Two-word Oakland Half-Marathon summary: No pain!
One-sentence summary: I met my goal of running pain-free, though I missed my time goal by one measly second; who runs an official 2:00:00?!
Background: I ran this race last year, two weeks after my personal best time of 1:49:49. I ran it only as training, to hit marathon pace miles, which I did perfectly. It was a good course and extremely well organized, so when I came across a half-price deal in July, I signed up again. A whole bunch of friends signed up, too, and by the fall I was planning to try beating my time at this race.
Setback: Then my IT bands went nuts and I had a horrible race failure in February. I wound up taking two full weeks off from all running, and I really didn’t do much other working out, either. But I did get on the rehab wagon, using a foam roller every single night on my IT bands (the things that connect the hips to the knees). I began running again. I felt occasional tightness or weakness, but I made sure I never ran to the point of feeling any pain. One day, I ran over seven miles with my friend Aron — I was huffing and puffing because I was out of shape, but I had no pain. I spent last weekend in Portland (yes, that deserves a blog post; famous last words), but I got home in time to run 11 miles on Sunday. Despite a lot of imbibing the previous night, that was the best double-digit run since Jan. 1 — which was only better because I broke four hours in a marathon. Sunday’s run probably felt better, though it was also 15 miles shorter… Anyway, that was the deciding point: I would run the Oakland half-marathon.
Race eve: I ventured up to Oakland yesterday in pouring rain to the race expo, to get my bib, timing chip and shirt. Also, since I’ve been meeting up with random Internet people for over a dozen years, I went to a tweet-up.
We wandered around the disappointing race expo, ran into more friends, and I got my race shirt. I like the material, but the sleeves are a tiny bit too short. Also, I think I need to be a Raiders fan to wear it.
So then I went home, ate macaroni and cheese because I was suddenly craving it, and may have ended the night with decaf coffee and Bailey’s.
Race morning: My friend Jess had offered to carpool and drive (see? I have the coolest friends ever), and we got Page in on the carpool fun, too. They picked me up around 7:30, which meant that I got to sleep in more than normal on race day. We got to Oakland in plenty of time to find cheap parking. We took the elevator out of the garage, and when the elevator opened, we found ourselves in a church where mass was under way. Yep, that’s the first time I meant to go to a race but wound up in church.
We walked quickly and quietly through the back of the church, outside, and to the race start to meet a bunch of friends, drop off our bags and use the port-o-potties. I must say, the race organizers were on the ball — I had less than 15 minutes before the race start and knew I was cutting it close, but the potty lines were about 30 seconds. Well done, Oakland. So then I got in the corrals at the 9-minute pace area, heard the national anthem, I think the mayor said something, and soon we were off under a storm of confetti.
Oh, did I mention that I was wearing a new model of shoes that only had a six-mile and a three-mile run on them? Yep, they went well with the Bailey’s the night before. Honestly, though, I don’t do stupid things for race prep; I know my limits well, and both were fine.
The race: Weather forecasts had all (yes, all; I have four weather apps on my phone…) called for rain the entire race. By the time my race started at 9:15, there was no rain. I don’t think the walkers even had rain. Weather forecasting fail!
Mile 1: 9:11
Mile 2: 8:46
OK, I was going a bit faster than 9-minute miles, but the average was fine, and I really just planned to run by feel.
Mile 3: 8:34
Mile 4: 8:09
What was I thinking?! 8:34 is too fast! And 8:09?! That’s my 10K pace, not my out-of-shape half-marathon pace! I don’t remember seeing either of these splits on my watch. In hindsight, that 8:34 should have been a red flag for me to slow down. Yes, I am foreshadowing.
Mile 5: 8:50 (took a 150-calorie gel)
Mile 6: 8:59
Mile 7: 9:00
Mile 8: 9:01
Somewhere in here, I saw my friend Karin. She was on pace for a PR, and I told her to stay ahead of me. I didn’t stay with her, in part because I didn’t want to make her subconsciously slow down, though I know she’s a smart enough runner to run her own race. I did follow her for a while, though.
Those last four miles had all been very consistent. I think the 8:34 and especially the 8:09 miles were my big mistakes, because they likely made my heart rate rise earlier in the race than was necessary. I don’t run with my heart rate monitor too often because it drives me nuts and I hate seeing the super-high numbers, but I’ve used it just enough to be a bit more aware of when I’m really entering that “I’m going to die” zone.
Mile 9: 9:46
Yep, that was the “I’m going to die” zone. I walked. Because I took time off with the IT band troubles, my endurance levels are shot and my weight is up. Bad combination. However, I knew that I’d be seeing Beth at a big cheer station around mile nine, so I tried to get going again.
Mile 10: 9:03
I rallied. I saw Beth, and it was a nice boost to see a friendly face.
Mile 11: 10:28
I derailed. I knew I would finish in 1:58 or 1:59 if I just kept going. But then I got to a couple little hills going around Lake Merritt, and I walked. My lungs were just so tired! My legs were actually fine, which is once again a sign of my loss of endurance. I hated myself for walking, but I was exhausted. Then a random thought entered my head: “I’m a sub-4-hour marathoner, dammit! Why am I walking at mile 11?” I had two more miles of a 13.1-mile race. So I began to run.
Mile 12: 9:09
Mile 13: 9:10
My legs were more than willing to keep moving, but my lungs just didn’t want to do it. But I knew I was oh-so-close to the 2-hour mark. “Dammit, I can run a full marathon at a faster pace than this! MOVE!”
The course ran long, which wasn’t a surprise. I let my legs lead and ignored my lungs. I was powering toward the end. And there, right in front of me, was a hill. No matter: I was going to race up that thing, because I am a runner!
Then I saw Karin ahead of me. I had a very brief debate over whether to encourage her to race it in, wondering if that wasn’t what she needed. But then I was beside her saying something like, “Come on, let’s do this!” as I raced to the finish. And race she did! We powered up that hill.
Mile 13.25: 7:37 pace.
I crossed the finish line and was done. Very done. Volunteers gave me a heat sheet and a rather nice medal. I drank some Gatorade, then spied oranges and made a bee-line for them. For once, I skipped the bagel pieces and did not make myself eat some carbs, though I ALWAYS tell people to eat the carbs provided at the end of the race. Do as I say, not as I do. The oranges revived me enough this time, though. Oh, and I hadn’t taken a second gel at mile 10 like I usually do. Oops.
Post race: Karin and I met up with most of our friends. Many of them had fantastic PRs (personal records), and a couple of them (ahem, Page) finished so quickly that they had time to get a massage and drink a free mimosa while I was still running. Sadly, by the time I got to the mimosas, the line was long and we had to leave. Oakland, you owe me a mimosa!
But before we all parted ways, we had to get a group Sock Photo. I didn’t actually wear these compression socks during the race because my legs still aren’t sure what to think of them. But they did feel nice afterward.
I got home, took a nice long, warm shower, put my legs way up above my heart for 15 minutes, then went to In-N-Out for a cheeseburger. Then I used my foam roller and stretched. Hours later, my IT band does not hurt!
My official finish time was 2:00:00. I was, and still am, SO frustrated over that. ONE SECOND meant that my time started with a 2! I wasn’t expecting to come anywhere close to my best time, but I knew sub-2 was certainly doable. That second is going to haunt me forever.
However, I’m reminding myself that my main goal was to run without pain. There were two brief steep downhill sections today, and at both of them I got a bit anxious and thought, “OK, here’s another test of the IT band.” Normally I love flying down hills, but that completely killed me last month when I had to pull out of a race: I went down an incline and felt it, and then got to a steep downhill and said “OW.” Today, I never felt that pain. I had promised myself that if I felt any pain, I would drop out of a marathon I’m supposed to run in five weeks. It’s considered one of the most beautiful marathons, and that’s so much bigger than one second in a half-marathon. Priorities.
Race thoughts: The Oakland Marathon organizers do a fantastic job with this race. I’ve now run six marathons, a 20-mile race, nine half-marathons, a handful of trail races, and some 10Ks and 5Ks. Oakland is still one of the most well-organized races I’ve experienced.
At one point, we ran under a flaming arch. Then we ran past flaming torches and a fire-breathing creature. Police officers were stationed all over the places, and some of them even CHEERED for the runners when they weren’t busy directing motorists. The cops did this last year, too, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen in any other race. The spectators this year were less than half of last year’s, but I think that’s because of the expected torrential rain. I was sad that crack-head ladies weren’t yelling “Eastside Oakland!” like last year — yes, that happened, and it was awesome.
Best spectator sign: “Where is everyone going?”
Best random spectator: Upon seeing my Punk Rock Racing shirt, a rather punk-rock-looking guy cheered wildly and yelled, “Punk rock for life!”