Napa Valley 2023

Napa Marathon #4, Marathon #98 

Kim and I have run The Napa Valley Marathon in 2018, 2019, and 2020.  We deferred 2021 and were finally running it in 2023. We signed up as soon as the registration opened in 2020 never anticipating Covid would last for years.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table in Napa making a fundraiser video for the London 2020 marathon when the owners popped in to check in and see what we were doing.  I explained and their reaction was, “Do you really think the London Marathon will go on with COVID”?  My response was “It’ll be over by April”. 

Well, we all know what happened right after we got back home March 2020……

Kim and I found a small cottage in Sonoma back in 2019. The price is reasonable and even though it's a bit dated we keep coming back to stay. The hot tub on the back porch and privacy makes it perfect for us. This year we flew into Sacramento airport for the first time instead of San Francisco and the drive was so much less stressful.  It took us about an hour to get to Sonoma. The first night the weather was pleasant in the low 60’s so we sat outside on the back deck and enjoyed the warmth. I had my agenda for the week planned. 

  • Friday, bib pick up at Cliff Family Winery, St Helena
  • Saturday, shake out run organized at the expo.
  • Sunday, Marathon
  • Monday, Wine train (3 hours with gourmet lunch)

I had been stalking the weather for days and as race day approached a cold front was moving in with wind and rain.  We talked to the owner of the property about the weather for race day.  He said “Looks like it's going to be wet, the weather men are pretty accurate here”. I was still hoping for the best.

Day 1: Kim and I had our own shakeout run on Friday morning.  I hadn’t run or rode my Pelton in a week because my leg had been aching in the same spot of an old femur stress fracture I had about 10 years ago.  I had been stretching, icing, rolling and using the leg compressions every night leading to the trip.  This run was a test to see how I felt.  After 3 miles it wasn’t any worse or better so that was a good sign. 

Day 2: We were excited to go the Cliff Family Winery for our bib pick up. This year for swag they gave us a really cool backpack decorated with air balloons and Napa scenery.  After we got our bib, t-shirt and sway, we were directed to the wine station for an optional wine tasting experience. We didn't stay for the tasting but headed back inside where we met Ashley who was working. She was super nice and a local.  She gave us a tip on a place to go for lunch in Sonoma.  She also gave us a sample of their delicious Zinfandel.

We headed out with intentions of stopping at the Cakebread winery for a tasting.  To our surprise when we pulled up to a sign at the entrance that said, “By reservation only”.  I looked up on my phone to see if I could book a tasting, but they were sold out for that day.  We headed to Ashley’s recommendation, Kivelstadt Cellars  for lunch and a tasting. Tables were outside and the food was so fresh and delicious.  We enjoyed the view and soaked in the sun and enjoyed a spectacular lunch experience.  

Day 3: The shakeout run was at the Meritage Resort organized by the Napa Valley Marathon. What a beautiful location.  They had their annual pre-run raffle outside.  Before the raffle, the announcer yelled “who is running their first marathon” and a few hands went up and everyone cheered.  Then he said, “who’s run more than 10 marathons” and I raised my hand with a few others.  Next, he said, “who’s run over 20”?  I raised my hand again.  Then he looked at me and said “Let me make this easy, how many marathons have you run?”, and I responded “I think I’m on 97” and the crowd gasped.  I said, “Wait, where’s my husband, he’s run more”.  Kim was trying on sneakers and wasn’t participating.  He was walking over and I yelled to him “Hey Kim, how many marathons have your run”? Kim responded 111.  Kim ended up winning an assortment of GU gels and chomps.  When he handed them to Kim he said, “I think you could use these for your marathons”.

The shake out run started at the resort and went to the top of a hill to the Grape Crusher, then back down and did a loop around the block to get 3 miles.  I had no idea what the Grape Crusher was but trusted it was a landmark. The shakeout run started and headed out onto an industrial road.  On the turnaround, I could hear the man behind me chatting with another runner explaining the marathon course in detail.  He was a local and described it exactly how I remembered it.  The part that I chimed in was when he said, “You're on the Silverado trail for what seems like forever and then finally around mile 23 your turn”.  I said, “I remember that part”.  We started chatting and I told him we were from CT and love the race.  He thanked us for coming back and gave us many tips on some local attractions.  His name was James, and we agreed to exchange contact information after the run. 

We started our climb up the hill to the Grape Crusher.  As we approached, Kim said “look Jeanne, that’s the sculpture we saw when we drove in from Sacramento". It’s a huge iron sculpture of a man crushing grapes.  I took some photos before heading back down the hill to the expo. I met up with James Bronk and exchanged contact information.  I told him that I was exploring a group event for the Travelers Running Club for a destination race in 2024.  I think this race would be perfect since it was a smaller well-organized event with so many perks and cool swag.

Day 4: Finally, marathon day arrived.  We woke up at 3:45 am to get ready.   I could hear the rain pouring outside!  By the time we left it stopped but the windshield had sleet residue on it.  I was praying it wasn’t another Boston 2018 with sleet, wind and freezing rain.

We drove to Vintage High School to catch the shuttle bus to the start in Calistoga.  It was lightly raining and quite chilly.  My race day outfit I selected was shorts, tank top, sleeves and a throw away long sleeve.  I was hoping that I had the right choice given the chilly 35-degree rainy conditions.

We arrived at the start in Calistoga.  It’s nice that we can sit on the bus to stay warm until the start.  We got out for a few minutes to use the bathroom and the sun came out!  Kim said “I think it’s going to beautiful.  I am going to wear my sunglasses and get rid of my hat”.   I agreed.  We got rid of our hats in the dropped our check bags and headed back in the bus to stay warm.  When we looked outside, I noticed it was starting to rain. The woman on the bus said, “It’s just a sprinkle and it will pass”.  Then we noticed it was not just a sprinkle.  It was full blown pouring/sleeting. Kim gave me a garbage bag to wear to keep warm. So much for my cute outfit choice. After pulling it over my head, I said to Kim “does this garbage bag make my butt look big?

We waited on the bus as long as we could.  Finally, at 7:25 we walked out to brave the weather and walked to the start.  By the time we got to the start, the race had already started.  It was just like 2020 when we were stuck at the port-o-lets and missed the start. 

With the rain pouring and since we got rid of our hats, Kim and I went to a clothes bin near the start and grabbed a couple jackets people had thrown away.  I put it over my head until we crossed the start line.  The rain kept up for a few miles.  I made some arm holes in my garbage bag so I could run.  Since we missed our corral start, we were starting with the 5:30 pacers.  We weaved our way up, until we found a group that was running our pace with intentions of not to go out to fast.  Our first mile chimed 8:34. Our plan was to run around a 9-minute pace as this race was meant to be long training run for Boston.  We crept up to the 3:50 pace group and Kim said, “let’s settle in here”.  We stayed with them for a bit and eventually moved up ahead of them.  I was pleasantly surprised how great my legs felt going up the hills.  Parts of the course were on very slanted roads like Big Sur, and it was hard to determine the best place on the road to run. 

The scenery on this race was absolutely breathtaking.  The hills are hard to describe with fields lined with rows of grape vines engulfed with brilliant colors of bright yellow flowers underneath them.  There are so many vineyards that had magnificent buildings set in the hills with finely groomed landscaping and sculptures outside. 

The course had quite a bit of rolling hills.   There were some long uphill’s that seemed to go on forever but then we had some nice descents after.  There was minimal crowd support other that some side streets for spectators to line up to support runners.  The challenging hill was from mile 19-20 ½.  This is when the sun finally came out and I took off my saturated throwaway shirt. I was starting to get tired, so I put my head down and chugged up that hill. 

We finally could see the first turn off the Silverado Trial around mile 23.  I was ready to turn.  I was starting to get cramps even though I had been taking salt tabs.  If I turned or moved quickly in the wrong direction, I would get them in my feet.  I had been drinking NUUN at the water stops in the higher miles too.  I tried to keep my steps light and my gate in check not to stir the cramps up being so close to the finish.  Kim said, “are you doing ok”? and I replied ‘I’m giving her all she’s got Scotty”. 

We zigged and zagged through the neighborhoods and finally arrived back at Vintage High School.  We passed the mile 26 sign and it seemed to take 2 days to finish up those final .2 miles.  Kim grabbed my hand, and we crossed the finish line together. 

I didn’t have the typical post marathon issues where I have trouble breathing, my cramps seemed to go away too.  Some guy handed me a water.  I didn’t realize he opened it for me as I accidently poured it all over myself while trying to get my phone out to stop the app that I had used to track the virtual Tokyo marathon.  He was so nice and grabbed the water, and said “can I help you”?  It was quite funny because I was so disoriented with marathon brain, I couldn’t figure out how to open my phone. 

I grabbed my medal and checked my phone for the multiple text messages that we had gotten from our friends tracking us.  It’s such a good feeling having so much support from our friends and family.

was pleased with our finish time of 3:44:30, with a BQ for both of us. 

Kim’s first post marathon response “Jeanne, how’s that stress fracture”?  I said “I think it’s gone".

Post race: We met up with our friends Karen and Fred for dinner at the Farmstead Long Meadow ranch that we met at the expo back in 2019.  They both won their AG; Fred for the ½ marathon and Karen for the 5K.  She is recovering from a torn meniscus and didn’t want to risk running the ½.  Karen is also going to be turning 80 the next day.  She is quite incredible and such an inspiration. 

Day 5:  Wine train!  This was the best experience!  The package I selected was the 3-hour tour with the gourmet lunch.  It was fantastic. I highly recommend taking the Napa Wine Train. The atmosphere, food coupled with the refurbished train provided a nostalgic experience.

Would I run Napa again?  Yes – but with Toyoko on our radar for next spring it probably won’t happen until 2025.  On a scale of 1-10 I rate Napa an 8.  This is based on the swag, course, volunteers, staff and Napa experience. 

  • Organization/Race Staff: 10
  • Swag: 10
  • Expo: 6 (they let you purchase previous year t-shirts ($1) and backpacks ($5) - otherwise small 
  • Shakeout run: 10
  • Course (on difficulty) 6 - rolling hills, but nothing extreme 
  • Post race food: 6 (hot soup & rolls in the cafeteria & banana, organic coconut chocolate bars, rice chex mix)
  • Crowd Support: 6 (when they were there - they were amazing)
  • Volunteers/Water Stops: 9 

Now, let the training for Boston begin!