Monday Miles: January 5-11

With the kickoff of triathlon training, I decided it was about time I bring back Monday Miles around here! As I mentioned, this past week was a big week as it was the first official training week of the year…and with this year being the year I tackle triathlon, that meant a lot of craziness for myself!

Monday – 45 min strength and stretching. During the off-season I joined the gym at work and try to get some good strength training in at least once each week.

Tuesday – Bike commute (5.9 miles) + 45 min tempo run. 15 min warm up, 15 min building to 10K pace, 15 min cool down. 4.68 miles; 9:37 min/mile

Wednesday – Spin workout. 10 min warm up, 20 min steady tempo, 6 x 45 sec spin ups with 2 min recovery, solid ride to round out 1 hour.

Thursday – Bike commute (6.9 miles) + track workout. 1 mile warm up, 2 x 400, 2 x 800, 1 x 1600 at 10K pace, 1 mile cool down. Had to work incredibly hard to hold on to this one – pretty out of shape after the off-season – but it was a solid workout to kick off the year. 4.75 miles; 41:14; 8:41 min/mile

Friday – Rest day.

Saturday – Long bike ride covering 18.5 miles in 1:25:03. Headed to the pool for 18:24 of swimming laps, with the last 200 including pull buoys (woof).

Sunday – Long run. Tried to add in some hills throughout the route – brutal idea after swimming and biking already – and held on for a solid 7 miles in 1:13:28. On the slower side, but I’m fine with that. Speed will come. 10:28 min/mile

In addition to focusing on workouts, I’m also returning my focus to eating better. I’ve put on too much weight this year to be happy with where I am heading into the race season. So today I returned to counting calories. It’s already been a big eye-opener to just how much I was consuming (and not realizing!). I’m starting my journey back to my happy weight at 152.2 lbs. By the end of January, I’m aiming to be back under 150 lbs, with the ultimate goal of dropping back down to 138 lbs. To hold myself accountable, I’ll be including my progress along with my weekly Monday Miles. I do want to note that I will not be putting my body in starvation mode. I will be carefully tracking calorie intake/burn to make sure I do not dip below 1200 calories, putting my training and body in a dangerous position.

All of this is to say: it’s a new year full of new goals. I’m dedicated to achieving those goals in all aspects of my life. And I’m willing to make the changes necessary to get there.

Your Turn: What big changes are you focusing on this year?

Healdsburg Half Marathon 2014

Just 7.5 days after Tower of Terror, I was back on the West Coast preparing to run the Healdsburg Half Marathon. Healdsburg was the final half in the Run Wine Country series and I’d heard amazing things about the race so I was excited for it. What could be bad about wine country in the fall?

Since the half was sandwiched between two races, and just 3 weeks post-Ragnar, the plan was to take the race ridiculously easy. Anything under a 2 hour finish would indicate failure to comply with that goal (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to finish under 2:10). My goal race for the fall was the following weekend, and I wanted to be ready for it.

Hotels in Napa and Sonoma can be a bit outrageous when it comes to cost, but we’ve had a lot of success using Air BnB to find places to stay. Once again we’d found a great place in Windsor…and the owner happened to have Vineman 70.3 gear all over (the weekend happened to fall when we were making long-term goals and deciding to work towards the race next summer so it was a pretty awesome sign we were heading towards big things!)

vineman 70.3 visor

We drove up to Sonoma County on Saturday in the late morning so we could hit packet pick up just after it opened and have time to get to the house before the Royals game started – it was October, after all! Packet pickup was held at Kendall Jackson again, but after getting our bibs and t-shirts, we didn’t bother sticking around. I don’t really like that it’s a big corporate winery hosting the expo…I always prefer to support smaller operations.

We spent the day taking it easy with Matt listening to the game while I got work done at the house. We had made a dinner reservation at a restaurant in Healdsburg called Baci, and I would definitely recommend it. The food was good and the restaurant itself was nice. I think for a solid pre-race meal I’d probably go back to Santa Rosa, but a nicer dinner out would be perfect at Bacci. The restaurant was full of runners and you could hear the staff asking each table if they were excited for the race, etc. After running Ragnar and feeling like the towns weren’t happy to have the runners, it was a nice change!

gnocchi at baci

cannoli at baci

On race morning, we headed out to Healdsburg and found parking along a side street. After making our way to the staging area, we got in an outrageous line for the porta potties, which caused us to be late getting into the corrals. That meant we barely made it for the start of the race and we were bunched in with slower runners. While at first I found this incredibly annoying because I had to do a lot of weaving in and out of people, it was probably good for forcing me to keep the pace slow.

The course started in downtown Healdsburg covering a few small hills before we made our way out along the neighboring vineyards. We essentially made a giant loop around the area just west of the freeway before coming back to downtown to the finish.

healdsburg half marathonTo say that this race was the most beautiful course I have ever run would be a serious understatement. Imagine all of the beauty you typically associate with vineyards. And then imagine all of the beauty you typically associate with leaves changing color in the fall in the countryside. And then combine those two things to try to understand just how stunning the course was! It was so easy to forget I was running a half marathon because I was just in awe of everything around me.

healdsburg half marathonI had been warned prior to race day that the course would feature a plethora of rolling hills, and I have to admit that the billing was spot on. Fortunately they weren’t terrible and it was pretty easy to climb them all. I do have to say that my legs were more than happy to be finished when I did, though :).

healdsburg half marathonIn terms of my personal race, this one was much needed. I spent so much time in 2014 focusing on improving my running – being faster, setting new PRs – and taking on duathlon. By the time Healdsburg came around, I was running out of mental steam and questioning some of my racing ability. This race, though? It was easy. I never felt the need to throw in the towel. I know I wasn’t running my fastest, but I ran the race comfortably, didn’t need to stop to walk at all, and would have run a PR race prior to 2014. That’s improvement. Huge improvement. This race was the mental victory I needed. And it was seriously so much fun!

healdsburg half marathonAfter crossing the finish line, we received our medals…and before anything else I demanded changing shoes. I have a spot on my foot that ALWAYS rubs in my shoes. Every season. No matter what. I build up a callous each year, but inevitably, the blister starts forming underneath it and I get these hideous blood blisters by the end of the season. This year was particularly brutal with such a long racing season…and my screaming blister needed room to breathe.

blisterBest sign I saw all race was right at the end & said, “Blisters are Braille for awesome!”

After switching to flip flops, we headed back to the finish festival where we collected our gear for racing the entire Run Wine Series this year: a bottle of wine with a special label and an additional tshirt! We then headed to claim our second prize for the Healdsburg race: new glasses. Our options were regular wine glasses, stemless wine glasses, and pint glasses…having broken most of our pint glasses, we opted for those.

wine bottle and glassOne of my favorite things about this race series is the killer post-race party they put on! We grabbed plates of food (amazing Mexican) and headed into the 21 and over area where Lagunitas was pouring beer and I think about 12 wineries were pouring wine! We had a glass of beer to go with our food and then did some wine tasting. It was such a blast! And I was completely drunk before 11 am…to the point that I didn’t want to do any other wine tasting before leaving Sonoma! Best part: it’s all part of the race registration!

post-race foodpost-race celebrationI really cannot recommend this race series enough! The logistics are easy, there is always amazing post-race food and drinks, they’re on the affordable side (especially if you register early), and they’re well organized. If you’re looking for a race in Sonoma, I really encourage you to check out the Run Wine Country events!

So finally, the dirty details of my finish:

Finish time: 2:02:49
AG finish: 34th out of 98
Female finish: 169th out of 714
Overall finish: 339th out of 1,028


Your Turn: Have you run the Healdsburg Half Marathon? Best post-race celebration you’ve experienced?

Tower of Terror 10 Miler 2014

Yes, I am still writing blog posts from races I ran 3 months ago! Better late than never, right? It certainly could’ve been worse.

Two weeks after racing Ragnar Napa Valley, Matt and I headed to Orlando to meet up with my mom and run the Tower of Terror 10 Miler. (I’d include a link to the website BUT RunDisney has done away with the race! Considering I had originally registered to run the race in 2013 but had to postpone to 2014 after starting a new job, I’m glad I hadn’t tried to push my registration back again.)

One of the reasons we’d registered for Tower of Terror was my mom wanted to go to the Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT and run a race at the same time. Previous experience has taught me it’s much more fun to do the race at the start of the trip and then enjoy the festival after the race is over, which means that since they’ve moved the Wine & Dine Half Marathon to the last weekend of the festival, you can’t use that strategy and run that race.

Going into the race, since we’d just run Ragnar and knew we had a half marathon the following weekend, the plan was to run an easy 10 miles and use the race as a training run. We also wanted to have a little fun, so we decided to dress up as my favorite Disney couple: Ariel & Eric.

rundisney ariel and eric costumes

After three evening races at Disney World, we’ve learned a few things about how to prepare: we ate an easy-to-digest pasta dinner in the hotel room that wasn’t too big a few hours before leaving, we made sure to have a change of clothes and shoes with an extra bag that we left at gear check, and we brought a few snacks to eat prior to starting since you spend a good chunk of time waiting at the start line. Fortunately we were able to keep ourselves well-entertained by checking out all of the costumes people we wearing, and it didn’t take too long before our corral was being moved from the staging area to the start line (I think it was probably a good .5-1 mile walk).

While I’d been assigned to Corral C, Matt was running under someone else’s name…and thankfully she had been assigned to Corral D since RunDisney no longer allows you to change your corral placement at the expo! The start line was located in the parking lot at Hollywood Studios and the course took you down to the Oceola Parkway, where you made a loop in front of the Animal Kingdom parking lot before heading back down in the opposite direction, past Hollywood Studios to the ESPN Wide World of Sports. There, you entered the complex from a side trail (decorated to look spooky and ghost-like), coming up to run a lap around the track, over to the baseball stadium (home of spring training for the Atlanta Braves) for a lap around the warning track, before heading back out on the main road. This met back up with the Oceola Parkway, which takes you back to the Hollywood Studios turnoff for a loop through the park before finishing at the base of the Tower of Terror.

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

Starting the race I had every intention of taking it easy, and we did. We settled into a solid pace, though in typical Amanda & Matt fashion, our miles slowly started speeding up. We had brought the camera along with us to take photos, but we never saw any characters we were super excited to get our photo taken with…so instead of stopping, we just kept running.

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

My 10 miler PR was set several years ago when I ran my second Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 1:29:58. I figured I’d be running this race around 1:35, so when Matt mentioned that if we picked up the pace just about 15 seconds or so per mile on the last 2 miles we could hit a new PR, I was excited. My legs were feeling surprisingly amazing, and up until that point, I didn’t feel like I’d been working hard at all. So I thought, why not try? A solid effort at the end of the run wouldn’t do too much damage to my legs before the next weekend…and my training runs typically end with some kind of increased effort, anyway.

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

So we pushed it a little bit. Mile 9 was just a little bit faster, but as we came flying into Hollywood Studios and were FINALLY surrounded by spectators cheering us on, my legs got caught up in the excitement of the finish line…and I found myself pushing harder than I really should have. At that point, we were less than 1/3 of a mile from the finish, and I wasn’t about to give up or slow down. Call it my competitive side, if you will.

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

So we gave it a solid push heading into the finish line…and crossed the timing mat in 1:29:01 – an unintentional PR for the race!

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

After receiving our medals, Gatorade, and snack boxes, we started heading out to pick up our gear from bag check. But I am not kidding when I tell you that it was probably another mile until we reached it! Between the walking prior to the start and after the race, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closer to a half marathon distance. And just when you thought you’d be getting close, it kept going. Eventually we ended up on the set of the Indian Jones stun show to pick up our bags, which was actually pretty cool!

We’d brought clothes and shoes to change into, so we headed straight for the bathroom to freshen up…which was especially important because it got much chillier during the evening than we had anticipated! Matt also said farewell to what were quite possibly the most disgusting running shoes on the planet (thanks to sweaty runs through dusty vineyard paths) before we were off to celebrate.

matt's shoes

matt's shoes

One reason we were so excited to finish so early was so we could ride all of the rides we wanted to before the lines got long, so we booked it over to the Pixar area to ride Midway Mania (the Toy Story ride). However, the ride ended up being shut down the entire time! Instead, we went back over to the finish area to ride Rock’n Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror before grabbing some margaritas.

tower of terror 10 miler 2014

We’d been waiting for the text update on my mom so we could watch her finish, but unfortunately the text was delayed and we missed her! We did, however, make sure she had margarita once she was out of the crazy long finish area (that’s what really matters, right?).

We eventually got my mom to ride the Tower of Terror (she hates that ride) before calling it a night. The after-party wasn’t very cool, particularly with Midway Mania being shut down and only a few rides actually open (which meant the lines were really long). There weren’t many good food options available, either, so we decided to head back to our room. I have to say that after experiencing the Wine and Dine after party, which features both food/drinks and rides at EPCOT, I have been pretty disappointed by the others we’ve been to following night races. I’m definitely glad we hadn’t actually paid to get in!

Final stats from the final Tower of Terror 10 Miler:

AG finish: 30 out of 1,150
Female finish: 168 out of 6,146
Overall finish: 595 out of 9,387

Not too shabby for a race I was taking easy!

Before wrapping up this post, I must also include how exciting it was to get to meet one of my readers, Kate, during the weekend!

Meeting Kate

We have emailed back and forth several times now, and it was so amazing to get to meet her in person! When I started blogging, I chose to do so because I needed an outlet – a way to handle a pretty serious running injury. It morphed into the outlet I needed to help me get through my doctorate work, and now it has become a way for me to share my journey and connect with people all over the world. When I wrote my first post, I never anticipated how much my blog would impact my life. But more importantly, I never dreamed it would be able to impact the lives of other people. Getting to meet Kate and talk to her and her husband, I was moved (almost to tears) hearing how the words I write help others reach for their own goals and make their dreams a reality. I can tell you that without a doubt, the two times we were able to talk during the trip far surpassed my unexpected PR…they were truly the highlight of my vacation.

With that in mind, I want to thank you for allowing me to share my journey with all of you. Hearing from you and learning about your journeys is seriously one of my favorite aspects of writing a blog. The running community is a pretty amazing one, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

Your Turn: What was your favorite part of your last vacation? Thoughts on RunDisney discontinuing the Tower of Terror 10 Miler?

The Year of EleVen

On this last day of 2014, I wanted to take some time to reflect over the past year while also thinking a bit about the goals I’m working towards.

Without a doubt 2014 was a big year for me! Not only did I get the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for two races that hold special places in my heart – ZOOMA Napa Valley & the Berkeley Half Marathon – but I also had the blessing of being selected as a brand ambassador for EleVen by Venus. I am very selective about the brands I choose to partner with, but what has always attracted me to ZOOMA and EleVen is the way the brands celebrate strong women. EleVen specifically speaks directly to my soul as I have never been one to be satisfied with being average at anything I do. If you’ve ever met me personally, you know I strive for perfection…or at least my personal best…in all aspects of my life. I’m not happy with being a ten. I want to be an EleVen.

i'm not here to be average

When I found out I had been selected as a brand ambassador, I was ecstatic. I felt I was already living the brand’s motto. I’d already accomplished 4 of my 5 goals for 2014. I’d set several new PRs, including taking over 12 minutes off of my half marathon PR, and I had not only conquered my fear of clipping in on my road bike, but I had also raced 3 duathlons.

But in typical Amanda fashion, I decided it wasn’t enough. And I was applying that to all aspects of my life. My notable absence on the blog has been the result of pushing hard at work as I have been striving towards my career goals. The success I’ve been able to accomplish in my professional life lately has pushed me to take the plunge (literally) and step up my efforts as an athlete, leading me to declare 2015 as the Year of EleVen.

You see, the key goal I had been ignoring lately was #4: Learn to swim. I’ve talked the talk on my blog – wanting to race Vineman 70.3 in 2016 and ultimately taking on 140.6 – but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. That all changed on December 21. While I might be slow and my endurance is seriously lacking still, in the past 1.5 weeks, I’ve gone from struggling to swim 200 yards to dominating 840 yards (roughly the 750 meters of a sprint triathlon). It isn’t continuous swimming – yet – but I’m pushing myself to grow and develop. I’m pushing myself to be an EleVen.

we all have a wonder woman inside us

You might be thinking: how on Earth does she think learning to swim back and forth at the pool makes her an EleVen. And you’d be asking a good question. But the answer is that this is just the beginning of a journey that will take me places I never dreamt I could go and will ultimately finish with 140.6 miles of racing that a few years ago seemed impossible. I could settle for where I am now – a 4-time marathoner, 4-time duathlete, sub-2 hour half marathoner, and sub-52 minute 10K runner – and I would be proud of all I have accomplished since finding running in 2009. But it isn’t enough for me to rest on my laurels. So in 2015, I will strive even more to be an EleVen.

1. I will race a sprint triathlon. And in fact, I have already registered for it! On April 12, I will be racing the HITS Napa Valley Sprint Triathlon. I’m terrified. But the goals worth chasing are the ones that terrify you the most.

2. I will race an Olympic triathlon. Another race I have already registered for! On May 31, I will make my way to the Russian River and begin my journey towards Vineman 70.3. I registered for the Vineman Monte Rio, and I splurged on the premium registration. Why? Because it guarantees me early access to Vineman 70.3 registration for 2016. And that’s the big race I have my eye on right now!

3. I will set a new 10K PR. I’m racing two 10K’s this year – Enchanted 10K at Disney World (part of the Glass Slipper Challenge) in February and the ZOOMA Napa Valley 10K in June. My goal is to run both races hard and set a new PR this year.

4. I will complete my first century ride. Ever since I started cycling, I have wanted to complete a century ride. As part of my build up to racing 70.3, I am going to do one! I’m scoping out a few races in the fall and am trying to pick the race. My butt might end up incredibly sore, but I can’t wait to make it happen.

5. I will become a stronger athlete. I mean this both mentally and physically. I will train myself this year to be stronger mentally – to not give up during a race and to fight through the tough moments. I have struggled with this over the past year, and it’s a flaw I need to fix before taking to the ultimate endurance races. Physically I am dedicated to improving my performances by doing more weight training and more stretching. I need to take care of my body and prepare it for the battles that await.

Ultimately, by the end of 2015, I will be able to say I am ready for Vineman 70.3.

i can and i will

Your Turn: How will you be an EleVen in 2015?

Ragnar Napa Valley 2014

Ragnar Napa Valley.

Wow, I don’t even know where to begin and how to describe this race (mostly because it was so freaking long ago!!). Milf Runner said it best when she wrote that trying to describe the inside jokes and delirious comments is impossible. Unless you were laying on a tarp with us 30 hours into the race, completely exhausted, you’ll never begin to understand how funny it was to be yelled at by a woman for having my dirty feet near her pillow (which was on the dirt at a fair ground so I’m sure the pillow was experiencing worse than the sand stuck in my toenails from Friday morning). And while turning Rich’s well-earned nickname of Ironman into Ironballz may be an easy one to understand, the non-PG nicknames he and Cat earned over the weekend cannot truly be appreciated.

ragnar napa valley

Photo credit: Cat. Seriously, how are my feet more disgusting than the fair ground??

So with all of this in mind, I will do my best to summarize all that was Ragnar Napa Valley without alienating everyone that wasn’t a part of Team You’re the Wine That I Want.

Going into the race, I was ecstatic when Cat reached out and asked if Matt and I wanted to join the team she was putting together. I’d always wanted to do a relay but had never been able to make one happen before (the logistics that go into planning a team are not a minor part of the race). I joined the team and got registered right away, anxious to meet all of our other runners and to find out what legs I’d be running.

I was eventually assigned runner #2, which would give me 18.5 miles over the weekend and would put me in van 1. I was excited for this since it meant running in SF and across the Golden Gate Bridge, plus running between Sonoma and Napa. I figured that since I was running several races through wineries this year, I was more excited about getting to run in new locations, rather than familiar scenery. Unfortunately, our team was saddled with runners coming and going from the team in the weeks leading up to the race – they all had very good reasons for not being able to make the 205 mile trek with us, but my favorite was a deportation. Seriously. In the end, we were heading to Calistoga with 10 2/3 runners and the world’s best van driver. Our final teammates were:

Van 1
Driver: Milf Runner
Leg 1: shared rotation
Leg 2: me
Leg 3: Sabrina (Bean; flew in from Texas to join some crazy people she’d only met online)
Leg 4: Matt (who made up for multiple bike accidents this year by claiming more road kill than any other team member)
Leg 5: Rich (newly minted Ironman – aka Ironballz – and Cat’s husband)
Leg 6: Cat (fearless team leader and blogger extraordinaire)

van 1

Photo shamelessly stolen from Cat.

Van 2
Leg 7: Jen H. (flew back from a court case in Delaware to jump in and run legs 2 and 3 on some serious jetlag)
Leg 8: Janet (amazing internet stranger who stepped in the week of the race to join some crazy people she’d never met for a 205 mile relay)
Leg 9: Jen L. (fellow scientist! and running blogger)
Leg 10: BT (running blogger who eats miles for breakfast)
Leg 11: Jess (Van 2 captain and fellow Oaklander)
Leg 12: Jim (Jen H.’s S.O. and surprising speedster…with the best finish line sprint in Northern California)

Heading into the relay, I was anxious about what the experience would be like. I’m notorious for being super cranky and ornery with little sleep and food. Embracing that, I hoped I’d be able to just enjoy the experience and roll with the punches of everything Ragnar was going to throw our way. Turns out, I don’t think I needed to worry about any of that; despite being sleep deprived, there was NO shortage of food in our van, and our teammates were so incredible I spent most of my time laughing until my stomach hurt.

For the rest of this recap, I’ll break it down into 3 topics: 1. A review of the legs I ran. 2. The pros/cons of Ragnar. 3. The things I’m glad I packed.

Leg Review

Leg 1 – I took on Leg 1 to make up for the missing runner we had been unable to replace. The leg itself was described by Ragnar as 2.7 miles – easy. It was incredible fun to get to start the race in Golden Gate Park, and the views along the leg were stellar, but I wouldn’t exactly describe the leg as easy.

Ragnar napa valley start line

Photo credit: Matt.

Please tell me you all see the Ninja Turtle to the right in this photo?? Best costume ever!

Seriously, the run through Golden Gate Park was idyllic. After coming out of the Park, we crossed the street and ran along the Pacific Ocean for a bit. Watching the surfers out riding the morning waves was mind-blowing, particularly thinking about how we were going to end up among rows and rows of grapes 205 miles north in less than 48 hours. Pretty cool!

starting ragnar napa valley

Photo credit: Matt.

However, the leg hits a point where you start to climb. And the hill doesn’t look bad. In fact, you think it’s just going to flatten out once you come around a corner. But it doesn’t. Around the corner is just more hill and more climbing. Perhaps if this is the only leg you’re running at the time, it’s not a problem. But when you know you have a tough leg immediately following this one, all you can think about is “My legs are going to be shredded before I even hit the trail section on Leg 2!” At one point I realized it wasn’t worth it to kill myself getting up the hill, so I gave myself a bit of a walk break before finishing the leg. I have to say, though, that when I took a few seconds to look to the left out over the ocean, it was quite a breathtaking view.

Leg 2 – This was the leg I was most nervous about. And it turns out rightfully so! It was billed as 5.5 miles – hard, which was not a lie this time. Part of this leg took me down Lands End Trail, which, despite being beautiful, really highlighted my serious lack of trail experience. I actually avoid trail running because my ankles are so weak…which I probably should have thought about before taking this leg since I rolled my ankle at one point, which left me with nagging ankle pain for the rest of the race. However, the trail is stunning (when you aren’t looking down to make sure you stay vertical) and it kept cutting in and out with jaw-dropping views from the Pacific to the Bay. Seriously so beautiful!

However, I was THRILLED to get off of the trail and find some solid ground, which is where I started to make up time again. I was letting my legs fly, zipping through neighborhoods, when I saw my teammates up ahead. I was so excited!! I yelled that I’d never been happier to be back on solid ground…and just after turning the corner out of their view, the course turned right back onto trail! I was crushed. This was the section where I rolled my ankle, and you can imagine how happy it made me when I came off of the trail…onto the BEACH! Legit, I have never felt so tired in my life than trying to run in the sand after my legs were already destroyed by trails. OMG this leg is not designed for an inexperienced runner!

I found entertainment in the commercial that was being filmed on the beach before finally getting out of the sand and back onto solid ground. Unfortunately that ground was in the form of a wicked steep hill! I kept run/walking my way up the hill, but it was incredibly tough, particularly after running on the sand, but once I saw my teammates up ahead, I started running again. I couldn’t walk in front of them! Fortunately, I think they realized I was struggling and they took off to wait for me across the Golden Gate Bridge so I could walk again :). Eventually I made it to the top of the hill where I found my van mates waiting to cheer me on before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge! This was also the moment where I was picking up my pace again and SCREAMING past the runner we’ll refer to as “Butt Cheek Girl” (because I stared at those thing the entire way up the hill!

passing butt cheek girl

Photo credit: Cat.

I will say, they were very nice!

ragnar napa valley leg 2

Photo credit: Matt.

You can see just how much the hill killed me here!

I made my way through the parking garage (seriously) onto the Golden Gate Bridge and threw down everything I had to give in that final stretch. I knew I just had to get to the parking lot on the other side of the bridge and my first two legs would be complete!

ragnar napa valley

I wanted to finish strong and get my team off with a good start, so I pushed. Hard. And while it was too foggy to really see anything other than the orange paint rising into Karl the Fog, I savored my first time running across the iconic bridge. That being said, I was ecstatic when I made it across and saw my teammates leading me into the exchange!

ragnar napa valley leg 2

Photo credit: Matt.

I was GUTTED. Final totals: 9.7 miles in 1:30:31. Not bad considering all of the climbing, the beach, the trail and hill-mandated walk breaks, and a crazy crowded bridge to cross! Unfortunately, I don’t remember how many roadkill I picked off each leg (and I actually didn’t even count on this one), but I can tell you that when the trails weren’t involved, I was crushing the miles.

Leg 14 – Also known as the leg I demolished every runner in front of me. This leg was billed as 4.7 miles – moderate, and I think that was pretty accurate. There was a bit of climbing on the first half, with a nice gentle downhill for the second half. Taking off from transition, it was super dark out (I started running at 9 pm through the outskirts of Petaluma – the worst smelling town I have ever been in) and I was focusing on staying in the shoulder just enough to protect my ankles since the canter in the road was pretty strong but I also needed to be out of the way of cars. Once I settled in to a good place, I really just got myself into the mindset that I wanted to be uncomfortable the entire run. My goal: as many kills as I could muster. So I started focusing on picking one runner off at a time.

Hills have traditionally been one of my specialties. I hate running them, and they totally kick my ass, but somehow I have a bit of a superpower for muscling my way up hills faster than my competition. I relied on that strength to DOMINATE on the first half of the leg. Once I crested the hill, I really just let my legs take off. I knew they would know how to handle the second half of the leg…so again I just focused on the next runner and pushed with all I had.

I was starting to question how much more I had to give when I reached the turn into transition and gave a final surge passing one more runner. I came into the exchange yelling for Sabrina, found her, slapped the bracelet on her wrist and yelled: “Nine fucking kills!” before collapsing on the ground.

ragnar napa valley leg 14

Photo credit: Cat.

I. Was. Done. But it was AWESOME. Final stats: 4.68 miles in 41:08.

Leg 26 – Or that time I took one for the team and ran the hill between Sonoma and Napa. This course was described as 8.3 miles – very hard. I’d agree with that. After sleeping in the parking lot of Sonoma High School, I was tired, cold, and not sure how I felt about my longest run of the relay. But at 8:41, Matt had slapped the bracelet on my wrist and I was heading for Napa. (For those of you that aren’t familiar with wine country, there’s a big hill between Sonoma and Napa counties, and it was my job to get our team over that hill!)

It was a super humid morning, and before I’d even started on the climb, I was pouring sweat. Fortunately, my teammates are amazing and stopped when they weren’t supposed to to give me a cheer on the leg…which meant I got to ditch my tank. I’m SOOOOOO thankful for that because the humidity was kicking my ass before I’d even hit 1 mile. I also gave myself permission to walk for 2 minutes after every 2 miles…my legs were dead – it had been a long relay already – and I knew the hill was going to be a beast to climb. I figured a 2 minute walk break every 2 miles was worth it to keep me moving forward and upward. Fortunately, this run had some pretty amazing views, so I wasn’t exactly miserable on the course!

ragnar napa valley leg 26

Photo credit: Milf Runner. This was actually named one of the best photos from the race all weekend!

This was where we really hit the vineyards (and could actually see them)…and we were all pretty happy to know we were getting close(r). Ragnar had driving directions for the vans going from exchange to exchange, and for this leg, the drivers were supposed to take the same route as the runners. However, the traffic on the road was so bad I kept passing van after van. After making an illegal stop to cheer me on, I hadn’t seen my team and all I could hope for was that they’d be at transition by the time I got there.

The hills themselves were pretty tough, made more challenging by a fairly steep canter on the shoulder (my biggest issue with this leg was the fact that we were running on the shoulder of a state highway the entire time…and there were moments when it did NOT feel safe). The canter was really rough on my ankle so I was quite thankful when I reached the turnoff. I actually was just so focused on getting through the leg that I hadn’t even noticed the course marking. Fortunately, since we had to cross the state highway, there was a police officer sitting in his car that would get out to stop traffic for the runners. If he hadn’t been there, I would have totally missed the turn!

At that point I turned into the outskirts of Napa and started running past some homes. Many of them were undergoing renovations following the earthquake earlier this year; it was really hard to see how bad the damage was for some families. After about a mile past the turn, I made my way into the exchange and was completely relieved to see my team there! (Turns out Google Maps is amazing and they were able to get around all of the traffic, a fate most other teams were unable to avoid…one woman had been waiting at transition for almost an hour when I got there!) I slapped my bracelet onto Sabrina’s wrist and cheerfully crossed off my final leg. My legs were dead, I was massively sleep-deprived, and I was in desperate need of a shower, but I conquered the hill to kick off the final (challenging) stretch for my team. Final leg: 8.22 miles in 1:15:35.

ragnar napa valley

Photo credit: Cat.

ragnar napa valley

ragnar napa valley

Van 1 was thrilled to be finished!

Pros/Cons of Ragnar Napa Valley

I’m sad to say that this list is going to have more cons than pros. While my team was amazing and I would gladly do another relay with all of them again, Ragnar itself left much to be desired in a relay.


– The finish line festival had Sierra Nevada pouring decent beers. Nothing irks me more than terrible beer (Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Coors Light, etc.) at a finish line.
– We had a driver for our van while van 2 did not. I think having a driver made a HUGE difference and allowed us more time to recover between our legs. While it’s certainly possible to do a relay without a driver, do yourself a favor and don’t.
– The course was well-marked and none of our teammates got lost!
– The pace calculator seemed like it was crazy off in estimating our finish time when we looked at it, but somehow we actually managed to finish right on schedule!


– While I don’t care about medals, the company Ragnar contracts with to make the medals did not get them finished and delivered on time. Instead, the medals were promised in a few weeks (turns out it was more like 2 months before we got them) and we were given belt buckles from the Utah trail relay…um, seriously?? Teams were also given extra beer tickets for the finish line.
– The wine was not free at the finish line. You could pay too much money for a small pour of wine. Does anyone else find it ridiculous that we ran through Sonoma and Napa and couldn’t get free wine???
– Most of the route offered very little in the way of being able to cheer for your teammates. This was particularly tough for van 2 since the timing worked out that most of their legs were in the sweltering heat with very little shade. We had tried to cheer for them along the course but realized that the route didn’t make it possible.
– Additionally, there was almost no time for interaction with our other van. The only chance we really had to see them was at the finish line. And by the time we’d all made it there, we just wanted to go to bed!
– The finish is in Calistoga, which is an expensive little town in Napa County. Our team captain had looked into finding a house for all of us to stay over and spend time together after the race…and it was ridiculously unaffordable. Instead we had to drive back to the Bay Area immediately after finishing…it was pretty rough.
– Most of the communities don’t seem to be happy to have Ragnar in the area. While some places were pretty awesome – handing out cold water to runners during the heat of the day – there were others that seemed quite annoyed to have us around. Ragnar could really work on community engagement!
– Van 2 had a vastly different experience from Van 1 – the legs were mostly in the middle of nowhere with no shade in the heat of the day and very few places to actually cheer for your teammates. It really makes me sad that our second van wasn’t able to experience the relay the way our van did.
– The descriptions for each leg were not always accurate.

Again, I’m not making a list of negative comments because I didn’t have a good time. I actually had one of the best experiences of my life and loved getting to know my teammates better! I was in a bit of a depression when the fun was over :). This is just my attempt at an objective list of pros and cons about this specific relay for those of you considering the race. (In my personal opinion, I would rather do The Relay instead.)

ragnar napa valley finish

Photo credit: Cat. The blurriest team photo EVER!

Things to Pack

If you do a Google search for relay packing lists, you’ll find a good list of items to bring. So instead of just typing up my packing list for you, I thought I’d put together a list of the items I brought that I loved having with me the most.

– Mini bottles of soda. Our team had two coolers full of food and drinks. The thing that I craved the most? Coke. Nothing felt better than the syrupy goodness of a Coke after each run!
– Tarp. We used the tarp that Cat & Rich brought to roll our sleeping bag out on overnight as well as while we were at the finish line waiting for Van 2 to come in. Both times it was amazing to have!
– Flip flops. I wanted to be comfortable when I wasn’t running.
– Glow sticks. Sabrina brought glow sticks for us to wear on our night run and I thought they were both super fun and provided some extra visibility.
– Potato chips. I CRAVED salt after every leg – humidity makes me sweat like crazy – and those were my saving grace. As well as salt tablets.
– Beef jerky. We went through two bags!
– Auxiliary connection for the radio & phone car charger. We had terrible radio reception along the course but connecting our phones gave us a chance to listen pump some tunes while trying to stay awake at times. Keeping our phone batteries charged was also really important!

ragnar napa valley

Photo credit: Jen L.

At the end of the day, I had an amazing time and am so incredibly thankful Cat asked us to be a part of Team You’re the Wine That I Want! I have a feeling the memories I made during the relay will be some of my favorites for a very long time.

wine tasting

Photo credit: Jess.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, our team finally got to do some wine tasting! It just happened about a month later in Oakland :).

Your Turn: Have you ever run a relay? What was your experience like?