Thursday, March 8, 2018

I am hella disappointed in the Oakland Marathon

Wow, this training cycle is just flying by (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse)! Given that I just did my first 20+ miler last weekend, it seems kind of crazy that I'm just two weeks away from my longest training run--the Oakland Marathon on March 25.

I have run the Oakland Half Marathon three times (again, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse!), but I've never run the full. I mainly signed up for it because kind Jen shared her discount code, it fell on the same day as my last fast finish 23 miler, and doing three miles more seemed infinitely more appealing than running the half and shoehorning in ten more miles before and/or after. But it's also well known as a somewhat hilly course, and given that both Boston & Big Sur have their share of solid hills, I thought it would be a nice addition to my training.

So, I was disappointed to hear that with less than a month until race day, Corrigan Sports changed the course in a way that made it not only flatter but also less interesting and scenic. Instead of winding through all the different neighborhoods of Oakland, the course now mainly just meanders repetitively around downtown and an industrial port area.

There was quite a lot of backlash on the Oakland Running Festival facebook page when the changes were announced. CSE did respond with an explanation of why the course was changed, but I must admit I found it a bit confusing.

Clearly, I wasn't he only one with questions:

    "This is a huge disappointment and will likely be my last marathon with you guys if this course is the new norm. While the views are, I'm sure, great, the draw of ORF was visiting all the diverse neighborhoods that make Oakland so great....Running around the port takes that entire experience away....Runners who want to run a marathon but can't handle a hill?? Just ugh."

    "There are plenty of flat marathons to choose from - Oakland should be hilly!!! ... I have chosen this marathon because of the hills, challenging course, and neighborhoods and community. I can’t get out of this year, but will not return if your goal is to attract runners who hate hills and leave out huge swaths of the Oakland community we love on the course."

    "I'm glad I waited to sign up as I will not be running this year due to this course. Miles 4 through 11 have a view of SAN FRANCISCO skyline and runs through a concrete jungle where no one lives and no one to cheer on the runners. I've run this race every year but the first and it was a hard decision not to keep up my medal count but I hate this course and won't run in the ORF if this is what it will be in the future."

    "Really? The original route had been posted for months. If the route actually wasn't confirmed, then WHY wouldn't you let potential registers know ahead of time (let me guess, $$$). I call BS on all of this. No marathon is going to come up with final route 30 days before the race."

    "I hate to pile onto the continued feedback, but I would like to respond to your last point on the timing of the announcement...Running a great race is usually the result of sometimes months of thoughtful preparation and training, and many marathoners have worked up to 18 or 20 mile training runs at this point with a very different course in mind...It would even have made a difference if some variation of "exciting course changes are in the works" were mentioned during signup."

My question is, was it changed because runner polls really did show a desire for a flatter, faster course?

  • If so, why not just leave it at the first bullet point? Why add the other vague explanations as well?
  • If this was the real reason, why is the change being implemented *right* before the race? Getting permits, etc. does take time, so why not just get through this year with the old course and then change for 2019 when runners could be informed of the new course from the beginning and have plenty of time to prepare for the new course?
  • The San Francisco Marathon is hillier than the original Oakland course (not to mentioned MUCH pricier) and still seems to draw plenty of runners, so it's hard to believe that "marathoners don't want to run hills" is really the issue.
  • Also it sure does seem like a lot of people really were in it for the hills.
  • Flat or not, one glance at the course and it is imminently clear that there is *nothing* even remotely fast about it, so maybe just leave that part out.

As for the second bullet point about "amazing views," this change has taken the full from a cool tour of Oakland with some neat views of the town to one with views of...a concrete jungle and the San Francisco skyline? It just doesn't make any sense at all.

Or was it just an issue with permits/traffic/other events? If so, again, just say so and leave it at that, instead of getting into how more runners want a flatter course and now there are "amazing views." I know that sometimes things come up with construction or other events and things have to be changed or cancelled but when that's happened with events I've been registered for in the past, the organizers just came right out and said it. "Sorry, we ran into permit issues, here's the course we've got, have a deferral on us if you're not into it" or "We couldn't find a work-around so the event is cancelled, have a deferral on us." It happens. At the very least it would have been nice to get a heads up that a potential or likely course change was in the works, given that people were training for a very particular terrain profile.

So, I dunno. It just does all seem a bit sketchy that it was all so last minute with no notice and there's all these different explanations that feel like they don't all quite jive. Whatever, I'll still show up and run the full if I can; I'm just a little disappointed that it won't be the same cool Oakland experience nor the character-building hills that I paid for.

***UPDATE*** You can read my race report of the 2018 Oakland Marathon HERE.


  1. Wow, bummer. With all of the twists and turns it is certain to NOT be a fast course. :( Flatter is not always better with a marathon, either, as the repetitive pounding on your legs can be hard. Hills break up the monotony. Looks like they are using some of the same course for the Half so it is likely that figured into the aid stations requirements and cost. Annoying that they are lying about it and implying that it was the runners who wanted the new course.

  2. This is almost a bad as Disney cancelling all SoCal races after weeks/months of speculation and dodging questions. I agree that the hills and neighborhoods were what made Oakland special. I remember tweeting with the race years ago about The Hill and they said everyone loved that about the race. Super shady how they rolled out the new course so close to race day, too. The course map is so confusing! I loved the old Oakland Marathon course and doubt I'd be inspired to run this new one.

  3. That's super disappointing. I ran the full in 14 shortly after we moved here, and sure it was hard and hilly, but dude. Marathons are hard. Some marathons are hilly. Just because they're hilly doesn't mean that they're less fun or less enjoyable. (Newsflash!) It sounds awfully shady and like they aren't being forthcoming with all the details. It'll be interesting to see what their "post race feedback" is this time around.

  4. On second thought, this sounds a lot like what happened with the Morgan Hill races in October. A couple years ago, they nixed the full in favor of something else over race weekend -- I want to say it was a half, a 5k or 10k, and then maybe a 50 mile bike ride or inline skate or something family friendly -- but then last year, they reintroduced their "new and updated full marathon." The problem was that the "new and improved" course took out all the hills from the prior iteration (which had something like 1k'+ climbing) because, in their words, runners didn't like it and the race org wanted it to be more "runner friendly" or whatever. IDK, I didn't run it, but the fb commentary from runners sure raised a stink about it, just like you captured with ORF. Maybe there is something to be said for making races more "accessible" to more runners (implying little to no elevation), but you, I don't think it's a good idea.

  5. My gut says it was more to do with permits but they are hiding behind all of the other reasons. I also wonder if the residents of the nicer neighborhoods - Rockridge and Montclair- made a stink to the city council about the inconveniences of the course? But maybe they’re trying to boost numbers with a flat course, since the full is the smallest out of all 3 events (but also the most expensive) and making runners loop around downtown does decrease costs substantially. Regardless, it is exceptionally shady to change the course so dramatically a month out. That said - I hope to see you there - maybe for a post race brunch?

  6. As someone who has spent time on the organization side of race, my bet is it's 100% because of permitting. Sometimes conditions are added to the permit at the last minute and organizers have to scramble to work it out. In this case, it would have been nice for them to say they were bummed too and not try to spin it in a positive direction when there really isn't one.

  7. Gotta agree with Jen and Karen here, this is a permitting issue plain and simple, and the horrible timing gives that away. No race director in their right mind wants to change their course one month before the race, and the only reason they'd do so is because the city and police department tell them to. So as much as I give them a "NICE TRY" for trying to put a positive spin on this, the timing tells me runner preference had zero nada zilch zippo to do with this decision. That said, all you can do now is turn these lemons into lemonade, run the course you've been given and run it well — as you said, this IS in essence a training run for bigger and better things, and I'm not sure a hilly marathon three weeks before Boston is the best way to start your taper. So then maybe this ends up being a good thing! How's that for a silver lining?

  8. Boo to the last-minute changes, and yeah, my guess is permit issues (maybe because of all the residential neighbourhoods? some residents don't like their streets being closed off on a weekend for hours? idk). Anyway, in terms of mental training, you now get some valuable practice in Being Zen In The Face Of Unexpected Disruptions...

  9. Lame. That was my first marathon ever. And it was hella hilly, but at least it was interesting?