Inaugural ZOOMA Napa Valley half marathon 2014 race report

Just a week or so after A and I moved from Chicago to join my husband in California, a tweet from a friend of a friend, another Chicago running blogger, alerted me that ZOOMA, a predominately women-focused national running series, was having an inaugural 13.1/6.2 in late June in Napa, about two hours-ish from our new place in SJ, and that they were seeking social media race ambassadors. I was pretty sure ZOOMA had the same 13.1/6.2 on the Chicago lakefront last summer, and though I didn’t run it, I was familiar with the organization and thought, what the hell, let’s apply and see what happens. In the rare chance I’m selected, it’ll be a way to see and run Napa and connect with other local-ish runners (as in, they probably also live in the state of California). I soon learned that the fine folks at ZOOMA graciously had accepted me–and for that, I was and remain extremely thankful–and voila, 13.1 in Napa in late June was on my calendar.

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Being a race ambassador for ZNV came with a ton of perks, including lots of sponsor swag–Altra shoes; Feetures! socks; Honest Tea tea/ades; Muscle Milk and Cytomax drinks, gels, and waterbottles; Ultimate Direction hydration systems; and Ultima Replenisher vegan (yes!) electrolyte powders, among other goodies–and surprising to me, I actually enjoyed promoting the race over social media from January-ish until June. With the lead-up into the race, I was probably equally excited to meet the other ZNV ambassadors as I was to actually “race” — note the quotes– 13.1. Everything about the race communication and logistics leading up to the event weekend seemed to be going smoothly–somewhat uncommon for inaugural races, at least from my experiences–so I was optimistic that the race would go over well for all the 13.1/6.2 participants and that there’d be good times and fun all around.

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Come race weekend, A and I took a little road-trip, in the form of approximately 4 hours of driving/around 200ish miles total, on Friday to attend the pre-race expo and packet pick-up at the Marriott, the race’s host hotel in Napa. Finally meeting Tricia, the ZOOMA community manager who so graciously and effortlessly got all the ZNV ambassador women’s ducks in a row over the past few months, was so sweet, and hell, even A enjoyed the expo, thanks to the “Kids’ Corner” table, replete with coloring sheets and good (this is important!) crayons. [Ed. note: other races, take notice. There is no way I am the only one who brings her child along to race expos. Something like this, especially if the expo is in a smaller venue, is fantastic. You’re welcome].  Nearly as soon as A and I had arrived, we left to begin the haul back down to the south bay so we could get home at a reasonable hour (read: pre- her bedtime) and so I could get at least a little sleep before my vampire-o’clock wake-up to drive back to Napa to race.

keeping my "everyone I meet from the internet is awesome" streak alive with Tricia
keeping my “everyone I meet from the internet is awesome” streak alive with Tricia
happy camper at the expo
happy camper at the expo

Fortunately, only a few people were driving during the Saturday morning vampire hours, so I got back up to Napa relatively quickly, and once I got to the host hotel around 6/6:15, it was smooth sailing. Before being shuttled over to the race’s starting area from the Marriott, I again ran into Tricia and just hung with her for a while, bantering about the race and the hot air balloons that were decorating the skies over Napa already that morning; apparently, hot air balloons over Napa is a regular Saturday morning thing. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seen a hot air balloon, so this completely captivated me.

not a great pic, but look closely, and you'll see it
not a great pic, but look closely, and you’ll see it

Soon enough, along with a yellow school bus’s worth of new friends, my new-found galpals and I were riding over to the race’s start and finish line in the parking lot of a Mormon church. I initially wondered how crammed the race’s staging area would be, especially with the race’s selling out at 1,000 participants, but fortunately, things were pretty open, and I was able to locate my RunningAddicts buddies, who were there to pace the race along with the SJMS crew, and then, the other ZNV social media ambassadors, for tons of pre-race pictures. Though I knew my RA buddies from races and training runs in the south bay, this was the first time I had actually met all of the other ZNV social media ambassador ladies, so it was good times all around.

with Amy from RA. cred: Linh/RA
with Amy from RA. cred: Linh/RA
handful of the ZNV ambassadors: Nicole, Kara, Karen, Miriam (from Ragnar!), Haley
handful of the ZNV ambassadors: Nicole, Kara, Karen, Miriam (from Ragnar SoCal/TSFM ambassador group!), and Haley

As far as my actual race performance, well, I think I need to use the most euphemistic word in the English language here.

It was… interesting.

Strong in parts, ugly as fuck in others, but overall, really fun, and I finished without any complaints or regrets… just with a good bit of insight and “lessons learned” to hang on to in my back pocket for future races. (And for a quick-and-dirty run-down about the race, exclusive of my actual performance, check out my review over at BibRave).

As race week inched closer, and I began to think about my goals and what I’d ultimately like to accomplish, I settled on a couple: a 1:34 (aggressive) or a 1:35 (aggressive but slightly more doable). My HM PR is a 1:33, I haven’t seen a 1:35 HM since… 2012? when I last raced a HM, I think? so retrospectively, my ZNV goals were actually pretty damn aggressive, if not also slightly unrealistic, moreso than I acknowledged when I set them.

Here’s the thing, though, and something that I’m coming to terms with in my own training and races. As much as I can’t believe that I’m saying this, I’m getting to the point where I’d rather be (perhaps stupidly ballsy) and audaciously take a chance with my running/race day goals, fully knowing that I will probably fail, than just sitting pretty at some place comfortable. Even though it’d be far more likely that I could hit a high 1:3x, it wouldn’t be as gratifying as working harder to notch a lower time, and possibly (read: likely) failing.

I find it endlessly amusing, if not also a bit weird, that I’m admitting to myself and to anyone reading this that I’d rather work my ass off and fail than I would to just be comfortable and succeed, but that’s how I’m thinking these days.  I think there’s something to be said for struggling and working a bit, if not also suffering–more on that in a minute–in a race, as bizarre as that may sound. Despite my perhaps disillusioned or quixotic assessment of my HM capabilities, going into race day, I was FIRED UP and ready to go and ready to hurl myself toward my goals.

Truth be told, I came into the ZNV 13.1 really just with residual Newport Marathon fitness, and since there were only about 4 weeks between the marathon and ZNV, I hadn’t done any HM-specific work (and, really, at the risk of sounding douchey, I never have actually trained for a HM; I’ve only ever run them in the throes of mary training. If you ask me for a HM-specific workout, I wouldn’t know what to tell you). Even with my probable lack of HM fitness, I still wanted to “race” ZNV–however that would look–if for no other reason than the mere fact that I hadn’t legitimately raced a HM since 2012; I just wanted to see what was there.

Back to the race… pre-race, I chatted up RA buddy Linh, who was leading the 1:40 group; Siming, with 1:30; Amy, with 2:20; and Beth, the woman who is coordinating the Santa Rosa Marathon pacers (of which I am part! 3:35, baby!!), and whom I had the pleasure of finally meeting IRL at ZNV, with 1:50. Based on the very strategic plan that I had laid-out for the race, I intended to start the race with or near Linh and gradually pick things up from there. I promised myself to not chase after any runners who bolted out in the lead from the get-go, vowing instead to pursue them later in the race, and just lie low for a while.

Ultimately, I was somewhat successful, but the operative word here is “somewhat.” It took me until mile 7 for my running time to finally match up with my goal time–until then, I was ahead of where I wanted to be, even with some intentional efforts on my part to slow down–and ultimately, it was also around mile 7 that I learned that my going out too quickly at the start, despite my best intentions, was going to come kick me in the ass for a couple miles… but only after I would come *this close* to getting clipped by a pick-up truck on the course.

On that note, a word about the course: beautiful. For basically the entirety of the out-and-back race, we had vineyards on either side of us, as we ran along some seemed-to-me-like country roads, mostly in direct sunlight, which, you can guess, got a little steamy when you’re racing on the last Saturday morning in June in California. I’m not entirely sure why, but for both directions of the race, we ran with traffic, on open roads, and as I inched my way closer to the turn-around near mile 6.8x or 6.9, I could tell/feel/see that a park district pick-up truck was driving alongside me, parallel to me, for quite some time. There was nothing malicious going on–no obnoxious or harassing cat-calling or anything like that–but I thought for sure that the motorist would pick-up speed for a hot second so he could drive past/through the small orange cone barricade that indicated to runners that they had reached the turn-around. Instead, for reasons unknown, he drove alongside me for several minutes, and as we approached the runner turn-around, he matched the speed at which I was running — or, in other words, he was driving as slowly as I was running — and aside from completely startling me, as I made the hairpin turn-around over the orange cone, the truck damn near ran into me/I damn near ran into him because it was then that he finally decided to accelerate, to get out of the HM course. Fortunately, the volunteers were fabulous and yelled at him to move off the course, and luckily, I didn’t actually get hit, but mentally, it just freaked me out. Combine the mental freak out of “holy shit I almost got hit by a truck” with a realization that I really, really, really should have started the race more slowly, and yea… things got ugly for a couple miles.

During this ugly stretch of miles, when I thought for sure that I was running 20-minute miles (note to self: they were 8s, relax, self), I began to think a lot about two things that I have read recently/am in the process of reading: first, this article, and second, this book. I’m still in the early stages of the book, and I plan to write a review about it here once I’m done, but for those few miles in the ZNV half, wherein I thought for sure whatever miniscule amount of athletic abilities I had had that morning had tanked, among the many other things that I thought about, my mind immediately went to the notion of suffering and, as a corollary, why we (runners, me personally) do this to ourselves (push, work hard, haul ass when we’re sure there’s nothing left to haul)? In the throes of the ugly stretch, I had the joy of seeing many of the other ambassadors headed toward the turn-around, so the little pick-me-ups of seeing familiar faces, and yelling at them (and them reciprocating) punctuated my ugly segment with joyful moments. It was also in this stretch, as I was considering the meaning of life and the notion of intentional suffering, that I suddenly got slapped with a hefty dose of perspective.

I’ll spare you the inner workings of my mind here, but in the throes of the ugly, I decided to look at my watch’s splits, and when I saw that my splits were 8s, not 20s, suddenly things just began to click. I surely was still thinking about the fact that I had slowed down, that I had fucked up my race strategy, and all these other things that I had done wrong that morning, yet despite all of that, I also began to think big picture about my running and how and when and why I got to ZNV in the first place. A couple months ago, in advance of the race, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the “bullshit free running experience” that I was anticipating this race would bring and that I was looking forward to supporting the other runners on the course, many of whom would be doing ZNV as one of their first endurance events. When I saw the splits on my watch, it was like I suddenly remembered that there was a time, and one not that long ago, where holding 8s in a race, or really, for any prolonged stretch of time, would have been me hauling ass… or, as was more likely the case, me getting my ass handed to myself. I think it’s ridiculous that it took a case of me essentially fucking up in a race (again!) to get this hearty case of perspective shoved in my face, yet at the same time, once this revelation occurred during the ZNV race, suddenly, things didn’t suck anymore; suddenly, my race became more about finishing as quickly as I could so I could haul ass back to the course to cheer in as many of the other participants as possible.

At the end of the day, I squeaked in with a barely-1:40, my slowest half in years, but I finished smiling and with some perspective that I think I had lost sight of over the past few months. Admittedly, it is initially pretty shitty to finish a race (ZNV was my lifetime 100th!) where I achieved nothing that I was pursuing, but I think the win for me that day wasn’t on the watchface–a theme I seem to be rockin’ this year with my racing thus far–but instead, with the lessons learned and what I can apply to my next go.  Oh, and some stranger came up to me afterward and told me she really liked my running form; that’ll always make this ginger feel good. :)

finishing this thing up; also, the "marathons are so much better than this nonsense" face
finishing this thing. cred: Siming/RA

Shortly after I finished and downed several more glasses of water and Cytomax–things got hot out there–I went back to the final stretch of the course to cheer in Miriam, Haley, and a flurry of other 10k walkers and HM runners. I enjoy spectating and hollerin’ nearly as much as I enjoy racing, so this was a real treat for me. Soon enough, I went back to the Marriott for more QT and photo opps with the other ZNV ambassadors, the awards ceremony, and some nice downtime before returning south to SJ.

more ZNV love! with Miriam, Lynda, Amanda, Rachel, Karen, and Kara
more ZNV love! with Miriam, Lynda, Amanda, Rachel, Karen, and Kara
I earned a mug! 11th finisher, 7th woman, 2nd AG.
I earned a mug! 11th finisher, 7th woman, 2nd AG.

I had a blast being a ZNV social media ambassador over the last few months and running the inaugural 13.1 footrace. Among other things, it was a great way for me to connect with other CA-based runners and a wonderful way to see/run/experience a different part of CA, beyond the Bay Area. Though my race day performance was lackluster, at best, as always, I’m stoked I could walk away from the race with pages of mental notes to study for my next go. Next up is another half in the south Bay on 7/13 before TSFM on 7/27 and the 3:35 pacing gig at SRM on 8/24! :)

Thank you so much to ZOOMA and the multiple sponsors for the opportunities to run, showcase, trial, and represent over the past few months. As always, the views here are mine and mine alone. :)

4 thoughts on “Inaugural ZOOMA Napa Valley half marathon 2014 race report”

  1. Always a pleasure seeing you on the course and screaming a la Oakland Marathon at each other! You are amazing =)

  2. You killed the run, I remember waving at you as you were already heading back and I had not even reached the turn around yet LOL. This was a really fun experience and I so enjoyed being a fellow ambassador with all of you :)

    1. thanks for your kind words, Lynda. It was really awesome to finally get to meet you! I’m glad you had such an enjoyable first HM experience. :)

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