OAKLAND -- Jessica Russell, a 41-year-old half-marathon runner who has participated in running events from Oakland to Chicago, has seen hundreds of bands and crowds of thousands along race courses, but it's The Crucible's flaming arch at the Oakland Running Festival that is one of her all-time favorite race markers.

"The Crucible and the arch is sort of the beginning of what for me is the best part of the race, running down the beautiful Mandela Parkway," she said. "I don't know how far along in the race it is, what mile, but it certainly gives me something to look forward to."

The Crucible has provided a flaming arch every year of the Oakland Running Festival as runners pass their facility in West Oakland. Chris Mocko, the 2012
The Crucible has provided a flaming arch every year of the Oakland Running Festival as runners pass their facility in West Oakland. Chris Mocko, the 2012 marathon champion and event record holder, runs through The Crucible's flaming arch during the race last year. (Courtesy of MarathonFoto)

The Crucible, a nonprofit arts center that holds fine and industrial arts classes, has been setting their propane-fueled steel arch on Seventh Street for runners to pass through for three years. It's a 12-foot-high sculpture that one or two runners can pass through at a time and it is designed in such a way that flames can surround the sculpture, but no one gets burned.

The arch is the work of Berkeley-based artist Michael Christian who is known for larger-than-life, playful sculptures that are the talk of major arts festivals like Burning Man and Coachella. One of his largest works is the massive "I.T." a 40-foot-tall alien-like steel sculpture with moving head and oscillating eye beam seen at Burning Man in 2005. More recently, Christian paired with fellow metal sculptor Orion Fredericks to create the futuristic spaceship DJ booth for electronic musician and six-time Grammy winner Skrillex's 2012 world tour.


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The arch was made several years ago for one of The Crucible's large fundraising performances and features curly, whimsical designs along with its fire effects. It has taken on a brown rust with age.

"We're happy to provide it and provide support to the race," said Andrea Lundquist, events manager at The Crucible. "We're part of the last 10 miles of the race which can be the most grueling as I see in the faces of the runners as they run by. It's nice to be part of the spark, so to say, of their run. I think it's great we can provide some art, entertainment and excitement as runners get through the race."

Lee Corrigan, executive director of the Oakland Running Festival, said it's important for race organizers to make sure there is memorable entertainment along the race course for runners and fans. This year's festival will have 26 bands and DJs lining the course and small parties for the crowds that gather.

Every year after the race, he said, the organization does a post-race survey and The Crucible's flaming arch is the most enjoyed race No. 1 feature according to runners.

"It's not every day you get to run through a flaming arch, right?" he asked.

Russell has participated in the half-marathon every year since the Oakland Running Festival began four years ago. While she chugs along the course she looks forward to hitting that landmark, that one-of-a-kind sculpture that welcomes runners into West Oakland.

Then she gets to step through flames. Russell said she always makes sure to run through the arch under the watchful eyes of photographers so she can get a good photo of her efforts to complete the run.

"I love the whole race, but particularly this part really reflects the spirit of Oakland. The Crucible is a very interesting organization and I like that you can run through the arch and you're enjoying the race, but you're also celebrating the arts community in Oakland," she said. "Oakland gets a bad rap, but I always tell people to run this race because you get to see another side of the city and the real spirit of Oakland."

OAKLAND RUNNING FESTIVAL
What: About 10,000 runners from 30 states and eight countries will compete in the fourth annual marathon
When: Sunday, marathon starts at 7:30 a.m.; 5k 7:45 a.m.; half-marathon 9:15 a.m.; kids run 9:20 a.m.
Where: Races start and finish at Snow Park, 19th and Harrison streets
Info: Online registration is now closed, but people may still be able to register at the Expo. Go to www.oaklandmarathon.com