The San Francisco Marathon Course: Mile 17

Ever wondered what running The San Francisco Marathon course is like? We asked local writer and runner, Erin Mara, to take us through the experience of running The San Francisco Marathon from a mile-by-mile perspective. What better way to join in the experience of the course than being able to get a sneak peek?


Mile 17 begins just as runners take a right from Transverse Drive back on to John F. Kennedy Jr., heading to loop around Stow Lake. Runners turn right and head through a tunnel with a babbling stream running alongside. They head slightly uphill, and pass Rainbow Falls again on their left. The course continues along wide and open JFK Drive, then turns right onto Stow Lake Drive, passing Redwood Memorial Grove on the left. The redwoods were planted in 1930 in honor of war casualties, and have grown to create a dense, shady grove.

The San Francisco Marathon 2016

The road leading up to the lake is narrow and lined with dense trees. At the top is the Stow Lake Boathouse, recently renovated and featuring  rowboats, electric boats and pedal boats for rent, as well as a small cafe.

The course continues in a loop around the lake — again, runners will forget they are in the middle of a major city here.

Man-made Stow Lake, completed in 1893, is Golden Gate Park’s largest body of water. It was designed for leisure boating, as a promenade for horse-drawn carriages, and as a reservoir for park irrigation. The 12-acre, doughnut-shaped lake has a paved path surrounding it, and an island in the middle. Strawberry Hill Island is a densely wooded area named for the wild strawberries that once grew there. Strawberry Hill is the highest point in Golden Gate Park at more than 400 feet. Breathtaking views and much of the western portion of the city can be seen from the summit, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid. A reservoir at the top of the hill supports a network of high-pressure water mains that supply fire hydrants throughout the city. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland, the Stone Bridge, built in 1893, and Roman Bridge. Stow Lake is surrounded by redwood trees, cypress and pine, and the lake is home to mallard ducks, Canada geese, and even Great Blue Herons. Turtles, small fish and crayfish live in the lake.

Stow Lake is also known for a ghost story about the legend of the White Lady. There are a few versions of the story, but both center around a young mother losing her baby in the lake; either her baby carriage rolled away while she was talking to another woman, or the baby fell out of a row boat and drowned. Either way, the young mother went in the lake after her baby and drowned. It is rumored that if someone goes to Stow Lake at night, weird occurrences take place.

Stories have been told that the lady comes up from the lake, or the statue in her honor comes to life, or she can be heard asking, “Have you seen my baby?” Spooky. Thankfully, this race takes place in the daytime.

About the author

Erin Mara is a writer and runner living in San Francisco. Her favorite city runs, along with her trusted training buddy, Izzy, include the Bay Trail from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge; Golden Gate Park out to Ocean Beach; and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, through the Presidio and out to the California Coastal Trail and Baker Beach – where she recently got engaged mid-run at the Pacific Overlook.



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