For the first time in 25 years, Oakland was host to a Marathon. The Oakland Running Festival was a weekend full of races organized by CSE. The course goes included running through downtown to Temescal, circling Lake Merrit, Jack London Square and sweeping views from Montclair and the industrial west side on Mandela Parkway. As a part of the Pure Fit Radio team, I received a complimentary entry into the full marathon from event director Gene Brtalik to help promote the race.

The morning of the event, I felt really good. I woke up with some great energy and considering I set the alarm for 3:30 a.m., this was good. As I made my way to the start line to meet Larry, who was also running, I couldn’t help but notice how good I felt. I’m typically anxious, but I felt at ease and ready to see what the day would bring.

At the start line, Mark Curry, an Oakland native and star of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper was going through the crowd taking photos and wishing runners luck. In a few minutes he would be doing the countdown to start the race. As I took one last photo with Larry, the race started and we were on our way. As I crossed the start line, Mark Curry was on my side of the road high-fiving runners, so I put up my hand, but he didn’t see me and I didn’t get a high-five… Yes, Mr. Cooper left me hanging. LOL. I think that joke almost makes it better than actually getting one, but it still would have been cool.

I ran the first mile with Larry, but since he is much faster, that is where we separated. The morning was perfect race weather and I was moving along nicely. The first 10 miles were an uphill climb over rolling hills to 700 ft. Although the incline may have intimidated some runners, it was by far my favorite section of the course. My goal was to stay as close as I could to 10 min. miles without straining my legs on any uphill or downhill sections.

At Mile 10, I was at 1:38:41 (a 9:48 avg.), and feeling fairly successful for that challenging portion. The hills came and went, but the weather was great and the scenery wonderful. After mile 10 we were ready for a steep downhill, that is challenging even in a car (near the Oakland Temple – Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  The choice here was to fly down and risk the quads screaming later in the race or maintain pace. I went somewhere in the middle picking up a few seconds for the bank but going down close to pace. The next three downhill miles were at 9:33, 9:24, 9:35.

Now I knew it was a race against the clock. With over half the course behind me and the most difficult section done, it was a matter of racing time. Literally. At the halfway point I was at 2:07:14 (with 3 mins. in the bank for a 4:20 finish). Throughout the course, I couldn’t help but notice members of the community cheering the runners on. People standing along the course, sitting outside their house, local businesses, BART stations, simply clapping and rooting us on. I found myself running by and saying ‘thank you’ more than I typically do, which is a lot considering I thank plenty of people along the way typically. We, as runners, should always show our appreciation to those that come and root us on. Oakland came out to support all of us. It was a great thing to see.

Around mile 17, I could feel the sun starting to beat down on us. I was still moving along, but I could tell that it was going to take it’s toll. I stayed well hydrated, but could feel my legs start to tighten up (from what I believe to be a lack of sodium, from the salt residue building up from my sweat). From mile 18 to mile 22, I just bonk’d… for those 4 miles, I averaged just under a 12 min. pace. I was beat and could feel my pace significantly slow. I saw other runners stretching along the course and several suffering from cramps. Although my legs never officially cramped up, they were feeling  mighty tight. I would walk it out or stop and stretch if I ever felt it getting close to tightening up.

I came across wifey at mile 21 and she had salt packets with her. As I dumped them into my water bottle and refilled with Gatorade, I went on my way with a feeling of rejuvenation. She really knows how to make me feel better and stronger as a runner. I couldn’t do this without her.

As the salt packets kicked in and I ate a couple 2x caffeine GUs, I felt my pace quicken. It was make or break time, if I picked up the pace and ran strong the rest of the way, I had a chance at a PR. 4:20, was out of the question awhile back, but maybe I could shave a couple minutes off 4:29. As I kept the legs turning, hoping to come in before that time, it wasn’t meant to be. I crossed the finish line at 4:30:03, less than a minute away from my Arizona time. Considering AZ was totally flat and Oakland had challenging hills, I was pretty proud of the result. But at the moment I was TIRED. I emptied the tank on the last 4 miles (with a couple sub 10 min. miles) reaching for a PR and fell short, but I’m glad I tried. As I say: Run Strong, Finish Stronger.

Thank you to everyone on Facebook and Twitter that wished me luck and send strong running vibes. I definitely tried to channel you guys down the stretch.

Also,a huge thank you to Gene and the Oakland Running Festival for making this event happen. Everyone I have talked to loved the race and was touched by the support of the community. The inaugural event was a success.