It has been 25 years, but it’s coming back.
San Francisco has one. San Jose has one. Sacramento has one. And when Gene Brtalik, who happens to work for an extreme sports event planning company, moved to Concord last January, he saw both a void and an opportunity. “Oakland is the only major city in the Bay Area that currently doesn’t do marathons,” he says.
Brtalik works for Corrigan Sports, which is based in Maryland and is now the official organizer of the 2010 Oakland Marathon–the city’s first marathon in a quarter century.
Since his idea in January, he has been busy. It took four months for the city of Oakland to approve the event proposal, and then with the help of Oakland’s running community, Brtalik created the running courses and is now pulling together sponsors.
The 26.2-mile marathon, one of several races scheduled for March 27 and 28 in a weekend event called the Oakland Running Festival, follows a course that begins on Broadway outside City Hall. It winds through North Oakland for a while, eventually heading out Moraga Avenue to Lincoln, down to East, and then back around Lake Merritt before ending up again at City Hall.
“We want to show off the entire city,” Brtalik said. “Some areas are hilly, but that’s a part of Oakland.”
But the course is a little different than it was 25 years ago. There was only one peak of elevation in the course then, the Hegenberger freeway overpass, crossing over Alameda to San Leandro Bay. Runners ran through a maze of left and right turns near the Oakland Coliseum before returning the other direction on the overpass. They then followed half of the perimeter of Lake Merritt on Lakeshore and Grand Avenue, past 20th Street, down Adeline and finishing on 11th Street and Broadway.
Michael Pinocci, 54, of Las Vegas, ran the marathon course in 1982.
“I can still visualize the finish,” he said. He said he could remember his mother and father on the sideline, cheering him on as he ran an uphill grade to the finish line. He and a Canadian runner were neck and neck. Obviously, he was trying to win. He finished second, missing first place by 35 seconds, but his second-place finish qualified him to run the marathon in Fukuoka, Japan shortly afterward. Pinocci, who grew up in Fremont, said he remembered the weather was beautiful in Oakland the day he ran. “I remember I ran my personal best,” he said. “ It will always be at the top of my list.”
Len Goldman, president of the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders Running Club, said he remembers reading about the marathon 25 years ago and its successful turnout. The Joggers and Striders club is the oldest and largest running club in the East Bay, with 250 members. Goldman estimated that 50 of them plan to run the marathon.
Goldman, who is originally from Indiana, has lived in Oakland since 1968 and said he partnered with Brtalik, as well as the East Bay Front Runners and Walkers, to design the course. The goal: to show off the city. He said most marathon courses are “more forgiving,” with less elevation, but that Oakland is unique.
Goldman is 65, and said he has been training to run the half-marathon. He runs at least 35 miles a week to reach his goal of running it in 90 minutes. “I find it therapeutic,” he said. “I forget about everything, and enjoy being outside and running.”
He said he hopes the returning marathon will bring positive news to the city and attract people from all over the Bay Area. “People have the image of Oakland as gangs and sideshows, but the marathon will show a side of Oakland that doesn’t make the headlines,” he said.
Kei Kodani, manager of the College Avenue running and swimming apparel store Transports, agrees that the Oakland Running Festival, which is currently only sponsored by Geico, will bring positive attention to the city as well as to the running community. “It’ll bring the focus to Oakland as a running city,” he said. “A place for runners.” The event might also bring prestige, he said, if elite runners perform. He said is undecided about whether he will participate. “There are some parts of the course that have me uncertain,” he said. There is a steep downhill run on Lincoln Avenue which Kodani said, “Would be nearly impossible.” He said the hill is very difficult to just walk and after running many miles before, running downhill can be more difficult than running uphill.
But Kodani said he may run the half-marathon — he has some time to think. Participate registration begins Nov. 1 and continues up until the event day.
Brtalik said the Oakland Running Festival is doing things a little differently by also offering four-person relays and children’s races. “Not everybody can do a marathon,” he said. “Not everybody can do a half-marathon.”
He said the main purpose of the event is to bring out the community, but that it’s also a good marketing move for the city of Oakland. Brtalik has set a turnout goal of 7,000-8,000 participants across all five races — the marathon, half-marathon, four-person relay, 5K and kids’ fun run. There will be awards given for each age group of each race and cash prizes for winners of the marathon race. “When mom and dad go home with a medal, they can be like mom and dad and go home with a medal too,” Brtalik said.
Pinocci, who has run 40 marathons–18 with a time under 2:20, which makes him a very speedy distance runner–said he believes the event will draw many first-time marathon runners. “Its amazing what the human body can do,” he said. “Some people have goals to break. Everyone has a goal and it may be just to finish.”