Where To Train For Hills in San Francisco
“Hills are speedwork in disguise.” – Frank Shorter
Contributed by Charles Lim, a 2017 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon. This post originally appeared on his blog, The Rogue Runner.
So you’ve signed up for the 40th Anniversary of The San Francisco Marathon (TSFM). Congratulations! But then you ask: “Now, what?” You may wonder what type of training you should be doing, how often to run every week, how many miles, and which hills are the best to train for the race. Those are all great questions and definitely things to consider for the race. This humble blog post of mine aims to help you answer where to train for the hills in San Francisco.
Editor’s Note: The hills listed below are not all part of The San Francisco Marathon’s course. In fact, many of these are far more difficult than what you’ll face on race day – but we think always support training hard to prepare for success on July 23rd.
If you ask anyone living in the city, the answer would be “Anywhere!” Hills adorn the 7×7 square miles of our beloved city. But for those who live in the Bay Area and haven’t run the hills here in San Francisco, I list the top 5 hills that you can use for doing hill repeats, hill runs, and even hill hikes. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to hike up a hill or two, especially during race day, to save your legs for later on in the race.
From the 5th best to the top hill to train in San Francisco (at least in my own mind), here are the five best hills to train for in San Francisco!
5. Fort Mason
Fort Mason is the first hill you will tackle in The San Francisco Marathon, if you’re running either the full distance or the first half marathon (the second half marathon starts at Golden Gate Park, so it doesn’t go through Fort Mason). This is a good hill for hill repeats as the length of the hill is short compared to most other hills in San Francisco. There are also no cars to contend with, but you do have to make sure you’re looking up (or down) the road to make sure you’re not on a collision course with any cyclists.
To train on this hill, I recommend a 10 minute warmup on flat ground, from the base of this hill towards the Aquatic Center or Embarcadero and back. From there on, you can do as many hill repeats that you can for about 10-15 minutes. You can focus on one direction if you wish to on certain days by either (1) running uphill, then walking downhill, (2) walking uphill, then running downhill. A 10 minute cool down run afterwards, plus some stretching afterwards is highly recommended.
4. Hayes Hill
If you’re visiting the city from other parts of the Bay Area, you can simply take BART over to Civic Center and start running a mile and end up at the top of Hayes Hill. From there, I recommend that you keep running towards the end of Hayes Street where it dead ends and hits Stanyan Street. Turn around, take another helping of Hayes Hill up and down towards Civic Center. Congratulations, you’ve done a 4 mile run with a decent amount of hell! Er, I meant hill!
While not part of the course for TSFM, this hill is a featured part of another iconic and local race called Bay To Breakers. Hayes Hill is an especially nice hill to climb because you are rewarded with spectacular views of the “Painted Ladies”, a row of Victorian houses at 710-720 Steiner Street, as well as the Transamerica Pyramid building in the background.
3. Lyon Street Steps
Technically, this isn’t a hill, but I think you’ll agree with the exception. Stairs are actually a great workout that mimic the toughness of a hill workout. In some ways, it can even be harder since you’re forced to take more steps whether going or up or down. You can technically skip a step or two going up or down stairs, but I do not recommend it for these sets of stairs. In fact, I tend to keep an arm out for the hand rail when I go down these steps just in case I do a misstep or two along the way.
There are 332 steps to go down and up. You can start at the top, at the intersection of Broadway Street and Lyon Street. Or you can start at the bottom, near the intersection of Lyon Street and Green Street. Whatever you choose, be sure to take in the view and take in a snapshot or two. You’re rewarded with views of the bay and the Palace of Fine Arts and the Marina.
2. Lincoln Boulevard
Lincoln Boulevard is a great road to practice hills since it’s part of the course for the full marathon and the first half marathon. From the vista point of the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side, you can park nearby (parking can get full on nice days, but there should be spots if you start early enough).
Lincoln Boulevard starts with an uphill climb once you finish crossing back and forth the bridge on race day. There was one year that I ran the whole hill, but if you haven’t been running hills, do remember that is totally okay to hike or walk up them, as you still have lots of miles to still go through, especially if you’re doing the full marathon distance.
Be careful of cars along this road, as the road is only closed during race day. There is a trail behind the rails where you can run through, but it is a dirt path and there could be a smattering of rocks here and there, so just be careful of where you step when you do run it.
If you have the time, I recommend running this part of the course at least once so you’re prepared for it on race day. I highly recommend running with a group once you get to the longer distances for a full marathon or half marathon. RUN365 is the official training group for TSFM, and that group is responsible for getting me to cross the finish line for the full marathon distance for 5 years now and counting!
1. Twin Peaks
Running from Civic Center BART to the top of Twin Peaks and back is about an 8+ mile run, so this is a good hill to practice a long run with a hill involved. Just remember to conserve your strength and run slowly, but with purpose. You can also experiment with run/walk-ing up the hill. Try walking up a minute, running a minute, and alternate this method. It’s a method I have used in some trail runs involving steeper hills, and you’d be surprised with how much faster you end up going. You’ll also end up overtaking most hill hikers and even some hill runners who go out too fast to start.While not “the” highest point of San Francisco (Mount Davidson actually claims this title), running to the top of Twin Peaks rewards you with stunning views of the city at the top, with a 360 degree view. Make sure to pack a lightweight wind jacket at the top so you can stay for more than just a few seconds (and a selfie).
So there you go: The Top 5 hills of San Francisco, if you want to train for hills. There are a ton more hills to train for, and I could have easily made this a Top 10 (or Top 20) list. Just remember to enjoy the view every now and then. Just don’t take a selfie or snapshot and run away. Stop your watch. Take a minute (or two, or even three!).
Enjoy the views and enjoy the hills of San Francisco!