One of the reasons I have loved the ZOOMA race series for so long is that the race is a weekend event. You show up with your girlfriends on Friday afternoon, score some samples from the race sponsors, hang out at the speakers series, enjoy some cocktails with Honest Tea, carb load, and head to bed. You wake up Saturday morning, run a 10K or half marathon, then head back to the hotel for a superb after party with wine, snacks, massages, yoga…basically the best post-race party you can imagine. After spending several months getting to know racers at various training events, registering runners at race expos, or connecting online with runners through our Runner Report series, the entire weekend was an amazing opportunity to hang out with incredible friends I was fortunate enough to make as an ambassador for the race, and to feel all kinds of love and encouragement from my fellow runners.
Let’s back up, though. I drove up to Napa on Friday afternoon with my husband, my mom, my in-laws, and my puppy (who at 15 months would like me to stop calling her a puppy!). The ladies headed to the expo at the Marriott while the gents dropped off our bags at the house we found on AirBnB (if you’re looking for an awesome place to stay near Napa, Mary was awesome and I can’t recommend her enough…she even made us breakfast!). At the expo, I finally got to meet some fantastic women IRL that I had only previously known online. Getting my race packet was a breeze (love the shirt, hat, and socks from Feetures that were included), which gave me plenty of time to socialize. Muscle Milk and Ultima were giving out samples, and I got to try the Banana Creme flavor for the first time…so good!!! I spent a lot of time chatting with Beth, the pacing organizer, and catching up with other Ambassadors, runners from our Runner Report series, and my favorite Oakland fitness guru, Carla Birnberg. I’ve never had more fun at an expo or experienced such an amazing amount of community at a race. I loved it!
After catching Carla’s talk on BRAZEN goal setting (you missed a good one if you didn’t see it!), we headed to an Italian restaurant down the street for dinner, Il Posto Trattoria. Guys, this place was awesome!! It was run by the kind of guy you want running an Italian restaurant and the food was outstanding! We shared some arrancini and burrata around the table, and Matt and I split two pastas. They were both good but the pesto cream sauce with the ravioli was my hands down favorite!
We ate quickly so we could get back to the Marriott for the Honest Tea Mocktail Party. I love snacking on the Cabot cheese and watermelon, and really enjoyed getting to try the mixed drinks. They were pretty fun! My favorite part of the party, though, was getting to catch up with some I the women that joined me for the 10 mile training run a few weeks before the race. Getting to share the race weekend with so many incredible women i was fortunate enough to meet while training for the race really made the weekend so much more incredible.
On Saturday morning, I woke up early to eat breakfast before heading to Napa (about 20 min from American Canyon, where we were staying). Matt and his dad dropped the ladies off at the start line before taking Pepper to scout out some places to cheer along the course. The race started in the LDS church parking lot, and there were so many porta potties it took no time to get through the line for one last pre-race pee. Normally I spend pre-race time getting settled into the corrals and chatting with Matt. But at this race, I knew so many people it was hard to not get distracted every second, which I loved.
Eventually I helped my mom and mother-in-law find Carla, who was walking the 10K. The day before she had decided to walk the first half with my mom and MIL, Melodie, since they were walking the half marathon. The three of them had an amazing time together and I know my two moms came away truly valuing Carla’s motto of #wycwyc (what you can, when you can).
After wishing the three of them good luck, I went off to find the 2 hour pacer, Christine. I had met her a few weeks before the race and was looking forward to running with her. My goal had been to see if a conservative effort could still bring me in under 2 hours, but having raced a duathlon hard just 1 week prior, I knew I didn’t have a PR in me. I lined up win Christine, chatted with some of the women around us, and before I knew it, I was starting my 10th half marathon!
I’d love to say that this race was rainbows and sunshine for me, but that would be a lie. By the time the race started, I was already really hot and the course was almost entirely in the sun. I had forgotten my Garmin in Oakland and was focusing on staying with Christine but gauging how my legs were feeling. The first mile was more of a struggle than the first mile of any race should be. And I think at that point I already knew I didn’t have 2 hours in me.
I could feel self-doubt creeping in, and I tried my hardest to fight it. It helped getting to see Matt, Pepper, and my FIL early in the course, and I used that boost to help me push through the first 3 miles on Dry Creek Road. I kept telling myself to stay with Christine through Orchard, and somehow I managed to overtake her a little bit. Considering how tired I was feeling, I have no clue how that happened. As we started to approach Orchard Drive, I knew I needed to easy off. I’d been running with another runner and didn’t think the pace was sustainable. I could hear Christine coming up behind me, and while I tried to stay with her for a bit, I ended up dropping back. Just shy of the 10K turn around, I found myself running alone in the hot sun.
I figured Matt and his dad were at the turn around for the half marathon just on the other side of the border between Napa and Yountville, so I started focusing on reaching that point. I was taking Cytomax at every water station and dumping water on my head, as well; with the heat I was so thankful the water stops were 1.5-2 miles apart. The views on the course were stellar, and I was able to distract myself for a while by taking them all in. As I started getting close to the turn, runners coming back in were passing me, and I started looking for everyone I knew. I spotted Erin early on (that speedy lady is seriously impressive), and Miriam and Hayley weren’t too far behind, either. And before I knew it, we were in Yountville, and my puppy was trying to come lick all of the sweat off my face :). I yelled out to Matt that I was struggling, but I think it was pretty clear when he didn’t see me with Christine since we’d discussed my race plan.
Coming off the turn, Kara passed me looking really strong. I thought she was ahead of me for good, but when I came up to the next water stop, we ended up falling in step together and chatting for a bit. It was a very welcome distraction for a mile+, but I came to the realization that with 5 or so miles to go, I couldn’t hang at that pace much longer so I dropped back and let her pull in front of me.
At this point I was just focused on running steady and trying not to positive split too badly, but after a few more minutes, I came up on a runner that fell into step with me and asked if she could pace with me for a bit. I told her I didn’t have a watch but I was happy to have her run with me. It turns out it was Krissy, who had joined me for the 10 mile training run! I hadn’t gotten to talk to her much then, so it was awesome to get to know her on the course.
She was also coming off of a race the weekend before in Seattle, and the heat, which was rapidly rising, was not helping. Having gotten myself into some pretty dark places during runs before, I could tell she was close to having a run like that, and without a second thought I knew I was going to stick with her until we finished the race. I no longer cared about my time or how my legs felt or how hot I was. I focused on getting to know Krissy and trying to distract her from any self-doubt she might be feeling. We stopped to walk a few times, but we always kept moving.
Just before we turned off of Orchard Drive, we passed my mom and Melodie, which was awesome! They had just left a water stop where Matt and my FIL were waiting for us…with a kiss from Pepper! That boost gave me so much heading into the final 5K of the race!
We kept pushing forward, and I was so proud of Krissy for never giving up! When we turned onto Dry Creek Road, I knew we were getting close! The mile 12 sign quickly approached and I told Krissy what I always do: mile 13 is your victory lap. Run it as hard as you can for yourself. All of your training, all of the race has brought you to the final mile…finish strong for you. And she did. She pushed hard through the finish and I was ecstatic for her!
After giving her a big hug (and Pepper licks), I grabbed some Muscle Milk Light and hobbled off to the car. I was convinced I had giant blisters growing on my feet, but only found ghost blisters! My right foot had also cramped up and I was having a hard time walking…so I’m really glad I brought a pair of flip flops to change into!
After jumping in the car, we headed out to find my mom and Melodie on the course and to cheer them on. We found them shortly before the 10 mile mark, and it was awesome to get to cheer them on! There was also a group of 3 walkers that I had registered during the Oakland Marathon expo, and it was so cool to see them and cheer for them – and to see the guys rocking the sparkly pink headbands they’d received with their registration!
From there I headed over to the after party to catch up with friends and ambassadors.
Erin, Miriam, Lynda, me, Rachel, Karen, & Kara
It looked like a pretty fun party, but I was on a mission: it was getting close to the course limit and I knew it’d be close to an hour before my mom and Melodie were finished. I found the race organizers and asked about trying to keep the finish open (Brae had mentioned the day before that they would keep it open as late as possible), and Brooke told me the best place to be was at the finish line. So we all headed back over and I cried to Brae about letting my mom and Melodie finish. She explained the need to get equipment returned to SF on time but that they’d just talked to my mom on the course and said she was still moving. She also gave me medals just in case the finish line was torn down when they finished, which made me cry even more. Everything they did to make sure my mom and MIL had the best race experience possible really meant a lot to me.
The bike pacer stayed with them for a while, but since there were a few people still on the course, she was biking back and forth to check on everyone left. ALL of the volunteers stayed to provide course support, the photographers stuck around to capture their final moments on the course, and the team taking down the course markers waited for them to pass the mile 13 sign before taking it down. When I say that this race staff and crew is incredible, I REALLY mean it!
It wasn’t much longer before I spotted my mom and Melodie on the horizon, and they came in finishing strong! I rushed over to the finish line to meet them there and join in their celebration.
And it was pretty awesome to give my mom her medal!
And the ZOOMA staff waited until they crossed the finish line before taking down that arch (it seriously came down as soon as they finished).
This race was absolutely incredible and while it was definitely not the race I was expecting to have, it was a better experience than I could have asked for. My finish time ended up being 2:12:31, but that number doesn’t even come close to capturing what the race means to me.
I have much to share about the fun we had celebrating the rest of the weekend in Napa, but I’ll save that for another post as this one is getting too long. I do want to give a BIG thank you to the race sponsors that gave me some incredibly awesome goodies during training and helped make my experience even more incredible! So thank you to:
- Ultimate Direction
- Altra Running
- Honest Tea
- Muscle Milk Light and Cytomax
- Ultima Replenisher
Your Turn: Did you run ZOOMA Napa Valley? Post your race report in the comments so I can check it out!