When I crossed the finish line at the inaugural Oakland Running Festival (2010), I knew that the event had captured something special. There hadn’t been a full marathon in Oakland for 25 years and bringing one back to the city known as “the town” was a big deal.
The full marathon at the Oakland Running Festival remains one of my favorite events. I’ve participated in the event all 7 years, taking on the full 4 times. It is not a “fast” course. I would also say that it is not very “scenic,” although it does have some beautiful sections and one spectacular viewpoint. I also wouldn’t say that it is a high-energy course from start-to-finish (such as NYCM), although very few are.
So what makes this 26.2 mile not-fast-or-scenic-or-high-energy course so special? Let’s find out.
But first, a moment with our sponsor:
Follow the Pace Car
The Mazda MX-5 will be the featured pace car for the event — don’t forget to see the bottom for detail on a meetup at the expo (hint: free swag). Mazda will also have a large footprint at the expo with plenty of exciting opportunities happening throughout the day. At CIM they were hosting giveaways, had cars on the floor for you to sit in, as well as a shoe ID engraving station, which I’m hoping they have again.
Oakland is full of vibrant neighborhoods filled with culture, and diversity. The full marathon shows you all of it. Click here to view the course.
Downtown, Rockridge, Montclair
You start the first few miles downtown, then shoot off down Broadway on your towards Temescal. The energy at the start line, mixed with the small gatherings of people downtown that cheer you on as you begin your journey is the perfect balance to keep you calm and not get swept up in going out too fast.
As you make your way closer to Rockridge, the crowds get larger and the energy picks you up through mile 8. After that you begin the climb to Lake Temescal and up to Montclair. It’s at this point that the crowds disappear and you are surrounded by trees and rolling hills as you continue to climb. You’ll come across some homeowners in their lawn chairs sipping their coffee giving you the “way to go” nod and occasional clap. It’s very calming, peaceful, and pleasant for a 5-mile stretch.
You reach the highest point of the course at the Mormon Temple for breathtaking views just before the halfway point. Your race is just about to begin, and you are in for a ride for the next 13 miles.
Fruitvale, International Blvd., and Chinatown
After screaming down Lincoln Ave. and giving back the 500 feet you just climbed, the rest of the ride is mostly flat, but full of everything else Oakland has to offer. Miles 14-16 are through neighborhoods leading you toward Fruitvale. After that, you make a right onto International Blvd. for almost 2 straight miles of running. Making your way back towards downtown, you’ll come across Laney College, merge with the half marathoners, and run through Chinatown just before mile 20.
Jack London Square, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt
Running parallel to Jack London Square, you run through a fun mix of waterfront apartment buildings, restaurants, and warehouses. As you approach West Oakland, you are greeted with one of the most lively sections of the course. Miles 21-23 are lined with pockets of high-energy people, as well as a flaming archway, a fire-breathing dragon, and a rain cloud that drops water on you. I’m not making this stuff up. There is also always a party at Brown Sugar Kitchen as you run by, full of temptation to stop and try a sample.
The last 3 miles of the course used to be approaching and around Lake Merritt, but due to construction this year, they have moved the start/finish lines. Most of the course remains the same (the above is correct on distance markers), but you no longer have to run all the way around Lake Merritt, and you now finish at Lakeshore.
Why I Love It
There is something about running through downtown before it’s awake. The streets are quiet, but not silent. There are people, but it’s not crowded. It’s a great way to start a race. After that, the energy builds into its second largest crowd around mile 8, before it becomes peacefully serene for the next 5 miles. At the halfway point you begin your decent back into the diversity Oakland has to offer. In the span of a few miles you’ll run through largely African-American, Hispanic, and Asian neighborhoods, all showing love. As you make your way to the finish line, the last 6 miles go through more neighborhoods and stretches next to Lake Merritt when the sun is usually out and people are lined along the sidewalks cheering you on and beginning to enjoy the day themselves.
I’ve run the Oakland Running Festival every year, doing the full 4 times and the half the other 3. On April 2nd, I’ll be running my 5th Oakland Full Marathon and my 36th lifetime, and I expect it to remain one of my most favorite events.
Social Media Meetup
The #WeRunSocial Crew is partnering with Concrete Runners for a meetup, sponsored by USA TODAY Sports Active Alliance. We’ll be meeting at the Mazda booth at the expo. Everyone is welcome, we’ll hang out, take an epic group picture and there will be limited amount of FREE shirts available, so you won’t want to miss it.
Saturday, April 1 @ 3pm
Mazda Booth at the Expo
Sponsored by USA TODAY Sports Active Alliance
See you there?