San Francisco Marathon participants run past the Golden Gate Bridge
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San Francisco Marathon participants run past the Golden Gate Bridge

The San Francisco Marathon—celebrating 45 years!—is a race around the perimeter of San Francisco. Iconic Landmarks and historic neighborhoods will, once again, welcome the runners who embark on this journey through Golden Gate Park, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and many more awe-inspiring places. On this 26.2-mile loop, nearly 30,000 runners will compete in the impossibly scenic USATF certified course which is also a Boston Marathon Qualifier and an Olympic Team Time Trials Qualifier race.

What has become a monumental and extraordinary race is rooted in the ambitions of a passionate and authentic local running community. It was the Pamakids Runners Club that put on the inaugural San Francisco Marathon on July 10, 1977. A taxi driver from Reno won that year, running the course in 2:24:59. Nobody knew back then that the race would become one of the largest marathons in the US.

Black and white image of marathon runners
August 19, 1984 – San Francisco, California, United States: Runners in Golden Gate Park, with the Conservatory of Flowers in the background, during The San Francisco Marathon. (Photo: Steve Ringman / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris)

One of the best inadvertent benefits of running is that it presents the opportunity to explore a city and its inhabitants in minute detail. From marveling at the fluid synchronized movement of rowing teams along the Charles River while running in Boston’s Back Bay to watching the first rays of sunlight paint the Midtown skyline during a run atop New York City’s High Line Elevated Park, the most intimate way to get to know a city is by running through it.

“When I watch TV with friends and see the Golden Gate Bridge; I nod with a smile saying, ‘I ran over that bridge,’” wrote Jeanne Corey Marchand, 2019 San Francisco Marathon Ambassador, in her race report.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the places that leaves the most visceral memories in San Francisco Marathon runners. Some dread it, some are excited to get on it. One thing is for sure: nobody is indifferent when it comes to this portion of the race.

“The Bridge itself, while quite a challenge, is unique and a fun experience. It’s one of those moments that helps this race stand out against every other road marathon…” wrote Ethan Newberry, The Ginger Runner, in his race report.

Even though the bridge might be the single most talked-about landmark, there are many other breathtaking places along the way, like the Golden Gate Park. Besides the above-pictured Conservatory of Flowers, runners can encounter wildlife not everyone would expect to see in the middle of a city. For example—and this is not an April Fool’s joke—bison. The park, in short, is yet another unforgettable part of the course.

“Where else can you see Bison and botanical gardens in the same location? Certainly not in Connecticut!” wrote Marchand.

San Francisco Marathon runners at dawn
Full marathon participants pass through the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf by Pier 39 during mile 2 of the race as the sun begins to peek over the Bay.

Starting just before sunrise, the race fits a full week’s worth of sightseeing into one morning. The sky usually gets lighter as the race participants pass Fisherman’s Wharf and the sun comes out as they near the Golden Gate Bridge.

“There is nothing like seeing the beautiful sunrise over the water as you’re running downtown and then up to the bridge; that really leaves you breathless. It is absolutely stunning,” wrote Lindsay Walter, 2020 San Francisco Marathon Ambassador, in her race report.

A hundred miler might be a life in a day but any distance of the San Francisco Marathon can leave behind just as much emotion.

“I left my heart in San Francisco (and my quads, and my glutes, and my hamstrings…)” wrote a runner who calls himself Doctor Will in his race report on JustRunLah!

Mike Chen during the San Francisco Marathon
Full marathon participant Mike Chen finds a moment to smile for the camera on the northside of Golden Gate Bridge, with the city skyline in the background. “The most empowering and exhilarating event I’ve done.” —Mike Chen

From 5K to 50 miles (okay, 52.4 miles, but who’s counting), the San Francisco Marathon can be the experience of a lifetime. As the runners leave the coast, the bridge, and the park behind and enter the city streets, they may think that all the good parts are behind them. The gorgeous views and exciting landmarks are, however, only a part of the race’s charm—it’s the people and the community that make it what it is.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of spectators come out to support the race participants in any way they can. Even if the San Francisco Marathon wasn’t one of the most scenic city races in the US, offering stunning views of fun and interesting attractions, the community would be perfectly capable of making up for it.

Woman running by the Bay Bridge
Full marathon participant eyes the finish line after running under the Bay Bridge—the sign that the final stretch is within reach. 

San Francisco Marathon participants are supported not only by the race organizers, volunteers, and medical crews, but also by the local community and both running and non-running spectators.

Along the course and as the finish line nears, runners are welcomed by cheering crowds, witty signs, and the Bay Bridge announcing that there are only a few minutes left until they reach the finish line.

“Take in the scenes, read all the signs, high five every kid, and smile for the cameras!” wrote Marchand.

Three men walking toward the San Francisco Marathon finish line
A trio of full marathoners approaches the finish line arm in arm, encouraging each other and encouraged by the cheering spectators. 

“Chafing the dreams!” might have read a sign held by a spectator along the way while another offered runners who forgot to treat their skin an anti-chafing salve, saving their thighs or their entire race.

Everybody takes part in getting the runners to the finish line, no matter how big or small their contribution. The race, despite its size, is still a community event, just as it was when it was first organized 45 years ago.

“I fell in love with this race the moment I ran [it] but not just for the views and challenging course, but because of the community,” wrote Walter.

Marathoners celebrating as they reach the finish line
The reason participants come back year after year—that finish line feeling. Two participants are all grins and pride as they cross the finish line after 26.2 long miles through one of the world’s most beautiful cities. 

Any finish line is a place made of dreams. The San Francisco finish line is a place where those dreams have been made true for decades, and the community and organizers wish for nothing more than to keep helping others reach their goals, no matter how big, for years to come.

Outside+ Member Perk

The Outside+ Cheer Garden post-race party gives all San Francisco Marathon participants an opportunity to celebrate an amazing day of running. Outside+ members will enjoy VIP perks at the Cheer Garden with unlimited drinks tickets and the opportunity to bring a friend or family member along for the fun. Find your Cheer Garden access code to enter during San Francisco Marathon registration in the MyPerks section of your Outside+ member account. If you’re not yet an Outside+ member, join Outside+ today.

2022 San Francisco Marathon

July 23–24

San Francisco, California

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