Monday, April 19, 2010

Oakland Running Festival Half Marathon - 3/28/10

The Napa Valley Marathon left me with a lot of hot spots on the bottom of my feet, and my soccer game on Saturday before this race completely tore them apart. I was literally awake for 2 hours that night in tears because of my throbbing feet. I woke up the next morning wondering how I was ever going to run this race. I could barely walk to the bathroom to dig up whatever blister pads and band-aids I had lying around the house. I considered just saying forget it and going back to bed, however I really didn't want to pass up the opportunity to be part of the inaugural Oakland Running Festival. I'd gone to the expo the day before at the Oakland Marriott City Center to pick up my packet and had a feeling this was going to be something I wouldn't want to miss.

That morning I went to work on my feet to give them any additional source of protection I could. I settled on 6 blister pads and 3 band-aids to cover the rips on the bottom of my feet. I put my socks and shoes on and ran in place for awhile to see if this was going to be doable. Not ideal, but I decided to go for it anyway. As I walked to catch the 8:07a BART train, the first of the morning which would get me there in time for the 9a start, I knew this was going to be a painful race. I told myself that if it was too much, I could always just stop. No pressure.

When I arrived at City Center, the marathon runners had already departed and the half marathoners were busy tasting samples of cliff bars, checking in their sweat bags, and taking a look around at all the tents that were already set up. As I was following the arrows on the ground that directed me to the sweat check tents, it dawned on me that I forgot my GPS runners watch. I freaked out for a moment. It's become such an important part of my running. I knew there would be mile markers on the course, but how was I going to know what my pace was? After some thinking, I realized that not having it was probably a good thing. Having just run a full marathon 3 weeks prior, I was by no means out to set a PR. In fact, I really didn't care how fast or slow I ran it at all. I just wanted to use it to keep my mileage up and enjoy a new race.

After I checked in my bag, grabbed a sample cliff bar, powered down a strawberry-banana GU and some last minute water, I headed to the start area to join the 3,000 other half marathoners. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect out of this Oakland race, but was anxious to see what the course held.

The route took us all over and did a great job of really showing off the different parts of the city. Unlike the full marathon, the half was flat, with the exception of one small killer hill right at the end. We started off on Broadway next to City Hall and ran essentially clockwise around the city. We ran past the Paramount theatre, then down Martin Luther King Jr. Way where we turned to head through Chinatown. After running around Laney College, we ran along the Oakland waterfront, passing Jack London Square, and heading towards West Oakland where we turned on Mandela Parkway. From there we headed southeast to do almost a full lap around Lake Merritt before heading back downtown for the finish on Broadway at Frank Ogawa Plaza near the start.

All along the course there was so much entertainment. I've never run a race with so many spectators of all walks of life out there to support people they didn't even know. From business owners out in front of their shops, to residents hanging out their apartment windows, firemen outside their stations, and families manning their own fruit stands for the runners, it was truly amazing. The musicians were out too, there was a church gospel choir singing, bands and solo artists playing everything from folk to hip hop, and even a group playing kettle drums. We ran through a fire lit arch, and were even cheered on by the Raiderettes and Raider Nation, as well as a big group of A's fans. Even the police men who were diverting traffic were incredibly encouraging despite taking some flak from motorists who most likely weren't to happy about the delays. It seemed that around every turn there was another surprise that kept me completely distracted from my foot pain which I didn't even seem to notice.

From a spectator perspective, this was the best race I've ever run. The sense of community and pride from Oakland residents was incredible. Not only were people cheering for the runners with the usual "You guys are doing great!", "Looking Good!", but a lot of people were out there with cheers of "Go Oakland!" I've grown up in the Bay Area and must say, this race has started to change my opinion of Oakland and the potential it has when the city pulls together.

Along the route, I had no idea what my pace was and I really wasn't paying much attention to it. I just ran at what felt comfortable. When I came sprinting to the finish line, I saw the time clock, I knew this wasn't my official chip time, but it would be close. I was going to finish with a sub-2:00 time. My official chip time was 1:58:59. I'd finished within the top 18% of my division. For going out there just to enjoy the race, I was more then pleased with my time.

After the race, I stuck around awhile to enjoy the beautiful weather and the post-race festivities. Each runner had two free beer coupons on their bibs, so I claimed one of mine, walked around for a bit to see what was going on at each of the tents, ate some oranges, and then sat down on the grass to listen to the band while I finished off my beer. Looking around at everyone wearing their finishers medals and enjoying the day, it was evident what a success the day was. I'd later learned that the 2-day long Inaugural Oakland Running Festival brought in $1.95 million for the city of Oakland. Not only did it give Oakland something to be proud of, but it changed many peoples vision of the city, something it desperately needed.

I'm so glad I made the decision to run, I can't speak highly enough about this race, and I can't wait to return next year and be a part of it all over again.

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