Downtown Berkeley to host first half marathon

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Runners approach the finish line at the Oakland Marathon. Photo: lawrencegerald

By Camille Baptista

Berkeley will join San Francisco, Oakland and a list of other California cities when it hosts its first half marathon downtown this November.

The inaugural Berkeley Half will start at Civic Center park on the morning of November 24 and course down University Avenue, then wind around the waterfront and Cesar Chavez Park before ending at Golden Gate Fields on the Albany border. In addition to the 13.1-mile, full-course race, two other races will make up the event — a 10-mile and a 10-kilometer.

Jumping Fences, the company that produces the San Francisco Marathon, is organizing the Berkeley event. Lark Ryan, marketing and outreach coordinator for the Berkeley Half, said the producers expect between 8,000 and 10,000 participants in total. (The SF Marathon typically hosts about 25,000 runners.)

Ryan said the team at Jumping Fences surveyed Bay Area running clubs and SF Marathon runners to ask where they wanted to see the next event take root — and the runners chose Berkeley.

“More than anything, we’re just super excited to see that the community is so engaged with the event,” Ryan said. “There’s so many runners that come over to San Francisco to run the San Francisco Marathon, and now they can run on their home pavement.”

With a net downhill course, Ryan described the race as a “flat and fast route” that is “a perfect place to start” for first-time half-marathon runners. Water and electrolyte stations will be located along the route about every two miles.

Three nonprofits have been chosen as the race’s official charities. The lead charity is the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and the other two partners are the Lung Cancer Foundation and the Lazarex Cancer Foundation.

Unlike many traditional road races, the Berkeley Half does not have a single headlining charity. Instead, according to Charity program coordinator Ciara Viehweg, the race is “primarily a community-building event.”

“This year is very much about building relationships with the amazing Berkeley community,” Viehweg said. “[We’ll be] really looking post-event to look at how we can build an amazing charity platform moving forward.”

In addition, Berkeley’s Innersport Chiropractic has elected to provide post-race massages, and pre-race clinics and medical help for runners.

“We really want it to be about celebrating and highlighting the city,” Viehweg said. Ryan said Mayor Tom Bates has mentioned making an appearance at the starting line.

Brian Bort, a running coach at Berkeley High School, said he was excited about the race from a home-course perspective. “It makes a huge difference to have a race in your backyard,” he said.

Anya Starovoytov, co-organizer of the Berkeley Running Club, said about 40 of the club’s 1,500 members have already expressed an interest in the race or have signed up.

“Our club members frequently organize runs along the Bay Trail and around the Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park, so it’ll be exciting to experience our typical running routes as part of an actual race course,” she said. Starovoytov plans to run the full 13.1-mile race in November.

Ryan explained that organizers tested different possible routes around Berkeley over the past year or so before settling on one. She said an earlier idea involved running through the UC Berkeley campus, but the school decided the plan wasn’t feasible for a number of reasons. According to UC Police Department Lieutenant Marc DeCoulode, it would have posed problems with campus accessibility and would have involved shutting down sections of Bancroft Way, which would be problematic because of the current construction at Eshleman Hall.

The chosen route for this year highlights the Berkeley waterfront instead. Ryan said that the route may change in the future depending on participant feedback, and the organizers still hope to include the UC Berkeley campus someday if possible.

“We’re hoping that this inaugural event will be a success and that it will become an annual November tradition for the City of Berkeley,” Starovoytov said.

Camille Baptista was a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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