People are always asking me if I work for the marathon full time. “Does it really take a year to plan The San Francisco Marathon?” Usually, I say “No, it takes 51 weeks to plan the Marathon and 1 week to clean it up!”

This very question was posed to me Sunday at the Emerald Across the Bay race and I realized it was time to share with runners all that goes into pulling off a 26.2 mile road race that has a 6 hour time limit for 24,000+ runners running on 42 streets (crossing through 3 times as many intersections that necessitates police or volunteer support), 12,000+ gallons of water at 12 aid stations, 1,500 volunteers and staff, 40 shuttle buses, 3 finish line tapes and a 2 day Runner Expo in a world class city that has multiple events each weekend.  It is a daunting task, but in the Marathon office we thrive on this sort of activity. It helps that we are all dedicated runners and have high expectations of any event we attend. We are striving to make our race the best in the country.

Planning a marathon is very similar to training for and running one. As a runner you carefully select which event you want to participate in and then search for the perfect training schedule. In the Marathon office this pre-planning stage is composed on applying for city, park, port and police permits. Runners love to run on The Golden Gate Bridge and The San Francisco Marathon is incredibly fortunate to be the only foot race in the City that has approval to close down lanes of vehicle traffic so that participants can escape the sidewalks and run on the road bed of this glorious landmark. We are thrilled to have the support of our city officials.

Once permits are underway we start thinking about marketing our event. Creating ads and promotional materials, researching other races we want to promote at, formatting our newsletters, designing a new website and planning our social media encompasses the early Fall. We have an incredibly creative staff and we spend a great deal of time brainstorming what we want our race to look like. (Sometimes too much brainstorming when we should be creating, designing, planning, and…. I digress.) If you haven’t been to our website lately check it out. It’s fantastic! You can see our ads in Runner’s World and iRun Canada and our postcards are strewn about (err… logically placed) businesses around the Bay Area and other running stores around the country.

We also spend the fall and winter thinking about merchandise. This is probably one of the best parts of working for the Marathon. What should our finisher’s shirt look like? What items would our runner’s like to purchase when they come to our Expo? What’s new and cool and exciting? This year we will again have the recycled Green Layer shirt for all runners. We are finalizing the design now and, I have to say, it’s pretty great. We are super excited to “unveil” it at our Runner Expo on July 23 and 24.

Our mascot (and my dog!) Dublin Moon picking his favorite T-shirt design!

The final part of the “pre-planning” is to look back at last year’s race to discuss what went right and what needs improvement. We sent out a survey and received a tremendous amount of feedback that we are using to help guide us with the 2010 race. This year we are working very closely with our shirt manufacturer to ensure the order comes in perfectly! We are looking at our water needs throughout the course and outlining ways to ensure all runners get what they need while discouraging others from taking more than they really need.

Making sure runners understand our time limit is a priority. With the industry wide growth of half marathon participation, we want to make sure that anyone who registers for one of The San Francisco Marathon events understands the time constraints placed on us. We start our Full and 1st Half Marathon early so that we can get all runners over the bridge and we end in 6 hours so that our City can have their streets back. It does require participants to be a bit “speedier” than other races, but we think finishing our event is a well earned accomplishment for runners who chose to participate!

Alright, back to planning!