Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

1st place - 2:26:15
Strava data 

- Article from Road Runners Club of America
- Article from the Napa Valley Register

For the second race of my 2014 season, I headed west, back to the Napa Valley Marathon, which I raced in 2013 as well.  I didn't run as quickly as I wanted, but I did come away with a win—and the accompanying first prize of my weight in wine—so I can't complain too much.  The race also served as the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) National Marathon Championships, so I won that title and an accompanying 3 liter "magnum" bottle of 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Clos du Val, engraved with the RRCA logo no less!  

2008 vintage of Clos du Val Cab /RRCA winner's trophy.
While my time was slower than I anticipated, I'm not too concerned about it.  It can be a dangerous thing to focus too much on times—it's easy to get inside your own head.  For instance, I ran 2:25:38 at Napa for a close fourth place finish last year.  Looking at this year's 2:26:15, one could conclude I'm not in as good of shape.  The reality couldn't be farther from the truth.  I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was last year, much stronger in many ways.  Looking at isolated data points can be useful, but it doesn't tell the whole story.  

I know from some recent benchmark training runs that I am quite a bit stronger than I was in early 2013.  I think I ran relatively "slowly" because I've got so little faster-paced running under my belt this winter.  It's been brutal for the whole Midwest, and ground conditions have rarely allowed for anything fast.  Also, I didn't back off much for this race at all.  I did a hard, hilly 24 mile training run just seven days out from the race; I was thus hardly fresh.  

Early race, Julbo Dust sunglasses raised due to the misting rain.
I found running 5:30s to be uncomfortable from the start, and when a pack of three broke away running mid-5:20s a mile into the race, I had no choice but to let them go.  One of those three quickly faded, so I was running alone in third place by mile 5.  I felt stretched hovering around 5:30 per mile, like I might be stepping over that invisible line—the one where you find yourself in a death march crawl to the finish the last 5 miles.  My family and girlfriend saw me for the first time at mile 7 (the course is point to point and allows for great spectator viewing), and I was so uncomfortable that my dad didn't think it was me.  He prides himself on being able to spot my gait from afar, and he was convinced that it was somebody else approaching because I didn't look smooth like I should that early in a race.

Working solo, I just tried to stay as relaxed as I could and not let the lead duo get too far ahead.  Around mile 10, one of the two, Chris Mocko, made a move to pull away from eventual third placer Ryan Donovan.  Ryan stayed pretty strong, and it took me nearly five miles to pass him.  But Mocko was gradually stretching his lead.  He looked smooth, and I didn't think it was likely I would catch him.  By mile 18 or 19, his gap was over a minute.  But I've run enough marathons to know that anything can happen in the last few miles.  Fading by 15-20s or more per mile over the last 3-4 miles is common.  I knew if I stayed within a minute or so, I would have a chance. 

Cruising down the Silverado Trail late-race
Unfortunately, I was hurting pretty badly myself.  You play mental games trying to coax your body into one more mile, then another.  'OK, you can relax for this straightaway, then back to work.'  'This is slight downhill, just loosen up and use it.'  Etcetera.  There's nothing quite like this feeling of being in quite a bit of pain with 8 or 10 miles to go.  Maintaining pace (or something close) seems an insurmountable task, but you just hold on and somehow gut it out.  It helps having run quite a few marathons (and ultras of much longer duration)—you choose not to believe your current sensory data and what your mind is telling you; you believe in the past results and experiences.  'I've done this before, I can do it again.'

Around mile 22, I saw Chris stop momentarily to stretch his hamstring.  I knew he must be hurting and having some issues, so I just kept grinding.  I started to close the gap over the following few miles, down to 20 seconds or so by mile 24.  Despite Chris's problems, he was maintaining a pretty solid pace.  I clawed to within 10 seconds as we neared mile 25.  I was digging deep and didn't have a lot of fight in me, but I had to try.  Chris glanced back, saw the small gap between us, and stopped again to stretch for a few seconds.  I passed and tried to push hard for a two or three minutes to create a gap.  I felt my calves were on the verge of cramping as I picked up the pace, so I had to be careful.  With a half mile to go, I finally took a look back.  I didn't see Chris in the immediate vicinity and I knew I had it.  

High fiving the fam.
I hadn't led a step of the race until 24.9 miles.  My family had last seen me at mile 18, over a minute behind, and they were waiting at the finish.  The announcer thought Chris would win based on slightly outdated reports from the course,  so he was talking to the finish line crowd about Chris's resume, which includes a recent 1:06 in the half marathon and wins at Napa in 2011 and 2012.  When I came around the final bend to take the win, it caught my family by surprise.  After nearly two and a half hours of hard work, I got to enjoy the final minute of the race, giving high fives to my family and the spectators at the finish.  I didn't realize it until a while later, but this was actually my first marathon win.  I've gotten second place a few times (Missoula 2007, St. Louis 2008), but never a win.

Saying a few words about the race at the finish.
One of the highlights of the weekend had to be the first prize—my weight in wine, as measured on a giant scale.  Four cases didn't quite tip the scales, so I managed to get a fifth case.  The wine was donated by the Silverado Trail Wineries Association, so it's all pretty stellar Napa Valley wine.  My sister and brother-in-law (in particular) and my dad are all pretty big wine buffs, so they were quite happy I'd won as well, as I gave them each quite a bit of the winnings.

The fifth case tipped the scales.

The winnings—one of the better prizes I've won!
I came back to the 2014 Napa Valley Marathon because they put on a great race.  It's kept pretty small in size (I think around 3,000 people), and it's run on a gorgeous, rolling, point-to-point course.  The organization is stellar, and the race is in touch with it's rich history.  For example, Dick Beardsley, still the course record holder, comes out to the race every year to speak and cheer.  I saw him out on the course in several places.  

Many thanks to the NVM organization.  I had a lot of fun, just like last year, and I hope to be back in the future.

Details:
  • I didn't have any breakfast pre-race, which is my usual marathon routine (fasting helps to promote fat oxidation, thus avoiding a bonk).
  • I took a small amount of Gatorade and one gel during the race.  I don't usually take any gels, but I was a bit worried I was burning too much glycogen with the uncomfortably hot pace, so I took it as insurance.
  • I tried out my Swiftwick PERFORMANCE TWELVE compression socks for the first time in a race setting and loved them.  They make great socks, across the board.
  • Race GPS data came from my Suunto Ambit2 S.
  • Thanks to my sponsors Salomon, Suunto, Swiftwick, Julbo, and UGo Bars for their continued support.

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