Race Preview: Oakland Marathon

5th-Ann-Logo_OAKRace: Oakland Marathon
Date & Time: Sunday, March 23, 2014 @ 7:30 a.m.
Where: Oakland, CA

Course reconnaissance:

Elevation profile for the Oakland Marathon.

Elevation profile (source).

The most glaring thing is that huge hill (small mountain?) from miles 3 to 11.  I’m used to seeing elevation profiles like this for trail races, but it’s safe to say this will be the biggest climb I’ve ever faced during a road race.  It will definitely be good practice for Big Sur!  I think the elevation profile is why, despite Oakland Marathon’s recent accolades (here and Runner’s World), and despite the marathon boom, the race still isn’t sold out.  In fact, the marathon field is typically dwarfed by the much flatter and later starting half marathon.  For example, in 2013, there were 855 marathon finishers and 3278 half marathon finishers.

The first 2/3 of the course goes through neighborhoods where I’ve never run before, such as Temescal, Rockridge, Montclair, and Fruitvale, so I’m quite excited about that.  It will be really cool to crest the hill near the Mormon Temple and have an awesome view of the Bay and SF.  Hopefully, I won’t be too tired and cranky from the climb to enjoy it!  The last 1/3 of the marathon course hooks up with the half marathon runners through Jack London Square, West Oakland, and then back to my old stomping grounds – Lake Merritt.  The last 6 miles will be a real test, since this is the section where I’ve always struggled during both Oakland Half Marathons I’ve run.  And this time, I’ll have run 20 miles before getting to West Oakland BART, instead of just 7!  One thing that will be interesting and different about this race is the merge with half marathoners, who will start at 9:15.  Assuming consistent pacing, this means that the marathoners should be faster than the half marathoners at the merge.  Luckily, there’s not a lot of congestion for this race, so what I’m hoping for is a psychological boost from being able to pass people in the last 9 miles.

I’m also hoping for home-field advantage when it comes to spectating.  The Gypsy Runner saw me at various spots during the 2012 half marathon, and after having lived in Oakland for 16 months, he’s much more familiar with the area.  We’re both hoping for a better experience compared to the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), where we only saw each other once, despite about 4 attempts, and only in passing.

Weather forecast:
Sunny and hot! Most likely 50 and cloudy at the start, 65-70 and sunny at the finish.  I’ll definitely need to keep tabs on hydration and electrolytes.  If someone could meet me at mile 20 with a Slurpee, that would be AWESOME.

Time goal:
Because I signed up for this race on relatively short notice, and because the elevation profile is so intense, I don’t have a set time goal.  However, I would be *ecstatic* if I could PR on Sunday, even it’s only by a minute.  (My current PR is 4:32:39, set at CIM in 2012.)

Other goals/objectives:
My main objective on Sunday is to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  Specifically, I want to avoid bonking and the mental and psychological breakdown that happened during the last 6 miles of MCM.  Even though it was only 5 months ago, I feel like I’ve become a much stronger racer since then.  To achieve my goal, I’ll run with my Garmin covered and silenced, so I can concentrate on running by feel.  Second, I’ll focus on staying positive and be ready with solutions should things start unraveling.   Also, I’m racing with earbuds for the first time ever, so that I can play some music just in case things get really dire.

And I know I always say this, but I really, really want to ENJOY myself on Sunday.  I love Oakland, I love running, and I love the community support for this race.  I think it’s gonna be hella awesome!

Random thoughts:
So, this has been a really unconventional and strange marathon training cycle, mostly because I hadn’t planned on running the Oakland Marathon until about 2 months ago, and also because my “A race” was Kaiser.  So, while I feel like I’m in pretty decent shape, I’m curious whether my DIY, on-the-fly training “plan” will result in a successful marathon.  Even though I’ve had one decent trail 30K and a not-so-great 20-miler this training cycle, I definitely haven’t done as many long runs as I have in the past.  I have a feeling that I’ll definitely be tapping into deep mental reserves to get me through the last part of the race to make up for any shortcomings in the endurance department.

Last week, I was listening to a running podcast and one of the hosts was talking about how a bad race could haunt you.  It struck me that I’ve been haunted by the ghost of MCM for a while now.  I know I shouldn’t let one race define me as a runner, but I was really disappointed at my mental and physical unraveling during MCM.  Even as I’ve set new PR’s, I still can’t help but feel the shadow of MCM hanging over me like a cloud.  (I know, so dramatic!)  Part of me is afraid that history will repeat itself on Sunday, but I’ve decided that there’s no use in worrying about it.  Whatever happens, happens.  If something bad arises, then I’ll deal with it.  It also comforted me to read my “lessons learned from MCM” post, and to see a comment from Amy about how it takes 5-7 marathons to truly get a good grasp of the marathon.  It made me realize that I’m still a novice and newbies make tons of mistakes – and it’s ok!  That’s how we learn, right?

Anyway, enough rambling.  I’ve been told that live splits will be posted on the Oakland Marathon website, so if you want to track me, my bib number is 916.  Woot!


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Goals, Race Preview
27 comments on “Race Preview: Oakland Marathon
  1. Mike says:

    It’s heeeeeeere! Sunday will be a great opportunity to get out on a beautiful day and see a city you love from a perspective you otherwise wouldn’t see it. Hopefully you’ll feel great and enjoy the day, knowing in advance that the steady climb up to Montclair will take a lot out of you (and everyone). Wouldn’t feel like a Bay Area race without some serious hillage!

    I’d agree, that quad grinder between miles 3 and 11 undoubtedly deters some potential registrants. But I think the bigger obstacles Oakland faces are a) its timing, two weeks after L.A. and a month before Big Sur; and b) the course itself, which lacks the inarguable beauty of San Francisco and, aside from the view you mentioned from the Mormon temple, offers little in the way of psychological relief. I’ve run the entire course in bits and pieces, and it was tough to psyche myself up for some of those stretches (Fruitvale, I’m looking at YOU). That said, I really enjoyed the half when we ran it two years ago, and I think there’s both a heightened sense of excitement and an added shot of adrenaline to be had when it’s your hometown race.

    So best of luck out there on Sunday… high-five Darth Raider for me, and I’ll look forward to reading (if not hearing) all about it!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Mike! I completely agree with your points regarding scheduling and scenery being tough sells for Oakland. I’ve heard that there aren’t many spectators for the marathon-only portion of the course, which won’t seem strange at the top of Montclair, but might be odd running down International Blvd. – it will probably be a ghost town, and I’d imagine the people that are out and about will be puzzled/annoyed. Good thing that there are 2 relay exchanges – at least we’ll have fellow runners cheering us on. Anyway, the strength of the Oakland Running Festival really is in the spectators and community. I’m also looking forward to running through the arch of fire again, and seeing the fire-breathing giant horse on Mandela Parkway. Did you hear that Dean Karnazes is running the marathon?

      • Mike says:

        The Crucible is a definite course highlight. I hadn’t heard about Dean… is he running to promote a cause? Hard to imagine he’d run just to run (though I wouldn’t blame him); I thought those days were long behind him.

        • Jen says:

          The article (on Inside Bay Area) didn’t mention any particular reason for Dean’s race. He also didn’t do any appearances or sign autographs, so it seems to me he was just running it for fun. Looks like he finished in 3:43.

  2. Sounds like an amazing course…that hill looks intense! I hope you get that PR! It’s so true, sometimes our bad races can haunt us…we just have to move forward and keep going!

  3. Kate says:

    I don’t think I can carry a slurpee while running but I’ll fetch your beer at the end. You’ve got this – don’t doubt yourself!

  4. Hillary says:


    I guess my only unsolicited advice for you is to stick to the side, or shadow the rest of your “faster” group as you merge with the half marathon. The last 10k I did merged me with minute-plus slower 5kers right near the finish, and I had to throw some bows. That being said, I’m sure city streets will be way easier to manage than a dirt nature path, and said bows won’t have to be thrown. Or, may I suggest quietly murmuring, “I’m coming for you…” or “Denied” as you pass folks. Totally not creepy.

    A slurpee post-marathon sounds amazing, actually.

    I’ll be pulling for you (tracking? I’ll look into that…) on Sunday!

    • Jen says:

      Hahaha. I love throwing bows… but I don’t think that will be necessary on Sunday. 😉 But still, a good tip about shadowing people during the merge. Could you record those statements (“I’m coming for you”, “Denied”, and also “Chicked!”) so I can play them from my iPhone?

  5. MILF Runner says:

    I’ve never run the full full…just the relay. I was leg 2 both times so got the hills. Remember you’ll be coming down Lincoln after all that climbing! WHEEEEEEE!!!! I bet you do great AND have fun! I might try to cheer a bit 🙂 good luck!!!!

    • Jen says:

      I read your recaps – you kicked ass on those hills! Thanks for the good wishes, and I hope to see you out there! It won’t be as cold as CIM spectating, that’s for sure!

  6. Angela says:

    I think the great thing about doing this race kind of on a whim is that it’s low stakes–you can just go out, cover your Garmin, & have fun. Good luck with the temps! That was what really killed me with this race last year.

    • Jen says:

      Oy, I remember how hot it was last year! You still did awesome though. I’ll likely be dousing water on myself for the 2nd half of the race. Thanks for the good wishes, Angela!

  7. dlubi says:

    You will kick butt out there Sunday!

    If I somehow finish the half quickly… I’ll look for a Slurpee and try to bring you one on the course!

    (Or have someone grab one for you at the San Pablo 7 eleven in Emeryville and bring it to you at mi 21-22… since that’s the closest to mi 20 🙂 http://www.7-eleven.com/Home/Locator)

    One thing people talk about in triathlon is having a mantra for when you hit those dark race moments when your mental game needs a boost – check out this editorial by Jesse Thomas in Triathlete magazine: http://triathlon.competitor.com/2013/08/features/triathlife-with-jesse-thomas-mantra-power_82825

    The scientist in me appreciates this one too: (they actually tested this idea) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24121242

    Have an awesome race!!!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks for the links and support, D! I was only halfway joking about the Slurpee — not sure it would sit so well, but I figured holding something icy might keep me cool. Hope you have a great race as well!

  8. Cathryn says:

    I’m really excited to see how this goes for you. I totally agree that covering up your Garmin completely is the way to go – run it on feel. If you know you can’t run any faster (and sustain that pace) then all the data in the world won’t help you. And I would totally turn on that music at mile 13, whack up the volume and do the second half in your own private dance party! Music is such a lifter. And I would also agree with dlubi that some good mantras will get you through the dark stages. I learned at Hellyer that the second half of a race, when the adrenaline vanishes, is a mental game and your mental strength can actually override your fitness, to some degree. So spend today and tomorrow working on your mental game.

    I am SO excited for you…have a blast. xxx

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Cathryn! I’m getting really excited as the race approaches – much more positive feelings than I had before CIM or MCM, which I think is a good sign. Instead of visualizing a time as I cross the finish line, I’m trying to imagine myself smiling from ear-to-ear, content with my effort and grateful to run in a city that I love.

  9. Dominick S. says:

    Ugh, that route brings back memories. You are going to drop kick this race in the face, such a cool route and don’t worry that elevation is mellow in comparison to what you’ve been running on. Take it easy and negative split that B. Have fun, I am sure you are psyched it ends around Merritt, can’t wait to see how it works out.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Dominick! I’m planning on going out “stupid easy” and be patient going up that hill. I agree about the elevation — I think the graph makes it look way worse than it actually is. Hopefully all of my hill running experience will pay off tomorrow – after all, “The hills pay the bills!”

  10. outside time says:

    I’m excited for you! I totally get the “bad race haunting you” thing, but don’t let fear/anxiety get in the way of having a great time. This is a your hometown race and that’s the very best kind, IMO! Good luck!!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, B! I’m really excited to run in familiar territory and also to (hopefully) shed the ghost of MCM. We shall see!

  11. Brianna says:

    I’m sending good running vibes your way as you have probably just started your race as I write this. Good Luck! You’ll do great!

  12. Amy says:

    I am so wise! 🙂 But I do think that each time we do something like a marathon, we take lessons that can be applied to the future (even if it involves something along the lines of “don’t sign up for races with hills!). Getting stronger every day!

  13. […] I wanted to run this race & Goals: Discussed in detail here and here, but the basic gist is that I decided to run the Oakland Marathon about 2 months ago because I […]

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