Monday, March 26, 2012

Oakland Marathon Race Recap (2012)

There comes a time in your life when you pause and think to yourself, "How did I get to this point?". I did that yesterday as I prepared for my 14th full marathon. I wasn't surrounded by runners growing up. I was never in track or cross country as a child. I am not sure how I found this sport. As I thought about it. I realized, I didn't find the sport, it found me during a time of transition, re-defining myself and at a point where I could move forward with vigor or wallow. And so it began...

The Oakland Marathon would mark marathon #14.

This marathon was different. For the first time ever, I was going to run the entire distance with another runner. Not only that, this person would serve as my pacer, motivation, cheerleader and drill sergeant. His goal, get me in under 4 hours. I kept saying "I'm fine with under 4:30". Nope, not for him. Only 4 hours would serve the purpose. Meet, Dennis. The oddest part, I'd only met him once before, when he jumped in along with Page, Katie and Jessica at mile 18 in the Nike Marathon to help cheer me on to that finish.

I had a great time the day before meeting many great runners at the expo, then hosting 4 of my running friends at my house for the evening. After some pasta from my favorite joint; Lo Coco's, some chatter about running, what we will wear, cats and more, I retired to bed around 10pm. As is typical for me, I didn't sleep much and got up before my 5:50am alarm. I quickly realized my Garmin, although attached to the charger, wasn't plugged in. I thought "Oh no, is this really how the day is going to start?". I quickly changed mentality and realized, not important. The only thing that matters, is to run.
Cate, Me and Layla
The Gang

PavementRunner and Me
We all got ready, I decided last minute which of the outfits I would wear, grabbed my stuff, said goodbye to the dog and told him I would see him in 26.2 miles. And headed out for my journey.

The start line is only 2 miles from my house and we made great time down there and easily found parking. The weather was looking fantastic. After days of watching the weather and seeing only "rain, rain, rain" in the forecast, I was pleased to be greeted with nothing but clouds, blue sky and even some sun for the entire race. The perfect running weather and great weather for the spectators and volunteers.

At 7:10, we walked to the start so I could meet-up with Dennis, the aforementioned pacer. I used the port-o-potties at 7:23, found Dennis at 7:26 and we lined up literally as the starting gun went off. Talk about feeling relaxed and just nonchalant about a race. This was Dennis's 3rd time running the Oakland full marathon and my 2nd time. We were old hats at it. As a bonus, I was able to quickly spot and say hello to PavementRunner as we lined up for the start.

Decked out in pink, both of us, the first few miles flew by. Dennis and I chatted about each mile and how each one was behind us and broke the rest of the course up into chunks; let's get through 10 miles and be done with the hills, we only have a long training run left, the first half is behind us, easy training run left, etc. We stayed very positive, at least in the first half. I should stop and mention that Dennis had run a marathon the Sunday prior in 3 hours 12 minutes. So this race was an easy Sunday for him, running at my slow pace ;-)
Photo courtesy of Angela
The course itself is a continuous uphill in the first 10 miles. We kept saying "Let's just tackle the hills with force. Get through them.". When we reached the top, we high-fived and I felt such a relief to have the hills behind us. I felt quite good about how we stayed strong and steady through them.

Now Dennis's real work started. I warned him prior to the race "I fade in the second half. This is where you will really need to encourage me and not let me fall off.". Around mile 14, Dennis asked "how are your legs feeling?" and I replied "Not good". I could feel the result of 10 miles of hills pressing down on my thighs. They felt heavy, sore and like they wanted a week off. I knew the next 12 miles would be a true test of endurance. I kept chanting something a friend had told me to get me through the miles. The miles seemed very long and very hard.

Dennis did an amazing job keeping my spirits up, encouraging me and pushing me in the right ways. He would fill my water bottle when it was empty, get me oranges, tell me we need to speed up or "keep this pace, we can do a sub-4 if we keep this pace". I could not have asked for better companionship through 26.2 hard miles than what he was able to provide.

Around the 17 mile marker, we merged with the half-marathoners. This was a blessing and a curse. It was good to have more runners around, more energy and I was excited to try and spot some of my friends. However, it was a curse as the half marathoners were only in their 4th mile, their legs were fresh, I could hear some of them saying "I feel great", I was being was a blow to my mental energy. But I kept going.

Dennis really had to keep chanting "Dig deep. Let's finish strong" as he could tell the final miles were taking its toll on me. I kept saying to myself "Where is that next mile marker?". I knew the road was long, but I kept thinking about how great it would feel when it was all over.
Mile 21: Me trying to keep up with Dennis (photo courtesy of Beth)
We finally came into view of Lake Merritt, which meant less than 3 miles remaining. I loved this site. This is the lake I train on. I knew that lake like the back of my hand. I knew its every curve. This was our home stretch. While many around us were starting to walk, Dennis just kept saying "Finish strong". I kept thinking about the finishers chute and the friends I might see cheering me on. It was great motivation to give it my all.

We hit mile 25. Such a great mile, because you know the next mile marker is the last. We rounded a corner and there it was "Mile 26". After such a long, rewarding and tough journey, there is no sweeter site than knowing you are .2 miles from the finish. The finish line was at the top of a 100 yard fairly steep climb. After 26 miles, my legs did not want to see another hill, but right on cue, I hear "Finish strong". So I gave it my all. Now, to the outsider, it might not have looked like much, but to me, I felt like I was the wind at that point racing to a gold medal finish.
Photo courtesy of Aron
Photo courtesy of Aron
My eyes darted left and right in search of familiar faces. I saw so many and my smile got bigger and bigger. Then I saw it. The finishers clock. Dennis had done it. He got this old gal in under 4 hours. Despite my hemming and hawing about trying to achieve another sub-4 at this point in my life, he never let up and coached us right in under 4 hours. 3:58:28 to be exact. It was a course PR by 4 minutes.

After the race, we made our way over to the gals. Everyone was easy to spot in our "heart compression socks" we had previously all planned on wearing. Got the usual post-race photos, chatted about our runs and walked away knowing we left everything we had out on the course. As is usual with this group, everyone gave it their all. Many achieving a PR, some overcoming race injuries, others just out to prove they still got it in them. And clearly, this gal does...
East Bay Runners. This group logged 170.3 miles at the Oakland Marathon & 1/2 Marathon
Dennis and Me Post-Marathon (showing off the heart socks)


  1. Well written - and great job on the sub-4 yesterday. Socks are amazing too!

  2. I love this!! With not feeling the greatest and being sick during your taper, you executed a mighty fine race! And to think you did it while entertaining 4 of us the night before too... blows my mind. You are incredible. Great race!!

  3. Awesome race and report! Congratulations! And major props to Dennis!

  4. Awesome PR- CONGRATS! What a great feeling and accomplishment for you. :-)

  5. That is a vicious course! Sub-4 is truly impressive! Congrats to you :)

  6. Kicking ass and taking names, that's our Jana!

  7. Loooove this post. I need Dennis in my life!

  8. Little late in replying, but may I book said pacer, Dennis? Great job!!