Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Inaugural Stint as a Pace Group Leader at the Inaugural Oakland Marathon

My last official marathon was San Francisco 2006.  I remember feeling a little irritated at the hassle of having to travel across the bridge downtown just to pick up my bib, timing chip, T-shirt and bag filled with too many coupons and brochures, and I hadn't read Dean Karnazes' book, much less have a copy for him to sign.  At least no bridge to cross, but my younger son was not feeling well-- lower energy and having frequent diarrhea, so my wife took him to IKEA, after dropping me and our older son at the race expo at the Oakland Marriott City Center.
My older son enjoyed the free samples of Cliff and Gu product as much as I always do, as well as spinning the the Geiko wheel to win a flashlight, and other assorted swag.  I checked in with the pace-group leader table, got my 3:20 pace band and blue Geiko shirt that we were to wear to identify us (so no Sportiva shirt like I'd planned which is just as well.  Though the course is hilly, this is not "mountain running.")

my younger stepping on the race shirts
The official marathon shirt is a nice long-sleeve tech fabric made by Green Layer, a Sportiva co-sponsor..

For a moment, I was worried that wearing a Geiko pace team shirt presented a conflict of interest, until I remembered that I am not actually sponsored by my non-Geiko insurance company. It was satisfying understanding how geckos walk on ceilings from an exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley.

We almost left the expo without my getting my bib number, which wasn't in any of the boxes at the bib pick-up area at registration.

Apparently this guy was given my originally assigned bib #1062.  I have since ID'd him as 31-year-old Tilden Yamamoto of Oakland, chip time 3:44:01, clock time 3:44:24.  Is he using one my credit card numbers or does he just think I'm cool?

After yet another walk around eating free samples, we wandered the streets of Oakland aimlessly, found the Oakland Public Library and read about 10 books.  Then we got picked up my Mommy. We found this Laotian/Southeast Asian restaurant hidden in a residential area of Oakland for dinner.  Not typical pre-marathon carbo-loading, but much more interesting. We tried to order mainly the Laotian stuff, since it's more exotic than Thai food.  It uses more fish paste than fish sauce, so the food is more pungent.

Often when we eat out, I end up drinking lots of water to dilute the salt load, so as expected I woke up in the middle of the night to pee.  Soon after this, I woke up again to hear my 2-year-old crying and screaming.  Turned out he threw up all over his bed, so I was soon fully awake helping to change his clothes, all the bedding, and trying to comfort him and his awakened older brother.

I'd been getting up before 5 most of the past week, so I wasn't too sleepy that morning despite the sleep interruptions.  BART unfortunately doesn't start until 8 on Sundays, 30 minutes past race start, so I drove in, but fortunately found street parking merely a block from the start line area.  Met my co-3:20 pace leader, Phil Grant, and several ultrarunners also pacing-- Mark Gilligan (3:30), Daniel Fabun (3:50), Jennifer Ray (4:40), and Rajeev Patel (4:50).  Saw the pace group signs.  They were larger and heavier than expected, and lacked a stick.  Melissa Ownby (another ultrarunner pacing 4:50 and one of the coordinators for the pace group leaders) told us just to hold them up at the beginning, and we weren't expected to carry them, and most of us (Phil had ours) would dumpe them by the start line.  Mark Gilligan, who ran Diablo Trails 50k a week earlier, figured he should be up to the added challenge and ended up carrying his sign the whole way, a laudable feat that would tire his arms much more than his legs.

Since my car was parked so close, I thought of going back to get my cell phone and take a bunch of photos before the start. However, I decided my time would be better spent waiting in line so I could powder up in a Portalet to avoid a later pacing catastrophe.  I was able to get through the line and finish my business with 5 minutes to spare.  The now consistently fast Mr. Dunlap is there near the start, but as a racer and not as a pacer (he would snap a lot of photos for his blog report, and still finish 5th overall, nice job, Scott).  He happens to know Brad because their kids go to the same daycare.  He shot a photo of us, but either had the settings off or his finger over the lens.

So to out myself, I had on not only my watch, but two Garmin Forerunner 305's, one my friend Baldwyn's, who's been off racing for a while with a complicated knee injury.  The one on my left wrist was set to display 3 fields:  total running time, overall average pace, and distance.  The one on my right, which I would try to hit the lap button each mile, showed lap pace and current pace.  The pace bands were not even mile splits, but adjusted to account for the elevation change, so I felt quite armed to do this pacing thing despite (shame on me) having never practiced running any part of the course.

Phil seemed to be worried about fading at the end, so despite breathing fairly heavily during the first couple of miles together, soon took off at a faster pace, so I would not see him until later on in the race.
(Blue Oakland versus red San Francisco Marathon elevation charts from Scott Dunlap's blog.)

Right before the first relay interchange at mile 6, I saw a girl (in the relay) ahead of me stop and crumple to the ground. No obvious head injury.  "Can I just finish running now?" I think she answered to me and another woman who got to her first.  Airway and breathing intact.  Speaking in phrases, mentating intactly. Young, probably in her early 20's.  Obviously not in cardiac arrest or having an asthma attack.  I shouted back a the crowd of spectators watching from a balcony window to call for any ambulance, but soon noticed on the exit ramp from highway 24 above to the left, there was a police officer who was looking at us and probably doing just that.

Had to make a quick triage decision-- do I stay or move ahead since others checking up on her?  Perhaps I see so many cases of near-syncope in young, healthy people at my job, I was under-alarmed.  She seemed stable,  I didn't witness any mechanism of cervical-spine injury, and there were plenty of people around.  I doubted any chance of death or permanent disability that my hanging out would prevent.  I decided I should fulfill my pacing duties, especially as Phil was nowhere in sight (he actually had meticulously made out his own pacing chart, with more time in the bank to allow for a fade at the end of the race, so maybe was following that), and runners had already asked me what finish time I was pacing.  Booking up the hill to make up for the stop, I saw the ambulance already heading down.

Top of the hill, I talked with a couple of guys, and Kelly Tarkowski (3:28:27, 5th woman overall).  I got her to tell me about running Boston at 5.5 months during her 2nd pregnancy and how she ran until 8.5 months carrying her 1st child. She'll be running her first ultra with Ohlone this May--obviously an extraordinarily tough cookie and as she won't be pregnant, I know she'll do well.

thumbnail from
(as are all the rest-- these are super low-res, so hopefully no one will bust me)

Found myself running faster than the prescribed splits, so pulled over and took a 20 to 30-second leak with there were trees up in the hills, but able to catch up easily. (Several times I would do stuff like run back to get a pack of Gu that I missed, or stop to pour multiple cups into my Ultimate Direction bottle, then request the volunteers please reuse the cups since they were clean.)

Going down the relatively steep 2-mile hill from found it hard to go slower than a 6:45 minute per mile pace, much faster than the pace band was directing.

At the bottom of the hill, I lost Kelly, who later told me pulled something veering to an aid station.  I then ran and talked some with rookie Bob Nachtwey, 32, donning a distinctive pink cap, who would finish 3:21:12, along with his friend whose name I never got.

The half-marathon course merged with the full marathon at their mile 3.5 and our mile16.5.  With three times the runners (3000 versus 1000), and being early in their race, less spread out, these slower half-marathon runners like a large slime mold overwhelmed and trapped us.  Lacking the pacing sign, I had to resort of calling out to ask if people would move out of the way.  I shouted out that one of the lead females (Kathi Enderes, who would finish 4th overall in 3:20:53) was with me to get people to cooperate.  Kathi incidentally had this altered gait, where her right leg swung out in an arc with each stride, but since I never struck up a conversation with her, I couldn't think of a polite way of asking her why, though potentially an inspiring story about her overcoming some injury or congenital problem. Further incidentally, I'm wondering if they will withhold her $200 since I noticed post-race a rule about headsets and MP3's being strictly prohibited if competing for prize money.  (I don't care, but maybe the #6 woman should....what do you all think?)

After 2-3 miles, things spread out enough that the half-marathon crowding became less an issue.  Another rookie marathoner that used my pacing for quite a while, Dorian Eidhin was able to keep with me through all the crowds.  I told him to take off and kick at about mile 23, and he would finish 3:19:41.

I caught up with my co-pacer Phil Grant, before he fell back, and I'm not sure when he finished.  His PR is similar to mine, so he had equal doubts about the small buffer and probably was hurting.

Usually when I look at marathon face photos, my face is more often than not in slight agony, either because I am in agony or just want to appear like I'm working.  In all my photos on for this race,  I'm smiling and looking pretty relaxed.

It was clear that I could run faster, much faster, and during the whole marathon, I had to control my pace both from going too slow or too fast. But in the last miles, I did an interesting thought experiment-- I pretended that I was running 100 kilometers or 50 miles, rather than 25 miles. While imagining I was doing 50 miles total, the pace felt doable, but I knew it would get tough. For the 100 km thought experiment, it felt too fast.  I've run enough ultras, that both my body and mind knew instinctively what feels right (or wrong). In a similar manner, I feel tired and sleepy earlier if I need to get a couple of hours of sleep before I work an overnight shift--unconsciously, I know what's coming and adjust.

So I was really hoping to come in RIGHT AT 3 hours 20 minutes, or 3:19:59, but two problems:

First, from sweat and rubbing against my wrist-GPS device, I couldn't read the seconds column of my last several mile splits (the left column is the prescribed split for each mile, the right the cumulative split).  Next time need to wear two and maybe carry one in my pocket.

Second, either the 25 or 26 or both mile markers were misplaced, because even though I decided to go ahead and run at a sub 7:30 pace for the last 1.2 miles, I finished 11 seconds past 3:20.  I probably could've done a sprint to make it but it was too late by the time I saw the clock.
Me I think approaching the finish.

It was pretty weird to finish not gasping for breath, or feeling the intense burn.  Just some joint aching from all the pavement pounding.  In fact, I felt I could do the whole course again, and if it weren't for my car and family, would have considered running home, as Ruth Anderson is in three weeks and I haven't run longer than 50k all year.  Indeed a novel and weird post-marathon sensation.  Still, I was sore enough that I wanted the free massage, but managed to not understand how the line worked.  Hit the spot, thanks masseuse whos name I forgot!

Saw Mark Gilligan on the lawn and would've liked to hang out, but our younger son's late night vomiting precluded my wife's working out at the our gym with the included free daycare.  So I had to return home and relieve her of hanging with the kids.  I managed to forget near which numbered street  intersecting Franklin I was parked, so it took me a while to find my car, then to took more time to get out of Oakland since I initially headed toward a (damn runners!) closed-off street and had to detour.  :)

So, as much as I missed running Lake Sonoma 50 miler this year (and want to run it again without hitting the wall), I'm thinking I'll want to do this pacing thing again. Several of us having already giving feedback that we need signs to hold by a stick in our hands, and signs to stick on our backs with our goal finish times.  Regardless, the spectators and crowds rocked (beat those in San Francisco, hands down)!  Oaktown rocks!

Another medal into the drawer!
results (though you won't get a full list of everyone)
official Oakland Running Festival website

addendum, 6/28/10
I was surprised last month to receive this nice age group award in the male.  Sweet!

list of award winners


Russ said...

Dude: I'm the guy you caught and passed around mile 25 1/2. Thanks for trying to spur me on... it really helped! Couldn't quite stay right behind you but I ended up with a 3:20:44!



Chad in the AZ Desert said...

Nice job with the marathon pacing! That's pretty speedy for someone who hasn't run a marathon in 4 years.

Scott Dunlap said...

Nice work! That was a tough course to pace evenly.

Sorry the photo of you at the start didn't turn out - it was just blurry, so I think the lense hadn't adjusted. At least that beats the finger smudge that wiped out most of my second half photos (oops).

Good luck @ ruth!

Golden Trails Dave said...

what's your marathon PR? And how do they (you?) decide which pace to do?

Baldwyn said...

Nice pacing job, Mark! Hey, how do the two Garmins compare for elevation and distance? Did they match each either? I've always meant to compare my 405 to the 305 for accuracy and write up a big detailed blog, but of course I never did.

I am completely floored by Kelly's achievements while pregnant! Amazing!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks for the comments; sorry, didn't see these until now.
@Russ, great job! Since no sign I figured I should try to let everyone know where they were at, and verbal encouragement helps me too.
@Chad, thanks, but I guess the more than 50-something ultras I've run in between all had at least one marathon in them.
@Scott, thanks. funny, but I know trying to run your pace would've killed me. amazing how much effort changes over a little over a minute-per-mile pace.
@David, 2:56 something, Quad Cities 1998. I told them 3:30, maybe could do 3:20, so they had me do 3:20. Okay if things go well, but I figured up to a 15-20% chance of some issue, such as GI or musculoskeletal, could make things go bad.
@Baldwyn, yeah, she's superwoman. thanks again for the loaner.
mine on left:
your on right:

Russ said...

Hey p.s. tell your sponsor (La Sportiva) that they totally rock. I won some kind of raffle at the Rodeo Beach 30k and got a free pair of Skylite's from them.

Baldwyn said...

Awesome, thanks Mark! I'm impressed how they exactly recorded the same mileage. Mine seems a little less smooth for elevation. Maybe next time I'll lend you a 405 for a 205/305/405 bake off :)

Kathi said...

Mark, I'm Kathi Enderes and just came across this. Thanks so much for pacing, I would never have finished so fast, the half marathoners were dragging me down at that merge. It was my PR (7 months after the birth of my first daughter). This was my 33rd marathon but definitely didn't expect a PR on that course.
To the altered gate - it is a congenital defect. My parents were told when I was a kid I needed to have an operation or I would be in a wheelchair by age 30. They decided against it and I am 39 now and keep running with that knee.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks, Kathi, for visiting. I knew there was an inspirational story in your gait. Way to go!