I admit my bias- I am born and raised in Oakland so I truly love this city and given that I love running, I HELLA LOVE the Oakland Running Festival! I had so much fun at this race since I successfully trained for it without injury!!! It went very well and I am proud to say I finally did it- after 16 excruciatingly long months of injury- I found the happy place within my pace, shaved off about 35 minutes, crossing the finish line of yet another half marathon with a huge, victorious smile on my face.
Given that I have lived here all my life and that my running community is based here, all along the race course, I ran (literally) into friend after friend and that really made a difference! Seeing my friends’ smiling faces and exchanging sweaty hugs and selfies- from the women who turned me into a runner, to my Team in Training coaches and teammates, to my BFFs- my soul was filled with joy and pride for the ability to run 13 glorious miles through the city I’ve always called home.
The half started at 9:15 and since I already had my bib, I took the last possible BART train I could to the start- first time ever I arrived to a race just minutes before it began! The national anthem was being sung and I was walking as fast as I could to get to the corrals when I heard this sweet child’s voice behind me, “Daddy, are all those people running?” And the response, “Yes, they are going to run 13 miles! Can you believe that?” And I realized I knew that Dad’s voice all too well, turned around to see my college buddy, close friend and ultra runner, Schooler with his son Lucas! We exchanged hugs and chatted a bit, I wished Lucas good luck for the kids race, but as my race was about to begin in less than 3 minutes, I quickly said goodbye and took off in a sprint to make that start.
Got to the 10 minute/mile pace group just in time- and I do mean JUST IN TIME! The second I got to the corral, the race began so I started up my Garmin, gripped my camera, pushed play on my iPod, took a deep breath, and started to run…
And we were off! All through downtown to start and right at mile one, I spied another running buddy, a TNT teammate, Kate, straight across the street so I looked over my right shoulder and cut off about 25 runners to get over to her, hug, and selfie (which is now a verb for the benefit of this post).
As it was only mile 1, I didn’t linger too long, selfied, then told Kate I would text her after the race. Seeing Kate made me so fricking happy, I thought about her and our running experiences together for the next couple miles and how Kate was about to tackle another 50 mile race in a few weeks, wow! Then, at mile 3, I saw 2 people who literally define fitness for me, the women who turned me into the obsessive/passionate runner you know today, Anna and Jennie of Oakland Adventure Boot Camp.
They both yelled, “GO LAURA GO!!!” So I did, running happily through a tunnel around mile 4 then popping out on top of Lake Merritt, then past the Oakland Museum. I was in a such a cheerful place, looking all around for more running buddies and enjoying the views I have come to know oh so well over the past 40 years of life in good ol’ Oakland, California.
I knew another running buddy would be cheering around mile 5-6 per our texts that morning, so I kept a look out for Annabelle, finally found her, and she yelled, “YAY LAURA! Don’t stop, just keep on going!” But she had her puppy and I had to hug and selfie her so of course I stopped, dropped, and clicked:
Stayed with Belle and Chewie for a few minutes, Belle had been very sick so dropped out of the half and I know how much that stings, so I stayed for a bit and chatted, wanting to make sure she was feeling okay about that. As we talked, I saw another friend, Margaret run on by, but as a pacer she was hard at work so we exchanged waves, I gave Belle one last hug, Chewie one last scratch behind the ears, and I was off again…
I was in a daze, my body felt great (the selfie breaks certainly helped with that!), and around mile 6 got to West Oakland. Not the prettiest area of Oakland but the spectators helped to keep this part of the race just as lively as the rest.
Ran all down Mandela, past one of my favorite restaurants- Brown Sugar Kitchen– and they were handing out these delish mini muffins and my absolute race favorite, orange slices! Shoved a muffin in my face, sucked a couple oranges, exactly what I needed as I headed into my least favorite part of this race at mile 8.
Hit mile 9ish and noticed another running buddy by way of her toned calf muscles, my good friend Jennette! Sprinted a bit to catch up to her and we realized this was exactly the same spot we saw each other 2 years ago when we ran this half! Obviously it was meant to be! We walked a bit, we selfied, and with just over 3 miles left to go, we said, “Finish strong and see you at the finish line!”
At mile 10, the race gets to glorious Lake Merritt, the spot I train at least 2 days a week, and the cheering section quadrupled! The Oakland Raiders alongside Black Girls Run plus a water stop took up both sides of at least an entire block with sundry motivational signs, music, elated faces, pom poms pomming, noise makers blaring- I looked for a high school friend, Janine, who was cheering with BGR but didn’t see her anywhere, so I was forced to selfie with someone/something else.
Wow, wow, wow, I was in jubilant place mentally, and physically everything was working just fine, no pain. I was drinking just enough water, made sure to eat along the way, and figured I must look like a total idiot, running with this wide, goofy grin on my face the whole time, arms raised overhead in victory now and then despite the fact that race wasn’t actually over yet… the race photos confirmed my suspicions…
I was starting to lose a bit of speed, started slowing down a bit even though my watch (lying to me) showed that I was doing better than I had done in over a year! I was set to break 2:30!!! “You know this lake like the back of your running shoes, hit those tangents and get it done!” I told myself.
Sun beating down, fatigue increasing, but I was focused and motivated by the fact that I was doing well for myself, not for anyone else. My race, my pace, my city, my medal- I really start focusing on the medal during the last 5K of every race (and if it’s a 5K race, I think about the medal the whole time) as well as the beer and burger I will have earned afterwards. Just a couple more miles and one little incline towards my precious trifecta- medal, beer, burger- here I come!
Got to mile 12 and saw my awesome coach from TNT, Coach Rudy! Cut off about 12 runners to get across the road to the sidewalk to hug, selfie, and get a high five from this wonderful man! We ran together for a bit, I told him I was doing better than I had done in over a year, he encouraged me and reminded me what was coming up on the course, telling me to save something for that irksome hill right before the finish line.
And just a few minutes after that, victory was officially mine!!!
When I crossed the finish, my watch said 2:28 and WHOA was I stoked with that; however, my official results state 2:41- I forgot to turn off auto pause! Whoops!!! Truth be told, it was really motivating to be fooled into thinking I was running faster than I was (even though neither time is STILL no where close to my 2:08 PR!) plus it is good to know *exactly* how much time I spent stopping to hug and selfie people, I’ve actually always wondered- 13 minutes to be precise, that’s one minute each mile taking photos/videos and stopping to talk with friends and strangers alike. To some runners that may seem wasteful, superfluous, and silly, but I really wouldn’t have had it any other way!
The absolute fun I have by giving up some “speed” for more interaction along the way, in an effort to eke out every bit of enjoyment I can during those 13 miles, to aid in telling a better story here on the blog, I am totally fine with. I am proud of my accomplishments, I am very proud of my recovery, and I am beyond proud of my selfies… and I haven’t felt that way about my running in a very long time.
Ran into Jennette again at the finish, then ran into my former mentee Becky who did leg 1 of the relay, then hobbled over to meet Lisa and Ian (who also did the relay) at Luka’s Taproom for beer and burgers, then ran into Kate again as well as my BFF Amy (again, accomplishing a leg of the relay)! We all raised our glasses, big cheers to us and such an AMAZING DAY!!!
Seriously a fantastic day, I know I keep repeating that but I really, really mean it. I wish all races could be filled with this kind of friendship and support along the way. In light of our recent loss, it was just the day I needed to escape my grieving for a bit and find my genuine smile again.
Thank you, friends, for being there. Thank you, running, for showing me that I can and will achieve my goals. And thank you, Oakland Running Festival, for yet another great race- I will see you next year!!!