Napa Valley Marathon

Chuck and Kaye Hall, left and center, are former race directors for the Napa Valley Marathon, now in its 40th year. John Sensenbaugh, right, ran in the first Napa Valley Marathon and also helped to measure the course, which runs from Calistoga to Napa, with Chuck Hall. 

Chuck and Kaye Hall co-wrote a story for the Napa Valley Register in February of 1979, in advance of the inaugural Napa Valley Marathon in March of that year.

“The keynote to the race is always the beauty and charm of the vineyards, foothills and the valley views that touch the Silverado Trail along the length of the valley,” the Halls wrote in the Feb. 7 issue. “One major highlight for the runners in addition to the beauty of the trail is the fact that the marathon is downhill – a descent of 300 feet in the marathon distance.”

Chuck Hall served as race director of the Napa Valley Marathon for the first 13 years. His wife, Kaye Hall, was race director for one year. The Halls and others who were involved in the formation and organization of the Napa Valley Marathon – Dr. Lou Daugherty (medical director), David Nieman (associate director), Bob DeVany, Greg Kohles (Calistoga Recreation Department), Rollie Wright (St. Helena Recreation Department), Bob Feuerbach (Napa Recreation Department), Gard Leighton, John Shea, Reg Harris, John Sensenbaugh and others – put together a course that goes 26.2 miles, from the start line in Calistoga to the finish at Vintage High School in Napa.

The Napa Valley Runners Club was very active and supportive of the marathon, which was sanctioned by the AAU.

“The Napa Valley Runners Club was the group basically that started the marathon,” said Chuck Hall. “There were 10 or 12 people I would say who were in charge of different parts (of the race). From that, we knew what had to be done, because we did direct and run a whole lot of small races, so we had kind of an idea of what needed to be done.”

The race, now in its 40th year, has kept to its traditions over all the years. It’s always on the first Sunday of March, starting at 7 a.m. This year’s Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon is on March 4. It starts from Rosedale Road and the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, with the point-to-point course taking the runners south, through St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville and to the finish line, located in the front parking lot area of Vintage High, off of Trower Avenue.

The race is sanctioned by USA Track & Field. 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.

There are 2,200 runners registered for the race.

Chuck Hall said the race date of early March was due to the cooler weather in the area.

“We thought about having a marathon on Silverado Trail, but the director of the Calistoga Recreation Department (Greg Kohles), wanted to have it finish in Calistoga,” said Chuck Hall. “We had to remind him that it would be an uphill run and people like to look good and they like to run fast and they like to run downhill.

“What we knew we had on our hands was a beautiful marathon course, that was so good to look at and so nice to run, that it was going to go popular.”

Ron Nabers of San Francisco won the first Napa Valley Marathon, finishing in a time of 2 hours, 25 minutes, 43 seconds. The race was sponsored by Fidelity Savings of Napa, St. Helena and Calistoga, and it was supported by hundreds of volunteers. The start line that year was near the Calistoga Steam Railroad. Napa County Supervisor Dowell Martz fired the starting gun to begin the race, which had 620 official entrants.

“It was a tremendous amount of work to do a marathon,” said Kaye Hall. “The first year was the hardest, because everything had to be set up. I know that neither Chuck nor I slept the night before the marathon.

“It’s fun to see it still being successful.”

Nabers, a member of the West Valley Track Club, was followed by Daryl Zapata, whose time as the second-place finisher was 2:27:19. Mike McGrath of St. Helena and Mark Proteau of Napa, both members of the Aggie Running Club, finished third and fourth, respectively.

Dr. Joan Ullyot of San Francisco was the women’s champion, clocking 3:02:32.

The race had 463 finishers.

The race needed permits and approvals from the California Highway Patrol, Napa County and the Napa Valley Unified School District. Aid stations were set up along the course and there were those who timed the runners, announcing the times at different spots.

In their story, the Halls wrote:

“Staffed by 200-300 volunteers, the race is highly organized, with aid stations, medical personnel, and traffic monitors all along the route. At the finish, electronic timing equipment … lots of beverages, and hot soup will await each runner.”

Sensenbaugh and Chuck Hall measured the course, with Hall using a bike measuring wheel and Sensenbaugh using the odometer of his car.

“We knew that the approximate distance between Calistoga and Napa was marathon distance, 26 miles,” said Sensenbaugh. “We measured it using the odometer of my car, literally, three or four times, until we were satisfied, from where we determined the start should be and where the finish should be. It was 26.2 miles.

“I’m proud to have been in the beginning of it.”

Sensenbaugh also ran in the first Napa Valley Marathon. He finished it in 3 hours, 10 minutes.

A photo of Sensenbaugh from the race appeared in the June, 1979 publication of Running Times.

“I had to keep measuring this course – sometimes in the car, sometimes on the bicycle,” said Chuck Hall, a social worker, who was with Aldea as the clinical director of the residential treatment program for over 30 years. “We had to have timers every five miles (at the race). We had to get the mile markers and we had to have them marked.”

Calistoga Mineral Water and Sutter Home are former sponsors of the race.

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Executive Sports Editor

Executive Sports Editor Marty James has been with the Napa Valley Register since 1979. He is a member of the Associated Press Sports Editors, California Prep Sportswriters Association, and the California Golf Writers Association. He was inducted into the