The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon – A History Lesson

Ah yes, The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon, known as the race even marathoners fear, but do you know much else about this race and the history behind it?

Here’s a brief history lesson.

Held annually since 1977, except for 1988 when the event was called off due to lack of interest, the inaugural San Francisco Marathon was organized by Pamakids Runners Club, a local running club established in 1971 .  Pamakids Runners continued to organize the SF marathon until 1982, when the popularity of the event was such that they needed to relinquish organizational duties to another company.  Pamakids Runners later went on to create the San Francisco Half Marathon, which is now known by it’s sponsor’s name: the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, another successful running event in SF.

The first San Francisco Marathon was held on July 10, 1977 and it’s first place finishers were Athol Barton, a taxicab driver from Reno with a time of 2:24:59 for the males, and Tena Harms from California with a time of 3:09:08.  The first San Francisco Marathon had less than 900 participants, which is astounding when you think about the fact that we had 5827 participants for the Full Marathon in 2013 alone!  It has really come a long way.

Since it’s inception, The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon course has had its share of revisions and improvements.  Suggestions made to make the course a bit easier (flatter) so that runners could finish with a faster time were rejected.  Instead, the hills stayed, giving runners optimal views from some of SF’s best neighborhoods.

SF Marathon Course 2014


In 1999, the start/finish line was moved to an area near the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park.  It wasn’t until 2002 that the start/finish area was moved to it’s current home along the Embarcadero.

Did you know that prior to the late ‘80’s, the start line was actually in Marin County?

Did you know that prior to the late ‘80’s, the start line was actually in Marin County?

The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon also provided cash prizes to top runners, awarding as much as $10,000 to the 1st place runner.  This tradition discontinued in 2008, however, due to a lack of corporate sponsorship.  No worries, I say.  I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say that crossing the finish line of a marathon is all the reward you need – am I right??

With its rich history and loyal fan base, it’s no wonder the San Francisco Marathon gains new participants every year.  We are all a part of the San Francisco Marathon’s history.  What is your favorite moment?

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