I volunteered at last year’s first annual Oakland Running Festival. It was my first time volunteering at a race, as well as the first time I got to see winners cross the Finish Line. As I handed out mylar blankets at the Finish Line, I heard runner after runner yell,“I hella heart Oakland!” in reference to the amazing crowd support provided by the residents of Oakland. I wanted to experience that for myself making it a “must-do” race for me this year.
I met Layla at the expo where we moseyed around, checking out sales and such. Usually, whomever I’m at the expo with rushes me through so it was nice to take our time and browse around. The only purchase I made was several packets of Espresso GU at Layla’s recommendation (double the caffeine!).
After the expo we had some lunch and made plans to meet up in the morning. We are both training for May 1st marathons (me in Vancouver, her in Eugene) and were using the half-marathon as a training run, with a total of 17 planned for the day. So we decided to do our extra miles before the race because honestly, who wants to run extra miles after the Finish Line?
I woke up on Sunday not feeling that great. I had stayed up my later than I should have and knew I was going to pay the price for it. The full started at 7:30 am, and the half started at 9 am, so Layla and I planned to meet up around 8 am, which would give us plenty of time to get our 4 miles in before the start.
I dressed in shorts and a double layer of long-sleeve of t’s, bringing along warmer clothes just in case it was colder in Oakland. When I got there, I parked at the Marriott where the expo was held. It was a warm place to wait at with real bathrooms – no porta potties! When I walked outside, I knew I had dressed perfectly; it was overcast and cool – perfect running weather!
We made our way to the Start area and took a few photos:
The half and full races started on separate courses so we decided to run the first 2 miles of the full course which is up Broadway, hanging a right onto another street. I wanted to take it easy on these miles, knowing I still had another 13 ahead of me. Once we reached 2 miles we turned around and headed back, just in time for the start of the half.
At this point we parted ways as Layla moved up to the pace group that she was aiming for. I settled in with the 10-min/mile group and found myself standing next to one of my colleagues! It was nice to see a familiar face in the crowd.
I quickly ate one of the Espresso GU’s and before I knew it, we were off. While there were no corrals, there wasn’t too much bobbing and weaving. The streets were wide so there was plenty of room for everyone.
I don’t spend much time in the East Bay, let alone Oakland, so although I’ve lived in the Bay Area for the past 13 years, I had never seen most all of Oakland. Oakland has a reputation of being a rough town, and seeing officers stationed at every corner kinda confirmed it. But the crowds, officers included, were so spirited and supportive. There were people (not huge crowds, but loud enough) lining the street through almost every neighborhood. To say I wasn’t feeling the greatest was an understatement, so the high-fives from the spectators and officers were definitely a pick-me-up.
There were also a few members from the Oakland Fire Department who ran the race. The course passed by several fire stations and at each one the firemen lined up outside and cheered on their own, as well as everyone else.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous to run through West Oakland, but I think that’s where the best aid station was! There was also some interesting graffiti. One in particular said, “Stay Punk!” It reminded me of the East Bay’s own Green Day (WHO I LOVE!). I wish I took a photo of it.
I can’t remember where, but somewhere along the course I saw the Lululemon cheer van. I ran over to high-five them and saw that they were handing out free stuff! I got an orange headband! I stuck it in my fuel belt and sadly dropped it at the Finish area when I took it off to take my Finisher’s photo. I am SO BUMMED about that.
I started to feel tired a lot earlier in the race than usual. Then I remembered, “Oh wait, I had already done 4 miles.” As my headache continued, I started to feel a cramp develop in my right calf – in the area right below the outer knee. It had given me problems the week before on my 15-miler, but went away pretty quickly, but I started to feel more intense with every step. I double-fisted my way through the aid stations thinking I must be dehydrated and hoped that it would help. It didn’t.
Soon it was all I could think about. As we ran along Lake Merritt, through mud, every step on the right leg hurt. It didn’t help to try to stretch it out because it’s such an odd area, I wasn’t sure how too. I kept telling myself, just make it to Mile 11 where Kerry was spectating.
As soon as I saw her I started waiving my arms. I was so happy to see her! I stopped and we chatted. I gave her an update on the race, she gave me an update on other friends who were also running the race and then she snapped this quick photo.
After seeing her, I had only a mile and a half and I knew I could do it.
This girl in a pink shirt and I took turns passing each other. I made it my goal to finish before her. But every time I tried to take a surge I felt the cramp and had to lay off. At the start of the last mile Dr Dre’s, “I Need a Doctor” came on my iPod. How appropriate. On the home stretch, down Broadway, the girl in the pink shirt made a push. I thought, “oh no”, so I willed myself to push too. I remember running down Broadway thinking, “Where the heck is the Finish?!? I can push like this for much longer!” Then the course turned and I saw the Finish and sprinted for it as Green Day’s “American Idiot” blared in my ears. Oh the irony.
The Finisher’s area was extremely congested, but I was able to collect my medal, grab some water and oranges, and take my Finisher’s photo. Then I headed straight to the medical tent. They sat me down and summoned a massage therapist who started working on my calf. He found the knots immediately. It was painful, but extremely helpful. After about 10-15 minutes they put some ice on it and wrapped it in an ace bandage and sent me on my way.
I wanted to wait for the others who I knew were running the full, but I had left my change of clothes in the car and I was absolutely freezing. Karin had paced Ron up until the last few miles and had told me he should be finishing about a half hour after me. As I walked back to the Marriott, I passed by the Finish Line and saw him crossing it! Perfect timing!
I spent the rest of the day, parked on my couch, downing a double double with fries.
I think this may have been my slowest half marathon in terms of pace, but I did not run this race for time. I ran it for the experience and Oakland did not disappoint! The crowd support definitely lived up to its reputation. Thanks Oakland! And congrats to everyone who ran this year!