With some major life events going on recently (like moving and Matt’s bike accident), my race report from the Windsor Green Half Marathon
was pushed to the side for a bit. I registered for this event as part of the Run Wine Country series – run all 3 half marathons in the same calendar year and bring home a special bottle of wine (the other two are Water to Wine in August and Healdsburg in October). I really couldn’t see how I could turn down that offer, so on May 18 I set out on race #1 of the series.
I woke up that morning concerned about my race goals. My throat had been sore for a few days but that day I was barely able to talk and I was concerned about congestion affecting my breathing during the race. I was also exhausted from packing the day before and spent the entire drive up to Windsor questioning my sanity while popping Aleve and cough drops. I told Matt I’d give the race whatever I could, and I’d be really pleased if that turned out to be sub-2 hours. I knew I’d still fight for whatever I had to give, but I wanted to make sure I listened to my body.
When we arrived at the race, we were able to park really easily, grab our packets, use the bathroom, line up, and shake out the nerves with just a few minutes to spare before the race started. When the gun went off, I did my best to keep my pace in check for the first mile, hoping I wasn’t going out too fast. The race started in downtown Windsor and then headed south to the Sonoma airport. We had some shade, but it was pretty sunny already and I could tell the temps would warm up quickly. As the miles started to tick by, I focused on keeping close to an 8:45 pace for the first 6 miles. This proved to be harder than it should have been because the mile markers were inconsistent; some were short, some were long. Eventually we hit 5 miles and I pulled out some Swedish fish (these are seriously magical for me during a race right now!). I ate them as we began climbing one of the steeper hills on the course with the sun shining down directly on us. I was close to throwing in the towel and taking a walk break, but I told myself to make it to the 6 mile marker first. I kept repeating “Embrace the pain” over and over, and when I crested the hill and got a nice kick from a downhill section, I felt myself push through the wall I had hit. At that point, the miles were closer to an 8:40 pace (according to the instantaneous pace on Matt’s Garmin since the markers were so off), and I told myself to just hold that pace for another 4 miles.
Coming up the hill at mile 6 also meant that we took a turn to head back north and we were instantly in the shade. The area reminded me of running through Rock Creek Park in DC, which gave me a big boost, with the added benefit of gorgeous wineries peeking through breaks in the trees. (This race is seriously stunning.) I was feeling really good at this point and holding the pace well. When we hit 6.5 miles I took a salt tablet, which was key because I knew there’d be more sun to come once we turned east and started the last portion of the course. I was also really glad I had worn my water belt for the race because there were no where near enough water stations! More than anything, I think having more water stations would have been a HUGE improvement for this race with how warm it was.
I was really surprised to find that the course was full of rolling hills after spending time looking at the elevation chart the night before. I was anticipating a few shorter/steeper climbs, but there were very few flat sections. For the most part, my chest and lungs were handling that ok; when I’d get tired and struggle with oxygen exchange on an uphill, I knew I would have a downhill coming to recover. But that did start to take a toll on me. Around mile 8 I noticed my foot was rubbing pretty badly in my shoe (the start of a serious blood blister), and that pain was able to distract me from the hurt I was beginning to experience by mile 9. At that point I focused on sticking to an 8:40, but I think that might have been when I started to slow down a bit. I kept telling myself to embrace the pain, embrace the suck, and that a big goal was going to require a lot of pain to accomplish it. That helped me fight to mile 10. I’d taken more Swedish fish at mile 9 and got a little boost from that, but after mile 10, we were heading back out into the sun for the final 5K back into town. Taking that turn into the sun was pretty brutal and started draining me.
Struggling in the heat.
It became harder and harder to keep my lungs clear and after fighting my way through mile 10, I was beginning to seriously struggle. I could feel my pace slowing instead of dropping to the 8:35s as planned. I would see patches of shade and tell myself to keep running to that spot. It became a big struggle. Finally I reached the point after mile 11 where I couldn’t keep running; my chest had too much phlegm and I couldn’t breathe. I took a short (less than 2 min) walk break to catch my breath, try to clear my throat, and pop in a cough drop, which really helped loosen things up so I could keep breathing. Shortly after I started running again, we hit the mile 12 marker and I told myself to focus on holding strong to the finish. I knew at that point that I would be able to PR the race as long as I stayed under 10 min pace, and even with the walk break during mile 12 I ran faster than that.
We took a final turn away from the freeway to head into the downtown area and I could hear this woman trying to gain on me from behind. She’d been feeding off of me for the last couple of miles, basically using me to pull her along at various points in the course, and when I heard her coming up behind me I could feel Matt and I both recognize that we weren’t going to let her pass us. And if she was going to pass us, she was going to have to work pretty hard to make it happen (I’m not competitive at all, am I?). So we picked up the pace a little.
You can see her behind us here.
I was obviously feeling awesome during this race…not.
As soon as we dropped her, Matt whispered to me that the man running slightly in front of us was just asking to get chicked. And that it would be a real shame if I didn’t do the honor of passing him in the final stretch. So I dug deep to find all of the energy I could muster to speed past him. And just as I passed him, I caught sight of the finish line. Instead of settling into the pace I had just picked up to, I floored it with everything I had to the finish line (it may have been nicer of me to warn Matt that I was going to do that, but he figured it out quickly). I flew past a few more people coming down the finish shoot and finished with everything I had to give: 1:55:27 (beating Matt by 1 second, yet again!).
I was really proud of myself for pushing through the hurt around mile 6 and getting through that wall. I think I succumbed to that too easily at Disney World, so that felt like a HUGE mental victory and I was able to ride that for a couple of miles. I think the Swedish fish really worked out well as a fueling strategy. I just need to figure out a better way to carry them so I’m not playing with a plastic baggie. And I listened to my body. I pushed even when it was tough but I respected my limits given all of the conditions for the day. And for all of this, I am beyond proud of my race. No, I didn’t break 1:54, but I set a PR while battling a chest cold and in the middle of packing…I’m pretty pumped about that!
Final stats: 1:55:27
AG: 13th out of 78
Overall: 167th out of 686
After returning to East Bay, Matt and I picked up our keys for our new apartment in Oakland and started moving that afternoon! With dead legs I carried boxes of books from our 3rd floor apartment to our new 3rd floor apartment. All I can really say following that experience is this: racing a half marathon hard + moving will produce more soreness in your legs than any person should ever have to endure! But I’m still excited about my PR and I’m loving our new apartment, so I think it was worth it :).
I also wanted to mention that Matt and I loved the town of Windsor and wanted to spend more time there, which we unfortunately did not have that day. So instead, we went wine tasting with my family on Memorial Day – Windsor has a tasting room for Mutt Lynch and Deux Amis wineries that is dog friendly! Pepper came along for her first wine tasting experience, and we enjoyed a wonderful day drinking great wines with my family in Windsor. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a dog-friendly wine tasting experience!
Your Turn: Have you ever run one of the Run Wine Country races? Do you have a favorite dog-friendly winery in the area I should check out?