Picture credit: SF Chronicle
I ran my 10th road marathon last Sunday, the Oakland Marathon, and I set a new personal record for this distance of 26.2 miles, finishing in 2 hours 59 minutes 3 seconds. This marathon had a substantial hill from miles 5 to 9.5, so it was not a particularly fast course. I came in 9th place out of 946 finishers.
I genuinely enjoyed the race and interacted a lot with the crowds for at least the first 22 miles or so. My calves started tightening up around mile 17.5 and I was worried about cramps and ate an extra Gu, but I held on, and finished with a huge sprint.
My sister Jessica came out and saw me in 3 different places. I saw her twice (miles 4 and 21) but I was too focused towards the end and didn't notice her.
The marathon was extremely well organized and had good crowd support. Thank you, Oakland! I highly recommend this event.
I signed up for the Oakland Marathon months in advance after hearing about it from a friend. (Thank you, Bill Budge.) I wasn't sure how to approach it until it was still a few weeks off because I gave my best effort in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon at the end of January and my big goal for the year is the upcoming Miwok 100K on May 1. Since I was disappointed with how I did in Maui and since I recovered quickly from that marathon, I had a secret plan of racing Oakland smarter and faster and giving it my all.
My main strategy was to not just say I was going to run slower at the beginning and kind of "go by feel", but to really be careful. The same friend who told me about the race, Bill Budge (thanks again!), had found this online innovative marathon pace calculator called MARCO. It's a simple website and unfortunately doesn't have any citations about how it calculates the goals, but given your maximum heart rate and goal time, it will spit out a chart showing a goal heart rate and goal pace for each mile, starting off slow and building up to a strong finish. My goal was to use the Oakland Marathon as an experiment and to follow this MARCO plan.
I did. And it went really really well.
The first two miles felt so slow, like I was out for a fun run with friends. In hindsight, I think this was the best thing I did in the race. My first two miles took me 7:14 and 7:18. I started getting worried that I was running too slow, and I wasn't certain if my heart rate monitor was accurate enough. My target heart rate was 147 bpm. Compare that to Maui where I ran the first four miles all under 6:30 pace, with a heart rate in the 155 to 160 range.
Around mile 4.5, I saw my sister, Jess! She had walked the short distance from her house to see me there. I had told her I would be there, but I wasn't sure she would come out to see me. Thanks so much, Jessica. She even recorded a little video.
The big hill was from about mile 5 to mile 10. I monitored my heart rate and constantly told myself to take it easy. I had a long ways to go still. My maximum heart rate (until this day) was 183 or 184. My goal was to be at 161 by the half way point. I was steadily passing runners.
Finally, the big downhill came. Miles 11 and 12 took me 5:56 and 6:08, which were my fastest 2 miles of the race. Then the half-way point came. I consciously tried to increase my effort a little bit here, to get my heart rate to 161 or so, and I was surprised to run mile 14 in about 6:18. Too fast! I think that was my only real mistake. I was going by heart rate and ended up running too fast, compared to my goal pace.
Around mile 17.5 I started feeling a distinct tightness in my calves. I started worrying that I could cramp up and fall apart like I've done before. I ate my next energy gel ahead of schedule and when I saw one being handed out at an aid station, I grabbed it and ate that a short while later. My stomach felt fine with the extra Gu and it probably helped me maintain my energy.
Somewhere along here the marathon route merges with the half-marathoners who started an hour and a half after the marathoners. I was happy for their company! I couldn't always tell who was in the half-marathon and who was in the marathon. The organizers gave us little tags to pin on our backs saying "half" or "full", but not everyone wore one.
I saw my sister again! I was very surprised this time. I figured she would go back to bed! She took a video at mile 21. Thanks so much, Jess! I high-fived her this time.
Rounding Lake Merritt, I was struggling more and more to maintain my pace and I was feeling much less comfortable. My calves were hurting and I had to really focus on keeping going. An older half-marathoner passed me and I decided to take a risk and speed up and stick with him. I've used this strategy before in long races. I imagine that I'm drafting off of them, but probably the most benefit is psychological. I let my heart rate sore into the 170s. I was red-lining and couldn't take much more. Just 15 minutes left. I was going to set a PR if I could only keep this up. The old guy slowed down on a downhill and I passed him. I recognized another runner who had passed me earlier. I kept up the pace. I was on his back. I passed him. Someone told me I was in 8th place. Whoa!!! Really? I didn't trust him. I kept up the pace and my heart rate was sky-rocketing. I passed a woman that I was pretty sure was the 1st place female. "Awesome job" I grunted. She replied, "way to go". I glanced at my watch. 183 beats per minute. Maximum heart rate with still maybe a quarter mile to go. Oh boy. This will be interesting. I rounded a corner. The finish line! All I could focus on was to sprint to the finish and ignore the pain and my pounding heart and keep moving as fast as I could.
whew...... wow..... so happy to finish.... 2:59:02 is what I think my watch read at the time. Personal Record! I got my medal. Yay. Had some professional photos taken. Got a free massage. Nice!
The red sports drink didn't always make it into my mouth.
Marathon personal record: 2 hours 59 minutes 3 seconds. 9th of 946 finishers. 3rd of 114 in my age group of 35-39 year old males.
Garmin watch GPS data for Oakland Marathon:
Garmin watch GPS data for Maui Oceanfront Marathon:
I also set a new maximum heart rate of 186 beats per minute.
I got a chance to meet Scott Dunlap after the race. He came in 5th overall and wasn't even racing the whole thing. He said his main focus is the Boston Marathon in 3 weeks. Wow.
Accomplished runner and prolific blogger, Scott Dunlap
The SF Chronicle took a nice photo of me before the start and asked for my name. I'm in the caption! Pretty cool.
MARCO Marathon Calculator:
166.4 lbs -- my weight on race morning, after waking up, but before breakfast. I had eaten lots of salty foods the day before and felt well-fed and well-hydrated.
No blisters. Did have some chaffing on my thighs in spite of using Body Glide. Not enough, I guess. Or I could've put it on after arriving in Oakland.
All-in-all, was a great race. The organizers mailed me this nice trophy -- it's 6.5" tall and 8.5" at the base.
Thank you to my many friends who did many training runs with me -- Amanda, Jen W., Mor, Robin, Bill, etc. But most of all, thank you, Jennifer, for letting me have the time to train for and participate in this race.