This past summer I had the good fortune to run through Napa’s wine country twice, with two different series races. Naturally I wrote a blog post about the races and then promptly forgot to post it. So here it is, to help you make your 2016 race choices. I ran the Zooma Napa Half Marathon, and the Destination Races Napa to Sonoma.
Zooma Napa Valley June 28, 2014
2014 was the first year for the Zooma race in Napa. In case you are not familiar with it, Zooma is a series of races aimed at women. The races are held in a variety of “getaway” locations, and are promoted as destinations for a girlfriends’ getaway weekend. Here is the promo text from the Zooma website (registration for 2015 is still open but like to sell out; the 2014 race sold out):
ZOOMA’s newest fit girlfriends’ getaway will treat you to a scenic half marathon or 10K race in the luxurious Napa Valley. The race starts and finishes near the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa, our host resort, and runs on mostly flat terrain with awe-inspiring views of the vineyards and the mountain ranges that create the Valley.
You’ll be welcomed to your wine country getaway with a Fitness Expo at the host resort, then feted at the Honest Tea Mocktail Party. Walk from your cozy bed to the start line to run an unforgettable race through the vines. After the race, its time to celebrate with an After-Party Expo at the host resort, including wine tastings, live music, a pool party, food, and shopping. After a quick shower, you and your best running girlfriends can visit some of the best winery tasting rooms in the country.
For the first year, I thought the race went pretty well. The two Zooma Run Ambassadors hosted training runs from local Athleta stores, which I thought was a great idea. at the kick-off, Athleta gave the attendees headbands and tech fabric running hats, and Muscle Milk (one of the race sponsors) provided post-race hydration for many of the runs. Friends were allowed to pick up bibs, which was important to me since I ended up stuck at work and didn’t make it to the Expo and mocktail party (which I understand was small, but populated with some of my absolute favorites, including Bani Bands and Scott James Jewelry). Transportation from the host hotel to the start/finish ran smoothly. While I’m not sure the “Zooma Signature Swag Bag” contents were valued at $50 as touted on the website (hat, shirt, Feetures socks, and some Kind bars), they were all items I liked and use–even the race shirt–so I have no complaints.
I’m not likely to run this one again, as for me the minuses outweighed the plusses. First and foremost, the course was not at all awe-inspiring. For all the hype about how scenic it was supposed to be, the race was an out-and-back with the longest stretch alongside the highway. People did complain, so that might change–Zooma seemed responsive to feedback and has, for example, changed to an earlier start time (runners were melting to the pavement by the time they finished). Second, the host hotel is very expensive. Napa is not inexpensive, I’ve got it, but the race rate for a hotel room with two double beds was about $300 for a single night, and the hotel did not allow ANY late check-outs that weekend (or so the front desk told us, more than once). I suppose I could have stayed somewhere else or driven in the day of the race, but the transportation to the starting line was from the host hotel and it wasn’t clear to me where I could park and attend the post-race party. (The hotel parking was guests only, and overflowing the entire time.)
Finally, the After-Party Expo was clearly geared towards the fast runners–it was literally over before I could get to it. I wanted to shower before I drove home (an hour and a half) and the hotel wouldn’t allow any late check-outs, so I had to go from the race to the room to shower and pack up. By the time we checked out, the DJ was breaking down, there was not really any food left, and the Honest Tea was all on trolleys being moved out of the patio area (which was separate from the pool). I did not see evidence of shopping or wine tasting, though there were some empty booths. I finished the race in a little over 3 hours, waited on the bus, and went back to the hotel, showered without much lazing about, and still missed the party. My friends ended up split into two groups; one group had stayed in Vallejo (due to the high cost of the Napa hotel) and they left early, while those of us who stayed at the Napa hotel bought champagne and then ate lunch at The Habit.
If you’ve never been to Napa and are planning to make a long weekend out of it, this might be a good race to throw in. As someone who lives relatively close, this race experience did not justify the high cost. I’d rather allocate those dollars elsewhere in 2015.
Destination Races Napa To Sonoma July 20, 2014
This race was a last-minute addition to my summer racing calendar, and my favorite race of the year! A friend-of-a-friend had registered (the field is limited to 3,500 and only 1,800 of those are individual spots–the race sells out) but was unable to run. Destination Races allows a bib transfer for $25 plus some paperwork, so I gladly hopped in to take her place. (The transfer process was painless. It took five minutes.) The website describes this race pretty accurately:
Napa-to-Sonoma is the flagship event in the Wine Country Half Marathon Series. This popular race features a fast and scenic course starting at Cuvaison Carneros Winery and finishing in historic Sonoma Plaza in front of City Hall. The world-renowned Napa and Sonoma Valleys serve as the host of this event, offering the finest in wine country ambience and hospitality.
Other activities are scheduled around the race, so bring family and friends and plan to stay and play! You’ll also meet new friends and running colleagues at this iconic event, which draws from all fifty states and many foreign countries. This is not your typical running race, this is a lifestyle experience!
The expo was relatively small, but had a variety of vendors and sponsors in addition to a Destination Races gear shop. After getting my bib, I had my first taste of Annie’s gluten-free, vegan pizza. There was also a speakers area where runners could attend a course preview or hear Meb speak. There was an Elliptigo set up to try in the parking lot (Meb led the race on an Elliptigo).
Race day transportation was offered from both Napa and Sonoma–the race is a point-to-point, starting in Napa and ending in the plaza in downtown Sonoma–with public parking available on both ends. I parked my car a few blocks away from the downtown Sonoma plaza and hopped on the race bus, easy-peasy. At the starting point I indulged in some hand-poured drip coffee before photographing the winery pond as the sun rose.
This was the most gorgeous course I’ve run, with a long stretch through vineyards and greenery with mostly downhill-hills. I’m not pleased there was a big hill at the beginning, but the rest of the course was relatively fast (I think it had a significant drop). The course wound through pretty agricultural areas and shaded neighborhoods (and past a house cooking bacon for breakfast, to the chagrin of the omnivores in the group). This is the only race I’ve run with an “unofficial Guinness aid station” followed by an officially sanctioned wine station! I’m not sure that shot of gewürztraminer was a good idea, but it was fun! I really enjoyed the course itself and kept smiling all day. The weather was perfect (which I can’t attribute to the race organizers, but it made me smile all day).
Across the finish line, past the medals and post-race snacks (and a huge tub of bio-freeze packets) was a huge finishing festival with lots of wine tastings and live music. Team Challenge had a big tent with a post-race meal for all the team members, too. In line for the wine tastings, people were pretty social (and I invited everyone I could to join us for Run 10 Feed 10). The party lasted through the afternoon, with plenty of time for even the slowest runners to finish and still enjoy snacks and wine.
I wasn’t familiar with this race until I had the good fortune to be offered a bib. (By the way, since acts of good karma should be appreciated fully, I did send some wine and race goodies to the bib’s original owner.) You can bet I’ve marked the registration date on my calendar so I can run it again next year! I don’t know if the other Destination Races events are as wonderful, but this one was truly a lovely experience.
What is your favorite destination race? Have you run any races in wine country?