Sunday, March 11, 2012

Go Out Like A Cheetah, Die Like a Pig: My Napa Marathon

They say that doctor’s make the worst patients and I think the same must go for coaches. In Team in Training we have been preaching for years that runners need to pace themselves in the marathon, going out slower than you might feel up to, so you have energy left over for the final miles which are always the toughest. You’d think after 36 marathons that this learning would have sunk in and become second nature to me. Oh well.
After several years of coaching our TNT participants through the Napa Valley Marathon it was finally my turn to run it. I certainly knew the course well enough – it is one of the most scenic marathons you can do in the Bay Area. TNT had rotated NVM out of its event list for the winter/spring season to introduce other events and so that weekend I was finally free to try it out myself.
Kelty, Scout & I in Napa
We started the weekend by piling our two dogs into the car, driving up to Napa, getting my running bib and finding a place to take the dogs for a run. Reesa had found a fantastic park in Napa, Alston Park. It's just off Redwood Road and turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. This park was dog friendly so our kids could play freely off leash and run around in over 30 acres overlooking the hills along The Silverado Trail, where the marathon takes place. It was an absolutely gorgeous weekend with temperatures in the 70s and crystal clear skies. It rains on Napa Marathon weekend pretty much every other year and I was running it in the right side of this binary sequence, it seemed.
Living just a couple hours away from Napa we rarely stay overnight there and so it was a pleasure to do so, especially knowing what time I would have to get up the next morning for the race – 4:30am. Before going to bed, Reesa and I went to Fum├ęBistro, a fantastic organic restaurant in Napa for a romantic dinner. We had excellent food in this small gourmet place and a touch of wine (I think it’s a crime not to have wine with dinner up here – or it should be).
The following morning, Reesa graciously got up with me and drove us to Vintage High School where I caught the first bus to Calistoga and the starting line. Sitting a few rows back was fellow TNT staffer Davina who had driven up from Menlo Park that morning. And I thought 4:30 was an ungodly hour! We chatted on the 25 mile ride and were fortunate to be able to stay on the bus from the time we arrived until just minutes before the start. It was in the low 40s in Calistoga at this hour and so we cherished the warmth. I had hurt myback working out Saturday morning and it was aching badly sitting in the school bus bench seats, so I exited a few minutes early to run around and test it out. On finding that running hurt like crazy, I  decided to lay down in the middle of the street and stretch it out. Very bad timing to hurt my back but thankfully the stretching did the trick.
As you may know from my last post, my goal this year is to run a marathon in less than 3 hours, which is shaving 17 minutes off my currentpersonal best. Napa was the first test marathon of the year and so far the speed training had been working well. The weekend prior I had completed a 10 mile tempo run at my target marathon pace of 6:50 per mile and felt like I could have held this pace for at least 5 more miles. That gave me confidence that the 7:25 per mile pace I needed for Napa (which would lower my PR to 3:15) was definitely doable.
Here’s where my heart got in the way of my brain. I know that to hold the 7:25 I really should start out at this pace and store energy so I could still be running this pace the final miles. But I took off feeling great and decided to listen to my body for the first couple miles. It felt great at a 7 min/mile pace. It felt so good in fact that the emotional part of me started bargaining with the logical side. The argument was, “this feels great and is 10 seconds per mile slower than the tempo run last weekend. I held that for 10 and could have for 15, so this slower pace should be achievable for, what, 20 miles? That would give me a 3:08 and propel me much faster toward my goal. Wouldn’t that be fantastic!?” Of course it would, but as it turned out, it was also foolish.
As miles 6 and then 7 went by I was holding the 7 min/mile pace with easy confidence. I had slowly passed a few folks who looked around my fitness level who had clearly pulled their pace back as I should have. One in particular was a 30-something brunette whom I would see later.
I was still holding this pace at the halfway mark, turning in a 1:31 for 13.1. At this point a collection of runners around me, started to pick up the pace. Clearly they were stronger runners than I and had held back so they could register a negative split. I don’t think I’ve ever done one of those and certainly was smart enough to know not to follow them. I was still feeling good so I stuck to my plan and the 7min/mile pace.
By mile 15, however, I began to fade. I still felt good and so at first the slowdown escaped my notice. I checked my Garmin at the mile marker and saw 7:25. So I picked it back up and hit 16 miles at my prior pace. That was a mistake as by mile 17 I was clearly getting fatigued. I passed that marker at 8:25 per mile and could not maintain anything faster the rest of the way. By mile 24 I was dragging big time and had lost another minute per mile. And the 30-something brunette who had pulled it back early on, sailed right by me looking clearly stronger. I passed Reesa and our kids looking very beaten and crossed over the line at 3:19:42. This was still my second fastest marathon but clearly not one of my best efforts. As I grabbed a water and stumbled through the finisher’s area I passed the brunette who was smiling and looking relaxed. Her time: 3:15. Ugh.
Well as I’ve said before, I tend to learn all life’s lessons the hard way and this was clearly no exception. I have 5 months before my next marathon and clearly this experience will prepare me for that race: The ETMidnight Marathon in Rachel, NV. Join me by following the link to the left.