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!


After completing the final tranquil stretch of Middle Drive West, Mile 4 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.

Stow Lake is also known for a ghost story about the legend of the White Lady. There are a few versions of the story, but both center around a young mother losing her baby in the lake; either her baby carriage rolled away while she was talking to another woman, or the baby fell out of a row boat and drowned. Either way, the young mother went in the lake after her baby and drowned. It is rumored that if someone goes to Stow Lake at night, weird occurrences take place.

Stories have been told that the lady comes up from the lake, or the statue in her honor comes to life, or she can be heard asking, “Have you seen my baby?” Spooky. Thankfully, this race takes place in the daytime.

After passing Stow Lake there is a nice, open downhill, as runners pass the expansive Pioneer East Meadow on their right. Just past the meadow nestled further in the park is the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Originally built as the Japanese Village for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden boasts traditional monuments, native Japanese plants and trees including bonsai, serene ponds, bowed bridges and koi fish. The teahouse serves traditional tea and snacks.

Runners continue up JFK Drive and are greeted with one of the park’s most popular and visually striking attractions at the top — the de Young Museum. The fine arts museum, designed by the famed Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron, is clad in perforated and dimpled copper, which oxidizes and takes on a greenish tone and a distinct texture to echo the nearby eucalyptus trees. It features a twisting 144-foot tall observation tower which rises above the park’s treetops and provides panoramic views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge, the open ocean and Marin Headlands. Inside, the  museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa.