I am happy to report that I did NOT come in last at the Napa Valley Trail Half-Marathon on March 21. In fact, in a field of 186 runners, I came in 58th, with a time of 2:11. Not too shabby, lady!
Whew! When I crossed that finish line, I felt a palpable weight melt off of my shoulders. And the euphoria of NOT coming in last has given me a spring in my step ever since! I just didn’t realize how my lame performance at the China Camp Half had drained my self-confidence.
I was seriously underprepared for this race — as usual. Moving from our house, along with my volunteer duties as yearbook editor at my kids’ school, had completely taken over my life and I hadn’t worked out at the gym or gone on a run in the weeks leading up to the event.
Plus, my left foot had been giving me problems since China Camp.
A paranoid Google search led me to self-diagnose myself with metatarsalgia. Every time I ran, it felt like there was a rock in the middle of the ball of my foot and I would have to pick a side, as it were, running on either the outer or inner edge of my foot. Nothing good would come of that. Luckily, my right knee was cooperating.
And then I sprained my ankle. About a week and a half before the race, I decided to jet up to Napa to check out the course. At the time, it was the very least I could do.
Overall, I was disappointed with my run that day. I huffed up the hills and walked most of them. The trail, however, was beautiful, my favorite kind. Full of towering redwood trees that provided cool shade and the sound of trickling streams that soothed my senses.
I eventually got my rhythm down and was enjoying the last few miles when WHAM! I rolled my left ankle and fell to the ground.
The pain was unreal. Was my ankle broken? I was 1-1/2 hours away from home, and I only had about that long to pick up the kids from school. Could I manage a quick trip to the hospital for a cast? I wondered. I imagined myself hobbling back to the car like some scene from Platoon.
After about 20 minutes of writhing around on the ground, I managed to pull it together and get back to the car. I whimpered throughout the day.
The next day, I had a nice golf ball sticking out of my ankle. Secretly, I pondered using this as an excuse to bow out the race. But Kevin was so nonchalant about the whole thing (“Oh, a rolled ankle. I get those all the time”) that I realized I’d probably have to cough up a lung to miss a race and still maintain my pride.
I didn’t run for at least five days while I recovered, and naturally I started to panic. “It’s going to be China Camp all over again!” I told Kevin.
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said and patted me on the back before returning to his newspaper.
A week out from my race I decided, That’s it! I may not run this race well, but I’m going to train as best I can in whatever time I have left.
The first order of business was fixing my stupid foot. More late-night Googling revealed that putting metatarsal pads in my shoe might give me just the support I needed.
I ended up getting Metpads by Foot Guru from my local ArchRival Sports store. It costed $10 for a pack of four. I couldn’t find a picture of this particular brand online — nor an online presence, for Pete’s sake! — and I was too lazy to take a picture of the ones I bought. But they look just like this:
Instead of sticking them right on my feet, though, I stuck them onto my shoe insert. I mean, why not? Naturally, my first attempt to do so went completely wrong. I put it too close to my toes and my foot felt worse. So, I Googled some more and came up with this instructional video.
Ahhhh. Sweet relief. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Once I installed them correctly, it was as if I’d never had any foot problems. I couldn’t believe something so simple could be so effective.
Well, alright. Back to pain-free running, which is really the only kind I’m interested in.
Next up: addressing my lack of endurance and mental willingness.
Coming off of China Camp, I felt drained and weak physically. Mentally, I just wasn’t looking forward to experiencing that kind of failure again. Why put myself through that torture?
I mean, I’ve seen quite a few runners during Kevin’s runs stumbling along in the dead of night, puking their guts out and then continuing on into the darkness where coyotes, snakes and weird wild turkeys awaited to feast on their flesh. What motivated them to keep going?
These men and women were, clearly, made of sterner stuff. And I am A-OK with that. I really don’t have anything to prove.
Anyhoo, the best training I could come up with to tackle both of these problems — which were based more on laziness than anything else — was the tried-and-true hill repeat.
I couldn’t help but think of last fall, when I joined a ladies trail running group through the Mill Valley-based LOLA (Living Our Lives Actively). The coaches were big on running hills. And I hated them for it.
But I was also intrigued. One particular coach would run up a hill as effortlessly as if she were running down it. Her back was straight and her erect head swiveled on top of her relaxed neck like a bird’s. She floated up the damn thing.
Once, when we were doing hill repeats she glided along side me, pointed to someone a good 50-feet ahead and whispered, “Go catch her!”
I managed to pant, “Why on Earth would I do that?” to which she responded, “Oh, I love passing people on a hill during a race.” And then she glided off again, just to prove her point.
To get me “fired up” about hills, I read an article in Runner’s World by Jenny Hadfield titled “How to Learn to Love Running Hills.” I was mainly fascinated with the title. The article’s point was that the quickest way between A and Z in running was to train your body on hills.
Well, that was just the kind of short cut I needed.
I decided to tackle Marincello Trail in Mill Valley’s Tennessee Valley.
This hill continued at roughly the same angle for 1.3 miles. At the top, you are rewarded for your efforts with some pretty spectacular Bay Area views. It was a favorite among local runners.
My plan was to repeat a pattern of running 60 seconds and then walking 30 seconds. And I made sure to have plenty of my favorite tunes to take my mind off of the torture.
But it wasn’t torture. I just focused on getting through one little minute and then strolled along for 30 seconds. It’s only 60 seconds, I convinced myself. I think the whole thing took 14 minutes. And then I had a nice relaxing pull down the hill.
The next day I returned. Only this time I ran Marincello twice. Tackling the hill in small chunks really helped. I decided that this would be my strategy in Napa.
The Napa Valley Trail Half-Marathon is actually only 11.5 miles, but they cut the race some slack, apparently, because it’s a trail run. Whatever, I’ll take it! It consists of two loops which pass through the same aid station. This map also includes the 10K and marathon routes.
On the day of the event, I stumbled along my morning ritual of getting dressed and fretting over what to eat.
Kevin insisted on having the whole family come up to support me through the whole race, and I thought this was really sweet. Or maybe, I thought suspiciously, he suggested this to make sure I actually followed through!
When we got up there, I immediately stood in the long line for the bathrooms and eavesdropped on the conversations around me.
One gal was talking about how her pre-race strategy was to get in line for the bathroom, go, and then get back in line over and over again. Another gal was talking about how she had to be at work later that afternoon. Wha??
I met up with Kati and Tanya and tried to keep quiet. A minute before the start, I remembered that I needed to take my preemptive Advil and Sports Legs. Argh! There’s always something I’m forgetting. I scarfed if down like an addict.
And we were off!
Kati and Tanya wanted to get out ahead of the “slow” people, so I just followed their lead, hoping to stay with them for as long as possible.
My idea of running 60 seconds and walking 30 seconds flew out the window because now there were hordes of people breathing down my neck. I was being chased!
I just buckled down and tried to transfer my “taking the race in small chunks” philosophy into a one breath, one tree at a time process. For the most part it was working, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for the entire two-mile uphill climb.
So, imagine my relief when people up ahead started walking! Yeeeees.
From then on, the race went well. I listened to my heart and when it was pounding in my ears I knew it was time to back off a bit. I was pleased that while Kati and Tanya were in front of me I could still see them.
After awhile, the course turned downhill and it was gnarly! Rocks, roots, streams with just slippery rocks to cross on. Everyone took their time.
At one point, I fell behind quite a bit, but I wasn’t worried. I felt good and I was having fun. Then, two gals blasted past me, chattering about whatever. We were heading downhill and I thought, why not? I decided to catch up to them and ride their tailwind.
Amazing! I could actually keep up! Soon I caught up with Kati and Tanya and we finished the first loop of the course together. Kevin said I was doing great, which was nice to hear. For some reason, I was most afraid of letting him down.
I didn’t see any point in hanging around so we got back out on the trail again. This time, that hill was a little more difficult. There weren’t as many people pushing me from behind!
I let go of Kati and Tanya. I was a little dismayed when a couple of people passed me on the uphill. But then I caught up to them on the downhill and delighted in saying, “Oh, excuse me,” as I passed.
I must say that I’m a very good technical runner, and I’m not scared of quickly picking through difficult terrain. Plus, my knees were doing well.
Eventually, I settled into a nice gait. Another gal passed me. Fast. I didn’t like it. So I stayed with her and eventually passed her after a treacherous river crossing. She didn’t argue and let me go.
Then I passed a couple more people! This was fun!
But soon I was huffing and desperately counting down all of the little landmarks before the finish line. Where is that damn tree that was sawed in half? Where is that sketchy-looking RV?
Eventually, I heard applause in the distance. They hadn’t all gone home! I had made it in time to celebrate! Hey, they were clapping for me!
It was so sweet to see my kids cheering me on along the sideline. Especially since a few months ago one of my daughters had casually remarked, “I didn’t even know you could run, Mom!” Hmmm.
Tanya managed to crunch some numbers later on and informed me that I had placed 6th in our age group. She was 3rd. Kati was 4th in her group. Nice! That glass of wine at lunch sure tasted good.
I’m still basking in the glow of NOT coming in last. And I don’t have any other races planned for the moment. I really would like to just explore my running style and focus on improving. Run hills, work on my speed and just get into a regular rhythm of running consistently. Instead of tapering, recovering and freaking out about an upcoming race.
And besides, I’m supposed to be pacing Kati when she runs the Miwok 100k Trail Race on May 2. Apparently, she expects me effortlessly run 20 miles. And I know I’m nowhere near ready for that!