The inaugural Oakland Running Festival was held on Sunday. This was a rebirth of sorts. It was the first major running event in Oakland in 25 years. Most of the associated running events, including Saturday evening’s twilight 5K, the relay and the half marathon sold out. The producer’s did a great job of organizing and marketing the run and the city embraced the new event by showing up in force.
I almost backed out of running this one since I just finished the Rock and Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in New Orleans 30 days prior. I wasn’t sure if I was physically ready for it or if was emotionally geared up for it. But as Sunday drew closer, I knew I wanted to do it. And I’m so glad I did!
One of the things I love most about Oakland is the natural diversity and the half marathon course wove its way through an incredible mix of neighborhoods, including parts of East and West Oakland that are best known for their high crime rates. Even in these areas … maybe especially in these areas, residents lined the streets cheering the runners on and even cheering the city on yelling, “Go Oakland!”
We explored parts of the city on foot that I had never seen before.
The race started downtown on Broadway at Frank Ogawa Plaza. The start times were different than the other two marathons I’ve run. The full marathon started at 7:30 and the half didn’t start until 9:00. At first I was a little put off by the late start, but it actually worked really well. I’m sure one of the reasons was that BART doesn’t start running on Sundays until 8:00 am so a later start let people take public transportation. I read that there were about 3.400 people participating in the half.
I was lucky enough to spend Saturday night at the Oakland Marriott, the marathon’s host hotel. It was great to just head out of the hotel and right down the block to the Start Line.
As runners lined up at the Start line, my friend Gorgette Torres’ (she was on my Team in Training walk team for the Nike Women’s Marathon last Fall and she also came down to New Orleans to do the Rock and Roll Mardi Gras Marathon though we missed each other there) husband Jesse sang the national anthem and then we were off!
We passed the famous downtown landmark the Tribune Tower.
And past many of the other stunning, now restored, art deco buildings downtown including the Paramount Theater.
After the the downtown core, we ran out toward Laney College and back through Chinatown. Between miles 2 and 3 (I think) there was a large group of taiko drummers. They were awesome!
Then we headed toward West Oakland. Lots of locals were out cheering us on. And Oakland loves their sports teams … so there was a group of Oakland A’s fans representing.
At mile 6 we passed the Crucible. The Crucible is all about fire arts … welding, ceramics, blacksmithing, neon and even performing fire arts (think juggling fire, fire sculpture and lights combined with opera, ballet and the like). They created a metal arch which they lit on fire. We ran under it and as we passed it, they gave us a stick to put on our running bib that said ‘I ran through fire today at the Crucible’. Coolness!
Further into the industrial part of West Oakland (where I had never been before) there are lots of artist lofts (REAL artists in REAL industrial lofts). You would occasionally see evidence of their artistry including these huge and amazing sculptures.
A little further down, heading back on W 28th a group of kids were out drumming for us.
Then we headed toward the Lake Merritt area. By this time (mile 10 or so), I was hurting and feeling pretty nauseated. I’ve never felt nauseated on a run before and I really did think I was going to hurl. But I knew that even if I did, I was going to keep going and make it to the finish.
The last stretch was around Lake Merritt and back into downtown. I struggled and plodded (and even stopped taking pictures) … one foot in front of the other.
And finally …
I crossed the finish line! My time was a personal best, 3 hours 17 minutes (pace of 14:55). I finally broke the 15 minute barrier. Wow! When I started I could barely power walk one mile in 17 minutes 10 seconds.
I’m so grateful that I was able to run and finish … and with such an improved time. It felt like a huge accomplishment. After now participating in 3 half marathons in the last 6 months I have a lot to think about. It’s been a game changer for me in ways that I don’t think I really yet understand. But I’ll be writing about it soon.