Coming to you as a recreational runner and marathon coach for over 8 years, I am here to share some words of wisdom, experience, and guidance about the Napa Valley Marathon (NVM). Being my 6th marathon in just about 7 years, I thought I knew how to train, and how "little" training I could actually get away with in order to run this race adequately. No elevation, few large hills, should have been a pretty standard training regimin. Yes, I did 10-12 weeks worth of training (could have used a few more), did a 12, 14, 16, and 18 miler pre-marathon, and still got to the marathon, feeling the most unprepared I ever had. Not that I hadn't trained well enough, or properly, but this would be my first ever marathon run in complete rain! I've run in wind, heat, and freezing cold, but never RAIN! A runner's worst nightmare! Will I get blisters? Will my shoes be too heavy? What will I wear? The what if's could go on and on. So, eventually I had to just shut myself up, and say "I'm going to ENJOY this race." And that is what I did. It was one of my favorite marathons, with great scenery, and a fast course (and I was able to do a personal best, even in the rain). Below, you'll read more info on this marathon, and hopefully it will inspire you to choose and participate in your first, second, third, or 30th marathon!
We'll start with registration for this race. If you decide you want to run this race, register early! Don't delay! Too many folks will get shut out if they wait, as this race is surely going to fill up every year. Some just register for the SWAG (stuff we all get), and yes, the NVM has some of the best SWAG of any marathon I have ever run. The duffle bag is great! Plus, now I have another long sleeve running shirt to sport as I run around town. (Though, why do they always make them white? Don't they know that white running shirts are all but see-through in the rain? If they make white running shirts, they should at least guarantee a sunny marathon day).
Next on the agenda is the race expo. Held at the Napa Valley Marriott, I found the expo to be very small and crowded. Sure it had all of the standard expo venders, such as the running attire, marathon snacks, sunglasses, and packet pickup locations, but it was very crowded and scattered in several different rooms. I usually like to stay and look around a while, but I decided to just get out as fast as I could. So, I didn't stay for any of the speakers, but the fact that they had a whole day's worth of speakers and events would make this expo worth it to attend. Best part, they also had RACE DAY PICKUP! May seem crazy, but it was the first marathon I ran that actually did that! Props to the NVM. Sometimes marathons don't realize that folks are traveling from out of town and can't get there until that morning. Even though I didn't take advantage of race day packet pickup, I was sure glad to see it as an option.
Race-Day. Well, driving from Sacramento at 3:45am in the pouring rain didn't get me pumped up for the marathon at all. With windshield wipers going as fast as they could, heat blasting, and nothing good on the radio at that hour, I kept thinking to myself, why am I doing this? A question that marathon runners will frequently ask themselves. (To each his own answers).
With great race-day instructions on their website, and my new GPS in the car, I was able to find the school where the parking and shuttle busses were, with zero difficulty. There were volunteers out there before 5am in the rain, directing traffic to the correct parking lots. Once parked and with a heavy garbage bag draped over me like a stylish dress, I decided to leave my post-race duffel bag in the car, and head to the shuttle busses at the entrance of the school. I could have taken my bag with clothes and sandals for after the race, to the start and had the bag drop bring it to the finish, but I decided that I could just as easily walk to my car after the race, to get my clothes to change into. It wasn't far at all. So, I took my camelback and essentials only on the shuttle bus. Only items that were racing with me came with me.
At the Start: Once the busses reached the starting area, they parked and I tried to stay on the bus as long as possible to stay warm and dry. I got out about 30 minutes pre-race to hop in the port-o-potty line, which was quite long, and took just about all the time I had. I even tried to use my port-o-potty logic. 1: Find the line with the most men. They are usually quicker. 2: Pick the line that has taken over the most stalls. 3: Find the shortest line near the far end of the row. Best quote of the bathroom line was one gentleman who just went behind the port-o-potties and came back saying, "Yea, I had no line, and a great view of the vineyards!" Oh, it must be nice to be a man on race days. Once out of line, the race was about to begin. I was ready, and my feet were already wet.
On the course: Just before crossing the start line, I ditched my garbage bag, and figured, heck with it. I'm going to be wet no matter what. At least the temperature was a mild 50 degrees. A whole lot better than last year at the CIM at a starting temperature of 28 degrees! The first mile was mainly downhill, so I was off to a fast start, adrenaline pumping. Still saying to myself, "I still have 25 miles to go." Rolling hills challenged many runners throughout the entire course, as I heard folks saying things like "I thought this race was going to be downhill." And yes, a net decline overall, but the rolling hills along the way could be deceiving for those ill-prepared to run hills. These hills were nothing, as compared to the Lake Tahoe Marathon or the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. So, I felt confident in my hill running skills on these mild rolling hills.
Aid Stations: The aid stations along the course were great. About every 2 miles, was an aid station with water and gatorade. At the later stations they handed out oranges, banana's and gu. My only complaint: at a few stations, they used plastic cups instead of paper. Which means you can't squeeze the cup to make a funnel, and all the water spashes on your face, and plastic cups are easy to trip on when thrown on the ground. But besides that, the aid stations were not crowded, and there were 3-4 bathrooms at each station, usually with no line.
Volunteers and Organization: From what I saw, this race was extremely well organized. From the parking before the race, to the shuttle busses to the start, the aid stations and mile markers, and even the volunteers at the finish, it was very well organized. There was a volunteer to greet each runner individually at the finish line, give you water, and escorting you to the exit, asking how you were doing and making sure that you were all right after finishing the 26.2. It was a nice touch.
Post Race Festivities: After the race, there were locker rooms and restrooms to use (as there were pre-race before getting on the shuttle busses), hot soup and bread, and an entire gymnasium of massage therapists! It was the most massage therapists I have ever seen at the end of the marathon! It was very well organized and I definitely took advantage of that! Plus, you can't beat a free massage after a marathon! (though it's customary to tip a volunteer massage therapist, so make sure to have money on you!) The soup was delicious, and just what my stomach needed. Best part of all, was the fact that there was a locker room to change out of my drenched running clothes, and into fresh clothes that I had prepared ahead of time, and kept in my car. It would have been a long, cold, wet, drive home to Sacramento if I hadn't been able to change.
Spectators: Well, I can't say there were many spectators along the route. But then again, it was raining the entire morning. Most spectators out on the course were friends and family of runners, so you would see the same few faces pop up along the way. So, it's definitely not a race to run, if you only feed off of the energy of a crowd. If you like the crowds, excitement, music, bands every mile of the race, you may want to try a bigger, more crowded race in a city, such as Chicago, or Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. Those races are two of the best for spectators and excitement along the way. In the NVM, you had to be your own spectator.
Overall, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to experience the Napa Valley Marathon. There were a lot of first time marathonners out on the course, which was exciting, and tons of veteran runners. Having to be your own spectator meant you had to go deep inside your soul. You had to cheer for yourself. The hardest thing to do, is to tell yourself to keep going, when all you want to do is stop. But that's what a marathon is all about. It takes guts, determination, willpower, and a strong desire to accomplish one of the greatest feats known to man. Knowing you got yourself from point A to point B, and the 26.2 miles in between, makes it all worth while. That's life though. We must learn to "cheer ourselves on." We are the only person that we can count on 100% and like in all tough challenges in life, we must rely on our individual strength. No one else can "do life" for us.
So, get out there. Challenge yourself. Hit the pavement. And someday, you too, can run the Napa Valley Marathon!