Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oakland Running Festival 2012 Race Review

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Would I run this event again: YES!
Would I recommend this event to others: YES!
Is this a course good for PRs: YES for the 1/2 marathon, MAYBE for full marathon, NOT LIKELY for BQ 
Is this a good spectators course: YES!

I wrote previously about my Oakland Marathon 2012 race recap, but wanted to spend a few moments reviewing the Oakland Running Festival itself. For only being in its 3rd year, the Oakland Running Festival puts on one heck of a show. It is one of my favorite of the 14 marathons I have participated in. Honestly, JOB WELL DONE by these folks. Every marathon will have its good & bads, but this race certainly doesn't have the share of "bads" that I think most marathons do. Kudos to all involved.

The Oakland Running Festival is comprised of 5 events: Full Marathon, Half Marathon, 4-Person Relay, 5K and Kids Fun Run. My review is based solely on participating for 2 years in the Full Marathon.

The Good:

  • Received a great price on this run using an San Fran Marathon code. Take advantage of these codes while you can. They are a great way to participate in a marathon at a discount rate.
  • Great start time of 7:30. Not too early. LOVED IT!
  • I liked that the half marathon started at 9:15, not only did it ease congestion at the start, it allowed us to potentially run into our friends around mile 17 of the full/mile 4 of the half and all finish about the same time.
  • The volunteers. The volunteers, as was the case last year too, were fantastic. They were easy to spot in their orange t-shirts, had a smile for all the runners, cheered their hearts out and made the overall experience better. I don't think folks realize how much effort the day before, the day of and post-race goes into a race. They are out there, rain or shine, setting up, marking the roads, getting into place and then stand there all day cheering. Great job to all who volunteered to make this running event happen.
  • The course. Yes, the full marathon is brutal, built in with many hills. However, the entire course is great. It offers a wonderful view of Oakland. It has many twists and turns so you never know what is around the next corner. For the most part, the roads were fairly void of potholes (except on Piedmont) and all-in-all just offers a good variety of scenery and running surfaces. In addition, GREAT support from the local Oakland police and fire departments. They were out in full force directing traffic, cheering us on and offering great smiles.
  • Aid Stations. For the full marathon, the aid stations were plentiful and stocked with smiling volunteers. I never once thought "When will another aid station be coming up". They had plenty of aid stations, plenty of folks handing out water and Gatorade and a few Gu stations to boot. Well done on this front.
  • The Finish line. See below on the negatives for the finish line, but there were a few positives. The finishers chute was very wide and offered a lot of room for spectators. It was great running this last bit (despite the hill). It was nice and wide. The event also offered space blankets and they handed out water on *both* sides of the post-race chute. You didn't have to cut across people to grab some water.
  • The timing chip. The timing chip was built-in to the bib this year. And it wasn't one of those thick foam bib chips either. It was flat, discreet and did not get in the way of wearing the bib comfortably.
  • The Start. I was able to easily find close parking, and for those coming in on BART (half marathoners only, BART doesn't run early enough for the full marathon event) it was easy to jump off on the 19th Street station. There was zero wait time for the port-o-potties (likely because I used them 5 minutes before gun time), bag check was a breeze (I didn't use it, but my friends did) and the start line, although crowded (heck, it's a marathon) was easy to be part of and get into a good stride. It was great having a few food trucks at the start to offer coffee and other tasties for those spectating or standing around waiting the 1 hour 45 minutes until the half marathon started.
  • Facebook. Good use of the Oakland Running Festival Facebook page to stay up to date and ask questions. I received quick replies whenever I did ask a question.

The Bad:
  • I personally was not a fan of the start/finish area; Snow Park. It is a grassy field with large trees situated on a hill. If it rains in the days leading up to the marathon, which it did this year, it turns into a wet, depressing, dark grassy field. I would prefer a flat surface with a mixture of grass, pavement and plenty of seating and enough space to accomodate all the runners & spectators.
  • The expo was very limited. To say it took 5 minutes to get through the expo is not an understatement. There are very few booths, and many are irrelevant to a marathon or just someone giving a sales pitch for their product. I realize this is a small marathon, but more attention should be paid to creating a great running vibe at the expo.
  • The virtual goodie bag. This year, the Oakland Running Festival wanted to go green and instead of handing out a goodie bag at the expo filled with many useless coupons/advertisements and some fun trial size freebies, they did a "virtual goodie bag" which consisted of an email being sent with just a handful of "coupons". Of which, 100% were not useful. Runners love freebies, bring back the goodie bag!
  • Emails, emails and more emails. It's great when a marathon is communicative, but there comes a point when TOO many emails are sent out. This year proved that true. I think I received at least 3 emails in the week leading up to the race.
  • Timing Mats/Athlete Tracking. The Oakland Running Festival had promised the ability for loved ones to track runners online during the event. Apparently, due to the "expected rain", the marathon did not set out the timing mats, nor the race clocks at each mile. Why they didn't do this, I don't get. Many marathons have timing mats and race clocks in the rain, so not sure why they didn't provide this. As someone who ran the full, knowing my 13.1 and other split times is critical. Bad move on the Oakland Running Festivals part. They knew rain was coming at least two weeks in advance, they could have planned better.
  • The finish. Most of the finish was great, as noted above, however, it was void of "pomp & circumstance". Traditionally, there is someone there to say "congratulations" and place a medal around your neck, not this year. This year I had to walk over to some random person and ask for my medal. No "congrats" or big to-do about it, they just handed it to me and *I* placed it around my neck.
  • The race shirts. For the full marathon, they gave away cheap polyseter long-sleeve zip shirts. They are not made from a technical fabric, so one cannot wear it while running. They were also VERY SMALL and felt cheap. I know I heard a lot of folks complain that they also resembled the Oakland Raiders colors. But come on people, it is an OAKLAND marathon. So I don't care about that part. But PLEASE, if I am running 26.2 miles, give me a decent finishers shirt (in a technical fabric).
  • Race results. Apparently, the Oakland Running Festival said it was having issues with Active.com in uploading the full marathon results. In addition, the Active.com site was constantly "too busy to process the request". It's the day of the running event, both the Oakland Running Festival and Active.com should realize their site will see an increase in usage. They need to plan for this and have a fail-over plan in case site usage exceeds expectations.


  1. I agree with a lot of this. It was also a big bummer for spectators that almost NOTHING around the start/finish area was open! I know that's not really something the race can control, but it would definitely help keep the spectators happy.

  2. Jana - just to respond to a few of your bads and explain ourselves

    Regarding the expo and goodie bag - these are things we can't control. Being a relatively new race, vendors still aren't ready to come and promote themselves to runners like they do at the big races. At every expo I attend I talk to the vendors, but I can't strong arm them. The same goes for the virtual goody bag. We offered it to sponsors, etc and they didn't have anything extra to offer. Had we done hard goody bags it would have been the same experience.

    The ton of e-mails are done on purpose. We've learned that the more information we provide, the better. You may read them, but there are another thousand or so that won't read each one and instead call us about details we have published a few times.

    Disappointed about your medal experience as the Air Force volunteers were supposed to reward each finisher.

    Timing mats were on the course at each relay exchange. Clocks weren't on the course due to the fact that we couldn't find someone to put them out there. I know that's a poor exscuse, but with a staff of only 12, we have to rely on volunteers.

    The full premium is a running shirt, at least that is what they told us.

    We did have words with active regarding this and they did apologize.

  3. Whoa, you got feedback from Oakland Marathon itself!! That's rad. I'm glad they got in touch with you, and I'm glad you got to let them know your experience. I love love love the Oakland half marathon, but I don't ever see myself doing the full. Maybe. Oh, I don't know....

    I think your "bads" were totally valid, and no need for the Marathon to defend itself for stuff like a lame expo. When it comes down to it, it's about the course, and how smoothly the race itself runs. Everything was punctual which I loved.

  4. I volunteered for the San Jose RnR half last year and got to give medals at the end - I made a point to put it around the person's neck and to say great job. But the people around me were saying 'ew, I don't want to touch sweaty people' and just handing out medals. It made me sad, I also LOVE having someone put the medal on me! I had to go get mine in Oakland too.