The San Francisco 1st Half Marathon

Since I moved to San Francisco a few years ago and got back into running, I've been interested in doing a half marathon that crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. It's one of my absolute favorite things in San Francisco, and I usually run across it for longer training runs. It even feels magical in the fog — it's like you're running through clouds! That desire to run the bridge led me to the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon.

My Dad, who comes out to San Francisco fairly regularly for races, flew out for this race (his first Bay Area half marathon!). We spent the day before the race hiking to the summit of Mt. Livermore on Angel Island (active but tiring enough to encourage us to go to bed early!). Since it was vacation time for him, we enjoyed some wine the night before the race (some very tasty 2014 Walt Blue Jay Pinot Noir), along with homemade spaghetti and turkey meatballs. I don't typically drink before a race, but I think my experience here may make me change my tune about that! After two glasses, I fell asleep super quickly, even though we turned in before it was even completely dark outside.

Thank goodness I fell asleep quickly, too! Since the SF 1st Half Marathon starts with the full marathon, it was an incredibly early morning! In order to eat breakfast (avocado toast with egg), drink coffee, get an Uber, and get to our corral in time (they closed the entrance to it at 5:32am), we had to wake up at 3:15am. With the early evening the night before, I actually didn't feel too bad. It felt like it was closer to 6am (still early...but I guess not as horrendously early?).

Regardless of the hour, I suited up in some of my tried-and-true favorites: Under Armour capris, Nike T-shirt (from the Nike Women's Half Marathon), Ray Bans (which I really didn't need, given the whole starting to run before the sun comes up/San Francisco fog thing) and Yurbuds headphones. I also wore a newer favorite, my Nike Flyknit Lunar shoes (which I recently found out have been discontinued, so I may or may not have purchased quite a few pairs of them in a panic). I also wore some cheap gloves and a cheap sweater since it was somewhat chilly out at the start.

At the start, Dad and I met up with my friends Kim and Brent, who were running the full marathon. Despite there being a ton of people doing the race, the start was incredibly well managed. There were tons of Porta-Potties, gear check was set up in a very straightforward fashion, and the corrals were well marked. It wasn't as cold as we were expecting (no wind, which is pretty amazing for San Francisco this time of year), so I ended up ditching my sweater pretty quickly. After an obligatory pre-race selfie, we parted ways and headed into our respective corrals.

I wasn't the only one with unnecessary sunglasses!

My corral started at 5:52, right as the sky was starting to lighten up a bit. I was a little nervous that the start would be too congested for decent running, but, surprisingly, the crowd thinned very quickly. I cruised right on down the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf without having to do much people dodging at all. Still, even though the start was very flat, lots of people were already walking by the time we hit the first mile marker.

The Bay Bridge...aka that other San Francisco bridge.

The real first challenge, though, was Fort Mason. Since I've run a few races that have dealt with that particular hill, I knew it was coming and was mentally prepared for it. It's a pretty steep, somewhat narrow hill, so it's a bit of a bottleneck on the course. A lot of people opted to walk up, it seemed. However, after that, there was a brief downhill and then a nice, long, flat segment along Marina Blvd. into Crissy Field, my usual running spot. Had it not been foggy, it would've been one of the best parts of the course for views, but it wasn't in the cards for this race!

Still rocking the gloves.

At the end of Crissy Field, we hit the real challenge of the race: the ascent to the Golden Gate Bridge. I hadn't planned on running this particular part of the course (I call it my "strategic Gallo-walking" plan), so as soon as the road started sloping upwards, I switched to power walking. Once it flattened out a bit, I started running again and didn't stop until I was done with the Bridge. It was pretty cool getting to run on the lanes of the Bridge that are typically reserved for cars. The less cool part, though, was the metal grates on the road. Most of them were covered up by padding, but a few weren't. Each time my stride landed on the grates, I cringed a little bit, worried that I would land a little off and twist my ankle. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I didn't see it happen to anyone else, either! 

The Bridge can feel pretty long, especially since it's a lot steeper than most people think just from looking at it. It was an out-and-back, though, so I distracted myself from the incline by looking for my friends and Dad in the crowds of people already looping back. I didn't end up spotting them, but I did see a few acquaintances. Regardless, the people-searching helped me meet my goal of making it through the whole Bridge segment without any walking breaks.

There was another steep uphill after getting off the Bridge, followed by a substantial downhill that led to my fastest mile of the race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, but as soon as we started going uphill again, that quickly changed. Right around mile 11, I hit a wall. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as walls I've hit in previous races, so I was able to power through with some run-walking. Less fortunately, the remaining 2.1 miles were pretty hilly and not terribly scenic. After the excitement of running through all of San Francisco's famous attractions, running through a residential neighborhood on a grey day felt pretty lackluster. I was pacing under my goal (2:25), so I was just trying to stick to whatever I needed to do to hit that.

Once I hit Golden Gate Park, it got a lot easier to turn on the gas. Granted, I had very little left in the tank, but I managed to eek out a little bit. As the music of the finish area got closer, I surged a little bit. I ended up crossing the finish line just over my goal, at 2:25:26.

The finish area was a bit confusing, with race officials directing us down a cordoned off sidewalk for medals and space blankets. I was able to pick up my second medal (for finishing both this race and the Berkeley Half within a year of each other) right by the finish, too. Post-race food was in an entirely different (and entirely too small) area. I eventually met up with Dad (who finished well before me), snagged a banana and protein bar from the super congested food area, and we walked back to my house. I would've liked to get an Irish coffee from the food area, but the lines were outrageous.

Both Dad and I were feeling great after the race...which was perfect since we had plans to head to the Giants game in a few hours!

Two medals for me!

So what was the verdict on the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon? 

First, the pros. The course is spectacular. You get to see just about all of San Francisco's most famous sights. You get to run the freaking Golden Gate Bridge! The hills are tough, but considering that it's San Francisco, it really isn't that bad. Despite the number of people running, the organizers have done a great job of making sure the course never gets too crowded. The water/electrolyte stops were plentiful and generally well-staffed. The photos are free (always a plus...although there weren't many photographers)! The race shirt is a nice technical long sleeve T, and this year, they were even labeled with your race distance (in the past, they've just used "The San Francisco Marathon" moniker on all of them).

And the cons. The early start is rough. And I mean really rough. I was probably more nervous about how I'd feel waking up at 3:15am than I was about the fact that I was about to run 13.1 hilly miles. Transportation to the start was also challenging because of the early took a few tries on Uber and eventually Lyft before I was able to get a ride to pick me and my Dad up. The finish area was also a little overwhelmingly crowded, so I didn't get to enjoy much of the things there that I would've liked to check out.

Ultimately, the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon ended up being one of my favorite races I've ever run. I felt great physically for almost the entire race, and it was a truly enjoyable running experience all around. If you're coming to San Francisco from out of town to run a race, this is absolutely the one you want to pick. I've run a lot of great races here, but this was well executed, scenic, and challenging without being overwhelming. 

The bottom line: this is just a great race. Now, where do I sign up for next year?!


  1. Running race is so good. I have an experience running in a marathon relay but it seems that I cannot win on it because I am a slow runner. It is really a fun experience back in my college days. My fellow friend yell at me to run faster but I cannot because maybe I was nervous and you know my first time experience. So funny experience that makes me smile today. Next time in your race, consider to wear this plain hooded sweatshirts as a protection from rain or cold weather. Thanks here for your post.


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