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Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

Photo by Leigh Ann Wendling 

I never get too hopeful that I will actually make it to the line at Napa Valley marathon. Since winning in 2007, I have been signed up twice more and both times have been thwarted by serious illness. After spectating the race last year, I was excited to run the race again for myself. The timing of the race was perfect for my 2012 schedule. It allowed enough time for me to recover from the Trials and was a perfect lead up to first big race of the year: Two Oceans (April 7 in Capetown, South Africa).

I recovered well from the Trials and was back up to training hard starting about two weeks after the Trials. Since then, I have had some very confidence boosting workouts with Nathan and have sought to dig deeper than ever before. My coach Howard threw some of the hardest workouts I have ever done at me and I really have started to enjoy really really really pushing my own limits.

I came into Napa with a race plan that suited my continuing training schedule. I wanted to keep my training volume up before the race, so I only did a short taper. I ran 40 miles the week before the race and part of me was wondering if I had too steeply curbed my training. I didn't want to run the race rested, I didn't want to run the race tired, but I also didn't want to completely miss the mark and run it flat. I crossed my fingers the week of the race and hoped for the best. Nathan was racing again and I looked forward to getting dusted by him (he was 3rd last year in 2:33) or possibly, using him as a rabbit to pursue.

We headed up to Napa mid-afternoon on Saturday and enjoyed a nice dinner at Bounty Hunter in Napa. We had my favorite pre-race meal: steak, baked potato and green salad. And a glass of Pinot. I figured, why not? I am actively trying not to be on the "no fun diet" (aka what Nathan calls the way I eat leading up to a major race), so a glass of wine was a nice pre-race treat.

We woke up at 3:30 am and Nathan fired up the Jet-Boil to make a French Press of coffee. I was not feeling that good. I had all sorts of niggles in my legs, my breakfast had to be choked down and I was not feeling the way I would like to on race morning. It made me a bit worried of how the day would play out. Or more, it made me completely relinquish any pressure I put on myself for being the race favorite. I was just going out for a hard long run and focused on my plan.

It was cold and calm at the start and I was happy for my sleeves and gloves as we got ready to start at 7am. Nathan and I did a bit of a shake out run and lined up with the other 2,500 runners. Off we went. Three guys (who would finish as the top 3) shot out on mid 2:20 pace and I settled into a nice group with Nathan, Victor (fellow ninja), Elvis (aka Ian Sharman) and one guy I didn't know. It was like a fast, road ninja run! As soon as we started going I felt pretty comfortable, I think my body just found that switch and flipped it. We cruised out just about 6 minute pace and rolled our way towards Napa for the first few miles.

6 min pace felt effortless and I just tried to lock in and not be tempted to go any faster. I knew the course would keep rolling and I didn't want to push it too hard on any of the hills. 6's felt good but when we would let the pace creep down into the mid 5:40s, I could tell I was working harder (duh, I know).

My race plan was to run 6 min/pace (if it felt controlled and comfortable) until mile 20 and then push it if I could. I was rocking my new Timex Run Trainer watch and had it set to take mile splits (It was a fantastic watch and really easy to use/read). Even from the very first mile it was doing splits before the official race sign, but I didn't worry about it since my pace was showing up spot on and Ian, who is an absolute metronome, confirmed via his GPS we were right on pace as well. I had noticed that the start was moved back a ways since the last time I ran and there is a huge variance of tangents one can run to add extra distance.

Photo by Rick Gaston

Somewhere around mile 6 or 7, our group of 5 splintered as Nathan took off on what I would consider "his pace". I was actually surprised he was with us for so long but he soon disappeared down the road like he was riding a bicycle. Victor and the other guy gave a bit of chase and I consciously stopped myself from pursuit. I had a plan and I intended to stick to it. If I was feeling frisky at 20, then I could do all the chasing I wanted to. But until then, I held back and stuck with Ian, who is a fellow North Face teammate. He was going for the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon in an Elvis costume and needed to run a 2:42 to do so. He said he was planning on 2:37 pace as long as his fitness would allow him, so we carried on, chatting and rolling down the Silverado Trail. Every time we'd pass a mile marker, Ian would tell me what our pace was and what pace we needed to run to each break our respective records. Going in to this race I knew the course record was 2:39:42, so I used it as a motivator to not let up the pace just because I was far ahead of second place.

We made it through 10 miles on target in 1:00:xx and blasted on through the halfway mark without losing any ground in just under 1:19 (can't be exactly sure of the splits since my watch was not splitting on the mile markers as I mentioned).  I was still feeling really good and controlled at the halfway mark and was also feeling a bit antsy. My energy was good and my GU that I had taken was not bothering my stomach as it had in Houston and NYC. It was getting much warmer and I was really happy that I had shed my sleeves and gloves along the way. Around mile 17, I decided to put a bit of a move on for a bit and see if I could let the pace out just slightly to spice things up for myself. I knew there was a pretty big hill around mile 20 which would slow me down, so I wanted to let out a bit of the reins to see how my body handled it. It felt really smooth to transition to a slightly faster pace and I just went with it. I am really trying to experiment with my limits in the faster racing, so I figured if I was going to make a mistake, a training race was the time to do it.

 Mile 18, pulling away. Photo by Rick Gaston

I started pushing it a bit and Ian dropped off me a little bit, but not far. He would charge back on a downhill and we were still pretty close heading up the climb at mile 20. I came through mile 20 under 2:02 and figured that if I could just maintain or even speed up, I would make the record. I thought back to the hard long runs Nathan and I had been doing with fast finishes and the various hard tempo workouts I had done leading up to this race. I was confident that barring an epic blow-up, I could finish this race strong.

Around mile 20, I did notice that my left foot was hurting. I had once again tied my shoes in a way that was putting pressure on the top of my foot. I had done this in Houston as well in fear of a shoelace coming undo. Instead, it was hobbling me a bit and I tried to decide if I could make it the rest of the race without fixing it. I kept running trying to navigate pushing harder and overreaching. I was tired so "pushing harder" translated more into "maintaining earlier pace". I was close to 6min/miles as I hit the valley floor and started making turns to work my way to the finish line. 

It was gorgeous out and super sunny but it was also quite windy after leaving the Silverado Trail. I remembered from my previous run at Napa that the last 6 had a pretty steady headwind. I appreciated the wind only because it kept me cool, but it certainly did nothing for speeding up. At mile 23 I couldn't take it anymore and stopped to adjust the tongue of my shoe. I came to a complete halt, yanked the dang thing around and relieved the pressure on my foot. It was a risky move since I knew stopping meant my legs would have a chance to seize up. In the 15 or so seconds I was stopped, my legs definitely tightened and it took me another 30 seconds to get them moving again. My foot felt much better, so it was worth it to me to stop.

Throughout the race, I had a race marshall on a bicycle nearby and she would call in updates on my times to the finish. I was back cruising pretty hard, trying to calculate how close I was going to cut it to the course record with the stop. I passed mile 24 and a large group of spectators. I noticed that there were cones blocking off the streets where we weren't suppose to turn and I felt confident in the obviousness of the course. I ran passed one such intersection and was about 10 feet beyond it when the bicycle pacer screamed, "STOP!!! You missed the turn! Come back!" I screeched to a halt, about faced towards here, looked at the intersection where all the spectators were now yelling, "No, no, no keep going!". Even though it was obvious I was suppose to continue straight this was an official race marshall telling me I was about to go off course, so I had to take the time to make sure I did not in fact go the wrong way. Another 20-25 seconds lost. I sprinted off in the correct direction, now with no room for error. I was starting to doubt with the time lost that I would even make it under 2:40. I felt surprisingly calm about it. Found it humorous even. Sure I would have loved to run a PR, but circumstances were not in my favor and things had conspired otherwise. My effort was there to run a PR, so I was pleased with that. 
I really had to push it, I had less than 13 minutes to make it 2.2 miles to get the record. I was going to go for it and push out the run in the way I had intended to: HARD. Now that the record was in jeopardy, I wanted it even more. It stood for 20 years, I was so close, I could not let it go.

Photo by Rick Gaston

I hammered it home, making the final 5 turns towards the high school. I churned my legs as hard as I could and used my arms, glancing at my watch to see how close I was. I turned the final straight away and charged to the finish line, victorious. And with a new course record: 2:39:37. 

Thinking about it now, I am so pleased with how this race went. I got to run on a beautiful, challenging course on an amazing weather day. Face some random debacles to test my head (and stay unfazed). Try out a different race strategy and paces. Push myself. Wine a ton of wine. The rest of the day was filled with good friends, delicious food (at Oxbow!) and savoring our accomplishments (Nathan was 4th!!). I am now looking toward Two Oceans in a month with excitement and am hungry for the challenge!

  Nathan and I at the finish
Photo by J.L. Sousa/Napa Valley Register

And of course, the best part: Wine!
Photos by Rick Gaston

2012 Olympic Trials Marathon- Race report

Photos in this post by Nathan Yanko, Meredith Terranova and Larry King. Thanks guys!!

When I stepped off the plane in Houston, I knew I was ready for the adventure that lay before me. I was finally in a good mindset and had shook off the taper crazies. Nathan and I arrived on Thursday and I deliberately tried to soak in the whole experience because I knew before I could even think about it, it would be gone in a flash.The experience really did go screaming by. And wow, what an experience it was.

I have never been in an event like this. There really is nothing akin to trying to make the Olympic Team. Sure, I have run races with more people but I have never experienced running amongst the best of the best. The only thing I can liken it to is times in my high school days when I went to all-start tournaments with All-Americans from around the country. I played with and against some of the best players currently in the WNBA. But even that experience, doesn't really come close. It was incredibly special, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Looking back now, just a few days later, it already feels like a dream. And it hard to put into words what being in that race truly felt like.

I toed the line with no expectations. It was really hard for me to form time goals for this race because while my training was good after NYC marathon, I just wasn't sure it was enough time to drop another huge PR. I resolved to listen to my body, be smart and see how things unfolded.

Leading up to the race, my runs felt ok, but not great. My cold/sickness seemed to be outbound as I had given it to Nathan, but my energy was still a bit off. I was tired but couldn't manage to sleep in or take naps. Even as I warmed up for the race, running laps around of the exposition halls in the convention center, I couldn't really tell where I was at. I didn't feel zippy but I also didn't feel lethargic.

It was amazing to be surrounded by so many incredible athletes. And though the air was thick with tension and nerves, I felt really calm all race morning. Before the race, I set myself up with my headphones and waited to be called to the start. When we were finally called to the start, I took several deep breathes and remembered to take in every single moment.

Outside we had a huge staging area to warm up in. There were lots of fans surrounding the gates and I could hear the crowds beyond in starting area getting charged. The men were started and before I could form another thought, we were jogging up to the line to begin the 2012 Olympic Trials.

I was surrounded by the best of best in American marathoning. I had been having a hard time believing that I belonged there. Yes, I qualified but I still felt on the outside. I wasn't seen by others or even by myself as a marathoner, I was an ultrarunner. A stranger in a strange land. Standing there on the line though, I knew that labels didn't matter and any dog can have its day. I wasn't there just to be there, I was there to run my ass off and that is all that mattered.

We were set at the line. The pause before the start. I stopped the world for a moment. I stopped my brain. I held the moment. Snapped it in my mind and became completely present. It is a moment to be savored, it is a moment in which I felt completely prepared for the 26.2 mile journey ahead of me.

The gun went off and the crowd pressed forward. We went out incredibly slow and the huge pack of women made it hard to get into stride. I just let myself be carried along with the crowd, unconcerned about the initial miles pace. I knew a few runners with 2:35 time goals and I positioned myself just behind them. We ran nearly the slowest split of my entire race (6:18) but dropped the pace easily over the next mile (5:52) to stretch out the group. My legs felt good as we finished up the first 2.2 loop through downtown and made our first pace through the finish line. We headed back through the downtown and out onto the big 8 mile loop.

I was slightly behind the 20 person deep 2:35-ish pace group, but they weren't pulling away so after a few miles of being slightly (25-30 feet back) behind the group, I gassed it a bit to join the group and benefit from the drafting. It really is a huge energy savings to run in a group like that. Not only does it block the wind, but it takes your mind off of regulating your own pace. I looked around the group several times and felt like I wasn't working harder than anyone else to maintain the low 5:50s we were clicking off. I wasn't breathing hard and my legs felt good. I was taking in my water and starting taking in 1/3 of a GU each time I got one of my bottles after mile 8.

We worked our way around the loop and I soaked up each stride, each cheer, each time someone recognized me and screamed my name or cheered "Go Fast Foodie!!!!". It was so cool. A few people would drop out of the group and others would join, but a decent sized pack was still together as we completed our first loop. I hit the 10 mile mark in 59:29, which is by far a 10 mile PR.

Before the race, I toyed with the idea of not wearing a watch. After the first loop I decided that, just like my gloves and sleeves, I was going to toss my watch. I had purposefully worn a simple watch that I wasn't attached to, so as I headed out for my second loop, I tossed it to the crowd and decided to continue to run by feel.

The group got smaller and smaller as we headed towards the half way mark. I kept taking my water and GU, but noticed that my stomach would become quite unsettled each time I would take a gel. I made sure that I only took a small nip and backed off the pace a bit each time I took one in. I maintained the mid 5:50s through the halfway mark, cruising through just under 1:18 (another huge PR).

Soon thereafter the group splintered and I was pretty much by myself. Looking at my splits now, I clearly downshifted just after the halfway mark. I consciously decided to run comfortably instead of gambling by pushing too early. 

I like loop courses. For me the familiarity makes each loop seem smaller and smaller. In the blink of an eye, I was back in downtown finishing up my second loop. I kept my head up and smiled and smiled and smiled. I just kept telling myself "what an adventure!!!". It was incredibly. The crowd was electric. While I liked the loops, I definitely don't think the course was that fast. The surface we ran on was pretty taking and there were lots of tight turns. 

About 4 miles to go.

I took a moment to think about the fact that I was about to start my final loop of the Olympic Trials. I knew it would go by in a blur and so I made my mind a sponge and absorbed every detail I could. I decided that I would keep maintaining pace until about mile 23 and then really go for it. Before the Trials, I thought I might gamble and try to red line for a long time, but as I started the final loop, I knew that I was on track for a PR despite the slower pace I was holding and didn't want to blow up.

3 miles to go!

I never bonked, I never felt really bad. My stomach did flip flops a few times and my energy was not 100% even from the start (from being sick), but I couldn't have asked for a better race. At mile 23, I started working my pace down back into the low 6s. I started reeling women back in and focused on whomever was right in front of me. I didn't want to get caught so I just kept pressing towards the next target. Coming back into the downtown I saw Mike Spinnler (race director of JFK 50 and friend), he had been cheering all day on course (which was hugely appreciated!) and he informed me that the next lady in front of me was 4 time Olympian Colleen De Reuck. And I was going to try and catch her.

With less than 2 miles to go, the emotions of the experience were starting to catch up with me. I told myself not to cry, that it didn't make breathing easier. I just pressed as hard as I could to try and catch Colleen. She was a good bit ahead of me, so I had my work cut out from me (I nearly caught her, but she got me by 3 seconds!). I floated towards Discovery Green and the mile 26 sign. I was flying.

I hit the mile 26 marker and couldn't stop the tears or the huge cheesy grin on my face. I beared down as hard as I could, trying to leave it all out there and rounded the final turn to the finish line. I pushed as hard as I could, arm swinging, feet flying.

I crossed the finish line in 2:38:55, 36th overall and a huge PR on the biggest stage there is other than the Olympics themselves. For a moment, I felt exhausted, but then just like NYC marathon, the feeling passed and I did a little happy dance saying "first ultrarunner!!!". There were many other women who had just come in and many of them looked like they were about to pass out and die. One of the volunteers remarked that I didn't even look tired and I said "well, I am use to running another marathon plus 10 more miles usually". I made my way out of the finishing area and was reunited with Nathan before being ushered back into the convention center. I cried when I saw him, the whole experience, the accomplishment washing over me. I was so blessed to have Nathan, my mom, Sarah and Steven there to support me. They made the experience so special for me.

Happy Finisher!

Finishing the race and having such a huge PR didn't feel like the end to me, instead it felt like the beginning of an entirely new adventure. When I crossed that finish line, I knew I belonged there. I knew it was not a crazy fluke or out of my mind insanely good day. I had run within myself and my training had brought me continued improvement. I know now based on how good I felt all day that I haven't even reached my true potential. 

It is amazing for me to think that until March 20 of last year (LA marathon), my PR was a 2:49. In less than a year, I have steadily improved at the marathon and begun to learn what makes me body adapt and develop. While I put all my eggs in one basket for this race in the last 10 weeks, I still did run 4 100ks and 4 marathons and plenty of long adventures as well. In the past year, I have had my cake and eaten it too. I feel out of my mind with joy right now and not simply because of the accomplishment, but because I see that my potential is only beginning to be tapped. By far the coolest feeling is knowing that there is more to be discovered, deeper to dig, more to uncover. 

At the beginning of last year, I thought the journey was to the 2012 Olympic Trials. I thought that that is where the chapter would end. Now I see, it wasn't the end of a chapter, it was the introduction to an entirely new book. I look forward to discovering what I can do, following the thread of adventure and discovery before me.

For now, I am just going to soak it in. Soak in every fleeting morsel of pride and endorphins. Bask in the accomplishment. Allow myself to have this moment be everything and the only thing for just a bit. Soon enough I will be heading towards for new adventures and climbing new mountains. I am so excited for the challenge and adventure that is before me.

Fast Foodies unite. AR record holder Deena Kastor and I after the race.


A Texas sized celebratory meal at Chuy's.

Mom and my sister after the race. Love you guys!