Fortunately by mile 10 the rain lightened substantially. It actually became quite pleasant for a stretch, and just the faintest of breezes blew, moving some of the low lying clouds off the vineyards. We passed Rutherford Hill, ZD wines, and Quintessa vineyards, most of them stunning and picturesque, but a bit of a rainy blur. We crossed through the St. Helena region and I at least felt like we were making good progress as I imagined the map of the Silverado Trail in my mind’s eye.
As I ran, I was once again astounded by the range of body types and running styles as we approached mile 11. A man who had to be in his late fifties chugged by me with a loud wheeze and a locomotive style that looked about as efficient as a rickshaw being pulled through mud. Yet here he was on mile 11 and doing just fine, thank you very much. I passed a few runners, but – let’s be honest -more runners passed me. These included the old and the young, even some who were heavy set and some who flailed their arms in a much more lateral motion than seemed natural, but they all got the job done. In fact most of them were putting me to shame.
About this time a gregarious threesome approached and one of them, a fellow named Mike with a white shirt that said “Visalia Runners” on it started chatting me up in a friendly manner that was his routine. “What sort of time are you shooting for, Kent?’ He asked after a time. I told him that my supposedly waterproof Garmin was clearly not waterproof and that my not-waterproof iPhone was also not waterproof, so I really had no idea what sort of pace I was on at this point in time, other than the fact that it was a tad fast. So I told him I was shooting for around a 3:45 or 3:50 marathon pace to which he replied “Whoa, you are way ahead of that. Just keep your legs under you and don’t get too far ahead of yourself.” At mile 13.1 – mile “halfway point” – Mike checked the time for me and it was 1:45, so we were on for a pretty solid 3:30 race pace, and sadly I just knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up. I stayed with him for a mile or so and then let him and his partners drift on ahead.
The rain eased to a light drizzle by around mile 15 and I cruised on for a while before beginning to really feel the pain. By mile 16 I had given up any hope of running 3:45 and I was beginning to wonder if I could come in anywhere near 4 hours. My legs felt heavy and my calves, knees and hamstrings all ached. I had slowed to what I imagined was probably around a 10 minute mile pace and was in fairly desperate need of more significant walk breaks. I soldiered on for a couple more miles at this sort of pace and then encountered a long, slow, winding hill someone had earlier referred to as Napa’s “heartbreak hill”, but mercifully it proved to be much less difficult than I had feared. I walked a bit of it and ran my slow, shuffling gait up the rest of it – cresting and actually feeling a very temporary surge of energy moving forward. And low and behold the rain actually stopped for a period of time about mile 20. We passed Stags’ Leap, Chimney Rock and Clos Du Val wineries, some of the most beautiful wine properties in the world. The long straightaway past Chimney Rock led me to look back over my shoulder, and I saw the tight winding group of runners flowing like a river down between the beautiful vineyards.
The problem after mile 20 was that I didn’t have the legs to run at much of a pace. I also dimly realized I simply was not willing to suffer quite as greatly as some of the folks around me. A few others scurried by me, some of them looking lean and strong, but quite a few others chugged past noisily with obvious and profound grimaces of pain. I had slowed to a pace that allowed me to carry on without enduring the sort of the pain that some of these folks clearly displayed. Was I not strong enough or man enough, perhaps I should pick up the pace again to an 8 minute mile and really suffer? I tried that for about ten paces and then lapsed back into my slow shuffling gait. Fortunately as these last few miles ticked by I relied upon the sense of shame and embarrassment I had to avoid if I came in with too slow of a time. I drew upon this feeble sense of honor that I must uphold to avoid pulling over to the side and walking, which by this point was becoming a pretty strong desire. The scenery changed and that helped. We turned through some beautiful tree lined roads and one could sense the finish now as we entered the outskirts of Napa proper.
Certainly visiting the beautiful wine country and running on a beautiful marathon course is a treat no matter how ill-prepared one is to run 26.2. I always seem to finish these things with a similar thought in my mind, and it goes something like this, “if only I had spent X number of weeks, days and hours training properly I could have done so much better!” But this is the way things are right now and the proper plan is to enjoy each and every opportunity to run in each and every race.
Encouragingly, the intersections were increasingly full of spirited supporters, the cowbells were ringing and the distance between intersections with supporters and clever signs grew smaller and smaller. At mile 21 I told myself I only had an easy 5 mile run to go and broke it down into a 2.5 mile “out and back” – that meant I really only had 2.5 miles. And frankly, let’s think about this further, the last mile of a marathon is a gimme so we can just subtract that one and let’s really imagine that we only have 4 miles left until we reach the last mile. I can certainly run the last mile, I knew that. So what I really had left was a 2 mile out and back. I could run two miles, turn around and come back any day of the week no questions asked. So all I had to do was run two miles and by the time I had worked this out in my addled runner’s 20 mile brain I had probably already covered one of the miles, so I started the calculations all over again. As I neared the more urban blocks in the city of Napa I actually thought I could hear the cheers from the finish line, which took place at Vintage High School, and for about a good mile and a half I think I did. This of course spurred me on and prevented me from taking longer walk breaks than I actually wanted. As I turned the final few corners and enjoyed the support of the great fans, my spirits lifted and I felt like I was glad had signed up for the race and gotten out of bed in the rain. The pain I was feeling all over now meant that I continued to tell myself I would never do another one of these races again, but I knew that I would at least finish this one. The home stretch was pretty short and only in the last few steps did I catch the clock, which turned over to 3:56 as I approached the finish line. I raised my arms for that final photo and made sure my shoe hit the electronic reader so there would be no doubt. Small victories finishing a marathon in under 4 hours. Now I need to remember it was “just a training run” and build upon it for the next one.
And yes within a few hours I knew there would be a next one.