OAKLAND -- As the Oakland Running Festival marathon began Sunday morning, the sun was just starting to come up and the air was cool -- welcome weather for the 1,099 marathon runners who attempted the 26.2-mile course around the city.

Soccer coach Lilia Bello, of Oakland, stretched her legs at the beginning of the course, about 15 minutes before the start of the race, excited about her first marathon. She'd been training since November.

"This is something that I always thought was impossible for me to do," she said, "but I gotta do it before I die, before I have no legs left."

Nearly 10,000 runners showed up to participate in the marathon, half-marathon, 5K or kids' races. Runners were greeted by crowds all along the course, some with cowbells, some just waking up, ¿holding cups of coffee.

Colorful marathon relay team members Juliana Houston, from left, Dan Breitbach, Emily Houston and Marc Monbouquette pose for a photo at the finish line
Colorful marathon relay team members Juliana Houston, from left, Dan Breitbach, Emily Houston and Marc Monbouquette pose for a photo at the finish line during the fifth annual Oakland Running Festival, Sunday, March 23, 2014 in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

A band in front of The Crucible was playing "Burning Down the House" as the first runners passed. Brown Sugar Kitchen offered treats, artists from American Steel blew fire from the mouth of a dragon and an art car featured a fire canon. At one point in the course, runners were treated to the "Rocky" theme music.

The full marathon was a contest between 2013 second-place finisher Rob Nachtwey, of Berkeley, and newcomer Eulogio Rodriguez, of Whittier, for about the first hour.

As the men passed the 10-mile marker neck-in-neck, Rodriguez strode past Nachtwey and kept the lead. No one caught up to him, and he finished in 2:30:23, averaging about 5½ minutes per mile.

He finished almost a full 11 minutes ahead of his next competitor.


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"This is a very difficult course," Rodriguez, 30, said as he stood near the finish line talking to reporters and shaking hands with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. "It's hard to pace yourself because you try to do it conservatively on the hilly parts. You get to recover on the way down and try to go the rest of the way to the finish line."

Taking the women's title was Oakland resident Kris Klotzbach, 34, who finished the race in 3:05:23.

Volunteers wrap a thermal blanket around a young marathon runner at the finish line during the fifth annual Oakland Running Festival, Sunday, March 23,
Volunteers wrap a thermal blanket around a young marathon runner at the finish line during the fifth annual Oakland Running Festival, Sunday, March 23, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

The morning started around 6:30 a.m. with music and a host welcoming the runners as they came into the marathon village. Quan addressed the crowd, noting that this marathon was named the "Best on the Pacific West Coast" by Competitor magazine last year.

"First-time runners usually tell me they didn't realize how diverse and beautiful the city is," she said.

Quan gave high fives to several of the early finishers as they crossed the finish line.

As the clock neared the 7:30 a.m. race start time, the street filled up with hundreds of runners bouncing, jogging in place and stretching.

The marathon was the 221st for Gregory Brown, of San Francisco. He has raced in all 50 states.

Martha Mena, of Oakland, offers moral support to brother and sister-in-law Emilio and Josefina Mena with a small sign and a lot of cowbell, during the
Martha Mena, of Oakland, offers moral support to brother and sister-in-law Emilio and Josefina Mena with a small sign and a lot of cowbell, during the fifth annual Oakland Running Festival, Sunday, March 23, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

"This course is mostly flat. It's also near BART, so if I get real tired, I am going to hop on a train," he joked.

Livermore resident Choowang Chia ran his first marathon Sunday. He runs every day and chose Oakland for its proximity and course.

"I've always been interested in running," he said before the race. "I am looking forward to it."

Traffic was an issue for the first runners, who were separated from the pack. While most intersections were closed off to drivers, some motorists ignored the red cones marking the track on some unmanned intersections.

Fifth-place winner in the women's' division, Becca Simon, of San Mateo, said the race was awesome, even though the downhill parts were trying on her legs and knees. She finished in 3:28:24.

"There was a lot of good support along the course, and it was fun," the 28-year-old Simon said.

This was only her second marathon, the other one being four years ago.

Relay runner Josh Beisel, of San Mateo, also thought the run was pretty great, and the cheers throughout his course kept him going.

"The city really embraces this race. It's cool," he said.

First-place winners get $500 and round-trip airfare to Hawaii, donated by Hawaiian Airlines.

Top finishers
MEN'S MARATHON
DIVISION
First Place: Eulogio Rodriguez, 30, of Whittier; 2:30:23
Second Place: Rob Nachtwey, 36, of Berkeley; 2:41:00
Third Place: Kindy Tice, 26, of San Francisco; 2:43:14
Fourth Place: Boone Ebel, 33, of Foster City; 2:43:59
Fifth Place: Chris Thunen, 37, of Berkeley; 2:48:53
WOMEN'S MARATHON DIVISION
First Place: Kris Klotzbach, 34, of Oakland; 3:05:23
Second Place: Verity Breen, 47, of San Rafael; 3:22:13
Third Place: Erin Garvey, 30, of San Jose; 3:23:48
Fourth Place: Pilar Delmolino, 38, of Pollock Pines; 3:27:30
Fifth Place: Becca Simon, 28, of San Mateo; 3:28:24