Latest reviews by Stephanie Dunlap

(2020)
"Running Through Wine Country"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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I’ve said it one and I’ll say it again, I love living in Northern California! Wine country to the west, mountains to the east, and San Francisco to the southwest! Last weekend, I headed to wine country to run, sip, and savor!

Race morning started with waking up at 1am. My mind was racing from all the fun I had the previous day at the expo, so I decided to write a blog about the Napa Valley Expo. I tried going back to bed at 2am, but was not successful. When I was still awake at 2:40am, I decided to get up and get ready since my alarm clock was set for 3am. I was out the door and on my way back to Napa by 3:40am.

At about 5:15am, I pulled into the parking lot of Justin Sienna High School, parked my car, and boarded the shuttle to the race start.

Finally, a little after 6am, after falling asleep on the shuttle bus, I made my way to the Napa Valley Marathon VIP race start area inside Conn Creek Winery.

Some of the VIP race day perks included a private pre-race area with breakfast, coffee and bathrooms at the start line, VIP gear check, and custom Napa Valley Marathon BibBoards. The breakfast consisted of plain bagels, fig newtons, and croissants. The only thing that was available to put on top of the bagels was honey. It would have been nice to have had some oatmeal, bananas, peanut butter, and/or yogurt. I did not pack a breakfast to eat while driving to the race start since I knew there’d be breakfast in the VIP area. My bad. Note to self: next time, eat breakfast. As for the private pre-race area and bathrooms, I appreciated being inside where it was warm and using an actual bathroom as opposed to a porta potty.

I waited to the very last moment to use the restroom since 1) I was not in a hurry to get to the race starting line 2) I knew that the race was not going to be a PR.

It seems like my new thing lately is starting in the back of the pack for a race. I don’t mind being one of the last ones to cross the starting line and then passing people to get up to my actual pace group. Quickly after crossing the starting line, I ran into Holly, the 3 hour Beast Pacer and then Jenn. I love running into my running friends while out on a course!

My last half, the San Francisco Half Marathon, was finished in 2:23:51. I was pretty confident that I would not be running a 2:23 half at the Napa Valley Half Marathon. I, in fact, doubted if I’d even be able to run a 2:30 half. I was tired and hungry before the race even started!

Within the first few miles of the race, I caught up to the 2:30 pacer, Hoang. We know one another from pacing with Beast over the years. I greeted Hoang, said I hoped to not see her again, and then ran ahead of her. This, however, did not last long. Miles 7 and 12 were my slowest miles. Hoang caught up to me at mile 7 and I fought to keep her in my sight from that point forward. I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:31:35. Not horrible. Not great. Grateful for another finish.

As for the course itself, who doesn’t want to run among the vineyards?! The weather was perfect, the sights were noteworthy, and I gained 232 feet of elevation while running, but lost 355 feet! I can see why so many people love running the Napa Valley Marathon & Half Marathon course!

I snapped a picture with Mitch, a Napa Valley Marathon volunteer because he greeted me at the finish line with a water bottle in hand, congratulated me, and then asked me how I was feeling. He was so kind, so positive, and exactly what I needed at the finish line! Well done Napa Valley Marathon race directors for setting up your volunteers at the finish line in an organized manner that made finishers feel valued!

Post race I drove a little north to the Clif Family Winery, the location of the post race VIP party. I enjoyed sitting outside in the sunshine, purchasing a Funghi Bruschette from the Food Truck, and enjoying my delicious glass of Bici Red. As a perk of being a race VIP, I was gifted with a bottle of the 2017 Climber. (I enjoyed this bottle the next night with a friend. Another delicious Clif Family wine!) Overall, it was a fantastic race and I look forward to running it again next year!

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(2020)
"A Beautiful Run Through the Park and Oceanside"
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I did it! A new postpartum half marathon PR! 🎉
Going into the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, I wondered if I’d be able to pull off a postpartum PR. I logged quite a few miles in January, but many of the miles were walking miles. I questioned my ability to run faster, especially over the course of 13.1 miles. Even as I stood in the starting corral I wondered, “Can I really pull off a sub 11 minute pace for 13+ miles?” Well, as state above, I did it! Now, let’s start from the beginning.

First order of business was laying out all of my race day gear for my traditional flat runner pic.

Before I knew it, race morning had arrived and my alarm was set for both 3:45 and 3:50am. I got up, got dressed, and was out the door by 4:15ish.

According to my GPS device, it was going to take me about two hours to arrive to my destination. I made a quick stop about halfway for a coffee and crossed the Bay Bridge into San Francisco a little after 6am.

A couple great things about the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon is that the race offers bib mailing and there’s free shuttles to the start line. I, therefore, didn’t have to worry about trying to attend the race’s expo to pick up my bib, nor worry about how I was going to get to the starting line! I was able to easily find a place to park within 20 yards of the shuttle pick up point. By 6:47am, I was on the shuttle and headed to the starting line.

After getting off the shuttle, my first stop was finding a bathroom. I was thankful to find a plethora of porta potties!

Next, I headed to the gear check area to drop off my zip up sweatshirt. It was still chilly, but I knew that I’d warm up quickly once the race started. The gear drop off area was well organized and provided runners with a clear bag to drop off their gear.

Once I left gear check, I made my way to the starting line where I met up with Vanessa.

After a brief hello and cheering on the start of the 5k, it was time to line up in the starting corrals. Since I was aiming for a postpartum PR, I decided to line up in the 10 minute/mile corral. As I stood there in the sea of runners, I still questioned my ability to maintain a 10 something minute per mile pace for 13+ miles.

Besides water and fuel, chapstick is another item that is a necessity while I run. Sadly when I opened my chapstick while standing in the starting corral, this is what I found…

Yup. I had reached the end of the chapstick tube and the little bit of chapstick that remained was stuck to the lid of the chapstick. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Hopefully this isn’t a sign of what is to come.”

The first seven miles went pretty well: 10:03, 9:42, 10:29, 10:39 (If I remember correctly, I took my first walk break at 4 miles), 10:29, 9:41 (there were some downhill portions coming out of Golden Gate Park), and 9:46. Then the course took us out along the Great Highway along Ocean Beach. My next three miles were 10:54, 11:08, and 10:58. At mile 10, we turned around and headed back towards Golden Gate Park along the Great Highway. The bad news about this is that we were now trying to run into the wind as opposed to running with the wind at our backs AND the wind was picking up the sand which was blowing in my eyes, nose, and mouth! I was thankful to have my visor and sunglasses to try to shield my eyes. As for my mouth, I ended up untying the long sleeve shirt I had tied around my waist and tied it around my face instead to provide a barrier between my mouth and the sand. I was really regretting not bringing my Buff.

My final three miles were 12:17, 12:06, and 12:28. I was still rather pleased with these times despite going into the wind and dealing with blowing sand. I clocked in my final .28 miles at 11:09. I knew that I was close to getting a postpartum PR, so I was motivated to finish strong!

Once I crossed the finish line, I snapped my customary jump shot, picked up a bottle of water and mylar blanket, and made my way towards the finish line festivities. Since this was my first time running the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, I was unsure of what to expect for the finish line festivities. I spotted a long line soon after I was given my mylar blanket, so I stood in the line assuming it was the line for the finish line t-shirts. As I got closer to the t-shirts, however, I realized the line wasn’t for the t-shirts, but for the gear check. When I got into line, the line was probably 50+ people long. It was pretty crazy. When I finally made my way up to the gear check area, I realized why the line was so long.

The gear check area post run was a hot mess! The problem didn’t seem to be in a lack of volunteers. The problem more seemed to be in a lack of communication to the volunteers and someone to help direct the traffic of all of the finishers.

When I finally got my checked gear bag returned to me, I quickly threw on my zip up hoodie. By this time, my sweat was drying and the cold wind was still blowing which pierced through every layer of clothes that I had on! I quickly walked past all of the post race vendors, grabbed a few freebies, snapped my San Fran Half medal pic with one of the iconic Golden Gate Park windmills, and began walking towards the shuttle busses.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I began questioning if I was headed in the right direction. I tried asking people walking around me, but no one seemed to know anything about the shuttle buses. I looked up how long it would take me to walk to my car and it said it was going to be a 25 minute walk uphill. Ugh. I spotted a Lime Scooter and got really excited, but then I saw that it was locked up against a street sign. Ugh. At this point the wind was still blowing strongly, I was still really cold, and I really just wanted to sit down somewhere warm and out of the wind!

Just when I was about to find an Uber, I spotted the shuttle buses. Wow! They were seriously located about a mile from the finish line! Lesson learned. Next time I’ll either park in Golden Gate Park or park at Ocean Beach. Both of these places probably would have been more convenient to get to post run. The good news? I eventually made it back to my car and began the 2+ hour trek back home.

Remember how I said there was blowing sand? It’s common for my face to be crusty after a race from dried, salty sweaty. As I was feeling my face, however, on the drive home, something felt different… there was sand stuck to my face! Further investigation led me to find sand in my ears, nose, down my shirt, and in my shoes! The sand went everywhere!

Would I run the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon again next year? Yes, absolutely!

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(2019)
"Shady, Flat Course"
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I did it! Another postpartum PR! I improved my time on the Rock n Roll San Jose course by over an hour! (I was 8 months pregnant last year.) I bettered my time on my last half marathon a couple of weeks ago by 7 minutes!

I’m encouraged by this growth. Especially because my training has been hit and miss. I followed a “run 1 minute, walk 2 minutes” interval plan during today’s half. This helped me to feel strong throughout the course and not burn out towards the end.

If you read my previous post, then you know that I almost didn't make it to the RnR San Jose starting line. I'm so glad that everything worked out and I was able to make it to San Jose!

My alarm went off race morning at 6am. If I had driven to San Jose race morning, my alarm would have gone off at 3:30! It was so nice to be able to sleep in! After getting up and taking a shower, I pumped a bottle for baby (yup, still breastfeeding... 10 months and counting). I finished getting ready, double checked that I had everything, I left the hotel by 7am. While walking out of Starbucks with my coffee in hand, I ran into a familiar face! We walked together to the starting line.

Next, I made my way over to the We Run Social meetup. We Run Social is "a crew with the sole purpose of running all the miles and winning life on the interwebs". One of the biggest things I love about running races are all of the people I've met in doing so.

Finally, the countdown on my Garmin Forerunner 235 read "00:00" which meant it was GO time!

From the start, I felt amazing! I, in fact, ran a 9:32 for my first mile! I think this was my first sub 10 minute mile post baby! I may have gone out a little too fast, but I was feeling good and got caught up in the crowd.

Some of the highlights of the course included running into Jane, Samantha, and Carrie while out on course, getting a selfie with a mariachi band, and finding a man who was passing out free donut holes while cheering on the runners (yes, I most certainly DID eat a donut hole)!

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t really remember the Rock’n’Roll San Jose course since last year I was so slow, really pregnant, and in pain for the majority of the course. It was after the Rock’n’Roll San Jose course that I knew that I was done with half marathons and I downgraded my remaining half marathon while pregnant to a 10K.

I read that David loves the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose course. He in fact said that it was his favorite course. I can see why he loves the course. The majority of the course is shaded and there’s great community support along the route. The course is also flat with only a few little hills where the course follows an underpass.

Let’s now talk about how I felt post half marathon. Although my body was a little tired and stiff I felt pretty good overall. No blisters and only minor chafing (I still have about 25 pounds to lose.) I was able to bend down with the baby and get back up without looking like I was about 90 years old. I was able to walk back to the hotel, walk to lunch, and then later in the day go grocery shopping. I attribute feeling good post half marathon to my run walk intervals.

One of the benefits of the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose race is that there’s so many hotel choices near the convention center/start and finish line. It’s all located within downtown San Jose which makes walking to restaurants easy. This was my second year to stay at a hotel near the finish line and I would definitely do it again next year. I’ve looked into staying near the finish line of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco but the hotel prices are just so expensive. I like how the hotel prices near the course are reasonably priced.

A Monday tradition that I have with my students is that I wear my race finisher shirt and my medals to school the next day after a race. My students love to see pictures and hear stories of my races. I hope to encourage them to go out and run their own races. Baby girl loves checking out my medals. Her favorite one from this weekend was the Cali Combo medal. Participants earned this medal by running two of the three Rock 'n' Roll half marathons in California (San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose).

Hope to see you next year in San Jose!

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(2019)
"I Had a BALL!"
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I did it! Not only did I beat last year’s Giant Race half marathon run by 45 minutes, but I earned a new postpartum PR by 5 minutes! 💥 To say the least, it was a fantastic day in San Francisco! From start to finish, there’s not a thing I would have changed.

I’ll be honest and say that lately when I travel one + hours away for a race, my go to pre-race breakfast is a McDonald’s egg and cheese biscuit with a hash-brown and coffee. I’ve been so slow lately that I figure what’s the use in fueling my body properly. *insert shoulder shrug

The morning of the Giant Race, however, I did NOT eat a McDonald’s breakfast. Instead, I made myself some overnight oats which has been my go-to breakfast as of lately. The overnight oats that I make consist of 2/3 cups of oats, 1/4 cup of frozen blueberries, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and unsweetened almond milk covering it all. I place my overnight oats in a mason jar, take it out in the morning, microwave it for two minutes, and then place 1 tablespoon on top. It is so tasty and so filling!

On top of eating overnight oats for breakfast instead of McDonald’s, I also have made a commitment to work out every day for at least 30 minutes. I started this commitment the week before the Giant Race. Within that first week, I lost over five pounds! I’m sure this weight loss added on top of my smarter food choice made a difference in my speed and how I felt that day.

I left my house to drive to the Giant Race at 4am and arrived to Oracle Park at about 6am. Seeing the bright lights of the park among the slowly rising sun and waters of the bay was beautiful!

After soaking in the sights for a moment, I made my way to the Juan Marichal statue to meet up with Jenn (who was kind enough to pick my bib up for me the day before) and the rest of the We Run Social crew.

I ran quickly back to my car to drop off my race shirt and bobble head then quickly made my way to the starting line. Much to my surprise, up behind came two friends who had spotted me in the crowd. We lined up together and started the race together, but quickly parted ways since they were running the 10k and I was running the half marathon.

From the start of the race, I was amazed by how much better I felt compared to a year prior when I was 29 weeks pregnant! Growing a baby is hard work! Although I feel a lot better physically, I still am working on getting back in shape because my heart rate is still super high. I’ve mentioned this in prior race recaps, but I’m still running based more on heart rate versus pace. If my heart rate is up in the 190s, my head starts to pound making things not enjoyable. If I employ a run/walk strategy, but heart rate stays more manageable and my head doesn’t pound. #winwin

The highlight of my 13.1+ mile journey was seeing my friend Ashely out on course! She is the founder of Every Runner Counts. She was out on course around the 11th mile supporting every last runner with bracelets, cheers, and hugs. I love her heart and positivity!

Before I knew it, Oracle Park was in my sight and I had just run a new postpartum PR!

I grabbed some post-race water bottles / snacks, took a new picture for a side by side, and made my way to the stands to relax for a bit before make the two+ hour drive back home.

Would I return to run the Giant Race again for a third year? Yes, absolutely! See you there next year?

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(2019)
"26.2 miles through Santa Rosa"
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I did it! It may have been painful and it may have been really slow, but I did it! I am now a 19-time full marathon finisher!

The Santa Rosa Marathon wasn’t my slowest marathon ever (my first full marathon postpartum, Orange County Marathon, was my slowest) and a far cry from my PR of 4:28, but today I am celebrating my progress, not perfection. As I wrote in my pre-race blog post, I really wanted to drop down to the half marathon, but I pushed through the full. I wanted to quit, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Let’s back it up to the start of race day morning. My alarm went off at 3am with the goal to leave the house by 3:45am. By 4am I was on the road to make it for the 6:30am race start time. Normally, when I’m driving two plus hours away for a race, I stop along the way to grab some coffee and a little something to eat. Sadly, I stopped at three different places and each one was closed. I finally found a place close to the starting line, ran in quickly to get some food/coffee, used the restroom, and rushed to the starting line. I parked my car and made it to the starting line with 10 minutes to spare. Enough time to run into Vanessa and find Holly.

One of the first things Holly said to me was, “Want to drop down to the half?” Although I REALLY wanted to drop down to the half, I told her no and we made our way into corral three.

As we started to run those first few miles, my mind went from, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” to ” Uh oh! What have I gotten myself into!” and then back again.

By mile six, Holly and I had gotten into a nice rhythm and my hopes were high that we could keep up our run/walk pace.

At mile 10, we had the pleasure of running through DeLoach Vineyards and receiving a shot of chardonnay. Yum!

Shortly after the 10 mile mark, things started falling apart pretty quickly. I could already feel blisters forming on my feet, the sun came out from behind the clouds, and I was slowing down.

By mile 15, I told Holly to continue on without me since she was still feeling good. After a little bit of protest she wished me well and away she went. I proceeded to walk the remaining 11 plus miles. Yes, that’s right. I walked nearly the entire second half of the marathon.

Some of the highlights of the rest of the race include getting to try some local grapes being passed out by some of the residents along the route. They also served ice cold water in mason jars to us.

If it hadn’t been for not wanting to let anyone down, I probably would have called it quits somewhere along the course. I was not in the physical nor mental state to be completing a marathon.

When I finally made it to the finish line, I didn’t even take any pictures. I hobbled my way back to my car, pumped (still breastfeeding), and began driving home. I had thought that after pumping I’d go back to the beer fest, but I forgot to bring my Oofos recovery sandals, I didn’t want to walk back in my running shoes, and I wanted to get home to spend some time with baby.

As for the Santa Rosa course and if I think it’d be one I would recommend for you, I can tell you that we got to see some incredible views of vineyards, it was peaceful, and relatively flat. The aid stations were well supplied with volunteers, water, nuun, and gels, but elsewhere on the course there were few spectators. I may just have to run Santa Rosa again next year to better my course time.

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