Race Recap: 2015 Oakland Marathon Relay

On Sunday, March 22nd, I ran my 4th consecutive Oakland Running Festival event.  In 2012 and 2013, I ran the half marathon.  Last year, I tackled (or got tackled by) the full marathon.  This year, I ran the 4-person marathon relay with KP, JT, and Cathryn.  With 8 cats between us at the time of registration, our team was aptly named “Crazy Cat Ladies”.  (Sadly, JT’s kitty Juno passed away 2 weeks ago due to stomach cancer.  RIP, Juno!)

We were all ORF veterans, but I was the only one who has run the full marathon.  My teammates were excited to see parts of the full marathon course, so they got legs 1 (KP), 2 (JT), and 3 (Cat), while I got the anchor leg, which overlaps with the last 6.5 miles of the half marathon course.  Even though this part of the course was familiar territory, I was looking forward to having fresher legs and hopefully a better attitude — I’m usually in a downward spiral at this point in the race.

In the weeks leading up to the relay, we dealt with pre-relay logistics, including team shirts, projected times, and bib pickup.  For our shirts, we bought singlets on Amazon and had Cathryn’s friend K custom print a design for us.  The front read, “I train with cattitude” and featured a fierce looking cat with an even fiercer sweatband.  The back read, “Crazy Cat Ladies.  Oakland Marathon Relay 2015.”  They were amazing!

About a week before the race, we had to estimate our projected times, so that runners 2, 3, and 4 would know when to expect their leg to start.  I made up a spreadsheet (OF COURSE), and it was a very interesting exercise indeed.  For instance, KP was very conservative in estimating her fastest possible pace, so I bullied her into writing down a “fantasy” pace, i.e., if everything came together and she was to run the fastest pace she thought possible, what would it be?  She revised her time twice, down from 8:30 to 8:10/mile, and, SPOILER ALERT, she actually ran that pace on race day, which might have been a 10K PR for her! It was an interesting back and forth, and made me wonder how many times I’ve underestimated myself. Sometimes that outside perspective can be useful.

For my own estimated pace, I put down a range from 8:15 to 9:00/mile.  Even though my leg was relatively flat, I knew that it would also likely be very warm, not to mention crowded, with a lot of half marathoners on the course.  In the week leading up to the relay, I worried about speed as my legs were pretty tired from the added volume from 50K base building.  I hadn’t planned on tapering at all, but after a rather sluggish and uninspiring run on Tuesday, I decided to cut my mileage during the week from 20 down to 15.  It seemed to help somewhat; by Saturday’s 3-mile shakeout, my legs started feeling a bit peppier and I added a few short fartleks into the mix.

In true Crazy Cat Lady fashion, JT had the great idea of going to the Cat Town Cafe before the race expo.  The Cat Town Cafe was a really cool place combining a cat adoption/visiting center, fantastic coffee, and cute cat-centric merchandise.  I highly recommend it!  All of us had a great time petting and playing with the cats, though none of us came away with any new kitties.

One of the Oakland-specific cat structures they had at the Cat Town Cafe.

One of the Oakland-specific cat structures they had at the Cat Town Cafe.

KP petting the super friendly tabby, who sat in that chair for almost the entire hour we were there, letting everyone pet him.

KP petting the super friendly tabby, who sat in that chair for almost the entire hour we were there, letting everyone pet him.

The expo was pretty typical — we picked up our bibs and shirts, and practiced putting on and taking off the ankle timing tag that would need to get transferred between runners.  There was some sampling of various drinks and window shopping, but none of us bought anything.  Then, we went to carb load at Shan Dong, one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland Chinatown.  We didn’t communicate very effectively before we ordered and ended up with enough food for 10, even though we were only 5 adults and one 5-year old.  We each walked out with several takeout containers. 🙂

SO. MUCH. FOOD. (and this wasn't even all of it!)

SO. MUCH. FOOD. (and this wasn’t even all of it!)

I can't tell if Cat is excited or frightened by the amount of food on the table.

I can’t tell if Cat is excited, angry, or alarmed by the amount of food on the table.

Race Day
The morning of the relay was sort of surreal. Because I was the last leg, I didn’t even wake up until close to when the race started at 7:30 a.m.  It was simultaneously strange and exciting to get updates via text of the first 2 exchanges, all while I was eating breakfast and en route to the 3rd relay exchange.  I took the BART directly to the West Oakland Station, located just a block from the exchange.  Based on our estimates, the earliest Cathryn would arrive was 10:13 a.m.  I didn’t want to take any chances with BART delays, so I opted to get to West Oakland at 9:40 a.m.

Fortunately, everything with BART went smoothly and I arrived on time.  I walked over to the exchange, used the porta potty, did a very short warm-up, and was at the waiting area by 9:50 a.m.  For the next 20-25 minutes, I cheered on the runners coming through — at first, it was just a trickle, and then more and more runners ran past as the first large group of half marathoners came through.  It became really difficult to spot relay runners in the masses — I think they originally planned to split the runners between relay runners and everyone else, but there was a last minute change of plans.  While I waited for Cathryn, I managed to see Dennis, Kathryn (or rather, she saw me), and Paulette, all of whom I’ve know through the Twitter-verse and blogosphere for a while now, but had never met in real life. One of the things I love about the ORF is that it feels like a big runner party.

Finally, I saw a small brunette speeding towards me – it was Cathryn! She stuck out her foot for me to remove the ankle timing tag, all the while yelling, “Go, Jen, go! Run!!!”  I handed her my long sleeve t-shirt and heatsheet (which I definitely didn’t need), then fumbled around with the velcro of the ankle strap, trying my best to secure it to my ankle. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got it on my leg and took off.  Suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t turned on my Garmin, so I did that as I crossed the 3rd exchange timing mats.  Oops.

The Relay
I don’t normally listen to music during races, but because I knew that my leg would include sections where there were very few spectators, I prepared a playlist and had it ready to go.  Two-plus hours of race anticipation, combined with the silly energy of I’m Sexy and I Know It, sent me off way too quickly (Mistake #1).  I glanced down at my Garmin to see 7:xx/mile pace.  I slowed down ever so slightly, but I’ll admit that it was a lot of fun to pass large groups of runners, even if it meant a lot of weaving and surging (Mistake #2). I ran by the flame-snorting horse at The Crucible and the always awesome unofficial aid station at Brown Sugar Kitchen still in high spirits.  It was getting ever warmer, but I skipped the water stops to save some time, figuring I wouldn’t need water for “only” 6.5 miles (Mistake #3).

Soon, the course sent me weaving through the neighborhoods of West Oakland.  I realized that this section wasn’t nearly as flat as I had thought — there were small rollers that I had been too tired to notice in years past. Despite maintaining a medium-high effort, my pace was getting slower and slower.  I was no longer passing that many people, but I wasn’t getting passed either.  I tried to console myself, thinking that I was saving a little energy for the final 3 miles around Lake Merritt.  One group I had been looking forward to seeing was Raider Nation, the rabid football fans who come out every year to give high-fives to the runners at the Highway 980 underpass.  Their enthusiasm always gives me a boost.  Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found this year; perhaps they packed up early and left.

Once I got to Broadway, we started seeing more spectators and my energy picked up again, even though my pace didn’t.  The Lululemon cheer squad at 27th St. were enthusiastic and had funny signs, as usual.  They were followed by the large crowd gathered at Grand Ave., just before the Lake.  Many spectators watch for their runners here, since it’s only about 0.5 miles from the finish line, while the runners have 3 more miles to go.  What’s always a bit demoralizing is passing through these awesome crowds, only to be squeezed into a narrow path around Lake Merritt, starting with a very short but steep hill.

As some of you know, I have a love/hate relationship with Lake Merritt.  For the past 3 ORFs, these last 3 miles have been a strugglefest. This time, I felt so much better compared to years past, but I was still fighting some inner demons.  A big part of me didn’t want to let my teammates down. Thanks to the spreadsheet, I knew that everyone had finished at the faster end of their predicted times and I didn’t want to be the slow poke. However, it was getting downright hot and I started to seriously regret not taking any water so far. My mouth had gotten so dry that it was making me nauseous and mouth breathing (as you do when you’re trying to run fast) only made the dryness worse, which then increased the nausea. With about 2 miles to go, I played leap frog with 2 hour half marathon pace group.  I passed them, then they passed me, and with only one mile left and seemingly behind schedule, they turned it on and left me in the dust.

I got to the Kaiser Permanente Beach Party, which is the very last aid station on the south shore of Lake Merritt, and finally stopped to get a cup of water.  I was less than a mile from the finish, but I knew if I didn’t stop, I was headed for trouble.  I drank half of the water and then poured the rest down my back to cool off.  The water seemed to help: as I turned on to Lake Merritt Blvd./Lakeside Dr., I was finally able to kick it up a notch. I wanted to take advantage of this relatively flat stretch before tackling the last awful hill up 19th St.  As I huffed and puffed my way toward the finish line, I saw my teammates ahead on my left, cheering me on.  As soon as I got close to them, they ran out into the course and started sprinting off at full speed (or at least, that’s how it felt to me at the time).  I was like “WOAH GUYS, I think I’m gonna puke!” but I couldn’t get that all out, so I grunted and tried to make some sort of gesture that indicated we should slow down.  They reminded me to raise my arms for the photos as we crossed the finish line together.  It was awesome, and even more so after I caught my breath, got some water, and started feeling less nauseous.

One of the most amazing finish line photos ever.  People have suggested that I'm doing the following: being electrocuted, doing a Stevie Wonder impression, dancing, doing the Thriller dance, looking in the sky for aliens...

One of the most amazing finish line photos ever. People have suggested that I’m doing the following: being electrocuted, doing a Stevie Wonder impression, dancing, doing the Thriller dance, looking in the sky for aliens…

My splits: 8:08, 8:37, 8:52, 8:57, 8:52, 9:17 (water stop), 8:47 (for last 0.5 mile)

Like I mentioned above, I love that ORF has a great runner party vibe.  Every year I’ve run it, I’ve always known at least 4-5 other participants.  The post-race party is definitely facilitated in part by the 2 free beverage tickets that comes attached to every bib. This year, the German brewery Erdinger provided post-race beer, while Barefoot Wine served sparkling wine, white wine, and rosé.  There was a band on stage and lots of people spread out across the lawn of Snow Park, enjoying the sun.  A number of food trucks were on hand as well.

At the post-race party, we managed to meet up with bt, who ran the half, and her husband; Cathryn’s husband and kiddo; and those I saw briefly during the race – Kathryn, Dennis, Paulette, and MM.  We eventually made our way to True Burger, one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland, for some much-needed food.  Even though I only ran 6.5 miles, I felt wiped out.  (The alcohol and sun probably didn’t help matters.)  Still, I had a fun time with everyone — another great ORF in the books!

The one and only Crazy Cat Ladies!

The one and only Crazy Cat Ladies!

Post-race analysis
As a team, the Crazy Cat Ladies did really well, finishing in 3:45:51, 7th out of 91 women’s teams.  I think that my personal performance was lackluster though. I had hoped to run around an 8:30/mile pace, but my actual pace was somewhere between 8:47/mile (Garmin) to 8:50/mile (official).  Considering how tired my legs had felt in the week before the relay, one could say that this was not a bad outcome; however, I can’t help but think if I had avoided some mistakes (see above), I would’ve done better.  On a positive note, I really enjoyed the team comradery of the marathon relay experience.  Moreover, the logistics for the Oakland Marathon Relay were super smooth.  I definitely appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to be at the race start (7:30am) to take a shuttle to the relay exchange and wait around for 3 hours.  If you’re looking to do a marathon relay, I wholeheartedly recommend the Oakland Marathon Relay.

Continuing the trend of recent race recaps, let me end with a few positive take home messages:

  • I had a great time with the Crazy Cat Ladies.  Not to get too cheesy here, but I’m so grateful to have these lovely ladies in my life, and I’m in *serious* denial that KP and JT are both moving away this summer. 😦
  • I finished within my predicted pace range of 8:15-9:00/mile.
  • The post-race party was a lot of fun.
  • I crossed the finish line without type of duress (puking, chaffing, etc.).
  • Most of my race photos show me actually running, with what I consider to be better form (i.e., actually engaging my hamstrings). Progress! 🙂
  • Lesson learned: music doesn’t help me beyond the first couple of miles.  I found myself dissociating too much and not focusing on my form or speed.


A very handsome medal that doubles as a bottle opener.  I like this trend of multifunctional medals...

A very handsome medal that doubles as a bottle opener. I like this trend of functional medals…

About the race:

  • Organizers: Corrigan Sports
  • Cost: We registered in November and paid $213 with a discount code, which came out to ~$56/person.  It’s pricey for basically a 10K+, but I think it was worth it.  The relay sold out the week before the race.
  • Course: Depends on your leg, but mine was relatively flat.  My Garmin data said there was 300+ feet of elevation gain, which seems like more than I would’ve predicted.  I’d say it was mostly on roads, with the last portion on sidewalks and the narrow paved path around Lake Merritt.
  • Parking/transportation: I took BART to the 3rd relay exchange at the West Oakland BART station.  Easy peasy!
  • Aid stations: 3-4 aid stations with both water and Gatorade.  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: 4 porta potties at the 3rd relay exchange and plenty at the finish.
  • Swag:  Short sleeve t-shirt with a medal that doubles as a bottle opener (yay for multi-functional bling!). We also got a virtual gift bag with coupons.  All racers over 21 were given 2 drink tickets, good for either Erdinger beer or Barefoot wine.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Plenty of water, Gatorade, fresh fruit, and small bags of salty snacks (pretzels, Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos).
  • Post-race party:  There was a musical group performing on stage and food trucks set up on Harrison St.
  • Other notes/summary: As I’ve raved about in the past, the spectators are one of the best aspects of the ORF.  It feels like a big party for runners *and* for Oakland.  As for the relay, I think it’s very convenient to have 2 out of the 3 relay exchanges at BART stations.

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 Race Recap
12 comments on “Race Recap: 2015 Oakland Marathon Relay
  1. Jan says:

    LOVE the finish line photo! That’s awesome! I am going with the Stevie Wonder. You are belting out a song there, right? 😉 That looks like such a fun race!

  2. Grace says:

    Your finish line photo cracked me up! That’s Stevie Wonder right there. It’s fitting – ORF is clearly actually a party that happens to have a few good races attached. And the cat cafe makes me wish I was less allergic to cats. Too cute.

    • Jen says:

      You’re right – ORF is a party that happens to include a few races. Hopefully you can come out to California one of these years and run it!

  3. bt says:

    I was bummed the Raider Nation wasn’t at the underpass, too! But they were out on the course, they had just moved. They were a line of folks high-fiving and cheering and yelling in their customary black and it appeared they were manning an aid station too, just before you turned in to the Lake Merritt path.

    • Jen says:

      Oh, thanks for pointing that out! Now that I think about it, I did high-five some ladies in all black by the Lake, but I didn’t put 2 and 2 together that they were part of Raider Nation.

  4. Mike says:

    A great team effort (7 out of 91 is brilliant), and nothing says “We came, we saw, we almost puked” quite like that finish line picture. Definitely a Stevie Wonder moment, and I’m guessing next time you’ll take two more strides and clear the MarathonFoto cameras before all systems start shutting down. Nice job soaking up & toughing out the heat. And as a bonus, you were able to start your heat training early, in preparation for Big Basin!

    Both Jess & Kate are moving?? Did you explain to them they can’t just up and… MOVE? That’s disappointing to hear, but if you four are anything like the animals you own (or who own you), you still have nine lives & plenty of relays left in you {insert moment of silence for Juno}.

    I don’t recall an unofficial aid station at Brown Sugar Kitchen back in 2012 when I ran… what’s the setup there? Did you cram down a buckwheat waffle w/ maple syrup as you ran? Not the most scenic stretch that one along Mandela Parkway, but The Crucible does make it worthwhile.

    So two half marathons, one marathon & one marathon relay… what’s next for you at the ORF? Somehow I can’t envision you reviewing the 5K in 2016.

    • Jen says:

      Well, YOU’RE one to talk about moving out of the Bay Area. You probably started the trend! Kate’s actually going to be in SoCal so maybe you guys can run some races together.

      BSK has had an unofficial aid station every year that I’ve run ORF, including 2012. They hand out cut fruit, bite-sized baked goods, and water.

      Not sure if I’ll run ORF next year. Depends if other people are doing it, I guess. Or maybe I’ll participate as a spectator. If I do the 5K, I’d do it as part of the “Run This Town” event, which is the 5K followed by the half marathon. It was pretty popular; I think it sold out this year.

  5. Cathryn says:

    Great write-up of a great day and I am TOTALLY in denial about the girls moving. I think we may lose KP but Jess? With the dodgy marriage laws and the tornadoes etc, I think we can swing this one.

  6. […] Finish line Stevie Wonder makes a reappearance. (See Oakland Relay) […]

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