About 300 people gathered in front of the Oakland Marriot City Center on Sunday morning. It was the final official training run for the Oakland Running Festival’s marathon and half-marathon races.

Runners brave rain to prepare for marathon day

on March 8, 2011

It was early, raining and Sunday, but about 300 people still gathered in front of the Oakland Marriot City Center last weekend for the final official training run for the Oakland Running Festival’s marathon and half-marathon races.

In its second year, the festival is the weekend of March 26-27.  Organizers expect 7,000 runners to participate in its five races: the marathon, half-marathon, 4-person relay, 5K, and kids’ fun run. With three weeks left to train, it’s crunch time, especially for the marathoners. Hence the training run, which Gene Brtalik, a race director with Corrigan Sports Enterprises, said he learned about while working on the Baltimore marathon.

“It’s to give the runners a preview of the course,” Brtalik said, “so people would know what to look for on race day. How to get accustomed to where the hills are, what landmarks to look for near the end, and see what areas they need to improve on.”

The marathon starts at the Oakland Marriot City Center and runs northeast into Temescal and Rockridge, then south to Montclair, southwest to Fruitvale and back northwest for a circuit of Lake Merritt before the finish.  The 20-mile training run offered runners an early preview of the course, as well as providing Brtalik and the running festival a bit of last-minute advertising.

“The training run is open to anybody,” Brtalik said.  “If somebody’s using it to train for some other race they are doing, that’s fine with us. Hopefully they see the course and sign up.”

Brtalik, in brown leather flip-flops and nylon pants, doesn’t run in the race himself. But he’s an enthusiastic cheerleader.

With shaggy brown hair tucked under a bright orange New York Mets baseball hat, Brtalik set up in the morning drizzle at a folding table outside the Marriot’s main entrance, on the corner of 11th Street and Broadway.

For the Oakland Running Festival, “I have to do everything,” Brtalik said.  So for the day’s training run  “I have to go get the water and all the different supplies.”  He had about 80 gallons of water and 15 gallons of Gatorade in his car.  During last year’s training run, he didn’t realize how many people didn’t have maps – “So last year I made maps,” he said.

This year, a messy stack of turn-by-turn directions sits like laminated bookmarks on his table.

A few minutes before eight, the runners gathered outside. One, not prepared for the gloomy weather, wore a trash bag, his head sticking out through a hole he’d cut in the bottom and the bag’s tabs down around his calves.

Joe Henwood, a member of the running group Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders and pace group coordinator for the marathon, climbed up on a bench. His attempts to quiet the chatter with a megaphone unsuccessful, he held it aside and shouted, “OYE!”

“Pace group leaders out to the corner,” he said over the eventual silence.

In this group, the runners cover the spectrum of ability – some running a marathon for the first time, some veterans of the race. The pace groups help keep everyone on target to keep them on a run they are comfortable with.

With the leaders group ready to go, Brtalik stepped up on the bench and welcomed the crowd to the official Oakland Running Festival training run. “And to have about 300 people on a rainy day come out and try the course is great,” Brtalik said afterwards. “I figured with the rain I wouldn’t get as many, but I was surprised that people kept coming out.”

Brtalik asked the runners for questions.  “Bathrooms?” someone yelled.  Brtalik turned around and pointed at the Marriot. “Otherwise,” he said, “just find a good spot.”

After the announcements, runners took off in small pace groups.

Once the over-12-minute-mile half-marathon pace-group was on its way, Henwood’s job was done, leaving the rest of the day’s logistics to Brtalik.

The Broadway sidewalk now empty, Brtalik quickly packed up the few packets of energy gel left on the table, the prize medals, and direction sheets. He folded up the table and put everything in the back of his car.

Brtalik drove one of four volunteers, William Jones, to his post at the pit stop on 2nd Street and Broadway, but made it back to the Marriot in time to welcome the first finishers and hear what they had to say about the course. Half-marathoners started to trickle in around ten, followed by marathoners around 10:30.

As she walked into the Marriot’s parking lot after finishing the 20-mile course, Isela Santana had a huge smile on her face. Santana was sweating profusely, her sweatshirt was tied around her waist, and her dark hair piled on top of her head in a bun.

“I’m from Oakland,” Santana said, still trying to catch her breath. “So I love going through all the different neighborhoods, Montclair to Fruitvale to West Oakland. You hit all kinds of people. It’s just a beautiful run.”

Correction: In an earlier edition we stated Gene Brtalik was wearing a New York Yankees baseball hat. We have updated this story to reflect that he actually was wearing a New York Mets baseball hat.  Oakland North regrets the error.


View Oakland Running Festival Training Run: Marathon Course in a larger map|
View Oakland Running Festival Training Run: Half-Marathon Course in a larger map

1 Comment

  1. […] the Oakland Running Festival, check out the event website, or read some of Oakland North’s other preview coverage of the marathon, which includes the different race […]



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