Felix Wong wearing blue jersey and black beanie, crossing rain-soaked finish line in 3:59:07

Napa Valley Marathon

Excerpts from an email sent after the event:

Despite the continuing California storms, I did the race! My goal for the race was to best George W. Bush’s best marathon time of 3:44. If that was not achievable, then I wanted to a) finish without walking, and b) finish under 4 hours. Here’s how the race panned out to all who is interested (if not, skip to the very end):

Sunday 5:15 a.m.: Dressed in my Coolmax recumbent jersey, nylon running shorts, double-layered Coolmax socks, and a runners’ fanny pack, I board the school bus that would take us from the finish (where I parked) in Napa to the start of the race in Calistoga. I am armed with one water bottle, two Trader Joe’s food bars, and two GU’s (courtesy of Dan, thanks!) in my runner’s fanny pack.

6:50 a.m.: I get my race number and am out of the warm bus. Wow, it’s still drizzling outside.

7:00 a.m.: The race has begun.

Mile 1: Within half a mile, my shins are already feeling super tight like I have shin splints already. And still >25 miles to go.

Mile 2: I am already in the last 25% of the runners, feeling like crap. I’m taking only baby steps now as my shins are still tight. I decide to stop at a Port-a-Potty to in hopes I miraculously recover during this stop. Elapsed time in the race so far: 0:22:xx, meaning I am only averaging an 11-minute-mile pace.

Mile 3-5: Here comes the hills. Actually, this is good news–hills emphasize my stronger cycling muscles, the quads. My stride lengthens and I’m actually starting to pass people now.

Mile 5: I eat my first Trader Joe’s bar.

Miles 5-7: My legs have totally loosened up and despite passing a lot of people, I am hardly even breathing. It is now raining steadily, but I stay warm and feel good. After Mile 7 a woman I pass look at her watch and says to a companion, “8:53 pace… I think that’s too fast.” In contrast, I think to myself, “Wow… from 11:00 pace to 8:53… I must have had a couple of sub-8-minute miles in there.”

Miles 7-13: I continue at a 8-minute pace. I consume my last Trader Joe’s bar somewhere in here. I even catch up to and pass my triathlon club teammates, Harry and Manuel.

Mile 13.1: I cross the halfway mark at 1:54:00, just 30 seconds off my time from the ’98 Silicon Valley Half-Marathon and the first half of the ’99 Silicon Valley Full-Marathon. Still feeling good.

Miles 13.1-20: My pace continues to be a steady 8:30 or so and am not slowing down at all. I am completely relying on GU (the original energy gel) for energy at this point, taking one every 40 minutes. They do seem to make a noticeable difference after just 10 minutes of taking them, but the effects seem to only last for 15 minutes or so.

Mile 20: I break through the cliche’d “Runner’s Wall”, still feeling fine.

Mile 22: I take my last packet of energy gel, a Clif Shot given to me during the race, as my pace is slowing down slightly. Just 4.2 miles to go. I still have a shot at beating George W’s best time, but it will be close.

Mile 23: Elapsed time so far is 4:23:xx. Just 3.2 miles to go, like running a 5k race now! If I can run at my normal 5k pace, I might be able to equal George W’s time. Although the winds are picking up and it seems to be pouring even harder now…

Mile 24: …and my legs are totally tight and I am not able to stay warm anymore. I am now accepting Gatorade from the race staffers, hoping that it would give me that extra kick to the end. My legs are still turning over rapidly, but with baby steps. My pace has dropped off to a woeful 11-minute mile pace.

Mile 25: 12-minute mile pace. And the clock now reads 3:44:xx, which is when George W. could have already finished. I have to concede defeat to Mr. President. Well, another day…

Mile 25-26: I am now focusing on finishing under 4 hours. It seems like I should easily be able to do this but my legs are getting tighter and tighter. Yet, there is no way I am going to walk at this point. The minutes are ticking, and yet I still can’t see the finish line. Where is it?

Mile 26.1: My watch now reads 3:58:xx. How the heck did it get so close to 4 hours? I dig deep and am now sprinting. Finally, the finish line is in sight.

Mile 26.2: Finished! My final time is 3:59:07. Beat the 4-hour mark by 53 seconds and my other marathon (the one I did right after getting back from Italy in ’99) by almost one whole hour. What a feeling. A great race despite the horrendous weather.

Felix Wong wearing blue jersey and black beanie, crossing rain-soaked finish line in 3:59:07
Finished the 2001 Napa Valley Marathon in 3:59:07.