Given the choice of Raleigh marathons, why would you pick that for-profit race in April run by a national company based in San Diego?

I already knew that the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon is a locally run non-profit race that annually donates proceeds to charities. After running the marathon for the first time Sunday, I can tell you that it is a first-class event that is very well-run and is a can’t-miss race for any marathoner.

You can decide to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon in April and possibly deal with very hot temperatures that greeted runners for its inaugural race. But you are lining the pockets of Competitor Group Inc., which doesn’t give any of its proceeds to charity despite the official name of the race being “Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & 1/2 Marathon presented by WRAL benefiting The V Foundation for Cancer Research.”

I’ve written about my objections about this race here. A few weeks ago, a woman who volunteered at a Rock ‘n’ Roll race under the mistaken impression that proceeds went to charity sued. One writer called it “the Walmart of marathons.”

You get none of that irritating dynamic with City of Oaks, which doesn’t list its beneficiaries — the Rex Healthcare Foundation and the YMCA We Build the People Program — in its name but donates money to both causes.

If you waited until last week to register for City of Oaks Marathon, it would have cost you $100 since race weekend is at the end of the fee schedule. Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh isn’t until April and it already costs $100 if you register now, and it will become more expensive as race day approaches. I registered for City of Oaks in January and, with the Marathon Maniacs discount, it only cost me $65.30.


The City of Oaks course takes runners through many beautiful parts of Raleigh in the first 11 miles. (On the other end of the scale, it also goes past Central Prison). We started (and finished) on Hillsborough Street next to at N.C. State’s Memorial Bell Tower, went by Shaw University, Peace College and ran through the Meredith College campus. There were picturesque stretches through downtown Raleigh, including the area of the State Capitol.

Half of the marathon course (basically the part that half-marathoners don’t run) is on beautiful trails, which you start traversing while on the Meredith campus. It reminded me a lot of my favorite marathon, the Tobacco Road Marathon. Most of the TRM course is on the American Tobacco Trail. Two key differences are that it’s fall, so runners are able to enjoy the fall colors on the trees lining the trails, and the RCOM trails are hillier.

Full Map PDF

It easily could be called the City of Hills Marathon, though, as you can see from the elevation grade if you follow the link above. As you start running those trails in a long up-and-back section and enjoy the many downhill slopes, you know you’ll have to pay on the way back. And you do. There are many hills between mile 20 and 23, which isn’t exactly when you would prefer to be climbing hills.

At one point during that stretch, there actually is a sign warning of a steep slope coming up. It wasn’t put up by race officials. It was a permanent sign to warn cyclists.

It’s certainly possible that the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks put on a good race. I’ve heard runners comment that it was well-run. I’ll never find out because I refuse to spend any money on a CGI race. But I know that the City of Oaks folks do an excellent job.

They have people holding “information” signs before the race, and they were helpful and answered questions from this RCOM newbie. Baggage claim, essential on a cold day, went well. Volunteers throughout the course were very helpful and supportive.

What about the finisher medal? At 4.5 inches at diameter, it’s the biggest I’ve been given after any of my 39 marathon finishes, and the middle part of it spins (see above).

All marathons, of course, give you a technical T-shirt when you pick up your packet. But this is only the third marathon I’ve run that gives a second T-shirt to all finishers (the others were the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2003 and the All-American Marathon in Fayetteville last May.)

Like at Tobacco Road, there is a beer garden, free pizza and plenty of other food at the finish.

They are doing something right.

The City of Oaks races, which include a half-marathon, The News & Observer Old Reliable 10K and the marathon, are in their 8th year. The races drew a record 5,555 registered runners and a record 4,791 finishers without all the hype — and public money — that the Rock ‘n’ Roll race gets.

In addition, the women’s winner of the marathon, Cary’s Michelle Langan, qualified for the Olympic marathon trials with time of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 20 seconds to beat the needed standard by more than 3 minutes.

2014 marathons

I came in at a much more pedestrian 3:52:59 in my 7th marathon of the year (see above). The grind of all the marathons has certainly affected my times, which have gone from a 3:30:42 at the Tobacco Road Marathon in March to a 4:02:51 at September’s Darlington Marathon to a bit of a recovery with my City of Oaks time. That was aided substantially by going out more slowly, which allowed me to avoid walking during those testing late hills.

Tradition-rich 10K gets lost

The Old Reliable 10K has the richest tradition of any road race in the Triangle. Its equal for many years was the Great Raleigh Road Race. But that race, which began in 1978, hasn’t been run for several years. Old Reliable has been part of the City of Oaks races since 2012.

Fittingly, the 10K course, like the marathon and half-marathon courses, goes past the area of The N&O building where the Old Reliable Run began and ended for many years. It is a bit sad that a great race is more of an afterthought now, even in The N&O.

This was the 31st Old Reliable, making it one of the oldest continuous races in North Carolina. I know of at least one race that’s been run continuously for longer: the Grandfather Mountain Marathon, which had its 45th run last July. The Mistletoe Half-Marathon in Winston-Salem will be run for the 31st time next month.

The fact that Sunday was the 31strunning wasn’t even noted on the City of Oaks website or in The N&O, which barely noted its own race.

For years, it gave the Old Reliable Run outstanding coverage and ran complete results that took up full pages in the Monday newspaper. The only mention of that race in Monday’s N&O was a reference in a stand-alone caption on 2A. There was no reference to its own race in its City of Oaks story. And there was no list of results from any of the races.

Since The N&O didn’t bother to mention results from its own race, I’ll note that Daniel Hinshaw of Pleasant Garden won the 10K in by a margin of more than 4 minutes in a time of 34:47. Raleigh’s Jennifer Zwick ran away with the women’s race in 37:13 to win by more than 5 minutes and finish second overall.

If you are debating which Wake County marathon to run, I highly recommend Cary’s Tobacco Road Marathon, which I’ve run all 5 years, and the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon. TRM clearly offers a flatter course.

But the choice between the two Raleigh marathons is clear for so many reasons.

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