Scena Napa Valley Trail Half Marathon 2019

In Running, Race

Technical. Gnarly. Beautiful.

But above all… humbling. I’m always a beginner. Today’s race whooped my ass to remind me of this fact.

Route: Oat Hill Mine Road <-> Palisades Trail
“The Palisades trail is one of the best hikes in California’s Wine Country. Combining epic vistas, awesome and unusual rock formations, solitude, and a surprisingly wild setting, it is a route that offers the kind of spectacular scenic payoffs one would expect in more mountainous and wild terrain.”

Some observations:

1. Today’s race was a real test of technical skill. Skill in navigating beds of scree, path-finding through rugged terrain, class-2 scrambling over rock, maintaining speed and composure on busy single-track! 😛

This was not what I was expecting — I was actually expecting to run fast, instead of (trying to) hike fast! “Technical” trail in the East Bay hills will never seem so technical again.

My only consolation, in a way, was that I actually managed not to fall! As it turns out, some of the most veteran runners today took some spills. At least one turned back early.

The bad news is that I shouldn’t have run today on a recovering right ankle sprain. The climb upward was fairly OK, except on loose rock. But the descent was hell: no matter how much I focused on stabilizing my right foot, I couldn’t prevent the ankle from continually rolling. It got so bad that I had pangs of shooting pain every couple minutes, until I got back to the final non-technical 3 miles.

From Jean Pommier’s race report (

“Adam sent us off on the trail at 8 am, after his usual briefing full of humor. When he mentioned that the trail was technical, especially on the ridge (Palisades), I thought he was joking too. After all, we weren’t in the Alps! I’ve never ran something really that technical in California, and I was just here for a hilly yet fast half marathon… I could tell that Adam wasn’t joking at all in his briefing!” (For the record, I did take off ahead of Jean in the fast opening section, only to be astonished by how quickly he was able to clamber up pass me on Palisade’s opening climb.)

2. I got lost 4 times. The first couple times I got help from runners who passed me (because I was going the wrong way). The third time I followed a runner ahead of me up an alternative, but way steeper, trail on the return trip. And the fourth time, I took what looked like the correct turn, before realizing that there were remaining back-of-the-pack runners who were above me, on the correct trail.

I’ve never gotten so lost, so many times, during the middle of a race! But, I’ve also never run a race on such narrow and debris-filled trail before either! It’s even harder for me to imagine how some races are run essentially unmarked (Barkley Marathons come to mind, haha).

3. I’ve also never experienced so much fear during a race before. I was afraid I’d do more permanent damage to my right ankle. I was afraid I might slip off the sheer edge of the hill on Palisade. All of this led me to analyze every step, every landing and foothold, how I was shifting my center of mass, how I was distributing weight on my feet, how I was using my arms, and where other runners were. It was so mentally taxing, that when I finally got back to non-technical trail with 3 miles to go, the sensation of relief was almost completely psychological.

Ultimately, I ended up prioritizing safety over race position, to the point that I allowed several runners to pass on Palisade as I got chased down. It definitely sting a bit. Oh well.

4. These challenges will make this race a memorable one for years to come. But, so too was how fantastic the scenery was. As soon I was about 1000-1500 feet high (the race started at 500 feet), I literally wondered myself if this was the real world: I felt like I was in a video game. I could see dense waves of visible water droplets billowing all around me. And on the return trip, I could also see spots of sunbeams falling onto vineyards in the distance. I was promised some epic vistas. I got them.


Gun/Chip Time: 2:17:36.
Overall Winning Time: 1:49:09.
Overall: 13/59. Men: 10th.

Up Next:

The Yosemite Half, in 3 weeks!!! I signed up for this such a long time ago that I forgot about this race until recently. Really looking forward to this race: 1st time back to Yosemite in at least a decade, 2nd time camping out for a race, and 1st time (of hopefully many future times) with this camping+racing crew!

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