Sunday, 6 March 2011

Guinness World Record at the Napa marathon (don't laugh)

Clearly Napa. Photo: Brett Rivers

Pre-race poncing around.

This was my first Napa Valley marathon and I wasn't disappointed, although I did virtually drown for the entire race. That was thanks to the Spiderman costume and the combination of rain and trying to drink from water cups through a slit in my head mask. This was the first time since 2009 ( that I'd run in a costume and would be my ninth costumed, weirdo, Guinness World Record.

But it started the day before with a great round table at the expo with an interesting list of guests: Joan Benoit (1984 Olympic Marathon Gold Medallist), Bill Rodgers (four wins at each of Boston and New York), Dick Beardsley (2:08 marathoner who narrowly and famously lost to Salazar at Boston), plus the RDs of the Boston and Big Sur marathons. Was very interesting and set me up for enjoying a great lunch in Napa and contemplating just how slow I am compared to those guys (not in a negative way, just in an impressed way).

From left to right: Boston marathon RD, Dick Bearsdsley, Bill 'Boston Billy' Rodgers and Joan Benoit.

Pre-race carbo loading, Napa-style.

However, the actual race was slightly less elite, although it did have a pack of fast guys shoot off at the start with Magdalena Lewy Boulet (who only ran part of the race for training). I got plenty of looks for lining up at the front of the 2,500 runners dressed like a tit and within 10 seconds of the start I heard a guy tell his friend "one thing's for sure - we're not losing to Spiderman". He was wrong.

I ran the first mile with Nathan Yanko before he zoomed off into the distance and was not seen again, getting a massive personal best and third in 2:33. Then the field gradually spread with the leaders heading off into the drizzle and me running around the lead woman for a few miles before she slowed down.

All was well, and the rain meant it wasn't a warm day so I felt fine in my full bodysuit. I'd planned to pace evenly for 2:40 to break the existing record for the 'fastest superhero' of 2:43, which was done in New Zealand by a bloke dressed as Batman's buddy, Robin. He'd taken the record from me, which I'd broken at Edinburgh in both 2007 and 2008. But I accidentally kept knocking out miles faster than that and went through halfway seconds under six-minute mile pace, in 1:18:30.

The first half had been rolling hills, vineyards and mild to heavy rain with it all feeling fine. The second half continued to go past vineyard after vineyard and at some point the rain stopped completely. Yet I started to drag up the hills and it felt harder than it should have, especially the breathing through the wet rag over my mouth and nose. My right calf had felt strained since the weekend before and that also gave a twinge, but continued to hold up.

I started to worry that I might not be able to keep to the finish time I wanted so increased my effort slightly. And at this point I ran past the race director who was doing the course from an early start with Bill Rodgers. We had a quick chat as I passed and it seems I learnt the secret of beating the world's fastest marathoners - catch them when they retire and stop trying (not sure this advice is of any use to anyone).

I ran on alone and kept the pace up until 23 miles when I realized I was a minute or two under the pace I wanted. For most people that's a good thing but I had two good(ish) reasons for wanting 2:40:

1) It was meant to be a training run for Comrades so going faster shows bad pacing, too much effort and less direct benefit for making Comrades pace feel natural (around 2:45 marathon pace); and
2) I have a game where I try to get every marathon minute like 2:59, 2:58 etc and the only ones I'm missing below 3:10 to 2:32 are 2:44, 2:41, 2:40, 2:37 and 2:34.

I slowed my pace and felt great again, cruising into the finish. Then local ultra speedster Bob Shebest (I didn't realize it was him) came up to me with 200m to go and I gave him a little race, just finishing ahead thanks to my rest over those last miles. 2:40:06 for fifth and a new record made for a great day out although I spotted Scott Dunlap along the finish chute so it was a shame he'd had to DNS due to illness and I'd expected to see him out on the course. Full results here:

The race was heavy with ultrarunners with a large portion of the top of the field made up of west coast ultra kids, particularly from the Bay Area, as you'd expect. Well organized and a decent looking road course, but I wouldn't describe it as really scenic. It was certainly a good excuse to visit the wine region.

Onwards to a heavy month of training in March and Way Too Cool 50k on Saturday. Then Mike Wardian will run the day after to break today's record in his own Spiderman outfit. Amazingly he decided to do this without any knowledge of my attempt but randomly asked me about my previous attempts last week. So it looks like I won't even have it verified before he breaks it. Oh well!


  1. very cool write up and nice to see Joan Benoit up there.

  2. Well done Ian.

    Running Comrades this year for the 1st time...can't wait!

  3. Love it. What costume are you wearing for Western States Ian!? ;-) and I presume you have seen the new Ultra Tour of Champions in the Blue Ridge Mountains in September?? Are you running?

  4. My two favorite parts - 1. the quote at the beginning about the guys definitely not losing to Spiderman (I had a similar quote directed towards me when I ran Napa in 2006, although it was in reference to "the guy carrying the bottle", with the same result you had). 2. The sprint finish against Bob. I'm sure he was thinking the same thing as the guys in #1.

  5. So how bad does that costume stink post-race?

  6. Nice job Ian. I'm glad I got to meet you briefly before the start. Seeing you in full Spidey costume made the start more enjoyable.

  7. The mouth slit is the best (see enlarged top two photos). Another plus (+) for the matching shoes/laces...well done.

    Too bad Nathan Y didn't wear his cape at 2:33.

  8. Sean - yes, Bob said I was a real motivator in the last few miles :)
    Eric - could have been worse but it's washed now.
    Will - I made the slit myself since the costume designers didn't consider it useful to have a hole around the nose or mouth. Not much use for parties and drinking.

    Here's the only use I have for the costume from now on - SpiderElvis!/photo.php?fbid=169461046164&set=a.169457756164.120631.510151164&theater

  9. Congratulations! Here's hoping your records lasts a bit so that you can enjoy it.

  10. too funny, congrats! I wonder how completing your set of times will compare to the breaking of this record (or that other record you broke).

  11. Spide was a great choice - any super hero without a cape is good to go! Any thoughts on the next go as Wonder Woman? Less constrictive...

  12. Wonder Woman may be a little more constrictive in one area...

  13. You slowed down over the last few miles and still ran a 2:40, haha. That is mental. Brilliant choice of costume, I don't think anyone anywhere would be expecting a fancy dress runner to blitz a marathon and finish top 5, really cool. Fantastic run at RR100 by the way, I think your avg pace for that is the same as my Marathon PB Pace!! I obviously have a lot of work to do on my speed endurance, at the current rate of progress i will be 345years old before i get to that level. Keep up the fantastic racing.

  14. Congrats - sorry we didn't see your outfit but at least we weren't daft enough to think we could beat you :)

  15. congratulations!! sounds like a stellar performance, especially in your superhero costume :) interesting to learn that the race group is made up of ultramarathoners, does that mean pedestrians like me (4hr marathon) will be left way behind in the dust? :) definitely considering it, it sounds so fun!

  16. That was awesome. I saw that someone else has the new marathon superhero record, but you'll be over that soon.

  17. First heard this on Marathon Talk Ian - what a brilliant story, hats off to you for your game of finishing a Marathon everywhere between 3:10 and 2:32. As a debut marathoner I think that's great, made me smile so much - top stuff! Hope you don't mind, but I blogged about it: