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!


1st Half Marathon runners continue around the Golden Gate Bridge pathway taking in spectacular views of the Bridge to their right. The Golden Gate Bridge is named after the strait that is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Strait, 3 miles long by 1 mile wide, was named “Chrysopylae”, or Golden Gate, by a U.S. Army captain in 1846 because it reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul named Chrysoceras or Golden Horn.

The bridge’s color is orange vermillion, or international orange. It was almost yellow and black (proposed by the U.S. Navy) or red and white (favored by the U.S. Army Corps), but the terra cotta color won out, meant to contrast against the Marin Headlands, the water and sky.

The bridge was built during the Great Depression in 1933, and the construction was completely privately funded with bonds. It cost $35 million to build – today, it’s estimated that it would cost more than $1.5 billion! – and took four years. Only 11 workers died during construction, a safety record for the time. In the 1930s, bridge builders expected one fatality per $1 million in construction costs, and builders expected 35 deaths. One of the bridge’s safety innovations was a net suspended under the bridge from end to end. The net ultimately saved the lives of 19 men who became known as members of the “Halfway-to-Hell Club.”

Curving around the city’s edge, giant eucalyptus and cypress trees tower above to the left. Eucalyptus, cypress and pine forests were planted in the Presidio by the U.S. Army in the 1880s when the region served as a military post for nearly 150 years. The Army transformed the Presidio grounds from windswept dunes to a lush military post in order to create relief from battering winds, to distinguish the post from the city that was growing around it, and to make the post seem more imposing.

This entire mile features spectacular ocean views, and — even better — the beginning of a major downgrade. Racers are known to say that coasting down this long and steady hill is the best feeling of all 26 miles.

Runners pass the Pacific Overlook on their right, one of the Presidio’s eight scenic overlooks. The viewpoint, built in 2012, boasts expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, from Land’s End to the Golden Gate Bridge. The overlook preserves a willow grove just below the plaza and uses reclaimed cypress wood from the Presidio’s reforestation project for rustic wooden benches.

In the distance looking west, just offshore, runners can see the Mile Rocks Light, an unusual-looking lighthouse with a flat top and red painted rings, built on a rock. It was on this rock that the passenger steamship, City of Rio de Janeiro, wrecked in 1901. One hundred and twenty eight people of 209 aboard lost their lives when the ship sink in under eight minutes. Thankfully, today ships have the lighthouse to guide them and runners won’t need to test the waters below.

As Mile 7 ends runners enjoy incredible views as dropping down to the right rugged coastal cliffs meet Baker Beach and the waves endlessly crashing.