OAKLAND -- The year was 1985 and it marked the last time Oakland was home to a city-sponsored marathon. For a quarter century, the city's runners looking for a race had to leave town to satisfy their competitive streak. Then, in 2010, began the Oakland Running Festival. Shutting down more than 26 miles of city streets for half a Sunday created some complaints during the inaugural race. Five years later the running festival has become more than a competition to the city.
"It's become a prideful event," said Lee Corrigan, founder of Corrigan Sports Enterprises.
Corrigan has been organizing a similar running festival in Baltimore for the past decade.
He decided to put his weight behind organizing the marathon in Oakland five years ago.
A little more than 6,000 runners showed up that year. The number reached 9,300 in 2013. They came from 40 states and eight countries, including Japan. This March, he's expecting at least 10,000 runners and 25,000 fans.
The course brings runners into the city's far-flung neighborhoods, to places they might never venture, past gospel singers, costumed fans with cowbells and restaurateurs with culinary delights urging them on.
"It's a great community event," Corrigan said.
"The mayor is out there loving it," he said, referring to Mayor Jean Quan. "The community is out there loving it."
The full marathon stretches 26.2 miles. But there also will be a half-marathon, a team relay, a 5K race and a kids fun run.
The routes begin and end at Snow Park, on 19th and Harrison streets, and runs past some of Oakland's best-known landmarks and historic districts. On Seventh Street, racers pass under a 12-foot flaming arch set up by the Crucible industrial arts center.
"The spirit is definitely the carrying force of the day, not just the speed," said Stephanie Atwood, founder of the Go WOW Team, one of two official Oakland training groups that have spent much of the year preparing for March 23.
A few of her all-female team will be walking the 5K. Some will be racing in the relay. One woman will try to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
The Oakland marathon attracted them because it's not just another race to the finish line, Atwood said.
Last year, Shinji Nakadai, a Japanese visiting scholar researching computer science at UC Berkeley, clocked in first in the men's division at 2 hours, 37 minutes and 29 seconds. Devon Yanko, of San Anselmo, was the women's winner in 2:47:24.
The top overall champions this year are eligible for a cash prize of $500 -- nowhere near the $625,000 at stake in the 2013 New York City Marathon.
"That changes the nature of the race," Atwood said.
In fact, supporters are more likely to boast about the money that flows from Oakland's running festival to local charities: $1 million since 2010, according to the organizers. The city also benefits from the influx of visitors.
Although less lucrative than other marathons, Oakland's 26-miler is demanding because of the hills. "It's extremely challenging," said Mary Beth Kierstead, a member of the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders running team.
The organization teamed up with Gene Brtalik, a Corrigan employee who spearheaded the Oakland Running Festival efforts, to design the course.
The hard work is worth it, Kierstead said, because neighbors cheer them on and thank them for running. "Even during training people are excited to see us out there," she said.
What: Fifth annual Oakland Running Festival
When: March 23, 7:15 a.m. opening remarks; 7:30 a.m. marathon and Hawaiian Airlines team relay races; 7:45 a.m. 5K; 9:15 a.m. half-marathon; 9:20 a.m. Lucky Kids Fun Run; 11:15 p.m. awards ceremony
Where: Starts and ends at Snow Park, 19th Street and Harrison
Info: To sign up for events and to view the courses, go to www.oaklandmarathon.com