Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oakland Running Festival 13.1 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 6th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Oakland Running Festival
Place: Oakland, CA
Miles from home: 631
Weather: 60s; Sunny and humid

I ran the Oakland Half in 2011 and surprisingly ran what remains my 3rd fastest half marathon ever. It was surprising for a number of reasons, the least of all not being that the course was not exactly forgiving. It was not hard, per se, it just wasn't what one would expect to run fast on.  But that is why we toe the line as we never know what race day will bring.  On this race day, however, I had a fairly good idea roughly where I was going to run. Coming back from the flu there would be no such heroics or personal bests set on this day.  But I felt I had done well enough in my recovery to run perhaps in the 1:27-1:28 range.

At the expo prior to the race, I was doing a book signing.  To say I met some interesting characters would be to put it mildly. Luckily for me, I also had the great pleasure of meeting some new friends for the first time, old friends and social media friends who took time out of their day just to say hello. Warms your heart when you realize you are more than a mouse click on the "like" button to some people.

I spent a great deal of time explaining what the book was about to those who were curious as well as why I was wearing a shirt and jacket with ASEA on it. But most of the time is spent simply being a running psychiatrist. I really think my booth should just have a couch where runners can lie down and talk about what ails them, both physically and mentally. It is not as if this bothers me. I realized a long time ago that more often than not any question asked is done because there is a story behind the question. The sooner you get to that story the sooner everyone feels better about the encounter. Occasionally. I hear something new. Often I am inspired by people's struggles. And maybe, just maybe, the words I share to encourage or inspire will sink in over the next day or so and help push them to new and wonderful heights.

I remembered the day before the race, just like I had five years ago, that the race had a rather late start. Our gun for the half would be going off at 9:10 a.m. This sort of late start usually works well with me, especially if the weather cooperates. The weather was supposed to be 52 and cloudy for our start. Not "perfect" but pretty darn nice for me. Shouldn't be much of a problem!

Race Day:

I awoke to sun streaming into my hotel room. Bollocks. How can it be cloudy and sunny! Maybe it will be cool still. While it might have not been the debacle of the Gate River Run of last weekend, upon stepping out of my hotel, I noticed it was far from cool.  At race time, instead of the temperature I was hoping for, we had 60 degrees with bright sunshine. It felt much warmer, however. But, I told myself, it is "just" a half-marathon: Get in, run hard, get out and it may still be cool.  Or coolish.

On the way to the start I talked with a young chap named Daniel from Cleveland.  He lived in Houston and worked on space shuttle stuff.  It is encounters like this that make the sport so fun.  There would be virtually no other reason the tow of us would ever cross paths but here we were.  Coincidentally, as he saw my ASEA singlet, he said he had heard of the product and was eager to try it out.  I gave it my glowing approval and hope he does.

First Three Miles:

The course was slightly different than when I had run it half a decade ago so as I do, I measured it using an online tool I use for every run I do. I was surprised to see it came out well past 13.1 miles but figured perhaps I had messed up. I knew there was some construction on the course so perhaps it would all even out in the end.

Once I got to the starting line I shot out like a cannonball.  I felt like I was flying.  Picking my way through runners, I was amazed how good I was feeling. However, in the first mile we had nine right angle turns. Nine. Ooof. Not ideal as we went through sidewalks and little plazas and at one point a heavily constructed area. The race addressed this issue on their Facebook page and it was very cool of them to do so.

Even with all the turns, however, I felt like my first mile was smoking. Maybe I would surprise myself after all. However, when it came up 30 seconds short of what it felt like, I was alarmed. I usually feel slower than I actually am in the beginning. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and looking at my own data, I see the mile marker was simply off. As I have said many times, don't rely on mile markers. They are there as a convenience and are not always in the right place.

The other thing I noticed was how I was simply dripping with sweat. This was not going how I had envisioned it. After the first mile, where I let my head get in the way of my feet, runners were passing me and I had no response. The second mile came and went and I was hoping for a correction in overall time from the first mile but it showed me I was still not on my goal pace. As we turned into the bright sunshine, I tried to decide exactly what my plan for the day would be.

Running down the street the third mile approached. Another subpar mile told me that perhaps this wasn't going to be my day. The flu and pneumonia I had a few weeks back were obviously still not quite ready to let me run nearly as fast as I wanted. I made the executive decision to more or less shut it down. I hated to do so but it is folly to race hard when you simply do not have it. It leads to long term problems and then no one is happy. I was basically happy with the decision. Unfortunately, I still had ten more miles of running to do either way.

To Mile Seven:

The next four miles were a very strange mixture. No sooner did I decide to mail it in then I threw down a 6:25 mile. This wasn't just a short mile or my Timex watch being off. I passed dozens of runners who had steadily made their way by me in the previous miles. They all didn't just suddenly slow en masse. No, for some reason, I was injected with speed. I have zero idea what happened here. Perhaps it was the taiko drumming group that was riling up spirits. I know for sure I felt a pep in my step from this awesome group of people cheering us on. Regardless, I can only say I wish the spurt had happened for longer. But almost as soon as the burst of speed came upon me, it withered away. I did not lose my place in the race but I couldn't tap into it again. I kept telling myself to just hold it where I was and perhaps that burst would come back again. Stranger things have happened in racing!

Without a doubt, I was looking forward to running under the flaming, rusty, wrought-iron arch with real-life flames outside The Crucible, an Oakland based industrial arts school. A fixture since at least 2011, when I ran here it was at mile six if I recall correctly.  Here it was closer to mile 7.  Here for a second or two I allowed my mind to wander. As with all parts of any race, I always wonder what it is like for slower runners.  They undoubtedly experience a race completely different than people close to the front.  For example, I am very fortunate to be able to have the first shot at aid stations; I am not normally worried about narrow passes; flaming steel usually is not run under shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I am always curious what it is like when people are running five across.  As always, when people who don't run ask me what I think about when I am running, I can't even begin to tell them the list of thoughts that go through my head.

Approaching the 7th mile I knew I would be seeing one of my coaching clients who was running part of a relay with her team Too Legit To Quit. We tried to figure out, based on their projected time and my starting time, when I may see her. As it ends up, as I approached, Jessica was taking the hand off from her teammate. That's good timing!  I wished her good luck and then tried my best to once again harness any speed in my legs.

Off to Mile Ten:

The next mile is one of my favorite on the course. It is a gradually sloping downward mile, virtually straight, with the buildings blocking the rising sun. But this year there was something I flat out have never seen in a race before.  Ever. And that is saying something given the hundreds of races I have run, watched or read about.

A crane in the middle of this mile was suspending something over the road. With as much construction that was going on I just assumed it was another city project. Also, as there was what appeared to be a large structure with a flamethrower on it, my attention was diverted there. I already had a number of Mad Max: Fury Road jokes queuing up in my head for this recap. Then I realized what the crane was holding: blocks of ice. And the flame thrower thingie was melting them with every pull of the flaming trigger.  As such, a trickle of refreshing cold water was falling down from above. Sweet merciful heaven, how I have not only never seen this before but never even thought of it?!  Whose idea was this?  I demand they be awarded with many accolades. The only problem was that it was only a brief respite. I would have loved one of those every mile! (Also, what is with the fire motif in Oakland?)

Because of so many turns in this course I was being careful to run the tangents as much as possible. I mention this ALL THE TIME but I am doing it again. It boggles my mind how many runners will not run the shortest distance of a race course. These are the same ones who almost invariably the ones who complain about how long a course is when all is done. Here, however, on this straightaway, there was no need for that. Yet, inexplicably, for the third time  in the race, this one young girl runner saddled up to me, passed me, and then immediately fell in front of me. When I say immediately, I mean like I had to throw the Knight Rider Season Four side panel air brakes on. (First used in episode 70, FYI. I checked. You're welcome.)

As I fell back into position, I regained my composure. And for third time, within seconds, running the same pace, I was passing her again. One time is an accident. Twice is starting a trend. Three times means you get the look. What look? Think of Kevin Hart's ostrich reference. She wouldn't return my gaze. And wouldn't have a chance to do it again, either. I began to pick up the pace. Nothing helps a desire to run fast like a little disgust and/or anger.

There was great crowd support for the latter portions of this race. From the drummers, to the Raiders fans, to certain neighborhoods just being populated by cheering pedestrians, I was pleased. Could there be more? Sure, always. But this was nice.

As I approached mile 9.5, I passed some girls in banana suits running a relay. Or I was high on meth. Not quite sure which. I made what I am sure was hilarious to me but not funny at all joke. Fortunately, another runner laughed and therefore he became my best buddy for the day. Chris was his name and we chatted for a bit about how surprisingly warm it was. I asked him what he was shooting for and he said he was on pace for a PR. I said I wasn't feeling that great and he shouldn't base his pace off of mine.  However, if I could keep my crap together I would try to help him get that PR if I could. We approached the tenth mile and got ready for a run around Lake Merritt.

Heading Home

This section around the lake was different than I recall from five years ago as well. Again, there were far too many twists and turns for my liking. Chris and I were more or less running together but every once in a while a tight corner or a hill would separate us. The park was open to pedestrians, which I completely understand. It is hard to get permits to close down large areas in big cities. What I don't understand is why pedestrians would be so callous as to not realize thousands of runners are coming through and perhaps they could choose a slightly different route. Maybe that is the myopic egotism of a runner. But I like to think it is the common courtesy of knowing that sometimes exactly what I want to do flies in the face of the masses. But I digress.

When we hit the 11th mile, it was clear that this course was going to measure long. This bummed me out a little bit as I had been working hard to get back on the right side of sub 1:30 halfs. It isn't the end of the world however. As we wound around a long curving road, I again took to the innermost angle while the rest of the runners stayed far outside. I wonder how much in the end all of this adds to the the total. Dozens of yards? A quarter mile? It doesn't matter really how far as it is further than anyone needs to run. But the clear path forward, unimpeded by any other runners, was greatly appreciated by me for sure.

With a mile to go, Chris and I drew shoulder to shoulder. I encouraged him to keep the pace, even if
Awesome shot of my sweat from MarathonFoto
he didn't care for me to encourage him or need it. I wasn't sure exactly what his watch would read because we had started at different times. I knew I wouldn't break 1:30 with the added distance but wasn't too concerned about that. We pushed hard up the remaining cruel hill to the finish and passed under the banner. For Chris it was a new PR. For me, it was another lesson in racing. My 90th half marathon lesson to be exact. I finished with a time of 1:31:47 which was good enough for 62nd place overall. A far cry from what I hoped but alas.

As I rapidly approach my 100th half-marathon, I have long since realized how fickle racing can be. Especially when you are a simple age grouper like myself, you have to be ok with the fact that you will never be "fast." But you can still push yourself and push hard. Also, if you are wise and want to race for a long time, you have to know when it is not your day. If you race often, many days are not going to be your day. In that subset of not so great days, you have to do the math to see how much it is not going to be your day. Can every race be all out? Sure, if you do short distance races and not that often. Otherwise, well, at least for my body, it will fail if I try that.

My point is, every day and every time you put on running shoes, it is part of one large experiment.  I enjoy being the test subject and finding out more and more about myself each finish line. Hope to see you out there testing yourself soon.

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