The Power of Pace on a Beer Run in Sonoma Wine Country

The big question in last weekend’s Water to Wine Half Marathon held in Healdsburg, CA is “Was it worth it for Alderbrook Winery?”. That’s because Alderbrook hosted the post-race festivities which included free wine tasting, presumably to encourage many of the runners to actually purchase some of their wine. Perhaps this is news to Alder Brook, but most half-marathon finishers are fighting dehydration, have at least one body part hurting pretty bad, and often feel like puking. This is not an ideal time to be sipping a Chardonnay and appreciating its various subtle nuances and complexities, so you have to wonder how successful this little marketing idea was.

But hey, I’ve got to hand it to Alder Brook for putting on a good post-race show, with some tasty rice and beans on hand and a reggae singer so cool, polished and smooth, he could probably turn a Megadeath cover into a feel-good song you could grove to. And since my wife Linda and I wanted to help a race sponsor out and we liked Alderbrook’s wines, we picked up three bottles the day before the race with our race packets. (I must admit to having an alter-ego that likes a good glass of wine from time to time.)

As for the race, it started at the base of Lake Sonoma dam and wound through picturesque country roads over gently rolling hills past several vineyards and wineries before finishing at Alderbrook just outside of Healdsburg, with a net elevation drop of 100 feet. After recovering from a bout with bursitis in April that knocked me out of the Santa Cruz Half Marathon, then going through a personally stressful period in June and July that affected my training. Having completed a number of runs of 7-12 miles around 7:00-7:10 minute per mile pace that were pretty challenging, I was just hoping to break 1:30, about 6:52 per mile pace.

The correct pace for a half-marathon based on fitness level is a deceptively comfortable one, and my biggest fear going into the race was going out at “only 6:40” pace, and then staggering in the last few miles. So the day before, I drove over my local high school track, and ran a 6:48 to get a get a good feel for target pace. At one point, I ever close my eyes while running, just to focus on rhythm and cadence. Then, I also did a few 40 yard stride-outs in my bare feet, which as I found out in a recent tempo work-out helped focus to form and kept my feet feeling fresh.

And wouldn’t you know on race day, every time I looked down at my watch at each mile marker, I had just knocked out the last mile in 6:45-6:50 pace. By mile four, it was a little unreal, and I wondered if the mile markers were somehow wrong. No big hills certainly helped for uniform pacing, and I slowly marched through the field through miles 2 through 7, but after passing a guy struggling up a small incline, I could see no one ahead of me. I blitzed through downhill ninth mile in 6:36, but otherwise kept ticking off each mile in 6:45-6:50 even with no one in sight to run with. But since the course always went one way or another, or gradually up or down, the course itself gave me something to focus on.

I finally saw a couple runners way ahead of me at mile 11, and was reeling them in, but not fast enough before the race ended. I crossed the finish line in 1:28:41, which is 6:46 pace. One of the best paced races in my life and also one of the best times relative to my fitness. It’s not a coincidence.

But the really big news was that Linda set her PR in 2:16:49, just under 10:30 mile pace, a pace not too long ago she couldn’t maintain for a 10k. Was her PR due to good pacing as well? We’ll never know for sure, since she can’t exactly recall her mile split times, but she remembers her early miles just under 10:30 which is right where she should be. She undeniably earned her PR for all the hard work she put in weeks before the race, and she should be proud of what she accomplished, even if she keeps saying she runs like a turtle.

And with all due respect to all the excellent wineries in the area, the only proper way to celebrate Linda’s half-marathon PR was with a few good beers. So we headed on over to Healdsburg’s Bear Republic Brewing.

Bear Republic is best known for their Racer 5 IPA, the classic West Coast IPA where the hops dominate with the malt mostly an after thought. But go to the brewpub, and you’ll get a much different appreciation for Bear Republic, where believe or not, the malt often takes center stage.

This was certainly evident in the first beer I tried, the Peter Brown Tribute Ale, named after a former sales manager for the brewery who passed away nine years ago. It was impressively clean and smooth, brewed with molasses and brown sugar that blended seemlessly with the light coffee flavors and nuttiness of the malt. And who says Bear Republic cannot make a balanced IPA, as Linda enjoyed their Endeavor IPA, with “only” 65 IBU’s which had a lovely soft, biscuit-like, and lightly fruity hop character, which Linda and I prefer over Racer 5.

Speaking of Racer 5, they serve a Black IPA version of it here, called Black Racer, where the coffee-like like bitterness of the malt melds with the bitter hops creating a very bitter, yet mellow and easy drinking experience. Finally, Linda and I split a Racer 10, a Imperial IPA version of Racer 5 for “dessert”. I’m beginning to appreciate why so many West Coast style IPA’s taste even better in Imperial form, as the extra malt and associated sweetness just seemed to give the hops an extra juiciness and fullness.

So remember for your next race, conservatively figure out the right pace you should run, keep the mental discipline in the early miles to keep that pace, and fight like hell at the end. The beer will taste even better.

Water to Wine Half Marathon This Weekend

This weekend my wife and I venture into the wine and beer country of Sonoma County to run the Water to Wine Half-Marathon, which starts at Sonoma Lake and finishes in Healdsburg, CA, a net elevation drop of about 100 feet. I’m not in bad shape, I’m not in good shape for it, but since overtraining earlier this year in preparation for the Santa Cruz Half Marathon, my goals for this race are rather modest: Get to the starting line in decent shape, go out in a manageable pace, and leave enough to fight like hell for the last three miles.

I may be older and a lot slower than back in the day, and my goals and motivations for running and racing have changed. But one thing I’ve come to realize is the day I stop getting hyped for a race is the day I die.

And while I appreciate Alderbrook Winery sponsoring this race, I just don’t think I’ll be in the mood to sip a glass of wine after crossing the finish line. Instead there’ll be a Racer 5 from Healdsburg’s Bear Republic Brewing with my name on it.

Running not to the drama, but from it

Most of the time, I need a little more drama. And running is often where I find it. Earlier this year, with my training going well, I started to press harder in my training hoping to pop a good time at the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon. Instead, I popped the bursa sac in my right hip, and watched the race instead. It was frustrating, but I have few regrets. Injuries are an unfortunate part of running, and the high and lows of running provide a certain drama often missing in the humdrum of normal life.

But lately, life has become too dramatic. Let me count the ways. A large public held company announced it will buy the company I work currently for, which last year bought my previous employer. (Are you following this? Sorry, it probably isn’t wise to mention names here.) Days later, several of my co-workers were effectively laid off. Oh, they got offers to relocate hundreds of miles away to new jobs, but I don’t think anyone will take the offer. While my boss assures me that my job is safe and I think he’s right with my position pretty solid, its hard not to go around with my ears wide open listening for the next shoe to drop. My brother-in-law has not been so lucky and lost his job in these difficult and uncertain times.

Adding to that is that I’m involved in a child custody with my first wife. It isn’t wise to discuss these things in detail on the internet, but suffice to say, I wanted more time with our kids, and she opposes that, and she is trying to move the kids significantly further away from me. We aren’t agreeing about any of this, which is why we are in litigation. These things are typically ugly and complicated, and since our ten year old son has autism, that doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve had enough of this drama.

So surprisingly, running has become a source of stability and predictability from all that. The morning routine of going out the door and getting a few miles is a source of solace from all the external stresses outside my control. My wife and I are running the Water to Wine Half-Marathon on August 14th in Healdsburg, an easy course which starts at Lake Sonoma and drops 200 feet with no major hills along the way to finish in Healdsburg, CA, home of Bear Republic Brewery. And while it’s course meant for running fast, I have no ambitions to run the best time possible. Well, at least I’m trying to keep my competitive juices and impatience in check for the race which for me is no small accomplishment. A successful race for me will be just knocking out the first few miles at a very easy pace, maybe picking it up a little in the middle, finish strong, cheering my wife in, and then savoring the moment with a Bear Republic Racer 5.

We all need a little drama, and sometimes running often provides it, sometimes it shelters us from it. Funny thing about drama, it always seems to work out in the end, often in ways we don’t expect.