Monday, March 7, 2011

Return to the Napa Valley Marathon

The Napa Valley Marathon was a breakout race for me last year, and I was hoping for some similar magic this time around, even though my training volume and fitness going into the race were not as high as before. In fact, looking back, despite hitting a couple weeks at 60mi/wk, I had been averaged only 40 miles per week in the three months leading up to the marathon. Definitely on the low site for a peak performance. On a positive note, however, I was healthy and rested going into the race.

What my training lacked in quantity it had been making up for in quality. Amongst other training I had been doing two weekly runs consistantly -- an early Thursday morning 12-mile loop in the Marin Headlands with a group of stealthy ultrarunning ninjas, and a long run on Saturdays at Sawyer Camp Trail with a group from the Palo Alto Run Club who were also training for Napa. Ideally I would have liked to have done more intervals and tempo runs leading up the the race, but overall I was satisfied with how the training had gone.

Gareth was back in town for the weekend visiting from DC to run the race, and while a recent injury had derailed his plans for a super-fast marathon he was still in good spirits and enjoying seeing many old friends. Ashish was running too; this would be his second marathon run barefoot. Christine had gotten a second hand bib number to use, so she was running too. With many other friends and training partners signed up too I was looking forward to a fun time in Napa for the weekend.

The check-in at the expo was mostly uneventful. Napa has continued the tradition of giving out high-quality duffel bags or backpacks (your choice) to the runners, which is some of the best race shwag I have seen. I ran into Scott Dunlap at the expo and had a chance to chat a bit about the upcoming race and other goings on. Scott was recovering from a bad cold and ended up not racing, but he also had plenty else to focus on - he and his wife welcomed their second child in the world a couple days later. Congrats Scott!

After a pre-race dinner of spaghetti and meatball (and beer) it was back to the Marriott for a good night's sleep. I woke at 4am to a steady rainfall. This was completely expected, as the forecast had been calling for it for several days. I wasn't particularly worried about the rain. I had run plenty of races in the rain before, and it's never seemed to affect my time very much. If anything, I feel I do better in the rain. It's certainly a lot easier than running when it's hot and sunny.

The race started at 7am, and I started at a steady, if somewhat fast pace. The leaders were quickly out of sight, including one runner dressed as Spider-Man. What, Spider-Man? Yes, that was local running sensation Ian Sharman, who just one month earlier had set a course record 12hrs 44min at the Roccy Raccoon 100 Mile, which was very nearly a world record time for a hundred mile race on trails. Today Ian was out to set another record entirely - the world record for the faster marathon by a runner dressed as a super hero. (I won't keep you in suspense - he got the record with a 2:40 finish.)

Starring Ian Sharman as Spider-Man

After the first few miles the crowds thinned out and I found myself running in a pack of five - myself, a Japanese runner, two women trying to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time (sub 2:46 pace), and Warren McAndrew - a runner who ironically I had just met the night before at dinner. Warren was the brother of one of a runner I knew from PARC; he had flown down from Seattle to run the race. We joked a little during the early miles that being from Seattle he must be used to running in the rain. Warren hadn't run a marathon in a few years, but he had finished several Ironman triathlons and seemed confident, and we seemed to be pretty evenly paced.

Photo by Eric and Ally Perkins

I was running faster than planned, but my choice was sticking with the group I was with or dropping back. At this point there was a fairly large gap behind me, and I knew that going it alone would be a lot harder, so I kept plowing ahead. We passed the half marathon mark at 1:22:50, about a minute faster than I had run that segment the previous year.

After we passed the halfway mark the rain started to die down but the wind started to pick up - a headwind - and became a nuisance for the rest of the race, slowing the pace down and making us work harder. I tried my best to tuck in behind other runners where I could to block the wind, taking occasional turns up front myself. By Mile 18 and 19 though our tight group had broken up, with the rest of the runners falling back and only Warren and I struggling on ahead. We attacked the small hill between miles 19-20 without slowing down too much. The next few miles are always tough - a long, flat straightaway during which I didn't feel like I was making any progress. My legs were starting to get tight too, and I could feel myself starting to slow down.

We made the right turn onto Oak Knoll Road - just three miles to go. Those three miles were a tough slog, and I spent a lot of time calculating in my head if I was still on pace to finish sub-2:50. My 2:49:41 finish came as a bit of a surprise, considering my lower expectations before the race. Afterward I enjoyed a complimentary massage, the free food, and the best part -- catching up with friends and swapping stories fom the race. Top it off with lunch afterwards, and you've got yourself the makings of a good weekend.

Warren and I at the finish (photo courtesy of MarathonFoto)

Detailed splits:

Mile 1 6:15 Mile 11 6:21 Mile 21 6:24
Mile 2 6:25 Mile 12 6:25 Mile 22 6:40
Mile 3 6:25 Mile 13 6:20 Mile 23 6:42
Mile 4 6:09 Mile 14 6:35 Mile 24 6:51
Mile 5 6:11 Mile 15 6:27 Mile 25 6:51
Mile 6 6:19 Mile 16 6:38 Mile 26 6:41 (+1:23 0.2mi)
Mile 7 6:16 Mile 17 6:36   -----
Mile 8 6:15 Mile 18 6:27 Total 2:49:41
Mile 9 6:18 Mile 19 6:32
Mile 10 6:25 Mile 20 6:32

Full race results here

Also of note -- this marathon saw a surprisingly large turnout of local ultrarunners, especially amongst the race leaders. Nathan Yanko ran an amazing 2:33 (3rd place). Ian Sharman (aka Spider-Man) finished 5th in 2:40. Bob Shebest 6th a few seconds later. 2009 Ultrarunner of the year Kami Semick in 2:49 (3rd woman, 17th overall) right in front of me. Brian Miller in 19th, finishing right after me. Erik Skaden and Graham Cooper, both also finishing sub-3 hours. Who says ultrarunners are slow?

1 comment:

Crossfitter said...

I appreciate your correct spelling of Spider-Man.