Last year I ran the Inaugural Oakland Running Festival finishing within 2 minutes of setting a PR (on a hilly course). It was the first marathon in 25 years for the city of Oakland, making it an enormous opportunity for the city and the community. I was lucky enough to participate as a runner/blogger in 2010 and am fortunate to be returning again this year, participating in the Half. I also got another chance to interview Gene Brtalik, the Event Director, but this time with a successful 2010 event in his pocket. Enjoy.
1. With the success of last year's inaugural event and the event looking to sell out this year, what can we expect as a follow up for 2011?
I think we can expect to see more fans along the course this year as well as more buzz. Last year, I think we took quite a few people by surprise even though we promoted the event quite well. Now with a year under our belt, we have definitely had more people talking about it which should equate to more Oakland pride being on display.
2. As part of the training build up, the ORF organized preview runs along the actual course. It's a great idea that doesn't seem to be common among other races, how did the idea form?
The local running store back in Baltimore organizes three of those types of runs to get people ready for the hills of the Baltimore Running Festival (a hillier course than Oakland) and a few years ago we started doing it with our Frederick event. We noticed that people really enjoyed them and when we started Oakland last year I wanted to give the idea a try. Last year, we had roughly 200 and I was a little floored since that was more than we usually had in Baltimore and I did very little publicity for it. We expanded to two runs this year and was more shocked at the last one that 300 people showed up to run in a constant drizzle. Our goal is to be a runner friendly event and this is one way for all the runners to be mentally prepared for what they see on race day, minus cars on the course obviously. So far it's been a huge success.
3. You also did it last year, was there positive feedback from 2010 finishers attributed to having run sections of the actual course? A boost in confidence for 2011 runners?
I think a lot of people last year realized the "dreaded" hills weren't that bad and gave them some extra confidence on race day. A few people hadn't trained enough on hills so they learned that the half may be a better option. We did receive a ton of feedback from people last year that they loved the preview runs. One of the funny things is that people are shocked that a) it's free and b) we don't care if you aren't signed up. We would prefer they were signed up, but maybe the preview gives them that nudge to register for our race.
4. City Hall, Montclair, Jack London Square, Lake Merritt. Is the course mixed with the crowd support from the community a large part of the Running Festival's success?
I would have to say community support is a huge part of the success. As runners, we know how important seeing a smiling face is on race day whether it's a complete stranger or a loved one. I tell a lot of people we could have the seven wonders of the world on the course but if there aren't fans it doesn't make any difference because at mile 23 I would rather someone yell my name than look at the Great Pyramid. Now if a race had the Eighth Wonder of the World Andre the Giant (RIP) cheering me own, it would probably be the best course ever.
5. Oakland native Mark Curry (of televisions Hangin' with Mr. Cooper) was at last year's marathon starting line cheering on runners. Can we expect him to lace up his running shoes for 2011? There has also been some chatter on twitter about another Oakland native and inspirational figure, MC Hammer, being encouraged to participate. Any word on that becoming a reality?
Unfortunately, both Mark and MC Hammer are out for 2011 unless something changes at the last minute. Both have prior work commitments that are outside California which will make it hard for them to get back in time for the race. KNBR's Dan Dibley and CBS' Roberta Gonzalez are on a relay team together and there may be a few other celebrities that haven't come forward yet.
6. If you had one word of advice for someone that is "on the fence" about registering, what would it be?
My own piece of advice is that you've run in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and maybe even Napa give Oakland a try. If you don't like it, then you don't have to run again. But don't be scared off by the image that the media portrays Oakland to be. There's a reason 90% of our runners left Oakland with a positive view of the city last year and a bigger reason why 98% of runners would recommend it to a friend. We treat our runners like family. If you don't like something, we'll fix it for next year. You are our biggest advertisers.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Gene. Looking forward to year two. Registration will be available Expo weekened, however there is no registration on race day. Come join us!
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