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!

 

30 Hours in Kyoto!

Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama

Sagoy!  I am very impressed with SMS and I!  Two weeks ago, my friend Marissa wrote to me to let me know that she and her husband were going to Kyoto.  We worked it out so that we could meet up so SMS and I headed off to Kyoto for what ended up being a 30 hour trip.  Although that sounds short, we had the most amazing time catching up with friends and seeing a lot of Kyoto!

On Saturday, SMS and I left the house at 7:50.  We took the train to Shin-Yokohama where we caught the Nozomi Shinkansen down to Kyoto.  We arrive at 11:40 and took a taxi over to the apartment.  I found the listing on Airbnb.com and I highly recommend the place. It was a cute, minimalist apartment with two bedrooms, 1 toilet and 1 shower room (these are most often separated in Japan housing).  It would be a great place to base a longer trip to Kyoto, but SMS and I were limited by prior commitments we had in Yokosuka on Sunday.

SMS, Marissa, Blake and I met at the apartment and dropped off our bags.  The weather was much better than the forecast so I switched plans and we headed to Arashiyama.  I had originally planned to go on Saturday but since the weather was so good and everything in Arashiyama is outside, we decided to head West.

Since the overall trip was pretty short, we took taxis almost everywhere.  The buses aren’t bad, especially for the central and east parts of the city, but for four people, a cab was only slightly more expensive than subway and train fare.  We were dropped off along the river near the Togetsukyo bridge, or “Moon Crossing Bridge.”  While we were in the cab, we listened to a podcast and we all felt very knowledgable!

Before heading off on our Arashiyama trek, we stopped for a heavy snack.  SMS was hungry and ordered ramen for lunch.  Blake and I ordered croquettes for a snack.  I didn’t want to have too large of a lunch since we were going to have a great dinner later that night.

Subarashi!

After eating, we headed to the Bamboo Forest.  There, I saw one of the highlights of the trip.  There was an older man very seriously playing “Greensleeves” on a wind instrument held to his nose- a nose flute!  It was pretty amazing and I have pictures to prove it!  Don’t worried, I gave him a tip- fair’s fair.

At the Villa, aka my Vacation Home!

After that excitement, I recovered from my near-swoon and we toured the gardens of Okochi-Sanso Villa.  It was breath-taking.  The entrance is a bit pricy at Y1000/person, but with the awesome current exchange rate, who cares!  Plus, it really is breath-taking and I highly recommend it!  This site in particular made me so happy we were in Kyoto.  When we toured with SMS’ parents, I made a mental note that I wanted to come back for the Fall Foilage but it probably wouldn’t have happened since there are so many other places I want to see.  Fortunately though, our friends’ visit lured us down there and it was so worth it!

I took a lot of pictures at the Villa and was so impressed by the vivid Fall colors. Afterwards, we went to my favorite washi shop and headed to Gio-ji.  This was the only disappointment of the trip because I was so excited to show off my favorite temple but it’s gorgeous carpet of moss was covered with leaves.  Nooooooo!  It was still beautiful and worth seeing, but I was a little non-plussed.  Marissa tried to cheer me up, which was sweet and sort of funny because it really wasn’t that big a deal.  It’s just I had really built it up and with the Fall leaves, the main attraction (for me) was mostly obscured.

Gio-ji, covered in leaves <:o(

After Gio-ji, we started back in the direction of the train station.  We wanted to maximize our time in Kyoto so we decided to see the Kinkakuji (Golden Temple).  On our way to the station (to catch another cab), we walked through the grounds of Seiryo-ji, which caught our eye mainly for the impressive wooden gate and main building.

Kinkakuji and our new friends!

We then quickly caught a cab and went to Kinkakuji just in time for sunset.  It was very beautiful and we got some nice couple shots.  We also had a photo with several Japanese school girls.  I thought they initially only wanted Blake in the photo but then we were all invited in!

We went home and got ready for dinner.  We went back to Takuma, our favorite restaurant from last time.  This time we had table seating instead of counter seating so we lost a little bit of the showmanship aspect, but the food was just as delicious.  Although there were some variation on the specifics, the courses were the same as our last visit.

We walked home through Gion, which was beautiful.  On the way home, we walked through the Kennin-ji grounds, which were beautifully lit.  It started to sprinkle so our walk ended at the perfect time since we were nearly home by that point.

That was the first half of the trip, just under 12 hours in Kyoto.  Isn’t it amazing how much can be seen while on vacation?!  I wish work life felt that efficient sometimes!

Hakone: Owakudani and Venetian Glass Museum

Framing flowers…brilliant!

After our wonderful breakfast, it was time to check-o out-o.  No, the “o’s” are not meant to be annoyingly cutesy.  Japanese has a lot of foreign words that they Nihongo-ize the pronunciation.  This can sometimes be a dangerous thing since it occasionally makes me feel like I know more Japanese than I do.  For example, picture me swimming.  Then the conversation uses actual Japanese words.  Help! Help!  I’m drowning!

Such an amazing place!  Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

We drove to the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  I was a woman obsessed.  The grounds were so beautiful.  I couldn’t get over it.  I took a lot of pictures that didn’t do it justice and just marveled at how gorgeous it was.  We also toured through the museum, which wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the highlight for me.  It is pretty amazing, though, how these super delicate glass pieces have last a few centuries and transport from Europe to Japan.

After tearing myself away from the museum, we were off to find Owakudani (大涌谷 lit. “Great Boiling Valley), a volcanic fissure with sulfur vents and hot springs where they boil hard-boiled eggs with amazing powers of adding longevity to a person’s life (statement not FDA approved).  SMS had seen the building from our ryokan and thought it looked really cool.  Since this was his first time to Hakone, he got to pick the itinerary.  Not that I minded, I just didn’t have super-strong feelings about what to do.

If I were 10, I’d make a fart joke.  Oh well, I’m older.  Sulfur springs, PEE YEW, HAHAHA!!!

We parked near Gora station and took the Hakone Tazon Cable Car up to the Ropeway station at Sounzan.  We bought round-trip tickets for the entire ropeway and headed off.

Excuse me Sir, where are the chickens?

At Owakudani, we hiked about 1 km to the site where the eggs are boiled.   SMS spotted the mini-ropeway used to shuttle the eggs back and forth from the site to the main building at the ropeway terminal.  I was hoping to see the wild chickens of the sulfur vents but they apparently do not exist.  Or do they?

After looking at the springs and smelling the fresh sulfur-tinged air, we walked back to the main building and had ramen for lunch.  It was tasty although not in the top three I’ve ever had.  Then we went back on the ropeway and took it to Togendai on the shores of Lake Ashi.  We saw the tourist line cruises ships that look like pirate ships but we headed back via the ropeway since we had our car.

This is the first time I took a car to Hakone and although it was great for getting to the ryokan (iPhone map app, not so much), I prefer using public transportation in the area.  I’ve done a day trip several times in the past and part of the fun is the different modes of transport- train, bus, cable car, rope way and pirate ship!  Also, the traffic was really heavy along the shore from Zushi to Enoshima.  Since the focus of this trip was an out-of-the-way ryokan, the car was perfect but for most trips, I’d recommend the Hakone Freepass, which really pays for itself.

We drove back to Yokosuka, which was much smoother since we didn’t have anywhere to be.  When we arrived, we decided that although we had had a wonderful anniversary weekend already, we would go out to a fancy dinner to top it all off.  I was in the mood for a French restaurant and our research turned up Hananoya, an amazing French Restaurant.  We didn’t take any pictures of the food because sometimes it’s just not the time or place, but we had the most awesome dinner.  It was essentially a private chef experience since no one else was there.  We both ordered the course set and it was phenomenal.


It started with a vegetable tartine which seemed to be a Japanese-French fusion since the veggies were mushrooms, carrots and baby corn.  It was held together with a gelatin-like binder and wrapped in a border of cabbage leaves.  It sat on a spread of flavored mayonnaise (I love Japan).  Next was a delicious radish soup which had a French onion taste to it.  It was very smooth and rich.  I’m not sure if it was daikon or not but if so, I need to figure out the recipe since I’m currently at a loss as to what to do with daikon.

 Our main course was the red snapper, which came with the best calamari I think I’ve had in my life.  The dish was so good.  SMS and I usually get something different to try more things but last night, we both wanted the snapper and it was the perfect choice.  Finally, there was a trio of small desserts
that were awesome.  My favorite was the thickened crepe base with one strawberry and soybean ice cream.
 At the end, we complimented the chef and said we’d be back, both in Japanese.  That was pretty awesome b/c the look on the waiter’s face was pretty priceless.  His look was basically, “Where the **$&%* did that come from?” because when we were ordering, we really bumbled through with our
Japanese b/c he was sort of mumbling Japanese and English so we had no idea how to respond.  So when we sounded good at the end, he was very surprised.

Giant Slides and Japanese Grills!

This weekend was filled with local mini-adventures, really good food and fun times with friends.  The weekend started a little early since SMS and I went out to lunch on Friday.  We went out to the 16 and I decided I wanted to try the famous Katsu place.  I had heard about it when I was on the Kitty Hawk but I had never been able to find it.  This always annoyed me since I knew it was on the base side of the street between the two gates and there aren’t that many buildings located there.  Anyway, it’s a very small storefront with a wooden sign over the door and if it’s open, you’ll see a three-paneled green door hanging and a small spider plant out front.  Well, Friday we were in luck!

It was worth the wait, although katsu isn’t going to become a frequent eats!

When we sat down, we waited.  And waited some more.  Finally, we put our order in once he asked.  I had heard that the shop moves at the chef’s pace and it’s all true.  When we initially sat down, we thought we’d split a plate but by the time the food was ready about 50 minutes later, we were so hungry and each wolfed down our own separate place.  SMS and I both had the tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet) and it was delicious!

I went back to work way later than I meant to so I ended up staying late to make up the work.  I would have stayed later but then the network went down completely.  Well, I guess that was that.  I texted SMS to tell him I was on my way.  He was out at the yakitori place near our local train station and he asked me to join him.  When I went in, I saw that he had made friends with four Japanese construction workers who were very into arm-wrestling.  They were really nice and we had fun talking to them and a really nice lady next to our group.  SMS and I really intrigued them because I don’t think many white people go in there.  Although everyone was super-nice, it’s definitely a Nihongo-only place so you need at least survival Japanese+ to navigate.  Sometimes it’s funny to me when I’m in a place near Yokosuka and people are surprised to see an American.  My life is so base-focused that I think, “Well, there’s sort of a base nearby” but really, the base isn’t all that big relative to the overall population density so sometimes, we’re a novelty even if the base “Little America” atmosphere feels so close.

Zushi Beach

On Saturday, we met up with a bunch of friends in Ikego (Japanese side) for brunch, BBQ and beach.  We had delicious crepes (savory and sweet), yummy turkey burgers and condensed milk-filled strawberries.  Yum!  After lots of food, we got in our bathing suits (great timing!) and headed to the beach.  The water was so warm!  It was several degrees warmer already than San Diego at the height of Summer.  I am definitely ok with that!

The Start!

Today, we hung out in the morning and cleaned up the apartment.  We aim for cleaning it every week and, apart from travel, we’ve been pretty consistent.  This afternoon, we went out to Kannonzaki Park with Rose and her two kids and played on the various playgrounds sprinkled through the park.  The highlight was the huge roller slide where we really gained some speed. We used our new favorite Japanese purchase, the plastic slide sheets to help us go faster.  After sliding, we went to Rose’s where we had delicious carnitas for dinner.  Yum, yum, yum!

Kannonzaki Park.  We parked at the parking on the bottom left, I would recommend
the Yokosuka Art Museum, center and slightly right.

Oh yeah!  We almost had a near disaster at Kannonzaki.  We parked in the lot and came back around 6:15 and the gates were closed and a note in Japanese on the windshield.  OH NO!  Fortunately, one of the gates was unlocked so we opened it and shut it behind us but we were nervous.  Note for next time- the parking lots close at 5!  Also, we went all the way around the point to where the rest station with the Italian restaurant was but it would be much, much closer to park at the Yokosuka Art museum.  The walk was lovely but the distance added up by the end of the day.  It’s a huge park!

So, that was the weekend!  Not too much out-of-the-ordinary is planned for this week at work.  Paperwork, clinic, OR and a host nation emergency medicine conference on Friday.  Should be fun!

Grilling, Japanese-style

SMS and I are having a great time on our first real weekend home!  An added bonus is the extra time to relax since it’s a holiday weekend.

On Friday night, we went to Yakinikuya Sakai.  It was a coal-grill yakiniku restaurant with great views overlooking the bay.  We had an assorted meat plate, vegetable plate, kimchi and rice.  The sauces were delicious.  We took a chance on the “Yuzu squash soda,” which turned out to be a delicious citrus-flavored (yuzu) soda with pulp, not squash.  After dinner, we walked through the nearby Otsu neighborhood as well as the sensory overload of Don Quixote, an insane store with food, household items and lots of cheap plastic crap.

Tobe Station

Saturday was a fun field trip to Yokohama.  First, we got off at my old stop Tobe and walked by my apartment.  It was fun to see my old neighborhood and it was right by Y’s shop, a bike shop that can fix Dahon bikes.  My Dahon was in rough shape after a Winter partly spent out on the balcony with the cover blown off.  The chain and gears more closely resemble a big rust bucket plus my derailer fell off. The transaction went pretty smoothly in a three-way Jinglish exchange (SMS, the bike guy and me) and while it’s not cheap, it’s still half the price of a new bike.  The bike was in pretty dire need of a tune-up before the Winter and with my not-so-benign neglect, it needs professional help.

The fish attracts a crowd.

After we dropped off the bike, we walked over to Minato-Mirai.  We went to the sushi go-round and had a really cool experience.  They were showing off a huge tuna they had bought.  There was a huge crowd of kids who were daring each other to touch the fish, poke the eyeball, etc.  We sat down to eat and thought the show was over but then they brought it inside.  They started carving it and everyone was cheering and watching.   It was definitely a performance.

A huge fish and a captivated audience

After they carved one section, the entire restaurant played “Janken (Rock, Paper, Scissors).”  One of the main chefs yelled out, ” Saisho wa guy, jankenpon!”  Along with several other people, I won!  I got a free piece of fresh tuna sushi.  I split it with SMS, who was an almost-winner in another round of Janken but there was a play-off since too many people won initially and he didn’t win the second round.

To the left, fresh sushi we couldn’t pass up.  To the right, my winnings!

After sushi, we headed over to Cosmo World.  We went on the huge Ferris wheel and enjoyed the slow skyline tour of Yokohama.  Then, we headed to the Yokohama Art Museum to see the penultimate day of the “Fascinating Japanese Woodcut Prints” exhibit.  It spanned the late Edo period to present day.  My favorite artists were KOBAYASHI Kiyochika and HASHIGUCHI Goyo.  The prints were beautiful and it was fun to see an exhibit that paralleled the Mitubishi Ichigokan Museum exhibit we saw over the Winter.  Both focused on the wood prints with a sub-focus of the reciprocal inspiration between European and Japanese artists.

Yokohama, about 2/3 up on the Ferris wheel

We spent quite a bit of time in the museum.  We walked to Yokohama train station and picked up a Crepese salad to bring to a friend’s barbecue.  She lives in the Japanese side of Ikego and it was a really nice dinner with the most amazing burgers.  We had a great time and a perfect way to end the day.

Last Weekend!

The weekend was pretty mellow.  I recovered from traveling, cleaned up the house and made one field trip up to Yokohama.  My friend Adam organized a huge birthday adventure starting with “Oktoberfest” in Yokohama followed by the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo.  I was on call so I met up with everyone in Yokohama to be social.  I loved the Oktoberfest and look forward to the next one.  The German band leading a bunch of (mostly) Japanese was pretty awesome.  Next time, I’ll try not to be on call so I can kampai!

I parted ways with the Tokyo-bound crew (too far away from base when on-call) and walked from Red Brick Warehouse to Yokohama Station.  The walk was nice and there were several nice shops along the way.  Humpty Dumpty was like Anthropologie but with a much more unfortunate name.  I also had my first choco cro and as you can imagine from the name, it was delicious.  A chocolate croissant sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.  Amazing!

I went shopping in Sogo, located within Yokohama station. They have a LOFT on the 7th floor which is filled with awesome stuff.  It’s like Target on steroids- none of its needed until I see and have to have it!   

Then I went home and for the rest of the weekend, just hung out and cleaned the apartment to get ready for SMS’ arrival.  Sagoy!

Day 8: Sayonara, *sniff!*

Whah!  The vacation was awesome but too short.  I love hanging out with Mom and Dad but now it was time for them to go to DC.  I was very sad to see them go!

They took the Airport Limousine bus to Narita.  Their JR passes had expired and the bus is super convenient since it was waiting outside the hotel and took them straight to the airport.  There were no train transfers to navigate with luggage during Tokyo rush hour.  That is a huge plus!  We had bought the tickets at the New Sanno front desk and I highly recommend that method of travel.  It’s also more reliable than the train since bad weather seems to greatly impact the schedule.  Even high winds cause delays.

They took the 0730 bus which was the perfect time for them based on their flights.  We said our good-byes.  While it was sad, it was such an amazing vacation that I carried over that residual happiness. My vacation was complete.

Then I headed into work for the afternoon.  Next exciting event on the horizon?  SMS’ triumphant return to Japan!!!!