Sunday March 29th 2012
It was Richard Ervais’ fault (Hamish’s work colleague at Bite who suffers so badly from marathon addiction he is close to completing 100 ). He mentioned Oakland was having a marathon and I thought, good for Oakland .. I should support that. I live in Marin, 26.07 miles (almost precisely a marathon) away but a world apart from Oakland. Marin features in charts of places most Americans want to live (the most aggressive things here are real estate agents) while Oakland has been number 5 on the FBI’s list of America’s most dangerous cities for years http://www.city-infos.com/25-
most-dangerous-cities-according-to-fbi/. I grew up near Belfast so I know what it is to love a community with a bad rep.
Oakland’s organizers requested no headphones and if you wear them you are ineligible for awards/prizes….and there were cash prizes five deep in the ladies positions and for the masters (first lady over 40). So …mmm..ok no ipod. Darn. I normally run trail, kinda grim prospect ..roady stuff without ear escapism.
The weather was 100% chance of rain but I arrived to clear skies and worries about where to park also also evapourated as street parking was free on Sunday. I dented Oaklands economy but secured good karma by sharing this joy with line of drivers who were queuing for pay parking right beside a row of free-on-Sunday meters. Shortly after that a rat ran over my foot. Well let’s have that as a good omen – he kept up a strong pace as he rounded the corner.
The race was interesting. I eyed the guy with a 3.10 pace sign on a stick ( if you stay with him you should complete the race in 3hrs 10mins) at the start and wondered if I should try to join his group. I’m a bit funny about numbers when it comes to running. I never time myself on mile splits, I rarely want to know how many miles I have done. I just run a squeeze beyond what is comfortable and keep going until someone offers me wine or I see a finish line.
After the first few miles they do send you up some surprisingly challenging hills. I could see there were some uppy bits building to mile 11 but nothing over 8oo ft ish. I wondered (mistakenly) if perhaps I might not notice them as my trail marathons often exceed 5/6000 ft. I passed Mr 3.10 and his cronies early on but they nibbled away at the ground between us as the hills continued and swooped by me, as did a perfect specimen of feminine beauty and athleticism which turned out to be Ms Monica Zhuang. This was my first and final chance to meet her before she glided over the finish line as second lady. I resisted the temptation to chase them, believing in my natural feel and remembering the races where I have pushed too hard at the start only to fizzle later on. Really any marathon is about surviving first, times later. I don’t know why I found those hills so tough, you can’t dig your toes in and lean forward as you can on a steep trail and I wasn’t sure if I should be doing shorter or longer strides. All in all I began to feel rather small about my ‘ oh I’ll just cruise this little flat thing in 3 hoursish ’ thoughts. They did not return.
Eventually we crowned the top of the last big hill around mile 12. A cheerful group of people with balloons shrieked ‘It’s all downhill from here’. This always amuses me in races for two reasons. 1) in any other context this expression would be bad news and 2) people who shout this are invariably unwittingly lying unless they are about an inch from the finish. I was chatting to two runners at this point, one of which knew the course well. He assured me there was a dramatic big long down from this point for 5 miles. One was a hills man, the other like me tends to do well on downs. Mr hills bade us goodbye as if he was dying and assured us we wouldn’t see him again as we crested the hill. And aha I could see Mr 3.10 ahead. My new friend and I both started thundering down to annihilate him. Just then I felt my back jolting and sparks of pain sprinkled down my right leg so I had to pull back. That was a bit sad. I seem to need to let my back sort of settle when I change from steep up to steep down on road. (I had 5 months off running with two torn discs in my back last year and am now on an active recovery where I treat them badly by running marathons then cajole them with heavyweight anti-inflammatories and by slathering on the Icy Heat. I do have to respect pain though and the repeated hitting on hard road is worse that trail stuff for it) My new pal also found his big downhill moment less fun than expected as he suddenly announced ‘oh dear’ and dropped out. I was however delighted to spot Mr hills positively cooking later on around mile 20.
I did enjoy the local people and sights and sounds of downtown Oakland – loved the bit where you run through a flaming bridge. There were A LOT of policemen, and there were also more dogs - police and otherwise – than I have ever seen at a marathon before (which is hard for me as I want to stop and cuddle them all..I did pat a few). I wondered which streets were the ones that I would be ill-advised to walk down come nightfall. We had been lead to expect live music on virtually every street corner and that was certainly not the case and made the no headphones thing tougher for me – but I enjoyed what was there was and as always there were one or two little comments/exchanges with people that made the day memorable. A husky voice from an upper apartment said ‘Moma got tail’ …it may mean I have an impressively large behind but I didn’t ask for clarification. Sometimes it is hard to show you appreciate all the shouts of encouragement, but every single one helps a little when you are going through a tough time motivating yourself and I must say I did find this hard. I liked the sign ‘Pain is temporary, pride is forever’.I’m sure my back surgeon would like a little chat with the lady holding it.
By accident I overheard some people talking about Mr 3.10 as we hit mile 21 sign. It appears he had had to drop out due to suspected rest room needs. The news cheered me as I had been feeling a little glum he was not even in view in places where I could see well ahead. It turned out these people were running the 3.10ish pace so I was doing better than I had thought. To celebrate I decided to ditch my water carrier as it was empty and was hurting my hand. What an old fool I had bought a jaunty purple one at the expo …(I know, never race with something new, but it was pretty and had nice big zippy pockety bits). I lobbed it towards a group of children. Wonder what they made of my emergency contact lens and tampon.
warning - I’m off on a history lesson here!
It’s a good sign when you can see the lake Merritt in this marathon. Funny to picture the Ohlone Indians who used to fish and hunt in wetlands here. As an archaeologist I do like knowing the early history of places like this. (with no ipod I was trying to get my mind on something). The Indians were chucked out when the land was deeded to one very happy Sergeant Peralta in 1810. He got his comeuppance in 1848 when squatters moved in during the gold rush and battled for nearly ten years to get a judge to get them off. After that his children started bickering over the land and the drama continued ..just recently of course the land was encamped by Occupy. It was called Lake Peralta until Mayor Merritt funded an operation to turn it into a center of civic pride in the 1870s. Now wait for it..he pushed for it to be made a hunting free, wildlife refuge (the first in North America) as the place was teaming with wildlife and he wanted to avoid ‘the danger of gunfire so close to the city’. Oh the irony.
And then it was over. My time was 3 hrs 12m – not bad for an old carcass like me on a course with a bit of hill – and to my delight I was third lady. The first lady had been home for nearly a quarter of an hour, playing with the baby she gave birth to six weeks before. Good grief! I don’t know what is more impressive, her run or her luck in acquiring a husband that will look after three children including a new born for three hours!I was delighted to spot Richard later on. He wasn’t feeling too good and hadn’t had a great race but he had done it in a little over four hours and had taken another step towards doing 100 marathons…awesome! It was lovely to see a friendly face as I was by myself and even lovelier to see his friendly hand offering me $10 with which I was able to buy some startlingly good espresso coffee from a little food wagon. At the little prize ceremony I recognized the much lauded name Sarah Lavender Smithhttp://www.sarahlavendersmith.com/category/blog/ from various trail events – she and the lady who was 4thcame in
a just a few minutes behind me. I got an excitingly shiny trophy for being third lady and as this race sensibly doesn’t give masters to position winners, Sarah won the masters trophy which – I enjoyed teasing her afterwards – was a great deal sexier than mine. I think she should have it made into a hat for the next royal wedding. Reading her blog I was delighted to recognize a blind addiction to running defying medical advice and tendancy to regard physical pain - especially during this event – as an irritant rather than a reason to stop that makes me look tame and sensible. She is training for a 100 k run, I suspect she will nail it.
It looks like I will receive $300 prize money though it’s not in my paw yet. If I do I look forward to putting some of this back to support Oakland through the Ella Baker Center. http://ellabakercenter.org/ This is a very fine organization, one I had not heard of before attending the marathon expo. It is really impossible not to be humbled by the importance of their work with young people on the streets and in the prison system in Oakland and California.