March 9, 2009

Running and Wining — The Napa Valley Marathon and Post Race Tasting

We arrived in Napa on Saturday afternoon. My support team consisted of my wife Eiko, daughter Jennifer and friends Dennis and Linda from Mt. Vernon, north of Seattle, who came to cheer me on and go wine tasting with us. We first went to the race expo in Napa so I could check in. Had my Namban shirt on and the guy in back of me in line said he was going to Tokyo in 3 weeks, so he may show up on a Wednesday night. Walked around to check out the booths and at one Dean Karnazes was selling books and signing autographs. Got him to sign my number.
   He's not as big as he looks in photos, but is even more muscular. An impressively fit guy.
   Then caught sight of an Austin marathon t-shirt, so said, Are you Michael? And it was—blogger friend Michael who had run Austin just two weeks before (12 months 12 races). It was great to meet and talk to him.
   Then drove 9 miles north to Yountville to the Railway Inn. The rooms, which were very nice, were formerly boxcars. In bed at 9:00 since had to be back down in Napa at 5:00 to take the bus 26 miles north to the start in Calistoga (home of Calistoga water). Set the alarm for 3:00 but woke up at 2:30. Weather had been ok on Saturday, but the forecast for Sunday was rain. No rain when I woke up so I thought I might luck out, but it started raining a little after 3:00 and was raining steadily, although not really hard, by 5:00. Decided to wear half tights over my shorts to prevent chaffing. That was painful 2 years ago in Tokyo in the rain. Need the shorts because they have a large pocket in the back to hold five gels. Also put in some rock salt to suck on to prevent cramps (which is what slowed Ritzenheim in the Olympic marathon, after which he said he needed more salt/electrolytes). I did suck on it twice, don't know if it helped, but it's not too pleasant because your mouth gets, well, very salty.
   Back to the weather, it was also chilly, about 10° (50°F) or less, but the rain and a slight wind made it feel colder. Stayed on the warm bus for a while, then jogged a bit from 6:30. Went to the start and immediately met blogger friend Sky (Annadelrunner), whose long hair made him easy to spot. He was with two friends, Ron and Ted. Sky and Ron were aiming for sub-3, Ted for about 3:00, so was happy to have someone to run with. As it happened, I only stayed with them for 3-4 miles. Ron went on to run 2:54, Sky 2:56 and Ted 3:06.
   As for the race itself, my goals were: 1) win my age group (60-64), 2) break the age group record (3:04:55 I think), 3) run about 3:00. Ended up doing only the first. 
   The course runs down the Silverado Trail from Calistoga to Napa. Vineyards on both sides most of the way, although in winter they are just brown sticks. The hillsides on both sides were green though...a pleasant place to run. The road had some ups and downs, but no killer hills. There were a lot of curves, though, and they were annoying because the road slants on the curve. You can run in the middle, but naturally you want to cut the curve so you are running on an angle frequently, then have to make your way back to the middle. I don't like that, I like a flat road. American roads are annoying like that.
   No kilometer markers, just miles, but as it turned out, I liked that. Why? There are less of them! You only have to get through 26 markers, as opposed to 42. Believe it or not, that helps psychologically, because after halfway in a marathon, even a kilo is long, so a mile is not that much different mentally. I kept aiming for 20 miles, after which I knew I had only "6" to go. Better than aiming for 30k, after which you still have "12" to go.
   Here's my race, mile by mile. (A 3-hour marathon is 6:51/mile)

1   7:06  Did not want to go out too fast.
2   6:35  First mile was a bit slow, so caught up to Sky and Ron.
3   6:55  Now on pace.
4   6:41  About here, I think, started running with a guy named Alvin who wanted to run as close to 3:00 as possible. We ran side by side and chatted, which was relaxing.
5   6:53
6   7:06  Slowed a bit to take gel and drink.
7   6:54
8   7:01  A bit slow, but figured I could live with this pace.
9   7:02
10  7:05
11  7:08
12  7:24  Slowed for gel and drink. Alvin stopped for a toilet break...too bad. He finished in 3:13.
13  6:48  To make up time. Halfway (13.1) about 1:31:27.
14  7:16   Running alone.
15  6:57
16  7:15
17  7:30  Stopped to take gel and drink.
18  6:50  Picked up pace, got in a "zone."
19  7:18  Out of zone.
20  7:34  Stopped to take gel and drink. Following a guy for next two miles.
21  7:29  Legs hurting (upper thighs and calves).
22  7:26
23  7:50  Slowed to take gel and drink. Legs hurting more. Running alone.
24  7:58  Legs really hurting.
25  7:52  Trying to pick up pace (without much success).
26  8:08  Trying to finish.
For a 3:09:58. (Second half: 1:38:21)
First in 60-64 age group. 5th fastest all time (31 years) in age group. 
78th overall out of 1,865. 73rd male.

Post-race analysis.
The rain did not bother me at all, although I suppose my shoes got heavier so might have slowed me down some. It was colder than I would have liked, hands were cold, but not really a factor. (The arm warmers were great. These are very popular in Japan, don't know why they have not yet caught on in America.) There was a slight headwind (Ted even commented on it while passing me at about 14 miles after a toilet break...too bad I could not stay with him). It didn't really bother me, but might have slowed me down some.
   So why did my legs give out, again, as they did a year ago in Tokyo, causing me to run almost exactly the same time? From July to September I  put in 3 months of long distance to strengthen my legs, and in fact my quads were stronger...they did not hurt at all. (My hamstrings and knees  were also ok, feet were ok too, the Brooks Ghost were good.) This time it was my upper thighs and calves, especially the left calf. I just could not pick up my legs properly the last 6 miles.
   I think there were two causes. The first is that the 3:00 goal was unreasonable. I should have been aiming for 3:05 and maybe could have held that pace. Interestingly, the March Running Times has a piece on race predictors. 2:24 marathoner Kevin Beck says you should be able to run 2/3 to 3/4 of your race distance at goal pace in a non-race (no tapering) situation. I think this is true, and before Napa, I could not do that. I could not even do it for 22k, much less 28 or 32.
   The second cause was that my legs were not "tough" enough. I didn't stress them enough in training with repeated hard runs. Really hard runs. Long, slow distance training is not enough to hold a "fast" pace for an entire marathon, even with quite a few race-pace runs. (Unless, possibly, you really do a LOT of distance, which I cannot do because my body can't handle it.) Actually, runners in their 20s, 30s and 40s may well have strong enough legs to hold a good pace, but after 50 you lose musculature, so you can't get away without really working the legs, I think. So the new training program (wait for it!) will have less distance but lots of hard runs and some 10k races.
And now for the post-race festivities.
After a hot shower, I was ready for wine, so we picked St. Supery, on a friend's recommendation. Nice place, although they only have a do-it-yourself tour. The wine was good but not outstanding, although surprisingly, we all liked their dessert wine, Moscati, a lot.
   We then decided to try champagne, so went to Mumm Napa. Good choice. The tour is very good, fun and interesting. You really understand champagne when you are finished. You then do your tasting at tables in a room with a nice view. Much nicer than standing at a typical tasting bar, and your tour guide turns into a waiter/waitress, explaining each bottle. You order in groups of three, so doing comparisons is easy. Very nice experience.
   That evening we drove to Petaluma and joined my friend Maggie, who used to live in Japan, and her husband Brad for dinner at a good restaurant called Grafitti.
   Monday: Yountville is the home of what is generally considered to be the best restaurant in America, the French Laundry, run by Thomas Keller, generally considered to be the best chef in America. You need 6 months to get a reservation there, but he has two other restaurants in Yountville, Ad Hoc and Bouchon. The latter was two minutes from the Railway Inn, so we went for lunch and got in before the crowd, securing a table for five. The food was...excellent. As was the service. A wonderful dining experience.
   We then went to Frog's Leap winery, which had been closed on Sunday, but which was very highly recommended by a knowledgeable friend of Jennifer's. He was right...the place is great. The tour, by reservation and limited to small groups, had a nice personal touch—you get to know your tour guide and the other people. It begins in a nice house, where you drink your first wine at a table and hear about the winery's history and winemaker. You then go out and tour the grounds, drinking the other wines as you go. Unlike most other places, you can go right down into the cellar, touch the barrels, move out of the way of the workers (That's Julio. Hi, Julio!) and generally have a good time. It even ends on a fun note, which I will not reveal. And the wine is VERY good. Be sure to put Frog's Leap on your next Napa itinerary.

So...if you're thinking about a marathon in the U.S., I highly recommend Napa Valley. Usually, the weather is good. And the wine is always good. I may even go back and try to get that age group record.


  1. Sorry it didn't go exactly to plan. As you say, maybe 3:05 pace from the start would have been doable.

    Not sure what the answer is to the leg problems. If you find out, let me know. When I was younger I would have said more long (32+) runs on hilly courses, but not sure now.

    The 2/3 distance at race-pace seems like a good guide.

  2. Congratulation on finishing the race even though it wasn't well as you wanted. The scenery is so beautiful, I hope to visit around there for winerly also blewery. Let's cereblate at the party!

  3. Wow! Congratulations on your age group win!

    Great report and I am glad you got to enjoy some good food and wine after a rainy, windy day. It is a lovely area. Napa was my first marathon last year and I do love it!

    Thank you for stopping by my blog! I will be running the Big Sur Marathon on April 26th. It is supposed to be beautiful and I will have my camera (it dried out and works again! Yay!) so come on back after the 26th!

  4. I thought this was an excellent run of yours.
    Rain ,wind and cold all take their toll. Getting up at 2.30 may not have helped either.
    Winning your age group by 16 min + is damn is finishing 78th overall.Great effort.

    I hope your recovery is going well.

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  6. bob - excellent report. glad you had fun in napa/sonoma counties. i'm thinking the best part of the experience for you may prove to be what you learned in the closing miles of the race...namely that you needed to make some changes and come up with a new training program. read that post too, and it sounds like you're ready to hit the road again. congrats again on winning your age group....can't believe you can run 6;41 pace, chatting, and call it 'relaxing'...or that 7:01 is a "bit slow". looking forward to future reports, my friend! run safe.

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