Distance Totals

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Napa Valley Marathon Race Report - A wet 4th class Boston Qualifier !

In October I signed up for the Surf City half marathon as my next attempt to qualify for Boston, which gave me 12 weeks to train after a month of recovery from the Mt Lemmon Marathon. However during Thanksgiving week, I got hit with a nasty sore throat, which ended up being a throat abscess (and not a regular cold as I thought), with a visit to the ER and 10 days of antibiotics/anti-inflammatories. Coupled with the week of snowboarding scheduled early January, I started feeling that this training cycle might not be up to par with my expectations. So I signed up for the Napa Valley Marathon early March, which gave me another month of training.

For my training I went back to a McMillan custom plan., which they modified based on my change of plans from Surf City to Napa. For the 14 weeks before the two-week "taper" (McMillan calls the period "peaking", not tapering) I averaged 52.5 miles. I liked that figure because it is 2X a marathon every week. It is not that high mileage but it was significantly higher than my average pre-taper for my previous race (Mt Lemmon - 44mpw) and way more than my previous cycles using FIRST. The highlights of the training were a PR a the 13.1 LA Half Marathon (1:31:59), that I ran without tapering, and the Surf City Marathon which I ran as a supported long run in 3:42 (8:30 min.mi, 1 min/mi slower than my planned Marathon Pace).

I flew to Oakland on Friday, spent the night at an old friend, Christine C., and then took the road to Napa on Saturday morning. I drove to Calistoga, the start of the race such that I could drive the course and see what it looked like. At around mile 2, I stopped my car and ran 23 minutes on the Silverado Trail (out and back) to get familiar with running on the course.
Around Mile 4, driving the course

After getting back to my car I arrived at Napa, and went to the expo. I checked out at my bib, and my bag - nice touch, you can choose between a duffel bag and a backpack - and quickly went through the expo. I checked in at the hotel desk (same place as the expo and spent the rest of the day in my room with dinner at the Pasta Party at the hotel. A little overpriced but Bill Rodgers gave a speech and Magdalena Boulet was also there - she was going to run the first 20 miles of the race as a training run.

For carb loading I decided to forgo the Aussie  carbo load approach mainly because I don't like the all-out workout so close to the race. So I used the traditional approach and ate carb rich foods, but I supplemented my meals with 2-3 bottles of carboforce during the 3 days before the race.

Woke up at 3:40 without alarm clock after a decent 6'ish hours of sleep. The bad news was that it was now pouring rain outside. For breakfast, I decided to drink a last bottle of Carbo force which would give me an extra 400 cal and 100g of carbs, with 2 muffins. I boarded the bus from the hotel at 5:15am, still raining and it took us about 45 minutes to get to Calistoga. I hit the porta potties, and then dropped my "special bottles" on the boxes that were going to be placed at the aid stations. My bottles did not contain anything special, just water, but they had sports cap which made it easier to drink from.

My 6 bottles, each marked so that they can't be mistaken with someone else's !

I placed them at miles 4.3, 8.5, 14.3, 18.5, 21, and 22.4. This ended up being a smart choice because I did not slow down at all at the aid stations, except one where the table was oddly placed way behind.

It was wet and there was steady raining at the start, but not too cold. I hung around on my "throwaway" hoodie, which I ended up putting back in my bag, and took a few pictures. 15 minutes before the start I took a Gatorade "prime", then dropped my bag and waited for the start, about 10 rows from the frontrunners. There I found Amy from the sub-3:20 forum and we chatted for a few minutes, until we started.
The start area in Calistoga, wet, wet, wet....

Waiting for the start, around 6:30am

After the national anthem, we were off and running under the rain. It wasn't too bad at the start, but the rain picked up at moments, which made that I was completely soaked early on by mi 6.

Yes, I look miserable out there...

Within mi 2-3 I knew I could throw away my A goal of sub 3-15, and I started to question my B-goal (3:17), since I had trouble hitting 7:35 miles or under. The first 6 miles had 3 hills which were not bad, but steep enough to slow down a little bit. I got passed by many runners during these miles, but I kept to my tactic of running miles around 7:30-7-38 while knowing that I would pass many or these runners later on. GU at mile 4, followed by the special water bottle, which worked out great and allowed me not to stop.  The same strategy worked for all the other water stations where I had placed my bottles.

During the first half of the race, the road winds and turns, and it was essential to run the tangents not to add to the distance. I did it the best I could, but the road has heavily banked at times, which made running there slightly difficult. However I was amazed at how poorly people ran the tangents. At about mile 11, the rain stopped, but it was replaced quickly by a 10mph headwind. I tried to find group of runners to draft, but it was becoming to scattered, and I started to pick up people at this point. I focused on one mile at a time, trying to take advantage of the downhills while not lose too much time on the inclines.

Despite the rain the crowd support was there, during the race, mostly at intersections with other roads. I gave people who were cheering the thumbs up, and high-5'ed a few kids on the way. The headwind was steady during the last half, but I tried to ignore it and not make it more of a mental nuisance than it was. At mile 18 I felt a runner high, similar to the one I had during Mt Lemmon at about the same mile. I started feeling really strong, and telling myself that this road was going to take me if not to Boston, at least to a guaranteed BQ if I did not have any major issue or blow up. I was reeling in runners one by one on the inclines, and maintained a steady pace as opposed to many people that I was catching up and who were slowing down.

After mile 20, the course was "all gravy" because there was a half mile downhill, then it was all flat, no more rolling hills. At this point I started feeling a blister on my right foot, but not too bad. I was feeling good but reminded myself of the McMillan instructions to not start pushing it until mile 22. At about mi21 I had a big GU regurgitation and thought I was going to throw up, but I went against my feeling and took my last GU at mile 22.

Feeling great at mi22, note the completely dry look as opposed to above...

I pushed the pace on mile 22 and 23, but then started feeling weaker at mile 24. This made me slow a little bit and was worried that I was going to hit the wall, but looking back at the split I was still sub 7-38 pace.

Starting to suffer, Mile 24-25 ?

At mile 25 I pushed it to reel in a few other runners in front of me. I knew based on the difference between my Garmin and the mile markers that I would have a little bit "more" than 0.2 mi to run after mile 26, so I pushed as much as I could.

I got passed by one runner during that last push, but I finished ecstatic in 3:18:52 official time.

Last kick to the finish !

Here are my Garmin splits:

1- 7:35
2- 7:42 (hill)
3- 7:39
4- 7:33
5- 7:35
6- 7:39 (hill)
7- 7:39
8- 7:39 - this is where I started to really worry about my ability to BQ, nevermind going sub-3:17 (my B-goal)
9- 7:34
10- 7:38
11- 7:34
12- 7:37
13- 7:36
14- 7:39
15- 7:38
16- 7:40 (incline)
17- 7:39
18- 7:32 - started feeling better
19- 7:31
20- 7:39 (incline)
21- 7:26
22- 7:26 - felt good to pass many runners
23- 7:24
24- 7:30 - thought I had dropped the hammer too early...
25- 7:38 - butt and hamstring muscles start to really complain...
26- 7:21 - felt better at the thought of the finish

First Half - 1:39:46 
Second Half - 1:39:08
-- 38s negative split
Overall I think I ran as well as I could given my level of training, the hills on the course, and the weather conditions. I don't think the rain was too much of a problem for the pace, but the wind in the second half might have cost me 1-2 minutes. I probably saved 30-45s by not walking through the aid stations thanks to my special bottles. Anyway I am proud of this race, because this is the first time (besides Mt Lemmon) I have felt in control of my race during the second half and the first normal marathon where I ran a negative split. I do not know if my time will allow me to register for Boston in 2012, since I will be last in the pecking order for Boston registration - 4th class BQ !

Nevertheless I am damn' proud of having qualified and not having to wait until I moved into the next age group to do so !

Boston Qualified, if not Boston bound !


  1. Nice job getting your first BQ! You never know ... that could get you in. You're right about those hills early ... in hindsight, I remember those from last year. In a way, they can be challenging, because if you take them too hard, you can drain yourself the rest of the race.

  2. Excellent G- With ideal conditions you would have gone sub-3:15... BUT that is one of the *beauties* of this length... one does not know what will happen on the day of the race. Again- CONGRATS on a well deserved BQ!

    Now it is time to start training for the next one :o)

    BTW- Medoc will not be a race-; it will be a party. 6 hrs of fun ;)

  3. Great job, I heard from others that the headwind was brutal and cost several their BQ. I enjoyed the write-up!

  4. Congrats on the BQ.

    How is the foot? The only time I got a blister was when I rain a marathon when it was raining!

    Now are are ready for the rolling hills in the LA Marathon!

  5. written like a good scientific paper with solid data ! Great job Guillaume. Can I take all the credits for the meal on Friday night and our runs in the Bois de Vincennes in 1993?

  6. I hope when went for few wine tasting after that :))
    good luck for Boston!
    And yes, looked miserable under the rain!! :)