2015 ZOOMA Napa Valley half marathon race report

Not very long ago, I wrote about how stoked I was to be running ZOOMA’s Napa Valley half marathon again this year because a) I so enjoyed meeting and getting to know the other ambassadors throughout the past year, b) I was looking forward to seeing my South Bay-based RA pacing buddies on the course again this year (like last), c) Chicago-based-but-recently-CA-transplanted friend Meredith would also be running the 13.1 (on her birthday!), and d) I’m just shy of 8 months pregnant, so to even be able — and wanting — and willing to run 13.1 for the hell of it was just … cool. At any rate, as I suspected, all these great factors combined to make for a 98% enjoyable — I’ll elaborate — experience in beautiful Napa over the weekend.

On Friday mid-morning, after a nearly 3am bedtime (thanks, delayed flights from the midwest), A and I trekked north to volunteer at the expo for a few hours. Much like last year, the expo was pretty low-key, but we still had a good time. I enjoyed chatting with the Napa-based GOTR volunteers and getting to meet some of the ZOOMA staff with whom I’ve been corresponding over the past year. A and I left around 4pm to not lose our souls in traffic heading back to the south bay — on a good day, getting to Napa is about a 1hr40 minute/90 mile-ish drive — which meant that again this year, I’d have to miss all the ambassadors at Friday’s mocktail party (boo). You can just pretend that I’m in this picture, though.

PC: Lynda. Just pretend I'm in there.
PC: Lynda.

 

With a 7am start time in Napa, and another 90 miles or so of driving, and with a heaping of jet lag, I greeted Saturday morning at WTF o’clock and picked up Meredith at a BART station along the way. Although she’s been in CA now for nearly 9 months, I hadn’t seen her since the last time she was here for work, so this weekend was even more special because it gave us lots of time to catch up (in addition to run). We got up to Napa around 6:15, took care of the typical pre-race logistics before hopping on the hotel shuttle to the starting line, and suddenly, somehow it was already nearly 6:40 and we were scrambling to drop our gear check bags off, pee, and warm-up … and yet again, I had missed another photo opp (that I had arranged, grr!) with the social media ambassadors under the starting arches at 6:30. WTF, self?!

PC: Laura
PC: Laura

 

I managed to get in a super-short warm-up, barely a half-mile, as well as a pee stop, before things kicked off, and I was feeling pretty great. Seeing my pacing buddies and some of the other ambassadors pre-race in the starting corral was also a nice pick-me-up, and I started the race looking forward to just going for a little 13.1 mile jaunt through the streets of Napa. Fortunately, the potentially disastrous 90s/50s weather report didn’t appear to be manifesting,  so the temps actually felt rather comfortable for a majority of the run. Plus, really, even if things didn’t feel comfortable, there’s enough pretty stuff to look at in Napa/on this course, like hot air balloons!

Napa on a Saturday morning! PC: Linh/RA
Napa on a Saturday morning! PC: Linh/RA

 

At the risk of sounding like an ass, my goal for this race was to “try to not try” — basically, to run at a really comfortable pace, my “run all day” speed, and to just have fun with it. As a third trimester/pregnant runner, I know/knew that ZNV wasn’t going to be about racing as much as it would be about just enjoying the day and the scenery, so I wanted to keep things low-key, if not somewhat pedestrian (that makes me sound kinda douchey … sorry). The other thing about running this late and this far into pregnancy is that it is really important — as in, super, critically, essentially, vitally important — to acknowledge how your body feels and to respond appropriately. As runners (pregnant or not), I think many of us become rather hyperaware to all the little kinks or imbalances we sometimes feel, so generally speaking, we’re pretty good about monitoring when things go south in a run/workout. Obviously, this hypervigilance is all the more critical when you’re running while pregnant because best case scenario, it’s no big deal (like feeling an appendage on your bladder) but worst case scenario, it’s a BFD (like going into preterm labor).

With all of that in mind, then, I wanted to “try to not try” at ZNV. I would love to run a sub-1:55 (arbitrary time goal), or maybe even match or come really close to my SLO half marathon time I posted at 24 weeks/6 months pregnant (a high 1:49), but ultimately, I just wanted to have fun, enjoy the run and the experience, and as cheesy as it sounds, just effin’ celebrate that I can and still want to run this far, this late into my second pregnancy.

The first few miles, when all the HMers and 10kers were together, were nice and quite chill. I was surprised that my watch was displaying 8:teens for some of these miles because I felt like I was kinda running through molasses. I was certain that holding an 8:teen effort for the duration of the race would be challenging, but I figured I’d just assess things as they happened and take each mile as I ran it. Seeing Linh and his 1:45 group not too far ahead was fun, as always, and chatting with ambassador Amanda and her husband, who were both doing the 10k and vying for an AG/OA place, was also cool. Man, I so dig this community.

queen-waving to Linh. PC: him/RA
queen-waving to Linh. PC: him/RA

 

The other thing about the ZNV half is that even though I was running this year’s iteration very pregnant, I went into it with something of a chip on my shoulder. At last year’s race, I had a really good 10k+, but between miles 7-11ish, I got into such a negative mental space that it has damn near haunted me for the past year. I know it’s normal to go through these highs and lows during a run/a race, but it was like ZNV last year really brought out the horrifically mercurial side of racing for me. I finished last year’s place with decent OA/AG places, but I was so incredibly disappointed and pissed at myself for allowing myself to get into this mercurial mental space that I was determined to not go there this year, even though I knew this year’s race would be slower and more of a run than a race. My time be damned — I was determined to not have an encore performance.

Well … determination can be one thing and reality another, my friends.

After the 10k and HMers split, things went from “pretty quiet” to “even more quiet.” Very few people had passed me, and since the race was small (with fewer than 400 people in the HM), things also got pretty spread out up where I was. Eventually, I saw the lead runners run against us and scored a solid side-5 from Meredith (nice pick-me-up), and by my estimates, I was somewhere in the top 30 runners, maybe top 20 women, which was also cool. I felt pretty comfortable still on the run and hit the halfway mark at a high 8-teen average. While I still didn’t think that the pregnancy would allow me to hold that pace for the final 10k and change — which, again, was fine, given my goals for the day and my obvious current physiological state — I figured I’d just press on and assess at each mile. Taking a couple gels and ingesting some water and gatorade on-course probably also helped keep my energy levels from completely tanking, but by about mile 8, I had begun to mentally resign myself to acknowledging that I was getting tired — the 25+ pounds of pregnancy I’m carrying was making itself known — and again, for whatever reason, just like last year, hope went to die between miles 7-12 for me. I hadn’t gotten passed by any runners for a really long time, and eventually, at around mile 10, the 1:50 gang caught up to me (fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck).

Though I was disappointed that hope showed up again to just die (again) between miles 7-12, I kept forcing myself to have some pretty hard conversations with myself. As runners, we’re taught, and we constantly teach ourselves, to break through ruts. We teach ourselves to meticulously distinguish the fine details between things like pain, discomfort, boredom, hunger, thirst, bathroom cues (I can’t be the only one, ha), overtraining, undertraining, lack of motivation, laziness, or sluggishness, and time and experience eventually give us mechanisms to combat all of these relatively common or benign ailments. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced or novice runner; we all encounter these ailments periodically. It’s part of the program.

Running a HM at nearly 8 months pregnant though, and facing these “where hope goes to die” miles and the associated ailments above, proved to be rather challenging in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I acknowledged that I was getting tired and bored and even considered that maybe stopping for a bathroom (which I didn’t really think I needed, but WTH) or stopping for a walk break (which, again, I didn’t really think I needed) would bolster my attitude and help me finish strong. I wasn’t in pain at all, though my hardening midsection was giving me the impression that maybe I was having some benign Braxton Hicks contractions. I eventually decided that even though I was nearly positive that what I was feeling just attributable to plain, ol-fashioned fatigue, with maybe some boredom and BH contractions thrown in for good measure, I needed to err on the side of caution and just take things down a notch — and importantly, critically, vitally,  be okay with that.

I tend to be pretty competitive with myself, and I won’t fabricate things here: acknowledging that I needed to take things down a notch for a little bit just to be on the safe side, regardless of how “certain” I was that I was feeling the way I was due to some pretty innocuous reasons, was tough. I felt like I was giving up, like I was giving in to the same hopeless mental trash that showed up last year between miles 7-12, even though the context in 2014 was light-years different than it was in 2015 (not pregnant versus pregnant). I even went so far as to mentally scold myself here and remind myself that if I can’t get my head outta my ass, that if I can’t truly be ok with taking things down a notch, that I need to stop running for the remainder of this pregnancy. I’m not trying to prove anything to myself or to anyone else; truly, I’m running while pregnant only because it’s good for my body and my developing fetus; it makes me feel good; and because I enjoy it. I’m not out there to set any records or anything.

Eventually, this mental scolding and recentering worked, and before I knew it, I had just a 5k to go, I was coming up on the 1:50 group, and hell, I even began passing some people in the final miles.  From the turnaround-onward, I had gotten a barrage of support from the other runners/walkers/spectators who would generically cheer for me and then realize that I was pregnant and even more enthusiastically holler at me, which was both very cool/sweet and somewhat embarassing.   :) Truth be told, though, it’s one of the reasons why I like the ZNV atmosphere; it’s so awesomely supportive and empowering. With a slight downhill on the final 2 miles, and with my head fully out of my ass, I was able to finish with a solid and comfortable pace (further irritating me that I unnecessarily slogged miles 7-12 bc of bad mental real estate, but whatever) and came just shy of 1:50, with a 1:51:01. I dualled with a dude in front of me for the final 800m or so before he ultimately passed me — again, fuuuuuuuuuck — but he (and many other runners) so sweetly came up to me after the race and told me how “badass” or “inspiring” I was to be running “so fast” and “so pregnant.” Again — very sweet, very nice, very unexpected, and for someone who is doing this (running) simply for health and to feel good at this point, somewhat embarassing. :)

happy to finish the thing. PC: Linh/RA
happy to finish the thing. PC: Linh/RA

 

Meredith and I reconnected post-race and learned that she was in the top 5 finishers and also cinched an AG award. We stuck around for the awards ceremony, chatted with Amanda (who went on to win her AG in the 10k just as she had envisioned- you go!), got a post-race massage, and slogged some super easy, almost arthritic-granny-like CD miles on a trail we found near the host hotel. Things had really warmed up by the time we got off our asses to post our CDs, so we were lucky to have dodged that bullet during the race. All in all, though, a really good morning in Napa, one that I’m really grateful for and one that I’ll remember for a long time.

yay, birthday girl, Meredith!
yay, birthday girl, Meredith!

 

yay, Amanda!
yay, Amanda!

 

Even for it being just its second year, I think ZNV is doing a good job with this race. The 10k and HM courses are flat and fast, which can be conducive to a PR, yet it can also be challenging because the race is small (capped at 1k runners), which might mean that you’re running by yourself — or nearly by yourself — for part or all of your run. When you’re running for time, there are inherent advantages and disadvantages to running a smallish race (which is also the case when you run larger races, too). And sure, it’s June in Napa, which more often than not means heat and sun, but c’mon, gang … it’s the weather; it’s a variable that no race can ever control. If you care about swag items, I think their stuff is nice — gender-specific socks, tech shirts, hats (last year), or this year, a little journal, along with a nice medal — but more importantly, I think this race is well-organized and doesn’t let on that it’s a newbie in the northern CA racing scene. What I probably like *most* about this race, though, is that it’s simply a good race that just *happens* to be women’s-focused; I don’t feel like the race is dumbing itself down or being unnecessarily and obnoxiously pink-pink-pink or heteronormative or just kinda, dare I say, stupid or obnoxious like some of the other women’s races out there. There’s nothing about this race that leaves me with that sinking feeling in my stomach like I get when I see other women’s races (or their advertising); seriously, I think it’s a good race that just happens to be women’s-focused. Even with the high price tag, I think it’s worth doing at least once.

Suffice it to say that I’m looking forward to next year’s HM wherein I plan to destroy any memories of those “where hope goes to die” miles. The first iteration of this race, I had a flurry of hopeless miles and finished the thing alright; the second iteration of this race, I ran it while nearly 8 months pregnant, still had some hopeless miles, and finished pretty ok still (27/379 OA; 19/351 female; 8/71 AG); the third iteration of this race, in 2016, will be my best yet. Mark my words. That gauntlet is THROWN, my friends!

Many thanks to ZOOMA for another fun race and the opportunity to be a social media ambassador for the past year. Obvs the views expressed herein are mine.

ZOOMA Napa Valley 13.1 – race week!

I’m pretty much a broken record these days (always?), but like I think I wrote in one of my recent posts about running while pregnant, and particularly in the third trimester, if you would have asked me in my first tri — particularly in the second part of my first tri — what my running would look like late in pregnancy, my two-word response would have been: what running? As I’ve said time and again, pregnancy is such an unpredictable experience, potentially a new adventure every day, and I have no idea how I’ll feel from hour to hour, much less from day to day or month to month.

You can imagine my elation, then, at how healthy and strong I’ve felt, both in my running capacities and in my normal, everyday life capacities, as my pregnancy has progressed. I just very comfortably capped off my second-highest training volume week of my pregnancy — just shy of 40 miles — and while that is inconsequential compared to my usual volume, that’s huge for me for pregnancy. I am so floored, so grateful, and so happy to be running so comfortably and fairly effortlessly that my words fail to express my gratitude. It is unreal. Realistically, had you asked me in late December or January if I’d be up for running a half marathon in Napa in late June, I would have told you that there was no.fucking.way., that pigs would surely fly first. I felt like ass, and when the world wasn’t spinning wildly out of control, my head felt like it was going to explode, making spending any amount of time upright — much less any time running or being physically active — just dreadful. To my hormones: thanks for what you do in my body, because you all are super important and do a lot of essential and critical stuff, but you guys sure can be assholes sometimes.

Barring whatever life and/or pregnancy might throw at me between now and race day — because let’s be honest, anything can happen — I’ll be toeing the line to run, not race (this is operative), on Saturday at the second annual ZOOMA Napa Valley half marathon as a social media ambassador. I had the pleasure of being an ambassador last year, for the inaugural, and this year, and both years, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the other women and promoting the 13.1/6.2 footraces. I’m approaching the ZNV half much as I approached the SLO half I ran at the 24 week mark — not so much for a particular time goal (though if I’m being honest, I’d really be thrilled to run 13.1 at a sub-1:55ish at 31 weeks+ pregnant) but more just for the fun and experience of it all. I mean, c’mon, the hell does it matter how fast or slow I run at this point? I’m really just thrilled to be out there, to be able to be out there. Fuck, I could argue that I should spend as much time as possible running just to prolong the enjoyment factor! haha

Pretty badass to score a side-5 with the one and only pro runner (and fellow pregnant mama!) @stephrothstein mid-race at San Luis Obispo this morning. @ericaagran and I had so much fun chatting her up post-13.1 today. Good gracious, how I love this community. #raceSLO #runningwhilepregnant #stravarun #letsgoHOKA #Idigstrongwomen
There is one professional runner in this pic from the SLO half, two pregnant women, and three women who had a good experience on a tough course.

 

Napa = hot air balloons on Saturday mornings
Napa = hot air balloons on Saturday mornings

 

Anyway, ZNV put on a good race last year, and I’m confident that there will be a repeat performance this year, too. My RA pacing buddies will be there again this year as well, so between seeing the other ZNV ladies and my pacing friends and running a good race in a pretty location, it should make for a fun morning.  Plus, Meredith, a Chicago-friend-turned-Berkeley-transplant, is also running 13.1, and these things are *always* funner with another.

I think the women’s running community and in particular, the women’s-centric racing scene, can be kind of a tricky thing to navigate. I’m personally all for women taking up running — I mean, why the hell not, right? if you want to run, then run — yet at the same time, I cringe at a) how many women’s-centric races self-promote and b) at the messages inherent to their advertising. It’s difficult for me to adequately pinpoint what it is that I see that often makes my skin crawl, but suffice it to say that there’s a lot I’ve seen that I do not like. I’ve read some interesting articles about the topic, and I often find myself agreeing with some of the authors’ points yet hesitate to fully subscribe to all their ideas. It’s complicated.

case in point: when you ask me about the Nike women's HM in SF I ran in Oct, I think of this pic ...
case in point: when you ask me about the Nike women’s HM in SF I ran in Oct, I think of this pic: a well-organized race, tough course, fundraising for TNT …

 

... not this
… not this, doing a race to earn a Tiffany necklace (though don’t get me wrong, it is pretty!)

 

Ultimately — and what matters most — at the end of the day, women’s-centered races have one purpose: to inspire and motivate women to take up/continue a healthy lifestyle by training for and completing a running/walking event in a safe and supportive environment, for a distance ranging from 1 mile all the way up to ultramarathons … and this, this central purpose, is something I can get behind (and absolutely support). I’ve run women’s races before and have always enjoyed the ones I’ve done, yet it’s still hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I enjoy about ZNV that sets it apart. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.

Napa-ing last year
Napa-ing last year [PC: RA]

Anyway, yay race week! Yay, Napa! See you on the other side!

Ruminating on my love of the run