On Sunday, I finished my second marathon, the Napa Valley Marathon. On the one hand, finishing a marathon, any marathon is pretty frigging cool. Not many people finish them, and to finish two puts in you this rare group of lunatics… On the other hand…
In software, we have this concept: second system syndrome. The theory being that second systems fail because of over confidence created by the first system.
When I finished the Athens marathon, I was pissed off. Pissed because I had just finished it in 5h42 minutes and knew I could have gone faster. Knew I had completely botched the last 12 km. It was infuriating, exasperating and annoying.
So I had a better plan this time, one put together by my coach. The problem with the plan, is like every plan, the day of the run you forget your plan and just go….
Enough with prologue…
The Napa Valley Marathon is an amazingly beautiful race through some of the prettiest wine country in the world. You get to run down Silverado Creek Trail starting in Callistoga and ending in Napa.
This race is so pretty that I routinely saw people stopping to take pictures.
But I didn’t take any, because I didn’t bring my phone because, well, the USATF has this brilliant thought that headphones make athletes dangerous. The theory being that the brain addled athletes with headphones are unable to hear anything while they go through rest stations and are therefore dangerous.
Really. It’s not the massive calorie deprivation and exhaustion of the event, it’s the headphones.
The race start was kind of abrupt. The bus brings you to the starting line, you run to the toilets, then run back to the buses to give your sweat bag, and then run.
While waiting in line I overheard two folks discuss whether they wanted to pay double for an entry or try to break 3h. Everyone’s got a problem.
So the race begins. The first two miles were a mess. I didn’t get a chance to warm up effectively and my right leg was feeling wonky which was affecting my pace. My first two miles were 11:38 and 11:28… which in retrospect was exactly what I wanted them to be…
Elevation profiles lie. You read the Napa Valley Marathon website materials and you look at the profile and you think: Sweet 42 km of downhill… And your untrained eyes gloss over all of those jagged edges because, honestly, what’s a few minor up hills compared to this glorious endless downhill.
Well it turns out that there is something worse than the Athens Marathon, it’s called rollers. The Napa Valley Marathon had a series of minor hills that were pace destroying and life shattering. The up hill sections were steep and the downhill sections steep and they were back to back to back.
You can’t get into a comfortable pace either up or down. You’re fighting your cadence, your heart rate and your brain every step of the way.
Back to my story.
After the legs warmed up the next 12 miles were sweet.
I did 12 miles in 2h18 minutes. Which was awesome. I was feeling so great. So great that I didn’t bother walking long enough through those rest stations. I mean I walked, but I didn’t take a breather. Instead of 1 minute, like the plan called for it was more like 30-40seconds…
And yeah that pace was a little bit fast… But I really thought I had a chance to get under 5 hours. And at the 1/2 way point I actually was just at the 5hour pace.
In fact, I was thinking, DAMN, I can so totally do this!
Characters along the way
One of the fun things about running a marathon is that you get to meet all sorts of people.
One person was this 70-year-old woman who smoked by me… She looked like a physical wreck running, but man could she go fast. I felt even slower when she blew past this other lady who discussed how last week’s marathon was nowhere near as nice as this weeks.
Another was this gentleman from Chicago who was doing a 50 states marathon. There is this club that’s been around for a while that is devoted to people who run a marathon in fifty states. Pretty cool! Except his buddy had injured his back and so could not finish the Napa Marathon! D’oh! Hopefully it wasn’t his tenth.
Then there was the dude who was whining about the Tequila Party from last night. As he ran past me. Okay, like I am cool with you being faster than me, but not after you drink Tequila shots, that’s just not fair. Really, c’mon. Honestly I think he was flirting with the young lady running next to him.
A word on the road
This race is very pretty. But dang, the roads suck. The problem is that the road has a lot of twists and turns and as a result the road has a lot of pitch in it. Part of the pain in this race is running from one side of the road to the other to deal with the difference in grade from one side of the road to the other.
And now ..
The second half of this marathon was my personal Waterloo. I was thinking damn, if I can keep this pace up, I am golden.
But I couldn’t. Part of it was the cumulative exhaustion, part of it was that I had just gone too fast in the first twelve.
My first fourteen miles was done at an 11:18 pace, the last twelve were done at a 11:59 pace.
As I look at the elevation profile, it’s pretty obvious what happened. After the 6th mile and up until the 14th mile there is this pretty even gentle descent. So for about 8 miles I was flying. Then you start hitting these rollers. And they are brutal.
It got so bad that at some point in time, I just gave up on the heart rate monitor’s whining about my heart rate and disabled the alerts. So pretty much after the 3h mark my heart rate was at about 150+.
I was so damn determined to keep the pace, that I stopped trying to keep a pace and started to push.
And then at the 18 mile mark, where I was still in the running for a 5 hour marathon, I tried to push even harder. And that was somewhat sustainable, except I had a nasty ass climb from the 16-18th mile. If only I had waited until the 20th mile…
And then it was 6 miles of flat terrain, but at that point in time I was done and baked. I finished the last 6 miles in 1h12 minutes (approximately 12 minute mile pace).
And as the body started to die, visions of Athens danced in my head. And I was determined to finish faster than I did in Athens. And while thoughts of choking danced in my head, I remembered Jeremy Roenick.
In 2009 the Sharks were the toast of the NHL. At one point in time they had gone undefeated at home. Then Jeremy got injured and the wheels started to fall off. And I remember him saying: The team needs to protect the 0 (0 losses), or even the 1. So while I felt like just dying, I kept having this image of Jeremy Roenick coming to my house and calling me a choker… Or worse bringing it up on national television… I just kept hearing his voice talking about how he thought Marleau was the biggest choker of all time but wanted to apologize because he had met me…
So I kept saying to myself: I need to protect the 0 (5:0X) and when that was no longer possible I kept saying I need to protect the 1 (5:1X)
Okay… When you’re down to your last calorie, your brain goes to many weird places…
And just when all was lost I remembered my coaches instructions. I walked in every feed station for 1 minute. And after doing that my body felt better and I was able to run a little bit longer and a little bit faster. And then I walked for two minutes and it felt even better. And before you know it my cadence picked up and I was feeling a lot better.
In fact I was feeling so good that I actually sprinted the last 400 or so yards. The folks I sprinted by didn’t look very happy, but I was feeling great….
Which made me wonder, what if I had bothered to listen to him in the first fourteen miles….
In the end I finished in 5h 12min 29sec. Which is an amazing improvement over my Athens time. Yes Athens had that long up hill, but Athens did not have rollers. I would have killed for long gentle up hills instead of the sharp brutal up hills of Napa.
So close and yet so far…
My personal goal for this year is a sub 5 hour marathon. I am feeling good about reaching that objective. And maybe the next time, I’ll spend some time studying the elevation profile and using my brain…. And listening to the good advice of coaches…