Napa Valley Marathon 2016 Recap

This past Sunday, I ran my first marathon in 11 years!  It was the culmination of a pretty awesome training program.  I was really happy that I stuck with the 18 week program and it’s all due to having an incredible training partner.  I never would have done it on my own, which I’ll be honest, I don’t totally like admitting but hey, if I need some external accountability and another person to get me to stick to my long runs then so be it!  I’ve also made a great friend in the process so this whole experience was much more than just the race but since that was the goal, let me tell you about it!

At the Expo for our number pick-up

So, J and I decided to stay in Calistoga the night before the race.  This allowed us to “sleep in” until 5:45 rather than wake up even earlier in Napa to catch the 5:15 shuttle.  We walked over to the race and a couple of notes for future reference.  One, the Calistoga Roastery opened early so we could have had real coffee instead of lukewarm instant made from tap water.  The lukewarm instant was all part of the experience but if you’re looking for slightly higher quality coffee, the coffee shop apparently provides on marathon Sunday.  Two, the traffic in Calistoga was highly overstated by the race organizers.  It would have been very easy to drive and find nearby parking if one wanted to avoid the Napa shuttle departure time.  I wouldn’t show up five minutes before start time but still, nice to know.

J and I dropped off our sweat bags filled with our finish line supplies.  The race ends at a high school and shower access is available at the end.  We brought shower toiletries, towel, change of clothes and flip-flops/slippers (pick your favorite regional noun for flip-flops- just don’t pick “shower thongs”).

Next, I dropped off two 0.5L disposable water bottles with Honey Stingers taped to the sides.  These were transported to specific aid stations and laid out on a foldout table right along the course.  At 9.3 and 20.4 miles, my water bottle was waiting for me.  I ran with the bottle until the next mile marker and then put it in the provided trash bag set up at the base of the marker.   This ended up being a pretty awesome perk of being in a small marathon.  Even though there were plenty of water stations with fruit options, it was nice to be able to drink a little more water at two specific points while still being able to move.  In addition, I was happy to fuel with my known Honey Stingers rather than risk an upset stomach with a weird flavor goo.

So excited!

After a quick stop at the PortaPotties (plenty of toilets but you know, sometimes the less said about those things the better!  Ok, ok, there was a little bit of poop on the seat.  Eeeeemwwww!!!!), we headed towards the start.  After “The Star Spangled Banner,” we were off!  The RF trackers are now located in the bibs instead of the shoe chips I was used to from the 2000s.  J even signed A up for text message updates.  We crossed the tracker line and started running.

Our goal pace was 8:12 for a 3:35 finish.  Although this may seem obvious, I realized in the first two miles that we would have to run a little faster than that in order to finish the marathon in our goal time since there’s a little bit of distance added unless a runner runs the tangents perfectly, which we did not.  By the end, I think I had added about 0.2 miles to the total distance.  Not terrible, but something that needs to be taken into account.

We started out a good clip.  Our first mile was 8:18 but then we picked it up for several sub-8:00 miles.  We weren’t too far below 8 though, so I wasn’t worried.  I felt that we would do better with a slightly positive split.  There were two inclines, one at 2 miles and a slightly longer one in the 4th mile.  They were definitely doable and similar to the pedestrian overpasses we would run up on the Steven’s Creek trail.  I’m glad we had those small inclines under our belts but really, it wasn’t too bad.

The vineyards were beautiful.  The early morning light was gorgeous and there was so much vivid green punctuated by the fluorescent yellow of the mustard flowers.  There was a merciful break in the weekend forecast of rain that lasted about 4 hours just in time for our marathon.  We were so lucky!

It’s a no headphones race.  J and I didn’t talk to each other a lot, but it was fine to not have music.  It would have been a little bit of a nice distraction in the last few miles but whatever, we knew the rules!

Based on prior race reports, we were expecting a big hill somewhere between the 18-20 mile markers.  On the course elevation map, it looked like there would be a big incline right before mile 20 but when running it, I didn’t notice any significant change.  Because the elevation changes are fairly slight with this race, I think the scale on the course elevation profile threw me off.  I was happy not to encounter a perceptible hill challenge so late in the race!

J and I ran together for about 21 miles.  Around the 21 mile mark, we went our separate ways which was disappointing since we thought we could hang together the whole time but J was starting to get affected by congestion that had been plaguing her the week prior.  Argh, marathons are fickle like that.  You hope for the best, but illnesses and injuries happen.  I also think Winter/early Spring is challenging because of cold, flu and/or allergy season.

Around mile 23, there was a light sprinkle of rain but that was it for the race.  Very lucky!  My legs were becoming more and more leaden, but I was determined to keep pushing.  I felt like I could make my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon and I wanted to leave it all out on the course.  I did pretty well effort and pacing-wise because at the end, I really didn’t have any juice to sprint it in to the finish line.  I just held my pace and crossed the line.  Hooray!  My Garmin time was 3:35:12 for the marathon and my official clock time was 3:37:10.

After some finish line pictures, swag bags and a congratulations kiss from SMS, we all met up and headed towards the gym.  There, J and I took showers in the two available stalls.  There were group shower heads but surprisingly, no one was in the locker rooms so we opted for the privacy of the stalls.  I don’t necessarily mind group showers but it’s sort of weird to opt for it when you’re the only one and there’s a nice individual one available.

I stepped into the gym and just as I entered, my number was called from the massage waiting list.  Score!  I got an awesome 10 minute massage from Julia, who was my new BFF.  Afterwards, we headed out for lunch, wine tasting and the rest of our Napa day.

Mumm Champagne!

I definitely recommend the marathon.  My only other experience is the Marine Corps Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005 so this was my first “small” marathon.  Significant perks include the option for water bottle drop-off for course pickup, showers at the end, kind volunteers, good time-keeping system and fast course.  There are two potential drawbacks based on personal preferences of runners. No headphones are allowed and there are a lot of lookouts trying to catch violators.  The second is that there aren’t that many spectators along the course.  There are about 10 easily accessible spectator stops based on feeding roads leading onto the Silverado trail.  Some people also watch from the end of their driveways and wineries.  I don’t need constant cheering but at the MCM, it is pretty cool that there are spectators along the entire course.  It’s hard to believe that that many people want to watch or cheer a bunch of sweaty runners!  So, the energy levels along the course are different but for me, that’s ok.  I appreciate both types of marathons although at this point, I think I’m leaning towards this smaller marathon as more of my personal favorite.

My #1 fan!

 

Napa Monday

Model’s

After a good night’s sleep I woke up to go to work Napa!  Yes!  I had the day off because my favorite godmother Auntie was in town with two of her friends.  Although their plans had been flexible (and good thing since the weather (boo!) had forced some outside activities cancellations), the Monday plan was pretty firm so we decided to meet up.

I’m so glad we did!  It had been a few years since I saw Maria and we had so much fun!  First, I drove up early in the morning to beat traffic (success!) and then I went to the Oxbow Market, which was closed for cleaning (fail!).  I did get a breakfast sandwich from Model’s Bakery in order to try their famous English muffin, which was pretty good!  Then I headed up the 29 with a quick stop in Yountville to see Bouchon Bakery.  Unlike the last time I was there, the line was non-existent (yay!). I ordered two macarons for SMS and, almost unbelievably, they made it home without me eating them!  I also tried a small amount of croissant which was good, but it’s been awhile since I’ve tried a croissant that I thought was truly sublime.  Maybe that’s too lofty of a standard for a pastry or, at minimum, a little over-the-top for any kind of foodstuff?

Cardinale Tasting Room with a cool time-lapse photo of a single vine

Then, I went to the Cardinale winery and pulled up to the guesthouse where my aunt was staying.  Ok, ok, I may have also driven on a field road since I took my aunt’s instruction of private road a little too literally, but fortunately, I didn’t get stuck in the mud or end up in a ditch so all’s well that ends well…

It’s a warehouse!

The guesthouse was gorgeous and huge!  It used to be the winery owners’ private residence and it was really amazing.  The views over the vineyards were incredible. Oakville is the center point of the valley so there were great views of the two mountain ranges and nearby wineries.  Immediately behind the house was a field with several small brown huts.  It’s actually a disguised barrel cellar with a grass roof.  The huts are the vents and even though it’s obvious that the grassy field has some sort of purpose, it’s pretty neat how circumspect they’ve managed to make a storage facility.

We had a great tasting at Cardinale, sampling Mt Brave, La Jota and two Cardinale cabernet sauvignons, 2008 and 2012.  The most exquisite, sophisticated wine was the 2008 Cardinale but I really liked the Mt. Brave wine.  It was full of blue notes and tasted like the mountain.  *Sigh* Someday, I will be able to pull off wine comparisons.  I’ll be honest- I stole the descriptors from our lovely and knowledgable guides since to me, it just tasted delicious!

After our tour, Maria and I headed to Mustards Grill for a great lunch with two of her cousins.  The food was delicious and we all talked a lot!  I had such a fun time and I hope I see my second cousins again soon!

The “cottage!”  My aunt is in the far left background.

Then, it was chill-out time at the “cottage.”  We made a quick stop at Oakville Grocery, where we bought a delicious Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese.  We made a significant dent in it when we got home.  Then it was time for me to head back to the other Valley (Silicon).  *Le sigh!*  But I couldn’t be too sad because I had such a wonderful day and to see my auntie was a (too) rare treat!

Warehouse view at twilight- end of a great day!

Napa Finale

Beautiful Sunrise!

Our last day in Napa was abbreviated since we had to head back to an afternoon OR case (me) and a flight (Linda and Rip).  I did go for a 5.5 mile run in the a.m. which was farther than I wanted to go but that’s what happens when there’s an unanticipated road closure along the shorter route.  The run was gorgeous since the sun was rising and Napa was shrouded in riverlets of fog.  I even saw a hot air balloon.

Breakfast was amazing at the B&B and then it was time to go.  *Sniff*  It was a wonderful weekend and one I hope to do again in the future.  I had such a fantastic time with SMS, Linda and Rip.

Napa Wine Tasting Day!

 

The Fab Four at Jericho Canyon
We woke up and rolled straight out of bed to an awesome breakfast!  Our B&B Wine Way Inn features a great breakfast spread every morning.  We had a dutch pancake in a castiron pan, blueberry muffins, yogurt and granola, roasted peaches and French-press coffee.  Yum!
After breakfast, I went into town to  pick up some picnic treats and fill up the car.  Don the Driver came over shortly thereafter and we were off to the tastings!
Another shot of Jericho Canyon
Our first stop was Jericho Canyon.  It’s a small, family-owned winery that cultivates 40 of its 100+ acres.   We met our guide Brittany and headed up the hill to view the spectacular view from the top.  The vineyards were a gorgeous green and golden hills, trees, scattered buildings, cliffs and vineyards made for a very picturesque viewing point.  We took in the view for a bit while Brittany explained some of the history of the place.  Then we headed back down and into the cave where we looked at all the barrels before sitting down to a tasting.  There were some great reds and we all liked the wines a lot.  The tour was just the four of us and it was really awesome to have such a focused experience.
Nickel and Nickel Barn
We had to go a little earlier than we would have liked but we were heading down the road to Nickel & Nickel, a single-vineyard per wine winery that SMS and I really enjoyed a bottle from recently during a fancy celebration dinner.  We arrived a few minutes late but we joined the group in the parlor of the main house and listened to the rest of the overview.  We toured the grounds and saw several restored barns that had been brought in from other parts of the US.  We walked past the equipment used in the production process before ending up in the barrel cellar, which is different than a barrel cave even though they look about the same inside. I think it has to do with whether it’s dug into the ground vs. a hillside.
Then we went into the dining room and had a wonderful tasting of 4 cabernet sauvignons and 1 pinot noir along with 3 delicious cheeses.  The wines were exquisite and we had a really great time.  I joined the wine club a few days prior, mostly to offset the cost of the tastings but after the tasting, I’m really looking forward to the wine now too!
The porch of Venge
After Nickel & Nickel, we headed to our picnic lunch, which we had in a park in Calistoga.  Then we went to our last vineyard of the day, Venge.  Venge had a beautiful porch overlooking the vineyard and we had a nice time kicking back and enjoying the wine.  Our pourer was a pretty funny guy, some of it unintentional on his part.  Some his adjectives weren’t the best (“disgustingly big”) and he sort of botched the story about the wine being named in honor of the owner’s dead dog.  I referred to it as Dead Dog Wine from then on out, which I think was missing the point.
Afterwards, we returned back to the B&B.  We stopped in at the Tank tasting room so SMS could try out the pinball.  Then we had a glass of wine back at the inn before heading to JoLe for dinner, which was another hit!  I had scallops with grits and okra, which was pretty delicious.  We headed home after sharing dessert and wishing Linda a Happy Birthday one more time.  It was a great day and we really had such a great time!