Sunday, March 13, 2011

Napa Valley Marathon -- 3:00:06

I ran the Napa Valley Marathon a week ago, with the goals of experiencing a highly-regarded race, spending a weekend with family and friends, and setting a new personal record. Well, two out of three isn’t so bad!

We stayed in Calistoga, at the Best Western very close to the starting line. The night before, I took my daughter and niece to a spaghetti dinner that featured a talk by Dick Beardsley. He was famous for a difficult Boston Marathon race known as Duel in the Sun, and his talk was very entertaining.

Dick Beardsley

On the morning of the race, I got up early, around 4:15am, to give myself a chance to eat and digest my breakfast before the 7am start. Being that I was so close to the starting line, after eating and getting ready, I set my alarm again, and went back to sleep! I’ve never been able to do that before! I finally walked over the start line and here’s another first, I didn’t have to stand in line for a porta-potty! Convenient!

The race was on the small side for a well-known road marathon, with around 1750 runners. This made the task of getting to the start line and putting my drop-bag on the bus super-convenient. All the drop-bags for all the runners fit on to two busses were right next to the start line. Nice! As an added bonus, my family came and visited me before the race started. Surprise! That was super-sweet and was something that would be impossible in a much larger marathon.

Soon, we were off! The course starts in Calistoga and runs to Napa on the Silverado Trail, which is a wide two lane smooth fast paved road. There was a steady rain for about 80% of the race with brief occasional headwinds. The temperatures were very comfortable for racing. Although there is a net elevation drop, the occasional uphills felt very noticeable to me.

My plan was to use the MARCO heart-rate calculator ( ) like I had used successfully in the Oakland Marathon last year, and to carefully monitor my heart rate and start off slowly and gradually increase my effort and my speed. I felt good and finished the first half in 1:27:50. But in the second half, I just started getting fatigued and running out of energy and my legs felt heavy. I noticed this around mile 16 and from mile 20 onward, I just felt worse and worse. My stomach felt unsettled towards the end, too, and I didn’t feel like eating or drinking.

But near mile 26, with the end drawing near, I was so surprised to hear by name being screamed. “Ron Little! Go Ron! Ron Little!”, several people were shouting. It was Franz! And his wife Jen! And then I recognized Franz’s friend Hao. Awesome! Jen said she was going to run me in, and I got my butt in gear and put in a good final push to the finish.

Jen, Franz, and Hao

I had a strong last 0.2 miles

Whew. And then I saw my family and three other relatives of Jennifer’s. Yay! That was very nice.

There were several timing mats spread far apart towards the end, and I wasn’t sure which one was the real finish line, so by my watch, I finished in just under 3 hours, but I learned later that my official time was 3:00:06.

The Good

  • I experienced a really good event and had a wonderful time with my family.
  • The marathon was well-organized and each runner received a really nice duffel bag or backpack. This is the nicest item I’ve seen given away to all runners. Well done, race organizers!
  • Although I'm disappointed I didn't run better, I beat my 2012 Boston Marathon qualifying requirement by almost 21 minutes.

The Bad

  • I missed my goal of 2:54:00 by about 6 minutes.
  • I had just finished getting over a flu that lasted for about 9 days. I don’t know if this contributed to my feelings of fatigue, but I’m sure it didn’t help. I missed 3 training runs, including one long run.

The Random

Thanks to my wife and daughter for being so supportive of my running.