Sunday, August 11 was the 2014 Water to Wine Half Marathon. The race was originally named Water to Wine because it ran from Lake Sonoma (the location of the swim portion of Vineman 70.3) to a winery in Sonoma County. This year, however, Kendall-Jackson became the race sponsor, and the new course now starts and ends at their winery with a loop through the Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley regions of Sonoma. Additionally, packet pick up is held the day before at Kendall-Jackson during their tasting hours. (Not noted on the website, however, is the fact that you can also do packet pickup the morning of the race. I’m glad we’d already booked a place to stay on AirBnB before we found out, though, because race morning traffic was crazy and we wouldn’t have made it!) One final note before I get into the actual race, this is the 2nd race in a 3 race series put on by Run Wine Country (Windsor Green Half Marathon was the first and the Healdsburg Half Marathon is the third). Run all 3 in one year, and you get a special label bottle of wine.
Going into the race, I had been experiencing a lot of shin pain for the last few weeks. It had seemed to go away prior to my last long run (the 7 miler in Topeka), but I could feel tightness in my calf pulling on my shin throughout the run. It seemed to be fine, but for several days after, I was in quite a bit of pain. I did one last run before the race and could feel it while running this time, and even just walking down the stairs was aggravating the area. After talking to my Coach, I decided to still go for the race, but I did wear compression calf sleeves. Prior to this development, Water to Wine was probably my last good chance at a PR this year. And I had really hoped this would be the race where I finally went under 1:55 – which is nuts since my goal for the first half of the season was to break 2 hours! But with my trouble recovering from races recently, and my abysmal training going in, on top of the shin issues, I decided that I was aiming to still break 2 hours but would really take anything that got me across the finish line injury-free.
With that in mind, Matt and I headed up to Windsor on Saturday afternoon (in our new car!) and stopped at Kendall-Jackson to pick up our race packets. We realized that Matt had forgotten his SpiBelt, which we decided did not need replacing, and I had left my compression sleeves on my dresser. And those did need replacing! After a quick stop at Fleet Feet in Santa Rosa, we headed to LoCoco’s, which was just around the corner, for dinner. We couldn’t find any Italian restaurants in Windsor, but we had found some in both Santa Rosa and Healdsburg (the two towns on opposite sides of Windsor, where we were staying). Since we’ll be back in Healdsburg in October, we opted for LoCoco’s in Santa Rosa. And it was awesome! (Though we couldn’t find a way to make a reservation on their website and thought they didn’t take them. If you want to go, call ahead and make a res because we got the last seats at the bar and we were there for an early dinner!)
I didn’t snap any photos at LoCoco’s because the lighting was so dim, but the food was incredible and the restaurant is everything you want….especially if you grew up in an Italian family. We split the burrata appetizer and two entrees: the papardelle and the gnocchi. Both were phenomenal. And the olive tapenade that was served with the bread surprised both of us with how much enjoyed it (despite not liking green olives).
After dinner, we went back to the house to hang out, relax, and get ready for the race. We’ve had a lot of luck getting good places on AirBnB for races in wine country, and I would definitely recommend looking into that option over a hotel if you’re planning on visiting.
Race morning went pretty smoothly, though we ended up getting out the door about 10 min behind schedule. When we got down to Kendall-Jackson, we were stuck in traffic trying to pull into the parking lot, but we figured with all of the traffic the race would have a delayed start. The first mile of the course was exactly where all of the cars were backed up, so the only way the race could have started on time was if they’d turned away A LOT of runners. Fortunately, the 15 min delay meant everyone was able to get into the parking lot and lined up at the start line. It also distracted me from my usual pre-race nerves. I had just enough time to get excited and appreciate the PERFECT running weather we had for the day – slightly overcast to keep the sun away with temps in the low 50s.
Before I knew it, we were off! After talking to my Coach, I had decided my race strategy would be to take the first 6-7 miles easy to see how my leg was feeling. From there, I’d evaluate, and if I felt good, I’d race as hard as I could. Otherwise, I’d continue to take it easy and prevent an injury. We both agreed that with 5 races left on my schedule, that was the smartest option.
With Matt making a comeback from six weeks of no running following his bike accident, he also hadn’t had the best training going into the race. With his goal being to finish (so we can complete the 3 race series), we focused on taking the first 6-7 miles easy. The course was quite beautiful, running through wineries (and by through wineries, I actually mean in between the vines), and the overcast morning was perfect for the race. By about mile 5, I was really happy with where I was and decided to take it easy until mile 6, when I’d stop for a little food break and to take a salt tablet. From there I planned to run easy with Matt to mile 7, at which point I’d consider picking up the pace.
All was going well with the plan until I started running after the quick food break…when I unintentionally picked up the pace. I didn’t realize I was running faster at the end of mile 7 because of the walk break, but when I hit mile 8 and realized I was running faster than I intended, I decided to stick with the pace. (I had opted not to pull ahead of Matt after mile 7 since I was feeling a little winded…about 8:45 later, I knew why.) At that point, we were running through another vineyard (we actually spent a good 1.5 miles running through their vines, which were gorgeous) and I made the decision to stick with the pace until mile 10, when I’d take another quick walk break for food. Coming out of the vineyard, I had a rock stuck in the tread of my shoe, which was super annoying. But we hit mile 9 right about the time we hit the pavement, and I figured I’d be able to put up with it for another mile (it almost drove me crazy and mile 10 could not end fast enough!).
After the short break to pull the rock out and eat some Swedish Fish, we were off for the final 5K. Maybe ½ mile or so into mile 10, though, I felt some pretty serious knee pain that reminded me a lot of how my knee was feeling back in December 2012…right before it became seriously injured, leaving me in PT and race-free for the better part of 2013. I decided that if the pain didn’t go away within a few minutes, I’d stop running and walk the rest of the race. I was disappointed because the race had been going so well mentally up until that point, but I also knew it wasn’t worth risking another knee injury.
Fortunately the pain went away within a few minutes, and at that point I just wanted to finish the race so I didn’t have to worry about the pain coming back. Mile 12 seemed to be a little long (I think the mile marker was off, which is par for the course with the Run Wine Country race series it seems – although they were much better about water stations for this race!). We had to climb a bridge – perhaps the “steepest” part of the course – to cross the freeway, but my legs were feeling it more than I would have liked given the size. Coming down the back side, my hopes of finishing with minimal knee pain rose when I caught sight of the mile marker.
From there, we just had to make our way back to Kendall-Jackson, through the winery, and to the finish line. I held a steady pace for about another half mile, at which point Matt started whispering in my ear that there were several men ahead of me that had actually asked to be chicked at the end of the race. And what kind of runner would I be if I didn’t personally deliver that gift?
So I pushed. I dug down for everything left in my legs and held on with all I could. It wasn’t easy, but it was the race I mentally needed at this point in the season. Sure, my training could have been better. I could have spaced our races better. I could have done more long runs before the race. But at the end of the day, I cannot change what kind of shape I was in going into the race. And knowing that I wasn’t in optimal shape with the strongest training under my belt, but I still broke 2 hours…that’s a MAJOR improvement from where I was just 12 months ago. And that’s pretty freaking awesome.
Finish time: 1:58:01
AG: 29 out of 122
Overall: 294 out of 932
I have really enjoyed participating in the Run Wine Country series, and I’m looking forward to the final race, Healdsburg Half Marathon in October. There’s an Octoberfest at the finish line, and I can’t wait to partake! Water to Wine treated us to delicious Mexican food accompanied by free wine and beer at the finish line…which were served in our finisher wine glasses! I have to say that these races are a great value, and they do a great job putting together really fun and enjoyable races. The fields aren’t too big, which means the courses aren’t too crowded, and it’s a blast getting to enjoy different parts of Sonoma County with each race. If you’re looking for a Wine Country race series, I can’t recommend these races enough!
And because I’m sure you’re all curious – I ended up with a sore knee later in the day post-race. After a few hours of wine tasting, I stood up to leave and found myself in quite a bit of pain. Fortunately, a week of serious foam rolling and deep tissue massage from Matt (can you say Ouch!) took care of the problem and it’s been feeling fine since then – knock on wood. My training hasn’t been derailed, and I was able to nip a problem in the bud before it grew into something worse. Definitely something to celebrate!
Your Turn: Have you run a race in Wine Country? Which ones are your favorites? Of the races you have done, which had the best post-race party?