Andrew Bauer's 2018 Napa Valley Marathon Race
Read about our Nutrition buyer Andrew and his experience during his first-ever marathon!
As an endurance athlete, you long for moments when everything falls into place when it counts. We log the miles, pay attention to all the details and try our best to make it to the start line confident and injury free. On March 4, 2018 at the Napa Valley Marathon I had one of those rare moments!
I had never run a marathon before but always knew I would take a crack at it someday. My wife Rebecca had run her first one at the Napa Valley Marathon in 2017 and had a great experience so I decided to sign up for the same race the following year. It was now time to plan my training and execute.
Even though I had never run a marathon I had an idea of what I was capable of. I thought I could hold 5:30 miles, and if I could do that then I would have a chance at winning. So I planned my training with that in mind. The months leading up to race day had gone really really well. I was running 20 and 23-mile long runs with ease. I hit the goal times in almost all my workouts. I was in the best shape of my life and was able to get to the start line ready to roll.
Race morning was foggy and cold...like 37 degrees cold...but no wind - perfect running weather! I am usually calm and collected at most start lines but this morning I was a bundle of nerves. The marathon is a long race and can tax the body in ways for which you cannot prepare. I knew I was fit but had never actually run 26.2 miles before. Would my body hold up? Would I be able to sustain my goal race pace? Would there be anyone to run with or am I going at this solo? So many questions!
Go time! The race director began the 10-second countdown, which felt like an eternity. Finally the horn sounded and we were off. The first few minutes of a race are always interesting, especially if I am not familiar with my competitors. Is there anyone here with the same goal race pace so we can work together? Is anyone here faster? I was going into this race trying to win it so if someone went out hard, do I go with them or start conservative? In the marathon, more than any other running race, decisions you make in the first few miles can significantly impact the outcome of your performance.
I got out well - 5:28 first mile - with 3 other guys in the front pack. In the first 10 miles of the marathon, you want goal race pace to feel easy. Our pace was feeling really really good but just before the 2-mile mark one of the four in the group started to pull away. Decision time. I trusted my training and race plan and thought that if I kept running my race then I would be stronger in the later miles. I decided to let him go and stay with the two other runners so that we could work together clicking off miles between 5:25 and 5:30.
The three of us continued to work together through 10 miles in 54:30 (just under 5:30 pace) and the half marathon mark in 1:12:04 (5:31 pace) but at that point, the leader who broke away in the opening miles had put 2 minutes on us. Decision time again.
For the first 13 miles, my strategy was working nicely and I still felt fresh. I was running my goal pace and had two other guys to work with. I was running just off their shoulders letting them dictate the pace but anytime I felt it back off a little I would move to the front. Although the course was mostly flat and fast, there were two small hills coming up at mile 14 and 16 then a long grinder from 19.5 to 20.5. I chose to stay the course and run with the group.
We coasted up the mile 14 climb with a 5:33 mile, opened it up on the down hill in 5:25 then worked it up mile 16 in 5:38. At the top of that climb the race director driving along the course informed our group that we had made up one minute on the leader. I was psyched! In 3 miles, we had sliced our deficit in half! It was time for me to go!
Not so much surge but more of a slight injection of pace finally gave me control of the group. After running on the shoulders for 16 miles and controlling my energy it was my turn to dictate the pace. I led miles 17 and 18 running 5:25s. During that time our trio had shrunk to a pair and I could see the leader up ahead for the first time in over an hour! By the 19-mile mark, we had caught the leader and I moved to the front to continue setting the pace. I led the group up the mile-long climb past the 20-mile mark running another 5:25. In doing so the former leader had detached from the group and it was back to the two of us.
They say that the 20-mile mark of the marathon is halfway and it’s true. Many marathon training plans max out at 20 or 22 miles so as not to tax the body. My longest run to this point was 23 miles. I was about to go into uncharted territory however I believed in the work I put in for this race. All my workouts were spot-on. If there was a time to be confident in my ability, this was it.
I continued to lead the next 3 miles until the right turn off the Silverado Trail. I still couldn’t shake my running buddy. Even though I was confident, a tiny bit of doubt crept in (it’s amazing what you mind does in the last few miles of a marathon) and my legs were getting heavy. Will this guy just drop already!? A month prior, I ran the last few miles of the course to get an idea of where to make a move in case I found myself in a situation exactly like this. I had a plan. After making the turn, I slightly backed off the pace and moved over - the universal “you take the lead” signal. After all, I had been leading and setting the pace for us since mile 16! He came through and I slid in right behind him. Perfect! It’s not as big as in cycling but running directly behind someone is definitely easier than leading. It is also a nice mental break having someone else set the pace.
The upcoming left turn was the 24-mile marker. Two miles to go! The next part of the plan was to take back the lead and put in a strong surge, hoping to drop him. I ran 5:13 for mile 25 but he was still there. Come on! There were two more significant turns to go and I had 1.2 miles to figure this out. I kept surging over the next half-mile at 5:15 pace. We turned right and he took the lead again. Had I burned all my matches? My legs were screaming. Half-mile to go...2 laps on a track. “Wait, don’t go yet” I told myself.
With a quarter-mile to go I started my kick. I made the pass just before the final left turn for the line. I counted to 15 in my head before looking back (counting to yourself takes your mind off the pain). I had a gap! I couldn’t really feel my legs working but I pushed all the way to the finishing stretch. I took one last look over my shoulder and finally realized that I was going to win this thing...to accomplish my goal!
Leading up the race I dreamt about what I would actually do at the finish line if I broke the tape. I would jump around, give high fives, pump my fist. What actually happened was a bit different. I thought about doing all those things as I was running down the finish stretch and seeing the banner being held in front of me but my legs barely worked. Jumping up and down was definitely not going to happen and I didn’t have time for high fives or fist pumps. I just managed to get my arms up in celebration before crossing the line. I had not only run a marathon in 2:24:04 (5:30 pace) but ran smart, executed a plan and adapted when necessary, and truly competed...and won!!
I’ve run hundreds of races throughout my career but this one is the most memorable. Months before, I mapped out a running plan and almost all aspects of my life revolved around that plan. I was hyper-focused and worked incredibly hard. I managed to hit almost all my times in workouts, committed to a stretching routine, ate healthy and made sure I had adequate rest. To put so much focus on something and then for it to be a success gave me so much relief but also made me incredibly proud.
It’s been two years since this race and I’ve had some good performances but nothing quite like this one. It is performances like this one that makes me appreciate the hard work we do as endurance athletes. Although I have not run another marathon, I look forward to getting back out there very soon.