Last week, I ran the Oakland Half Marathon. I realized that I should recap this race before I forget too many of the details. Plus, I leave today for an 8-day work trip, and I definitely won’t have time blog.
To review: my goals going into the race were:
- C-goal: Beat my previous course record (CR) — 2:04:26.
- B-goal: Beat my time from Kaiser 2018: 2:01:19.
- A-goal: Finish under 2 hours OR averaging 9:09/mile or faster (in case I didn’t run tangents and ran substantially longer than 13.1 miles).
Spoiler: I hit my A-goal.
I originally registered for Oakland as a back up race, in case I didn’t meet my goal at Kaiser. My friend PC, a race ambassador, had a discount code and then there was a Black Friday sale. Y’all know that I’m a sucker for a good deal! I think I ended up paying like $65(?). It had been 2 years since I last ran the Oakland Half, and since that time, they had changed the start/finish location, so I was really curious how that would affect my experience.
In previous years, the race always started at 9:10, which is already late by half marathon standards. This year, they pushed back the start time to 9:30am, so that most half marathon runners are finishing in the heat of the midday sun. Thankfully, it was much cooler than past years (maybe 50F at the start?), but still very warm in the sun. The upside is that I had a much more leisurely race morning than usual. I met up with friends at their apartment just half a mile from Lake Merritt at 8:00 a.m. We hung out inside for as long as possible to take advantage of their warm, comfortable living room and a real bathroom.
At around 8:45 am, we started walking down to the Lake, taking the longer but less steep route. We got to the start area shortly after 9:00, I went and used the bathroom one last time, said good bye and good luck to my friends, and headed out for a short, 5-minute warm-up. At 9:15, I got into the corral, lining up near the 2 hour pace group. Shortly after, there was an announcement that the race was going to be delayed to 9:40. UGH. It was already very cramped in the corral, so there was no place to move or stretch out. Eventually, as more people came into the corral, I got separated from the 2 hour pacers, who ended up quite a ways in front of me. I know that this (i.e., standing around for 25 minutes in a cramped situation) isn’t even that big of a deal compared to big city races, but I guess that’s why I’m more of a small race kind of girl. Finally, the National Anthem was sung, followed by a countdown, and at 9:46, the race FINALLY started.
Thinking back on the race itself, I had a very different experience than in the past. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve run the Oakland Half so many times (3 times, plus most of the course for the full marathon once), but I was sort of “in the zone” the whole time. I have random snapshots and memories of Downtown, Chinatown, West Oakland, etc., but it was more observational/detached, like, “OK, I’m here now.” Almost Zen-like? It was also weird because the race started about 2 miles away from where it used to, so there were parts of the course where I would realize that I felt more tired than usual, but reminded myself that I was also 2 miles further along, which would make me happy/relieved.
The other reason I felt a little discombobulated was due to the mile markers. After 2 miles, I switched my Garmin to time lapsed, and I was counting on the mile markers to help me calculate pacing, just as I had done at Kaiser. I like how doing simple math in my head distracts me and gives me a pace goal for the next mile. Anyway, markers for miles 1-3 all appeared right on schedule. I never saw the mile 4 marker…or mile 5…or mile 6. I had to guess at my pace a little, hoping that my Garmin was mostly correct. At mile 7, the marker finally reappeared but earlier than I expected by about a quarter mile. I knew I was running ahead of 2 hour pace, but I didn’t think I was in PR range (1:56)! Same for miles 8 and 9. It wasn’t until mile 10 that things seemed to go back to normal. Looking at the official data, there was something definitely off about the placement of the timing mat at 5.5 miles. Supposedly, I was averaging 8:27/mile — which I can assure you, I definitely was not! Before the race, I was worried about running a lot longer than 13.1; during the race, I began to wonder if the course would end up being too short. Fortunately, I clocked 13.15 miles on my Garmin at the finish, thanks to my mindful running of tangents and having to take less turns than previous years. The marathon runners didn’t get so lucky; just about everyone I know who ran the full has data showing 26.6 miles or longer.
I don’t really want to get into a mile by mile recap, just to say I pushed myself pretty hard the whole race, just as I had planned. I went out a little too quick in the beginning and I’m so glad I never blew up — though I slowed down a lot by mile 13. I was doing a lot of bargaining and self-talk in those last 2 miles. I knew I was really, really close to finishing in 2 hours, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to come in at 13.2 or 13.4 miles, which I’ve done in the past. I very nearly let off the gas, especially around those tiny hills around Lake Merritt, but countered with the regret and anger that I’d have if I went over 2 hours by just a few seconds.
As I ascended the last small hill and took a right on Grand Ave., I knew it was a straight shot and slightly downhill from there. There was another woman struggling, and I turned to her and said, “Let’s do this!” and we ran as hard as we could toward the finish line. I registered CC and her friend L cheering from the side and waved. However, I didn’t dare spend an extra ounce of energy looking at my watch. I sprinted as hard as I could past the finish and then stopped my watch, which read 1:59:53. I did it! Thank goodness.
It took me a while to catch my breath, but I finally did and walked toward ME, who finished his first half marathon in 1:55 with minimal training. Soon after, A finished, and then AR. We took photos and drank our free beer, which was disappointingly odd tasting (very sour, but not in a good/intended way). One of the things I love about the Oakland Running Festival is that I always run into people I know post-race. I got to catch up with Angela, who ran the full as a training run for Boston (you can find her recap here).
I was in disbelief all day Sunday and even now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around accomplishing my “A” goal based on my current not-great-fitness level and also weighing about 5-8 lbs. more than my “fighting weight”. I can only explain it by citing experience and mental strength. It took me many tries to break 2 hours for the half marathon, but this is now my 4th sub-2 half and probably the least I’ve ever trained for one. The other thing that helped me mentally was moving the start/finish to the northeast corner of Lake Merritt. In previous races, I’ve always floundered in the last 5K around the Lake. This new course finishes only 1 mile into the path around Lake Merritt and has a nice straightaway to the finish line, versus the old course which was a cramp-inducing hill up 19th Street. Anyway, I did it! Yay! Stay tuned for what’s next in my running adventures…
1:59:47 (9:08/mile); 13.15 miles (Garmin)
25/182 AG, 270/1532 F, 872/2971 overall
Race logistics were similar to years past except for the start/finish. I parked in the neighborhoods east of Lake Merritt and walked down to the race. There was plenty of street parking there, but there is a very steep hill – don’t kill your quads before the race! There were shuttles for people who rode BART. I don’t know how well those worked, I think I overheard people grumbling about them.
Race organization was excellent minus the delayed start, mile markers, and too long distance for the full marathon runners (or should I say, ultramarathon runners?).
Swag consisted of a nice, if boring, shirt – a soft poly-blend technical long sleeve tee – and a medal that doubles as a bottle opener. There were free race pictures too, but so far I’ve only seen 3 of mine, even though I signed over all of my privacy rights to the photo company on Facebook. Supposedly, photos could be downloaded a week post-race without doing the FB thing, but I just checked (8 days out) and I still don’t see them. Oh well.