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Ed note: This is the first in a series of a few guest blog posts on different topics, ranging from running to the Paleo diet to boxing. I’ll be spacing these out over the rest of the year. Enjoy a few different voices here on Runner’s Delight! Up first, transportation planner Brian muses on being in the moment when running.

When Alicia asked me to write a guest spot on the running blog my first inclination was to write something about runners deuce (she said it had already done) or the crazy things witnessed on many outings around Lake Merritt in Oakland (of which there are many!). But then I thought about why I love running, how it makes me feel, and realized that something amazing happens when I run, my thinking shuts off, which is to say that the chatter in my mind about the day ahead and things on the agenda fall away. I realized that I’m doing something like meditation, but not the type where you sit cross-legged, saying a mantra.

In the past I have read a book on mindfulness and after reading this article in the New York Times I was inspired to enroll in a class on mindful meditation. I have tried mindfulness meditation with some good results, but also found that it was difficult for me to sit longer than 10 minutes and I would not find the time to do it on a regular basis. Then much to my surprise, without even knowing what was happening, the things that I learned and practiced were occurring when I did not expect them to, while running.

Running alone or with a partner are different experiences, but still reveal an essence of mindfulness. Running alone I tend to feel all the experiences in my body. My breathing becomes super important and focused when I run. I notice my feet hitting the ground, my legs swinging, and my arms moving back and forth. I also think: “I feel sweat dripping in my eyes” or “my foot feels weird” or “look at those birds.” Immediately I am transported to my experiences in the moment, feeling each of these sensations as they happen. Welcome to mindfulness and all things that the meditation book and teacher had referenced.

When running with a partner, namely Alicia, our conversations are remarkable. From our first date until now Alicia and I have been, in my opinion, great at the art of conversation and banter. Somehow our exchanges get beyond this when we run. I find that I will reveal and share even more openly and honestly than usual. It is as if some part of my brain is turned way down when I run–the part that makes me second guess, judge or take something personally.

In running I have found an outlet that helps my mind as much as it helps my body. It has also exposed me to the possibility that mindfulness can be a useful tool in my life. By noticing how I react and feel while I run, I am able to more readily access the mindfulness part of myself and turn down the volume on the chatter even when I’m not running.

 

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Holy quick-dry socks, Batman, could Oakland get any more awesome? The answer is decidedly yes, thanks to The Oakland Running Festival! Yes, many cities host road races or blaze trails, with people from all over the bay area tramping out to grace the pavement with their sneakers, but while Oakland is still a bit green to the running game — this is the second year for the Running Festival — she’s coming in strong.

What Makes the Oakland Running Festival so Spectacular?

You’ll be chased by the ghost of Napoleon’s horse! Just kidding. But you do have the option to run a Marathon, Half Marathon, a twilight 5K, or a team race. And for the little you in your life, there’s a Kids Fun Run to boot. A twilight 5K is kind of a big deal — definitely a rarity and something not to be missed.

Running For a Better Oakland

First, there’s the actual organization, Running for a Better Oakland, who encourage students age 10-18 to create well rounded lifestyles via running. RBO is happily encouraging their students to train for the event.

Second though, a marathon through Oakland gives local distance runners a chance to see that hey, Oakland isn’t the rough and tumble place they imagine it to be. It’s no secret Oakland has a bad rap in the Bay Area and state community, and taking time to showcase her more hipster, gentrified, and green sides, as well as proving that the urban squares aren’t anything different than those in SF, help pique people’s curiosity about the city, and thus put Oakland on their radar.

If You’re Going To Run:

March 26, 2011:

  • 9 a.m.-6 p.m.: Packet pickup, sports expo and late registration at the Oakland Marriott in City Center
  • 6-8 p.m.: Kick off party with live music at Jack London Square
  • 6:30 p.m.: Twilight 5K race from Jack London Square and back
  • 8 p.m.: Twilight 5K awards ceremony
  • March 27, 2011:

  • 7:15 a.m.: Opening remarks and national anthem
  • 7:30 a.m.: Marathon and team relay races start at Frank Ogawa Plaza and 14th Street
  • 8:30 a.m.: Kids Fun Run starts
  • 9 a.m.: Half-marathon start at Frank Ogawa Plaza and 14th Street
  • 9 a.m.-2 p.m.: Sports Expo and celebration village activities
  • 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Live music
  • Noon: Awards ceremony
  • Oh, and if you need somewhere to eat afterward? Try Shan Dong in Chinatown. You won’t be disappointed by their homemade dumplings. Or there’s always Pacific Coast Brewery if an ale sounds like the right way to go. Of course, my favorite Oakland eatery after a race? Mama’s Royal Cafe up on Broadway. Yes, the line will be long. But yes, the grits will be worthwhile.

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    I feel like Oakland might be becoming the new Berkeley.

    Maybe it’s the guy in the Grateful Dead T-shirt I saw jogging around Lake Merritt, or the protesters banging bongo drums while clad in purple on Piedmont Avenue. It certainly may also have been due to games of pick-up soccer on any stretch of grass that isn’t a hill, or the boot camps that keep popping up rose gardens and cemeteries. Or perhaps it’s the hipsters on their bicycles, all the STOP signs that have been graffiti-ified with “Driving” underneath the original content, the green movement that has swept the young adult population, or the hope of bringing back some love for local businesses.

    The point about running I want to make is that runners are noticers. While we may have earbuds safely attached to our ears, it does not mean our eyes are not open to the people, cars, and activity around us. We’re listening to Explosions in the Sky or The 21st Century and daily watching the way the community is being shaped. We’re the first to notice when a sidewalk has been torn apart, or a new piece of road has been paved.

    I think this is why I love running through cities, if not also for the mental relief and physical nature. There is also a very social reality that stems from simply taking your feet to the streets. On a trail you will see nature at its finest, but you won’t see solutions to problems, neighborhoods like Uptown coming alive, hear a bass clarinetist practicing in the park, or just the sorts of people that are your neighbors.

    Runners know everyone, if not by name, by face. I know the ice-cream men who walk the park, the people I call “Oakland Fitness Club” who run the stairs at dusk, the possibly homeless guy who writes in chalk and hangs out in the same spot by the lake every day with his bike, always dressed in sunglass and tall boots like he might go fly-fishing on a whim. I even know the guys that hang out down the street from my apartment, who after work kick back with beers on the sidewalk and who always look like they’re having fun together, and the doormen and valet parking patrols to all the local restaurants.

    It’s nice, this community I have without ever meaning to have made one.

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    Lake Merrit never fails to provide an interesting backdrop for a run. Be it morning, noon, or dusk, there is always a diverse cast of characters hanging out on the welcoming benches, feeding the far too a-plenty geese, or just ambling along the restored paths. Occasionally, I witness extraordinary events in a place punctuated by out of the ordinary.

    Take Saturday evening. The sun was setting as I hustled around the lake, trying to beat home the company I had coming over (inspiration to run faster, I’m telling you!) when at the arches on the east side of the lake, there came a jazzy tune. Yes, a solo saxophonist was silohetted in the sherberted skylight, courageously gracing the neighborhood with his music. I jogged in place to listen and catch his eye, offering him a thumbs up before I kept trotting around.

    *

    As music seems to follow me like a red balloon, yet another instrument story took place this weekend. While watching cars anti-whisk by on the Golden Gate Bridge, there seemed to be a live horn being played in the vicinity. My boyfriend attempted to hustle us back down the path we had come. but I pulled away and stared intently at the road. This watchfulness was not in vain. A second later, a mini-van taxi pulled into view, the driver playing what appeared to be a piccolo trumpet out the window of his cab. And he had passengers in tow.

    A piccolo trumpet! I’m in love.

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    I left a lot of things in Orange County: my aggrevated driving, my stellar tan, and my beautiful refridgerator. One thing I did not turn my back on was my gym-rat status, though. Holy elliptical, I love fitness centers! However, after spending a few days at the local YMCA, I have realized something I never knew possible: I can tell I’m in a different part of the state simply by locker room behavior.

    It’s a little insane.

    The first thing I noticed about the Y was that lacking clothing in the single-sex hot tub and steam rooms wasn’t limited to the one person everyone avoids eye-contact with. In fact, everyone who enjoys these facilities goes in nude. In Orange County, we were suits only sorts of ladies. Interesting.

    Second, locker room benches are for sissies. All cool ladies spread their towels out and plop (naked) on the floor. I know, right? So different. The amount of modesty exhibited in the locker rooms is paltry at best, which is both intimidating and liberating.

    Third, the mysterious men’s locker room is even full of surprises. My male Y friend told me how just today he witnessed a seven-foot tall geriatric man fresh out of the shower, busy using the community hair-dryers to heat his crack. (No, not the drug. The body part that has no other fancy name.)

    I never imagined that locker rooms all over the state could exhibit such unique cultural behavior, but apparently, I was incredibly wrong. The sociologist in me is fascinated; the Orange County-minded person in me is baffled.

    For so many reasons, it’s good to be back!

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    All good things must come to a beginning. Running in my new town, Oakland, is definitely a sort of beginning. Having been a suburbs runner, being a daily urban-life runner is sort of like being reborn. The ‘burbs are quiet. They are in black and white and shades of gray. The ‘urbs, however…they are vibrant. They are in every color imaginable all at once. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself splattered on a canvas without ever meaning to be there.

    Taking a run in O-town is an experience. On the first run I took post move, I passed more runners and walkers than I had in probably my entire stint in the OC. I felt like everyone and their mother and their brother-in-law and their kazoo was outside taking a jog or a walk. In Oakland, I never lack for people watching while I’m working out.

    Other people are definitely the biggest part of the running in Oakland experience. A few days ago, a homeless man called out to me: “Why are you running?” he asked in a very sincere manner. “Because I want to!” I replied cheerfully. “But who are you running from?” he continued. I missed a beat, and then responded, “No one, yet.” He laughed as I ran on.

    This exchange made me wonder if I was indeed running from anything in particular. After a lot of thought, I realized that I wasn’t. I was in fact, running towards something. I don’t run to get away. Not at all. I run to get places.

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