The Napa Valley Marathon was my first marathon. It’s the race that started me on this goal of qualifying to run in the famed Boston Marathon. The race has been pretty good to me. My first year, I finished in 4:02. Last year, I finished in 3:55. So I felt pretty confident in choosing for attempt # 7 at reaching my goal.
I stayed at the host hotel this year. This allows you, as a runner, to take the bus to the start right from the hotel. It was a nice change from having to have Tom drive me to the high school to catch the bus. The hotel even had a continental breakfast out for us.
The energy was high as runners boarded the bus for Calistoga. I sat near the front and talked about marathons with the man next to me. This is always interesting. He hadn’t run a marathon for 10 years and was pretty excited. He talked about his heart rate monitor and his plan to keep his heart rate in his chosen range. I met two girls from the east coast who had done their entire training on treadmills. Crazy! It’s so nice to live in California. “You’re in for a treat”, I told them.
It was a treat. We watched the sun rise at the start. We were off and running alongside lovely countryside filled with vineyards and widely spaced houses. There were people hanging out in their driveways waving and drinking their morning brew of coffee. Approaching the street junctures, you could hear the large crowds cheering and words of encouragement would come from strangers as you passed. “You go Girl!”
Then it was quiet. In between the crowds was long stretches of vineyards. It was beautiful. Remember to look around and enjoy it because this will soon be over. I looked at my watch and confirmed that I was still on-target pace. It was getting hot now. I reminded myself to drink and happily sipped on my Ultima filled Camelback. I wished I had mixed it at home instead of trying to do it in the hotel bathroom. It didn’t quite taste right today; it was a bit strong. Before long I had a stomachache as my stomach was bloating. I gave my Camelback to, my husband, Tom at the 16ish mile. I was losing time and my legs felt heavy.
Mile by mile, I clicked off my splits and checked them against my pace band. At mile 18 I realized something was not right. Did I miss a split, or did I really run that mile so slow? I started chanting to myself, “Just keep running, running, running…” (like Nemo and Dori in Finding Nemo). Not to walk at all was my secondary goal. Mile 19 was better, but now the hill. I was about ¼ of the way up it when I met Marion. She was an inspiration. This was her 97th marathon! “You’ve got nothing to prove”, she said. “One step at a time”, she continued. And on she went, just constantly saying “hello” to other runners and verbalizing her affirmations. I wanted to latch on to her; I liked her positive attitude. I hesitated, thinking what if she didn’t want me to tag along with her the rest of the way. And then I looked up, and she was picking up speed as she rolled down the other side of the hill. I’d lost her; I couldn’t catch up. So I went back my “just keep running” plan, but added “nothing to prove”. On I went, resisting the temptation to walk.
Around mile 23 they give out small bites of sorbet. It’s cool and yummy and it makes you want to turn around just to get more. Then there are pretzels…and M&Ms…you realize how hungry you are now. The spectators try to provide more encouragement in these final miles. Now they are constant, but not as densely packed. “Almost there” I keep running and now it’s very familiar. Hey, there’s my husband, Tom. I smile for a picture. I’m keeping a scrapbook of my marathons after all. I pick up the pace and now I’m really moving. Just two miles left now. I can see other runners along the way sporting their finisher medals. Okay, so I’m not going to qualify again, but lets get this over with and finish strong. A mile left, and I am now moving even faster. As I turn the corner, I know too well were I am now. “This is it”, I tell some runners who are slowing down instead of picking up, “the finish is just around that corner”.
My finish time this year is 4:23. The volunteer puts her arm around me as I come to a stop. A tear rolls down. These finishes are so emotional. I get my medal and head for the soup. And there she is…Marion finished not too far ahead of me. I go over to tell her thank you and soon we are chatting like old friends in the post race celebration. “What are you going to do for your next marathon”, she asks. I don’t have one planned, but I will soon.