Ever wonder what running the The San Francisco Marathon course is like? Let writer and runner Erin Mara, along with the SFM staff, take you through the experience of running the The San Francisco Marathon mile-by-mile. Get a sneak peak, then get registered and get training!


Mile 13 begins as runners turn onto Middle Drive West and begin their final push to the finish line. This stretch continues down a paved street and remains quiet and peaceful through Golden Gate Park’s eucalyptus, cypress and pine forests. This street takes runners through a less frequented section of the park, and a portion of the road is even off-limits to cars. This mile also passes three lakes, Metson, Mallard and Elk Glen Lakes, before bringing runners to Stow Lake and the finish line.

The course continues to climb through a canopy of trees, and passes the Polo Fields on runners’ left, which can be seen peeking through the greenery. Metson Lake will be on the right. Despite its small size, the lake is known as one of the prettiest in Golden Gate Park, with a walking path surrounding it, benches, and lush foliage, including wild blackberry bushes. In the past, Metson Lake played host to the All-Skate Jam, where skateboard enthusiasts gathered to watch freestyle teams attempt to break Guinness World Book records.

Just past Metson Lake, Middle Drive West becomes a pedestrian-only stretch, even more secluded and tucked away in Golden Gate Park. Down to the right, on the far side of MLK Jr. Drive, is Mallard Lake, a secluded enclave for some of the park’s rarest birds, including egrets and blue herons, as well as bird enthusiasts who come to spot them. The park is an ideal duck feeding pond, home to its namesake mallards, as well as a variety of other species.

Middle Drive West continues on, passing Elk Glen Lake on runners’ right. This lake, in an isolated section of the park, doesn’t receive many human visitors, but it is also a favorite of interesting birds, including Lincoln Sparrows, Buffleheads, and Belted Kingfishers. The lake features dramatic blossoming plum and cherry trees on its east side.

On the other side of Elk Glen Lake and MLK Jr. Drive is the George Washington Bicentennial Grove, a grove of trees and green swath of grass that pays homage to the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. A redwood tree dedicated to former United States President Herbert Hoover was also planted there in 1935.

After completing the final tranquil stretch of Middle Drive West, Mile 13 takes runners along Transverse Drive back on to wide and open JFK Drive, with scenic Stow Lake on the right.

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.

With Stow Lake on the right and 13.1 miles behind them, runners cross the finish line. It’s time to celebrate.