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March 25, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Oakland Running Festival

Running the Oakland half marathon today marked a meaningful milestone for me. After doing several training runs over 13 miles I was familiar with the distance, and I was able to simultaneously push my limits and also really enjoy myself. Never in a million years did I think I would be capable of running 13.1 miles and smile the whole way through!

It was also really special to get to share this experience with my running club. The Wow team had a booth near the start, so we had a place to meet and get a pep talk from Coach Stephanie beforehand.

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The starting line was so packed. I started with one of my running buddies, Lizette (second from left in above photo). We run a similar pace and she was a continual inspiration through our long training runs. If I could keep Lizette in sight then I was keeping a good pace!

The Oakland Run Fest brought in 9000 participants this year, 2500 of them running the half marathon. My only previous organized run experience was a low-key 10K in Houston, nothing on the scale of this! Since distance runners spend so much time logging lonely miles, it was thrilling to come together with such a huge mass of other half marathoners. Rather than a competition, it felt like one big party to celebrate all of our hard work leading up to this day.

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Photo source: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-marathon-draws-more-than-9-000-runners-4380634.pho

Not that I have another to compare it to, but I think the Oakland Run Fest is a particularly fun race to do. There was confetti at the starting line, DJs along the course, live bands playing at turns, random people who were going about their errands then stopped to cheer on the runners, and locals clanging cow bells and holding up motivational signs. I got high-fives from cute little kids, a man in a Winnie the Pooh costume, and a hip hop gorilla. Another highlight was running through a flaming archway somewhere around mile 8, followed by a guy in a huge contraption with spikes and a dragon’s head that shot out flames. Whaaat? That’s hella Oakland.

I am happy to report that I beat my time goal! I wanted to finish in under two hours, and I made it in 1:56, which was a sub-9:00 pace. That’s significantly faster than I did for any of my training runs! There’s really something about the adrenaline of being in a big crowd in the energy of the race environment that makes you not even realize how fast you’re going.

I had been warned not to get too swept up in the excitement at the beginning of the race. One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to run too fast out of the gate and exhaust yourself early on. After half a mile I checked my speed and saw I was going well under my goal pace, so I let up (but just a little bit) and did a pretty good job of maintaining that pace the rest of the time. By the end,  I was pretty much spent and felt very accomplished.

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In my pre-C25K life, I never understood the appeal of running events, but now I can totally see how serial half or full marathoners get addicted to chasing that race high. I don’t plan to take a breather, either – Starting this week I’m going straight into training for the San Francisco Marathon in June!

As fun as today was, completing the half didn’t necessarily give me more  confidence about being able to complete the full in a few months. When our course merged with the full marathoners who were already well into their second half, I felt guilty for running alongside them feeling so fresh while they struggled to push through to the end.

My roommate, who is running the Boston Marathon in a few weeks, says that running a full marathon feels like far more than twice the effort of a half marathon. Those last 6 miles are where people really tend to hit the wall. I’ve heard it said that a marathon is a 20-mile warmup for a 6 mile race. I think I will definitely need to change my mindset when it comes to the marathon. I may have been able to race the half, but the SF marathon will be all about just trying to finish in reasonable shape.

I won’t be continuing to run with the Wow women, but I have greatly enjoyed being a part of this community for the last several months. The Wow team was recently voted the best running club in the Bay Area, a well-deserved recognition. I love how Coach Stephanie is so dedicated to creating an encouraging and supportive environment for women of all ages and abilities to make fitness a part of their lives. They’re a great group of ladies, and it made me so happy to see them all accomplish such a major goal today!

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So the journey continues!

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One Comment

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  1. Stephanie / Mar 25 2013 3:23 pm

    You rock Jessica! Go for the gusto! – Coach Stephanie

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