The 2020 Oakland Marathon: A Recap of the Marathon That Wasn’t

Oakland Marathon Recap of the Race That Wasn't

Publishing note: I originally posted this on March 24th, 2020 (what would have been the week after the marathon).

I updated and republished it on August 25th,2020 (what would have been race week for the postponed marathon). 

I was supposed to be the leader of the 4:40 pace group at the Oakland Marathon on March 22.

Then, I was supposed to write a recap of that race in this blog post.

So many ‘supposedas’ aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to these days.

The Oakland Marathon is no different.

Oakland Marathon Recap of the Race That Wasn't

The 2020 Oakland Marathon – The Race That Wasn’t

A few weeks before Oakland, the first race cancellations and postponements started when both the Tokyo and Paris marathons were called off due to Covid.

My first thought was it sucked for those who trained and planned major international travel. But it made sense since those races are huge and draw people from around the world.

Surely those same concerns don’t exist for my little race.

But things escalated quickly, and it wasn’t long before the Oakland Marathon too was called off.

The Race is Off

As a runner, I wasn’t too upset by it.

I’d already run my main race of season, the Salmon Falls 50k just a few weeks before. In my mind, Oakland was an ‘oh yeah, that’s happening too’ race. I knew I’d enjoy pacing it, but my personal reaction was a resounding meh.

However, I’d also been a coach and pacer for my running club’s marathon training program.

Most of those runners had Oakland as their goal race. We’d been doing long runs together since Thanksgiving, and for many of them, Oakland was going to be their first marathon.

They’d done 16 1/2 weeks of training.

They were so close.

I was heartbroken for them.

I was much more upset by their situations than I was my own.

What To Post?

I usually plan blog posts a month in advance, so when looking at my editorial calendar last week I saw ‘Oakland Marathon Recap’ staring back at me.

I wasn’t sure what to post this week.

Forget Oakland entirely and dust off a half-formed draft? So many of which, I now realize, focus on some aspect of race prep, which is a little too salt in the wound to post today.

Or maybe draft something new, trying to give advice or a positive spin on our current situation?

But then I realized I’m still processing what is happening, both in running and in the wider world.

The best way for me to process stuff is to write about it, so I decided to write a ‘recap’ of the race that wasn’t.

While I call this little website a ‘blog,’ other than race recaps, I don’t do much traditional blogging, so I hope you’ll all indulge me just this once.

Plan B?

After Oakland was called off, the running club began discussing alternatives. We could run the Oakland course on race day anyway. Or join up with a local running store that was going to host an event on race day doing multiple laps of Lake Merritt.

Some runners talked about doing a marathon distance at locations like the Iron Horse Trail or the Alameda Creek Trail where we had done training runs.

Ultimately, we decided the club shouldn’t be organizing anything for any number of legal, permitting, and insurance reasons.

Plan C?

I thought the people who were considering running the Oakland route anyway were kind of silly because… well… the Oakland course isn’t very good.

Lots of loops downtown, lots of random streets in residential neighborhoods.

It is a course pretty clearly designed with one simple question in mind: what roads can we shut down on a Sunday morning with the least amount of disruption to non-runners as possible?

How enjoyable or scenic the course is for runners doesn’t seem to factor into the equation.

An Oakland Marathon Aside

I have a complicated relationship with the Oakland Marathon.

I’ve lived in Oakland for nearly a decade and while it has its problems (what town doesn’t?), I love it. I also love running marathons, so I want to love the Oakland Marathon.

But it just keeps letting me down.

And I keep giving it one more chance.

The race directors are based on the East Coast and other than a spouse of a former employee (so the story goes) had no connection to Oakland when they started the race and didn’t really know the area.

In past years, they’ve had terrible supply issues (in 2018, I finished pacing the 5 hour group and was greeted by dozens of empty food tables and a half a banana. They’d long since run out of nearly all food at the finish).

That same year, they’d changed the course from a challenging but beautiful tour of Oakland neighborhoods to flat, random loops of downtown and the port (now a great Boston Qualifier! the marketing materials now read. Don’t get me started on races catering only to those interested in a BQ – even I can’t handle an aside within an aside). The change was made without warning and less than a month before race day.

It all felt so disrespectful to the runners.

It has gotten better in the last year as they’ve hired local staff (what a concept), so I keep giving one more shot.

**End of aside**

I considered dusting off the old Oakland course that goes up into the hills and actually ventures into Oakland neighborhoods, but that course wasn’t perfect either.

However, it did get me thinking – what if I was in charge? I know what Oakland routes I don’t like, but could I do better?

I ended up writing a little Oakland Marathon fan-fiction and created the route I wish the Oakland Marathon ran. It actually ventures into neighborhoods and shows off the variety, history, and diversity of Oakland.

Sure, it’s a tougher course than the actual course, but for those of us who don’t care about a BQ time, a challenging course is an asset, not a liability.

A few runners from the club were going to join me on what would have been race day.

I was more excited about running this route than I’ve ever been about running any of the real Oakland Marathon courses.

The Best Laid Plans

What would have been marathon week, the Bay Area was put under a shelter in place (SIP) order.

Running was still allowed, as long as you remained at least 6 feet away from people not in your household.

Suddenly, going for a run became an ethical dilemma.

Even with the best of intentions, it is hard to stay 6 feet away from running partners (if you are in a group) or strangers (if you are alone, but running anywhere near other people).

The first day under the SIP, I went for a walk. There were far fewer cars on the road, but the running path was packed. Way more people than normal were out.

Staying 6 feet away from anyone was impossible.

Shelter In Place

Seeing so many people out and about left me feeling anxious and exasperated.

I just kept thinking, “I’m doing what I can, but so many others aren’t. What’s the point of me doing my tiny little part? Why don’t I just go about my daily life like so many others are?”

My thoughts would spiral from there.

Ultimately, I’m finding it easier to stay entirely inside with only a walk in the 2 (entirely residential) blocks surrounding my condo.

I can’t control that so many others are ignoring the order, I can only control my ability to see them.

Nearing Race Day

As the SIP orders expanded across the entire state and as the scope and severity of coronavirus became clearer, a 26 mile sojourn across the city suddenly felt entirely wrong to me.

Other runners who’d planned on running with me were concerned about the potential impact of the run on their immune systems.

There would be no DIY Tour de Oakland Ultra Oakland Marathon (ultra only on a technicality, the course I put together was 26.8 miles) on what would have been race day.

What Now?

I’m still really excited to run my little Tour de Oakland course, but the timing isn’t right.

I’m taking the SIP order as the universe’s way of telling me I need to rest. My hamstring was occasionally twingy while training for Salmon Falls. While it never was a major issue and was addressed by a few days rest, additional rest can only do it good.

I’m itching to get back on the trails, but by all accounts they are ridiculously crowded (seriously people, this is a pandemic, not a hiking vacation!), so I’ll stay away. If the crowds continue, it’s only a matter of time until they close too, anyway. (Aug 2020 Update: Not long after this post, most state and local parks did close).

So I’ll continue to be a good citizen and stay inside, take short walks in the neighborhood, and do my Openfit barre classes every day.

When the time comes to run again (and it will), the trails will be ready.

My tour de Oakland course will be ready.

And the fresh air will feel so good.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and for heaven’s sake, stay inside!


Update August 2020:

In the first few months of lockdown, I didn’t run at all. I wanted the rest and seeing so many people ignoring social distancing protocols continued to make me angsty.

In June, I started #slowrunning, a part run, part exploration of my local neighborhood. This was good for my mind and my spirit, but these were not runs that would get me marathon ready.

In July, I registered for the Summer of CMTR challenge, a series of 30 challenges and scavenger hunts to do on the run. These have been fun challenges to get me out the door, but again, they aren’t runs that will get me (or keep me) in marathon shape.

Oakland Marathon, Take 2(?)

Not long after the Oakland Marathon was postponed in March, organizers rescheduled it for August 30. However, it soon became clear that things wouldn’t get much better anytime soon, so in mid-July, the marathon was switched to a virtual-only race.

It is now what would have been the rescheduled race week. Wildfires are raging in Santa Cruz, blanketing the bay area in heavy smoke.

The irony is not lost on me that even if the rescheduled race hadn’t been cancelled due to public health concerns, it likely would have been cancelled due to poor air quality.

My ‘Finish’

I’m not going to run 26.2 miles this August.

I won’t do a single ‘marathon’ that I can count as a virtual race finish.

I’m just not in a place mentally or physically to do it, so I won’t force it.

However, I still consider myself a finisher of the 2020 Oakland Marathon.

I did the work this winter; I ran the miles and did the training.

I often say that training for a marathon is harder than running one. This training cycle, I did the training. I did everything but get the cherry on top of the marathon training sundae.

Even without a single run of 26.2 miles at the end of this training cycle, this medal and race shirt are earned.

I put the 2020 Oakland Marathon on my list of completed races. Sure, it has an asterisk, but it still belongs there.

View this post on Instagram

Happy #medalmonday (sort of). I was going to be the pace group leader for the 4:40 group at the Oakland Marathon in March. The event was cancelled (technically postponed until August then switched to virtual only) just over a week before race day. At that time, I was good to go. I'd been training for 16+ weeks. I'd done my long runs as a coach and pacer for my local running club's marathon training program. I (and my trainees) had done the work. We were ready, but fate had different plans. I'm not in a place mentally or physically to do a marathon right now, so I'm not going to force it (and with the smoke currently blanketing the area, it wouldn't be safe to do so anyway). I often tell my trainees that training for a marathon is harder than running one. This year, that was truer than ever. Even without a single run of a 26.2 miles this time around, I consider this medal earned. While marathon #36 may have an asterisk, it still goes on my list of completed races and ill wear my gear with pride. #oaklandmarathon #hellarunner #runoak #ihellarunoakland

A post shared by Sara Kurth (@puffincoaching) on


A day will come when things will be better.

When they do, you can find me out running my DIY Tour de Oakland Ultra Oakland Marathon course.

Stay healthy my friends!


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