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Posts tagged ‘Oakland Half Marathon’

In Oakland, my best 13.1 performance to date


Right after I ran my first marathon, a coworker told me he knew I had it in me. He also brought me cake, which was amazing, but he kept saying it: “I knew you’d finish.”

I’m still kind of stunned at that response. Because I didn’t know. I admitted that, later on, to someone because I kind of felt like a fraud. I didn’t really believe in myself to know I could do it. My body kept telling me I couldn’t. So did my mind. Everything told me I couldn’t do.

“Then when did you know?” the friend asked me, concerned.

“At mile 26,” I responded.

You read that right. I didn’t know until mile 26.

Sometimes, you doubt yourself all the way to the end.

This year’s Oakland Half Marathon was exactly that way. I didn’t know until 13.1. And even then, when I was this:::close to the finish line, and still not quite there.

I didn’t really know until 13.3. The moment I crossed the finish line and turned off my Garmin, I knew.


No matter what my official time was, I had a PR. I wanted, so badly, for it to be in the 2:20 range. But I had it. Without question. There was nothing, even running .2 out of my way (damn tangents), that could have stopped it. I had it.

If you would have told me 2:21:04 seconds before that I would have the race of my life, I would have called your bluff. I spent most of Saturday trying to figure out how not to get to the start line. I just didn’t feel like running. I didn’t feel like pushing myself.

But Oakland, as it has for several years, has a way of bringing out the best in me.


Let’s rewind to 2005.

I was a fresh college graduate. Living on my own for the first time. New place. New roommate. Uncharted territory. And I chose Oakland to live economic and personal reasons. The rent was inexpensive. I always knew my roommate. My husband’s brother’s girlfriend at the time had an extra room. She was kind enough to rent it out to me for two years, though I’m pretty sure she was tired of me by the end.

In Oakland, I learned to be a better reporter. I learned more about journalism academically in my two years at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism than I did in three years a communication major in college. More importantly, I learned how to finish a story.

People ask me all the time why I went to graduate school, especially since I already had a nice padding of experience right out of college. I went because I would get halfway through a long project and not know how to finish the story. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t get to the point where the words flowed. It was my “wall” at mile 20.

Berkeley helped me finish my story. Oakland helped me define the characters in it.

So I chose Oakland, in 2011, to be my first half marathon. Because it was familiar. Because I’d run those streets before. And, because, I wanted to give back to a place that had given so much to be. Races like this bring in a ton of money into communities. I wanted my money to go to Oakland.

My first half marathon was an amazing experience that ended in a 2:35:36 finish. My next Oakland experience had me finishing in 2:32: 27.

This year, the experience wasn’t even comparable. I thought I’d run races before where I left every single bit of me out on the course. On Sunday, I realized I was, again, in uncharted territory.

I came into Oakland this year unable to finish my story. Over the past few months, I’ve struggled with gaining perspective about everything that’s happened since January. I’ll start with this: I’m glad it all happened. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t where I am today. I’m better for it.

So on Sunday, even though I didn’t realize it, I came to run. And that’s what I did.

Mile 1: 9:24 — Are you kidding me? That’s faster than I run. I feel so comfortable. This can’t be right. It must be the Gu I took right before the start.

Mile 2: 9:57 — OK, better legs. I don’t want to be done before I’m actually done.

Mile 3: 11:25 — WHY IS MY SHOE UNTIED? MY SHOES ARE NEVER UNTIED! Pull over, tie shoe, start running again. When the Garmin beeps, I consider it the “beginning of the end.” Well, I had two good miles in me, I figured. It’s over.

Mile 4: 10:06 — Or not? Better take a Gu.

Mile 5: 10:56 — Battling some uphills here, over the Lake Merritt crossing, it gets a little congested. Weaving in and out of people.

Mile 6: 10:24 — Feeling the Gu. Picking it up.

Mile 7: 11:18 — That moment when you ram into someone because they stop right in front of you? That happened. I’m not two for two in running into people in half marathons. It wasn’t my fault, though. She stopped at a water station and just came to a dead halt.

In this mile, a guy also ran by me and whacked right into my arm. Seriously? That hurt. I let out a sound similar to a baby velociraptor in pain. The guy stopped dead in his stride. He actually turned around, came back and started talking to me.

“Are you OK? Did I hurt you bad?”

“I’m fine, dude. I just have a broken arm. You didn’t do it. I came that way.”

The concern on his face was amazing. He actually hung close to me for two miles. He told me he was afraid I’d pass out. I don’t know what I looked like, but apparently it was bad.

Mile 8: 10:55 — Only now was I getting tired. I took a Gu.

Mile 9: 11: 40 — The climb into the park around Lake Merritt is here. After nine miles, I really felt it.

Mile 10: 10:16 — This was  the point I looked down at my Garmin and realize I was coming in pretty early.

Mile 11: 10:53 — I started mile 11 under the two hour mark. I couldn’t believe I started mile 11 under the two hour mark. This is where everything comes into play in terms of questions. I can definitely beat last year’s time. I can beat my Pasadena time. What do I have to do to beat my PR? Too much math. I can’t think. Just keep it under 12-minute miles, I thought.

That should be good enough. Right? Follow the plan.

Mile 12: 10:42 — Follow the plan. Just follow the plan.


Mile 13.1: Where’s the finish?

Mile 13.2: I should be done by now. Why am I not done? What the hell?

Mile 13.3: UP THE HILL. RUN. RUN!

Total time for that .3 miles: 2.47

I saw my Garmin move past the 2:20 mark before I crossed. I closed my eyes and just gunned it. The full inertia I had behind me didn’t stop until I was nearing the medals. And then I knew. I fell a little bit, and had a moment of joy I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I had my story’s end.

Six months. Multiple bad situations. Turmoil. A lot of self reflection.

No regrets.  A healthy body. My husband at the finish line. A PR.

I gave the Oakland the race it had deserved for three years. I finally did it. I came away stronger than I ever thought I was.


As I sat on the lawn, taking it all in, I had a moment where I started tearing up. All the self-doubt started to fade for the first time since last October. Suddenly I felt as if I was back in control. On Sunday, I really did have the race of my life. I felt like somewhere in those 13.1 miles, I shed every ounce of upset and took myself back.

Two years ago, Oakland made me realize I could do anything when I finished my first half. Last year, I struggled with every step because I was mentally and emotionally spent. This year, Oakland gave me back something I didn’t even realize was still gone.

All of these things came rushing to me before my husband found me. I let myself cry. I deserved a good happy cry.

But before I got up, I decided to check my official time, even though I knew it wouldn’t be that far off.

I’ve mentioned in previous race posts that I always start my Garmin a little ahead of crossing the start, just to make sure it works. When I loaded up the page with my name, I realized that elusive 2:20, which I didn’t even realize was a goal for me, had been achieved.

My official time: 2:20:52.

That elation? The bliss? It all was just that much better.

I then realized that while this may be the picture-perfect end to one story, is now just the beginning of the next. What’s my next goal? How I can break it? Can earn a 2:15? Those are questions I didn’t think possible before all this stuff happened to me. Now? It seems doable. It seems realistic.

For me there was no better place to finish this story, and start a new one, than in Oakland.

When Oakland actually became my ‘A’ race


When I decompressed from running a ridiculously soggy California International Marathon last December, I realized two things:

  1. I was overcoming the anxiety that had paralyzed me and all but taken away my voice and confidence
  2. I was gunning for the Oakland Half Marathon to be my “A” race

Two very different realizations, yes.

But running CIM a second time, during one of the worst periods of my life, made me think that if a marathon could make me overcome something so seriously wrong with me, maybe gunning for a new “A” race would continue to promote that healthy perspective. It matters, though, that Oakland was my first-ever half marathon in 2011. CIM was my first marathon the same year.

I have sentimental attachments to both.

And after emergency gallbladder surgery, a broken arm and an incredibly messed up training cycle, today, Oakland actually became my “A” race.

I’m not afraid to admit, there were some tears. There were also exasperated sighs. The moment after I finished, all I wanted to do was collapse into a ball and scream. I can’t relate the feeling any other way. It wasn’t anxiety, though this is the biggest race I’ve done since crap went down last October. (Confession: I had my first panic attack since last October this week. It wasn’t as traumatic as that one, but it took me right back to THAT day. And it kind of ruined my week and made me feel fragile again. The trigger was a very similar, hopeless situation like what happened to me last fall.)

Today, I felt pure bliss. I haven’t felt that in more than a year. My heart sang and danced. I felt more free than I ever have before.

That bliss came in an official time of 2:20:52. Nearly a two-minute better than my August PR time.

My husband called it, as if he knew I had it in me. Though he was a couple minutes off.

“I should expect you around 2:18, right,” he said as we circled Lake Merritt to go to the start.

I laughed.

“You’re out of your damn mind if you think I’ll be that fast,” I responded.

He wasn’t far off.

Last night, I was considering not even going to this race. I was throwing in the towel before I even started. The panic attack did that too me. It, again, made me doubt everything I knew. It paralyzed me with fear. I even offered my very-tired husband, who has worked six days a week at his engineering job since last fall for a rebuild project, an out. I told him we didn’t have to go. Fine by me. He could sleep.

I’m thankful he’s a man smart enough to know I was looking for an out. He wasn’t giving me one.

I also knew that on my list of consistent things that pulled me out of the darkness last year, running was at the top. With each run, the confidence came back.

Two years ago, this half marathon made me feel like I could do anything the moment I finished. Last year, I suffered through physical and emotional pain, doubting myself every step.

Today, it made me fearless.

I feel like I’ve been cheesy on a lot of my posts lately, but I can’t help but feel liberated these past couple months. Something in me has changed. And it’s not just the gallbladder being gone.

It means today I gave Oakland the race it deserved. More than anything else, those streets defined who I became as a person during my two years of graduate school at UC Berkeley. I became “me” in Oakland, away from my family, my now husband and my life before that point. That race deserved a better performance than I had given in previous years.

More importantly, I gave myself the race I always knew I had in me.

I hang my PR medal right in front of my computer in my home office. It’s to remind me of what I can accomplish. Right now it’s also reminding me of how far I’ve come.

And that PRs are made so that we can break them.

Finding my stride and consistency

I’ve written a lot about my lack of consistency lately. I start a run and then trail off. I get weaker as I go through. I can’t maintain a solid pace. My mile numbers are all over the place.

I’m struggling as a runner. I know it. I have a lot of reasons for it. Two jobs don’t help. Lack of a good night’s sleep isn’t either. I’m stressed. It’s impacting my running on every level.

I had no business running the Pasadena Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon last month. None. At. All.

Since the Pasadena fiasco, I’ve tried to gain a little more perspective on my running. I’ve limited my caloric intake too. I’ve made some changes. It’s not a complete answer, but so far I think I’m making progress.

So my goal for the Oakland Half Marathon today was to strive for consistency.

I needed that.

And I wanted to do better than last year. (Even though it’s a new course.)

I’m proud to say I accomplished both.

The Oakland Half Marathon starts at 9:15 a.m. which is a little late in the running world. But it meant we could wake up at a decent hour and head to the new start location, Snow Park, which had a fairly good turnout of people.

I scoped out the finish line.

Not much to see there. The 5K, which until this year was held on Saturday night, happened before the start of the half marathon.

The portable toilet stock was pretty good too for a race with 4,000 people. I’m not kidding, there was a whole stock of portable toilets. I’m kind of sad I didn’t get a photo of it. There were also some location on a side street which was just as nice, especially when we found people were using the other ones more. A morning positive! No bathroom lines!

We also wandered around a little bit. The merchandise tent looked better at the expo. People were buying stuff. I did all that the day before at the expo.

We stopped at the bathrooms. And then we heard the announcement telling the half marathon runners to line up. I made my way into the 11 minute corral. I set my Garmin for an 11:30 average pace. It beeps when I’m not meeting that. And, I’m happy to say, for the first time ever, I met that pace overall for the race.

We crossed the starting mats after three minutes.

And…then we began.

I struggled for the first four miles. I think it was combination of fatigue (this has been a rough week at work) and hunger. I had eaten so long before that I was a little hungry at the start.

Mile 3 was a real struggle. That’s when I decided enough was enough. I needed a Gu. So I downed a Vanilla Bean one. That’s what propelled me through mile 4. You can see my struggle at the end. I let what I had going slip a little bit, otherwise I probably would have finished at 2:30.

My husband, though, was standing waiting for me at around mile 13.

“Two and a half?” he yelled.

I nodded back. He knows my average time on these things. And he knew, then, that this was a better run for me.

I knew too.

Why was it a better run? I listened to my body. When my heart started pounding, I slowed down. When I needed to walk, I walked. Then I picked up the pace and ran my heart out. I ran my heart out the entire race.

When I wanted to stop. I kept going. I just kept at it.

I finished with an official time of 2:32:27. My third best half marathon to date. Better than the 2:35:36 of last year too.

And I looked better than after my finish last year as well.

I did sit down. Because I was tired and, as you can see, red in the face. I have a slight sunburn. The move from Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland to Snow Park was a good one. There was more space. It was closer to a nice view of Lake Merritt. People got to lounge around.

Yes, I take pictures of random people lounging around because I refuse to pull out my camera and take photos while I’m running. I’m not that kind of blogger.

It was Sam’s first time running the Oakland Half. I think this may become her race too. It’s already mine. It’s the only one I knew last year I was 100 percent sure I’d come back to. I hella love Oakland. And this half marathon. And maybe someday, I’ll run the full, giant hill and all.

That said, the last .1 mile of this half was all uphill. That burned. I was so tired at the end.

But I did it. I found my stride. I kept hitting it. I stayed consistent. I slowed when I needed to. And I kept going.

Last year, I had beer tickets at the end I didn’t use. This year, the Barefoot Wine booth was mixing up mimosas. It was close to noon, but yes, I wanted a mimosa in a small cup.

I got Thomas one too. I had two tickets after all.

Then we ventured back to Livermore, after a really urgent bathroom stop at a shady bathroom off the freeway in Oakland. We ate and drank at First Street Alehouse. Finally it was back home. Into the bath tub and then into bed. I was tired. My alarm went off at 5:20 a.m. I decided not to try to go back to sleep.

That was my day. All 13.1 miles of it.

Check out my second expo shirt. I decided on a whim to buy it. I love it because it looks a little more hardcore than my other two shirts. It also was one of the only dark gray shirts at the expo.

Plus, this is on the backside.

That’s exactly what I did today. Am I happy? Yes. Today was a good day. My run was a solid one. I’m proud of what I accomplished out there.

Can I do better? Always.

I’m going to keep working on it. As always.