Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Oakland Marathon

"Gummy Bear Cadillac" at Oakland Marathon
Photo by Scott Dunlap
City of Oakland

Prior to running the Oakland Marathon last weekend, the only thing I knew about Oakland was what I'd pieced together from watching Too Short videos during the 90's.

So I went into the race completely expecting that someone might try to jack me for my running shoes, or that at the very least I would have to run through a group of pimps in fur coats playing craps on the street corner drinking 40's of St. Ides. But no...

I must say I was quite impressed by Oakland the race, the city, and the community. At no point did anyone shoot at me! And, I was only accosted once or twice by crazy disheveled-looking homeless dudes mumbling to themselves (Or who knows, maybe they were just unshaven hipsters singling along to their favorite Bon Iver songs).

And no... if you're wondering I did not stop and eat any of the "free gummy worms" from the strange looking folks driving the white Cadillac pictured above. But who knows, maybe some LSD infused gummy worms would have helped?

A Brief Digression (I Want to Run Boston)

I guess I probably need to answer some basic questions before we go any further. Like, “What the heck were you doing running the Oakland marathon? Aren’t you this fancy trail snob who turns up his nose at running sidewalks and bike paths? And what’s with this wimpy marathon nonsense anyway? I thought you were supposed to be some bad-ass ultra-marathoner who doesn’t bother to put on his shorts for anything less than 100 miles? And Oakland, of all places, really? Why not some place safer and more scenic, like Compton?

It’s true, I confess… I’m not particularly fond of running on pavement, running in cities, or running races with thousands of other pedestrians. I prefer the solitude, serenity, and beauty of running alone in the mountains or forests. But I must also confess, it is rather embarrassing when I tell people that I’m this crazy obsessed long-distance running nut job and then they ask the obligatory questions, “Oh, you’re a runner? What’s your marathon PR? Have you ever done Boston?”

Ah yes, Boston. There’s actually something about the Boston marathon that calls to me. It’s steeped in history and tradition, with stories about Frank Shorter and Bill “Boston Billy” Rodgers. And as if by fate, my wife Amy grew up in Hopkinton, the small city 26 miles outside of Boston where the race start. She’s run Boston numerous times and still has family in Massachusetts, including an uncle who still lives in Hopkinton just blocks from the start of the race. So it’s the perfect destination race for us.

And there’s also the small matter of revenge. The first (and only) time I have run Boston, I cramped up after the hills of Newton and ended up hobbling the last 6 miles. It was one of my slowest marathons ever (though I did enjoy chugging a beer with some college kids at mile 24). While I struggled, my wife had a great race that day and ran a PR (beating my time by 5 minutes). And it was frustrating to watch my buddies Hermann and Bill run by while I was forced to walk, unable to run the last few miles with them.

I’ve always wanted to get back to Boston for a shot at redemption. So when my buddy Bill Pritchett, who’s run Boston every year for the past few years invited us to join him and some buddies in 2014, I looked at the running calendar and picked the first Boston qualifier I could find that fit into my schedule. “Oh, there’s a marathon in Oakland. Cool, sign me up”.

Skip Here to Read... The Actual Oakland Race Report
Caitlin Smith and I showing off our abs
Photo by Scott Dunlap

I arrived in Oakland about half an hour before the start of the race, quickly found parking, used the bathroom without having to wait in any line, dropped my warm clothes off at the bag check area, and walked to the starting line. While not a small race, with about 900 entrants in the marathon, Oakland isn’t an overly large race either. I was impressed with how well organized and smooth everything was.

As I made my way towards the front of the pack at the starting line I saw some familiar faces including Caitlin Smith (one of the favorites in the women’s race) with whom I had just done a track workout a few days before, as well as local ultra-runner and part-time roadie Scott Dunlap (who finished 5th overall at Oakland last year). A few photos, a little chit chat, and we were off and running.

I went out conservatively, or at least what felt like a conservative pace. And while the first mile was downhill, I was still surprised when I looked at my watch and saw that I’d run a 6:00 first mile. I consciously backed off the pace a bit, slowing down to a 6:30 second mile. I felt good, but I was worried that I was going out a bit too fast as my pre-race plan called for me to average about 7:00 pace.

Flying along
Luckily the next 8 miles were all up hill and my average pace slowly fell to about 6:55 as I logged a couple of 7:20 and 7:30 miles on the climb up the hills of Montclair. When we reached the top at mile 10, I tried to stretch out my legs a bit with a 6:00 minute mile on the steep downhill.

That’s when I felt the all too familiar sharp pain in my right calf, an issue I have been struggling on and off with for quite a while. I backed off the pace a bit, hoping that if I slowed back down to 7:00 minute miles I could get through the race without (re)injuring myself.

The rest of the race went pretty smoothly. It was really just a matter of keeping my feet moving and grinding it out. When I finally made my way out of the residential neighborhoods and turned on to the bike path around Lake Merritt for the final two miles, I was definitely hurting a bit.

And although I slowed down a bit to slightly over 7 minute per mile pace, I guess everyone else was hurting just as bad if not worse, as I was able to reel in 2 or 3 runners who had been in front of me all day.
Finishing kick

As we made the final turn into the downtown business district and up the steep hill toward the finish line I sprinted the last quarter mile as hard as I could, trying to make sure I finished in 3 hours and 5 minutes or less – which would hopefully ensure that I get into Boston in 2014.

After crossing the finish line in 3:04:39, I collapsed on the ground for about thirty seconds. Then I got up nonchalantly, collected my finisher’s medal and proceeded to ravenously devour two cartons of Dole pineapple fruit cups at the food table. The guy from Dole was seemed to love this. He took quite a few photos and posted one on Dole's Facebook page.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in addition to taking over 8 minutes off my official marathon PR, I'd also finished quite well in 16th place overall and 4th in my age group!

I caught up with Caitlin afterwards at the beer tent and learned that she had finished 2nd woman and in the top 10 overall in 2:56:14 behind women’s winner Devon Yanko (Crosby-Helms) after struggling a bit in the last miles. Devon had apparently had a great race and crushed the women's course record by seveal minutes with her 2:47:24.

New marathon PR 3:04:39
I also ran into a few other ultra-runners including Mark Tanaka, Ron Duncan, and Sarah Lavender-Smith, all of whom had run the race as official pacers. I didn’t get a chance to talk with Scott Dunlap after the race, but I heard that he'd also run very well, finishing 6th in 2:53:42. Click to here to read his great race-reap.

While I originally only signed up for Oakland to get a Boston qualifier, I really enjoyed the race and am actually thinking about doing it again next year in 2014 as a Boston tune-up. With over 800 feet of climbing in the first 10 miles, it is a hilly course that suits me well. 

And after running those kinds of hills, hopefully “Heartbreak hill” won’t ever kick my butt again!

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