Here are some concerns, in no particular order, that plagued my monkey mind as last weekend’s half marathon approached:
low mileage weeks, a skipped 10 miler (flu), another supposed 10 miler that went so badly that I called it quits a mile early, not enough race-pace mileage (whatever that was), a right quad that decided to crap out the week before the race, not preparing or practicing in-race nutrition/hydration…
Despite occasional obsession over the usual anxieties, cautious optimism might actually be one of my bigger strengths, in my running life at least. To face up to reality while still making room for some outlying magic.
My performance at the Oakland Running Festival this year wasn’t really magical at all, but it hopefully sets the stage for some bippity-boppity-boo in 2015 (providing I put in the work). ORF was my first goal race post-IT-band debacle, and thus my “training plan” included not much more than base-building and few tempos. At the end of the day I wanted to finish feeling positive, uninjured, and reasonably tired. That morning, sandwiched between the 2:00 and 1:50 pacers, I fantasized about running wild, testing my outermost limits for better or for worse. But I knew that now was not the time, so with an open mind and a steady, concentrated effort I ended up somewhere in the middle. Solid enough for a 1-minute PR, but most importantly, I left with further confidence that my fitness has held steady even with last year’s unplanned hiatus!
Official finish: 1:53:52
Finally, here are a few key takeaways from the 2015 ORF experience, for those considering the race (short answer – do it):
Some of the Goods:
— Portos-a-plenty. No lines!!!! Even 20 minutes before the gun!
— American Steel Studios. You see them first, hovering between mile 7 & 8: the pixel cloud & Chester the fire-breathing horse. Next, you hear Chester roar with flames. Finally, you feel it. The sun has just emerged after a previously overcast morning and the “rain” from that cloud feels like a million fairy kisses over your raw, salt-crusted skin. Drool.
— Volunteers & spectators. In particular, the folks at the Brown Sugar Kitchen cheer station! Also on the Mandela stretch, these friendly faces offer trays of homemade muffins, fruit, water, and other treats — not to mention a needed boost of inescapable enthusiasm. DJ blasting, people dancing — they warm the heart of even the grumpiest runner. The course isn’t teeming with spectators, but where they DO assemble, they are INTO IT!
— Post-race party. Giddy fun meets casual California nonchalance. Snow Park is an absolutely gorgeous place to chill-out post-run. I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized about laying down in the park while aboard the Lake Merritt pain train.
— Overall, a fast, fun half marathon course. I read reviews that call this route boring or ugly, but I personally enjoy running through the more industrial areas, and West Oakland in particular is my favorite part (Crucible arch, American Steel, Brown Sugar Kitchen). In fact, Lake Merritt, undoubtedly the most picturesque segment of the course, does the most to test my fortitude. That loop seems to last forever!
Just a few Mehs:
— The beer experience. While serviceable (everyone I talked to described the non-alcoholic beverage as “actually not that bad” – so okay but not exactly rave reviews), the Erdinger paled in comparison to the transcendence of a canned 21st Amendment on a warm spring morning (as in 2014). It does pain me to say it because those Erdinger folks were so very nice.
— Getting into the starting area was a terrible mess. After the final 5k stragglers crossed, the half marathon corral opened at about 9am, offering one or two narrow entrances (from what we could see), and resulting in a 405 freeway-like traffic jam. After standing at a full stop for several minutes I finally had to climb over some unhappy folks to get to my preferred spot. The only logistical hiccup that I noticed in an otherwise well-run event.
— Not to contradict my earlier love for this course, but I have to concede to the tedium of the quiet, residential stretch that connects Mandela Parkway to the lake (miles 8-10). My advice? Talk to yourself. I encountered one runner whose personal words of advice (“knees up!” “stay strong!”) kept him looking TOUGH. Lesson learned for next year.