Whining through Vineyards – Napa Valley Marathon Experience

05 Mar

After my big-sur(ge) last year, I got a renewed enthusiasm for running. Apart from the 2 months following big-sur run, during which I logged in onlyabout 15-20 miles, I averaged a decent mileage throughout the year. Though I didnt fulfil my dream of running 2 marathons last year, I ended the year with a total mileage of 1130 peaking at 188 miles last December (courtesy: Shoba was in India in December..:))… I did complete the san jose rock-n-roll 1/2 marathon in october. I decided to run a marathon early this year since I had logged a lot of miles during the end of last year. I had the choice of picking between big-sur and napa-valley. I chose to pick napa-valley since the course was simpler and I thought I could better my time doing it…;)

I was very happy with my training this time. I logged in a lot of 15+ milers and two 10 milers per week during the peak training which made my long runs easier and faster. I tried the san-francisco half marathon to get a morale boost and it most definitely did. I did 1:48:20 (official) though I had to convince everyone that I started atleast 1.5-2 minutes before I crossed the start line and there was no chip timing. So, I think I did something in 1:46ish range which, in my dictionary is an unbelievable run for me. This is where I guess, I got my cockiness to do fast runs. After the half-marathon run, I tried to do all my training runs at around 8min/mile pace. I even did my 20 mile long run in 2:49… Anyway, I was all set, both physically and mentally for the marathon day.

Shoba and I booked a room in an Inn in calistoga. The other option was to stay in Napa and get a shuttle at 5:00AM in the morning to calistoga (starting point). But, I hate to get up early and I figured that staying closer to the start line is the way to go. We arrived in Napa to pick up the BIBson Saturday. I attended a session where a bunch of elite runners talked about the course and how to “conquer” it. One of the runners was Dean Karnazes, whom, as I’ve mentioned before is the crazy ultra marathon dude. He ran overnight from san-francisco to napa enroute to calistoga so that he could run the marathon and then run back to san-francisco, totalling about 189 miles over 2 days… He recommended running a negative split, in napa. Thefirst half of napa-marathon has a lot of rolling hills, not steep ones, but a lot of small ones, much like the second half of big-sur. But, once u hit the 16mile point, it is downhill all the way except for a couple of hills at mile 20. So, Dean’s point was to run a slow first-half and to run a faster during second half. Then came Dick Beardsley who is also a well known elite marathoner (olympian/boston marathon winner etc.,). He kind of disagreed with Dean. He said that everyone slows down during the end. So, he didnt believe in negative splits. Instead, he said that running the first half faster and trying to maintain the momentum as much as you can to end is the way to go… The other runners did offer some valuable inputs. The important one being, there was no chip-timing on this run. So, being near the start line is vital if you want to shave off those 1 or 2 minutes at start. Another one, which gave me a queasy feeling was that, the race was going to start at 7:00AM at which point, the temperature was supposed to be 38F and then quickly raises to 60-65 by 10:00AM. For whatever reason, I run comfortably in really cold climates. When it gets hotter, I lose momentum… So, I was a little worried. We did drive through the silverado trail from napa to calistoga (reverse of marathon course). It helped me realise how good/bad the hilly and flatter part of the course was.

Everything went as planned the night before. I went to a pasta feed organized by a bunch of inns. Dick Beardsley showed up here too and offered someinspiring stories about one of his marathon where he did 2:09. I talked to couple of runners, one, a beginner doing her first marathon and the otherdoing her second marathon. I tried to sleep early to get up early. But, the biological clock doesnt adjust so quickly. Anyway, I had a reasonably good sleep. Got up at 4:45AM and got ready… As usual, I was a little nervous about, let me just say “restroom fiascos”… But, everything cleared up and was all happy scene by 6:00AM. Shoba and I drove upto starting point by 6:20 or so. Initially, we were planning to wait inside the car since it was quite cold outside. Later, we decided against it, for better, since the actual start point was a good 5 minutes walk. Shoba joined me for the first time to the starting point. Something that she has never done during any of my previous runs. She could feel the energy. People, young and old justgeared up to face the challenge. A photographer took a picture of us, which was pretty good. I stood in line for the porta potties while shoba bid farewell…

The race was supposed to start at 7:00 with a national anthem by a veteran named John Keston. But, I guess he didnt show up. So, people were a little puzzled and looking forward for the “go” signal. Suddenly, the race started, rather uneventfully. I like the adrenaline rush from the national anthem. But, i missed it. Anyway, I started my run briskly. I wasnt breathing hard and was feeling good. I checked my time at 2 mile marker and it showed00:15 something. So, I knew I was going a little faster. But, I didnt mind much. I started winding through the rolling hills. For some reason, I wasnt running on the right side of the road and missed some mile markers. At some point during my run, when I thought I should be around 5 to 6 mile mark, I saw the 7 mile mark much to my surprise. I overheard someone saying that they were doing a 7:42 pace. I was surprised and a little shocked. I looked at my watch and it showed 0:55… I realised that I was speeding. But, I wasnt breathing hard. I had learnt the hard lesson from my first marathon that, hitting the road too fast too soon will knock you later. I intentionally tried to control my speed. Still, I noticed that I did 10 miles in 1:20… At this point, I was worried and intentionally try to slow down a little. In the meanwhile, I saw Dean Karnazes running along without company. So, I decided to join him for a little chat. Getting one on one time with one of the world class ultramarathoner while running in a marathon was one of the highlights of this marathon. He was very cordial. Soon, more people started crowding him asking more and more questions and I started movingpast him. At the 13 mile marker, my clock showed 1:46. At this point, I happily concluded that I was genuinely doing high pace and I could continue with that pace for ever. Retrospectively, one of the biggest mistakes.

Mano had told me that he would wait at 18 mile marker. My mind started wandering, let me meet him by 2:20 and then I can do 22 in 3:00 and possibly 26 by 3:35 or so. When I was in my high clouds, there was a downhill somewhere at mile 16 where I started getting signs of cramps. I slowed down a bit, but it didnt help. I was just looking for mile 18. Atlast, when I reached mile 18, I noticed that Mano wasnt there. A big “Halwa” awaited on his behalf and it was disappointing… When I was doing the 19 mile hill, I saw a bunch of folks offering beer for runners… It was pretty cool and refreshed my mind with a smile. I thought of having the beer, but then, decided against it… By this time, my cramps started worsening. My attempt to relieve it by stretching made it even worse. Anything I tried on my legs apart from the running movement resulted in more pain. My mind wandered in all directions. I even considered quitting my run. But then, I was still doing a good time. I reached 21 miles in 3:03. So, it was about doing 5 miles inless than an hour. In normal days, I do it in 42-43 minutes. Given that it was the last 5 miles of a marathon. I was sure I could pull it off in around 50 minutes. With my cramps and excruciating pain with every step, I kept continuing. It was a simple algorithm. Run my normal strides. When therewas pain, slow down and if pain continues, walk for a few seconds before starting to run again. It was also getting warmer. So, I felt the need to drink more water. I gulped a lot of GU gels too to keep my energy level going. Mile 22 at 3:15, Mile 23 at 3:26, Mile 24 at 3:35, Mile 25 at 3:46 and Mile 26.2 at 3:56…. I didnt care about the by standers, I didnt care about the scenary, I didnt care about anything but following my steps onto thefinish line. As I finished, I couldnt even spot Shoba. May be my brain wasnt completely active or that shoba was wearing her stylish cap…:)..I finished it well under my goal of 4:00 hrs. As with every run (I should probably exclude big-sur..:)), I felt that, if I had paced a little better, I could have hit 3:45-3:50 timing comfortably. Oh well, there is always something to look forward to and that is the excitement of life… I was totally exhausted after the race not just with pain and cramps, but a nauseating feeling that lasted for half an hour. Shoba didnt have any clue about my state at the beginning. But later, she started getting worried. She drove me all the way from Napa to San jose via fremont-udupi-palace where we had lunch.

As usual, there was a lot of take aways from this marathon. Nothin new, but just reinstating the basics. The important realisation about running is the mental kick that I get from battling the tradeoff between mind and body. Personally, when running, my mind usually sways between two extremes of optimism and pessimism. The balancing act is an art and is the most fun and the fun doesnt start till mile 20 and above. No wonder people call it thewall. A wall bridging mind and body, indeed… Again, pacing is an art. In this race, there were no pace teams to follow. But, running with a pace group could be highly helpful. When I was tired, I gulped myself with a lot of water, GU gel, fruit sorbet and orange slices at the aid stations, which I think was a bad mistake. It gave me a severe nausea at the end of the race. Another important take way was to not overspeed in downhills. Usually, my quads get beaten up when running hilly courses, especially downhill. For 2 days now, I still feel soarness in my quads which indicates that I did a lot of pounding during the early part of the race. For the positives, putting in a lot of long distance mileage in the training really helps overall performance. For example, three 6 milers is not equal to two 3 milers and a 12 miler. It most definitely is not. I ran atleast 5 19/20-mile runs and atleast a dozen or more of 10+ mile runs during the past few months which greatly improved my endurance and speed. I think I should try out some 22-23 mile runs in my future marathons to simulate myself with a run that gets closer to the 26.2 mile point as possible. For beginners, I think it is not recommended. But, as the time goal increases, it is probably a good idea to do 22+ mile runs during the peak training runs. I am hoping to do the sacramento marathon during December this year. I think I will end up doing the 199 mile relay race next month and may be a couple of half marathons before marching my way to the marathon this year end. I do realise that I am getting more and more closer to my peak potential… Only time will tell how much I can push further.

I think, it is good to do an all out effort to achieve the best possible outcome. But, sometimes, it is better not to do that. It is a strange “good” feeling to know that the best is yet to come… That, in nutshell, is how I feel about this marathon…


Posted by on March 5, 2008 in Running


9 responses to “Whining through Vineyards – Napa Valley Marathon Experience

  1. Manohar

    March 6, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Awesome run man!!! very proud of you.
    And sorry for the halwa… I know I warned you that i might not make it. Couldn’t catch you before the race started and after it started i realised there was no way to tell you I won’t make it since you weren’t carrying ur phone.

    I think positive split or negative split… a sub 4 hour marathon is a dream for me. Hopefully I will take away some lessons from your effort as I run later this year 🙂

  2. Mindframes

    March 6, 2008 at 5:29 am

    Thanks dude… The “Halwa” episode was to pull ur leg…:)… I was aware that you may not show up. But, with all the mind game that was playing me around at mile 18, it wouldn’t be honest for me to say that I felt “okay” to not see u at the 18 mile marker…

  3. BrainWaves

    March 6, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Simply superb effort. 3.35-3.40 is not far fetched anymore!

  4. Mad Max

    March 6, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    @Mindframes:hmm..AWESOME effort dude…for me runnin for 20 mins on the trot is a big thing(though i have been improving a bit lately)….and ur talking hours…gr8 job..

  5. Saumya

    March 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    “You so totally rock Dude!”

    “You have serious thrill issues man!”
    Guess which movie these phrases come from? It fits you perfectly.

    Keep the great effort going.

  6. Survivor

    March 7, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    “Perseverance and hardwork is the key to success” and you personify that statement. I am very very proud of you and will be even more proud if you show the same in fixing our microwave oven. 🙂

  7. Manohar

    March 7, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    @survivor: The hand that giveth also taketh away. 🙂

  8. sdpal

    March 8, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Awesom dude. Way to go (run)..
    I know, I know. I know the answer. pick me. ( I thought keena wudve phased out nemo by now.. looks like she did and you didnt)

  9. Mindframes

    March 8, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Thanks a lot “dudes” and “dudees” !!

    @saumya: I immediately googled it and there it was, our dude “crush”..:)…

    @survivor: I dont want to make u too proud…:)


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