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 15 starts with North Lake on runners’ right, one of only five natural lakes in Golden Gate Park, and one of the three lakes in the Chain of Lakes. Before Golden Gate Park’s builders transformed the landscape from sand dunes to lush greenery, there were 14 marshy lakes nestled within the dunes. Now only five natural lakes remain, although they have been substantially altered. The rest of the park’s lakes are artificial. North Lake is largest of the three chain lakes, and features small islands creeping out of its shallow waters. It is long and ovular-shaped with a paved perimeter, favored by walkers.

The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon 2016

Just a bit further down JFK Drive on the right is the Golden Gate Park Golf Course, a nine-hole par 3 public course that locals love because there are no reservations needed to play; tee-times are first-come, first-served. Behind the golf course is the Golden Gate Park Archery Range, a unique feature of the park with open, hay bale-dotted fields where archers bring their own targets, bows and arrows.

Just past the golf course, runners come to a fork in the road and turn left onto Bernice Rodgers Way, which becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Just to the right, a bit further down JFK Drive, are two park favorites, the 112-year-old Dutch Windmill, which stands about 75 feet tall, and its surrounding Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. Completed in 1902, the windmill was one of two constructed in the park to pump groundwater for irrigation, as much as 1 ½ million gallons daily. Today it stands as simply a charming and picturesque piece of history. Surrounding the windmill is a garden filled with thousands of colorful tulips and Icelandic poppies which bloom in February through April.

The course starts to climb a bit as the street becomes MLK Jr. Drive and runners make their way up past lush green palm, cypress, pine and eucalyptus trees on their right. They pass Chain of Lakes Drive and South Lake, another one of the three Chain of Lakes, and one of five natural lakes in the park. Off the beaten path a bit and characterized by grassy slopes and blossoming trees in the early springtime, South Lake is less frequented than other bodies of water.