Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

sunrise Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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.

lining up Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

pre race Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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.

start line Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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).

first hill Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

first quarter Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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!

first half view Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

first half Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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.

me mile 7 Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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!

me guinness Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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 Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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.

finish line Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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!

me finish line Napa to Sonoma Valleys Half Marathon

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.



Destination Races, The Pre-Race Paradise

cuvaison glass vista Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

Ladies and gentlemen… the weekend arrived. The wine country half marathon I’ve been going on and on about for the past four months has finally come,  and now gone.

I’ll bring you the race day details later (including how I did!), but now I want to introduce you to two of the optional race extras offered by Destination Races: the Welcome Reception at Cuvaison Winery, and the Pre-race Dinner in the Vineyard at Ceja Vineyards.

Can you think of a better way to kick off a weekend?

cuvaison view Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

Welcome Reception at Cuvasion Winery | Friday, July 18 6pm to 8pm

Let’s just start with that view… does is get any more idyllic than that? Seriously. When people say it’s absolutely stunning out here, they aren’t exaggerating. In fact, they may be understating how awesome it is to keep the crowds to a minimum (unsuccessfully, might I add).

The Napa-to-Sonoma flagship event began with hors d’oeuvres and wine tasting at the beautiful Cuvaison Winery. This would later be the “scene of the crime,” also known as the starting point of the race on Sunday. But tonight, it was all laughter and conversation heard over the cheerful clinking of glasses. A consistent chorus of, “Ooooh… this one is good!!” complimented the cool evening breeze. This was purely a social event – a chance for attendees to celebrate the weekend finally arriving, and for soaking in the atmosphere of wine country while making friends with those who share the appreciation.

cuvaison sign Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

cuvaison chairs view Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

I was one of the first to arrive, hence the photo ops without people. Trust me, by 6:15 this patio was pleasantly packed with other enthusiastic wine lovers and runners. Professional runner Lauren Fleshman was present, which was (for a lack of a better phrase) really damn cool. The whole event was perfectly informal, making it an ideal setting for a solo traveler such as myself to mingle and make friends. And mingle and make friends I did.

Cuvaison destinatino races Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

cuvaison sunset Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

That’s me pictured with Destination Races founder Matt Dockstader. He, along with his fabulous staff, have been so helpful through this entire experience. It was amazing to finally be able to put some faces to the names that have become so familiar to me. We said our goodbyes as the sun set over the mountains, none of us too concerned with the looming race. That was still an entire day (and a half) away. Why worry about it now?

ceja vineyard Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

Pre-race Dinner in the Vineyard at Ceja Vineyards | Saturday, July 19 6pm to 8:30pm

The night before the Big Race. Another day spent day-tripping around wine country, tasting and telling yourself you really should stretch a bit more before lining up the next morning. Ah well, all will go fine. There’s still 12 hours to get all that stuff done.

The pre-race dinner put on by Destination Races was a sold-out event. Hosted by the lovely Ceja Vineyards, who of course provided the wine. The evening began with passed around hors d’oeuvres and, once again, wine tasting. Meb Keflezighi of this year’s Boston Marathon winner fame was present, and graciously taking photos with eager fans. Lauren Fleshman was again there, and actually sitting at my table! Both gave wonderfully inspirational speeches as we sat at white linen tablecloths nestled amongst the vines.

ceja dinner 3 Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

ceja dinner 1 Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

In spite of the fact that all runners in attendance would be up before the crack of dawn the next morning, the air remained festive. Wine flowed, laughter ringed through the air, and once again new friends were made. There were several others such as myself that traveled there sans company, but the vibe was so relaxed and welcoming that never once did I feel isolated or like there was no one there with who I could converse. It was an entirely fun experience.

As the dinner came to a close and we all shuffled back to our cars, I took one last look at the sunset over the countryside. This would be my last night in Napa Valley, and the last night before I would wake up before sunrise, strap on my trusty Newton running shoes, and take off on the real reason I was here: a 13.1 mile run through wine country. But tonight, after being well-fed and my thirst sated, I would worry about that later.

ceja sunset Destination Races, The Pre Race Paradise

*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.


Hello, California

san francisco california Hello, California

Hello, California. Or more specifically, San Francisco.

How hilly you are. I’ve often been told this is true, and now I’ve experienced your sometimes rolling, sometimes steep inclines firsthand. And so have my calves.

I have spent the previous 3 days roaming this magnificent city and the surrounding areas. Chinatown, Union Square, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero. Marin Headlands, Sausalito and Muir Woods. It’s been, if one word could sum it up, incredible.

Now back to these hills… these are the obstacles I was trying so diligently to minimize by running bridges (here and here) back in Florida. Yeah… those bridges barely made a dent. I did invest in a Fitbit Flex some weeks ago to track my steps. I walked over 15,000 my first full day in San Francisco. And my calves were reminding me the next day, “Hey, you’re from the swamp lands. Enough of this sh*t.”

Luckily, I was prepared for this. I packed appropriately (see my running gear I  never leave home without). And, the weather. It is AMAZING here! Sure, some would prefer warmer temperatures during these months. I believe it was Mark Twain who is credited with saying, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” (note: this source is subject to debate, but no other alternatives have been presented, and it sounds like something the clever Twain would say.)

I’m told it will be warmer in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. But I’m okay with that. It’s sure to be cooler, and less humid, than my sticky homeland.

And I’ve received my schedule. The race will kick off at an early 7am, with the wine and music festival from 8am to noon. Now, I might be trailing in for the tail bits of this festival, but that’s okay. I will have several days prior in wine country, and several fabulous events scheduled by Destination Races at which wine will play a prominent role. Amid all this indulgence, I’ll have to remember I do in fact have a race to run!

California, I’m impressed. It’s been a pleasure meeting San Francisco for the first time, and I have no doubts Napa and Sonoma will live up to all the hype.

Stay tuned – next week will be the final post of the Race to Wine Country series, and I’ll be bringing you all the details of the weekend. Wish me luck!

{Image by David Yu}

*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.


People vs Places: Why Do You Travel?

Paris Notre Dame People vs Places: Why Do You Travel?

Why do you travel?

Is it to tick an item off your bucket list? To be able to overhear a conversation about landmarks amongst friends and be able to chime in, “yeah, I’ve been there” like it’s no big deal?

I don’t think so. I don’t think those who truly love travel do it for the “brag-ability” points. It’s not about being able to recite cities and countries and continents that have been explored. That, of course, makes its way into conversation. But it’s not the primary goal.

No, travel is about collecting experiences. Being exposed to the new, whether that’s in your own country or in a far away foreign land. Taking a glimpse at how another culture goes about things. And, if you’re lucky, making friends along the way.

Why do I travel?

To meet these people. Those who will become lifelong friends. Those who no matter where else I flit off to in the world, I know they are always there. If not in person, then in spirit. These kindred souls who may always be off on the next adventure themselves, and who you may or may not cross paths with in the most unexpected places.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good landmark. Or a famous city. But what makes those places come to life, for me, is the people I meet while visiting. I may have spent 3 years living in Paris, but without the friends I made there, it’s not the same city.

I travel for people. I travel to visit old friends, and to meet new ones. And if in that course of that I happen to visit a few landmarks, that’s fine too.

It may mean I don’t visit as many places as some, and it most likely means returning to the same places again and again, but I’m fine with that. Because my friends are in those places. And in the end, that’s all that counts.

{Image by Moyen Bren}


Goodbye, Florida

Florida sunset Goodbye, Florida

Goodbye, Florida.

In 3 days I will be packing my bags and leaving. On a jet plane.

Destination: California.

After nearly 4 months of blisters, sweat, and the occasional protesting muscle, it’s finally here. Race time!

I started this Race to Wine Country half marathon training as a way to motivate myself to get off my couch, close the laptop and get moving. In that sense, it has been a complete success. I’m certainly not the fastest runner you’ll ever meet, and I am probably overly fond of my walk breaks, but I will keep going. I won’t come in first, but I will cross the finish line.

Saturday I will be flying to San Francisco. I’ll be spending 5 days exploring that city. Walking up and down all the hills, sampling as much local flavor as possible. Thursday I head out to Napa Valley to join my friends at Destination Races and prepare to kick off the weekend with a bang. A reception dinner on Friday, a pre-race dinner Saturday, and the race on Sunday followed by a wine and music festival. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a long weekend.

And after all this effort, and hours spent preparing,  it’s almost here.

So, goodbye for now, Florida.

And hello, California!

{Image by Michael Libbe}

*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