For almost 10 miles, it seemed Japanese scholar Shinji Nakadai, 34, was running alone in the fourth annual Oakland Running Festival, sprinting well ahead of second-place finisher Rob Nachtwey, of Berkeley, and Osamu Tada, of Sacramento, who finished third.
Nakadai, a Japanese visiting scholar researching computer science at UC Berkeley, won the 26.2-mile marathon in a hair over two hours and 37 minutes.
For at least the last five miles of the race, the others couldn't be seen by the lead car. It was Nakadai's race.
The festival's marathon event started off with what could have been a disastrous hiccup. A little more than five minutes into the race, when runners were still near downtown Oakland, a motorist blocked a street on a course turn off ¿San Pablo Avenue, forcing the lead truck and runners to detour in an area with moving traffic.
No one was injured, and the change did not seem to affect runners, including Nakadai, a 100-kilometer world champion, who often runs 62.14 miles at a time.
"The course seems short for me," he said while munching a post-race orange. "It was a great run, a bit hilly. It was especially beautiful around the lake and the hills had a lot of nature."
Nakadai wasn't the only male marathoner who spent much of his time running alone. After the first mile or so, last year's winner, Chris Mocko, of San Francisco, put himself way ahead of the pack and solidly stayed there for at least eight miles.
It wasn't until right before mile nine around Monterey Boulevard did Tada close in on Mocko. He was at Mocko's back at the 10-mile mark near Montclair Golf Course and pulled ahead of Mocko at mile 14.
While Nakadai closed in on the pair at mile 15, Mocko abruptly stopped running and started walking the course, caring for a gluteus maximums muscle injury.
"I was just in damage control at that point," Mocko said. "You think you're invincible and then you go through those hills and then you realize you're not."
Mocko, 27, still finished sixth.
The marathon started at 7:30 a.m. with 1,500 men and women joining the competition that meandered through downtown Oakland, up Broadway Terrace, along International Boulevard, through West Oakland and around Lake Merritt.
Before the race, Alamo's Sharon Yamauchi, 33, stretched and hopped to get her blood pumping.
"This is my first marathon after having a baby seven months ago," the eighth-place finisher in the women's competition said. "I love this local race. It supports the community and you get to run through all of Oakland's neighborhoods."
Just minutes into the race, the motorist blocking a street near downtown Oakland would not move her car, despite being blared at by the Oakland police cruiser at the lead of the route. That caused a detour up San Pablo Avenue and a right turn down West Grand Avenue. Traffic had not been stopped in the area and marathoners were running alongside motorists.
Crowds were light in most parts of Oakland for the first racers. Some people wandered out of their homes along the course still in their robes and with coffee in hand cheering as the first runners passed by.
The largest number of fans gathered near Rockridge BART on College Avenue and near Brown Sugar Kitchen on Mandela Parkway.
Raiders fans painted in black and silver, including a pirate, cheered on runners at 30th and Telegraph and a dozen Raiderettes welcomed runners at the finish line.
Cynthia Almlie, 35, was the fifth-place runner in the women's marathon division. She came to Oakland from Reno, Nev., to try the course for the first time.
"It was a great run. It was hilly and winding but a great course," she said. "I saw a ton of the city."
The Oakland Running Festival was not exclusively about marathoners. The festival also hosted a half-marathon, a 5k run, a team relay and a Kids Fun Run. More than 9,100 people ran in Oakland on Sunday.
Tiffany Perry, 38, ran the women's relay and was the team member who challenged the steep hills. The Pleasanton resident said she ran the course a couple of times before the official race just to scope it out.
"It was really pretty," she said. "Tough, but pretty."
Dave Gell, director of communications for the festival, said there was double the amount of 5k racers this year over last year, and the total of registered runners was 10 percent higher than last year.
"We're growing, we are getting bigger and better than ever and Mother Nature could not have been more kind to us than she was today," he said.
1. Shinji Nakadai, 34, Berkeley, 2:37:29
2. Rob Nachtwey, 35, Berkeley, 2:40:14
3. Osamu Tada, 32, Sacramento, 2:42:56
4. Luke Peel, 26, Mordialloc, Victoria, Australia, 2:52:07
5. Scott Dunlap, 43, Woodside, 2:53:42
1. Devon Yanko, 30, San Anselmo, 2:47:24
2. Caitlin Smith, 32, Oakland, 2:56:14
3. Andra Enoiu, 20, Berkeley, 3:13:45
4. Penelope Macphail, 45, San Anselmo, 3:16:17
5. Cynthia Almlie, 35, Reno, Nev., 3:17:12
For full results, go to www.oaklandmarathon.com