Friday, March 25, 2016

Race Report: Oakland Half Marathon 2016

2016 was my third year running this race. At my first Oakland Half in 2012 I ran a four-minute PR, and at my second in 2013, in warm temps and feeling awful, I somehow pulled out my third sub-1:40. Which is all to say, this race has always smiled on me in its way, so I hoped that this year it would at least be gentle with my out-of-shape, undertrained ass.

LEFT: Such a fun race with this lady in 2012 (who, I should also mention, just ran the freaking Antarctica Marathon a few days ago because she is HARD CORE like that). RIGHT: 2013 post race with Cat & Jen (who know *LOVES* this picture). In retrospect, not the best day for knee socks.

God, was I wrong.

So very, very wrong.

I should say, I think there is a fine line between being realistic & honest with yourself vs. making doom-filled self-fulfilling prophecies, between having giant, hindsight-is-20/20 realizations vs. making excuses after the fact. I hope I'm more on the former side than the latter in both cases, but it's hard to be 100% sure about these things.

First, I should say that I have never--NEVER!--been a pre-race head case, but ever since I started racing again in December, I have been ALLLL of the pre-race head case. Like, the entire week before the race I am obsessing about how much the race is going to hurt and how unpleasant it's going to be and how unprepared I feel. Like feeling sick at my stomach the night before because I'm so anxious and afraid. Like being too wired to sleep the night before and too nauseous to eat the morning of. Like feeling a new wave of panic each time I notice I'm a minute closer to race time. This has never been like me but it has been VERY me these last three races. Other things that have never been like me but are like me lately include dreading fast/hard workouts because they are so mentally difficult and so depressing in terms of the paces, so, I dunno, maybe that's related.

Second, I should say that I was kind of nervous when I saw that my Oakland Half race week workout schedule looked like 1) a 20 mile run on Sunday (the farthest I've run since July), 2) a tough 11.5 mile speed workout two days later (the longest speed workout I've done since July by 3 miles), and 3) the highest weekly mileage (45ish?) I've run since July.

The 20 miler and the tough speed workout were actually some of the better, more confidence-boosting workouts I've had lately, but then two days later (ie, three days before Oakland) when it was time to run an easy 8 miler, I felt like an absolute train wreck. Trust me, I had 70+ minutes to think about it and I actually don't think it's an exaggeration to say that that was *the* toughest, most impossible feeling run I can remember except for maybe the end of Mountains 2 Beach three years ago. I actually almost quit at 2 miles because I was legitimately worried about being able to make it all the way back home. (Why, then, did I keep running anyway? BECAUSE IT SAID 8 ON THE SCHEDULE, DAMMIT! I'm not saying that was the *right* call; I'm just saying that was the reason.)

So yeah. I slogged through that run at 10:00+ pace and then laid on the floor in my living room and didn't move for maybe 10 minutes.

"No biggie," I reasoned. "I have 2.5 days to recover. PLENTY OF TIME!" But I continued feeling like garbage the next day, and Saturday also, so much so that I skipped the scheduled 2-mile shakeout run because I literally kind of thought that I might have 14 miles left in me for the weekend but definitely, definitely not 16. (Again, I'm not saying it was actually true; I'm just saying it's how I felt about things at the time.)

Actually, I had a few hours Saturday night of feeling pretty optimistic after re-reading my Oakland Half 2013 race report, where apparently I felt like poop and/or a train wreck the entire week & had basically all but committed to phoning it in & then somehow magically ran a sub-1:40. Which reminded me of that post of Phoebe Wright's where she was like "Feeling crappy and tired doesn't matter! Only the training matters!" And I was like, "YEAH PHOEBE, YOU TELL 'EM!"

Plus I was sitting on the confidence from that beast of a track workout I'd just done (did I mention it was 11.5 miles, including a bunch of 10K pace mile repeats, and I CRUSHED it? I crushed it), and in comparison to that, seriously, how hard could it be to run, say, ~8:00 miles for 13 miles or so.

(Spoiler: It could be real, REAL hard. Real hard.)

By bed time I was back to feeling nauseous and jittery and scared out of my mind. (At one point I might have actually thought to myself, "Hey, you never know. Maybe I'll get lucky and just die in my sleep.") By the next morning, I was so sick at my stomach I could barely eat, and from that point on I pretty much just devoted my energy to collecting reasons for why this was 100% for sure going to be the worst race of my life:

    1) My legs & body in general are trashed from the previous week.
    2) I didn't sleep enough.
    3) Oh goody, the only viable BART train to the race is late --> +10 to general anxiety.
    4) SWEET now I don't have time for a sufficient warm-up.
    5) Stripped down to my race clothes, I am not cold --> it is already too warm for a good race.
    6) Now that I am finally warming up everything feels terrible.
    7) It is 9:07, three minutes till the gun, time to head to the corral, and HOLY JESUS ON JET SKIS THEY JUST STARTED THE RACE AND I AM IN THE 2:30 PACE GROUP!!

Things pretty much went on like that. I spent the first two miles or so playing frogger to try to get out of the 11:00-12:00/mile zone and wanting to punch people who kept stopping dead in their tracks to take selfies. (Which, yeah, I know isn't fair; if you're going to stop every few minutes for pictures, the 2.5-3 hour pace group is where you should be & it's partly my own fault that I was in the wrong place. I was just angry & frustrated.) Then in mile 2 we hit this tiny little bottleneck where hundreds of people were trying to squeeze through a space maybe four people wide. (I'm not kidding that I think I had to actually walk for 1.5-2 minutes. We found out later this was due to a combination of construction & weather & the race organizers thought they'd worked it out.) Finally around mile three I was able to more or less hit the pace I was shooting for, which, although it didn't feel easy, exactly, didn't feel completely like death.

This must be pretty early on still because I don't look nearly pathetic enough.

I know that a mental problem I have in the half sometimes is expecting the pace to feel easier for longer than it should, so I'd decided ahead of time that at no point would I think thoughts like "This feels too hard for x miles left, I better slow down" and instead I would just focus on trying to run one more 8:00 mile, and one more, and one more, and just do that for as long as I could.

Which kind of both did and did not work out. On the one hand, I think it was only mile 4 or 5 before I was having a complete panic attack inside because 8:00 pace felt so much harder than I thought it should and the thought of voluntarily continuing to put myself through it for 8-9 more miles was utterly horrifying. Mentally I completely fell apart at the thought of the distance that was left and honestly wanted to quit right then & there. On the other hand, the part of me that was still rational was able to convince the panicked, irrational part to keep going because "Don't worry, you only have to do this for as long as you can, and then you don't have to anymore," and that was cool with me. (Yes, the logic there leaves something to be desired, but you don't race a half marathon with the mental/emotional capacity you want; you race a half marathon with the mental/emotional capacity you have.)

I think it was around the halfway point that I honestly began losing the pace. But what was unique about this particular losing of the pace was that it didn't feel like I was running too hard and needed to slow down. ie, it wasn't a cardiovascular type of hard. Instead it felt more like I'd run too far. My legs felt dead and numb and just detached from my body in general in a way I much more associate with the last few miles of a marathon than with the halfway point of a 13.1 where I've been too ambitious. For the entire second half of the race, at every point, I felt like I was giving 100% effort and instead of screaming in pain my legs were just like, "Eh. Nope. Sorry, Chief. Outta gas."

True fact, I chew on my tongue when I'm suffering.

And, inevitably, this resulted in #FEELINGS. So, so many moments when I felt so low that all I wanted to do was stop and sit down and have a good, long, self-pitying sob. So many moments of debating what would be worse, the shame of giving up and quitting or how awful it would feel to finish but see what I was sure would be a personal worst on the race clock.

In addition to self-pity, there was also a lot of bitterness. I now started making a new list in my head, entitled "People Who Need Punching in the Neck" which included the following:

  • People stopping dead in their tracks to take selfies
  • People holding wacky and/or whimsical signs ("Smile! You paid to do this!" "If marathons were easy they'd be called your mom!" FUCK YOU ALL FOREVER)
  • People yelling "You look great!!" WE BOTH KNOW YOU'RE LYING & IT DOESN'T HELP.
  • The dude running next to me with the sports beans who is matching my pace exactly no matter how many times I try to speed up or slow down to lose him (sports beans and I = MORTAL ENEMIES.)
  • The dude at mile 4 telling the woman he's running with, "Don't worry! We're almost halfway there!"
  • People yelling "You got this!!" Like, how would you even know that? Based on what? I get that you're trying to be encouraging, but unless you know the person and what they're likely to be experiencing right now and have a very good personal reason to believe they truly do GOT THIS!!, maybe just go with "GO [name on bib]!!" because when someone really, really, really don't "GOT THIS," having someone yell that at you is more demoralizing than I can even explain.
  • The woman at mile nine matching my pace while apparently having some kind of very noisy stroke and/or cardiac event (who am I kidding, though? She just sounded how I felt.)
  • The volunteer yelling "WATER!" from whom I took a cup and then proceeded to pour Gatorade all over myself (real talk, tho, volunteers get a pass, because volunteers. Seriously, I love you all, even if you did trick me into a Gatorade shower.)
  • Everyone at mile 10 yelling "You're almost there!!" WRONG NO VERY BAD 100% PILES OF NO.

In case it's not clear, I'm pretty sure I finished this race on pure spite because honestly, I did not have much else going on in the pycho-emotional realm. By the last 5K I was trying not to collapse in a heap of sobs and barely keeping up sub-10 minute miles, which is only something that should ever happen to me if I have a broken leg. By the last mile, I was pretty much dead inside, which I think you'll agree is pretty obvious based on the shots below.

Working super hard to hold it all in in that last one.

    Official: 1:54:53/13.1 miles/8:46 pace
    Garmin: 1:54:55/13.35 miles/8:36 pace

Not to sound like an ungrateful oblivious ass, because I know there are plenty of people who would be thrilled with this time, but everything is relative and I have never in my life run so hard for such an abysmal result. (I have run one slower half, my first ever in 2008 which I basically didn't train for.) Thankfully I had friends there after the race to listen to me bitch & moan and remind me that yeah, I was pretty much running on trashed legs, and getting into a negativity spiral never helps anyone. By the end of brunch, I was almost laughing about it.


Chillin' in the VIP tent post-race with Three Medal Jen, which was pretty nice when it briefly started pouring. (Photo credit = Jen)

Baked eggs & polenta at Bellanico's with Jen, bt, & Clare.

(I know I said I was getting the French toast, but then Jen ordered these amazing donuts for the table & my sweet tooth was satisfied.) (Photo credit = bt)

On the other hand, I have to figure out how to mentally deal with the fact that I ran a kinda-sorta okay 5K basically detrained in December, and every race I've run since then as I've started training again has been progressively worse and worse. I have to look back at the physical stuff and the mental stuff and somehow untangle how much of each contributed to those results and balance all that with the fact that neither of these last two sucky races were my goal race and going into a race with fresh, tapered legs does indeed make a huge difference. (Later in the week I'd emailed Coach A about something related & we back-and-forthed a bit about how the race went, and honestly I was quite relieved to hear she agreed it was probably mostly those hard workouts the week before & if this had been a goal race it would have played out much differently. Phew.)

On the other other hand, ugh. UUUUGGGGHHH. Someone I'm not paying money to please remind me there's a chance in Hades that I am not actually getting slower by the week.

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

Location: Oakland, CA

Date: Late March (March 20, 2016 this year)

Price: The Oakland Running Festival includes several different events. From the website:

(For what it's worth, a slight increase in most cases from the last time I ran it.)

Deadlines/sellout factor: This year, there were still spaces in the half and full as of the expo on Saturday. I believe the 5K and relay sold out beforehand. No race day registration.

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

  • Marathon - 682 (significantly down from 2013)
  • Half Marathon - 2564 (significantly down from 2013)
  • 5K - 2761 (WAY up from 2013)

The Expo:

As in past years that I ran, the expo was at the Marriott City Center right off 12th Street BART in Oakland, which is super convenient, & comprised pretty much what 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. Roadrunner Sports was there selling lightly used returns for $50/pair, which I thought was pretty sweet. (Alas, nothing I wanted in my size.)

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. I don't know if it was the time of day or what (2:30-3:00ish?), but when I got there the place was fairly empty & I was in & out in about ten minutes.

The Course:

I don't think the courses have changed much in recent years. 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. The half course is 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?), which I appreciate. Both courses wind through all different parts of Oakland. There is lots of great crowd support from residents & local community groups, which is fun (though I felt like there was less this year?). There are a lot of turns and it can get a bit warm towards the end if the sun comes out, but like I said earlier, I PR'd at this race in 2012 and ran my second fastest half in 2013 on a hot day, so in general I think it is still a reasonably fast course.


The Snow Park staging area is super-convenient to the 19th Street BART (although marathoners should note that trains don't run 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 and garages 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. (Check the site for updated parking options & road closures.)

Gear check is basically right by the start & BYO bag which I think is great. It can get crowded immediately before the start of each race, but also moves pretty quickly.


A nice long-sleeved tech shirt & hefty medal. 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 "virtual goody bag" online & see if there are any fliers or coupons you're interested in, which I appreciated because it didn't mean a bunch of unnecessary trash & recycling.

(The shirt looks navy blue in this picture but it's actually more of a turquoise.)

Overall Assessment:

Sunday was not my day this year, but I still like this race in general. It's well run for having so many different events to manage, and although it's maybe not *THE* fastest PR course in the Bay Area, I think it's still a pretty solid option for this time of year at a still-reasonable price. It's likely I'll be back.


  1. Oh man, this just sounds awful. I have totally had races like this, where by mile 6 I was like "this is THE WORST and how can I possibly be expected to go on for 7 more miles???" I have literally hoped I would pass out so that I could stop running. But like your coach said, at least it wasn't a goal race, and I'm sure it would have gone differently if it was.

    I do wonder if the race nerves have to do partially with coming back from injury? I was a mess the week before my marathon, in large part, I think, because I had no idea what to expect with my minor injuries on race day. Hopefully as you keep coming back stronger and stronger you'll feel more confident!

  2. To me that sounds like tired legs that you might have been able to run through if you'd been back running for longer than three months, but right now? You are just asking too much of yourself. I'm in the same boat. I discovered that you hang on to residual strength and speed TO A POINT, but after multiple injuries or surgeries, there is very little left. It's like starting almost from scratch. And if your almost-from-scratch half is 1:54, you're doing pretty good!

  3. Sorry your race went poorly. I had a disappointing half at NYC last weekend where everything just felt harder than it should've at the pace I ended up running. About all the good I can say about it was that I didn't stop to walk despite really wanting to starting around mile 4 and I did eek a sub-2.. It's just hard to mentally shake out of my disappointment, but I'm working on it. I feel you.

  4. Since I'm not being paid, here are my two cents: You had just run 20 miles for the first time in many months -- heck, a couple years ago I ran a PR marathon with only an 18-miler under my recent belt, and certainly not a few days prior. You had also just done 11 miles of speed work -- something I've never done. Of course your legs were tired! This does not mean you are slowing down. In fact, I think it's a great sign that you were able to run the half and finish with no injuries.

    And I agree with Jen that the race nerves might be related to the injury comeback. You've had enough badly timed injuries that it's no wonder your brain is getting nervous now that you're back to pain-free running. I don't have the solution, but I do know that your brain should eventually calm down and realize that things actually are okay. Until then, maybe just try to channel it into excitement rather than anxiety (that's what I used to do, to some success, before speeches and public performances).

    Kudos for finishing, even when it got terrible and there was no way your time would be what you had hoped. That's a battle worth winning.

  5. We've all had races like this. Ones that make us question all our training. I've had so, so many that I can't even count them. And then I'll have a great race and they'll all be forgotten. Yours will come. Keep trusting the training and stay healthy and you'll get your great race.

  6. I already gave you the post-race pep talk, so you know how I feel. Hopefully, you're all recovered physically (no aches and pains) a week after. Races like this can be traumatic, but can also serve as a baseline for suckiness in future races -- e.g., "Well, at least it's not going as badly as Oakland 2016!" ;)

  7. Ummm... How did the Gatorade Shower not come up at brunch. That's HORRID! I agree with the masses that your big mileage week is likely to blame for the suckiness. I have good feelings about Euguene.

  8. Sorry that your race didn't go as planned. I don't think you are getting slower, but I think that most races (at least for me) don't go as well when I am training for a marathon. Especially when they aren't part of the "marathon plan"....It just sounded like your legs were tired. As for being a headcase, I am always like that before a race that I really want to PR at. Most races I don't care about anymore. That is mostly because I know that I am far from PR shape. You finished so I think that you did great. :-)

  9. Meh, this sounds like absolute horror. But at the same time, this type of horror is at the core of long distance running and keeps me coming back. I agree with the consensus that since this wasn't a goal race your legs weren't primed and this isn't a 100% indicator of where you are at right now. Good for you for putting up the good fight and not phoning it in at the end. That mental fortitude comes in handy and I tell myself runs like this trained up the mental muscle.