OAKLAND -- Dean Karnazes has run the Badwater Ultramarathon, 135 miles through Death Valley in searing midsummer heat. He has raced 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. He made it through a 350-mile nonstop run.
Next Sundaywhen Karnazes launches on Oakland's 26 mile, 385 yard marathon, he will be running streets that would be unfamiliar to him -- and thousands of other competitors -- were it not for the Oakland Running Festival.
His favorite landmark on the 26.2-mile course, which he ran in 2013, is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension on Lincoln Avenue.
"What can I say, I'm 100 percent Greek and ... the original marathoner was also Greek," he said.
"Makes me proud," said Karnazes, a Marin resident who works in Oakland.
The most unusual spot in Oakland's modern-day race, he said, had to be the 12-foot flaming "Ring of Fire" arch set up by the Crucible industrial arts center on Seventh Street, around mile 19.
"That was a first in my marathoning history," he said.
Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which organizes the festival, designed a map for each of the races: the 5K, the half marathon, the relay, Kids' Fun Run and the full marathon.
Any one of the routes may take thousands of runners who¿ have signed up from 19th and Harrison through downtown, Broadway Auto Row, Piedmont Avenue, Temescal, Rockridge, Montclair and Lake Merritt. The course also winds through Fernwood, Oakmore, the Dimond District, the Fruitvale, the San Antonio District, Eastlake, West Oakland and Northgate.
The running festival's event director, Gene Brtalik, started designing the routes more than five years ago.
"A few people would suggest ideas and I would go out and drive to the spot to see if it was too steep or too difficult to get to without creating too many traffic headaches," he said.
Then he would run the first 20 miles. His yardstick: "If I was able to run the hard part and not feel too bad it would be OK for the other runners," he said.
Next Sunday, a stream of roadside supporters will be lined up along the way offering water, food and overall auditory encouragement through whoops, whistles and cow bells.
The Shadows of the Knight motorcycle club, the Raider Nation and a Ham radio group will be out, along with 11 DJs; nine bands; two dance troupes; and one martial art-music group, according to Tod Vedock, the man in charge of organizing the roadside support. Nine official cheer stations will be set up.
"As long as it does not rain, it should all work," Vedock said.
Marathoners will pass the fire dragon at the behemoth American Steel studios on Mandela Parkway near 20th Street, as well as Chester, the fire-breathing horse art car with a built-in sound system. Made from an Econoline Ford and recycled tires, Chester's eyes light up red and fire shoots out of his nostrils.
American Steel artists pull their work out for the running festival and thousands of people "run past looking thrilled and slightly baffled," the studio's outreach coordinator Anne Olivia Eldred said. It's also an opportunity for people to visit an area where families and children and grandparents live, she said. "This is our neighborhood."
Last year, neighbors in the Hoover District, at 29th and West streets, pulled out lawn chairs, water and posters to bolster runners' energy on the last leg of the course. The posters were printed with "silly things like '4 miles 'til beer' to get them to laugh and feel encouraged," said Lena Toney, one of the roadside supporters. Their impromptu block party started with a dozen people and grew to about 25 by the time family and friends of runners arrived. A few of the runners stayed to hang out, she said.
The neighbors will be out again this year with¿ a DJ.
Karnazes said when he ran the marathon in 2013, a little girl saw him coming. She had just waked and her mom had brought her out from the house to cheer the passing runners.
"I held out my hand to give her a high-five and I think at first I scared her," he said.
But just as he passed, she lifted her small hand.
"I'll never forget that moment," he said. "Who knows, maybe one day she'll go on to become a famous Olympic track star."
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 and Harrison streets
Info: To sign up for events and to view the courses, go to www.oaklandmarathon.com.
RACECOURSE historical sites
On March 23, thousands of runners will fill the streets for the Oakland Running Festival. Many of them will be new to the city or running in neighborhoods they have not visited for years. Here is a guide to a few of the highlights.
Snow Park, intersection of 20th Street, Lakeside Drive and Harrison Street: Big Game Hunter Henry Snow gave this patch of green on the shore of Lake Merritt its name, but before he installed a menagerie of elephants, bears, leopards, lions, snakes and birds, the land was a cemetery. The interred made room for canning magnate Francis Cutting's 30-room mansion -- styled as a rustic hunting lodge -- that his estate sold to the city of Oakland after his death. The city made the mansion available to Snow for his showroom of taxidermy trophies that served generations as a natural history museum. The Snows also wanted to build a 40-foot-deep cave on the shore of Lake Merritt to hold living lions, rhinos and hippos. Those animals wouldn't have stood a chance against open space advocates who fought off developers' plans to build a high-rise hotel after the mansion was torn down in the 1960s.
Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, One Frank Ogawa Plaza: The Oakland Running Festival originally started here but was moved to Snow Park. Jack London, novelist and "boy socialist of Oakland," once held forth in this public square in the shadow of Oakland City Hall, where San Pablo Avenue converges with Broadway and 14th Street. A coast live oak stands at the center of the plaza as a symbol of Oakland, founded in 1852. The plaza has been redesigned over the years and in 1998 was renamed for Frank H. Ogawa, who was imprisoned during World War II with his Japanese-born parents in an internment camp in Utah. Ogawa became the first Japanese-American to serve on the Oakland City Council.
Fox Theater, 1800 Telegraph Ave.: The Fox and the Paramount theaters are two of the Bay Area's grandest movie palaces. The Fox has the more colorful history because of its association with architect Maurey Diggs, who was a very married man in the early 1900s when he invited his young mistress to Nevada for a romantic rendezvous, at that time a criminal offense known as white slavery. Diggs also designed, ironically, San Quentin Prison and the Bechtel Building, which runners passing Lake Merritt can see at 244 Lakeside Drive. The land on which the building sits once belonged to spice magnate Adolph Schilling. The Bechtel was billed in a brochure as the doorway to comfort, peace and luxury.
Peralta Hacienda Historic Park, 2465 34th Ave.: The Victorian frame house, built in 1870, stands on land settled by the Luis Maria Peralta family more than two centuries ago when California belonged to Spain, and later Mexico. Peralta was one of the Alta California families given massive land grants for their military service by the Spanish crown, which needed settlers in order to protect its claim on the rich but sparsely settled territory. The Peralta land, called the Peraltas Rancho San Antonio, measured 44,800 acres and stretched from present-day Albany to the northern part of San Leandro and now includes seven East Bay cities.
Oakland California Temple, 4770 Lincoln Ave.: At the crest of the hill, the five-spired cement and white granite landmark overlooks a spectacular view of the East Bay. It was the second temple built in California by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and can be seen illuminated at night for miles around.
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, 4700 Lincoln Ave.: Just down the road from the Mormon Temple, the impressive Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension is a symbol of the Greek community in Oakland that dates back to the 1890s or earlier. Greeks, Syrians and Lebanese had to either cross the bay or celebrate the Divine Liturgy in a rented hall in Oakland with a priest from San Francisco before they built their first church. The parish built the cathedral on Lincoln Avenue in 1960.
Montclair Village: Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and novelist Joyce Maynard ("To Die For," among others) have lived here in this valley formed by the Hayward Fault. The hamlet was once part of the vast Peralta lands, known as Rancho San Antonio. Patriarch Luis Maria Peralta split the 44,800 acres up, giving his son, Antonio Maria Peralta, this section.
Dimond District: In the end, the 1870 house and the last 18 acres of Antonio's share of the land grant was sold by his daughter Inez Galindo in 1897 to developer Henry Z. Jones. The house was moved across the street and a housing development called the Galindo tract resulted. The last remnants of the 1821 adobe were also removed from the site at this time and some of the bricks were used to build the Dimond Lodge in Dimond Park, Oakland. Fifty years after the American annexation, the last of the headquarters of Rancho San Antonio was gone.