by Patrick Wright
Here's a report from the marathon I ran up in Napa. There's a short version and a long version (for obvious reasons).
Marathon PR was 3 hours 34 minutes and change. Trained hard. Went to Napa. Ran 26 miles hard. PR now 3 hours 26 minutes even. Came home. Felt smart.
After a good year of triathlons in 2003, it became clear to me that I have two major weaknesses - I can't ride a bike uphill, and I run out of stamina well before I run out of race, at least for long races! I decided to try to do something about both of these for 2004. To tackle the stamina problem, I decided to train for the Napa marathon. I'd run this race before in 2002, and had a horrible day out, flaming out at mile 19 and groveling to the finish.
I used a pretty standard training program, starting about 3 months before the race, and gradually extending the longest run each week until 4 weeks before the marathon, when I peaked at 24 miles in a little over 3 hours and 20 minutes. The main difference between my training and what pure runners do is that I only ran 2-3 times each week, but I swam 2-3 hours per week and rode my bike whenever I could. I also ran a half marathon right at the start of February, just to gauge my form. That race went OK but not great, so I was a little nervous about how to approach the marathon.
By the time the day before the race rolled around, I was pretty nervous.
I drove up to Napa with Dave McCutcheon, who was running his first marathon.
marathon expo, I met Vin Wolff, who was shooting for a sub-3 hour run, and nervous too. He said that I might as well go out fast, because 'you're going to be
hurting by mile 20 anyway, whether you go fast or slow', so you might as well get there early! My PR was 3.34 and change, about 8.10 pace, and I'd run a better
pace in training, so I decided to go out at 7.30 pace and see what happened.
Dave and I went and scoped out the finish area at Victory High School (a triumph of Stalinist architecture, I must say), then went to our hotel and devoted ourselves to a Chris Tucker movie marathon on TV. I'd read somewhere that, the day before a marathon, it's important to do as little as possible. Watching 'Rush Hour' certainly felt like it qualified. Halfway through Rush Hour 2 we bailed and went out for dinner. We returned to catch the middle of 'Money Talks', which sent me right off to sleep.
Next morning, 4.10am sharp, all 3 alarms in our room went off. I got dressed, ate a bagel with cream cheese, got dressed, made some coffee. We drove over to Victory High School and got on the bus up to the start in Calistoga. Napa is a point-to-point race down the Silverado Trail. You have little choice but to finish, as there's no other way to get back to your car and your stuff! As we drove up, a full moon was out over the fog-bound valley, and the sky to the east was just starting to lighten.
In Calistoga, we had 45 minutes to hang around, visit the portapotty, drop off our sweats, and get nervous. Finally, at 7am, we were off. I started about 15 rows back, and spent the first mile slowly building my pace as the crowd around me thinned out. I'll let my mile splits tell the story:
Mile 1 - 8.02
Need to pick it up a bit! I'm a bit cold; it's about 50 degrees and gloomy as we run in the shade of a steep hill
Mile 2 - 7.31
Right on pace
Mile 3 - 7.40
First significant uphill on the course, running in patches of shade and bright sun, warmed up now and feeling great
Mile 4 - 7.20
First downhill, fog all but gone now
Mile 5 - 7.26
Ate my first Gu; now I'm in a group of runners whose composition is pretty stable. There's one guy running 7 minute pace, then walking the last 100 yards of each
Mile 6 - 7.34
Pass a knot of 6 people doing 7.40 pace, chatting away. Hope not to see them again.
Mile 7 - 7.29
Get my first bottle of cytomax. I'd prepared 3 bottles, and dropped them off for delivery to aid stations down the course. Take the next 2 miles to
Mile 8 - 7.23
I'm excited. I'm running with a bottle in my hand, my heart rate is under 160, and I'm at better than my goal pace. How long can this last?
Mile 9 - 7.19
I ditch the empty bottle at an aid station, trot down a little downhill, and all of a sudden I'm under 7.20.
Mile 10 - 7.31
I'm at 10 miles in 1.15.30. Can I run the second 10 that fast? It's starting to get warm, and the sun is nearly dead ahead up the road. There's not much shade left.
Mile 11 - 7.26
Another Gu, another mile. My mantra is 'money in the bank'. Every mile I finish in under 8 minutes takes me to a PR. I'm really focused, not at all sore. Heart
rate has climbed to 162.
Mile 12 - 7.41
Biggish hill somewhere in this mile.
Mile 13 - 7.24
Sped into the halfway mark in 1.38.30. Only the very best can run negative splits in marathons (second half faster than the first), so I start to think about where this could end up. 3.20 at best, 3.30 at worst? I'd been at this point faster in 2002 by about a minute.
Mile 14 - 7.37
Still feeling strong. Finally pass a woman who has been just in front of me for the last 4 miles. Get my second bottle. I'm also drinking at every aid station, but I find I'm pretty thirsty, so this bottle only lasts a mile or so.
Mile 15 - 7.36
Heart rate now up at 165. The road has got straighter, more open, hotter. More spectators too.
Mile 16 - 7.58
All of a sudden I'm feeling it a little in my quads and in my groin muscles. Can't let the pace slip yet.
Mile 17 - 7.42
A bit better; working hard though. Still have 10 to go. This could get ugly!
Mile 18 - 7.26
Heart rate at 169. This hurt in training, but doesn't seem to be bothering me now. One hour to go if I can hold this pace. I'm hunkered down under my hat, its brim blocking the sun now beaming down on the road. I touch the front of my shirt periodically to check that I am still sweating. If that stops, I stop soon after.
Mile 19 - 7.49
Doing a lot of math now. If I can run the rest at 8 minute pace, I'll finish in 3.23 or so.
Mile 20 - 8.00
This mile is a long, gradual climb to the top of the last hill of the course. In 2002, I'd crawled up it, feeling awful, overtaken by a ton of people. This year, I hammer. Someone who isn't racing passes me, tells me to relax my shoulders. I do, and feel better. I pass 8 people on the way up. I feel strong. Through mile 20 in 2.32. Fastest ever to 20 miles.
Mile 21 - 8.15
I get my last bottle after a sharp hill down from the 20 mile marker. Downhills are killing my quads by now.I take a cup of water too, and walk a little. I know this is a mistake, as it's hard to start up again, but I can't help it. After draining the bottle, I jog past a group of spectators, and hand the empty to some unsuspecting guy. He's so surprised he just grabs it!
Mile 22 - 8.30
Did some more walking. I know there's 40 minutes' running left to do, but do I have to do it now?
Mile 23 - 8.39
At last we swing right off the Silverado Trail, over the Napa river, through flat fields. I'm counting down minutes to the finish by now, forcing myself not to look at my watch until the next telegraph pole or house or spectator. Then we turn left, heading into
Mile 24 - 8.51
The folks I passed at mile 6 come strolling by, looking fresh. Most of the people I have run with up to now are fading with me. I want this over, but don't have the power to make it be over quickly!
Mile 25 - 8.58
17 minutes to go; now 16; now. more people on the road, heat feels intense. Dog-leg right again.
Mile 26 - 8.48
10 more minutes, 9 more. Getting into houses, and then a residential street. Two more corners, then I see the school. Gear up to a gimpy, hobbling, desperate sprint, and go under the clock at 3.26.00. Job done.
I felt pretty good once I'd drunk some water, elated at my PR, and not feeling the full soreness of my legs just yet. By the time I'd driven back home I could barely climb out of the car. Two days later I still feel pretty beaten.
I learned a lot in this race. If I drink enough, the heat won't stop me. If I train right, I can do well.If I train really right, maybe I could qualify for Boston. Now, there's a thought.