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.
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?!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.