Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oakland Running Festival Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 9th Edition 
170.3 miles raced in 2011
Race: Oakland Running Festival Half Marathon
Place: Oakland, CA       
Miles from home: 736 miles
Weather: 50 degrees; Slightly humid.

This race was part four in a four-part plan during the month of March to try and find some fast twitch muscle fibers in these old legs of mine.  In case you hadn't read some of my most recent recaps, in the middle of the humid and windy 13.1 Miami Beach race I decided to change both my Georgia Marathon and Oakland Marathon racing plans.  Instead of doing the marathon at both, I would be doing the half instead, realizing now was not the time to simply be adding marathons to my notched belt.  Rather, I would try to speed up my turnover in lieu of upcoming short-distance triathlons and races like the Fit for Business 5k and 10k in May!

After a warm 1:25 in Miami, a much cooler Sarasota Half Marathon the next week allowed me to tie for my second fastest time ever in a half.  Last week in Georgia was a step-down race to rest just a touch before tackling Oakland here. I did not necessarily feel that best in the world but as I have told so many, rarely do we feel great on race day.  But you can't get to the finish line unless you toe the start line.


At the expo I spent almost as much time talking about my fueling habits as I did about the 52 Marathons in 2006.  People were extremely interested in learning what exactly I eat in order to keep going.  I told them there is no magic pill or elixir out there.  A simple and healthy diet is key.  For me, rather than trying to figure out where I will get all the nutrients I need on a daily basis, I simplify it all by eating as much lean beef as possible. There are plenty of ways to fuel your body but I can think of no better, or tastier way, to fuel mine.

From my vantage point at the expo I could see outside and saw the dreary and dismal weather from the past few days was continuing outside. Technically, it was more or less perfect running weather if the rain would stop falling.  But it sure did not make for a pretty day.  I was ready for the day to dissolve into night so I could help myself to my traditional steak dinner and head off to bed.

With a 9 AM start, one of the latest race times I have ever had (and one I was not even aware of until fellow attorney and runner and new friend Caitlin made me aware of it the evening prior to the race at the expo itself) I actually got to sleep in some. Without a doubt, I appreciated every bit of this - waking around 8:00 AM to slowly go through the motions of readying myself. Soon I found myself standing near the starting line, speaking with gentleman named Sam. Sam was shooting for a 1:17 and was standing all alone near the starting line. I sauntered up to him and we chatted for a bit, laughing at how no one else would come close to the front.  Or those who would were still getting in some last minute sprints out in front of the timing mat.  It is a half-marathon - I am sure you will find some time to work out the kinks, guys!

A fantastic rendition of the National Anthem was sung and we stood rather spellbound.  Soon it was time to inch up toward the starting line.

First 6 miles: 5:58, 12:48, 6:15, 6:11, 6:12

I rarely try to get in the front line or two of a race, even if I have a feeling I will place near the top.  It always irks me when people crowd the front who have no business being up there, simply looking for a photo opportunity.  I love the idea that our sport of running allows the average Joe to be on the same playing field as the elites.  However, that does not mean the average Joe needs to be out of place on that playing field just to make the front page.

Having said that, as I felt I had a good shot of placing in the top 25, I did not mind being close to the front, especially since no one else seemed too eager to jump up there. With the Mayor of Oakland welcoming us all to the city and also facilitating the countdown to the start, we soon found ourselves traversing Oaktown.

Immediately a guy in a yellow windbreaker wearing a drawstring backpack flew to the front. Prior to the start, I could see that some 50 yards down the road we all crossed an open grate. I told those behind me right before we began to watch their footing. Knowing Mr. Yellow Windbreaker was just some moron pulling a stunt I hoped he would slip on this grate. OK, no I didn't, but come on. Know where your place is. Within 100 yards he had not only slowed but pulled over to the side of the road looking like he was clutching a side stitch.

Mile, like, 90 of 202.
The other two men in the pack above were legitimate and quickly separated themselves from everyone and by quickly I mean within 100 yards.  A secondary pack fell in behind them and I was right in the middle.  Also in this pack were the top three women, including one who felt the need to cut in front of me with no warning. As we cruised down the first opening mile, I could already tell this pace was far too much for me and fell back into a third, slightly smaller pack. Even slowing down, I ran a 5:58 for the first mile. Upon hitting that marker I was already a good 20 yards behind the pack in front of us with the leaders quickly disappearing out of sight.

I somehow missed the 2nd mile marker so I was unsure if I had appropriately backed off the pace or was still going too fast.  Hitting the third mile it appeared I backed off the pace far too much and needed to begin to pick it up again if I wanted to average 6:15s. The problem of making the transition from mostly doing long-distance races to these shorter ones is training the body that it is ok to hurt because it is only going to hurt for 80 minutes, not three hours or, well, 50.

Right after the 3rd mile the woman who had cut me off at the beginning quickly came back into focus. It appeared she may have thought this was a 5k as she ended up averaging 7 minutes per mile after taking the first 3 miles out in a 6:10 pace. Probably her first rodeo.

This section also marked where we began running with the marathoners who had started 90 minutes prior to us.  I almost felt bad passing these runners as they had already run 13 miles more than we had. I tried to visibly give them a tip of the hat or wave as I passed them and was amazed how fresh they looked. I can only hope I look half that good 17 miles into a marathon! Throughout the first few miles, I had been playing a game of cat and mouse with an runner who would surge to front, fall back and then let me surge.  Finally, right before mile 5, Nobuya Takahasi put a move on me that I am still trying to comprehend. Even though my splits showed I was not only not slowing but speeding up, Nobuya simply left me in the dust.  More on him later.
Nobuya crushing it.

After passing through a burning arch (no, I am serious) we turned onto the Mandela Parkway, past mile 6 and into West Oakland.  How did I know it was West Oakland? Because of the two exuberant ladies who, like an air raid siren, shouted "West Oakland! West Oakland! West Oakland!" for as long as I could hear them approaching and as long as I could hear them after I passed. Hey, at least they were out here cheering us runners on! And for that, ladies, thank you very much.

To the finish: 6:14, 6:25, 6:18, 6:30, 6:33, 6:19, 6:26, :43

Even as Nobuya continued to become nothing but a speck on the horizon (I simply could not believe how easily he was destroying me and the rest of the runners) I felt fairly good.  I lost a little bit of time on the 8th mile as the wind really became a factor for the first time but I was still feeling like I could somehow eke out a 1:21:59. There were not a great deal of runners in front of me to lasso in mentally but those who were I was doing a good job of catching.  The streets were hardly lined with spectators but they were well-marked, officialed and clean.  You really cannot ask for much more.  The aid stations were all well-stocked and exuberant with volunteers.  Again - perfect.  I was pushing too hard to really care too much about a crowd anyway.  Soon, Lake Merritt appeared and I was happy.

One of the few non-muddy sections on this side of the lake.
I had run around Lake Merritt in both directions in the preceding days, knowing it was part of the course and wishing to familiarize myself with it. I could see myself doing many many miles in Oakland around this lake if I lived here.  While the weather was perfect for running on this day, all the previous days rain had made the trail right next to the river we would be running on a little bit of a mess. As we began the loop around this lake I was closing in on two runners - one I knew who was in the half and the other who I was guessing was in the full as I did not recognize his stride or shirt. As I began to gain on the latter, I saw him flip up a camera over his shoulder and I thought: "Did he just take my picture?"  When I passed him and saw by his bib color that he was indeed running the marathon and was on low 2:50s pace, I told him he was an animal.  I briefly caught a glimpse of his face and thought: "Hey...nah" and began to chase down my prey.  Sure enough, upon checking the results later, this was no other than Scott Dunlap, someone I had exchanged a few emails with over the years (but who had never met) and who is one heck of a runner in his own right.  He did indeed take my picture and posted it on his own recap.

Even passing Scott and closing in on other runners I posted what was the slowest mile of the race at mile 10 only to go even slower at mile 11.  Darn it.  I had all but lost any chance of running a sub 1:22 with these two miles.  I finally passed the runner I had been tracking since, well, forever around mile 11.25.  After giving me a word of encouragement, he fell in right behind me and I knew he was not giving up without a fight. Awesome!

The next runner ahead I had closed on considerably but simply could not get right up on. Passing the 12th mile I thought I would be able to give one final surge but I simply did not have it in me.  The legs would not turn over any more. We went up the last hill of the course here (slightly cruel to have this here, I might add, but that makes road racing fun!)  If I had known the chap in front of me was in my age group and beating him would put me in third place for that age group I might have found the extra gear.  As it stands, however, I was able to close the gap a little and finish in my second fastest half marathon ever, 19th place overall in a time of 1:22:56.

Sam, who I spoke to prior to the race did indeed get his 1:17.  Stellar stuff.  Caitlin was agonizingly close to breaking 1:30 (official time was 1:30:00- ouch!) but that simply means she will crush it next time. But the big wow of the day goes to Nobuya.  He came up to me after the race and asked me how I did and I did the same.  He ran a 1:20:03!  That means in the last 8 miles he beat me by nearly 3 minutes. Holy mackerel!  I did not get a chance to ask him why in the heck he had been slumming it back with us glaciers for the first 5 miles as I was too stunned. Just fantastic.

Perfect racing weather means I darn near slip into hypothermia post-race so I cannot thank my good friend Jenni, who I have know even prior to my 52 marathons in 2006 (and who was my host for not only the San Fran Marathon that year but also my 12 hour run in 2008 around Crissy Field) for fitting me with a San Francisco Road Runners Club shirt to keep me from shivering to death.

Kudos to Corrigan Sports Enterprises for putting on a pretty fantastic race. I fully intend to return to run the full someday as I heard nothing but rave reviews about that course as well.  For me, the plan I started 3 weeks ago on a bridge at mile 6 in Miami Beach came to fruition.  I was able to jump-start some speed into my legs and now it just remains to be seen if I can keep it up into my triathlon this weekend and for the rest of the year.

Great job to all the runners out there and a thank you for the city of Oakland itself for being such a great host.


Endorphin Dude said...

Very glad to see you at the expo, as I knew there was no way I would see you on race day. Congrats on another race. I'll be seeing you a lot in CA this year!

La Maratonista (AKA Jenni) said...

Great job out there on Sunday! Nice to see you this weekend - see you at SFM (one of these years I'll remember to sign up for Napa to Sonoma before it sells out!)! P.S. The SFRRC blue and orange looks good on you!

Scott Dunlap said...

Great job! You were flying through those new tight turns along the lake. Thanks for the atta-boys!


RoseRunner said...

Well you definitely got a real taste of Oakland -- the crazies who yell "West Oakland!" until they collapse, the beautiful and perfect-for-running Lake Merritt, and a whole bunch of nice folk.

Congrats on your 2nd fastest time, that's worth celebrating!

Is that pic of the ripped girl breaking the tape Verity? She's fast AND beautiful? grrrr.