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.

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