NAPA VALLEY MARATHON
The Napa scenery in early March of 2011 was certainly stunning. Foggy, cool, beautiful, low plumes of clouds over the rolling vineyards and verdant hillsides, nothing to complain about except, er, a bit of rain. The day before had been warm and mostly sunny so I was a bit discouraged to hear rain steadily falling when I awoke, nervous, at 3:00 A.M. Unfortunately the rain kept up all the way through start time and indeed during most of the race itself.
Lately I seem to be entering races with the notion that they are “just another training run”, mostly because I struggle to do any actual proper training. The race then serves as an excuse to get out and actually run a long run. But, as I always say when it comes to health and fitness, we have to use any possible excuse in order to accomplish our goals, even if we have to scale those goals back a bit.
By some great stroke of luck and planning, the hotel proved to be about two blocks from the starting line. So I couldn’t have been happier avoiding the dreaded 4:00 A.M. wake up, the long bus ride and the standing out in the dark in the cold. Instead, I very happily rolled out of bed, kissed my wife on the forehead, changed and walked my way over to the starting line. This meant I only had to stand in the rain for about fifteen minutes prior to the National Anthem being sung and the race beginning.
I am a bit of a fair-weather runner, I’ll be the first to admit. So standing in the rain in 40 degree temperatures was not exactly what I had hoped to be doing on Sunday morning. I did give some serious consideration to climbing back in my warm bed, but before I could lose my sense of duty, the racers were getting ready, and I felt the surge of adrenaline that I hoped would carry me through the race. The Star Spangled Banner was sung in a lovely if somewhat off-key tenor and surreptitiously I slipped my earphones in place (like most of these races nowadays the Napa marathon has banned iPods and earphones as a safety concern, but I remain a music rebel and am infinitely happier running with music than without) and I dialed up some Dave Matthews Band, live of course, and started out in the rain. The race started out on a gentle, downhill slope, which was pretty wonderful, but had the effect of exacerbating the usual high-energy race start pace of the pack of runners. I knew we were way ahead of the eight minute mile pace I had hoped to run for the first ten miles, but it felt so relaxing and so good to finally be moving in the rain that I didn’t bother to check my watch until the second mile marker. When I did, I had to downshift immediately because I crossed the first two miles in 14:05, a ridiculously fast pace for me and one that would clearly lead to early heartbreak if I kept going with that speed for much longer.
I dialed it down to a reasonably comfortable 8 minute mile pace and just began to enjoy the scenery and the music, and I even detected a degree or two warmer ambient temperature. The road, The Silverado Trial, offered many curves and some gently rolling hills, the downhill of which threatened to bother my knees. The slope of these was gentle enough though that it was pretty comfortable and I felt content staying at this pace for a while longer. Passing the gorgeous wine properties of Rombauer and Casa Nuestra, I thought happily for a moment about the wonderful route this race enjoys. In the back of my mind I knew I had not trained to maintain this pace throughout the whole race, but as I crossed mile seven the crazy notion began to creep into the back of my mind that just maybe I was in better shape than I should be if one only looked at the training regimen. Let’s see, that added up to a grand total of about two runs in the last three weeks. One of them, 9.5 excruciating miles banged out on the treadmill ten days ago while it snowed heavily outside. And the other, a legitimate, if very slow, 21 mile run when the weather was nicer three Sundays earlier. I just had not found any time between work and kids and everything in between to get any intermediate runs, do any speed work or put in very many miles at all over the last several months. So why I let these foolish thoughts enter my head at all I have no idea, but somehow it occurred to me that perhaps I had some special genetic gift that had eluded me up to now, and that today it was going to show itself by allowing me to run a 3 hour and 30 minute marathon despite inadequate training.
Perhaps to dampen such foolish thoughts, at mile 8 the rain turned into a deluge. I was now splashing through major puddles, and wide rivers of water were rolling from the shrubs and trees and embankments and off the steeply canted roads, which had clearly seen such precipitation before. I was beginning to rethink the whole concept of finishing the race at all, but dimly realized that the logistical challenges involved in abandoning a race at this point were not very attractive either.