THE SAN FRANCISCO MARATHON FULL COURSE: MILE 14

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Mile 14 offers a nice, long, downhill and open stretch on John F. Kennedy Drive through Golden Gate Park, surrounded by a handful of grassy meadows, passing Spreckels Lake, the Polo Field, and the famed bison paddock.

This mile begins at Hellman Hollow (formally Speedway Meadow) on runners’ left, an expansive grassy meadow renamed in 2012 after one of the park’s biggest benefactors, Warren Hellman. For more than a decade, Hellman funded Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free, annual, three-day musical festival in Golden Gate Park, featuring more than 100 artists on seven stages and drawing in nearly a half-million people. Core performers have included Emmylou Harris and the late Hazel Dickens, and the festival has brought Bright Eyes, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, and Dolly Parton to its stages. Hellman, a  financier and philanthropist, co-founded the Hellman & Friedman private-equity firm, which made its name taking jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co. private in 1985, a $1.6 billion transaction that at the time was the largest-ever buyout of a publicly held U.S. firm.

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Across JFK Drive from Hellman Hollow is Marx Meadow, another grassy patch perfect for picnicking and surrounded by one of the park’s signature features, the Disc Golf Course,  a tightly wooded 18-hole course enjoyed by beginners and experts alike.

The course continues down past the expansive Lindley Meadow, a popular picnic site with tables and grills tucked into a eucalyptus grove.

A bit further down on the right, Spreckels Lake is an artificial reservoir built in 1904 for racing model sail and power boats. The lake, surrounded by ethereal Monterey Cypress trees, is named for sugar-fortune heir and San Francisco Parks Commission President Adolph B. Spreckels. It is the home to the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, which sponsors free-sail, radio-controlled sail, and model powerboat events.The lake is inhabited by ducks, geese, migratory birds, fish, turtles, and even freshwater clams, presumably dropped by seagulls.

Across from Spreckels Lake is the Polo Field, which has a rich history in bike racing. Constructed in 1906, the Polo Field was called Golden Gate Park Stadium and featured an arena for track cycling. Before and after the Second World War, the best cyclists in the region would frequent the park, known as the hot spot for bike racing on the West Coast. Today, the Polo Field is still enjoyed by cyclists, as well as joggers and walkers.

Just past Spreckels Lake and the Polo Field is a course highlight: the Bison Paddock. The herd of American bison have been a beloved institution since since 1890 when a bison cow and bison bull were transported from the Great Plains. Before San Francisco opened its first zoo in the 1930s, many animals were kept in Golden Gate Park, including elk, deer, bear, sheep, and bison. An emblem of the American West, bison had been driven nearly to extinction by the time Golden Gate Park’s herd was established. The herd has grown–numbering up to 30 bison–and dwindled. Many died from bovine tuberculosis before the herd was rebuilt in 1984, as part of a birthday present to then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein from her husband. About six bison remain at the Bison Paddock. The bison mostly roam and laze around, but they have the ability to run inside the paddock at up to 30 miles per hour.

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