After complaints and concerns from residents, drivers and workers, the route for the 2012 Walnut Creek International Half Marathon & 5K Race has changed from last year.
While some residents asked that the race never be held again, organizers and city officials have come to an agreement for a new course -- one with less impact on Ygnacio Valley Road. The race is set for 7 a.m. Dec. 8.
Last year's inaugural half-marathon drew 2,500 runners. For a few hours that December morning, two of the three eastbound lanes of Ygnacio Valley Road were closed. That shutdown had residents, especially those who live off of Ygnacio, complaining of snarled traffic and massive delays. Further complicating matters was that the route rolled past the John Muir Medical Center, blocking some people from getting to the hospital. The new course avoids John Muir.
"With the hospital, we can't justify the safety risk," said Don Murphy, special event coordinator for Walnut Creek. "We went back (to the organizers) and said the race cannot impact the hospital whatsoever. We tried to take in all the concerns we heard from last time and make it better."
Resident Becky Keck thinks the new route sounds much better, especially after the ordeal her family went through last year trying to get her 9-year-old grandson to the hospital the morning of the race. The boy was having an asthma attack, and the family had to park blocks away because of closed streets. Keck was
"I think the city of Walnut Creek has done a great job of setting the course away from the hospital and leaving it open for medical needs," she said. "I feel like my concerns have been heard and alleviated."
The marathon will start at Civic Park, head north across Ygnacio onto Civic Drive, eventually lead to Treat Boulevard, go east on Treat in the outer lane, then right onto Cowell Road, then right onto Ygnacio. At Heather Farm Park, runners will turn right, loop around the duck pond, and then take the canal trail into Walden Park, finally ending up on the Iron Horse Trail and finishing at Civic Park.
The new course is much better than last year's, said Darryll Whaley, organizer of the event. While a few months ago he championed the original route, he now says "hindsight is 20-20." Taking runners off the busiest roads as much as possible is for the best, he said.
"The whole goal was really to get us off Ygnacio Valley Road as much as possible," Whaley said. "As much as I wanted it to be visible ... this is a route that is better for the traffic and still allows runners to get that hill climb."
Before this year's race, Whaley said his team will blanket neighborhoods with alerts about the race and potential traffic backups. And unlike last year, late racers will be held up to let cars pass through intersections.
Murphy pointed out the biggest improvement with the new route is that runners will not have to go "out and back" on the same stretch of road.
Because the race will shut down intersections and take up a lane of road, drivers will still be affected, but hopefully far less than last year, Murphy said.
And the race is popular. Registration is already 49 percent full five months before the event. The race cost $200,000 to produce last year and raised $35,000 for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, and $20,000 for school athletic booster clubs. This year, with an Olympic theme and track and field Olympian Lopez Lomong participating, Whaley expects to beat last year's attendance.
For more information on the race, go to www.runwalnutcreek.com
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.