I finished. That is the kindest thing that can be said about my actual run in the 2009 Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. My goal was to finish the race in under three hours — in reality, my official time was 3:34:34.7.1 Don’t get me wrong ... it was a great weekend, a great experience and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. Let me tell you why.
Final Weeks of Training
On July 5, I ran my longest training run of the year — 10.1 miles. Based on the 2 hours and 12 minutes it took to complete just over 10 miles, I was easily on course to finish the 13.1 mile half marathon in under 3 hours. I felt far better physically and was running significantly faster than during my training for San Antonio (my only other half marathon). So I set out for Napa and Sonoma psyched that I could run a great half marathon and finish with a “real” runner’s time.2
The Napa Difference
As it turned out, the Napa to Sonoma course had many more hills than I (and numerous others) expected.3 Combine that terrain with temperatures that rose rapidly through the 80s after the starting gun and I quickly found myself fighting an unexpectedly tough battle.
Mile by Mile
I started off at a solid clip, managing to run most of the way up the initial (and steepest) hill on the course. For the first two miles, I kept pace with teammate Renee and the rest of the pack of runners around me. The peaceful scenery of the surrounding vineyards made for perfect surroundings. At the two mile mark teammate Karen passed us, at which point I took a short walk break and fell a couple of minutes behind Renee.
After a couple of minutes I began running again and ran straight through nearly to mile four. Unfortunately about this time my Crohn’s started communicating that I would need to take a bathroom break very, very soon. I stopped at the three portable toilets at mile four and found myself in line behind several dozen other runners. Based on my cell phone clock, I lost over 19 minutes waiting in that line, and when I started up again I could tell I also had lost a significant part of my physical edge.
Between miles four and six the temperature continued to climb and I took more walking breaks than I would have preferred. Just as I was getting really thirsty and dry, I discovered the mile six water station had run out of water.4
Somewhere around mile seven I caught up with Peggy from our Wisconsin team. Peggy was walking with Mathew, a teenager from the Westchester Team Challenge team. Mathew reminded me of myself in high school — trying hard to live a normal life and be just like other kids ... in spite of being forced to grow up fast in order to deal with the constant challenges of living and attending school while fighting Crohn’s. Walking and talking with Mathew brought me out of own aches and pains long enough to remember that kids like Mathew — and what they go through because of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis — are exactly the reason I committed to Team Challenge in the first place. After about a mile, I wished him well and started running again, inspired to finish this race and go on to make a difference.
One Foot in Front of the Other
At the mile eight water stop, I ran into Tyler Hillstrom, the outgoing Team Challenge Endurance Manager for CCFA’s Wisconsin Chapter.5 Tyler was briefly running/walking and talking with each of the Wisconsin Team Challenge participants as they came past.
Right about mile eleven things got really challenging.6 Every time I tried to increase my pace even a little, my lower legs would begin to cramp. Fortunately it seemed like there was a Team Challenge coach around almost every corner. Regardless of which Team Challenge team/chapter a coach was from, every one of them asked me how I was doing, walked with me for a while, and said exactly what I needed to hear to keep pushing on.
By mile twelve, I’d fallen far enough back that it seemed there were very few runners/walkers left behind me. Looking ahead on the course, I saw Rick — our Wisconsin team coach — jogging towards me. Rick joined me and while we were walking and talking, my leg began to cramp again. Rick told me he could visibly see the muscle clenching on the back of my leg (an unsettling thought with a mile left to go), but also reassured me I was handling the cramps in the right way to avoid locking up my muscle. About a half mile from the finish line, Rick checked to make sure I was okay and that I’d make it the remaining distance, then began jogging back again to check on the remaining members of Team Challenge who were still on the course. I pushed forward, committed to keeping my word to Rick that I would be able to finish.
A Photo Finish
As I ran limped the remaining 100 yards to the finish line, I saw Jack from our Wisconsin team7 taking pictures of the remaining participants as they approached the finish line. That was probably the first time in about two hours that I felt confident I would actually finish the race. I forced myself to pick up the speed at which I was dragging my body, threw my arms in the air, and crossed the finish line in a sense of triumph. I hadn’t finished in under three hours, in fact I probably had run less than half of the total course. But I finished. Despite every objection my body threw at me — dehydration, muscle cramps, low electrolytes, even hallucinations that the grapevines themselves were taunting me8 — I finished.
Ultimately it was all worthwhile, because the Team Challenge folks who ran or walked from Napa to Sonoma raised over $2.4 million ... and that means we’re $2.4 million closer to a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Show Your Support
Even though the race is over, you can still show your support for the Napa to Sonoma Team Challenge event. All of the money raised helps CCFA achieve their mission: “To cure Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases.” Through your donation, you are part of the cure.
There are a couple ways you can help:
- Make an online donation — Visit my Team Challenge page and donate online to support my effort.
- Donate via cash or personal check — If you’d like to make a donation the “old-fashion” way, please contact me and I’ll provide you with instructions.
- Buy a tee-shirt — I’m selling copies of the custom designed tee-shirt that I wore during the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon (image below) for $35 each, with the proceeds going to CCFA. If you’d like one (or several), contact me.
After all my training, I have to admit I’m somewhat disappointed in my performance in the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon, since I completely missed my three hour goal (and actually did worse than my previous half marathon). So what’s next? First, I plan to immediately get back into running9 and start increasing my longest run each week towards 10 miles. Then at some point when my body seems ready — probably in September — I’m going to run a 13.1 mile course here in Milwaukee with the goal of finishing in under 3 hours.
Second, I’m giving serious consideration to running with Team Challenge in the Las Vegas Half Marathon on December 6. I have an idea for a different way to raise funds for that event (which won’t involve asking friends and family for donations for the third time in 13 months). Stay tuned for details.
I want to thank everyone who made Napa to Sonoma possible. Thank you to every one of you would made a cash or in-kind donation to help us fund vital research. Thank you to Tyler for being a great Team Challenge manager and orchestrating all of the details that resulted in two great experiences (San Antonio and Napa to Sonoma) for the Wisconsin team. And thank you to our running coach Rick and walking coach Naomi who have now taken three groups of people (most of whom have never run/walked more than a couple miles) and turned us into half marathoners! I also want to give a special thank you to Sarah and Jack for providing post race assistance way above and beyond the call of duty!
And finally, thank you to every one of my Wisconsin Team Challenge teammates: Karen, Renee, Peggy and Peggy, Jennifer K., Jennifer S., Nadine, Melissa, Tammy, Laura, Sam and Terri, Rachel and Margaret, Josh, Jacqueline, Maura, Jeff and Jack. You all accomplished something amazing and I’ll gladly run with you anytime!
- This was roughly six minutes longer than it took me to complete the San Antonio half marathon last November. An even bigger groan came from the fact I finished last out of my entire age group! (And no, I won’t tell you what age group that is.) [↩]
- Plus maybe drink some good wine along the way. [↩]
- Our team’s coach, Rick Ellison, wrote afterward that based on his perspective as an experienced racer, “the course was considerably more difficult than most.” [↩]
- The race operators did get more water to that station, but unfortunately it was after I had passed it. [↩]
- Tyler is stepping down as Endurance Manager because he recently assumed the role of Executive Director for CCFA’s Wisconsin Chapter. [↩]
- Well, it is called Team Challenge, after all! [↩]
- Jack had finished the 13.1 miles nearly two hours earlier. [↩]
- No, I didn’t really experience any hallucinations. But if I had, I’m sure they would have involved grapes. Or talking GPS navigators. [↩]
- We have a Team Challenge reunion run right away on Saturday, July 25. What better way to get back to running? [↩]