Race Recap & Review: Oakland Half Marathon

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#2 of the 2014 Half Marathons

The Oakland Running Festival is heralded as the “Best Race of the West” according to Runner’s World. I’d have to say that I agree and is a great race!

I recently changed shoes from my Asics to two new shoes: Nike Lunar Forevers and Nike Free Flyknits, but didn’t transition slowly enough to those new shoes, causing some sore calves and an annoyed Achilles. This race, although I knew would be flat and would be an doable PR, I decided to take it easy and try get through it in a reasonable time.

I had the chance to register for the 5K on top of the half marathon and tackle the “Run The Town” challenge, but with a bad leg I decided to just do the half and save the challenge for another year.

Packet Pickup

Packet pickup was held at the Oakland Convention Center, also the same place as the Oakland Marriott City Center. I made the drive up from San Jose early Saturday morning.

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Oakland prides itself on being an “up and coming” city, and it’s definitely the case. With a marathon, tons of unique shops and restaurants, and a rapidly improving downtown, there’s nothing but wave after wave of optimism for Oakland.

Packet pickup was smooth, easy, and very organized.

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Later, I headed to a well-known restaurant to Cal students, Bakesale Betty! Their fried chicken was as good as always.

Brings back memories!

Brings back memories!

Race Morning

Other than evening races that are held at sunset, this race is the latest I’ve ever attended with a start time of 9:15am. At 7:30am, I left San Jose and headed up north to Oakland via the BART, arriving at the 19th St BART station at 9ish. Super convenient!

Organization of this race could be a little better. As I’ve learned later, this race started off with 5,000 runners, but increased in size to around 10,000 runners. However, it seems like the organization and thought process still accounts for a smaller race, and it doesn’t scale very well.

What do I mean? Well, bag check was one example. Since they didn’t sort by bib number or by last name, all the 5Kers were in one section, half marathoners in another, and marathoners in another. Long lines started to form before and after the race.

The other issue was the corral placements and starting line experience. Instead of being assigned a corral, everyone started off in one huge corral with paces written somewhere in the front. This causes major congestion in the first mile or so since signs are ignored and people just bunch up in the front.

But, with these issues, the course was what I believe makes up for these minor issues.

The Course

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Downtown Oakland
Mile 1: 6:58
Mile 2: 7:52
Mile 3: 7:39

With the congested start, I spent the first mile or so getting past as many people as I could.

As the half marathon turned into its 4th mile, the marathon route joins on its 17th mile or so. Here the marathoners were huffing and puffing along while the half marathoners were just getting started!

Chinatown & Jack London Square
Mile 4: 7:42
Mile 5: 8:20

My leg was starting to act up and I had to stop and stretch at certain points. Nike+ was reporting that a PR was still possible, my left calf was basically saying today wasn’t that day. I decided to slow down.

Course support and bands were everywhere! I really enjoyed this course cause of the huge number of supporters out and about. This is what happens when you start your race at a time when people would be awake, and I wish other courses did the same.

West Oakland
Mile 6: 8:11
Mile 6.63 official time: 52:41 (7:56 / mi) 
Mile 7: 8:31
Mile 8: 8:37

There was a guy with a flamethrower here. Serious. He was off to the side at around mile 8, was on a vehicle of some sort, and was shooting flames. That was awesome.

I thought at some point I’d have to stop and walk the rest of the way, but I was able to continue maintaining a good pace.

North Oakland
Mile 9: 8:48
Mile 10: 8:27

North Oakland reminded me a lot of my time in Berkeley, since I passed by a lot of neighborhoods I used to run by and go to when I was a student. On the 980 underpass several hardcore Raiders fans were there and that kinda freaked me out.

Lake Merritt
Mile 11: 8:15
Mile 12: 7:57
Mile 13:
 8:13

This was pretty much the route I took with my first 5K, which was a run around the perimeter of Lake Merritt. There was luscious foliage and really nice housing alongside the lake, and course support did not die down even here.

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I finished at 01:47:45, or 8:13 / mile. A year ago at this time, this would’ve been my PR, and now it’s nearly 30 seconds a mile slower than my current PR. With a tight left leg, this is a great time, and had I not have any injuries would’ve definitely PR’d due to the flatness of the course.

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I stretched out my leg as much as I could after the race, and went through the mob that was the bag pickup again.

Lesson learned: Do not change shoes a month before a race.

Overall, this is one of the best races I’ve ran. I really like the course, the large amount of course supporters nearly every quarter mile, and will definitely want to do this again next year. The only nitpicks I have are just with organizations with bag checks and corral placement, but the course and atmosphere definitely make up for it all.

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