From the August 2012 issue of Runner’s World
A 42.2K run around San Francisco proved an excellent, if extreme, sightseeing tour
By David Haines
Dubbed ‘the race even marathoners fear’ by The Wall Street Journal and marketed with the ominous tagline ‘Worth the Hurt’, I could hardly claim to have been taken unawares as I struggled up the first of the San Francisco Marathon’s many inclines. On a hill where cyclists dismount wearily and up which pedestrians stagger, hands-on-knees, I looked around at the thousands of marathon and half-marathon runners who had made it out of bed for a 5.30am start.
In a sport that attracts more than its fair share of pain-addicted eccentrics at the best of times, we must have been some of the maddest: Frisco’s topography fundamentally influences the character of the city, which includes a Victorian cable car system, and what has been called ‘the crookedest street in the world’ (Lombard Street). The marathon is no exception to the rule.
But the hills weren’t without rewards: the organisers stopped at nothing to give runners a 42.2K sightseeing tour. The race included a dramatic out-and-back across the 2.7km span of the Golden Gate Bridge, soaring almost 70m above San Francisco Bay and offering superb views of the ocean and Alcatraz, the island prison that once housed Al Capone, notorious American gangster.
After some congestion on the bridge, the course opened up and clung to the coastline, winding through residential neighbourhoods and into Golden Gate Park. This is bigger and more diverse than New York’s Central Park, and full marathoners spent 11 kilometres winding through the greenery, passing impeccably manicured lawns, man-made waterfalls and, astoundingly, a herd of buffalo.
At kilometre 30, we entered the Haight-Ashbury district, where the hippy spirit of 1960s California endures. But, sadly, at 8.30 on a Sunday morning, it was probably a little early to spot any kaftan-clad locals.
I was promised that the second half of this race was ‘a net downhill’, but net downhill definitely doesn’t mean all downhill – we were still climbing up and down. Mercifully, the last few kilometres were flat and well supported, finishing with a lap around AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. Over the line, I gratefully received my quintessentially American (read: enormous) medal, and tore into the huge buffet. Oh, go on then, it was worth the hurt after all.
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