Monday, March 28, 2011

Oakland Marathon Review - March 27, 2011

When we reach a certain milestone in life, sometimes we try to link it with something even more meaningful. Like turning 40 or 50 when we might decide to run a marathon, bike 100 miles, or jump with a parachute. Years ago, after completing 2-3 marathons, I thought, if ever I get to 20, I wondered how special would it be. Will I feel any different? Will I be overwhelmed and cry at the finish? Yes I was being overly dramatic. Little did I know that every single one is going to be as equally memorable. Nothing stands out more than the other. Today's Oakland Running Festival (ORF) stands true to that statement. As I found out, there is no significance in 10, 15, or even 20. What's more important is that I continue to learn and evolve as a person and as a runner.

Sizzling right at your plate
Check out the tastes good too.
But first, let's get the good and the bad out of the way. With each race, I continue to learn what works and what doesn't. There are so many variables to training and racing that when I finally put it all together, there might still be something left to tweak, whether consciously, a simple error in judgment or my plain nature as a risk-taker. My bad move with ORF: I made a mistake of foregoing carbo-loading. I knew better, but I succumbed to the treat of having Korean BBQ the night before. It was something we didn't have in San Luis Obispo, and my family loves it. I knew it was going to bite me in the race. In fact, as early as the 13th mile where I bonked. My good move: I finally got down what it is to run tangents. For the first time, my Garmin showed 26.25. That is the closest I've ever run to date. In the past, I've done as much as 26.58 (SFO). I weaved in an out of the course, thus making my time slower and making the course longer.

My Bib & I

I am so grateful and proud to be able to run ORF in its second year simply because it's like coming home. A lot has changed over three decades since my family first move there. There's nothing like being on foot and seeing the city like a tourist. Over the years, we've moved out of the area. We've driven by, in and around Oakland and we've notice changes in the skyline with new skyscrapers, storefronts changing and etc. It is a different experience being on ground level and seeing the minute details up close and personal. Oakland has had its share of bad reputation. Again, the race organizers did a fabulous job of showcasing all the diverse neighborhoods of Oaktown. For one day the community came together as one, with Oakland PD, FD, the residents, the vendors and all the volunteers showing how proud they are of the city. We runners felt their warm embrace when they all shouted out “Thank you for running Oakland.”

When I see the Tribune Bldg, it reminds me of home
This is new addition on Clay St.

ORF had 7,284 participants in the marathon, half marathon, 4 person relay team, the 5K and the Kids Fun Run. The full marathon had 1200 signed up and only about 75% finished. It had been raining for 3 straight days and on Sunday we were finally blessed with a perfect running weather. The marathon started promptly at 7:30 after a few welcome words from Mayor Quan and the singing of the National Anthem. I still get goose bumps when the announcer welcomes us runners. I looked around and everyone's faces were the same with that wide eyed anticipation. People tried to keep themselves warm by jumping in place and shaking their bodies to keep the blood flowing. There's always someone at these races who offers this info, “This is my first marathon.” Everyone was so eager to get going. The blow-up start arch and confetti sprinkling was perfected this year. Last year, that start arch deflated because the confetti blocked the air blower. I noticed pacers were numerous this year. I happened to stand by the 4:00 pacers.
The 4:00 Geico Pacers

I thought, why not? What do I have to lose, let the pacer do all the work and just follow along. Eh, not so easy to do.

We started downtown along 14th Street and Broadway. We traveled through Broadway, then up, Rockridge, Piedmont and Claremont Districts in North Oakland. Up to this point it was a gradual incline, hardly noticeable because the adrenaline was flowing. I was keeping along with the 4:00 pacers, but when I looked at my Garmin to verify the pace, I noticed they were going a little too fast. I knew I have to drop them if I was going to stay alive today. Notice I said I would drop them? Really they dropped me. But no hard feelings.
Check out the gnarly elevation

When I hit 51st Street, I started feeling the effects of the earlier incline. Then the 4:15 pacers came up behind me. I thought, hey, let's see what these guys are all about. So I chugged along with them. For a little while. Little voice inside me, STICK TO your pace. But I argued with the little voice, I'm just going to see if I can hang with them, if not, I'll drop them. Going up the Broadway Terrace I felt the slowdown. According to my Garmin, the 4:15 pacers were also going way above the pace, so again, I let those guys loose at mile 6. At the pace they were going, they were going to kill me if I kept up with them. Plus, at this stage of the course, the hills were already showing me who was boss. I reminded myself to press on and that there was an end to this madness. I reassured myself, this is temporary. How did I do this last year? It just seems so much harder this time aroun

Down by the horizon is where we had to go

The Montclair District had sparse spectators. There were occasional residents who stepped out into their yards and yelled “good luck” to runners. There were some who were wondering what the heck was going on, wearing puzzled looks. Mountain Blvd. was a grind and I could not wait to see the Mormon Temple which was the highest elevation. Once there, everything was downhill. Sounded easy, but that was when the wheels began to fall off. Once at the top, I was able to catch my breath and I was treated to an incredible view of Oakland and at the same token, it revealed what grounds I still needed to cover.

It was overwhelming. I took one shot, and put the camera away. I still have a job to do. The Temple looked so beautiful and so triumphant with its white walls and strong points. I've seen it so many times driving along I-880, up on the hills. But now up close, looked so huge. The next two miles were a steep downhill. I was careful not to jam my knee at this part. It was crucial that I maintain an even effort to save whatever I have left for the next half.

Mormon Temple in the background, notice the steep grade?

Miles 12 through 19 had rollers. It was not as flat as I had remembered. From Coolidge, to International Blvd, to Laney College, through Chinatown, Jack London Square, Mandela Parkway and West Oakland and its industrial side, it was a crawl. It took me about an hour and eleven minutes to get through. It was bittersweet because I love seeing the vendors, the grocers in this side of town cheer on the runners last year. But this time, in my attempt to keep it together and maintain my pace, I was not in the moment. I was losing energy fast, and no matter how much Power Gel I downed, it didn't matter. It was a band-aid. I was missing the sustained energy that that pasta would have given me. I was fading fast.

The Crucible: I didn't quite get the significance of it is.

By the time I hit the 20th mile marker my time was 3:19 and some change. Three weeks ago in Napa, I was at 3:12 at mile 20. That was demoralizing. Maybe I shouldn't have memorized my stats. I kept reaching back to what my time was at particular mile markers. It didn't do me any good. Around mile 21, I recognized some folks whom I passed some earlier miles back. Now they were reeling me in. I've been here before.

The route change at Mile 23 was the hardest change for me. Last year, we went around Children's Fairyland by Lake Merritt. I knew exactly where I was. This year, we were re-routed to the inside perimeter of the lake, which hid the landmarks that I was familiar with. In so doing, I had miscalculated the finish and thought it was a lot closer than I thought. Coming out from the inside perimeter of the lake, I was disappointed to see that I had come out only to see Grand Lake, whereas I anticipated to be by Lakeshore Avenue already. You're probably asking, why not look at your Garmin then? I stopped looking at my watch, because I was getting down on myself. Each time, I looked at my watch, I was losing 3 seconds of my pace. So to prevent myself from getting disappointed I stopped checking.

With the rain that showered the Bay Area from Thursday, Friday and Saturday, a “negligible” part of the track at the Lake became muddy. It became an issue when runners bottlenecked in this one area. It was single track and with the ½ marathoners and walkers who were also in the mix, the faster, speedier runners felt their time were compromised. There were runners who stopped at their tracks at the sight of mud, which caused a minor traffic jam. I understand how this could be annoying. By the time I got to that spot, it was already a muddy mess and there was nothing anyone can do about it. To tell you the truth, the only thing that annoyed me somewhat was the walkers who didn't want their shoes muddied that they took their time to go over it like they were walking on hot coals. I was doing my best trying to keep up with this one runner who got away from me because I got stuck behind these walkers. It was minor, I was over it quickly as my pace was reduced to a crawl anyway. My goal was just to finish. At this stage time was not as important anymore...well until the 4:30 pacers caught up with me.

I had just passed the 26th mile marker and had 0.20 to go, when the pacers crept up behind me. My first thought was, "Oh no, I am being passed by yet another pacing group." I was going to let them go, seeing that it was so late in the game, I was not sure if I had anything left. But what I witnessed, changed my mind. One guy in the pacing group, clearly with leg cramps and one knee wrapped up in tape, was suddenly increasing his pace. I thought if he can pick up his pace, cramps and all, then I, with no cramping, can surely follow his lead. But up ahead, it all made sense. Just before reaching Telegraph Ave, his daughter, maybe 9 years old, jumped in the race. The father gained his form back as if he had a renewed energy. He lost the limp, sped up and together they ran to the finish. It was hard to hold back tears. We had three more blocks to go and I tried my best to keep up with them. They finished 15 seconds ahead of me. They didn't realize it then, but they helped me finish in 4:28:48. I tried to look for them at the runner's chute, to thank them for being an inspiration at the very last second when I needed it the most, but I couldn't find them. I grabbed my space blanket, got my medal and water, and found a quiet space to sit down to soak up the moment. It was hard to imagine that only a few hours ago, I couldn't wait for this to be over. This was a harder course. First, tenth, or twentieth--it never gets any easier. If it did, everyone would run one. Boy was I glad it was over.

The back of the awesome shirt

Notice the timing chip at the back of the bib?


  1. You're my hero! Good job on gutting it out at the end and a big congratulations on your finish.

  2. Thank you Dori. Good luck at the wine country half! I'll be thinking about you.