04 April 2011

Running - Oakland Marathon 2011

For those of you acquainted with my blog, you may have read all or some of my 21-part "Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour" series.  Last Sunday, 27 March 2011, was the day that my running shoes replaced the keyboard as I took the 26.2 mile tour with about 900 new friends.  While the race is still fresh in my mind, I'll offer an account.

If you want to follow along with a course map, here's a link you might wish to open in another browser tab.

My race bib, post-race

In spite of the stormy weather from the preceding week, conditions on race day were excellent for running: 

Cool and cloudy, with periodic sunbreaks.  I felt the tiniest of sprinkles twice while running, and that was all.  The weather gods clearly looked kindly on the second annual Oakland Marathon.

After a nice rendition of the national anthem and a send-off from new Oakland mayor Jean Quan, we had an on-time departure at 7:30 a.m. from the center of Oakland's downtown on Broadway at 14th Street.  (Half marathoners would start later at 9:00 a.m.)

Except at the very start, the spectators were not out in force for the earliest part of the race running north on Broadway through Uptown and Auto Row. then veering to the right up Piedmont Avenue.  At the corner of 41st and Piedmont Avenue, the race made a left turn past the first aid station, which was staffed by my old running club, the East Bay Front Runners.  This was the first larger showing of spectators.

The course crossed Broadway and at Telegraph made a right turn into the Temescal neighborhood.  Folks were here to welcome us, including a woman with a home made "Welcome to Temescal" sign, and a professionally made banner that hung above the street.  For all I know, similar banners hung over the streets in other neighborhoods but my running swacked brain missed them.  If not, it would be nice touch for each neighborhood to concoct its own "Welcome to Such-and-Such Neighborhood" for the marathon.  Could be a friendly neighboorhood contest that the runners vote on after the race.

It was in Temescal that I began yelling "Good Morning, Temescal" as I passed through a neighborhood, or "Go, Oakland".  I was getting my Oakland groove on.

As we turned right on 51st and went past the Oakland Fire Department station there, I would see the first of many of OFD firefighters cheering on runners along the course.  Nice touch, Oakland!  I also noticed that they had their equipment parked outside the station, perhaps that was so they could respond to calls if necessary without breaking through the line of runners.

At Broadway we turned left, went only one block, and then veered left on to the start of College Avenue and the beginning of the Rockridge District.  It was still pretty early and there weren't too many people out watching, but more appeared around the BART station and at the course's U-turn at intersection of College and Claremont.

Back under the Rockridge BART station, and then a left turn on Keith Street and back on Broadway took us to Lake Temescal and the biggest crowd thus far, amplified by the fact that it was the first exchange point for runners in the marathon relay.  (182 4-person relay teams ran the marathon.)

Though there had been an overall elevation gain since the race start, and some slight ups and downs, the significant elevation gain began upon leaving Rockridge headed to Lake Temescal, and then from there into Montclair.  The event's elevation profile shows that from the start at about 90' above sea level the highest point of perhaps 650' is reached twice between miles 8 and 10.  Though it is not continuously uphill from Lake Temescal to Montclair and the Mormon Temple area, it is mostly so.

Compared to CIM (California International Marathon) and the Eugene Marathon, the two other marathons I've run in my "modern" marathon era (starting in 2009), the Oakland Marathon course is more challenging, but happily the hills get worked out early on, resulting in a basically flat race from mile 13 onward.

The course meandered through quiet residential streets of Montclair with occasional onlookers until it hit Montclair's "Main Street" (Mountain Avenue) which had lots of spectators as well as a temporary downhill relief.

Crossing above Hwy. 13, the race continued downhill crossing Park Street, then resumed the uphill slog along Monterey Blvd. with periodic spectators until shortly before a zig-zag on back streets that led to Lincoln Avenue.  During that zig-zag the uphill ended, and the downhill began at the end of mile 10 with a sharp right turn on Lincoln Avenue by the Mormon Temple and a big crowd of cheering folks.

It was so steep here that at first I had to catch myself from losing control, but ultimately I opted to exploit gravity.  I'd deposited the money in the bank, and now it was time to withdraw it.

Mile 11 is all steep downhill as it shoots down to the Dimond District. The course skirts Dimond's "downtown" just to the east.  Where Lincoln passes under I-580 was another huge crowd of cheering folks, made large again because it was the second relay exchange point.

The course continues downhill (but not as steeply as before) along Coolidge Avenue and the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park with a left turn on Foothill in a neighborhood business district.  Crowds were sparse but friendly along Coolidge and Foothill.  (Coolidge is a quiet residential street, while Foothill is an arterial.)

After about a half mile along Foothill another right turn resulted in a short distance on 42nd Street, followed by another right turn on International Blvd. where the longest straight stretch (roughly 2 miles) of the marathon began in the heart of the Fruitvale area.  Crowds were not large here, but enthusiastic.

At 14th Avenue the course made a left, then a block later a right on 8th Street.  Not long after the switch to Eighth Street I remember a very friendly crew handing out Gummi Bears around mile 16.

Now by this time in a marathon with about 900 finishers, runners were strung out with pretty large gaps in between individuals or twosomes and threesomes.  That was about to change at roughly mile 16 1/2.  Shortly before we reached Laney College, the courses of the marathon and half-marathon converged.  Marathoners about 2 hours into the race, and half-marathoners about a half hour (and 3.25 miles) into their race would now be running together to the finish line.

Of course, I'd looked at the course map before the race so I knew this was going to happen but it still came as a surprise when it did.  At first it was a little disconcerting.  Streets that pretty much had belonged to me, I suddenly had to share with many more half-marathoners.  (3400 runners finished the half-marathon.)

But I got used to it quickly, and in fact the addition of so many other runners added to the energy of the event.  An Asian drumming band by Laney College didn't hurt either.  The other interesting thing was that the half marathoners I was now in the midst of were all slower than I was, so there was the added bonus of continuously passing many people.

I think at this point I understood why we were given a little bib that read "Full" to put on our backs.  In addition to our race number bib that we wore in front, all of the full marathon runners were given a little bib with the word "Full" on it to pin on our backs.  Once we were streamed together with the half-marathoners the "full" bib made it easy to tell who our competitors were, and it also alerted half-marathoners to move over, if they were so inclined.  (Several times I heard half-marathoners yell "full marathoners coming through".)

So except for a few times when I had to work to get past a knot of slower runners, all in all I liked the streaming together of full and half-marathoners.

The course at this point nicked Chinatown, then passed along Second Street in the Jack London Square area, then zig-zagged to run along 7th Street into West Oakland.

Near the corner of 7th and Mandela Parkway was one of the high energy points in the race.  Crowds were large as it was the third and last of the relay exchange points, but it was also the location for a cool band, and the Crucible's fire arch underneath which runners passed.  (No, we didn't burn up!)

It was a good place for high energy as this marked the end of 19 miles.

The next mile was north along Mandela Parkway through West Oakland.  I liked the residents who greeted us with "You are in Oakland West!".  Plenty of high-5s here.

At about mile 20.25 the race turned right on 32nd Street, and began an eastward street-jumping course mostly along 28th and then 27th Streets that would lead us ultimately to Lake Merritt and the final three miles of the race.  At an aid station and at another location along this part of the race there were lots of spectators to cheer us on.  At mile 21 I could definitely feel my energy start to flag, but it wasn't any kind of bonk.  I knew I was capable of another 5 miles, and was happy that there wasn't more than that.

We crossed Grand Avenue at Harrison and then took to the pedestrian path that runs along an arm of the lake, past the bandstand, and through Lakeside Park in the Adams Point neighborhood and then ended up back on Grand Avenue.

(This is the only part of the course I would change.  I think the inaugural race last year ran on 27th Street past Whole Foods to Grand, then along Bellevue Street in Lakeside Park back to Grand, which is preferable.  The pedestrian paths we trod were too narrow, too rutted, and too muddy for runners who are tired after 10 or 23 miles of running.)

After a short stretch on Grand, we made a right turn just before 580 and the Lakeshore neighborhood, and then made another right on Lakeshore Avenue.  We were now 24 miles into the race.  At a point when we really needed it, we were able to enjoy great scenery and easy street running along Lake Merritt.  The views of the lake and our destination in downtown Oakland were stunning.

By now, the runners were again no longer clumped together and the street was nice and wide.  We ran down the east side of the lake, along the under-reconstruction 12th Street viaduct, and then past the Lake Chalet and the Essex condominium and the 25 mile point.

One-point-two-miles left to go to the finish line.

After the curve on Lakeside past the Essex we veered west onto 19th Street and up a slight slope past Snow Park where the Kaiser volunteers were cheering for us and operating another little aid station.  Three blocks later we crossed Broadway (only 5 blocks from where our race began) and went one more short block to face the Fox Theater art deco extravaganza on Telegraph where we made a sharp left turn to the south.

I'm at the home stretch here

Finish line ahead!

At this point you can start getting nostalgic for the race that is nearly over, because two blocks on Telegraph to Broadway, another block on Broadway and a right turn on 14th and there was the finish line.  At Broadway all of the way to the finish the crowds were lined up against the barricades.  The cheering would have brought you in even if you didn't think your legs would.

Marathon # 11 was done, and I'm so happy I ran it in Oakland.  It makes a terrific setting for a marathon.

Finish time was 3:32:52 (per mile pace: 8:08 / per km 5.02).  Not one of my fastest but my training period was shortened due to an injury, so I put the miles in and ignored the speedwork and beat the modest goal I had going into it.  Next marathon on my calendar: CIM 2011 (4 December).

After a shower at the hotel, I joined my cheering section at Pacific Coast Brewing Co. for a couple of Pliny the Elder IPAs and a reuben sandwich.  Decadent?  You bet.  Sorry?  Not hardly.

Oakland Running Festival 2011 program

The course was excellent, more aid stations than you knew what to do with, lots of Oakland Police Department and volunteers keeping the traffic at bay, and plenty of community support for an event that is only two years old.

Corrigan Sports has just gotten started with this.  In their capable hands, and with the support of the City of Oakland, the business community, and the city's neighborhoods, I think the future for the Oakland Marathon is bright.

For your further Oakland Marathon reading pleasure:
- Oakland Marathon neighborhood tour
- Excellent race report by a fast guy (2:53:49), Scott Dunlap, with lots of pics, too
- Oakland Tribune article about the event's economic impact on Oakland
- Oakland Marathon / Oakland Running Festival website
- Race results

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