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Oakland Half Marathon Race Recap

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.

Team Wristband!

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.

At the start. Over 4000 people ran the half marathon on Sunday.

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:

One of the few decent pictures where I don't look like I'm about to get sick. (Also, I swear, I'm not heel striking!)

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.

Still feeling pretty good. Here I am practicing my pageant wave and bunny teeth.

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.

This photo would've been cooler had I not been putting my iPhone back into my spibelt. I took it out to take a picture of the arch, not knowing there was a photographer at the other end. Seriously, they need to put up big signs that say, "photographer ahead!"

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.

"I think I can, I think I can..." with 2 miles to go.

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.

"OMG, where is that finish line already??!!"

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.

With my #1 supporter TC after the race.

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!

My old colleagues from Berkeley, a happy group of runners!



Why I race

A friend of mine once asked me why I run races. It was unusual only in that she herself is a runner. My initial response was, “Well, doesn’t every runner want to run at least one race at some point in his/her life?” In my friend’s mind, she didn’t feel the usual desire to prove to herself or to anyone else how far or how fast she could run. Paying an entry fee and showing up early on weekend morning certainly didn’t make races more enticing. I almost got her to run a trail race with me 2 years ago, but alas, she forgot to register and said she was too hungover to run anyway.

Anyway, my point is that, despite all of the races I’d run, I didn’t have a great answer to her question. Most of the time, I registered for races to motivate myself to run more regularly. Sometimes, it was because my friends were running a race, and I thought, “Why not? Sounds fun.” Only in a couple of instances have I set a specific goal and trained for it.

Yesterday, TC and I ran the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders Annual Couples Relay. It was a 10K where I ran the first 5K and TC ran the second half. For the first time ever, I was nervous. Maybe because we were running as a team and I didn’t want to let TC down, or maybe because I’ve been training for the Oakland Half, so I knew that I should be able to break my personal record (PR). I had even dreamt about running the race and then getting trapped in molasses 100 feet from the finish line. Ridiculous, right?

As we walked to the race, TC and I talked strategy. He asked when he should expect to start his leg of the race. Since I’ve never come in under 30 minutes for a 5K, I told him to start looking for me at 28 minutes, but maybe that was even pushing it.  I thought the best way to manage my surprising case of nerves was to lower expectations.

Then, the race started and I was off! I noticed I was running at a much faster pace than usual. I kept checking in with myself to make sure I could keep up the pace. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or what, but I was speeding along at a sub-9 minute/mile pace. (Keep in mind, I usually run at 10 minutes/mile.) That’s when I started to worry — why did I tell TC 28 minutes?? At this rate, I was bound to finish faster than that. Oh well, I thought. He’s a smart guy; hopefully he’ll figure it out. Luckily he did, and when I finished my leg at 27:42, I was exhausted but very excited. I broke my PR by over 2 minutes and ran at a 8:56 pace! TC did great too with a time of 20:52, even though he was disappointed he didn’t beat his PR from last year of 19:27. As a team, we came in 52nd out of 146, so I’m pretty proud of how we did.

I know it might not seem like a big deal to most people, but breaking my PR by that much was a big deal to me. Yesterday’s 5K experience also put into sharp focus why I race:
– To prove that on any given day (not of your own choosing), you can get it done. Without a race, you can run whenever and however (slow, fast) you want. If you have a minor ailment or if you’re feeling tired, you can sit it out. But not on race day. On race day, you suck it up and run your hardest. You can rest tomorrow.
– To compete with yourself as well as with others. Races are funny. Yes, you’re running against other people, but unless you’re a super elite runner, you’re mostly competing against yourself. Also, I think that running is unusual because you can draw strength from your competitors. For instance, yesterday, I used the runners ahead of me for pacing and motivation. I believe that’s how I was able to cut my mile pace by a minute.
– To participate in the running community. For such a solitary sport, it’s nice to be with others for a change. Usually, I run alone or with one other person, so it’s a pretty cool feeling to be running with a pack of people. It is especially cool when the group spans all ages, sizes, and ethnicities. Also, it might sound cheesy and weird, but seeing all of the people that come out on race day gives me hope that not every American is a lazy couch potato.

With the confidence boost from yesterday’s 5K, I’m really excited to tackle the half marathon in 4 weeks! What about y’all — any big plans for races this year or thoughts about racing?

We're #52! We're #52!