It’s the time when the entire world is plunged with the deadly Corona Virus. People are quarantined, schools and offices are shut, flights are reduced and events are getting cancelled. So it felt like a breath of fresh air when the organizers of the Napa Valley marathon did not cancel the run scheduled on March 1st. There was no need to panic at the moment at least according to President Trump. So off we set on Friday afternoon to this beautiful wine country.
I had signed up for the Napa Valley marathon in 2018 and 2019. Due to an injury and illness, I had to miss both the editions. I thought 2020 was headed the same way when I fell sick in January and couldn’t put in the mileages required for a full marathon. I then decided to switch over to the half marathon distance instead.
It took a while to build back my strength after a bout of viral. And it’s still work in progress. We reached Napa by Friday night after wading through the infamous Bay area traffic and one stopover for dinner.
The expo was on Saturday in the same hotel where I was staying. So, I picked up my bib and t shirt the first thing in the morning and caught up on my sleep the rest of Saturday. The past few weeks had been stressful with finalizing my manuscript and finally signing an agreement with the publisher a week before the run.
I woke up at 4:30 am on Sunday morning, got ready and rushed to the hotel lobby to catch the shuttle to the start line. It was swarming with runners in an energetic mood. Most of them whom I came across were running the half marathon. They joked stating that we were team Half and did a little cheer. These positive vibes carried all through the bus ride up to the start point at Conn Creek Road.
Race morning: Having reached there an hour early, I had time to click some riveting images of vineyards at the break of dawn. The sky depicted an exquisite shade of purple interspersed with pink at the horizon.
The vineyards were just about waking up from their slumber. Runners were busy clicking selfies with the glowing sky in the background. Before I realized, the minutes seemed to have ticked away and it was time to start the race.
It was a wave start which meant that the faster runners were lined up first. I was chatting with a few pacers in the meantime who were mentioning that they were allotted the pace buses which were 20 minutes more than their half marathon timing. So, if someone ran a half marathon in 2 hours, they would be allotted the 2:20 pacer bus.
Run away: I decided to go easy today and enjoy just being soaked amidst the vineyards. I put my music away and geared up to listen to the sounds of nature instead. Adorned by a sheet of green on either side, I soon myself getting into the familiar rhythm of strides. The course had gentle rolling hills and some never-ending gradients. I gazed at the contours of green on either side, which seemed to belong to someone. I read the names with a twang of envy wishing that I too was an owner of such a place. How it would be to own your own vineyards and have wine made from the same grapes. With such thoughts, I soon found myself at the 5thmile at Yountville cross road.
I paused at a couple of aid stations to get some water. The weather was nice and cold, but too cold for comfort. That kind of cold where your body takes longer to warm up. That kind of cold which makes you want to snuggle inside a warm blanket with a good book. Not the pleasant cold which I often longed for back in India as a respite from the oppressive humid weather.
After taking some sips of water, I made my way through the crowd. There were a lot of runners but not so many that it made me feel claustrophobic unlike some of the city runs. The courses at Napa and Big sur being adorned by nature on either side gave me an open sort of a feeling. I felt free enough to run in my own rhythm. Being on the onset of spring, I noticed the carpet of green interspersed with tufts of yellow. It was a glorious sight. For some reason, it reminded me of the film-‘The sound of music’. It got me humming ‘Doe a deer, a female deer’, for some time.
I noticed volunteers holding placards with some interesting lines. ‘I run for wine’ read one and I gave that lady holding it a hi five. It resonated with me so much. Another one read ‘Run like you stole something’.
I wondered how I’d run if I actually stole something. The only thing that I stole was caramel custard from my refrigerator as a little girl, given my sweet tooth. And I certainly couldn’t run amidst the dining tables and chairs. With such crazy thoughts, I traversed through the crowd of volunteers, runners and reached oak knoll avenue at the 10thmile.
The half marathon course was along the full marathon course. So, some of the mile markers read 18thmile, 23rdmile. I could just imagine the glee of the full marathoners when they would slowly inch towards every mile to the finish line. At that moment, it began to drizzle. I looked up at the grey skies hoping that it would end up in a downpour and mess up my run. The cheer leaders stationed at the 11thmile egged us on. “You are almost there,” they said.
At Salvador which was the 12thmile, I felt a sudden burst of energy. Just a mile to go I realized and gathered all my reserves. I pushed myself all the way up to Vintage High school embracing the finish line in a strong manner. It was one of strongest runs in recent times, given my health and stress levels. Having resumed the track workouts recently, I hoped to gain speed in the coming months.
It was cloudy day and was beginning to get a little windy. After collecting my medal, I hopped on the shuttle to go back to my hotel.
A visit to Napa isn’t complete without a visit to a winery and a good run isn’t complete without a glass of wine. So off we drove to Artesa vineyards which was situated on top of a hill. Soaked in the vineyards and a glass of Pinot Noir, I had experienced more than the runners high.
I observed people around me. Some of them had come straight from the run, while others were just visiting. Nevertheless they were all in high spirits. Their effervescent chatter came across as a silver lining amidst the supposedly grey cloud that has engulfed the world today. Reminded me of the love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I suppose this run was a sort of a cheer and a silver lining in the time of Corona!