Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Race" Report: Napa Valley Silverado Half Marathon

I suppose this is technically a race report, since it does in fact give an account of a race that I happened to run in. When I looked back over my April mileage, though, I knew that really racing--ie, tapering, running at 95-100%, & recovering--would cost me miles that I very much needed five weeks before Ojai, even if I did run extra before or after to make it a decent long run.

So I sighed & let the race dreams go. Instead I ran actual mileage through the end of the week, & plotted to arrive in Calistoga super-early & jog 6.9 easy miles beforehand. For the actual race, my goal was to run at somewhere between long run & marathon goal pace, with maybe a few marathon pace miles thrown in at the end if I could manage it, but not so hard that I would need more than a day to recover.

The nice thing about this time of year was that it was light by six-ish, so when I arrived at Calistoga High School around 6:30 it was bright & cool & perfect for running. Alas, between parking, figuring out where to go, checking in, finding the bathrooms, sunscreening / bodygliding myself, etc., it was 6:50 by the time I finally got started. I just figured I'd get in as many easy miles as I could before the 8:00 start, & if I had to do a little cool down after the race to get to twenty, that was fine.

The sidewalks of Calistoga were lovely for running--flat, wide, & with little traffic & few lights. My legs felt tired but loose and free of aches & pains, and they warmed up a little as I went. My first mile was 9:46, which isn't unusual for my first mile on any given run, & by the second mile my pace had dropped to 9:09. A few miles in, my "easy" pace usually drops to 8:30 or 8:40 & stays more or less in that range unless I push it, but on Sunday that didn't really happen; my splits stayed pretty much between 8:50-9:10 for those pre-race miles. I felt good & really only cared about getting the distance in, though, so I didn't dwell on my pace too much.

Beautiful day in Calistoga!

By the time I made my way over to the start, my watch showed 6.45 miles. As much as I'd wanted the finish line to actually be the end of my run today, I figured I could probably manage half a mile post-race. I imagined I would probably be running ~8:45ish miles during the race, but if my body was feeling happier with 9:00-9:15s, I didn't want to get sucked into running faster than that by the people around me, so I lined up pretty much at the back of the pack & figured I could just work my way up as I felt like it.

Which was, um, a big mistake. A lot of people were walking, or forming great walls of bodies curb-to-curb at a 12:00 pace that it was impossible to get through or around (which is completely fine, don't get me wrong; this was entirely my fault for not lining up in the right spot). I half-jogged, half-speed walked a good portion of that first mile in an effort to get into a spot where I actually had room to move at a comfortable pace; in the second or third mile I settled in with people running in the 8:30-9:00 range, which felt about right.

How much am I *loving* the outfit of the woman behind me?? HERE'S TO YOU MADAME. (There were also cow-print compression tights at this race, FYI.)
I glanced at my watch now & then out of curiosity but pretty much ignored the splits and just ran by effort, trying to do my usual don't-push-but-don't-dawdle long run thing. Most of the time this was fine, but there were a few short, steep rollers from time to time that felt significantly harder than I thought they should. As the miles went by the sun climbed higher and higher into the sky, and by mile five or so we had full, direct sun, no breeze to speak of, and only very occasional shade (which made the same rollers on the return trip OMG soooooo much fun.) (JK, they pretty much sucked.)

There weren't really reliable mile markers on the course, just the occasional number taped onto the surface of the road (I recall 2, 7, & 10 in particular, but that's all), & since I'd started the race with 6.45 already on my watch, most of the time I didn't really know or care where I was on the course except in a very general sense (apparently running interferes with my ability to do mental math with decimals). Physically I felt strong at the turnaround (so ~13 for me)--I was holding a steady pace, still managing good form (as far as I could tell), & still blessedly free of aches & pains. Between the heat and the constant rollers, though, I can't say I was particularly excited about running 7 more miles & really just would've preferred to be done.

(Hey, welcome to marathon training! said part of my brain snarkily in response to that thought. Because no one *ever* felt that way at mile 22. But seriously; suck it up.)

I thought that I would maybe take stock at around mile 9-10ish (so 17ish for me), & if I felt like I could pull it off comfortably, try to run the rest of the race around marathon goal pace (vaguely between 7:50 & 8:10). When I got to that point, though, the idea seemed laughable. There was just no way I could run faster than I already was without going into race effort-mode, which would require recovery days I did not intend to take. Not today, not with this heat & all these rollers & at the end of my highest mileage week in a good while. But then I randomly glanced down at my watch & realized I was running...7:5x. With only a little bit of extra effort.

Well okay then, I thought, & decided I could at least attempt to maintain something right around 8:00/mile. I wasn't willing to go balls to the wall for it (after all, I have other runs to do this week), but I have never attempted to run marathon pace at the end of a long run and the end of a long week & I figured it might be good for me to get that feeling into my body & convince myself that it could be done.

For a while it was doable, but tough. I didn't let myself run hard enough to breath hard--just a little bit of easy pushing. Once I was close enough to the finish that I recognized where I was, it got a lot easier, I guess because my brain knew exactly how far I had left to go & wasn't worried about conserving energy. At this point I had targets a-plenty & pulled myself hand-over-fist through the finish by picking them off one at a time. I think that helped make up for the fact that I didn't get to "race" race this one & threw a tiny little bone to my competitive side.

There was a mix up with my bib & I had to get a new number assigned right before the race so I'm not currently listed in the official results, but based on my gun time & how long it took for me to cross the starting mat, my guess is that I came in right around 1:49:30 or so (but who's counting). Afterward I grabbed my swag, jogged another .45 to make it an even 20, & called it a morning. (Also, while I was gathering my stuff up to leave, I got to meet Janet, which is the first time I've had someone I don't know recognize me from this blog, so that was neat, especially since she's running Ojai next month. Hi Janet! :) )

PRO: 16 miles into my day & I still managed to smile at a photographer. CON: As I have mentioned before, gels in the zipper pocket of the Oiselles will totally make you look like you have a horrifying butt tumor.
Funny; I was so preoccupied with post-race stuff that for a while it didn't occur to me that I felt...well...kind of human, which is not a state I usually associate with runs that start with a 2. When I thought back about it, I realized I'd never gotten that dead-legs feeling I nearly always have towards the ends of marathons & long runs, & nothing was threatening to cramp up if I so much as looked at it funny. Even my right hip felt good. For the most part it's fine these days, but 18+ milers still usually leave it a bit sore & complain-ey. Not this time; not a peep. A day later, I'm not even sore.

It was also kind of cool to realize that I'd actually managed to speed up after many many miles of faster-than-easy-pace running--not because my legs felt fresh (they never felt fresh, not even when I first started), but because they'd found a way to push harder and give more when they were already tired. Which I think is the whole point of marathon training. What you can do on springy, peppy legs is sort of irrelevant once you get to mile 22 because no one has peppy legs at mile 22. What matters is what you can make them do once they're exhausted.

Finally, in spite of the fact that I probably wouldn't have paid for it if I'd thought through my April schedule a little more smartly, I'm actually glad this run worked out the way it did. It gave me a chance to do a long run actually in marathon mode--wearing marathon gear, doing marathon fueling, & just generally being in a race environment with more than 13 miles on my legs. Even though I was only running at goal pace for the last few miles, having a kind of "dress rehearsal" gave me extra confidence in a way that the long runs I do casually around the city never have.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Calistoga, CA

Date: Late April (April 21, 2013 this year)

Price: When I signed up for it in early March the half was $80, & went up to $90 on April 1, but I don't know whether it was cheaper than that before (the website doesn't say). Yes, this is pricier than I'm usually willing to pay for a half, but back when I signed up for it, I really, REALLY wanted to race in April, & this was the only free weekend I had, so I paid a premium for that. The 5K was $40 & didn't change on April 1. $20 for under 17s.

Deadlines/sellout factor: I'm pretty sure there were were still spots available in both distances on race morning

Field Size: Pretty small -- 609 in the half & 107 in the 5K.

The Expo: No expo. Also, they mail the in-state bibs. Let me say that again - THEY MAIL THE IN-STATE BIBS!! I could totally {heart} Enviro-Sports based on that fact alone. I ended up getting a hotel room just because I wanted to get there early to do my extra miles & didn't want to have to leave San Francisco at 4:30 am, but knowing I could have, that I didn't have to get a hotel room & miss a perfectly good evening at home in order to get to an expo by 4 or 5pm gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

The Course:

The course starts on the Calistoga High School track & is out-and-back mostly along Silverado Trail (which I think is also part of the Napa Valley Marathon Course?). Like I mentioned, it's not what I would call "hilly" but definitely has a few rollers here & there that take a bit of extra effort (and probably more today because of the warm weather). I think the road was mostly closed to traffic for the race, but a couple of (very careful & slow moving) cars did make their way through (guessing those were people who lived or worked right off the road & had to get through). There was shade in places, but also a lot of fully exposed stretches. The road is also noticeably canted, which I've heard from friends who have run NVM. It mildly annoyed me in a few spots (honestly, the first time I've ever even noticed road canting in a race), but not to the extent that I'd say it interfered with my running in any way. (But I know this can be an issue for people who have had IT band issues.)

Why does it always feel so much harder than it looks on the elevation profile??

According to the website, aid stations with water & Gatorade were at 1.9, 3.8, 5.7, 7.3, 9.2 and 11.1 (so 3 total), which sounds about right. (One of them was tended by a local Girls on the Run chapter, which was just about the most adorable thing you ever saw.) To be honest, as warm out as it was today, I would've loved an extra one spread in there somewhere & was glad I carried my own bottle, but race volunteers don't exactly grow on trees so what can you do. For what it's worth, my watch read 6.45 at the start & 19.55 at the finish (which I will choose to interpret as meaning my tangent-running is in reasonably good shape, because that's what it makes me happy to believe).

Finish line on the Calistoga High School track


Like I said before, the race starts & finishes on the Calistoga High School track & is staged in the school quad area overlooking the baseball diamond. Pretty much everything is right in that little area, which is nice. I have only two small quibbles with the staging. 1) There weren't many port-a-potties, & the lines were still kind of long just a few minutes before the half, which delayed the start a few minutes. So it might be worth investing in a few more of those. 2) If possible, it would be great to have water & Gatorade at the finish chute. As it was, you had to walk maybe 50 yards or so from the finish line on the track, and I'm sure we can all agree that that's kind of the last thing you want to do after racing a half.

The blue canopies are where the water & Gatorade was. Check-in & race shirts were up on the patio area under the turquoise gable. The track is out to the left, with the start / finish behind & slightly left of where I was standing.

Gear check was on the grassy area by the quad -- basically a self-serve setup where you put your stuff in a plastic garbage back, write your number on it in Sharpie, & hand it to the volunteers. If you got there early (like I did), you could actually park in one of the small number of spaces in the school lot, or on the street right by it. Otherwise, there was copious overflow parking ~2 blocks from the school.


Classy, right?
A logo cotton tee & a nice medal. Back in my days of road racing naïveté I would have totally moaned & groaned about paying $80 for a race & getting a cotton shirt, but these days frankly I have race tees of all manner of fabrics coming out my ears so I just can't get too worked up over that one way or another.

I kind of like the simplistic, old-school styling of the medal. I feel like medals these days are quickly approaching some kind of singularity in terms of their size & ridiculousness, & I really do wish more races would just do a handsome, stamped metal coin of reasonable size like this one. Just a nice little memento. (I mean Jesus Christ, it's a race medal, not a freaking Christmas tree ornament. Lest we forget, we are finishing races, not descending into Hades to rescue blind orphans with our hands tied behind our backs.)

And naturally, as befits any self-respecting wine country race, age group winners (3 deep in five year increments) walked away with bottles from local wineries. Which I can always get behind.

Overall Assessment:

Personally, I enjoyed this race & thought it was well-done for the most part. Sure, there are a few logistical things I might change (more potties, water/Gatorade at the finish, consistent & visible mile markers), but it was well-organized & the course was kind of a nice level of challenging and I think it would be a fun one to race for real.

What would probably hold me back is the cost. I know some people would say that for a cotton tee, a non-fancy medal, & no rock bands, $80 is kind of steep, but I don't actually care about any of that--I just have a hard time justifying more than $60ish to run 13.1 miles, period. (They do have an elite program with complimentary registration, but for open women the qualifying time is 1:25, so I'm a looooooong way from being able to take advantage of that.) Still, I had a great time & I'm glad the scheduling with my 20 miler worked out the way it did. :)


  1. Kudos to you for tacking on the extra miles plus the race. I am far too lazy for that. I would looooove to run in Napa, but only if wine was provided at the water stops too. JK. Napa really was beautiful, I would be down to run a half marathon there. I liked the simplicity of the medal too. It looked fitting for the race. Great job!

    1. Lol...I'm pretty sure there are races in Napa with wine stations! This must exist somewhere.

  2. Sounds like a lot of fun! I have never run 20 miles, but now that I'm signed up for my first marathon (Marine Corps), I read these stories about training runs with a new interest. I'm freaking TERRIFIED, and your story is so so reassuring... you felt human?!?! Maybe I could feel human too?!?!

    1. I'm running MCM too!

    2. Don't be terrified! Just take them easy at first & focus on getting them done & making sure you hydrate, fuel, & recover well. Also company helps a lot. (The only really bad one I've had was after a day of wine tasting & not much food / water. That was shall we say less than awesome.)

  3. So glad things worked out so well for you! I'm just now getting hip to the idea of running fast at the end of my long runs. It seems like such a simple idea -- simulate running on tired legs, DUH -- but I think I was already giving myself too many kudos for completing said long run to worry about pacing.

    I have the same issue with the Oiselle pockets, except that I put 2 Gu's in my front pocket for the Oakland Half. You can imagine how some of those photos turned out!

    1. Kudos for just completing a long run are DEFINITELY WARRANTED! This is the first time I've tried race pace miles towards the end -- I think being in a race environment definitely helped. When I'm just running around SF with pedestrians & traffic lights, it's hard to get motivated.

  4. Good to see you last night - and well done for a great long run!! Always nice to get a medal at the end!

  5. Good job!
    and even tacked on extra miles after the run.
    I have never had the energy to do that.

    1. Thanks! :) Believe me, it was the *last* thing I wanted to do...

  6. CHecking out your race report as I am thinking of combining this race into one of those horrible "race-dates" in California....Sounds like a pretty good event excepting the heat, but given I'm from the hot part of the US, it may not seem so warm for me. It is a bit pricey, but maybe this is the one. The only other option seems to be Rock N roll in San Fran and that will be a mad house and I'm not that into Bling. Thanks for the scoop!