Sunday, November 25, 2018

Race Report: Oakland Turkey Trot

If you've been keeping score at home, you know that my plan this fall was to run a bunch of miles, race a bunch of short stuff under 10K, & get wicked fast. You also know that life didn't quite work out as I'd planned & I've been getting more & more frustrated on the running front.

Last month I ran a 5K in Redwood City by the skin of my teeth. By the time the race rolled around my goal had gone from "destroy this mother, come dangerously close to a PR, & depending on who else shows up maybe even win" to "just finish & don't make my foot/back/hamstring worse." I ran 22:23, which was work & definitely not dawdling, but not *fast*, exactly, and I never felt great doing it, during or after. Still, I was proud of myself for making a real effort to not phone it in, not giving up, & pushing hard toward the end.

In the immediate aftermath I thought "Hey, I can build on that! Four weeks till Oakland Turkey Trot, I can definitely improve over 22:23!" But then November happened, and suddenly I was not so sure.

But I was signed up & committed; no matter how bad or out of shape I was feeling, I still wanted to show up in Oakland and run the best race I could. If it's bad news, then let's at least get an objective view of how bad it is.

Thankfully for everyone in the Bay Area, we got some solid rainstorms on Wednesday that washed most of the smoke & crap out of the air; by that night we were back down to AQI levels of 20 or less in most places, so after a week & a half of canceling Bay Area races & sporting events, our various Turkey Trots were on.

When I got up Thursday morning the weather was gorgeous & I was greeted in Oakland by a blue sky, no wind, just enough sun, & perfect 5K Temps. (At 60F & sunny by race time, it probably would NOT have been ideal for a marathon or half.)

I easily parked & got my bib & jogged a few miles to warm up. Inevitably when warming up for short races at 9:30-10:30 pace, I find myself thinking "Geez, how am I POSSIBLY about to run multiple miles ~2.5-3 minutes per mile faster than this, that's lunacy!," but my legs felt surprisingly good, so I tried to just not worry about it & run as fast as I could when the gun went off.

Go go gadget racing flats! (Also Oakland #soautumnal)

Well, ok; not as fast as I could, exactly. Something I found myself out of practice at in Redwood City in October was going out at the right pace. Ie., at that race I went out at about 6:25, and the fastest pace I've ever run in my *life* for a 5K is 6:40. So this time I decided to try to chillax a little more right at the gun. Instead of 6:25, I decided to try to find about 7:00 pace & see how it felt to stick right around there. 7:00/mile translates to ~21:42, which felt like an ambitious but not ridiculous mark to shoot for, and if it turned out to be too fast for today, then hey, it still gave me a little buffer to beat October's 22:23 which would be progress. The first numbers I saw on my watch were 6:55--just fine. In the first mile I noticed that I kept slowing a little if I didn't pay attention, but once I noticed, I could make myself pick it back up a few more seconds. It took effort and was not easy but still felt manageable.

I realized pretty early-on that going by splits on my watch would not be helpful. Though, that should have occurred to me beforehand. In the Oakland races I've run, I've noticed that tracking splits via GPS is often difficult & I wonder if it's because of the tall buildings in the area. For example, I passed mile marker 1 in 6:27, but my watch showed only .9 miles, and I have no idea whether that was GPS error, a slightly misplaced mile marker, or some combination of both. (I am pretty sure I did not actually run mile 1 in 6:27.) But that's fine; Google Maps measures the course at a solid 3.1, which is all I really care about.

The roads around Lake Merrit were familiar to me from other Oakland running events, but it was a little disorienting to have certain streets or landmarks sometimes coming up in what felt like the wrong order. Like the sadistic hill that for a long time was right before the finish of the Oakland Marathon/Half that my brain saw and went "Hey, there should be a finish line right there! Oh, wait..." I had not looked at the course map so didn't really know what was coming up when, just tried to follow the butts in front of me, keep counting backwards from 100 (usually about a quarter mile, but a bit more thankfully when I'm running fast) & telling myself "OK 2 miles to go, eight more 100 counts. Now we're halfway--two more 100 counts & then it's the last mile," etc. For my warm up I had jogged more or less the last mile from the finish line and back, so it gave me a mental boost when I realized I'd reached the point where I was retracing my steps from earlier that morning.

I'm not in this picture but it's a pretty good one of the last .1 or so of the race. #suchautumnal

Throughout this race I felt like I was running hard, but still somehow found it easier both physically & mentally than I'd expected to keep my pace right around 7:00/mile (at least according to my watch). Like, it hurt, but it hurt in a kind of tempo run/mile repeat kind of way rather than a 5K race kind of way. Part of me in the last mile was thinking, "You know, I don't actually feel like I'm about to die, so I could probably be running faster." But then when the finish came into view & I tried to kick it up into one more gear, my legs just kind of sputtered. Like maybe the lack of speedwork meant that while my engine had more to give, I didn't have the neuromuscular machinery to translate additional effort into more speed.

Finish line

In the grand tradition of local 5Ks, I forgot to stop my watch for 2-3 minutes, so by the time I caught my breath & got some water, I had no idea what my Garmin time was. Arrrghhhh!! Some quick & dirty math suggested I might have gotten in under 22:00, which would have been amazing but somehow in my race-addled brain that didn't seem right. But sure enough, when I checked the official results, there it was--21:46, 7:01 pace.

    Overall: 95/2,402
    Women: 19/1,389
    A/G: 4/221

I was thrilled. No, it's not a PR, or anywhere even close. But it was a HUGE improvement over OktobeRun last month (0:37 to be exact), and completely unexpected given that for the last month I've barely run, done zero speed work, and spent so much time traveling, eating badly, & being sick.

So, cool? Don't know what it means, exactly, but here I am again with about 3.5 weeks til my last 5K of the year to maybe eek out a bit more progress. Hopefully they'll treat me better than the last few!

And now: FEAST MODE!

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

Location: Oakland, CA

Date: Thanksgiving Day

Price: $40 (I think there were cheaper and more expensive rates but I don't know what they were; this is just what I paid when I signed up at the end of September.)

The Deal: This was the second year of the Oakland Turkey Trot, which is a charity race supporting Oakland Public Schools and the Alameda County Community Food Bank. While there are geographically closer Turkey Trots to me, it's actually logistically simpler to get to & park in Oakland than it is to some of the ones in the city. (If I were doing one in SF, I would probably just run there, run the race, & run home.)

Deadlines/sellout factor: I think they actually sold out this year?

Field Size: Finishers: 2,402

Staging, Parking, etc.:

This year the race was staged at Eastshore Park, between Lakeshore Ave and Grand Ave on Lake Merritt, which is a lovely little area. (The Oakland Marathon was staged here this year as well, and in fact the start & finish lines were in exactly the same places.) The packet pickup/gear drop tables were right by the finish line.

Bib pickup/gear check

Parking is SUPER easy, especially given that 1) there's a pretty huge parking lot under the freeway literally steps from the finish line, and 2) it's a holiday so metered parking is free. There's also lots of easy neighborhood parking. Just be sure not to park in any of the areas marked "No Parking" for the race -- I saw that some people did & got ticketed.

There was also a pretty good brass band playing in the finish area afterward.

The Course:

The course pretty much circled Lake Merritt on blocked off city streets. I'm not sure if there were aid stations; I don't remember seeing any. The whole thing was well marked and easy to follow, and the streets were all in pretty good shape. It's basically pancake flat, with the exception of two reasonably substantial hills (that I recognized from past races). Neither are hideous, but you can definitely see them coming & kind of go "ugh, FINE." I'd guess they were maybe .1 miles each but I'm not good at estimating those things by sight.


Logo T-shirt & a cool medal:

If you decide to run:

  • Logistically this is a super easy race. Race day bib pickup, plenty of easy free extremely close parking, AND they still have a gear check right at the finish line (at the bib pickup table).
  • The 8:30 start means you get more daylight before the race, and there's a good chance it will be sunny.
  • This is a good time of year to run in Oakland in terms of weather. Of course no one ever really knows for sure, and it's always possible you'll get a cold/rainy/windy morning, but odds of reasonably good weather are decent.

Overall Assessment:

I'd totally run this Turkey Trot again. Logistically it's easier than participating in a lot of the local SF Trots, and this area in Oakland is super pretty in the fall. It was extremely well organized and the whole experience from registration to info emails to logistics to the race itself was easy and seamless. I really liked the vibe and the fact that it was a charity event supporting local causes, and also that it was on the smaller side for a Turkey Trot. (TBH I just don't really enjoy big, impersonal races that much.)

One more gratuitously autumnal shot of Lake Merritt


  1. Hey, progress! Great! And I noticed no mention of pain, so that makes me hopeful that your hamstring/foot/whatever is also making progress.

    1. True fact! Though, we'll see what happens when I actually start trying to train again. Fingers crossed that the unintended break was a blessing in disguised & maybe things are all healed up. :)

  2. Congrats! Looks like a good event - I'll have to put it on my radar for next year.