How the Dallas White Rock Marathon's New Location Fails

Today it was announced that The Dallas White Rock Marathon was shifting its start/finish from Fair Park to downtown Dallas, specifically near the new Omni Hotel.

While such a move will surely please out-of-towners (as it provides start/finish proximity to hotels), this in-tower thinks it sucks. And apparently amongst my local running tribe, this is a singular opinion. Everyone I know (except one person) is praising the move on Facebook, but I’m not sure what they are seeing.

So I’m motivated to explain my negative reaction and see if anyone can convince me it’s a good move on the part of the DWRM organizers. I may be demanding too much, but I’ve participated in different races (including local ones) that had better organization, at least in the past.

I found interesting that the start/finish was once at Dallas City Hall, which is just a stone’s throw away from where it will be this year. I did run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half-Marathon its first year, which had a City Hall start. For that race, we had to park at Fair Park & take buses to downtown Dallas (shuttles are a great way to harsh early morning race ‘mellow). But shuttles were required for that event the finish line was back at Fair Park; this year’s DWRM is different because both the start/finish are the same place.

I’ve only ever run DWRM when the start/finish was The American Airlines Center or Fair Park, and between the two I found Fair Park to be the far better location.

During the three years I ran at American Airlines Center, I found navigating the highways/roads to the AAC to be difficult and the parking situation to be painful. Back then, they charged $10 for parking, and you had to arrive butt-ass early to get favorable spots. And when you ran, you had to navigate two rough patches of pavement early in the race: the brick-lined streets of the West End (where an errant brick was enough to send people tripping) and the over-crowned, pothole-lined Ross Street west of the Dallas Museum of Art.

And in recent years when I’ve run the half marathon, we had an entirely different finish line than the full marathon, thanks to the fact our final miles were along the Katy Trail. Taking hundreds of runners accustomed to spreading out wide on a city street, then funneling them through a bottleneck like the Katy Trail, and dodging pedestrians & pets along the way, was a classic course planning mistake. During that year’s edition, my time slowed down in the last few miles because of the artificial crowd I had to plow through.

When the switch to Fair Park was announced, I was immediately excited.

I immediately had visions of ample, free parking…an easy commute that didn’t involve navigating closed-off downtown streets…running past the Cotton Bowl, art deco buildings, and the Espalande…multiple DART stations, should I choose to take public transportation.

The course was an improvement, but not perfect (see below). Because you approach downtown from the east instead of the west, you avoid the mess on Ross Street and instead get to run past some incredible venues such as The Cathedral Guadalupe Church, the Winspear Opera House, the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center, and more.

And the way the full and half courses merged immediately before the finish line was exciting…I still remember how I was able to run with the Kenyans because my half time lined up exactly with their full time, and the fact our courses merged when they did. It will be the only time I could possibly keep up with them!

The Automotive Building was a great finishing chute — immediately after crossing the finish line, you could scamper into the building while barely getting chilled. At the AAC, you would have to find one of four sets of open doors which were a hike-through-the-crowd away from the finish line. I doubt the Omni will be opening up their doors for post-race recovery; that function will likely fall onto the Dallas Convention Center.

Fair Park had its issues, don’t get me wrong. In Year One, I had several friends who were caught in the paralyzing traffic snarl between IH45 and IH30, causing them to miss the race start. Luckily,this didn’t affect me, as a lifetime of Texas State Fair visits has taught me to always approach Fair Park via Munger St. instead of 2nd Ave. exit on I30. Also, in my first experience on a relay team this year, I found that the slog which was my walk between shuttle stop and my car was excruciating — I blame this more on last year’s epic freezing rain than the distance. I gave the race a pass: it was just the second year at Fair Park, it was improved from the previous year (better bathrooms, bag drop-off, starting chutes), so there was room for improvement next year.

Now we are switching locations yet again, so be fully prepared for a new round of Year One cluster-fucks this time around.

The bigger issues with the DWRM go beyond the start/finish line.

I’ve always found it criminal that the half-marathon course never approaches White Rock Lake. When the Fair Park start was announced, I had high hopes that this wrong would be righted. In fact, I registered for that year’s race before the new course was determined. Alas, my dreams were crushed: not only did we still avoid the lake like a plague, we also no longer ran down beautiful, wide Swiss Avenue. It was like paying a runner’s penance.

I’ve also been frustrated by DWRM’s social media efforts. Two years ago, during the first Fair Park year, people were anxious about the lack of a published course map until just weeks before the race. Instead of communicating with runners & soothing their anxiety & concerns, their response was to keep posting their copy points. I vividly remember their FB wall being shellacked with negative buzz which they ignored. This was not an effective way to run a social media campaign.

I hate being so negative, but these have been my experiences at the DWRM. Other races I’ve run (Twin Cities, RnR Dallas, RnR SA, Austin, and DRC Half) have been pleasant & well-planned experiences. There is some grumbling about how DWRM doesn’t get the world-class rep it thinks it deserves, that the business community is never fully behind it — perhaps addressing some of the above complaints might help.

That is, unless I’m the only one who feels this way.

What are y’all’s thoughts?