SF Marathon
I left my heart in San Francisco (and my quads, and my glutes, and my hamstrings...)

If you’re going to run The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon, I suggest you do some hill work.

Held the last weekend in July, the marathon offers some great challenges along a very nice route. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you know it’s a hilly city, and you get to experience all of that during this race. Starting on the flat roads of the Embarcadero and along the water by Fishermen’s Wharf, you are soon aiming for the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Since the bridge is high above the water, well, you have a little climbing to do. Later you’ll run over the rolling hills of Golden Gate Park, and up and down through some residential areas; between miles 21 and 22, you’ll face an upward slope that will make you scream, “What were they thinking?” (well, I screamed it, anyway)

SF hills
The hills are tough, but (mostly) not THIS tough.

Don’t worry; it’s not like you have to run up or down Lombard Street. The hills are manageable, not like the 29% grade that stood between me and the cafes I wanted to visit while I stayed at my friend’s place. Still, you’ll want to be ready, so do some training on hills before you go. Don’t limit yourself to just setting a high incline on a treadmill, either; you need to be as prepared for the downhills as you are for the uphills.

Golden Gate Bridge
Yes, it really does look this amazing in person (photo via Pixabay)

For me, the highlight of the race was running across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. As we approached the bridge it was climbing out of the morning fog, but once we were on it, the fog lifted and we had clear views in all directions. The pavement is likely to be wet from the fog, so watch your step. It’s about 3km across the bridge, and the wind was pretty strong; try not to slow down going over, or your body heat will dissipate, and you’ll start to get chilled. Looking off to your right, you can see the downtown rising in the distance, a pretty amazing view. Once you reach the end of the bridge, you’ll pass through a parking lot, follow a trail underneath the bridge and come back up to run back along the other side. On my return trip, the fog was settling in again and we couldn’t see the city, though visibility on the bridge itself was fine. I’ve got to say, that was pretty cool.


Coming off the bridge, you’ll mix with the Half Marathoners from the first half. San Francisco does something I have never seen: they have two Half Marathons. One that’s generally along the first half of the route, and another along the second. It’s a great way to increase the number of people who can run the Half marathon. Runners have the choice of starting at the Full Marathon starting line and finishing in Golden Gate Park or starting in the park and finishing with the marathoners back on the Embarcadero. A very interesting concept and I’m surprised I’ve never seen it anywhere else. (they also have 5K races and an ultramarathon).
SF Marathon starting line
Much more comfortable at the Start than I expected. (that’s the Bay Bridge behind us)

Race day weather was good, but as Mark Twain is rumored to have said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco,” so you need to be ready for anything. I ran in shorts and a singlet, but I had brought tights, a long-sleeve performance shirt, and gloves, just in case. The race starts at 5:30 am, and San Francisco can be very cold in the morning if the wind is blowing. Fortunately, we had no wind at the start that day, but be ready to wear something warm and store it at the baggage drop just in case. The forecast for race day was 54F/12C at the Start and 65F/18C by the time I finished, though it actually was up to 73F/22C when I crossed the line. Those last few miles were pretty hot.

The overall organization is very professional, one of the most well-planned events I’ve seen. The organizers are very proactive about sending out lots of information in advance. They made use of Neurun, an app that has a course video with coaching advice that helps you prepare. The expo was pretty large but easy to navigate. There were plenty of water stations on the course staffed by different community groups and other volunteers, such as the Sweat Tracker crew and a wonderful Sikh community group around Mile 21. Of course, Biofreeze was readily available along the way. The race starts in waves, with the last one going 25 minutes after the elites head out, and there are pacers to help you hit your target time. Registration is first-come, first-served, though the race is big enough to accommodate registrations close to race day; registration for 2020 is already open, so check it out.

Logistically, it’s an easy race even though it’s far away. There are direct flights from Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Manila, and Hong Kong. For my trip, I flew Eva Airways through Taipei (spending a Friday night there along the way) in their Premium Economy cabin, which is a nice way to do the 12-hour flight between TPE and SFO. Hotels in San Francisco are expensive, but for the night before the race, you would definitely want to stay downtown (I walked a kilometer to the Starting Line) or near the Embarcadero, because of the early starting time. From what I saw on Instagram, I wasn’t the only runner there from Singapore. So, ask around your running friends who have already done it and ask for recommendations on how to travel there easily.

The one thing that surprised me about the San Francisco Marathon was the lack of spectators. Marathons in major US cities typically have a lot of people out there cheering, but it seemed pretty quiet along much of the route. On the flight back, I was talking with a San Francisco runner and he said this year was pretty, unusual. It is because you can generally expect people to be out there, cheering. Trust me, you can really use some crowd support as you run through those hills, so take some people with you and enjoy yourselves!!


  1. Great write-up. Didn’t know you wrote for JRL as well or that you were one and the same Will. Good to hear you had a great experience. Cheers

  2. It will be a dream for me to go back to USA for another race. Thanks for the wonderful insights to the race. Well done for completing the race.


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