Everything You Need to Know About This Year’s San Francisco Marathon

by Daisy Barringer | Thrillist

Andrew Eland/flickr

This Sunday, over 27,000 people will take to the streets of San Francisco to run one of the most scenic, urban marathon courses in the world. Runners will take in waterfront views, go over the Golden Gate Bridge (twice), go all over Golden Gate Park, through the Haight Ashbury, and past the ballpark before completing the 26.2 mile loop that includes an elevation gain (total) of 1,175 feet -- all before most of us have even gotten out of bed or figured out where we’re having brunch. 

Whether you’re running the marathon, one of the 80,000 people watching/cheering along the course, or just need to know how this is going to affect your Benedicts and Bloody plans, here’s everything you need to know about race day.

Where is the San Francisco Marathon starting line?

For everyone running the full marathon, the ultramarathon (that’s the full marathon, but twice!), the 1st half marathon, and the Sunday 5K, the race starts at the waterfront at Mission Street and The Embarcadero, San Francisco, 94105. In case you’re having a hard time picturing that location, it’s a block south of the Ferry Building.

For those running the 2nd half marathon (yes, if you’re “only” running a half, you get to choose which half), the starting line is in Golden Gate Park at JFK Drive and 14th Avenue Meadow, San Francisco, 94118. There is a free runner bus that will take runners from the main start line (see above) to the 2nd half start line.

What time does it start?

For those running the full marathon, the race begins at 5:30am on Sunday, July 28, 2019.The 1st half marathon starts at 6:30am.The 2nd half marathon starts at 6:45am.The Sunday 5K starts at 7:45am.Running the ultramarathon? The first loop starts at 11pm on Saturday, July 27.

What’s the best way to get to the starting line?

First things first: BART does not start running until 8am on Sundays, so you CANNOT take BART to either of the starting lines. However, the Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon is providing morning bus service ($20) from Walnut Creek, El Cerrito Plaza, MacArthur, Bay Fair, Daly City, and Millbrae BART stations that will get you to the starting line by 4:45am. Learn more here.

If you wish to ride your bike, the Race Day Bike Valet will be open at Market St. and Embarcadero from 4:30am to 1:00pm on Sunday, July 28. If you’re planning to take public transportation within the city, use 511.org to figure out the best route.

Jose Gil/shutterstock

What is the marathon route?

Runners start just south of the Ferry Building and go along the waterfront through Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, and the Presidio, at which point they’ll run across the Golden Gate Bridge -- twice -- along Lincoln Blvd., through Golden Gate Park, along Haight Street, through the Mission, Potrero Hill, and the Dogpatch, and past the ballpark before finishing back Downtown at Folsom Street and The Embarcadero.

Those running the 1st half marathon will end in Golden Gate Park after completing the northern loop that takes them past Spreckels Lake and back south down MLK Jr. Drive.

The 5K takes place entirely along The Embarcadero, which sounds boring after all of that stuff, but still has amazing views.

What street closures will be in effect?

You can expect there to be significant street closures on and around the race course, which means the following spots will be impacted: Financial District, Marina, Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Outer Richmond, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, Mission, Potrero Hill, and SoMa.

Check the marathon’s website for Race Day traffic advisories.

The biggest impact will be on the Golden Gate Bridge where northbound traffic will be closed from 6am to 9am. Expect impacts along the Embarcadero from midnight to 2:45pm, Fisherman’s Wharf from 5am to 7:30am, the Presidio from midnight to 10am, Outer Richmond from 6am to 10am, Golden Gate Park from 6am to 11:30am, Haight Street from 6:30am to 11:45am, Market Street at Duboce Ave. and Guerrero St. from 6:30am to noon, Mission and Potrero from 6:45am to 12:30pm, Third Street between 20th and 23rd Streets from 7am to 12:30pm, and South Beach from 7am to 12:30pm.

Basically, if you don’t have to be in -- or go or through -- any of the neighborhoods impacted during the race, don’t. Just trust us on this as we may or may have not had to cross the Bay to Breakers route in a car twice this year and it may or may not have taken four hours of our Sunday and years off of our life.

How will the marathon impact Muni?

As of the day we’re publishing this, the SFMTA has not updated which Muni routes and lines will be subject to route changes or delays, but it will be very similar to 2018. If you’re trying to travel to/from/through any of the following neighborhoods, expect delays and check SF311.org for more information: Financial District, Marina, Presidio, Outer Richmond, Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury, Mission, Potrero Hill. 

What is the weather forecast for race day?

The average high in SF in July is 67 degrees. And that’s the HIGH. As of the day we’re publishing this, NOAA is forecasting Sunday to be sunny with a high near 70. Still, it will likely be chilly in the morning and possibly even foggy (especially across the bridge), which sound like excellent running conditions to us (save for the fact that the fog can make the bridge path slippery), so layers are key. Of course, layers are always key in San Francisco because that is who we are.

Is there a charity element to the marathon?

Of course there is. The official charity partner is The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department whose mission is “to provide enriching recreational activities, maintain beautiful parks and preserve the environment for the well-being of everyone in our diverse community.”

There are around 50 other charities who get support from the Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon each year as well, including Move for Hunger, Refugee Transitions, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Learn more about how the San Francisco Marathon supports the local community here

Jun Seita/flickr

Where should I watch the race?

If you can’t run the race, you can help those who are by getting out there and cheering along the sidelines. Runners say that the encouragement truly motivates them, but it’s also fun to watch and listen to other spectators, especially as their family or friends pass by. Running is usually a solitary sport, but a marathon is a rare opportunity for runners and their friends and family to all come together. 

Okay, now that we’ve gotten through the mushy stuff, the best place to watch the race is truthfully pretty much anywhere along the course (keep an eye out for cheer stations, which you’ll be able to find listed on the Spectator Information part of the Marathon’s website). Even better if you bring some goodies for the runners, like snacks (orange slices, gummy bears, or popsicles), sports gels or chews, water, wet wipes, or sunscreen (yes, even in SF). The louder you can be the better, so yell, clap, and whistle as much as you can -- maybe bring a cowbell in case your hands get tired and so that you can reference that SNL skit from 2000. Signs are encouraged -- put your family member or friend’s name on a sign, but also make signs that have general encouragement like “Only 6.8 more miles ‘til beer!” TIP: Don’t tell a runner they’re almost there or to faster; be encouraging and allow them to stay in the present.

And though we just said anywhere along the course is a good place to watch, the most fun place to watch is perhaps along Haight Street. Runners are excited to have finally gotten out of the park and see colorful buildings and signs and, well, it’s Haight Street, so the crowd is usually a little more rambunctious, perhaps thanks to the help of a few morning beers.

How do I track marathon runners and get the results?

Download The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon Live Web Tracker to access race information, follow runners on the interactive course map, and track runner times and current pace on race day. And though it may be tempting to give know-it-all Bob in Accounting a hard time for finishing after your best friend Stephanie, try not to. After all, what was YOUR time?

You can also see race results and photos here.

Is there anything marathon-related happening before the race?

Check out the Health & Fitness Expo at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture on Thursday, July 26 from 12pm to 7pm, and Friday, July 27 from 9am-5pm. All race participants are required to go there to pick up their bib, timing chip, and race shirt at the Health & Fitness Expo, but there will also be entertainment, free product samples (electrolyte drinks, energy chews, protein bars, and more), and demonstrations on running techniques, gear, health, and sports nutrition.