Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oakland Marathon -- A Turn Too Far

Early in the morning, before the race
This was my second running of the Oakland Marathon. Three years ago, I ran the inaugural event and I was really impressed by the overall organizational effort and attention to detail. It was a top-notch event with a varied and interesting course through many diverse neighborhoods of Oakland. My positive memories were also helped by the fact that I set a personal record at the time and came in 9th place out of 946, with a 3rd place age group win.

This year was excellent, too, except for one particular intersection. The race was very well organized and considering the complexity of the course route, they really did a great job. There must have been a hundred intersections that had police or volunteers or cones. Unfortunately, all it takes is one problem with the course to seriously derail a race.
"I think here is where I missed the turn."
Yes, out of 20 road marathons and almost as many trail ultramarathons (I've lost count), this is the first time I got seriously lost in a race. I would expect this to happen out in a forest, far from crowds, where it would be easy to miss a small colored ribbon attached to a bush, that indicates a turn. But in a big-city marathon, with nearly a thousand marathoners, I was quite surprised to find myself at mile 26.7, according to my watch, and in theory a half mile beyond the finish line, but with no finish line in sight!

Here's how I described what happened to the race officials, in an email later that day:
Good afternoon,
I had a good race in the marathon this morning and I really enjoyed the experience, except for the very end. I want to thank your team for pulling off such a complicated event and giving the runners a first-rate experience. The volunteers and police and the whole community were great. Thank you!
Unfortunately, I and a small number of other runners (full marathon and possibly relay) accidentally left the course at around mile 25.7. I'll report the facts as best as I can and I'm hoping I can receive a timing adjustment.
After mile 25, and thinking I was on track for a 3:01:30 finish or so, I put in a last burst of effort but I never saw the finish line. Instead I was surrounded by much slower full-marathoners. When my watch showed 26.7, with no finish line in sight, I suspected that something was wrong, but I know that the reported GPS distance is always more than the certified distance. When I saw the mile 18 marker, I knew I had somehow gotten way off course. I stopped and turned-around and worked my way back, at a slow jog (I was cramping and exhausted and despirited). I asked directions and a policeman pointed me to the shortest route to the finish line. I crossed the line in 3:19:05 (the reported net time), with my watch showing 28.2 miles.
Here are the facts as best as I can tell.
1. I left the marathon course around mile 25.7. If you take a look at the attached "missed turn" picture, or if you look at the map of my run on Garmin Connect, you'll see the route I ran. You can compare it with the "correct route" attached picture, which is a zoomed-in portion of the nice PDF map you guys provided.
2. At the point of this missed turn, I was following cones and I and a few other runners near me and another guy a couple hundred meters ahead all believed that we were on course.
3. Crossing 14th St. at this point was "weird" because traffic control seemed strange. Another runner and I remarked about this. So, in hindsight, that was a clue.
4. Immediately after crossing 14th St., a course monitor on bicycle passed me and I told him that something was wrong about the way we had to cross that intersection. He slowed down and spent some time on his phone, texting or entering data or something, and then he took off, in the same direction I was running. He never said anything to me.
5. I started coming across much slower full-marathoners.
6. Eventually, I figured out that I was off course and that I was running with people who were about 8 or 9 miles behind me.
7. I made my way back to the finish line by asking directions, and explaining that I was off course, and taking the shortest possible route.
I then went on to ask for a timing adjustment and explained what I thought went wrong. Their response was:
I apologize for the course mistake at Sunday's Oakland Running Festival. Unfortunately our course marshal it seems didn't show up and the person who laid out the cones made it confusing.
I thought I covered the marathon distance in 3:01:10, but they offered 3:02:07, which was fine. Close enough! As of this moment, a week after the race, that gives me 2nd place in my age group. Cool!

So, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? :-)  No, seriously, I did have a good time and I enjoyed the race overall, and I would run it again. The crowd support was less than I remembered it being three years ago, but there were some great moments.

Even if I had stayed on course, I would not have beat my time from three years ago of 2:59:03. I'm probably not quite in as good as shape (over the hill!) and I also ran the first couple of miles a little bit too fast (7:04 and 6:57) whereas three years ago, I was a bit more careful and stuck to a plan better.

For a terrific race report that shows what we marathoners experienced, please check out Scott Dunlap's blog here. The first-place woman, Devon Crosby-Helms, also wrote a great race report and she had troubles with the same intersection I did.

Jessica filmed me at nearly mile 6. Do I always look this slow? 

I found the finish line! I tried to put on a good show, but I was wiped out and demoralized.

I got my finisher's medal and I feel pretty good physically.

Hanging out with brother-in-law Stephen. Thanks for being there!

Thanks for being there, sis!
Stephen and Jess, after the race.

Me and Stephen, after the race

Random data:

  • Weight on race day morning: 165.6 lbs.
  • It was fun seeing the 1st place half-marathoner pass me. It was as if he was sprinting. A long while later, the 2nd place half-marathoner passed me. Those are the only two half-marathoners I saw.
  • My Garmin data is here. Compare to the 1st place woman's, for example: here.
Update 5/27/2013:
I received a nice trophy, "1st place male marathon masters" for finishers over 40 years old, and a check for $150! Cool! I should point out that I was actually the 2nd place masters finisher, but Scott Dunlap got into the top 5 and so received a cash prize for that and was thus ineligible for the masters award.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Lake Chabot 30K -- 2:20:17

I had a good race at this Lake Chabot 30K, put on by Inside Trail Racing.  The organizers listed the distance as being 18.4 miles, with 2800' of elevation gain, and the course goes around the beautiful Lake Chabot in Oakland, CA.

This was a repeat of last year's 50K in many ways, including carpooling with my very accomplished running friend, Jen Pfeifer. But unlike last year, I wanted to run a shorter distance because I have the Oakland Marathon just a month away, and I didn't want to have to go through a longer recovery that the 50K would entail.

Jen picked me up at 6:15am, which was plenty early for the 8:30am start. (I think we were parked at 7:05am or so.) I saw several other friends, the air was cool and crisp, and soon enough, we were off!

The course was very well marked, including the novel practice of using a special colored blue ribbon to mark trails that we are *not* supposed to run down. For the first couple of miles, I hung with Jen and my friend Dan Rhodes, from my running club. I thought we were running a bit on the fast side, but I didn't have the pace information showing on watch. (I got a new Garmin 910XT, and hadn't configured all the screens yet.) Jen informed us that were running right around 7 minutes per mile. It felt a bit fast, but doable.

Dan was in the 50K and said he would treat this race as a supported long run. Yet, after a couple of miles into it, he started pulling away from me and Jen. He's a fast runner, but even for him, this had to count as a race, and he had a whole half-marathon to go after I would finish!

Somewhere in the hills, near the gun range (which wasn't so annoying as last year for some reason), and perhaps on the Brandon trail, Jen continued going straight up a steep hill, not seeing the pink ribbons on the trail heading to the left. I called out to her to get her back on the course. Close call! So I got to return the favor from last year, where she pointed me in the right direction when I was about to miss the trail markings.

I made a special effort on the short but steep uphills, to run every step. Last year, for the 50K, I "power hiked" on the steepest sections, to keep my heart rate down. I also let loose on the downhills. On one of the miles, Jen called out "6 Oh 3". I didn't quite understand her and she explained, "we ran that last mile in 6:03". Oh, wow, OK, that was a bit fast for me. My heart rate was high, but I felt in control.

Jen's plan was to run 8 miles on the easy side and then pick up the pace for the last 10 miles or so. So, I'm huffing and puffing and in total race mode, and she puts in her ear buds and gently pulls away from me. (Or maybe I was slowing down a bit or both.) My heart rate seemed high and I was only half-way done, so, I didn't want to push too hard. We passed some runners who were either in the 30K or 50K.

Eventually, I started running into the half-marathoners, who didn't take this 10K extension that the 30K runners did. I was starting to feel cramps coming on and was really feeling the effort, so it was a nice mental boost to be passing other runners. I tried to drink more. I was eating an energy gel every 45 minutes. I was looking forward to seeing the lake again, because then I knew I would be just a few miles from the finish.

My legs started feeling heavy and I couldn't sprint up the short steep hills any more, and my heart rate fell a bit, and I fell further behind Jen and could no longer see her up ahead. I passed Colleen, from my running club, who was in the half-marathon, and we yelled encouragement to each other. I recognized that I was nearing the finish and there was a helpful "1 mile to go" sign, but I couldn't really sprint, as I was very close to having bad cramps. Finally, I rounded the corner. *whew* I was glad to finish!

All-in-all, I'm happy with the results. There were some strong competition in my race, but I got 2nd place in my age group of 40-49. And I finished just about a minute behind Jen, which I take as a good sign. (She was first place woman by about 17 minutes!) My friend Dan was about 45 seconds in front of me at the 30K mark and he went on to have a strong 50K finish.

So, for my first race of 2013, I'm happy!

What went well:
  • No trips, no falls, and I didn't get lost.
  • I averaged about 7 minutes 27 seconds per mile on some hilly terrain, for about 18.4 miles.
  • No chafing or blisters, except relating to my new heart rate monitor. (See below.)
  • I had a good time!
  • My new Garmin 910XT watch seemed to work great. (I had broken my Garmin 310XT in a fall a few months ago, and the super-glue gave way.)
Things to improve:
  • I got some cramps and I probably pushed a little too hard in the middle of the race. I think I would have had a slightly faster time and a slightly better experience if my hardest effort were towards the end.
  • I may not have drank enough or had enough salt.
  • I dropped my water bottle once.
  • The Garmin 910XT's heart rate monitor band really dug into my chest. I knew it was likely to cause chafing and I had used Body Glide, but not enough and not in all the right places apparently. The strap wasn't too tight -- I started the race with it too loose and I had to tighten it shortly after the start. I have to go back to using the Garmin 310XT's heart rate monitor for anything over an hour's run.
Random data:
  • I don't know how much I weighed because my scale's batteries went dead, but I think I was between 164 and 165 lbs.
  • Ate an energy gel every 45 minutes.
  • Results are here.
  • Garmin data is here.

nice shirt & mug!