July 19th saw a culmination of months of training, nutrition and jitters all come together for the Destination Races half marathon, Napa to Sonoma. I can’t tell you how excited I was to enter this race, it typically sells out in less than 24 hours and has been voted one of America’s prettiest runs- a testament I can vouch for, hands down.
Race Kit Pickup
Kit pick up was a breeze, held at Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma. We took in a few wineries (stay tuned for more on that) and then weaved our way into town to pick up our kits. Trinity Road is worth the trek, with breathtaking vistas and views that show the hills and thrills of the surrounding area. If you get car sick at all, skip this route and stay on the local highways. Parking was a cinch, with an adjacent lot taking all the overflow. The race kit pick up featured loads of vendors, including Fitbit, SOLS custom orthotics, samples from Smarty Pants vitamins and freebies from Alaska Airlines. We were in and out in about 20 minutes, and although I didn’t wear the race kit T day of, it’s comfy, made of bamboo and cotton and has a pretty cool logo featuring the historic town hall finish line in Sonoma. Lucid Images UT was on-hand in case you wanted to pre-purchase the race pics (which you do, since it’s only $20).
The race starts out at Cuvaison Carneros Winery and our hotel, the Napa Valley Marriott was a stop for free transport to the start line. Bonus- it wasn’t a school bus! The bus had two pick up times, 5:40am and 6:10am. The 6:10 bus filled right up, and although the driver said he’d be right back, we wondered whether the remaining handful of runners made it to the start line in time. Turns out, because the roads weren’t able to be shut down in time, they delayed the start by about 10 minutes to accommodate the late arrivals. We waited around, scoped out the scenery and looked for any suggestion of waves or corrals. Nope, not here my friends. All walkers, runners and gawkers start at the same time.
After getting bumped around for the first half mile, the walkers and runners were pretty much separate. The road was on the narrow side, so at times, aggressive passing was the norm, as runners tried to tackle the gravel shoulders and knee high fauna to overtake slower traffic. The winding roads were pretty flat, only a few minor hills to report, and the rows after rows of grapes made the perfect running partner. Plenty of resident well-wishers were out dotting the root, cheering us on, and one generous and thoughtful homeowner even left an ice cold bucket of grab and go Gatorade’s for the truly parched. I spotted two playful ponies en route that seemed to egg us runners on, it was truly memorable. One caveat, the roads are pretty banged up in spots, they are farm roads for the most part and the heavy machinery isn’t very gentle. Take caution and make sure you don’t get too distracted by the scenery.
While some may be disappointed in the lack of wine at each water station, I wasn’t much in the mood for good stuff (yet). Around the ten mile mark there is a tasting of Gerwurtztraminer for those bolder folks- I was pretty much in a daze at this point and figured wine wouldn’t help (gasp! who said that?!). Water stations were well marked, so you could plan your steps and not worry about scrambling over and bumping into your fellow pack of runners. Porta potties were at the water stations as well, and thankfully I can’t comment on their cleanliness or the queues.
Towards the end, the temps started to soar and the heat became quite uncomfortable. And although I had hopes of PB, I decided to walk a KM to save some energy for the finish line. The last few miles before the he finish line sees you running around the beautiful Gundlach Bundschu Winerystraight into Sonoma, passing a baseball diamond and shuttling straight down Broadway into the beautiful city hall. The finish line was a cheering squad of people- ringing bells and very kindly pointing out ‘this is IT– just a little further!’ pretty much the only encouragement an exhausted runner wants to hear. Once across the finish line, you were instantly greeted with your medal, this years was heavy, made of gold and featured a corkscrew and a bottle opener! Function and beauty! Further through the gates, coconut water and other cold drinks were waiting, and volunteers did a great job handing out bags filled with bananas and other post run necessities.
After The Run
My partner in crime and I had signed up earlier for the epic Grape Stomp- hosted by SOLS. We dashed over to the amphitheater just in time to secure our spots. 24 of us participated, split into teams of 6. And, although it was my first ever grape stomp, our team, the Twisters, overcame and won the contest! We scored some sweet prizes and the actual stomping of grapes was quite restorative to my giant blisters! After grabbing our loot, high fiving everyone in sight, we darted off in search of WINE! We pre-paid for this part, and picked up our glasses at the booth and headed off to sample some of Napa and Sonoma’s best exports. Beer was also on-site, for $5 each. But wines were pretty much free flowing, and after hydrating properly, I was ready to toast a most excellent day. Coach buses picked us up shortly after and we were driven back in style back to Napa.
All in all, I really can’t say enough good things about this route and race. Well organized, great volunteers, beautiful scenery, you name it- this race has got it!