Yesterday, I finished the Oakland Half Marathon. I’ll save you the suspense and tell you right away that: no, I did not get my sub-2 goal. I was nowhere close. In fact, this was probably the most poorly executed race I’ve ever run. But don’t worry, I’m not going to dwell on the negatives here — I learned a lot of valuable lessons yesterday, and I’ll get to those soon. First things first…
Why I wanted to run this race:
1. I ran the Oakland Half last year and loved it. It’s what got me hooked on running.
2. I love the crowd support for this race — the people of Oakland are truly awesome and it’s one of the reasons I love living here.
3. It starts and ends a mile from my front door.
4. It only cost ~$40 to sign up at the SF Marathon expo last summer. Bargain!
5. It is the culmination of my volunteer stint with Running for a Better Oakland (RBO).
6. I knew a lot of people running this race. Friends = FUN.
As I stated last week, I just wanted to run my best race. I had a somewhat arbitrary goal to run a sub-2, but in my heart of hearts, I knew that it was a long shot given the long course (last year I ran 13.25 miles), the promise of warmer-than-usual temps, and my lack of long runs during this training cycle. My baseline goal was to beat my time from last year (2:05:40).
With a 9:15 a.m. start, the Gypsy Runner and I got up at a relatively normal time of 6:30 a.m. and had a leisurely morning. Our friend CT showed up at our place a little before 8:00, and we decided to try to find parking closer to the start to save our legs from a long walk. We parked near Lake Merritt BART station and ran into CR and AJ on our way to the race.
Once we got to the RBO tent at ~8:30, it was non-stop action until the race start. I was busy trying to find people before the race while also figuring out when to use the bathroom one last time. I successfully located Alejandro and wished him luck before the race. It was bittersweet not to run with him, but I was glad to hear that he would be running with friends from school.
Shortly before 9, I ran over to the porta potties. The good news is that I only had to wait 2 minutes and the stall I used was relatively clean. The bad news is that many of the stalls were out of toilet paper. Good thing that there was still a healthy pile of toilet seat covers! After using the facilities, I made my way to the 9:00 minute mile marker, where I was supposed to meet up with my informal “pace group”: bt and KP. Cathryn was supposed to join us, but we couldn’t locate each other in the corrals. DD and her friends found us, and soon we were a cozy group of 6 or so. At 9:07, I remembered to turn on my Garmin. It spent the next 10 minutes locating satellites. GAH. DD also had some GPS problems — we blamed it on the tall buildings (not to mention the thousands of other people looking for GPS signal – or does that not matter?). Luckily, bt had her satellite signal locked and ready, so the plan was to stick with her to pace us for the first mile.
Well, that plan was easier said than done. A couple of seconds after we hit the starting mat, bt wisely found an unobstructed path on the left. I tried to follow but there were too many people in my way, and pretty soon, I lost everyone else in our pace group. Oh well. About 0.35 miles in, my Garmin finally located the satellite. As a result, all of my splits are 0.35 behind. Here’s the course map:
Miles 1-3: 9:19, 9:01, 8:47
The first 2 miles went pretty much as planned. Notably, there was a little person on a wheelchair (not in the race) who decided to cross Broadway in the middle of the 1st mile. Several people almost ate it because of that guy. I wonder what he was thinking! I caught up to DD and we ran together for about a mile before she left me in the dust. The highlight of the 3rd mile had to be the little old ladies in front of a church in their Sunday best cheering for all of the runners. It sort of made up for the really tight (and rather annoying) U-turn we had to make at 10th St. My split for the third mile was kinda fast, but I was feeling good, so I thought, hey, why not go for it? I ate a Clif Blok at 3 miles and continued to chug along.
Miles 4-6: 8:34, 8:56, 9:07
This is where alarm bells should’ve gone off, telling me that I was going way too fast. First of all, 8:34 is pretty darn close to my 5K pace. When I caught up to bt and left her in mile 4, she said I was going at an 8:20-ish pace. Holy cow. Second, I ran the first 10K faster than my 10K PR by OVER 1 MINUTE. This, my friends, is the very definition of blowing up during a race. I knew by the end of mile 6 that I was already starting to fade and I was going to pay for my too-fast start soon.
Miles 7-9: 9:16, 9:16, 9:54
I was briefly cheered by the Crucible’s arch of fire in mile 7, as well as by the spectators at the Marathon relay exchange. I was a little alarmed by how hard it was to take my Gu. I’ve never really had this problem before, and I suspected that it was because I was starting to get overheated and dehydrated. I made a point to stop at aid stations just to pour water down my back to cool off. It helped a little bit. Mile 9 was a very lonely mile through a sorta sad neighborhood, which did nothing to boost my sinking spirits. To keep me going, I told myself that if nothing specifically hurt, then there was no reason I couldn’t push myself as hard as possible. Unfortunately, things were coming off the rails at this point — I had very little left to give. I kept waiting for that Gu to kick in. Unfortunately, I was coming to the realization that no amount of Gu was going to drag me out of this hole I had dug. I ate a Clif Blok at 9 miles just to make sure it wasn’t a sugar low I was experiencing.
Miles 10-12: 9:33, 10:05, 10:09
I got another temporary boost at mile 10 from a few things: finally hitting the home stretch of Lake Merritt, seeing RC out on the course cheering me on, and gaining the company of an RBO student named Finn. Finn asked if we could run together, and I happily agreed, hoping that we could push each other to the finish.
Unfortunately, the tiny hills around the Lake were killing me, just as they had last year. I despaired as I looked down at my Garmin and saw paces in the 10 minute zone despite what felt like 95% effort. I was honestly pushing as hard as I could, but getting very little in return. It was also disheartening to see so many people pass me — especially those whom I recognized as people who I overtook earlier in the race. As much as I wanted to stop, I forced myself to keep going. I already knew that I was disappointed in how I started this race, but I didn’t want to look back and be upset at how I ended it. No matter how slow going, I was going to give it my all. Finn and I ran together until mile 12, at which point he joined a bigger group of RBO runners that were passing us.
Mile 13 (or, 12.35-13.3): ~9:50
Sadly, ~9:20/mile pace was all I could muster going up the last little hill on 19th St. to the finish line. I felt the early stages of calf cramps as I ran up the hill, but cramps be darned, I was going to finish this thing as fast as I could!
I crossed the finish mat and was relieved that I could finally stop running. I let myself wallow for a little bit in my less-than-stellar performance, but since it was all I had been thinking about for the last half of the race, I didn’t want to linger on the negative. I got my medal and gathered up as much food and drink as I could before meeting up with the Gypsy Runner. After I gave him the short version of my race, he told me that he also didn’t meet his goal of 1:30. He still did great though, finishing in 1:37:00 (and 130th out of 3258 finishers).
In case I didn’t make it clear, it was very warm and very sunny. Due to the late start, the temps were in the low 70’s by the end of the race. Also, the course was closer to 13.3 miles due to all of the turns. Not that I’m making excuses or anything… but let’s just say conditions were not favorable. Later, I found out that I wasn’t the only one who let the early fast pace get the best of them. Several of my friends also went out too fast, had a super fast mile 4, then started to peter out by miles 8-10.
After the race, we found Cathryn, Angela, and bt and caught up over cold and refreshing cans of Coors Light. I was also able to find Alejandro eventually, who finished in a solid 2:44! He did not have any back pain, but said that he almost got some cramps in the last little hill. I was so proud of him, and a little sad that I didn’t run with him. After hanging out at Snow Park for an hour, the Gypsy Runner, bt, CR, AJ and I eventually made our way to Molcajete to refuel with some fine Mexican food.
On the positive side:
– Despite blowing up, I finished with a personal course record by 1 min 14 seconds. So all is not horrible in the world.
– I did not give up even when the going got tough. That means a lot to me… perhaps even more than the record setting. (*Almost* but not quite.)
So, in summary, these were the lessons learned:
– You can trust your instincts regarding pace only to a certain extent. There’s race adrenaline (comfortably hard effort) and then there is crazy (there’s no way you can keep this up for a full 13 miles). If I had let my brain take over, I would’ve slowed down in those early miles. It’s better to be slightly conservative and go for the negative splits.
– Adjust expectations for the given circumstances. I already knew that a sub-2 hour half marathon would be tough on a long course like this. Throw in the hot weather and I should’ve known that it would be even tougher.
– Calibrate the Garmin earlier in a big race. It’s kinda sad how dependent I’ve gotten on this device, but I feel like not having it for the first 0.35 miles really threw me off for part of the race. I was running way too slowly during that time, which I didn’t realize until I found the signal. Then I felt like I had to rush to make up for lost time, which stuck me in a certain mode of playing “catch up” for the first couple of miles. And then I kept accelerating for another couple of miles.
– If you don’t do long runs, your endurance suffers. (DUH.) When I compare my experience in Healdsburg versus Oakland, there is one glaring difference: in Healdsburg, I was able to really kick in the last mile. I credit that to the marathon training I had been doing for 2 months, including a 16 mile run just 2 weeks before Healdsburg. In contrast, I’ve hardly done any quality runs over 9 miles for this training cycle, and it showed. My muscles and cardiovascular system had nothing left to give, despite all of the mental effort I exerted.
– Since this is not a PR-friendly course, if I volunteer with RBO again, I will probably run with my student(s). Part of me wishes that I had run with Alejandro, to culminate our training and cross the finish line together.
About the race:
- Organizers: Corrigan Sports Events.
- Cost: I paid ~$40 at the SF Marathon Expo (7 months in advance!)
- Distance: 13.1 miles (my Garmin read 13.3)
- Parking/Transportation: Paid garages, BART-friendly.
- Aid stations: plenty of aid stations spread out about every 1.5 miles. Most had water and Gatorade, and a couple of them had Gu. There are also unofficial water stations set up by local businesses and groups.
- Bathrooms: Plenty at the start in several different areas around Snow Park, and clusters of them spread out on the course.
- Swag: Medal, tech t-shirt, 2 beer/drink tickets, a lot of food and drinks in the finisher’s chute (though once you leave, you can’t get back in). They had a virtual “iGift bag” that kinda sucked. But at least no paper was wasted!
- Misc.: Super well-organized and a really fun event. The route is not super scenic, but the crowds more than make up for it.
Official time: 2:04:26 (9:29/mile)
99/310 AG, 532/1980 Females; 1250/3258 overalll
2:04:26 for ~13.3 miles (9:21/mile)
That sounds grueling! I think it’s awesome that you stick it out and finished–without injury–despite a lot of mental and physical challenge. Nice work!
You set a CR for the half and a PR for a 10K in the same race! Sounds pretty awesome to me!
Ha, I like the way you think!
Great write-up and a great race. We both learned a lot. We’re going to smash SF 🙂 As long as we don’t go out like racehorses!!
Yes, I believe you’re right. I’m already coming up with training strategies for SF. I’ve heard it’s super crowded and uphill for the first few miles, so hopefully that means we won’t go out like racehorses next time!
Me too…I’m focussed on SF like I was for Healdsburg which bodes well!! Okay, let’s get training.
Yeah! I like your attitude. I’m taking a few days off first, then I’m going to start hill training like crazy. 🙂
Not giving up when you’re having a hard race is HUGE! You’re right, conditions were just not great out there, but you got it done & beat your time previous, so just chock it up to experience. 🙂
Hopefully SFM will be nice and foggy (as usual…)!
Thanks, Angela. I do think that this was a very valuable learning experience. I’ve honestly been very spoiled thus far in terms of races. And yes, I’m looking forward to the foggy summer weather in SF!
Woo hoo! Way to focus on the positive! I know it wasn’t the PR race of your dreams, but I always think course records are huge because they show improvement over time. And, not only are you getting faster, you helped someone else through the process as well. Alejandro had a lot of challenges, but you coached him to a pretty solid 1st timer finish time! Great job!
And yeah, I always have trouble with my Garmin when I’m in a little space between buildings.
Thanks, Amy! You are totally right about the course record and helping Alejandro. He later told me how he focused on the psychological tips that I gave him to help him through the rough patches. Nothing more rewarding than that!
Not giving up is a HUGE accomplishment. Great job sticking to it even though you really didn’t want to!
Great job overall! Congrats. There’s always positives in any race and I’m glad you’re recognizing the good things. 🙂
Thanks! It’s easy for me to lose sight of things and dwell on the negative sometimes, but then I realize that it’s just a race – it’s all about perspective.
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