2015 Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon Recap (FINALLY)

Brace yourself, it’s a long one.

This post has been hanging over my head for over a month now! I started writing it almost immediately after the race, but I don’t know if I should blame WordPress or my computer or myself but SOMETHING kept failing to save the draft.

Also, I have been a little glum since the race because of an injury I sustained (more below). In the 5 weeks since the half, I have run ONCE. It has bummed me out, which I think has subconsciously turned me away from blogging. My hope is that if I power through, I can go back to a regular schedule of posting. Because, at the very least, WINE!

Anyway, here is the summary of my time in Sonoma for my very first half marathon. It was such an amazing experience and I am so glad I did it! I’m also so happy that  Dan and Mom were with me. It made the trip so much more fun!

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***

The Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon I ran with Team Challenge was a rewarding experience and also a total blast. I had such a great time before, during, and after the race.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Friday, July 17: I booked a late flight on Friday so I could save vacation days for the actual vacation part! Luckily Virgin America (my FAVORITE) has a 7:00 PM flight that arrives in San Francisco at 10:30 PM, so I could take off after work.

Dan had to wait until the next morning to leave and Mom booked a cheaper, earlier flight, so it was just me! I was stuck in a middle seat but luckily the two others in my row were together, so they gave me the window! SCORE! (I paid forward this courtesy on our flight home from Vegas, letting a taller guy have my aisle seat and taking the middle seat next to Dan).

My flight arrived a little later than scheduled and I had to drive 1.5 hours to my hotel in Santa Rosa. I’m not a great night driver – I get drowsy instantly. I was also extremely paranoid that the GPS on my ancient phone would fail on me at any moment. However, the jolt of adrenaline from driving in a new place kept me alert long enough, and my GPS never failed! I even drove over the Golden Gate bridge!

I arrived at the hotel at 1:00 AM PDT and was greeted by a different Lucy!

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It was nice to have any Lucy greet me at the door, even if it wasn’t my crazy cat (the hotel was in Santa Rosa, home of the Peanuts museum). After I arrived at the hotel, I texted Dan as I was getting to bed. It was 4:00 AM at home and he was just arriving at the airport for his 5:00 AM flight. Yuck.

Saturday, July 18: I met up with Mom early in the AM and we grabbed some coffee before heading BACK to SFO to pick up Dan. We went to Flying Goat, a quintessentially Californian coffee shop. The coffee was free range and the muffins were Level 5 Vegan and there wasn’t a gluten to be seen. It was actually really tasty!

Because I am stupid and also lazy, I sat in the driver’s seat thinking “Should I go back for my phone charger? Nah.” I regretted this after 2 minutes and made my poor Mom shut off her phone so we could save battery power for GPS. Before leaving the east coast, I had printed out directions between the hotel and the airport in case my phone failed me (see? Paranoid). Poor Mom didn’t get to take a picture as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge though!

Fortunately Dan’s plane was on time (and his phone had juice)! Our next stop was the race expo. I had never been to an expo but I was looking forward to sampling some expensive electrolyte water I’d never buy.

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Dan and I BOTH picked up race bibs. Dan was able to sign up for the GunBun Fun Run 5K at the last minute! It was sold out when he first decided to sign up (like a week before the race), but a few days prior, some spots opened up! He was pumped. Also, how cute are the race numbers? The half marathon bibs had red grapes and the 5K bibs featured green grapes.

At the expo we picked up some souvenirs ($2 water bottles? Unheard of!), but we didn’t stay long because it was REALLY hot. After the expo we got some lunch and provisions at Oliver’s, a Whole Foods-y type market and deli. I needed to buy some combination of carb + banana + nut butter for my pre-race fuel. The carb of choice? Pretzel rolls!

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Pretzels are the source of my powers.

From there I had a team meeting to go over logistics – where to get the buses for the pasta party, what time to meet in the lobby, are there bathrooms on the bus? (Important IBD question). We learned that Team Challenge had over 600 participants for the half marathon! That was nearly 20% of all runners. I could not wait to run in a SEA OF ORANGE!

Between the team meeting and the pasta party we had some time to kill. My teammate Mark asked if we wanted to join him and his lady Shayna for a complimentary wine tasting at Russian River Vineyards. I hesitated – should I really indulge in (free) wine the night before the race?

That indecision lasted for about a half of a second. Onto the winery!

I exercised SOME restraint and only took one or two small sips of each wine before passing the rest to Dan and Mom. I also drank gallons of water to stay hydrated. I forgot to take pictures of the winery and failed to take notes. I remember thinking the Gewurztraminer would be something my sister and bro-in-law would enjoy and discussing the “neutral oak” barrels that aged the lovely Chardonnay.

My mom ended up liking this winery so much, she joined their wine club when she got home! I can’t wait to try some of the bottles she receives.

We had just enough time after the tasting to clean up and change for the pasta party. Each Team Challenge contingent had its own team T-shirts for the pasta party. Bowel puns everywhere!

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Our 8-year-old honoree came up with “Call of Doodie.” Can’t argue with that.

The pasta party was great. They held it outside and the food was available as soon as we sat down. We heard awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching speeches and had some laughs. Our teammate Kennedy was the MC and she was awesome! At one point during all of our honoring of amazing folks, she asked all the participants who are also patients (like me!) to stand up for a round of applause. That was the moment I felt … accomplished? Like, I’m not just running for people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, I’m running IN SPITE OF ulcerative colitis. I’m doing the thing!

When we bused back to the hotel from the pasta party (like at 8:00 PM), it was bed time. We had a 4:15 AM wake up call and needed to hit the hay.  Of course, I was so paranoid about forgetting something that I had to lay out all my gear before “sleeping.”

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Needless to say, I did not get much sleep that night. I probably didn’t fall asleep until about midnight or so. Yikes.

At some point in the night, Team Challenge endurance manager Jenny left a motivational poster on my door!

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Sunday, July 19: RACE DAY!  Lack of sleep be damned, I was a ball of nervous energy at the crack of dawn! Dan and I changed quickly, gobbled up our pretzel bread/almond butter/banana sandwiches (I could only choke down half) and met up with the Team Challenge-rs in the hotel lobby.

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Our hotel was about 45 minutes from the start line. We saw watched the sunrise from the bus.

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While riding to the race, I started to get nervous to the point of panicky. Dan did a good job trying to calm me down, but I was a wreck.

The best part of running with the IBD crowd? While on the bus I got up to use the bathroom and was informed by the person exiting the stall that there was no more toilet paper. No less than three other people on the bus immediately offered up their own personal stash of toilet paper. Love my Crohn-ies!

We got to the starting line with plenty of time to gear check, use the porta potties, and enjoy the view!

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Poor Dan had to manage my nerves and his own concern about finding the bus to the start line of the 5K. I could tell he felt bad leaving me. At least I had Erin, Mark, and a million other orange-singleted teammates.

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We dawdled a little and ended up near the end of the line to start. There were no waved start times or corrals based on speed. It was a bit of a free-for-all, which would matter more if I expected to be fast!

See that teeny, tiny white mark way in the distance? That's the start line.
See that teeny, tiny white mark way in the distance? That’s the start line.

As soon as I started jogging, those paralyzing nerves I felt prior to the race just melted away. I was so happy to be FINALLY running this race!

The biggest hill on the entire course was in the first half-mile. Since the start of the race was so congested, I could barely run up this hill (for better or for worse). It was nice knowing that the course would be primarily downhill after it!

The first couple of miles were a blur. I spent most of the time trying to move up in the crowd without zig-zagging too much. I don’t think I turned my playlist on until about Mile 2 or so.

The course was SO beautiful. You don’t realize how rural wine country is until you’re running through it! As a result, there were not a lot of spectators on the way. The ones that were there were great. I saw a sign that made me laugh out loud so hard that the guy in front of me turned to look. “Worst Parade Ever.”

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Team Challenge set up cheering stations all along the way. I got lots of high fives and Jenny grabbed some funny candids.

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I skipped the first water station and regretted it. It had been overcast at the start of the race but the sun came out to stay after the first couple of miles. I was THIRSTY. I don’t usually drink a lot during long runs but I found myself CRAVING water. At the first couple of water stations, I only grabbed a cup. For each one thereafter, I slowed down, grabbed a cup, drank it, and grabbed a second. I needed every drop.

I remember that at Mile 4, I thought “Oh no, the race is already 1/3 of the way over!” WHO AM I? Some kind of likes-running chick? I also kept looking down at my watch and seeing GREAT paces. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug.

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Then between Mile 6 and 7, my hamstring decided to explode. As you may remember, this has been a recurring problem and caused me to dial back my training runs. I knew that it would hurt during the race. I also knew that I could finish despite it hurting.

Hurt it did. Hurt MORE THAN EVER it did. The pain radiated down behind my knee and into my calf, which was new. I slowed up a little but even when I checked my pace thinking I was going slowly, I was still running between 9 and 10 minute miles. That made me happy.

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Prior to the race, I had forced myself not to set a time goal. I didn’t want to finish my very first ever half marathon and taint such an accomplishment with a shred of disappointment that I didn’t reach some arbitrary time limit. HOWEVER, my brain would not shut up about finishing in less than 2 hours 10 minutes. For some reason I kept fixating on a 2:0x time. Even with my brain barking, I still enjoyed myself along the way, stopping for pictures and making sure I finished my water.

After the mile 8 water and fuel stop (Vanilla Bean Gu FTW), I started having the debate with myself. The same debate I had with every single person I told about the race. I knew at mile 10, there would be wine samples offered on the course.

Wine.

Drink wine while running a half marathon? Half the people thought it was crazy. Half the people thought it was awesome! Can you guess where I landed on this debate?

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Naturally.

The samples were Gundlach Bundschu Gewurztraminer. Even though I was dehydrated and sore, I decided to take the plunge (and mid-race selfie). When will I ever have another opportunity to have wine DURING a race? I drank my little sample and immediately downed two more cups of water.

After the wine stop, I was in the home stretch! Miles 10-12 seemed to take forever. I had definitely slowed down at that point, but was still running faster than 10 minute miles.  I don’t even know how it was possible, especially with hammy trying to ruin EVERYTHING.

After mile 12, I forced myself to go a little faster. A crowd was forming of spectators, finishers, and 5Kers. I scanned the crowd looking for Dan and Mom but didn’t see any of them. I did see the big-ass finish line though!

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As I was approaching the finish, a Team Challenge coach saw me and started running along side me. He was cheering me on and yelling “GO GO GO.” Thank you, Team Challenge Coach whose name I don’t know. You helped me SPRINT across the finish line!

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I didn’t see Mom but she saw me and snapped this pic! As I crossed the line, the announcer called out my name and hometown. Dan told me later that he didn’t see me cross but heard my name.

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As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was handed my medal. It’s a bottle stopper, bottle opener, and corkscrew in one!

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And weighs about 400 lbs.

I limped along to make sure I checked in with my team. My first thought was “WATER.” My second thought was “text Dan and Mom.” As I was reaching for my phone, my Dad texted me from New Hampshire and to congratulate me and tell me the official chip time:

2:08:50

I did it! Less than 2 hours 10 minutes! It didn’t make my hamstring hurt less but it did psych me up for ALL THE WINE NOW PLEASE!

The best part of the race was the wine festival! About 30 wineries set up booths in Sonoma Plaza pouring samples.

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Dan, Mom and I all got souvenir wine glasses.

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I was enjoyed the wine while chugging water and icing my hamstring. For the most part I failed in my usual practice of taking pictures of the wines I enjoyed, but did manage to grab one such shot:

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It was perfect. I only wish the wine festival lasted a little longer so I could try a few more samples (but it’s probably better that I didn’t!).

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Dan, Mom and I hopped on the bus back to the hotel and made plans to do some tasting later that afternoon. After some showers, of course, and a little rest.

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Mom had to leave the next morning, which was sad. The rest of the trip, Dan and I hopped around to wineries, went apeshit at Russian River Brewing Co., had a DELICIOUS meal at The Girl and the Fig, sucked down the best milkshakes EVER at Fremont Diner, and enjoyed the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with Shayna and Mark. We also hopped over to Vegas for a few days! I could NOT walk for the few days after the race but I didn’t let that stop me. Photos below in no particular order. (If you’re wondering, I plan to do a separate post about all the wines we brought home from the vineyards).

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I am so glad I signed up for Team Challenge and chose to run the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon. The race was a wonderful experience and accomplishment. Not only did I finish (in 2:08:50, BOOM), but I raised over $4,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

Thank you everyone for your support! I may keep updating this ol’ blog from time to time. There’s still wine to drink!

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