Friday, May 10, 2019

Race Report: Santa Rosa Marathon

San Francisco is well known for the fog that rolls in during the summer months, a result of rising hot air in California's interior valleys creating a low pressure area that draws winds in from the Pacific Ocean through the Golden Gate, so it was no surprise that SFO airport was having issues in the early Friday morning hours for flights landing in the overcast weather. Unfortunately, that fog stuck around for most of the day, resulting in extended delays for inbound aircraft. I was only delayed about an hour in my departure, and we made up some time in the air, landing only some 40 minutes late.  Almi, who flew in from Los Angeles but had just returned stateside the night before from a weeklong vacation in Iceland (where she ran and Boston Qualified at the Reykjavik Marathon!), was waiting at a Starbucks outside near a neighboring terminal, as we waited for our two other friends, Aidin and Paola, to arrive on their flight from San Diego.

A little while later, we realized that Aidin and Paola's flight was going to be severely delayed, mostly due to compounded delays on their aircraft shuttling back and forth between San Diego and San Francisco. We ended up picking our rental car up and catching a few z's at the cell phone lot when we realized just how late their flight was going to be getting in - three hours delayed! With Almi still in Reykjavik time, and me having just arrived to a three time zone difference, we asked one of the other two to drive the 80 minutes up to Santa Rosa.  They landed shortly after midnight, and we were finally on the road headed north through San Francisco at 12:30am.  Aidin was at the wheel, and let me tell you - that was not an easy task, as the fog rolling into the bay was THICK with visibility at maybe 20 feet in front of us at times; it was not easy to drive in, especially once we were on the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through the Marin Headlands and Sausalito, finally clearing up once we reached the outskirts of San Rafael. We arrived at our Airbnb at 2am, quietly getting ourselves into our respective rooms that our hosts had prepared for us, while trying to tiptoe around the house as to not wake them sleeping in the next room.

Alongside the Creek for the 10K
After some three hours of sleep, we woke to get ourselves downtown for the 10K, scheduled to begin at 7am.  We made sure to get out of the house with enough time to park and then pick up our bibs at the start in the Old Courthouse Square, a plaza only recently reconstructed to create a civic gathering place in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.  It was a chilly morning, only 55ยบ, similar to last week's overcast weather in Alaska. With Aidin and Almi (Paola slept in), we zig-zagged through the gridded streets of downtown Santa Rosa, passing Santa Rosa City Hall at roughly the 1 mile mark, before entering the Prince Memorial Greenway, a concrete trail with some ramps up and down when passing underneath some city streets that ran alongside Santa Rosa Creek.   We exited the trail briefly to run a loop around two blocks from Pierson Street along 6th Street, Adams Street, 7th Street, and Madison Street, before returning back to the Greenway to continue heading westward onto the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, this time an asphalt trail through a wooded corridor.  We maintained a pretty easy 10 minute mile all the while, on a 9 minute run/1 minute walk interval. At the 3.4 mile mark, we came off of the trail onto Stony Point Road, returning back toward downtown along the other side of the creek, on a part of the trail that was almost all gravel. This part was a bit more difficult to deal with, as I kept my eye on the trail as to not roll my ankle, and before long, we were back onto Pierson Street, following the Prince Memorial Greenway back to the downtown.  We crossed the finish in 1:02, a perfect 10 minute per mile pace.  It was made so much more fun being able to casually chat with both Aidin and Almi over the course of the race!

At the Schulz Museum!
We were treated to a delicious pancake breakfast which we quickly devoured, before heading back to the Airbnb to shower and prep for the rest of the day.  When we got back, we finally met our hosts Glen and Dawna, and their friendly cocker spaniel, Choco! Once we were all ready to get on with our day, we made our way to Sports Basement to pick up our bibs for our Sunday races. Sports Basement was a sports store (much like a Sports Authority or Dick's Sporting Goods) that set up vendor booths like an expo would along the store's main circulation loop.  We were able to get our hooded jackets (provided to runners of the half and full marathons on Sunday), as well as our complimentary bottle of "Runner's Red" wine from DeLoach Vineyards. After the expo was where the fun began... we headed to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center to check out works of the celebrated American cartoonist who penned the Peanuts comic strip for fifty years. We also stopped into the neighboring Redwood Empire Ice Arena (commonly known as Snoopy's Home Ice) owned by Schulz, who had a long association with ice sports and featured both figure skating and ice hockey prominently in his cartoons.
The four of us at a "trompe l'oeil" crosswalk at the Ice Arena
Being Snoopy
Strange flavors at the Jelly Belly HQ!
We then drove 90 minutes to Fairfield, California (dealing with some fairly tedious traffic through Napa) with the objective of heading to the headquarters of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, making it just in time to go on the last possible self-guided tour on the 1/4 mile long catwalk over the factory floor, featuring interactive exhibits, Jelly Belly bean art, and videos featuring the candy manufacturing process. We got to sample as many flavors as we wanted that the company offered, some normal, but some very outlandish! After having our fill of jelly beans, we stopped in at Sonoma Harvest, a store specializing in artisanal olive oils and locally produced wine which we had driven by near the Jelly Belly factory, in order to sample some olive oil and even do a wine tasting (at least for Almi and I!)

Posing in front of the Jelly Belly Branded Vehicle!
Good Friends. Good Wine. Good Times.
A beautiful Napa sunset to end a busy Saturday.
 The hunger pangs began to hit real quickly, so we ventured into Napa to have dinner, setting our sights on the Stone Brewing Brewery and Restaurant, situated on the east bank of the Napa River, just across from the cute little downtown. Despite originating in the Southern California city of Escondido (near San Diego), the Napa location was just recently opened only a few months earlier in the renovated Borreo Building, named for the family that formerly owned the stone structure, which was completed in 1877.  We enjoyed our delicious dinners, carbloading for our races the next morning, some of us taking advantage of the delicious beers on tap; I took to a full-bodied Imperial Stout named "All the Best Beer Names Are Taken." We were treated to a beautiful sunset before we drove back to Santa Rosa by way of city of Sonoma, turning in early because of our rather early morning wake up.

Sunday morning came VERY quickly.  We were up at 5am, each of the four of us making use of the single bathroom as quickly and quietly as we could, finally getting out of the door a little late at 5:40.  We found parking only a couple blocks from the startline, and I headed straight to the start stage where two new friends, Kathy and Lisa, were waiting for me to give them their bibs and drop bags which I had picked up for them from the expo the day before. It was another brisk morning, a little colder than the day before, and far more people milling around. Leslie, the announcer, was at the start stage and ready to hand me the mic at 6:25, moments before the 6:30 start gun. I got up there to sing the national anthem, my third time doing so in the state of California!


The startline for the big race!
After singing, I found my way to my corral, situated myself near the 4:38 pacer, who happened to be my friend Julia, as we started the race, and we were off!  Like the day before, we zigzagged through the streets of downtown Santa Rosa, first taking a wide berth around 5th Street toward Fremont Park; I eventually got myself next to Almi, who was pacing 4:23, and ran with her and Aidin for the first mile before needing to take my first walk break, as we made our way down E Street. We passed Santa Rosa City Hall once again, then headed straight for the Prince Memorial Greenway, practically mimicking our route from yesterday, but this time without the detour from Pierson Street. I ran a fairly consistent 10 minute mile as we made our way along the Greenway as it turned into the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, continuing to head westward along the wooded paths, and playing a bit of leap frog with a few runners I got to befriend for short conversations along the way.
Running through downtown Santa Rosa
Running past Santa Rosa City Hall... we'll see you again in 25 miles!
The trail narrows...
At mile 4, I ended up meeting Richard, who was wearing an "Antelope Canyon Ultra In-Training" shirt; we got to talking and I found out he was planning to run the 55k at the fairly popular race. He was local to Santa Rosa, having done this race several years in a row.  He was also an accomplished ultramarathoner and triathlete, having done several of both; we ended up running together for the next thirteen miles, keeping at a conversational pace, never exerting too much as we continued along my 9 minute/1 minute interval that he was actually quite enjoying.  At about the 5.5 mile mark, the course transitioned from the flat creekside asphalt trail running behind residential areas, to being treated to acres of grape vineyards as far as the eye can see to our right.

Trees and vineyards on the trail
We turned right for a short out and back along a dirt and gravel trail that took us up to Guerneville Road, before heading right back to the Santa Rosa Creek Trail heading westward.  We continued to keep a fairly steady pace doing the intervals and walking through hydration stations, clocking in miles all fairly cushioned under 11 minutes, on par to finish the first half in roughly 2:15. The trail was beautiful with the quiet creek on our left, and the vineyards to our right, and in some cases, some beautiful tree canopy cover, creating a tunnel effect. We crossed over some quaint trestle bridges along the way, as the creek meandered below us.

Newly paved road to run on.
At the 8 mile mark, we finally came off of the trail, turning right onto Willowside Road, our first asphalt road since we entered the Prince Memorial Greenway at the 1.4 mile mark. We passed Batala San Francisco, a Brazilian samba reggae performance group, but unfortunately they were on break as we passed - we ended up hearing them start up again behind us as we continued on the nice downhill along this newly paved road.  Richard remarked that we were treated this year to not only great conditions weatherwise (it was blazing hot last year), but the roads were also recently repaved. We turned left onto Guerneville Road, continuing down the road for half a mile before turning right onto Olivet Road.

Pink wildflowers in bloom
We faced a slight uphill, but were treated to a beautiful sight of the pink wildflowers in bloom along the roadside in front of these houses. We continued northward passing homes with small vineyards in their front and side yards, before arriving at the entrance of the DeLoach Estate Vineyards, an official sponsor of the marathon.  The course veered us temporarily off of this straight shot, as we turned left and ran down the narrow driveway headed into the property of the vineyards, past thousands of grapevines almost ready for harvest. We ran past their farm buildings (and a few farm animals including goats and sheep) before running through their barrel room, a part of the race that has only been included since 2013, when the vineyards joined as a sponsor. After passing through, we were even treated to a chardonnay station - nothing like having a swig of wine 10 miles into a marathon!
Running through De Loach Estate Vineyards!
Taking advantage of the mid-race chardonnay stop!
Heading out back on the course, past all the ripening grapes!
Fresh grapes on the course! 
Eventually, we made our way back onto Olivet Road, and Richard and I continued north before the course veered left just before the 11 mile mark.  We continued as the road forced itself to turn right (there was no other way to go) as we ran along Oakwild Lane. We were out in rural northern California, with vineyards surrounding us on both sides. The course grew monotonous, as we finally made a turn eastward onto Woolsey Road and crossed the halfway mark of the race in 2:17:32. We stayed on Woolsey Road for quite some time - seemingly endless - finally turning well after the 14 mile mark onto Wood Road, which zigzagged its way toward Fulton Road. Along the way, a family cheering for runners in front of their house had laid out some fresh seedless grapes from their personal vineyard - I took a handful and had one of the best midrace snacks I've had in quite some time!  My pace slowed down as I devoured every succulent bit of fruit. We then hit Fulton Road, and turned right, hitting a busy main street with cars zipping by, as we hugged the bike lane/shoulder.
Vineyards as far as the eye can see...
Fulton Road, with a slight tailwind.
We got back into our rhythm, paying attention to my watch beeps as the 4 minute and 1 minute alarms came and went, seemingly quickening as we had a slight tailwind taking us southward. We were back in Santa Rosa city limits as we hugged its northwestern corner, turning right onto Piner Road, now nearly 17 miles into the race.  The course veered into the parking lot of the Northwest Prep Charter School as we took a quick aid station break, then continued on along much of the same vineyard-full views on both sides, before reaching Willowside Road where we turned left and made another pitstop at the aid station in the parking lot of Olivet Elementary School.  Richard needed to take a quick break and told me to continue on, as he knew I could probably quicken my pace in the closing miles, and so off I went, hitting the mile 19 mark heading back southward.  My pace did quicken, as I was able to keep some consistency in my cadence as the road crossed Guerneville Road, back onto the section of Willowside Road we had run some 11.5 miles earlier. I came upon Batala San Francisco for the second time, but to my unfortunate luck, they were on break as I passed by again! I turned left back onto the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, with exactly six miles of race left to go.
A bridge crossing on the Santa Rosa Creek Trail
Back in the city limits along the trail
1.2 miles to go!
I traced my path back to downtown Santa Rosa along the trail, paying attention to my intervals as I kept it consistent for the next few miles. I was actually making some good time, as my pace was only slower by an average of 20 seconds than when I ran this section on fresher legs when it was miles 5-7. Before long, we were back on the Prince Memorial Greenway, running on concrete with those same up and down ramps I had run yesterday and earlier this morning feeling much more difficult to negotiate 4 1/2 hours in to a marathon! There were even a few half marathon walkers who I passed along the way. I felt strong as we finally exited the greenway, and navigated the few blocks we had left as we passed City Hall, and came up D Street to the sounds of music and the announcer bringing in people across the marathon finish line. I sprinted across, and ran my fastest marathon all year - 4:50:07 - and at the time, my 10th fastest. Not only that, I'd have my fastest marathon in the state of California, beating my previous fastest by almost 40 minutes!  To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

With Richard after the race
Richard was not far back from me, and he came in at around 5:04. He was pretty thankful for my help early on in the race, to keep his legs in check for his upcoming triathlons. I found Almi and took advantage of the free runners' breakfast yet again, and got my headstand photo taken before finding our way back to the car, where both Aidin and Paola were warming themselves up from the chillier temps outside.  It was only in the high 50s, low 60s, but for these two San Diegans, it was a bit too cold, lol.

Victory Headstand and art deco
We headed back to the Airbnb, taking turns using the bathroom to freshen up, and packed up our bags to go on with the remainder of our day.  We went back downtown to grab lunch with Elaine and Mitch at a paella place only a few blocks away from the marathon finish line, and then got on the road out to our last adventure before heading to the San Francisco Airport.  Based on our estimations, we'd have just enough time to drive out to Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, past the town of Inverness, California, where a unique tunnel of massive Monterey Cypress trees form a tunnel.  We took a few photos before the cold and wind started to get to us, and we also had a time crunch to get back down to SFO for Almi to make her flight. While I drove us out to the tree tunnel, Almi drove us down to San Francisco; I got super nauseous as we navigated the twists and turns of Lucas Valley Road down to San Rafael, then finally got onto the highway straight to the airport. Almi made her flight (along with the beer and wine she had to check inside her luggage), as the rest of refilled the gas in the car then returned it to the rental company; I headed home on the redeye, ready to take on yet another week, and happy to come home with a fantastic finish to yet another great marathon!
Jumping for joy among the cypress trees
SO many great memories shared between us friends!

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