Oakland Triathlon: Race Review

Obviously, I did not finish this race. But I had a ton of friends doing it. (I think I knew 1/4 of the people there.) And I watched most of the parts I didn’t do and did the other parts, so I feel like I have a pretty good sense of it overall.

Also, of note: I knew about 1/4 of the people there and usually they would be all up on the social media posting softly-lit photos about how #blessed they are and how amazing the race was. I did not see a single thing posted after the race among all my friends. Since, in the current triathlon climate, so many “amateurs” are shilling for current sponsors or future sponsors or potential sponsors, and so many people are advertising online for the life they wish they had, the fact that no one posted anything says volumes about what they weren’t saying. In my opinion.

The Expo/Goodies: Honestly, I think this was the best part of this race. Since I was “done” early, I had a few free beers in a very cute mason jar with the Oakland Triathlon logo on it that, unfortunately, didn’t have a top so I’m not sure what I can re-use it for besides drinking. I also had an OK burrito and apparently I could have had free wings. And, if I had been up for it, I would have been able to get a massage. The expo wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t tiny, and it had all the stuff you actually want. Plus, the t-shirt was cute. So, you know, A+ for the stuff that comes on the side of the race, which generally I don’t care much about, but there it is.

The Course: The swim is in the Oakland estuary. And I thought it was fiiiiiiine, but apparently other people didn’t? It tasted a little oil-y right at the start, but then it was totally good. The major reason people seemed all up in arms was because 1. it was long, like for sure definitely long, no question about it (and also people’s GPSs confirmed it was super long) and 2. it was all zig-zaggy at the beginning.

This is the course:


See that part where there’s a weird U-turn before you go straight for a long time. Yeah. Basically you were swimming back into people who were swimming out into you. Also, with the sprint waves starting first, this was around when you ran into the back of them too. Evidently, this bothered a lot of people. And, yes, I did get kicked hard in the face twice. But I also figured I’m better at weird swimming stuff than other triathletes, so while everyone else was breaststroking and freaking out, I just put my head down and swam over them.

At the end you had to climb up onto this pier — which I was doing just fine, thank you — and a super enthusiastic volunteer reached down to pull me out. But, since I wasn’t expecting that, I landed weird and hard on my thumb, and dislocated it. Which was a nice extra injury.

Then you had to run up these two flights of stairs (or take the elevator?) and across a bridge over some train tracks and then back down the stairs. Then you got on the bike.

Now the bike course was my major problem with the race. It was not safe. Period. It still would not have been safe if it hadn’t rained. The rain simply highlighted existing problems.

Those problems were:

  • Way, way too many turns — and sharp turns at that
  • On roads that were not entirely closed, so that you were turning in a narrow portion of them
  • And on roads that were very bad, so that you were coming around a sharp turn in a narrow bike lane, basically in the shoulder and there’d be all kinds of potholes and cracks
  • Plus, people of far too varying speeds trying to navigate all this at the same time — with the sprint waves starting first, that also meant you’d come around that sharp, narrow turn, avoiding the potholes, in the rain, and run right into the back of someone going drastically slower than you

It was a bad combination.

There’s a reason I saw multiple people wipe out (and I only saw those crashes on the first half of the bike before I wiped out too), and that reason isn’t that it rained, and it isn’t that it was an “urban” course. I have done lots of races in the rain. I have done lots of races in big cities. They did not have this high a crash rate.

I think/I hope that the race organizers realized this, because it was sort of a mess. And I think/I hope that they’re planning to change the course some for next year. You could have a good triathlon in Oakland, you just need to plot the bike course better.

Then the run, which I clearly didn’t do, went around Lake Merritt before finishing back over those same two flights of stairs and back across the train tracks. Lake Merritt is a nice park with a nice running path and lots of races go around it. Like, apparently, another unaffiliated 5K race on the same path at the same time as the triathlon??

The Organizational Details: I had been genuinely excited about this race, because I like local races and I like the Morgan Hill race these organizers put on. I also missed the inaugural Oakland Triathlon last year and everyone did it, so I felt like I was missing out. And I usually like wacky race courses, so the fact that this sounded all kinds of crazy was a bonus. Plus, since everyone was doing it that meant good competition on a fun course right near home. What could go wrong.

So I was a little disappointed that it was not super well-organized. Even before the race started, I was annoyed about things not being marked well. The expo is in a different place than transition, which is a different place than the start. This is annoying, but fine. Lots of races are that logistically annoying, but they all have signs and clear maps and directions. Instead, nowhere would tell me where packet pick-up was on race morning. I eventually had to ask another random racer. Actually, asking people where things were was kind of the operating procedure for everything before the start, but since opinions tended to vary you had to take more of a general crowd poll.

I think if things were a little more organized with people not being directed the wrong way on the bike, with lots of clear signage, with full (or at least heavily partial) course closures, then it would have been a lot better. There just seemed to be a lot of little details that were missing. Like, after I crashed, there was no system to get me or ALL the people who were crashing back to the finish/start, no SAG wagon or race support or anything that I saw. (It’s entirely possible there was and the volunteers by me just didn’t know about it or it was coming much later. I don’t know.) That seems like a bad plan. The volunteer who gave me a ride back was very, very nice. And the med tent people who cleaned out my cuts with “the only antibiotic cleansing wipe they had” were very nice. But there should have been more antibiotic wipes, you know.

Grade: C-

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