth mile started to go back uphill, and I was not happy about it. My left knee was starting to bother me, my breath was heavier than I wanted it to be, and I wasn’t even halfway done. Somewhere in that mile though, I got a boost of energy. I had planned to walk briefly at 6.5 miles to drink some water, but I was feeling really good and decided to keep going until mile 7. I think it’s really important to have a race plan, and equally as important to change it up according to how you feel.
The seventh mile took us from vineyards to residential farms, and while the vineyards were absolutely beautiful, it was a nice change of scenery. There was a guy standing on the balcony of this house waving to runners. There were also some kids handing out cookies, and a couple in front of their house with some Guinness to give out. There weren’t a whole lot of local spectators, but the ones that were out were great.
There was a live band at the mile 7 water station. I walked for a short bit and drank some water.
mile 5 – 12:24
mile 6 – 11:49
mile 7 – 12:04
I don’t know why I felt the need to give thumbs up’s to the photographers. Maybe to convince myself that I felt okay? Because I wasn’t feeling so okay by this point. Notice that I didn’t take any more pictures after this point. I decided to keep the iPhone in its pouch and just focus on finishing, and my knee pain was growing worse by the mile.
At mile 7.5, I was stopped by the highway patrol to let cars cross the course, and I lost about 10 seconds waiting. A break should’ve felt good, but I really just wanted to keep moving since my next scheduled walk break wasn’t until mile 9. Miles 8 and 9 were more houses, farms, dogs barking, and knee pain. The country roads were pretty worn down, and the whole race I felt like I was weaving back and forth, trying to find some flat pavement, and I was starting to get really annoyed by it. I took my walking break at mile 9, along with another gel and some electrolyte drink.
I honestly don’t remember much about mile 10, except that there was a wine station, another live band playing a Doobie Brothers song, and that the 5K course joined up with our course. The wine station was offering a sip of Gewürztraminer, a cold, sweet white wine. I knew the wine was going to be a game time decision for me, and at that point it sounded repulsive. I also didn’t want to slow down for anything, I just wanted to keep going.
mile 8 – 12:31
mile 9 – 12:04
mile 10 – 13:00
It was at that time that I realized I could break 2:40 if I averaged about 12:30 for the rest of the race, which seemed totally do-able at that time, since I only planned on one more short walking break. The next miles saw more spectators, and even though they were mostly cheering for TeamChallenge members (and ignoring those who weren’t), it was a nice positive change in energy. After 11 miles I walked for a minute or so, as my last planned walking break. My knee was really, really hurting and I was basically limp-jogging. Lots of people were walking, and I was determined to keep running as much as I physically could.
At mile 12 I decided to take a quick unplanned walking break and stretched my lower back. I needed it to mentally prepare myself for one more mile. We entered into a park, and I could tell we were finally in Sonoma, which gave me a mental boost even though I was in quite a bit of pain. I tried to pick up the pace but didn’t have much left in me. Two more turns and we were on a city street, and I could see the finish line in the distance. There were many more spectators, and lots of walkers on the right. My Garmin showed 2:38, and I knew I needed to book it to finish within 2:40, so I went for it. I ran at what felt like a sprint at the time, although in reality it wasn’t very fast!
(I don’t normally cross my arm across my body like that; I think at that point I was using my entire body to compensate for my knee pain…)
I watched the seconds tick away as I neared the finish line, and stopped my Garmin at 2:39:59. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain, but absolutely elated. Coming in five minutes faster than my “A” goal felt like absolutely smashing it! My official chip time was 2:40:01, which I am okay with because I can still say “I’m a 2:40 half marathoner”.
mile 11 – 12:05
mile 12 – 13:01
mile 13 – 12:38
last .1 miles (.2 according to my Garmin) – 2:14 (11:09 pace)
I wasn’t thrilled with the food options at the finish line. There were bananas, Greek yogurt, and sample bags in which the only thing I could eat was a sample sized bag of Mary’s Gone Crackers and a Clif protein bar. I needed more sustenance! Luckily, some of the drinks being given away at the FRS tent were vegan and had a good supply of carbs, and Zico was there handing out coconut water. I got my finisher’s wine glass, found Becca and Ashley, took off my shoes (revealing some pretty nasty blisters), and sampled some wines before we hopped the shuttle back to our hotel. My knee was incredibly stiff, I had to take stairs one at a time for the rest of the day, and if I sat for 10 minutes or more it hurt really bad to bend it. I don’t know why my knee was so bad, it didn’t hurt like that on any of my long runs in training. I think it might’ve had to do with the unevenness of the road and zig-zagging to find flat ground, and maybe taking the downhills too fast in the first few miles.
The medal is AWESOME. It is both a corkscrew and a wine stopper.
I ate the Clif protein bar on the way back to the hotel, and didn’t have time for a real meal before our afternoon wine tasting appointment. I wasn’t really hungry, so I wasn’t too worried about it. After the first wine tasting though, I was starving and ate the snack pack of Mary’s crackers to tide me over. One more wine tasting, and I was starting to feel it all wearing on me. We decided on Bistro Don Giovanni for dinner, which came highly recommended by a few different people.
The waiter brought out fresh bread with this spicy spread of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and red pepper flakes, and I devoured four pieces. I wasn’t going to order an appetizer since I figured bread would be enough, but when the waiter mentioned they had gazpacho I knew I needed to go for it, especially since we’re in the middle of summer and the tomatoes in Northern California are fantastic this time of year.
There was a spicy cauliflower rotini dish on the menu that the waiter confirmed would be vegan without cheese, and it was really delicious. The pasta and cauliflower were cooked perfectly.
Even after all that food, I still felt like a bottomless pit. When we got back to the hotel, I had some Barbara’s Chocolate and Peanut Butter Puffins mixed with pretzels. It was sweet and salty and wonderful, and I finally felt satisfied.
My knee was extremely sore the next day, although it felt better when I was walking around. I played tourist in San Francisco and Berkeley Monday and Tuesday, and was ready for a short, easy run by Thursday, with only a small amount of discomfort in my knee.
Next up? The Bad Bass Half Marathon tomorrow morning, around Lake Chabot. That’s right, I signed up for another half marathon two weeks after my first half marathon, with confidence that I’d be recovered enough to do it. I had planned to run four or five times in between and only got three runs in, so I guess on the bright side I’m well rested? My plan is to take it easy and just have fun, enjoying the scenery around the lake. My goal is just to finish, earning an automatic trail half marathon PR.