If you love wine and you love running, I have good news! There’s a half marathon called the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, and I just ran it. Now, I will tell you about it in exhausting detail, because I know you expect no less. (PS – sorry it took me so long to get this post up. No excuses.)
Apparently, the weather in California’s wine country is normally quite moderate this time of year, so I was really looking forward to a cool morning for running! I think I thought that if the temps were in the 50s, it would suddenly make up for the fact that I’ve only done one long run since the Prague Marathon two and a half months ago. Too bad I never got a chance to find out, because the high temperature on race day was 103 degrees, and starting temps were in the 70s. The bright side of this is that I can continue to delude myself into thinking that I really am in great half marathon shape for fall.
Knowing that the temperatures wouldn’t be ideal and I wasn’t in PR shape or anywhere close (I’d probably run about 2:05 right now), I decided to run the race for fun and take pictures along the way (and drink wine!). When I found out that one of the other journalists, Claire, would be attempting to run her very first half marathon, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run with her. If I remember correctly, I was like “Hey, person I just met! I’m going to talk your ear off for 13.1 miles! It will be great! You’ll love it.” And she was like “Oh good.” No, just kidding, she loved it, probably.
The morning started bright and early when we caught the 6:20 am shuttle bus from near our HomeAway vacation rental home in Sonoma (where the race finished). There was a huge line for the buses by the time we got there, and the final buses were supposed to leave around 6:30. I saw some of my Marathon Maniacs friends while we waited for the buses – always a nice surprise!
Claire, Ashley (another journalist who was also running) and I hopped on for the ride to Napa for the start of the race. There was a ton of traffic, but we had time to hit the porta potties (no lines!) and take some photos before the race started. We also got to admire the team names some people had selected for their running groups, which included, but were not limited to, “Everything Happens for a Riesling,” “Wine About It,” “Running Off the Riesling,” and more.
The start of the race was delayed by 10-15 minutes to make sure the other buses arrived, so we started around 7:15. Ashley was hoping for a PR, so she took off, while Claire and I set off at an easy pace. Of course, literally as soon as we turned out of the start area, there was a pretty steep hill! Not exactly the ideal way to start your first half marathon, but we made it work. The race is a very popular destination event, and people come from all over the world to do it. It’s very walker friendly and many people come in large groups to run together – some even with personalized shirts! Since we started at the very back (by choice), we did a good bit of bobbing and weaving around other runners and walkers in the early miles of the race, which were quite congested due to the narrow road.
Claire had instructed me to tell her my entire life story over the course of 13.1 miles so as to take her mind off the fact that she was running a half marathon, so I happily obliged. We had really no idea what to expect from the course in terms of hills: I had heard it was very hilly, but Ashley had been told it wasn’t too bad. I would say it wasn’t particularly hilly to me, as someone who lives in an area with tons of hills, but if you run in a flat area, there would be quite a few tough spots. We decided to just enjoy the scenery, swap stories, and see where the race took us!
The water stops early in the race were about 2 miles apart until mile 8, when they were about a mile apart. Straight up, the water situation was a problem. There were not enough volunteers at the early stations and runners were waiting in long lines, trying to pour their own cups, etc. We waited for several minutes to get a cup of water at the first aid station. While it wasn’t a big deal to us, since we were just there to have fun, it would really suck if you were trying to run for a PR. Fortunately, there was plenty of beautiful stuff to look at while you waited.
The early miles of the race really flew by. It’s always fun to run with a friend, but it is even more fun to run with a new friend when you still have so much to talk about! We were keeping a nice easy pace around 10:30 per mile, but it felt like we were constantly passing people. The race is extremely walker friendly and many people choose to entirely walk the race or do a run/walk combo. Since we started at the back, we got to do a lot of passing in those early miles! There were a couple of times when we had to stop and wait to cross the street, which I thought was really odd. Again, it was fine for us, but for someone trying to run a fast time, it just seems totally ridiculous. This race is well known and sells out immediately – you’d think traffic control would not be a problem. But apparently, it is. Just an FYI.
Around mile 7 on the course, there was a beer stop (which we did not stop for) but at mile 10, there was a wine stop! Claire started to struggle around mile 8.5, since her longest run had been 8 miles, but we kept up good spirits. By mile 10, I was definitely ready to grab some wine, so I stopped and let Claire go ahead, promising I would catch up. There was a little line for the wine station, but I didn’t mind – that delicious Gewurtztraminer was worth the wait!
Lest you think drinking wine at mile 10 of a boiling hot half marathon sounds disgusting, let me assure you that it was delicious and refreshing. Try it at your next running event. I caught up with Claire and I could tell that she was struggling a lot. You know when you’re 10 miles into a half marathon and you realize you still have to run another 3.1 miles and that seems impossibly far? She had reached that point. “How have you possibly run 51 marathons?!” she said. “I want to die right now! This is the worst!” I laughed because OMG, I have been there so very many times. Honestly, part of the reason I love running with new runners is because their misery takes my mind off my misery, and I can totally relate. I promised that we could walk the whole rest of the way to the finish if we needed to, knowing that we would not.
From that point on, we took it half a mile at a time. I told all the funny stories that I could think of to try and take her mind off of the pain. We walked a little, ran a little, and did the trick of running to the next stop sign or landmark and then taking a walk break. At around mile 12, she told me that she didn’t think she could finish the race. I told her that she didn’t have a choice because we were past the water stops and no one was going to come pick her up, so we might as well keep walking. I’ve been there in races so many times and I know exactly how she felt. I also know how important it is to have someone there to encourage you and keep you moving (thanks, Bobbi!), so I tried my best to be that person for her. I also told her that I bet her she’d sign up for another one within a week, and she gave me a death glare.
We finally saw our friend Denise at about mile 12.8, and Claire asked her how much farther we had to go. Denise told her that we just had to run to the American flag up ahead and then turn right, and we’d be there. Claire TOOK OFF like a bat out of hell. Seriously, I have never seen anything like it. The girl has wheels! For someone who was in tears and wanted to lay down on the side of the road (been there!) two minutes earlier, she was suddenly revived. I did my best to chase after her, but dang, she made it a race for sure! I got in my speed work, to say the least.
We crossed the line and Claire immediately broke down sobbing and hugged me. It was such a special moment! It’s amazing when just like that, hours of pain is erased and all you can think about it what you just accomplished. Moments like that are why I run in the first place. For me, it’s way more fun to run a race with a friend or a new runner and feel all the emotional components of it. If I had been in PR shape, this race would have played out differently, but I wasn’t. So why run another 2:05 half marathon when I could share the experience of helping someone get across that finish line for the first time? That’s way more satisfying. By the way, she signed up for another half marathon the next day.
The race ends in Sonoma Plaza, just blocks away from our HomeAway rental house, which was awesome. There is a wine festival in the plaza after the race with tons of free samples and food, but we were all a little too hot to stay out there for very long. We made the short walk back to the house to regroup before getting our food and drink on – it was #NationalIceCreamDay, after all!
You know what’s not the best idea to do after running an extremely hot half marathon when you’re a very sweaty person? Start immediately drinking all the wine you can find. I mean, it’s delicious, but whatever alcohol tolerance you think you have disappears pretty quickly. Trust me on that one. Someone told me, and I’m pretty sure it’s true. I definitely did not learn the hard way.
Don’t worry, I made sure I got my ice cream, too. How did I even eat this all? They had gluten free cones at this place, which made me so happy I almost drunkenly cried.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. While there are definitely things that can be improved (the water stops and traffic control), it’s an absolutely beautiful course with a fantastic finish. Making a new lifelong friend definitely didn’t hurt either. I’d definitely recommend staying in Sonoma and walking home after you finish the race and enjoy the food and wine! Hey, you’ve already got a wine glass hanging around your neck – you might as well!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you prefer point-to-point courses or loops? What’s your favorite type of wine?