Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Race Report: Oakland Half Marathon 2013

The bottom line is, I don't know exactly what happened out there, how far I ran, or how long it took. So here are a few different possible interpretations:

    ORF Official: 13.1 miles / 1:39:30 / 7:35 pace
    Garmin @ finish: 13.3 miles / 1:39:30 / 7:28 pace
    Garmin @ 13.1: 13.1 miles / 1:38:15 / 7:30 pace

    Overall: 185/3258
    Women: 40/1982
    A/G: 10/422

Regardless of what you go with, though, there was just really no way for me to be anything but elated with how this race went, considering that I spent the week prior (yet again) wringing my hands over various aches, pains, & pseudo-injuries. After the race I told Cathryn I was going to just stop writing posts about feeling crappy the week before a race because at this point I feel like everyone is just rolling their eyes at me. (Which, fair.)

The 24 hours before the race passed for me in kind of a haze. I have not had the surge of adrenaline that normally comes with last-minute race prep & went to bed Saturday night early, but otherwise feeling as if it were any other lazy weekend & had no special plans for the following day. Apparently I managed to get up, dressed, & out the door because around 8 I found myself in Oakland, driving around half-heartedly looking for a Safeway where I could get some Gatorade & a throwaway sports bottle. After being foiled twice by race street closures I gave up & just parked where I was once I realized I was a reasonable walking distance from the start.

This dude is hella serious about running.

I jogged ~1.5 easy miles around the staging area & was happy to find that my legs actually felt alright, by which I mean they felt like they could run 13 miles in a row at some non-walking pace, not that they felt like they were up for running particularly fast. At some point I remember hearing the national anthem & thinking, "Huh...I should probably go line up, I guess..." A minute or so before the gun the announcer yelled out "OAKLAND LET'S DOOOOOOO THIIIIIIIS!!!!"

I wish I could tell you that that was when the surge of adrenaline hit me, that I went HELL YEAH BITCHES I'M ABOUT TO RUN THE FUCK OUT OF THIS!!! But mentally I was very, very, very far from that place. In my mind, it was more like, "Um...Let's....do this, I guess? As long as we're all here?"

My goals were simple. First & foremost, I just wanted to run comfortably for a while & see how my body felt. If that seemed okay, I figured I'd try to run a sub-eight pace for as long as I could without pushing, & if I was able to hit a few miles faster than that, great. But I made a very firm decision up-front that I was not going to push myself to speed up if I didn't feel like it, ever, even if that meant running slower than 8:00 miles.

Because I know that people tend to go out fast & it's easy to get caught up in that & run the early miles too hard, I made a conscious effort to keep it reined in while I listened to my legs & tried to get a sense of how they were feeling. I was surprised to see that I was hovering in the 7:30s without working too hard at all, and my legs felt tired but not painful, so I tried to just settle into that pace and not let the numbers drop any lower than 7:30.

Mile 1 - 7:30

Mile 2 - 7:40

Honestly, though, I did not expect that pace at that level of effort to last. I just tried to stay comfortable, not push, & prepare myself to start seeing the numbers climb upward when my already-worn out legs realized this wasn't a tempo run. We had full sun and it was quickly warming up, and I was thankful I'd resisted the urge to put on arm warmers and/or gloves when I was shivering in Snow Park at 8:30. (Also, OMG. There were these two guys close behind me who were like a chatty comedy duo, except not funny. It was like running in front of Beavis & Butthead. Part of me kind of wanted to speed up just so I could get away from them.)

Mile 3 - 7:50

Mile 4 - 7:14

Thanks Beth!
I think there were some Garmin hijinks on those two miles. It did a lot of fluctuating wildly between 5:30 & 8:30, so I really had no clue what my pace was except that I felt like my effort level was staying fairly steady. When I first saw the 7:50, I kind of went, "Sigh...And here we go...." But then I saw the 7:14 (and I can guarantee you I did NOT run a 7:14 that early) and figured it was just Garmin error spread over two miles. So whatever.

I think it was around mile 5, when I was still hitting 7:3x's at a very comfortable effort level that I thought, "This...actually feels pretty easy..." For the first time I started to entertain the notion that I had a strong race in me today & I might be able to hold close to PR pace the whole time. That was also when the notorious runner brain piped up & was like, "Look, I've totally got this if you'll stop worrying about it, stay out of the way, and just and LET ME DO THIS."

Fair enough, runner brain, I thought. Have at it.

And that is when I stopped looking at my Garmin (except at mile splits) & ran completely by feel.

Mile 8 & still smiling!
Mile 5 -- 7:39

Mile 6 - 7:32

Mile 7 - 7:38

(It was also around then that I managed to lose Beavis & Butthead, thankfully.)

For me, in a half, I think that "by feel" essentially means "run as fast as you can without breathing hard for the first 7-8 miles." I hit mile 7 & while I didn't feel great, I had to admit that I was surprised at how good I did feel. I just kept reminding myself of how I felt when I averaged a 7:30 pace at Healdsburg & kept trying to channel that feeling.

A year or so ago there is no way I would've hit the gas at mile 8, but for reasons I don't completely understand, the runner brain knew that that was the time. Even though my legs felt tired & had felt tired for the whole race, I was still holding a strong pace, and somehow five miles just didn't feel like that much farther to go; the faster I ran them, the sooner they'd be over.

Mile 8 - 7:26

Mile 9 - 7:38

Mile 10 - 7:21

Mile 9 was where The Raider Zone was, which was my favorite community group last year. I was so excited about how well my race was going that I actually clapped for them & high fived them all as I ran past. Normally crowd energy & music doesn't do much for me but these guys gave me a surge of energy. "Four miles? Pshhhhh. Nothing. Nothing!"

Around mile 10 was where I saw Beth & the Lululemon cheer station, which is always a treat. As you can see, Beth is also a fantastic photographer. :)

Mile 10-11 was where I decided that, as good as I felt and as strong as my splits had been, I was going to make a race of these last miles. In Healdsburg I averaged 7:30 by running mostly 7:45-50 for the first part of the race & then running the last part like a 10K. Having already been averaging in the 7:30s, I wasn't sure I'd have much left for a kick like that with this race, but I was absolutely going to give it everything I had left. The bear climbed on my back as we reached Lake Merritt, but I stubbornly dragged it right along with me & did everything I could manage to keep from slowing down.

("Listen, do me a favor & just don't look at the Garmin for these last miles," said the runner brain around then.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because it'll just freak you out," it whispered back.)

So I didn't. I just ran as hard as I could, using the rolling hills as an opportunity to pass people (I seriously think I passed like 10 women in the last two miles). My chest ached & I felt sick to my stomach, but I'd come this far, goddammit, and I wanted to see what 100% could get me today, two days after barely being able to put weight on my right leg.

Mile 11 - 7:31

Mile 12 - 7:27

Mile 13 - 7:01

Home Stretch
I remembered part-way through the race (when I started passing mile markers ~.15 *after* my Garmin beeped) that this was a long course by nearly a quarter mile & had decided to hit 'lap' at 13.1 just to see what that split was, but keep my watch running until the finish. I'm not sure how, but apparently I did some of my fastest running of the race up that last little hill before the finish (unless it's just Garmin error. Which is entirely possible).

Mile 13.0-13.1 - 0:43 (7:16 / mile)

Mile 13.1-13.3 - 1:19 (6:35 / mile)

While I wasn't running at Windsor Green levels of intensity (read: throwing up a little at the finish), this was still harder than I've raced a half marathon in a pretty long time, and I was definitely in the dizzy-stumbling-nauseous place for a minute or two. I grabbed my medal, some water, & a granola bar, posed for a finisher picture (for the first time ever in my life, which should tell you something about how elated I was), then hurried to grab my bag & see if I could catch Cathryn & Jen coming in.

We all agreed that it had been MUCH warmer than any of us had been prepared for, and that was probably why we'd all struggled a little more in the later miles than usual. Still, I think all three of us had solid races we can be proud of under the circumstances.

Wine has *totally* been earned.

...and beer!

Post-Game Analysis:

Um, my body is weird. And sometimes it does amazing things that I can't understand or explain. And I am so incredibly grateful for that. In terms of big life lessons, that's probably the biggest one that road racing has taught me -- most of the time you're capable of way, WAY more than you think, physically and mentally, if you can figure out how to access it.

I trained pretty solidly up until the last two weeks, so in some ways this race shouldn't really have surprised me. It also tells me that with another month of consistent training (and assuming I have a good race & nothing weird happens), I should be able to do even better at Napa Silverado in April, which will be my last tune-up before Ojai Mountains 2 Beach Mountains 2 Ocean whatever the hell marathon I'm running at the end of May.

So what about the time?? Generally, I just go with the official numbers regardless of what my Garmin says, but everyone knows the Oakland course is significantly over 13.1 -- both this year and last, I don't know anyone who clocked less than 13.25 for the full distance, and I've heard as high as 13.41. Sure, you almost always have to give a few hundredths here & there for imperfect tangents / weaving & short course prevention, but not 2-3 TENTHS. I think I've basically decided to call my race time 1:39:30, & 1:38:15 an unofficial PR (hoping that I'll bust through it with an official one sometime this year).

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Oakland, CA

Date: Late March (March 24, 2013 this year)

Price: The Oakland Running Festival includes several different events:

  • Marathon - $90.00 before 11/1, $100.00 before 1/1, $110 before 3/15, $130.00 at expo
  • Marathon Relay - $200.00 before 11/1, $225.00 before 1/1, $250 before 3/15, $270.00 at expo
  • Half Marathon - $70.00 before 11/1, $80.00 before 1/1, $90 before 3/15, $110.00 at expo
  • 5K - $35.00 before 1/1, $40 before 3/15, $50.00 at expo
  • Kids' Fun Run - $15

(For what it's worth, the prices are the same as last year.)

If you want to run this race for cheap, follow Oakland Running Festival & SF Marathon on Facebook and/or Twitter & keep your eyes open for a discount code around August. I used it this year & paid I think $35 or $40. (The trick, of course, being that you're committing 7-8 months out.)

Deadlines/sellout factor: Like last year, you could sign up for all distances at the expo the day before, but not the morning of. I believe there was still space in all the events on the day of the expo. Not sure if any of them ended up selling out. Last year I remember that the 5K sold out at the expo, but there was still space in the half, full, relay, & kids run.

Field Size: Again, not sure about the caps, but the results page lists the following numbers of finishers:

  • Marathon - 852 (down from last year)
  • Marathon Relay - 213 teams (up from last year)
  • Half Marathon - 3258 (slightly down from last year)
  • 5K - 1830 (WAY up from last year)

Sort of a medium-sized race, or what I think of as "small for a big race."

The Expo:

If I'm honest, I have to say that I have not been super-impressed by this expo. It's pretty small, and feels kind of claustrophobic the way they set up the barriers to funnel people through a very specific path. But otherwise, there are pretty much the type of things you'd expect -- a few running clothes / gear purveyors, a few health / fitness booths, sign-up booths for other local races, & a few community groups. I did pick up a few coupons for local running / sporting goods stores, so that was cool.

To get your race bib & shirt, you must print out your e-registration card from the link ORF sent you, then bring it to the expo the day before (or show it to them on your smart phone) AND show your ID (in theory; clearly enforcement of this rule was random & capricious). This is not difficult, but I find it a little bizarre & slightly annoying because it's just one more thing to remember & deal with on race weekend. I have never in my life been to a race where you had to do anything but tell a volunteer your name to get your stuff. My objections to having to come to the expo the day before to get my stuff are well-documented elsewhere so I will not repeat them here.

The Course:

There were a few changes from last year, but most of both long courses seemed to be the same. One big hill in the marathon (~475 ft upwards from miles 6-9 & back down from about 11-15) & basically flat the rest of the way. Like last year, the half course was reasonably flat, with just a few spots with short rolling hills or just-noticeable grade (the worst of it being--where else??--the last .1 miles or so to the finish line).

Aid stations are in general I think more frequent than most half marathons I've run (every mile & a half or so?) so that I was just fine liquid-wise without carrying a bottle, even with the warm weather. Both courses wind through all different parts of Oakland. There is lots of great crowd support from residents & local community groups, which is fun. (Also, not too many bands. I hate the band races.)

I have only two quibbles with this course.

1) LOTS of turns. Like, thirty or something. You *can* run tangents, but you've got to reallllly want it.

2) The distance. I don't know for a fact that it isn't USATF certified, but it doesn't say on the site that it is, and with the amount that people were clocking over 13.1, frankly I don't see how it could be. This is the one thing that might potentially keep me from running this course again. It's just so disheartening (I know, wah wah wah) to run a PR pace & then not officially get one.


The Snow Park staging area is super-convenient to the 19th Street BART (although marathoners should note that trains aren't running early enough on Sunday to get you to the race by the 7:30 start).

As long as you're not running too late, it's pretty easy to park for free on the street within a few blocks of the start, or there are a few closer lots that were doing event parking for ~$10 or so. If you're arriving after the earlier races are started, just be sure that you know where the street closures are so that you don't count on trying to get somewhere you can't actually get.

Gear check is basically right by the start & BYO bag which I think is great. It tends to get crowded immediately before the start of each race, but also moved pretty quickly. For the most part the volunteers there were awesome & helpful, but there was one woman who was just having a hysterical fit over people not putting their bag tags on correctly who was outright screaming at runners who were trying their best to follow the instructions. That was kind of unfortunate.


A nice long-sleeved tech shirt & hefty medal (though to be honest, I liked last year's designs a little better. This years strike me as a bit, um, overly corporate). Continuing with the eco-friendly theme, instead of a giant bag full of samples & coupons you won't use and fliers for races you won't run, you can log into your "e-goody bag" online & see if there are any fliers or coupons you're interested in.

How very...sponsor-ey.


  • Add an option for having the bib mailed a week or so before the race. I would GLADLY pay an extra $5 or whatever if it means I don't have to make the trip the day before AND the morning of.
  • For picking up bibs, drop the whole e-registration / ID requirement. First, because let's be real -- no one's checking the IDs, and second because there is just no reason why bibs can't be organized by last name instead of bib number like every other major road race in the country. If people want to cheat the system, none of this is going to stop them anyway.
  • Maybe add some tables or something in the staging area? There were several times where it really would've been nice to be able to set my stuff down somewhere besides on the ground.
  • FIX THE COURSE. Please. I understand there are a lot of challenges involved in creating a "perfect" course, particularly when you want it to be a loop, particularly when you're trying to match it up with another distance that isn't just two loops of the same. But there are so many USATF certified races in the world that I just can't believe there's not a way to do it in Oakland. Again, I think this is a great race, but this issue may be enough to keep me from running it again.

Overall Assessment:

If the weird distance thing doesn't bug you too much, this really is a great, well-organized race with awesome crowd support & great volunteers, and a fantastic value if you get the super early bird discount. (I think it's also probably helped make more people less terrified of OMG big scary Oakland.)


  1. Congrats on a great race! You looked great in all of your pictures too! With that race time I know that you have an official PR in you. :-)

    Sorry you got stuck with some dum dums. That is my pet peeve. I have intentionally stopped in a half at a water station to get rid of someone like that.

  2. Great run; great write-up. Even though I've done this enough times to know better, the whole drive-to-Oakland-on-Saturday-for-a-race-packet-in-a-Lucky-supermarket-bag was not cool and not acceptable. My Garmin had me on a 8:37 for mile 3 and 7:30 for mile 4 - definitely something weird there. And yes, I measured this one at 13.25+ miles last year and this. That all said, enough complaining from me: a PR (whichever way you measure it) in the CA sun with a fun crowd.

  3. Congrats! Even if this wasn't a for real PR, I KNOW you'll get one soon!
    A couple people at work ran this race and said their Garmins were ALLL over the place (6:30 pace to 11:30 pace within half a mile, when obviously they weren't varying their speed that much).
    I love that you brought the heart socks back out. I don't know that I will ever do this race again, but I do want us all to find another heart sock race to do (does that make me lame?)

    1. UHHH no! Not lame. I want to do this too! (Unless that makes me lame.)

    2. Definitely not lame. This needs to happen. :)

  4. Congrats on a great race!! I think you're the only one I know who totally killed it on Sunday. Re: mile 4 weirdness -- I know at least 3 people who had a super fast mile 4 - I blame it on the tunnel that we ran through.
    I totally agree with your critiques about the long course and the bib pick up. If you decide to run this again next year, I'll happily pick up your bib for you and save you a trip. (I really should've offered this as a service -- don't know why I didn't think of it.)
    Congrats again on your unofficial PR!

  5. Woo! Way to go! It's so weird that the Garmin freaked out like that. I've definitely seen some weird stuff on mine, but nothing quite like that. They have personalities.

  6. Amazing! I wish we could have run this much-too-long half together again this year, but alas, you are wayyyy too fast for me now :) Congrats!

    1. Um, no I'm not, goofy. I will race a half with you whenever you are up for it!

  7. Congrats on an amazing race and a great write-up as well!!! I also had a freak-out mile at mile 4 (fastest ever) which makes me think that the tunnel did some weird timing glitches to us all. I'm not that fast. So good to see you afterwards.

    And, for public clarification, contrary to photographic evidence...I didn't drink ALL the beer and wine, just a little glass of pink sparkles :)

  8. The course is not too long. It's actually measured assuming you take the tightest turns, which is impossible. It's pretty common to run about 1/2 mile extra in the full marathon. Nothing wrong with the course or your watch. Its just the way it is.
    I ran the full marathon in 3:21 and it was fun.

    1. I have to respectfully disagree - if you're running 1/2 a mile extra in a full marathon, then either you're having satellite problems or doing some pretty absurd weaving around. I have never run over 26.27 in a full marathon or 13.16 in a half.

      Typically myself & other finishers will have variation from each other & the "official" distance of maybe a few hundredths one way or the other, but certainly not more than a tenth, even in a full, unless we know we've just run ungodly terrible tangents. I don't know anyone, in any year, who clocked less than 13.2 on this course & most of us were coming up somewhere between 13.25 & 13.35. That's just too much, on average, to attribute to Garmin error.

    2. I ended up at 13.42 -- grumble grumble. :)

  9. That's what most runners magazine publish anyways. My watch clocked in 26.36 on the full marathon. Either way, that course isn't Terrible or off by much. I've ran dozens of half, yet never the oakland half. I just wanted to comment on it, not really trying to argue. I'm happy with my time considering the hills and it was fun overall.

  10. Well done on the race! It's funny how last year it was cold and rainy and this year too warm. I agree about the mail-the-bib option. One of the main reasons I didn't run this race this year was because I didn't want to drive all the way to Oakland 2 days in a row.

    1. Thanks! If it wasn't easily BART-able for me, I probably wouldn't have.

  11. a few comments.

    1) The course is USATF certified. Our measurer rides it at least 3 times.
    2) We don't get the bib numbers assigned until Wednesday. If we had the mail option, we would run the risk of people not getting them and having to do replacements the day before.
    3) The expo maze does have a purpose.
    4) Confused about the medal appearing too corporate comment.
    5) I hear you on the turns on the course. Unfortunately, with oakland being a big commuter city we have to do our best to lessen the impact on the bus system. as a result, you get more turns than normal.