The San Francisco Marathon Course: Mile 20

Ever wondered what running the The San Francisco Marathon course is like? We asked local writer and runner, Erin Mara, to take us through the experience of running the 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?

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Just before runners exit the park at Mile 20, they pass recently renovated Kezar Stadium on their right. The outdoor athletic stadium is the former home of the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. Months after the 49ers’ departure, several scenes from the 1971 film “Dirty Harry” were filmed here. The film’s fictional antagonist, Scorpio, worked as the caretaker at the stadium and lived under the grandstand. Today, the park is used for various recreational activities from running and jogging to soccer to high school football games. The stadium reopened in 2015 after $3.2 million in renovations, including the installation of 1,000 historic Candlestick Park Stadium seats.

Cheering crowds usher runners out of the serenity of Golden Gate Park and onto historic Haight Street, the origin of hippie subculture. Now dotted with high-end boutiques, chic restaurants and hip cafés, the Haight, or Haight-Ashbury, neighborhood was the birthplace of America’s counterculture, and the center of the Summer of Love in 1967. Named after early San Francisco leaders, banker Henry Haight and 1860s San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Munroe Ashbury, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is synonymous with modern American counterculture. Members from bands Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, as well as Janis Joplin, all lived a short distance from the Haight-Ashbury intersection. Runners can feel the flower-power, smell the incense, and channel peace and love as they run down Haight toward Divisadero Street. Besides notable stores (Amoeba Music on runner’s right is located in a former bowling alley and boasts one of the biggest collections of CDs in the world), colorful murals, shops, and restaurants, the street is also lined with colorful signature San Francisco Victorian homes.

Water Stop 10 is at the Haight-Ashbury intersection.

Up ahead to the left, runners can see the start of Buena Vista Park at Haight Street and Central Avenue. The park is the oldest official park in San Francisco and the third largest. Its unique features include coast live oak groves, one of the few remaining in the city, and its breathtaking views from the top. Fun fact: Buena Vista’s drainage systems are lined with marble headstones. From 1914 and through the 1940s, San Francisco removed all cemeteries within its limits, except the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio and the cemetery at Mission Dolores, and relocated headstones and monuments of the dead to nearby Colma. Unclaimed headstones were recycled for building sea walls, landfills, and park gutters such as those found in Buena Vista Park.

Around the corner on the south side of the park at 355 Buena Vista East is an architecturally notable building, on the National Register of Historic Places, which appears in Alfred Hitchcock‘s film “Vertigo.” The building, constructed in 1928 as St. Joseph’s Hospital, has been converted to condominiums.

At the intersection of Haight and Baker streets, runners get their first glimpse of the San Francisco Bay — the homeward stretch! The course descends more than 220 feet here, with breathtaking views of SOMA’s skyscrapers and downtown SF. It’s a significant downhill, so runners can coast as they gear up for their final seven miles through the Lower Haight, the Mission, Potrero Hill, Dog Patch, Mission Bay and SOMA neighborhoods.


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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