A little bit of a disclaimer, but not really: I ran this race for the first time in 2016 and absolutely fell in love with it; so much so that I became a Destination Races Wine Country Half Marathon Series Ambassador! This is my third consecutive year running (and recapping) the Napa to Sonoma Half, which is the premier race in the series. Though I am an ambassador, I paid the regular race entry fee and was not asked to post this review. Now that that’s out of the way…let’s get to it, shall we?
As I mentioned, Napa to Sonoma is the premier race in the series. Other venues include Santa Barbara, California, Purcellville, Virginia, Carlton, Oregon, and Geyserville, California. Destination Races also is partnered with the Los Cabos Half Marathon in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. My goal is to run all of the races in the series (you can read my recap of the 2017 Santa Barbara race here).
Three years in, this is still one of my favorite races. After all, what wine-loving runner wouldn’t love a race that brings them to wine country? My husband traveled with me and we were able to turn this into a great racecation! Please indulge me as there will be lots of pictures as well as a recap of all kinds of activities from this awesome extended weekend in wine country!
We flew from Chicago to San Francisco the Friday morning before the race. One of my best friends lives in California, so we headed from the airport to her house were she had a beautiful appetizer tray waiting for us and of course, wine! We relaxed over a nice glass of Rosé, then headed to Half Moon Bay with a beautiful view of the coast, hump-backed whales frolicking in the distance included! From there we went to dinner at La Costanera, a Peruvian restaurant with the same beautiful views of the coast. I’ve never had Pervuian food, but I quickly became a fan!
The following morning my husband and I left our gracious hostess’ house and drove up to Napa for the race expo. This year the expo was held in a different location, at Oxbow Commons Park in Napa, California. The expo seemed smaller than I remember from the last two years, but it may just have been laid out differently because of the change in venue. We picked up my packet, took a few obligatory pictures, and then headed across the street to Filippi’s Pizza Grotto for lunch. At almost 70 years old, this quaint little family restaurant served up some amazing fare! If you ever are in the area, I would highly recommend you stop by for a delicious bite to eat!
After the race expo, we checked into our Napa hotel, and then headed out to the wineries. Our first stop was at Stag’s Leap, makers of some of our favorite wines. Our tasting included wines from the 2015 Estate Collection. We tried the Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay, the Fay Cabernet Sauvignon, the S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course the Cask 23 Cab was our favorite, but at $295 a bottle, we decided to move on.
We then headed to the V. Sattui winery where we had the option of the Marketplace Tasting or the Reserve Tower Tasting. We opted for the Reserve Tower, which turned out to be a great choice. We had an absolute blast with our wine consultant and some of our fellow tasters. We had so many great wines it was hard to pick a favorite. It was a close tie between Entanglement and the 2013 Morisoli Cab!
After our wine tastings we headed to our pre-race dinner at Ca’ Momi Osteria, where I had the delicious Rigatoni with Braised Oxtail. As if I needed more at this point, I ordered a glass of wine. The server said they were out, and offered a suggestion of another that would be comparable. When the bill arrived I was a little
surprised pissed off to see that while the wine I ordered was $14 a glass (and I might have had two), the wine that was substituted was $20 a glass. Did someone say bait and switch? The food was excellent, but grrrrr. Sorry miss, I felt duped (or at the very least, misled), and it was, indeed, reflected in your tip.
Race morning was overcast which was absolutely fine by me. Last year was brutally hot and humid, so the overcast skies were welcomed. My husband dropped me off at the race start at the Cuvaison Winery in Napa. This is a point-to-point race that ends in Sonoma, so it was nice to have someone to drop me off rather than dealing with the logistics of getting to the race start (although my niece and I took the shuttle–really a luxury bus–last year and it was totally fine).
There were plenty of porta-potties pre-race, but for those who chose (and of course paid extra) for VIP access, indoor bathrooms were available. Honestly, the porta-potties were clean and the lines went quickly, so from that perspective, having or not having VIP access wouldn’t make or break me. The pre-race music and the announcers were fun and energetic. The path to the start gate was very well marked so participants could corral themselves in the appropriate place in line based on their anticipated finish times. Pacers were available and easily accessible.
Having run this course twice before, I knew to expect the “Butt Burner”
hill mountain at the start of the race. I absolutely hate hills (read: lack of training), so I was pretty happy to have run about 2/3 of the way up before I started walking. That was more than I was able to do in previous years. I didn’t stop to take pictures along the course, but the photo above, taken from the start line, is a good representation of what you will see throughout the entire course. I also knew to expect hills, and lots of them! The Butt Burner early on is definitely the worst (or the best, depending on your sick perspective). The hills are manageable, but my untrained M.O. is to walk up, and run down. One of these days I will train well enough to run this entire course!
The course runs through not just beautiful vineyards, but also past several small animal farms, including an alpaca farm! Most of the course is paved and there are some well-manned intersections to cross, but there also are some parts of the route that are narrow and not very even ground. I saw some complaints about this on the Destination Races Facebook page, but seriously? You are running through wine country, not on an Olympic trials race track! There is not much crowd support along most of the course, though some residents do sit out and cheer. Starting at about the 10th or 11th mile there are more spectators, and of course at around Mile 11 the Gundlach-Bundschu Winery is there handing out wine to runners! The crowd continues to grow in the last mile of the race, with plenty of spectators lining the streets as the runners start to file in.
Held in the heart of Sonoma Plaza, the post-race Wine and Music Fest is awesome, but much to the dismay of many participants (including myself), they ran out of souvenir glasses (which are included in the race entry fee and can be purchased for up to two guests for $35 each). These glasses are then used to go from booth to booth for tastings from the 20+ wineries during the post-race festival. I’m not sure how many people didn’t get their wine glasses, but it definitely wasn’t dozens; it was possibly a few hundred. People waited in line (for I don’t know how long–we didn’t wait; but some people said it took an hour) until additional glasses were brought in. Those glasses apparently did not have the souvenir “Napa to Sonoma” etched on them; only the generic “Destination Races”, which was also a big complaint on Facebook.
My husband and I didn’t have the patience to wait in line for our glasses, so we instead grabbed a stack of leftover water cups from a table and enjoyed our tastings picnic-style. Not ideal, but it worked. I will be e-mailing the race organizers and hopefully can either have our wine glasses sent to us or receive refunds for the cost of the glasses. Hopefully they will make things right for those of us who didn’t get our glasses.
After the post-race festival, my husband and I went back to our hotel where I
fell asleep passed out at the pool for two hours and bought myself a nice sunburn on my back. Oops. We got ready for dinner at the Napa Valley Bistro where I had a well-deserved big-ass steak (you know I’m a carnivore, at heart) and of course, more wine!
On Monday morning we went out for a late breakfast and then checked out of our hotel. We drove up to Santa Rosa where we would stay the night. We had a big late lunch (because we would be drinking more wine!), then headed to the Buena Vista Winery, where we had an appointment for a complimentary tasting and a tour of their wine tool museum. As the oldest premier winery in California, Buena Vista is a beautiful property that I would highly recommend visiting (and the wine is pretty darned good, too!). After our tasting, we drove up to Healdsburg to visit some friends who own a winery there. Still not open to the public, we were able to tour the beautiful grounds and catch up and enjoy some great food, great wine, and especially great company! This is my third and my husband’s second time visiting their property, and it’s amazing to see the changes that are taking place.
On Tuesday morning we drove back to San Francisco where we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and then back to the other side where we parked. It was an overcast day and it was quite windy, but the views were absolutely breathtaking. Tourists can either walk or ride bikes across the bridge, but the path is narrow and every dumb nut who doesn’t know how to ride a bike seems to think this is the place to learn. I would highly recommend walking rather than taking a bike across the bridge!
After our (somewhat annoying) walk across the bridge, we drove back to my friend’s house in San Mateo. My husband made steaks on the grill, my friend made the salad, sides, and dessert, and I made my way through another couple of glasses of wine.
On Wednesday morning we had coffee and some lazy-morning chit-chat with my friend before heading to the airport for our trip home. It was a long day of travel between the 4-hour flight, the 2-hour time change, and needing to drive to our son’s house in the city to pick up a car he had borrowed while his was in the shop.
Having run this race for the past three years, it is hands-down still my favorite half marathon. The course is absolutely breathtaking, and being able to combine the trip with visits with friends and tours of wine country, it is definitely my go-to when it comes to racecations. Each year, the medal is wine-themed. The first year I ran the medal was a coaster, the second year it was a wine glass holder, and this year it was a working corkscrew bottle opener! Channeling my inner Goldilocks, the first year the race shirt was too small, the second year it was too large, and this year it was just right!
What’s your favorite destination race? Have you ever run through wine country? You can save $10 off of registration for any of the Destination Races Wine Country Half marathons (except for the sold-out Napa to Sonoma race) using code DRAMBJUR or $10 off the Los Cabos Half Marathon using code LINDA10. These codes are multi-use, so share them with your wine- and racecation loving running friends!
I’m linking up with Marcia, Erika, and Patty for Tuesdays on the Run as well as Debbie, Rachel, Lora, and Marc for the Running Coaches Corner. Be sure to check in with the hosts and also some of the other linkers! You never know; you may just find a new blog or two (or more!) to love!