Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fast Fun at the 2013 Oakland Marathon

The Oakland Running Festival, now in its 4th annual running, attracts over 9,000 people for its marathon, half marathon, and 5k races. It's already the second biggest Oakland city event of the year! When a spot opened up on my calendar for Sunday, I jumped at the chance to toe the line for a 3rd time at this race and see the hills and neighborhoods of Oakland and Berkeley, CA. I figured it would at the least be a chance to catch up with some friends and get a solid tempo day into the books.

(Runners take over Oakland, photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
It's a great course, and one with enough hills from mile 6-14 to give the San Francisco Marathon or Big Sur Marathon a run for the money in the "toughest California road marathon" contest. The hills are steep, in particular the descent from mile 13, which favors us trail rabbits. Given the short notice I didn't really have a plan, other than to go out at a fast aerobic pace (6:20 min/mile), slow it down for the hills, and assess my legs at mile 15. The same strategy had worked the first two times I ran the race (2:49 in 2010, and 2:55 in 2011), and had nabbed me two Masters wins thanks to their "no double-dipping roll down" policy that removes any Top 5 finisher from contention for Masters awards (otherwise Tony Torres, who placed 1st and 3rd with ~2:30 finish times would have also been the Masters winner the years I ran).

(Caitlin Smith and John Burton look AB-solutely fabulous)
(Penny MacPhail gets some love from Devon Yanko)
(Eric Lyman joins me at the start line)
(Mayor Jean Quan gets us rolling)
As I jogged up to the start, I found Devon Yanko, Caitlin Smith, and Penny MacPhail warming up and laughing together. They all looked incredibly fit and relaxed, and assured me this was not an "A" race for any of them. Devon and Caitlin were definitely capable of beating the 2:53 Women's course record, especially if they worked together, and I knew there were free tickets to Hawaii for winners (courtesy of sponsor Hawaiian Airlines), so I wasn't so sure. We shall see! There were plenty of other familiar faces in the start corral as well - Ethan Veneklasen was running a relay leg, last years winner Chris Mocko had recovered "enough" from a glute injury to give it a shot, John Burton was fit and out for fun, and former 100k world champion Shinji Nakadai (who won the 2010 IAU 100k World Championships with a 6:43...holy speedskates!) was in town as well. At 7:30am, the bikes lined up to lead us and we were off!

(Bike escorts were ready to roll...and had a challenging day!)
(And we're off!)
(Cutting through city center)
(Dashing by the Fox Theatre, photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
After a slight mix up with a cursing driver who refused to yield to the cops, we found ourselves on a new part of the course that cut through the city center, giving us a chance to loop back and see some of the other runners cross the starting line. There was a front pack of five at a 5:30 min/mile pace, and a second pack that included the top Women at a 6 min/mile pace, then the rest of us spreading out as we bid farewell to the famous Fox Theatre. I ran along with Ethan and a friend of his, catching up and thanking the early risers who came out to cheer us on.

(Plenty of runners in the front packs)
We cut through some cute neighborhoods and ran right town Telegraph Avenue, before climbing up to College Ave for a quick tour of a restaurant-rich section of town (mile 5). The locals were awesome, cheering us on with their coffee mugs in hand and clearly were ready to make cheering a big part of their day. At mile 6, the relay teams got fresh legs and the full marathoners tagged along to tear up the first of the big hills.

(Relay team Runner's Unchained on their way to a 2nd place finish, with Ethan keeping pace)
(College Ave all to ourselves!)
(Devon pulls away from second pack, throwing a San Anselmo gang sign in the process)
As we made our way through the quaint and charming enclaves of the Oakland hills, I had some deja vu moments as I saw the same people in the same chairs (using the same signs!) along the course. That's so cool they came out and made a day of it! Then again, it's not like they will be leaving their driveways anytime soon. ;-)  There were plenty of waving palms from local church groups, ringing in Palm Sunday with cheer and smiles. I ran along with Luke Bell from Australia, who had traveled to the US for work and managed to fit this race into a jam-packed four day vacation in the Bay Area. Luke was definitely holding back his pace, but was all smiles taking in the sights, and getting to know every runner along the way.

(Luke Bell enjoys the early miles)

(We had the bike trails to ourselves)

(More great cheering locals!)
The climbs kept coming...and coming...and Luke pulled away as we passed through Montclair (mile 10). We saw the Mormon Temple and headed downhill in a "be careful what you wish for" plunge (mile 11). I caught up with local runner Ramon De La Rosa who was running his first marathon. First marathon?!? That is one helluva debut and he still looked good. We hit the halfway point in about 1:27 in full cruising gear, and I bid Ramon farewell and leaned into the downhill.

(There's the Mormon temple, and that means lots of downhill coming!)

(Ramon gets a boost from the relay teams)
By the time we hit Fruitvale (mile 15), it felt like they had cleared the roads for a five person fun run. Awwwkward! Many of the drivers were non-too-pleased, and the Oakland Police Dept had their hands full. Fruitvale already has a loud and eclectic flavor to it, so I'm sure it was all in days work for the OPD. I picked out a runner about a minute ahead and set my pace to get him, if anything just for some camaraderie.

(No, really....there are lots of people in this race!)
Scott Reisdorf from Livermore, CA, turned out to be perfect company. He has run every one of the Oakland Marathons, and was quite confident we were on a 2:55-ish finish pace. We talked about all the little course changes over the years, and how we found the changes thoughtful for variety and safety, but resulting in a more challenging course over time. We chuckled at the Gummy Bear Cadillac, back yet again, and found a new tempo to the beats of the DJ's along International Boulevard. After a couple of miles, I picked up the pace again to get it back to 6:20 min/mile pace, and Scott (ever the pacemaker!) sensed I was pushing him a bit hard and wished me the best.

(Go, go Gummy Bears!)
(Scott Reisdorf is cruising fast!)
As we turned towards Jack London Square (mile 18), the Oakland road rage had gone full f'ing ballistic. The streets were full of cars, and nobody was listening to jack (london?). It was great! They had shit to do, man, I get that. If you didn't get the memo about road closures, a city marathon can seriously mess up your day. So I just ran between the cars, waving back to the drivers that were giving me the middle finger, and knew this was likely the part of the race I would be telling other runners for years. Right? Couldn't be more different than the trails!

(Running through live intersections...the full Oakland experience!)
(These ladies were awesome and everywhere)
As we got into West Oakland (mile 19), I was alone on the road and the whole experience just got surreal. The same two amazing ladies with "Kick Assfault" signs were appearing everywhere and cheering at the top of their lungs, and I was beginning to suspect teleportation. Then a DJ was spinning some insane dubstep from a Road Warrior-inspired off road vehicle that was spitting fire to the beat. SPITTING FIRE TO THE BEAT. I shit you not, it was seriously cool. Just when I thought I had seen it all, five minutes later I was heading down an industrial backroad with a row of tents for the homeless who are just waking up and giving me confused looks and flagging me down for change. The amalgamate of Oakland defies your boundaries not to be stretched. And by the way, it's still 10k to the finish. Run, Forrest, Run!

(Still not sure what the hell this was...but it was awesome!)
(More fire! More warped steel! Welcome to West Oakland)
(Some of the cheaper housing of Oakland)
(Threat Level Orange tears it up)
(Now THESE are Raiders fans!)
As we approached Lake Merritt (mile 23), I passed Rogelio Antonio and Juan de Oliva from Reno, NV, two friends who were definitely looking at a sub-3 hour finish at the pace they were going. We cruised by Fairyland, where Christi and I had taken the girls the day before, and a number of welcome locals and their dogs who made room for us on the bike path. I caught Chris Mocko and Caitlin Twain, both taking walk internals so as not to amplify "issues" they were both having. Only those two could walk in a sub-3 hour finish time. ;-)

(Taking a walk break)
(More music! Photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
A couple of brilliant volunteers had bells and whistles to pull us along the right turns of the route, making it easy to navigate the crowds along the park (nice work, guys!)! I crossed the footbridge, and ran it in for a 2:53:45, feeling good enough for a beer and snacks. (all results)

(Finish in sight!)
(Still smiling, with great volunteers)
(Oakland cheerleaders greet us at the finish, photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
At the awards ceremony, none of us had seen the times yet so we weren't sure of our places. All we knew was that Shinji Nakadai had won in 2:37:29, and Devon Yanko had beat the course record by minutes in winning the Women's race. I hung out with Penny MacPhail, most certainly the Women's Masters winner with her 3:16 finish, and we crossed our fingers for hearing our names for the ridiculously large Masters trophies. But in a confusing moment, the Masters winners were announced with times that were slower than ours. What? How can that be?!? We found out later that I was Top 5 Male - 6th overall, and since Devon had destroyed the Womens course record in 2:47:24, that made me #5 dude. Penny was the 4th Female, so both of us would be seeing checks but no trophies. The same rule that had garnered me a Masters trophy twice had now caught me in its web! That was worth a few rounds of humble laughter, I tell ya. But I remembered how it felt to get it when I wasn't really the first Master, and knew that Berkeley's Daniel Kono would be thrilled to get hardware for his worthy 3:05 finish time.

(Shinji Nakadai celebrates his win, photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
I walked back to my car, race-provided Coors Light in hand, chuckling that I was in good company with the number of people with open containers near Chinatown. Everyone is welcome in Oakland's unapologetically strange and diverse culture, and we all celebrate it in our own way, whether that's running or chilling in the sun. It's that magnetic pull that keeps me coming back for more, which I will certainly be doing again.


  1. Great to see you Scott and congrats on a great run! That's no gang sign,that is my little pterodactyl wing :)

  2. Excellent writeup (as always) and impressed with your finish time and the number pics you managed to take. Don't know how you do it!

  3. Was nice to meet you Scott! I was that dude in the blue SF Marathon shirt. Been reading your blog since 2011. :)

    1. Eric! Great to meet you. I added your name to the photo above.

  4. Penny Macphail3/27/2013 01:44:00 PM

    Fantastic write up Scott- you're a party in running shoes. Keenly and appreciatively observed. Your speed is intimidating enough but frankly it is nauseating to see you stopped to take pictures/eat sandwiches/take in Fairyland etc on the way. V glad the cars didn't squish you so we got to hang out. P xx

    1. You're amazing, Penny! I will remember that moment at the awards ceremony forever. Super funny!

  5. I did Oakland as my first ever marathon last year and loved it. Lots of fun. But, all my friends who live by Lake Merritt HATE the race. They may have been the people driving their cars through the course in front of you.

  6. Great report and fantastic finish! Those flame things are from The Crucible in West Oakland (it's a great place to go if you want to learn to weld or cut steel with flames and such). The running with traffic thing is a bit bizarre - was it like that still when the larger groups of more normal runners came through? (And I love the homeless people hitting you up for change during a race!)

  7. I ran Oakland marathon in its first year of 2010. Of all the marathons I have run, I have never seen one with as many pissed-off drivers in such heavy traffic congestion. I remember seeing one 60-something dude out of his car and yelling into a cop's face. Looks like it's still the same. And the pic of the homeless tents, I believe that is probably the same location as I saw it back in '10.

  8. Awesome blog with beautiful pictures. I really enjoyed. Thanks for sharing with us.

  9. You didn't run through Berkeley - even those nice areas were Oakland :)

  10. Great photos! Looks like a nice race.

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  12. What a great race report. Thanks. Looking forward to the 2014 race in 6 days.


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