Courtesy of Napa Valley Register

Michelle Meyer has a strong connection to the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon.

As a freshman at Stanford University in 2006, Meyer ran the Napa Valley Marathon as her first marathon. She finished it in 3 hours and 16 minutes. Her time qualified her to run the Boston Marathon the following year.

Meyer was the women’s champion of the Napa Valley race in 2013, completing the 26.2-mile distance from Calistoga to Napa in a personal-record time of 2:43:09 on the scenic, gently rolling, point-to-point course. The 35th annual marathon served as the Road Runners Club of America’s National Marathon Championship.

She likes that it’s a smaller race, the fact that it’s considered a fast course. The race route, starting from the northern end of the Napa Valley on Silverado Trail and finishing at Vintage High School, has not changed since the event’s inaugural running.

“It’s a beautiful course,” said Meyer, a San Francisco resident. “It’s very well run. It has a community feel to it. It has incredible national distinctions.

“I have a special tie to this course.”

This next year is big for Meyer. She is a fourth-year medical student at UC San Francisco and will start her residency as an OB-GYN. She is also entered in the March 1 Napa Valley Marathon, which starts at 7 a.m. from Rosedale Road and Silverado Trail.

“I think finishing med school, becoming a doctor, starting residency, that will be a big transition,” she said last week.

Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Don Kardong, who comprised the 1976 U.S. Olympic marathon team, will be special guests at the 2015 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon. The race is sanctioned by USA Track & Field.

Shorter won the 1972 Olympic Marathon and took second place in 1976, while Kardong took fourth in ’76. During that era, Shorter won Fukuoka (the then-world championship marathon) four years in a row (1971-74). Rodgers won both Boston and New York four times each. Kardong won Honolulu in 1978.

The Napa Valley Marathon’s expo is on Feb. 27, from 1-6 p.m., and Feb. 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Napa Valley Marriott & Spa.

Next year’s marathon field will have a capacity of 3,000 runners.

“I’d love to run a PR again,” said Meyer, a 2009 Stanford graduate, who majored in biology. “It will take a lot of training to get there.

“We’ll see. I still have a few months to go.”

In an email in September to NVM race organizers, Meyer wrote, “I loved running and winning the race in 2013 and setting a PR, and would love to try to PR again in 2015.”

Meyer has been hampered by an injury to her hamstring, and has been dealing with it since winning here two years ago.

An elite runner, she was forced to drop out of the California International Marathon in Sacramento earlier this month at mile 15 due to injury.

“There was a pack of us all running together,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. People were chatting and making jokes for the first nine miles or so. I couldn’t keep up. My hamstring wouldn’t allow me to. I had to drop back.

“And then I really slowed down and just had to stop entirely at mile 15 because I wasn’t going to be able to finish.

“It was disappointing. I knew my hamstring was bad. I’m hoping it will be better by March.”

Meyer was not expecting to win Napa in 2013.

She took an early lead and maintained it until Molly Friel of Fresno caught her at 11 miles. The pair proceeded through halfway (13.1 miles) in 1:21:25 and briefly exchanged the lead until 20 miles where Meyer made a surge and proceeded unchallenged to victory.

“Having someone to work with and to run with for the middle part of the race is great,” said Meyer, who is a member of the Impala Racing Team, an all-women elite development team based in San Francisco. “There are stretches where you are by yourself. That part can be challenging.”

Known as “the Biggest Little Marathon in the West,” the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon rewards male and female open and masters winners with oversized bottles of wine etched with their championship accomplishments. The male and female winners of the race also receive their weight-in-wine donated by the Silverado Trail Wineries Association.

“I knew that there were a lot of very competitive runners that were going to run,” said Meyer, who won five cases of wine. “I was really surprised and just very excited to win.”

Looking back on her win, Meyer called it a perfect day. She said all of her training leading up to that race had gone well.

She crossed the finish line 18th overall.

“Everything has to come together,” she said. “There are so many variables. There’s sleep, there’s training, there’s eating, there’s injuries – nerves and weather.

“If one of those variables is off, then that could throw off the whole race. But when they all come together, you can really have just a great day.

“I remember the weather was great. It was all the stars aligned – that’s how you can get a really good race. Everything was just perfect.”

Meyer, 27, has an extensive background as a distance runner.

In 2010, she won the Oakland Marathon (2:59:25).

In 2011, she was the winner of the Open Women’s Division, Pacific Association USATF Long Course Grand Prix Series.

In 2012, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, clocking 2:43:57 at the California International Marathon. She ran 2:45:52 and placed 84th at the Olympic Marathon Trials.

“It was just an amazing experience to run in the trials,” she said.

In 2013, Meyer was the Road Runners Club of America National Marathon and Ten-Mile Champion.

This year, she won the Avenue of the Giants Half Marathon (1:20:38).

Meyer ran the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at Carmel High School, reaching the CIF Central Coast Section Track and Field Championships.

Registration and spectator information for the NVM is available at www.napavalleymarathon.org or 255-2609.

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