On Sunday, I ran this course (in blue):
Leading up to the Oakland Half Marathon, I was pretty nervous. Sure, I had trained ahead of schedule and even set a PR at a 5K last month, but it was almost as if all that training was now taunting me. It was a bit irrational, to be sure, since I managed to run 13 miles with AW in early March. I guess my main concern wasn’t whether I’d finish, it was whether I’d meet my goal. What was my goal? Ideally, I wanted to run the course in 2:05:00 (9:30/mile). However, I told myself I’d be happy finishing under my previous (and only) half marathon time, 2:09:42. For some reason, I was too scared to say it loud and say it proud: I want to finish in 2:05!
It was certainly possible to achieve my goal, given the negligible elevation change for the course. However, as you can see above, there were A LOT of turns, over 40 in all, which makes for slower running. On top of everything, the weather forecast was threatening rain — up to 0.8 inches! I had been so spoiled by the dry winter that we’ve had that the thought of running in the rain was distressing. But about halfway through the week, I decided to “woman up” and get used to the idea of running with soggy clothes and looking like a drowned rat.
A couple of things helped to keep me optimistic and excited about the race. For one thing, I knew at least 10 other people running it! In fact, I decided to knit wristbands in Oakland A’s colors for KH, AW, and myself to give us some race day bling, as well as to serve as depository for sweat, tears, and/or snot. (Hey, I never said running is pretty… as you’ll see later!) Another reason I was excited was because the race started down the street (literally) and the course took me through my neighborhood, in my city. I was looking forward to running with my neighbors and experiencing Oakland pride.
On race day, I woke up feeling pretty good and well-rested. Best of all, it wasn’t raining! The storm that had threatened to linger over the Bay Area decided to skedaddle. In fact, the weather was perfect for running: low 50’s, mostly cloudy with almost no wind. One thing I loved about this race was that it started at 9:15 a.m., a very reasonable hour. (Most races start at 7 or 8 a.m.) I fretted about what to eat for breakfast, as I had been experiencing sugar lows (“bonking out”) during my long runs. I decided to go with one piece of wheat toast with peanut butter and one banana. I also had a Gatorade “Prime” about 20 minutes before the race (think sugary drink in a Capri Sun-like packet). Then it was time to line up! My favorite part at the beginning was when they played LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It. About a third of the crowd started bopping and dancing around, which helped calm pre-race jitters and sprinkle a bit of fun vibe to the atmosphere.
So, as you can see from the picture, there were a lot of people packed into a relatively small amount of space at the start. It took me about 2 minutes to get to the start line (thank goodness for timing chips!). With the large crowd and sharp turns, I spent the first mile trying get away from the crowd and attempting to get into a decent rhythm. My legs felt heavy and I realized too late that I should’ve peed before the race. Oh well, too late. I managed to get it together and find my rhythm around mile 3. Luckily, there was an official photographer there to capture the happy moment:
Around mile 4, I decided to take my first Gu energy gel. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing Gu, let me try to describe it for you: it’s like taking thick glue paste and adding some artificial flavors and colors to it. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’re packed with sugar and so it’s an instant pick me up. AW wisely advised me to try the strawberry banana Gu (one of the less offensive flavors) and to take it before I needed it, as it takes a little bit of time for the sugar to enter the bloodstream. So, I “Gu”ed at mile 4 and mile 8, which turned out to be a fantastic strategy. Also around mile 4, I saw TC, IV, and LT cheering for me in the sidelines, which gave me a lift mentally and emotionally. I guess I felt so good that I ran way too fast in this section, averaging 9:15-9:20 in miles 4 through 7.
There were lots of cool things to see along the way, and small crowds of people who came out to cheer us on. One of the neatest things I saw was The Crucible‘s flaming arch, which we got to run under. They also had a horse that shot flames out of his head (or his nostrils? I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention) next to a rockin’ two man band playing death metal. It was awesome.
By miles 8-10, I had slowed down to my goal pace of 9:30. I also realized, thanks to my new, fancy-schmancy GPS watch, that I was running a longer course than charted. After 10 miles, I was running 0.1 miles longer than the mile markers. Still, I was ahead of schedule and I kept on chugging. I was approaching Lake Merritt, the home stretch! I saw TC, IV, and LT again and even managed to give TC a high-five. I thought I’d be energized by seeing the lake and by seeing familiar faces, but I started feeling extremely tired and sluggish. The tiny little hills around the Lake, which I’m used to running, seemed like ginormous inclines to my tired legs and feet.
What is there to do when you’ve already run 11 miles and you’re just 2 miles from the finish? My mantras were “Mind over matter” and “No pain, no gain.” I picked up my pace as I rounded the last turn to 19th Street. I saw a big group of friends at mile 13, waved at them, then tried to hustle to the finish line. That last tenth of a mile felt like it took FOREVER. I tried to smile for the camera, but I don’t think I was successful. Here, you can judge for yourself.
I crossed the finish line with my watch reading 2:05:43 for 13.25 miles (9:31 pace). Later on, I found out that my official time was 2:05:40 (9:36 pace). Oh well, so I ran an extra 0.15 miles. I was just really happy to be done and extremely satisfied with how I did.
Besides some minor bumps along the way (my spibelt wouldn’t stay put, I started getting a blister towards the end, and I had to fight off a couple of foot cramps), I had a very good race. I’ve been riding a runner’s high since Sunday, itching to run another big race soon. I’ve got my sights set on running more trail races and perhaps even a marathon at some point. The really cool thing that I realized is that racing isn’t just good for you physically, but also mentally and emotionally. As we get older, we encounter less frequent goals and tests, so there’s a tendency to get a little soft. In some respects, this is good as we become more “zen” but it’s also nice to challenge yourself once in a while. I realized that I was scared of declaring my goals because I was afraid of failing. Setting and accomplishing this goal helped to build my confidence, not just with running, but in other aspects of my life as well.
One last shout-out to my friends/running gurus who have advised me through the years about all things running, whether it’s gear, nutrition, or training. Moreover, their kick-ass running skills have been very inspirational to me. Thanks AW and MS (below) and IP (not pictured) — you guys are the best!