Chip Johnson, a regular SFChronicle columnist on Oakland issues, devoted his column today to the upcoming Oakland Marathon and Running Festival. Incorrect use of the term "sprinter" aside, and uninformed Oakland fearmongering from someone who apparently lives in Pleasanton aside, a good article. And I certainly agree with him that I'd love to see Oakland develop a destination race like this. I intend to do the marathon, and think it will be great fun to do one that will go within a couple blocks of my house! More info on the race, including a map of the course, can be found at http://www.oaklandmarathon.com/Race_Information/Marathon.htm
<q>It was a few years ago on a hiking trail through the Oakland hills that I heard something coming up behind me - fast.
As I craned my neck around to see what it was, I heard a faint whoosh and saw a woman run past me.
It was former Olympian Regina Jacobs, and she pranced past me like a deer in the woods. Four or five steps later, she was gone.
That was the image that jumped into my mind when I heard there was a bona fide plan to hold a marathon race in Oakland next year.
For all its shortcomings, from crime to debt to poor leadership, Oakland is a runners' city, and it's evident any day of the week, from the scores of people making the 3.3-mile trek around Lake Merritt to those who seek greater challenges on hillside trails and steep city streets.
The two-day event scheduled for March is a prime-time opportunity to show off Oakland's hidden gems, shed a positive light on a national stage, and begin a tradition to make the race an annual event for the world's top long-distance runners.
Sprinters will take their marks outside at Oakland City Hall and head up Broadway, Piedmont and College avenues before making that right turn toward the Oakland hills.
They will trek through Montclair and back downhill to Fruitvale, Chinatown and Jack London Square before taking a final lap around the lake and a sprint back to City Hall.
The Oakland Running Festival also will feature a half-marathon race and 5K and four-man relay races for nothing more than bragging rights and fun, said Gene Brtalik, the event's promoter.
Oakland city officials and corporate business leaders should do all they can to sponsor the event, build up the cash purse over time, and make it the premier marathon race in the Bay Area.
Typically, the cash awards required to attract the world's top runners exceed $100,000 - and grow with sponsorship over the years, Brtalik said.
For the main race scheduled March 28, Brtalik hopes to attract more than 8,000 runners - mostly local - in its first year. In comparison, San Francisco's annual marathon event usually draws about 20,000 people, he said.
Brtalik began the Baltimore Marathon nine years ago and said this year's race will draw 20,000 runners, offer a $125,000 purse and generate $20 million in revenue over the three-day event, he said.
Oakland has not hosted a marathon in more than 25 years, but it's not for a shortage of talent, because the area is stocked with it.
The city is not only home to Jacobs, a former world-ranked middle-distance runner. Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who ran in the 2008 Olympics and is training for the 2012 Games, also lives - and trains - right here.
Boulet will be training for a world event and will not run in next year's race, but will do all she can to support it, she said in a phone interview Wednesday.
"For a city like Oakland that has had pretty good road races in the past, a race like this can really bring a community together, and the Bay Area is one of the best places in the country to train," Boulet said. "It's about time," she added.
For every top-flight runner who lives here, there are 10 everyday residents who regard a daily jog - or stroll - around Lake Merritt as part of a long-standing ritual.
It's why on the last Sunday of every month, the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders, a community group, holds a 3K, 5K and 10K race open to whoever wants to go. [actually, LMJS races are 5/10/15k, but I don't think they do the 15k every month]
News of the marathon is beginning to make its way through local online groups of long-distance runners, university track programs and personal trainers.
"Is it going to go through the city's better neighborhoods, or are we going to need a police escort for part of the way?" asked Debbie Falls, a veteran of more than 40 marathons over the years and owner of Fleet Feet, an athletic shoe store in Pleasanton.
Brtalik, the event organizer, said the course that has been selected "will show runners all the sights and sounds of Oakland."
It's an opportunity for city officials, business leaders and residents to show the world outside that Oakland is a vibrant city whose sights and sounds go well beyond the squealing tires, gunfire and booming stereo systems that have come to define the city's toughest neighborhoods.</q>