There used to be a time when Kristen Zaitz was putting in 120 miles a week as a distance runner.
“I used to do 17-mile workouts at marathon pace,” Zaitz said over the weekend. “Now I’m doing seven miles at marathon pace.”
Zaitz has a professional running background, as she is a three-time U.S. Olympic marathon trials qualifier and has a personal record time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 48 seconds at the marathon distance.
But Zaitz has not been running as a professional and does not have a shoe sponsor. Her daughter, Tahlia, recently had her 1-year-old birthday and Zaitz is looking to just try and squeeze in some training runs during the week when she can.
“I had done it for so long, at such a high level, that I was pretty burned out when I had my daughter, and was just kind of ready to focus on our family,” said Zaitz, who lives in Broomfield, Colorado. “The training has been super laid back, compared to what I used to do. But it’s been fun.”
Zaitz is entered in next month’s Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon, a 26.2-mile race from Calistoga to Napa. It’s a milestone year for the race, which is celebrating its 40th year.
The marathon will be held on Sunday, March 4 starting at 7 a.m. from Rosedale Road and the Silverado Trail in Calistoga. Sanctioned by USA Track & Field, the race is held on a point-to-point course, taking runners south to Napa along the Silverado Trail, to the finish line in the front parking lot area of Vintage High School on Trower Avenue.
“I just want to go out and have fun,” said Zaitz. “We’ll see – I have no idea. But it’s kind of fun for me, to go into a marathon and not really have expectations, or a lot of pressure put on myself.”
“I really just wanted to come back slowly and have not much pressure on myself. Napa will be a good little eye opener for me.”
This year’s race is also the Road Runners Club of America National Marathon Championships and is part of the RRCA Championship Event Series for the marathon distance. This is the 60th year of the RRCA.
Each finisher at Napa will receive a race medal. The men’s and women’s overall champions of the race will receive their weight-in-wine provided by the Andretti Winery.
The marathon’s course, which is certified by USATF, takes runners through St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville and Napa.
Zaitz is one of the elite entrants in the women’s field, race officials said. She ran cross country and track at Miami University (Ohio) and ran in the Olympic trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
She ran her PR and finished third in the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 2014. It was the last marathon she completed, as she dropped out at 20 miles in the 2016 Trials.
Devon Crosby-Helms owns the NVM women’s course record, with a time of 2:39:36, set in 2012.
“I kind of want to see how this goes and then go from there,” said Zaitz, 37. “We’re just kind of waiting to see how Napa goes, how I feel.
“I’ve been a little bit more laid back with my goals. My training is not as consistent as I would like. I’ve gotten in some great, long runs, some really good workouts at the pace I want to run. But I have no clue.
“My daughter motivates me every day to get out there and do the best I can do. It just puts a whole new perspective on my training, having her. I don’t over-think it any more. It’s like, well, I can’t run today, or I was only able to get six miles in. That’s what it is. When I was running professionally, that would have killed me – I would have dwelled on it all day.”
Zaitz has placed in U.S. 10K, 20K and 25K Championships, along with U.S. 10-Mile and U.S. Half Marathon Championships over the years.
She is originally from Ohio. And after graduating from college, moved to Colorado in 2005 to continue her running career.
This will be her first time to run the Napa Valley Marathon.
“It definitely appealed to me. I love racing in California,” she said. “You can’t beat California. I’ve been to Napa a bunch, but I’ve never raced there.”
Zaitz will travel to Napa with her husband, Justin Zaitz.
She likes the challenge that the marathon race presents. “There is kind of a love-hate relationship with the marathon,” she said. “You train so hard for one day, and anything can go wrong. There’s just so more unknown going into it. You go out too hard, you’re done. You might not finish or you might crawl to the finish.
“You can gut your way through a 10K. You can even gut your way through a half marathon.”
Training and racing was at the forefront of Zaitz’s life at one time.
“Now my life is centered around family,” she said. “My daughter has put that in perspective for me. I want to reach my goals and I want to do well. But it’s more showing my daughter – get out there, you work hard, you set a goal.”
The Napa Valley Marriott will serve as race headquarters on March 2 and 3. The race features a running and fitness expo and the Kaiser Permanente Marathon College, which is open to the public at no charge. The expo is held on both days and the Marathon College, which will include Joan Benoit-Samuelson, winner of the gold medal at the first women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984, is on March 3.
The Napa Valley Marathon will continue to accept entries up until race day. The cost is $155 per person. The race is limited to the first 3,000 entries, race officials said. At least 2,000 are entered so far, they said.
Runners can register at the marathon’s website: www.napavalleymarathon.org.