Sunday, April 15, 2012

This Time I Get to Carry the Sign-- Oakland Marathon 2012, Volunteer Pacing Stint #2

After my initial stint as a group leader at the Inaugural Oakland Marathon two years ago, I missed last year's in order to run the inaugural 100 mile version of the Antelope Island Buffalo Run near Salt Lake City.  This year I decided to return to pacing at the 3rd annual Oakland Marathon three weeks ago (Sunday, March 25).  The course goes by the huge Mormon Temple in the Oakland hills, so I figured I really don't have to travel all the way to Utah to get my Latter Day Saints fix.

the huge Mormom temple in Oakland
Pacing is fun, challenging, and I enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling of giving back to the running community.

I sort of wussied out, opting for the 3:30 group, though I told pacer organizer Melissa Ownby that if she really needed me again at 3:20, I would do it.  Besides a nagging suspicion I was in even less shape this year than I was in 2009, 3.5 is a nice even time, and I wanted a safer pace at which I could do a lot of cheering and yelling.

Melissa with her husband Daniel Fabun
Two years ago we didn't get signs and I suspected they would only give me and my copacer one sign.  So the previous evening I thought to pull out an old bib (I save them all) to write 3:30 on the back.  I chanced upon this one (from another race I did in 2009):

which I easily converted to this to wear over my butt:

My pacer shirt fell out of my bag somewhere at the expo the day before.

Older son who accompanied me to the last expo now replaced his younger brother.
Thanks, Melissa for BOTH Geiko gecko PEZ dispensers, otherwise older brother would have been jealous!

Melissa (whom I forgot to photograph at the expo) said she would bring me another shirt before the start, but even parking 8 short and 2 long blocks from the start, I ended up arriving, get this, less than a minute before the start.  (I do admit to playing Words With Friends while sitting on the toilet before I left the house that morning, but my being late had more to do with the legitimate excuses of fumbling with my keys and race bibs, deliberating on how to prepare for the rain, and moving my car once when a police officer told me I could get closer and then not having a clue as to which way to go after I moved.)

But, hey, I made it on time!  I met  co-3:30 pacer and fellow ultrarunner Bradley Fenner, and we took off.

Bradley Fenner at Lake Merritt, near the end of the race.  (no, I'm not buying these photos just to stick them on this blog)
We got signs this year.  Bradley held up the 3:30 sign for most of the first third, and I held it for most of the second two thirds.  We talked a fair amount the first half, but after this he kept accelerating until he or I figured out he was going a bit too fast and then he would wait for me to catch up.

feeling heroic, as if holding up the stars and stripes under gunfire

Only so much can happen during a 26.2 mile road race I am running at a deliberately slower pace than I am capable, so no crazy 100 mileresque vignettes.

  • The pack running a 3:30 pace is much larger than that running 3:20.   So we got a lot more thanks during and after the run from runners pacing off us.
  • There are more women (fit, of course) running around 3:30 than 3:20.  This at least unconsciously made me feel better about wussying out of 3:20.   (3:17 was good enough for 5th overall)
Carolyn Jaeger paced off us for much of the race, until kicking at the end for 3:25:28 and 10th woman overall.
  • It was supposed to rain, but never did.  Perfect cool temperatures, and the sun even popped out much of the second half.  Had I gotten to the start in time to get my pacing shirt from Melissa, I would've gotten hot during the run.  This made me feel better almost missing the start.
  • Excellent volunteer and crowd support (of course, as an ultrarunner, I don't expect much in terms of verbal encouragement, but for a marathon, it was great and well-distributed, including being heavy at the end).
  • this map doesn't demonstrate where and how the course is different; just take my word.
  • The course was different than two years ago in a lot of places.  I guess this kept me on my toes.
  • I forgot how hilly this course is.  Nothing compared to a trail ultra, but for a road marathon, this is a very tough route.  Kudos to all the runners not shying away from the hills.
  • As a result, pacing this course is challenging.  I luckily picked up a pacing race band at the expo, designed to account for the hills and so not prescribing the same pace for each of 26 miles.
  • But how much to slow down on the uphills is hard to decide.  We ended up running the slow miles more slowly and the faster miles more rapidly than the pace band recommended.  About 2/3 through the race, I figured out we were 45 seconds ahead of schedule and concentrated to slowly decrease the buffer the rest of the race, making loud announcements to anyone in earshot after each mile marker.
  • The loop around Lake Merritt is actually rather bumpy and technical for a road marathon.
  • Last time I was I think 8 seconds over, but this time I was 11 seconds under (chip time 3:29:49, clock time 3:29:58.  Though 3 seconds less precise, I think better to finish under than over.
  • Cutting it real close at the finish when you are pacing is probably viewed more favorably than cutting it real close arriving at the start.
  • Though not nearly as sore as I would have been running my fastest, running 26.2 miles on pavement will make you sore.  Holding the sign high for 15-16 miles with an Ultimate Direction bottle in the other hand will also make the shoulders hurt as much as the legs.  Christy, my pretty and skilled massage school student from San Jose was awesome!
  • with Sean Bowman (3:27:41), who paced with us the first half, but was also holding back, for his first 50 mile run (American River) on April 7th.
    okay, why did I tuck my shirt in?  I am so embarrassed...
  • I was reminded of how impersonal these marathons are compared to ultras at the finish.  Aside from the massage and grabbing my two free beers (didn't want to wait in line for the champagne drinks, and was driving home anyway), there was little point hanging out.  Early in the race, Leslie from Modesto, who remembered me because she changed or tied my shoes at my last Rio del Lago 100 Mile back in 2008, greeted me and we talked a short while.  And at the finish, Sarah Lavender-Smith, who finished in 3:17, was waiting for her husband to finish the half-marathon, saw me and we chatted until I got past the gate for the massage tent, during which time she failed to mention that she won Master's Female overall.
cool trophy.  I assume that's her her son Kyle and not her boyfriend, because she's married.  you never know.

my humble but slick finisher's medal-- less obnoxious than her trophy

GPS recording of my run
my results
Oakland Running Festival website


Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Oh Mark, your caption on my photo made me burst out laughing. That is my boy, and my friend, but not my boyfriend. Let's not get Oedipal.
Great job pacing -- the 3:30 group was lucky to have you!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Whatever, Sarah. My 4-year-old and his mommy sometimes refer to each other as "lover."

Will miss at Diablo Trails this Saturday. I think that's where we first met, right?