Thursday, August 28, 2014

Race Report: Santa Rosa Marathon

So in case you've been absolutely dying of suspense, my hip felt good enough to start the race, but as I'd more or less expected, it just wasn't cooperating fully enough for me to feel comfortable trying to run the whole thing. I made it to about mile 15, plus a ~1.5 mile warm-up and really felt totally fine the next day, so as much as DNFing sucks, I think I made the right decision & was glad to find that I hadn't pushed it to the point of needing major rehab & a bunch of time off.

BUT, I'm still very glad that I went & ran as much as I could. I really did enjoy the parts of the event I participated in & feel like I experienced enough of it to be worth writing a race report. (I do have more thoughts & things to say about what's going on with my hip, but I think that's a separate enough topic to warrant its own post.)

On Friday morning, I saw my spots doc, who did not want me to run but grudgingly accepted the compromise of my starting the race if I was having no pain but immediately stopping if I did & doing absolutely no running whatsoever after that until the problem was identified. (I'm getting an MRI on Friday.) That was fine with me since it was pretty much what I was already planning on. I'd run four miles on Thursday at ~8:10 pace, which felt perfectly easy & better than any running I'd done in the last month, so I felt reasonably confident that I would be able to run at least some part of the race without anything terrible happening.

On Saturday I drove up to Santa Rosa through the most craptacular traffic I have ever seen on that route (what is normally a 90 minute trip took me 2.5 hours) & arrived at the expo at DeLoach winery around 5pm, significantly later than I'd planned. It was open until 6pm, though, so I was still able to get my stuff with time to spare. Afterward I headed back to my hotel in the city, did a quick two-mile shakeout run that felt totally fine, then met Amy & her husband at Third Street Aleworks downtown for beers. It was fun to finally meet them after following their training over the last few months, & also helped take my mind off of worrying about the race.

(I have to say, sitting around alone in a hotel room the evening before a race because you had to be there by four or five or six or whatever to get your stuff is my absolute least favorite thing about out-of-town races. Waaaaaay too much time for my brain to stew/freak out.)

I'd planned to be up at 4am for the 6am start, but at 3:20am this happened, so at that point I was pretty much up to stay.

(In case you haven't seen these pics, this is what happens when you have a 6.1 earthquake in wine country:

Most California picture ever?

My poor friends in Napa apparently lost everything glass in their house, plus their chimney, but counted themselves pretty lucky considering that 200+ ended up at the hospital with injuries, a few in critical condition. Still, aftershocks with a two-year-old are apparently not much fun.)

I'll say more about this below but one of the things I enjoyed about this race is that it's about as logistically easy as a marathon can possibly be. My hotel was less than a mile from the start, & there is ample free/cheap parking just blocks away. I left the hotel around 4:45, drove right into one of the free garages & was parked by 5am, which gave me time to make the five minute walk to the port-a-potties & back, read about the earthquake on social media, make my last-minute preparations, throw all my crap in the trunk, & start warming up at ~5:40.

6AM HOE-DOWN! #form #wow
I was a little disappointed that at that point it was already 58F, which Weather Underground wasn't predicting it would get to until around nine. I was also disappointed that there was no water available anywhere at the start. In spite of drinking several glasses before leaving the hotel & then finishing my water bottle in the car, I was suddenly incredibly parched about ten minutes before the race & no one anywhere knew of any source of nearby water.

My favorite thing about small races is that you can time your warm-up so that you finish just minutes before the start & can jump right into your corral with no problem (not that there even was a corral, really, just people self-seeding according to the pacer signs) & don't have to stand around getting cold. At 6am on the dot we were off, and I began the tricky business of trying to ride that slowest possible BQ pace as finely as possible.

I started off running right in the 8:12-8:14 range, which was where I wanted to be for at least the first third of the race. For a while that felt fine, but around maybe mile 5-6 I started to feel some tightness in my leg & pain in my right quad. It was still pretty minor & I was keeping the pace pretty easily, though, so I decided to ride it out for a while. Over time, though, the tightness just got worse, and the twinges came more and more often, and it got harder & harder to hold the pace. I hit the half at about 1:48, which would have been fine except that I knew I was already working too hard to be only halfway done.

The thought of keeping this up for another 13 miles was just demoralizing. I kept waiting for my average pace to drop so that I could quit in good conscience knowing that it was hopeless, but miracle of miracles, it never actually did. It stayed at 8:14 for miles and miles, then finally slipped to 8:15; based on how I was running, I couldn't believe it wasn't up to 8:20 or more. I kept telling myself, "One more mile," "One more aid station," etc., but the stupid average pace number refused to drop any farther.

~Mile 10 after running through the DeLoach barrel room. My superpower: Smiling through pain in race pictures.
I knew it was only a matter of time, though. I don't know how much of it was hip trouble & how much of it was missing half my workouts in the last month, but if I was very honest with myself, I knew that I shouldn't be feeling like this before mile 20. By which I mean I was pretty sure I could hold on for maybe 5-6 more miles if I had to, but there was just no way I could keep it up for 12. So, around mile 14 I made a decision to stop at the next aid station rather than continuing to run at this pace until I couldn't and potentially risk serious damage to my leg.

Now you might think that if you go up to race volunteers & are like, "I've got a joint injury that's really bothering me so I think I'm done running, can you guys help me get back to the finish?," they'd be like, "No problem!" But OMG they did NOT want to let me quit. One guy looked intensely into my eyes & was all, "LOOK, you've come 15 miles, I know you're hurting but YOU CAN DO THIS!" and I was like, "Uh, no, seriously, dude, I'm getting MRI'd on Friday for this shit. I really need to stop running." And he was all like, "NO! NO QUITTING!" and even though I don't actually think I have a stress fracture, I finally told him, "No seriously, I might have a stress fracture in my hip. I need to stop."

And then the paperwork. Did you know paperwork has to be filled out (at least sometimes, apparently) when a runner quits? The medical people were like, "Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? When? Have you been taking fluids? Gels? Did you train? What program did you use? What prescriptions do you take? What medical conditions do you have? How much potassium do you get?" I'm sure it has to do with liability stuff in case someone tries to sue them, but given my particular issue & that I was basically fine once I stopped running, the whole ordeal was a little strange.

A guy in a pickup came to get me & drove me back to the start/finish with a woman who had pulled her Achilles tendon. I still had my free beer tickets for the beer festival, but honestly, at that point I just wanted to go home. Even though I'd known this would probably happen and had been somewhat mentally prepared for it, hanging around the finish line was still the last thing I felt like doing. What I really wanted at that point were dry clothes, solid food, a hot shower, & coffee. (Never underestimate the power of a hot shower & a latte!)

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

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Date: Late August (August 24, 2014 this year)


  • FULL: $110 Sep 3rd - Sep 30th, $115 Oct 1 - Dec 31st, $125 Jan 1 - April 30th, $135 through expo (online registration ended Aug. 15)
  • HALF: $95 Sep 3rd- Sep 30th, $100 Oct 1st- Dec 31st, $105 Jan 1st- April 30th (No prices listed after that--maybe they sold out super early?)
  • 5K: Adults $40.00, Under 16 $15.00, $10 extra for same day registration

The half strikes me as rather pricey, but I thought the full was quite reasonable, especially if you can get in early.

Deadlines/sellout factor: The half sold out, but as of the day before the race, the website listed < 50 spots left in the full & < 100 left in the 5K. So it could potentially sell out in the future, but no need to rush to sign up unless you just want the cheap prices.

Field Size: 1657 in the full, 1450 in the half, 872 in the 5K--kind of my ideal race size!


I have to say, SRM has really stepped things up since I ran the half two years ago in 2012. That year, the expo was held in a tiny, cramped side room of a divey hotel in town. The room was so tiny that people were smashed up against each other & pushing through knots of other people to get to bibs/shirts/vendors, etc. This year it was held outdoors at gorgeous DeLoach winery out on Olivet Road, which, while this did create a few different issues, it was infinitely more pleasant.

Once on the grounds, bib & shirt pickup was easy & efficient, they had some neat-looking merch if that's your thing, & runners also got a ticket for a free wine tasting in the barrel room. (I've wine tasted at DeLoach before and do enjoy their wines, but I was in a bit of a time crunch, so since I've had most of what they make before and it is not particularly difficult to get, I did not partake at the expo.) The weather was lovely, so wandering around the winery grounds was quite nice.

The only issues were a) parking, b) traffic getting into / out of the winery, and c) proximity to town where most people (including myself) were probably staying. Clearly they were aware that there wasn't enough parking to accommodate the numbers, so I give SRM a lot of credit for offering a shuttle service from a number of nearby hotels to DeLoach & back. (I only wish they'd advertised it sooner--I didn't know this until getting an email a couple of days before. My hotel sadly was not near the ones where the shuttle stopped.) But there were still HORRIFIC lines of cars down tiny two-lane Olivet road to get in; it took me about fifteen minutes from the time I located the end of the line to park & another 10 minutes to get back out. For me, the proximity issue is mainly about convenience; having the expo so far out in the boonies meant a good extra half hour of driving round-trip, & there is definitely something to be said for a quick, efficient stop-by-get-in-get-out expo location.

(But again--I cannot emphasize what an improvement this was over the tiny hotel conference room in 2012.)


The start/finish was staged in Julliard Park downtown. My only complaint about the staging is the lack of water at the start. The starting area was easily accessible & literally steps from a giant L of port-a-potties where I never saw lines more than a few runners deep. I did not need any information (except about where I could get water), but there were plenty of tables of volunteers ready to answer questions. I also liked that there were plenty of open sidewalks/empty streets surrounding Julliard Park for warming up. If I run this race again, I'll just now to bring some water with me to the start.

The Course:

Now the obvious caveat here is that I only ran the first 15 miles of the course (although the last ~6 miles or so go back more or less the same way as the first 6), but let me still say that the change in the full marathon course was the "deal-maker" for me with this race. I believe the half marathon course stayed the same (~6.5 miles out & back along the SR Greenway) except for the elimination of all the hairpin turns / loops around the bridges (another sweet improvement), but whereas in 2012 the full was just two loops of the half course, it's now a much more interesting single-loop that winds through more of town and some of the nearby wine country. (There was also some gravel on the Greenway in 2012, which there was not this year, unless it was on the return trip.)

As marathons go, this course is pretty flat, but as I learned from Amy & Aaron Saturday evening after they'd driven the course, there were definitely some non-insignificant rollers in places, so if you run this race, I would not skip the hill training altogether just based on the elevation chart. (My issue with the few hills was mainly just that I wasn't mentally prepared for them.) As the website says, "There are several minor 20 foot up and down rollers in the 12 mile loop. The biggest gain is a set of two hills at mile12 (700 feet and 350 feet long) each with plus 40 feet of elevation change, but what goes up, also, goes down 20 to 40 feet."

The roads were slightly canted in spots, but for the most part it was easy to run in the middle so that it didn't matter. I also appreciated that any potholes or chewed up spots were spray painted bright-orange. There were plenty of aid stations with water and honest-to-gods real, calorie rich Gatorade; the larger cups meant that I didn't have to worry about trying to grab two, and also that I was getting significantly more liquid carbs than I'd planned (awesome; just required adjusting my gel-taking a bit so as not to make myself sick). In general, I really enjoyed the part of this course that I ran and I'd actually be really excited to go back at some point & run the whole thing.


SO EASY!! There are giant, multi-story parking garages just a few blocks from the start/finish, some of which were free (including 1st street, where I parked both this year & in 2012) & one of which (the mall garage) cost $3 if you entered between 4am & 8am. It was so close & convenient that I didn't even use the sweat check.


GIANT ASS MEDAL, tasteful longsleeve tech shirt, and a custom bottle of wine from DeLoach.

"Runner's Red" Heritage Reserve

I have never been much of a medal horse anyway (and seriously, at a certain point, how many does one person really need?), but if I was going to miss out on a race medal because of a DNF, I am really not too bummed that it was this one. The medals were pretty similar to the one I got in 2012 (the medal for the full just looked like a bigger version of the one for the half) and it was so big that honestly it was kind of tacky & put me in mind of a WWF belt buckle. I'm pretty sure it was bigger than the one I got for the half in 2012, which is still the biggest medal I have ever gotten for anything ever in my life.

I know nothing about the wine except that it's a 2013 red, so I'll be super curious to try it out in a few years!

Overall Assessment:

Like I said, this race has stepped it up quite a bit since 2012 (which is not to say it was that bad then). Besides the whole hip-not-cooperating-DNF thing, I enjoyed the parts of SRM I experienced, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a reasonably priced, well-organized Bay Area marathon with a very reasonable PR-friendly course. Yes, August in wine country sounds kind of terrifying in terms of running 26 miles, but in both 2012 & this year, it stayed in the 50's & completely overcast. I haven't spent enough time in Santa Rosa that early to know if that's common or not in August, but given that early-morning fog is part of what makes wine country wine country, it wouldn't surprise me if it were. The early start times are an added bonus in that department.

So watch your back, Santa Rosa. I may be coming back for you at some point!


  1. Sorry to hear about the DNF, but it sounds like the right call. Still, it must have been tough -- and then to have to endure all of questions and paperwork! Ugh. Keeping my fingers crossed for your MRI tomorrow!

  2. I kind of want to do that marathon now. We stayed in Santa Rosa last year when we did our wine country vacation, but we didn't spend any time there (we mostly picked it as a central location and good deal on a hotel). It would make a fun little race trip, though. Hope your MRI reveals nothing serious and you can start feeling better soon.

  3. Custom bottle of wine? I hope it's good! (I had to laugh because a decent bottle of wine here will run you at least $30 - thanks alcohol taxes.)

    And yeah - sometimes race volunteers aren't actually runners and have no idea about the difference between 'going to be sore' and 'damaging yourself'. Good luck with that MRI...

  4. I actually laughed out loud about the super motivating volunteer. He was so committed to his job as a cheerleader! Way to stay strong because I probably would have been like, "you're right. I CAN do this!" and would have ended up with a permanent damage to my body.

    I can attest that the only gravel on the course was at the entrance to the winery, and the traffic into the expo wasn't an issue earlier in the day. Not having water at the start was a pretty common compliant. I never drink water right before racing, but for some reason, when it wasn't available, I was desperately thirsty. AND I missed the first water station completely, so that didn't help. And the medals are a bit much. I like the little spinner thing, but they were so heavy, we couldn't even wear them. They also caused my carry-on to be searched because they looked like weapons.

    It was lovely to meet you! I hope your MRI goes well today with no broken bones.

  5. Wow, I thought you'd just be able to step out of the race if you were quitting without explanation. They certainly make it hard to DNF.

  6. I think it takes more guts to know when to step away. And it sounds like you made the smart choice.