4:45am the alarm went off.
Holy cow, that’s early. But the bus that would be shuttling us eager racers would be pulling out of the hotel parking lot at 5:30am. The early bird may not win the worm , or race, but she’ll make darn sure she snags a seat.
It was the morning of the highly anticipated Destination Races Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. After spending the previous two (and a half) days sipping my way around wine country, it was time to get down to business. The business of running, that is.
We arrived at Cuvaison Winery just as the sun was starting to peak out over the hilltops. There would be upwards of 3600 participants in the day’s race. That’s a lot of runners up before dawn. There was excitement in the air though, and virtually no grumblings about that early alarm clock enemy. Everyone was ready.
Just before 7am we began walking back down the hill to line up. The starting line, which had the potential to be complete chaos, was actually quite methodic. The faster runners lined up first, with the rest of us joining different groups marked by pace setters holding time signs. I lined up behind the 2:45 mark – no need to be too ambitious at that early hour. I was awake, that’s already a win in my book.
Just after 7am the bell rang, so to speak, and we set off. Just under the inflatable arch there is where the timer began. Our bibs had magic electronic sticker thingies that would track our time during the race (yes, that is the technical term for them, in case you were wondering).
It was a cloudy, somewhat chilly morning. Ideal conditions for setting out for a two-hour plus run on a Sunday morning. The top photo here shows the first incline. I am happy to report that it wasn’t any worse than any of the bridges I ran during training, and the remainder of the course was only slight hilly. And mostly downhill or flat. Score!
I don’t imagine many visitors experience early morning in Napa or Sonoma Valleys. It’s a shame too. Those views!! It was not uncommon, particularly during the first half of the race, to see people stopping and whipping out their phones for a photo. I did it. And I didn’t even use it as my excuse for needing a walk break.
After a little over an hour I made it Mile 7. This was the more-than-half way point, so I had to capture this moment. I was still feeling good – had found my groove and my pace, and was cruising along. One important factor, besides the cooler weather, was the water stations Destination Races set up. Every two miles runners could either grab a cup on the go from the outreached hands of one of the volunteers, or stop and sip while having a little stretch. Bathrooms were also available at these checkpoints, so no panic there!
That’s not water I’m holding. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed Guinness, you’d be correct! Yes, there was a Guinness stand set up somewhere around Mile 9. I can’t say for certain because it was around this point that my left knee started to have some twinges. I was able to stop, sip my Guinness (which is surprisingly refreshing when all hot and sweaty) and stretch out my calves to relieve the knee pain. This would become a common occurrence for the remainder of the race, sans the beer.
Mile 10. Up into the double digits, and only 3.1 to go!! It was at this point in the race that I came to know my good friend Walk Break. Walk Break and I became tight due to my not-so-favorite acquaintance Knee Pain. That pesky twinge in my left knee refused to stay at bay, so I decided to not push through and walk when necessary.
But ahhh… the finish line!! Those last 3.1 miles felt longer than the first eight, but I had made it!! I had grand plans of running the final two miles, but those twinges put stop to that. So I wanted to run the final mile, but my ankles would have none of it. I finally did complete those last 3.1 buggers, and I am happy to say I RAN across the finish line with a final time of 2:31:32. Not too shabby for my first ever half marathon event!
And there I am. Hot, sweaty, and oh so ready for my wine… but I did it! And I must say, it was tons more fun than I thought it would be! Part of that was, naturally, the gorgeous scenery. And part of it was the atmosphere. Those who shared that track of pavement with me for that morning were amazing people. Some were there for the competitive aspect, but many were there just for the fun of it. Destination Races did a fabulous job of creating an event that truly feels welcoming to any runner, no matter what level. Run it, walk/run it, or simply walk it. As long as you were having a good time, everyone was happy.
As I mentioned above, this was my first half marathon event. I had no idea what to expect. But given the high I was riding on at the end of the race, and still riding on now from the pure joy of the experience, I would do it again. And I would do it again with Destination Races. I do hear Oregon is nice in August… or British Columbia in September. Then again, Healdsburg is quite near my birthday in October…
Destination Races hosts wine country half marathons across North America. Each event is beautifully tailored to the individual location and includes options for race extras, such as drinks and dinners at local wineries. See the websites for each event to find out all the details:
Willamette Valley, Oregon | Sunday, August 31, 2014
Kelowna, British Columbia | Saturday, September 6, 2014
Healdsburg, California | Saturday, October 25, 2014
Temecula Valley, California | Saturday, November 15, 2014
Santa Barbara, California | Saturday, May 9, 2015
Loudoun Country, Virginia | Saturday, May 30, 2015
*This post was written in partnership with Destination Races Wine Country Half Marathon Series. All thoughts and opinions expressed are purely my own. For more information, please visit Race to Wine Country.