It's the bridge.
When trying to figure out what it was that drew me to the San Francisco Marathon, ultimately it came down to one thing - the Golden Gate Bridge.
Now, perhaps that's not entirely accurate. I like the challenge of the course. I like the location. I like many things about the race. But the bridge is the closer. The bridge is what made me say "Sold!" and made me long to be on the course running the race itself.
There is no other race in the country where you can actually run on an iconic piece of history as the Golden Gate Bridge. As bridges go, it's probably one of the most famous. Definitely one of the most awe-inspiring. And you get to run on it!
If you run the full marathon the bridge is pretty early. You're done with it by Mile 9. For the First Half, it's the same distance into the race so once you are done with the bridge, then you can focus on finishing strong. The Second Half does not run on the bridge (but there are many other things that make that race appealing).
For me, both times I've run the San Francisco Marathon, the bridge has caused a great deal of anticipation. Once you are off The Embarcadero, you can really start to dream about the bridge. You see it, and it seems close once you are at Mile 2 or so, but it's not that close. You see Alcatraz off in the distance too as you run in the Marina and in Presidio areas.
Despite its enormity, the bridge comes up rather quickly. You wind through some hills and trees and greenery just before you make the final climb up towards the bridge itself. And then, the amazement begins.
So do the crowds.
This is perhaps the one minor blemish in an otherwise awe-inpsiring spectacle. The bridge is open to traffic but two lanes are open to runners. One lane going out and the other lane coming back. It can make for some tight quarters at times.
But not to worry. This is the only part of the race where you see other runners too, and for me this has been special. Both times I've run the race, I've seen close friends along the bridge and that has been a definite highlight both times. I remember those encounters vivdly.
For me, two things about the bridge stand out. First, the views. Amazing. The view of San Francisco from the bridge is wonderful. The city just sits quietly in the early morning, still not fully awake, sun still not beaming overhead. The downside to this though is fog. A friend ran it one year and said the fog was so thick she couldn't even see the water down below. But the views are amazing, that is if the fog allows it.
The second thing was running under the towers. The towers are immense, mammoth, behemoths. Last year, every time I ran underneath I kept my gaze on the towers until I was underneath, so I was practically running with my head straight up in the air at that point. I felt so small and insignifcant being dwarfed by those towers. I soaked up those moments. I was running on a piece of history here, a big piece of the history of me beloved state of California. How could I not feel inspired?
Once over the bridge, you run around a parking lot and then come back around the bridge to get back in the city. This time the city is easier to see as it is off to your left and in front of you. The towers are standing watch now, guiding you back across to safety, bidding you good luck in the rest of your race.
I've often thought how nice it would be to have the bridge towards the end of the marathon, to give you something to look forward to, but ultimately I decided that it's best early. That way you can enjoy it. If I was slogging through, trying to keep my composure when I got on the bridge, I don't know that I would have the same experience on it.
Regardless, the bridge gives me something to look forward to both leading up to and in the race itself. The memories I have of running on the Golden Gate Bridge are some of my fondest I carry with me from any of my marathons, and the allure and appeal of doing so again this year and in years to come has not diminished.