Why 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 thought it would be fun and good training for the Big Sur International Marathon on April 27th. My goal was to enjoy the race and if the stars aligned, set a new marathon personal record (PR) by finishing under 4:32.
I woke up Saturday feeling excited and nervous, which I took as a good sign. Later that morning, I took the BART to Downtown Oakland to pick up my bib and race premium at the expo, which took all of 5 minutes. Easy breezy! Then I met up with Danielle, Amanda, and Jess. I’ve known Danielle since moving to Berkeley about 9 years ago, but we hadn’t seen each other for over a year or two, so I was looking forward to catching up with her. As for Amanda and Jess, I met them both through social media (blogosphere, Twitter, and dailymile), so I was a bit nervous about how that would go… especially meeting both of them at once while also trying to catch up with Danielle. Luckily, these ladies were all really easy to talk to and the conversation flowed seamlessly, as is often the case when runners get together. We chatted for a long time, then let Amanda get back to her Zooma ambassador duties of woman-ing the booth. Danielle and Jess were both running the half marathon on Sunday, so we wished each other luck and parted ways.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxing, as I spent most of the afternoon hanging out with friends. As for pre-race fueling, I decided to do a couple of things differently this time around – which worked really well for me, so I thought I’d make note of it. I purposefully had a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner, both comprised of leftover pesto chicken and green salad. I had a banana and small slice of cake with lunch, washed down with Nuun. Dinner included sourdough toast with an egg over easy. As is my pre-marathon tradition, I re-watched Spirit of the Marathon on Netflix while getting my race gear ready and doing last-minute stretching and foam rolling. It was then that I decided that no matter what happened during the marathon, I would run with gratitude. It might sound cheesy, but I wanted to cross the finish line thankful to my body for making it through another 26.2 miles, instead of criticizing it for not performing the way I wanted it to. Another aspect of “running with gratitude” was to thank all of the spectators and volunteers out on the course. It was a win-win in my mind — not only would that contribute to the positive vibe of the Oakland Running Festival, but thanking others would help me maintain perspective even if I was suffering.
With a 5:00 a.m. alarm, I miraculously got myself in bed and asleep by 9:00 p.m. I slept soundly for 4 hours, then tossed and turned for another 4, which is about par for the course for pre-race sleep. At 5:00 a.m., I woke up, ate breakfast (2 PB&J’s on English muffins with a mug of hot water), and got dressed. The latest weather forecast called for cloudy skies through 1:00 p.m., with temps in the high 50’s/low 60’s, so I was stoked. Thinking it wasn’t going to be as hot and sunny as I previously thought, I went ahead and donned arm warmers (a.k.a. Target knee high socks with the toe seam cut) and black compression socks to go with my tank top and shorts.
The pre-race logistics were easier than either of the marathons and most of the half marathons I’ve run. I got to Oakland around 6:30 a.m. and easily found street parking about 5 blocks away from the start line. By 6:45 a.m., I was at Snow Park, having already done a short warm-up and a stop at the porta potty. I wandered around for a little while to kill time and dropped off my sweat bag a little early, since it wasn’t that cold. After doing some dynamic stretching, and I entered the relatively empty start corral at 7:10 a.m.
An Oakland native sang the national anthem at 7:15, and then we waited… and waited some more. Those 15 minutes seemed to stretch out for hours. I was eager to start this race, and when they started playing George Clinton and the P. Funk’s “We Want the Funk” right before the race started, I relaxed a bit as I bounced to the music, along with the ~1000 marathoners and relay runners around me. It was definitely a good though unusual musical choice! The announcer started the countdown from 10, and at 1, there was smoke and horns blaring — the marathon was on!
The Race: (Broken down into 4 parts – equivalent to each leg of the marathon relay.)
Downtown, Temescal, & Rockridge (miles 0-6.2)
When the race started, I tried not to get swept up in the excitement. I covered up my Garmin with electrical tape and concentrated on keeping my breathing in check and my effort easy/moderate. As the course weaved around Downtown Oakland, I jostled back and forth with the 4:30 pace group, finally passing them at the end of the 2nd mile. Shortly after mile 2, I took my first Clif Blok — so of course the first race course photographer was there to capture the moment of me chomping on it. Classy.
I really enjoyed this section of the course. Not only was I feeling good and fresh, but it was really fun to run through Temescal and Rockridge, two neighborhoods full of memories of delicious dinners and nights out with friends. I also loved seeing all of the people who came out so early in the morning to cheer us on — ranging from the typical marathon spectators to Oakland natives, out in their robes and cups of coffee in hand. It was also great to see a couple of familiar faces in the crowd, including RH and Laura, who were out on the course cheering for their respective partners.
At the out-and-back in Rockridge right before mile 6, I saw that I had gained on the 4:30 pace group – maybe 45 seconds or so? With the big climb ahead, I figured that they’d catch up to me at some point if they were to maintain a 10:17 pace, so I made my peace with that. As we turned onto Keith and passed the first relay exchange, I took a deep breath and got ready for the miles of hills ahead.
1st relay split: 1:02:25 (10:08/mile for 6.16 miles)
Montclair & Oakmore (miles 6.2-12.75)
Even though there was ~200′ of elevation gain in the first 6 miles, it was hardly noticeable – with the exception of the hill up 51st St. It was a different story as the course wound up Keith, then Broadway, where according to my Garmin, I climbed over 300′ in about a mile and a half. Still, I was determined to not walk, even if it meant slowing down to a crawl. So crawl I did.
To make the climb more arduous, the sun started peeking through the clouds. I raised my proverbial fist at Accuweather for the wrong forecast. The crowds started to thin out significantly during this section. Once I got up to Lake Temescal, there was a bit of relief from the climb. There was even a peaceful, leafy bike path, which was quite nice. This was followed by a section of small rollers with a net elevation gain as we traveled through the well-heeled and beautiful neighborhood of Montclair. It was really pretty, and *almost* made up for the effort. Around mile 8.5, the 4:30 pace group passed me, just as I had predicted. I kept them in my sights for another mile, but lost them as we went through downtown Montclair. I knew I could keep up with them if I pushed the pace, but I also realized that it was too early in the race to up the ante by that much. So I focused on my own effort levels and let them go.
I hit another steep section, followed by a relief-inducing downhill stretch, then another uphill portion. Just when I thought I couldn’t climb one more hill and was *thisclose* to walking, I saw the pinnacles of the Mormon Temple, which meant one very important thing: I was almost at the top! I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy to see a street sign as when I saw the one for Lincoln Ave., where I knew that a sweet downhill stretch awaited. But first, I had to climb just one more steep hill. A small group of spectators was cheering from the Mormon Temple parking lot, and I heard one man cheering me on with, “Still on your toes – NICE!” I gave him a smile and a wave, then let out the quietest “woohoo!” ever, since I was so out of breath, as I crested the hill. It was such a great moment – to triumph over all of that elevation gain without walking – and to get a beautiful view of Oakland and San Francisco from so high up. I took a few seconds to enjoy the moment and take a good look around before getting back to business.
The downhill was crazy steep. I tried to let gravity take over, but soon my left hip was aching from the pounding. My good mood from just minutes earlier was dissipating fast, but I tried to hold on to it as long as I could. Cheers of, “You got this!” and “Way to go, #916!” were just a few of the encouraging words I heard as I made my way to Fruitvale. It was getting pretty lonely out there, though, and by the time I got to the 2nd relay exchange, it looked like an oasis in the middle of a ghost town.
2nd relay split: 1:09:08 (10:33/mile for 6.55 miles)
Lower Dimond, Fruitvale, International Blvd., Chinatown, & Jack London Square (miles 12.75-19.73)
I grabbed a Gu at the 2nd relay exchange, noticing that I was more worn out at this point of the race than I would’ve liked. It wasn’t even at the halfway point yet, but I was feeling depleted, both physically and mentally. Somewhere in this section, a Chinese guy in his late-20’s, with whom I had been leap-frogging, decided to make conversation. While I’m keen to do that sometimes as a distraction, this was not one of those occasions, especially since he was speaking to me in Mandarin. It’s hard enough to hold a conversation with a stranger at mile 13 of a marathon without having to do translations in your head! So, after a few exchanges, I told my new Chinese friend that I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to chat. He said no worries and trotted ahead. We kept seeing each other through about mile 23, where I passed him for good.
As it seemed “just down the hill,” I set my sights on Fruitvale BART station as the next goal destination. However, I grew impatient as the course meandered around the neighborhood streets for a while before I finally saw International Blvd. The sun was out in full force at this point and beating down on me fiercely. When I made another turn and finally came upon Fruitvale BART station, I was greeted by a small crowd of spectators and performers. Unfortunately, that would be biggest crowd I’d see for another 2 miles.
The next 30 blocks of International Blvd. were barren. This might sound overly dramatic, but I felt as if I was spiraling down hard and fast into a pit of despair. I decided that this would be an opportune time for me to turn on my playlist. As “American Girl” by Tom Petty blasted through my earbuds, my mood began to lift. I also came upon an aid station where one of the volunteers saw my empty water bottle and offered to refill it for me. I’m thankful that she was looking out for me because I wasn’t thinking very straight at that time and probably would’ve just skipped it, feeling that I was wasting precious time. It was somewhere on International Blvd. that I felt the first of many calf and foot cramps that would plague me for the rest of the race. The cramps never got out of control as long as I stayed on top of them by taking short walk breaks, so at least there was that. #glasshalffull
As I saw the streets tick down down to the teens, I became more upbeat again, especially with the thought of seeing the Gypsy Runner at mile ~17.3. I passed by our old neighborhood, where a rowdy group of street people cheered me on from the bus shelter at 8th Ave. Gotta love the local flavor. The marathon course merged with the half marathoners at mile 17, where the half marathoners were all walking (at about 15:00/mile pace), so that was a little odd. Shortly after the merge, I came upon 10th and Oak Streets, where the GR was waiting. I gave him a hug and a kiss, and we walked together for one block, then jogged for another. I told him how tired I felt, but that I was still in decent spirits. He left me at the end of the 2nd block, saying that he would see me at mile 23. Oy, that seemed like an eternity away!
I ran (with a few walk breaks) through Chinatown and Jack London Square without much enthusiasm, just ticking off the miles until I got to the 3rd relay exchange. The one thing I did enjoy was running through The Crucible‘s Arch of Fire, one of my favorite parts of the course, for the 3rd year in a row.
3rd relay split: 1:16:10 (10:51/mile for 7 miles)
West Oakland & Lake Merritt (miles 19.73 to 26.2)
There was a decent size crowd at the 3rd relay exchange, where I grabbed another Gu. I saw Laura again, and was pleasantly surprised to see a crew of friends cheering for me at mile 20! They purposely hadn’t told me that they were coming out, and their presence lifted my spirits for a little while.
I also enjoyed seeing the fire-spewing horse (another favorite from The Crucible) as I ran down Mandela Parkway. Then, I came upon the awesome “aid station”/buffet at Brown Sugar Kitchen. I can only imagine the crazed look in my eyes as I approached the lady holding the tray full of oranges and haphazardly grabbed a slice. I also took a chunk of banana for good measure. Those fresh snacks rendered my half-eaten Gu impalatable. Despite all of these nice distractions, the cramps and walk breaks were getting more and more frequent. I had been downing at least one cup of Gatorade per aid station since the halfway point, but they did not seem to help much with the cramping. To add to my physical ailments, the top of my foot was beginning to hurt (I forgot which foot, so it must not have been that bad – ha!) and I could feel one of my toenails bruising. Fun!
The 2 mile stretch linking Mandela Parkway to Lake Merritt has always been my least favorite part of the half marathon course, so I knew I’d have to dig deep to keep my motivation flowing. I kept up with my run/walk pseudo-intervals, and made sure to high-five every member of Raider Nation cheering racers on beneath the 980 Freeway overpass. Slowly but surely, I made it to Lake Merritt where I saw the GR camped out under a shady tree. We walked up a short little hill together. I handed him my bottle and uneaten packet of Gu, and told him I’d see him at the finish. Only 3 miles left!
It’s amazing how, despite having run the Lake hundreds of times (literally), one lap can feel like an eternity. Even though I was determined to run the rest of the way, cramps shot through my calf whenever I got into a decent rhythm. With less than 2 miles to go, the 4:45 pace group passed me. I was slightly demoralized for about 10 seconds, but then decided that I didn’t care. I would just try my best for the rest of the race, no matter what the clock said.
The jog-cramp-walk cycle continued, and as I passed the last aid station, where there was a festive, beach party theme, I saw a familiar and friendly face to my left. It was Danielle, who had finished her half marathon and was back to run with me for the last mile! I was so glad to have her company.
To keep my mind distracted, I forced Danielle to keep telling me stories. We managed a slow jog for a significant chunk of the last mile until I got to the steep portion of 19th St, less than 0.2 miles from the finish. I knew that my calf would cramp up on the incline, and it did. The GR jogged over to us, and the 3 of us walked up the steep section together. Then, they left me so that I could run the very last section by myself.
As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, pain, gratitude, relief, and fatigue. More importantly, it was the complete opposite of how I felt at the end of MCM, where I barely registered the finish line because I was so preoccupied with my feelings of failure and negativity. I didn’t beat my MCM time, but I beat my MCM attitude, which is way more important in my book. Cheesy, but true!
4th relay split: 1:19:07 (12:13/mile for 6.47 miles)
With a smile of sweet relief on my face, I high-fived several members of the ORF staff after crossing the finish mat. I limped through the finisher’s corral and collected a heat sheet, medal, bottle of water, and some salty snacks. The nice thing about a smaller marathon like Oakland is that finisher’s area is only about 20 yards long — i.e., they don’t torture you with a half-mile post-race death march. Within minutes of finishing, I had hugged the GR, posed for photos with Danielle, and reunited with my Mile 20 support crew. I also managed to spot and briefly chat with AL, who set a new half marathon PR, and KP, who had a good race despite a nagging injury. Although I would’ve liked to sit on the sunny grass to enjoy my 2 free 21st Amendment beers, it was getting late and my Mile 20 support crew was restless for some lunch. I grabbed my drop bag (without any delay or trouble) and we trekked about 10 blocks to a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. Even though I was in a lot of pain, I knew that the post-race walk would be good for recovery. As with MCM, I wasn’t all that hungry immediately after the race, but the salty broth of the wonton noodle soup and the sugary carbonation of 7-Up really hit the spot.
I said after the race that the Oakland Marathon was my “personal worst but best overall” marathon experience. The GR called the “best overall” into question, and after some contemplation, I’d have to agree with him. I think that CIM is my best overall marathon so far — it was memorable (HELLO MONSOON), I enjoyed most of it, and it is still my PR. Not to mention that it was my first marathon and, therefore, will always hold a special place in my heart. However, I would say that Oakland was a close 2nd in the enjoyment category — the community support is just amazing and there is something special about running a marathon in your hometown (even if you don’t technically live there anymore). I’ve got more to say about my training and marathons in general, but I’ll leave that for a post-race analysis blog post. I’ll just sign off with…
About the race:
- Organizers: Corrigan Sports
- Cost: $95 for early registration (up to Nov. 1), $105 (up to Jan. 1), $115 (up to March 15), and $140 at the expo. They shared discount codes via their twitter account @oaklandmarathon, including 20% off in the week leading up to the race. I don’t know about the other distances, but I don’t think the marathon sold out.
- Course: First half is VERY hilly and the 2nd half is very flat.
- Parking: Paid and free garages available. I found (free) street parking 5 blocks away near the Oakland Library (14th & Madison).
- Aid stations: Plenty of aid stations, spaced about 2 miles apart. All of the aid stations had both water and Gatorade except for the first one, which only had water. There was supposed to be Gu near each relay switch, but I didn’t see any at mile 6, so I was glad that I brought my own. There were also impromptu stations set up by neighborhood families and a really nice one in front of Brown Sugar Kitchen, handing out everything from fruit to desserts.
- Bathrooms: At least 3 different groups of porta potties at the start/finish area. There were no lines at the ones on Alice St., but they didn’t have any toilet paper either. The ones I’d recommend would be the small group of 10 porta potties behind the charity tents that no one was using. On the course, there were ~3 porta potties at every aid station.
- Swag: An attractive half-zip premium, nice medal, reusable clear bag, and an iGift bag with coupons, most of which I won’t use. All racers over 21 were given 2 drink tickets, good for either 21st Amendment beer or Barefoot sparking wine.
- Post-race food and drinks: Plenty of water, Gatorade, fresh fruit, Dole fruit snacks, and small bags of salty snacks (pretzels, Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos).
- Post-race party: Various musical groups performed, including Oakland native Sheena E. The post-race weather (high 60’s and sunny) was fantastic for sitting around the park.
- Other notes/summary: Due to the small field, location, and organization, this was the easiest race logistically out of all 3 marathons I’ve done. The course does a great job showcasing all of Oakland – geographically and demographically. My only critique is that miles 13-17 of the marathon course are quite lonely; perhaps more could be done to get spectators or musical groups on that stretch between Dimond District and Lake Merritt BART station. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the spectators are wonderful. You can feel the Oakland pride, and the community support is definitely my favorite aspect of this race. This is not an easy course, but definitely very interesting and enjoyable!