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As San Francisco marathon runners fill city, the city fills them with joy

File photo: Thousands of runners run across a wet and foggy Golden Gate Bridge as traffic passes in the opposing lanes during the annual San Francisco Marathon on Sunday, July 26, 2015. | Source: Brant Ward/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Sunday’s San Francisco Marathon followed a counterclockwise circular path through neighborhoods and landmarks. With a record-setting 29,000 runners following the course under blue skies, it was the opposite of a doom loop.

Melissa Hamilton, who joined a group of runners from the Marina Run Club at the race, said the biggest challenges were sections of the second half of the 26.2-mile course that meanders through leafy stretches of Golden Gate Park and hilly parts of the Mission, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch neighborhoods.

“You start so beautifully. You go for the bridge, and then you are expecting everything to be fine,” Hamilton said.

Members of the Marina Run Club, including founder Sarah Tobin and members Brodie Gay and Melissa Hamilton, pose Sunday after completing the San Francisco Marathon. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Club founder Sarah Tobin founded it about five months ago and has watched it grow to about 1,200 members. The club now meets three times a week with runners socializing, exercising and preparing for races of various lengths.

Fellow member Brodie Gay, running his first marathon after signing up last Wednesday, said he beat his own anticipated four-hour finish time by about 15 minutes. 

“We start when the sun is down, and as you’re crossing the bridge, the sun just starts coming out,” he said. “Just seeing the city […] It’s absolutely beautiful, every block.”

The warm, sunny weather may have been a bonus for spectators but likely was an extra challenge for participants in the marathon’s ultra, full and half-marathon races as well as its 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer courses.

Unofficial times for the full marathon saw men’s division winner Brice Daubord of Orleans, France cross the finish line in 2 hours, 26 minutes and 18 seconds, while women’s division winner Leandra Zimmermann of San Francisco finished in 2 hours, 45 minutes and nonbinary division winner Jen (JL) Odom finished in 3 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds.

Odom was raising money for breast cancer surgery, which is scheduled for late July, according to a post last month on GoFundMe.

“My goal is eventually to return to marathon training and run Boston in April 2024,” Odom wrote in the post.

San Leandro man Imagine Gonzales shows off his own finisher medal after completing Sunday's San Francisco Marathon. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

For athletes like Imagine Gonzales of San Leandro, part of the enjoyment of the day came from waking up at 3 a.m. to run his own first marathon before friends and family who came out to cheer him on. 

“The energy was electric and very palpable,” Gonzales said. “Everybody there from every background, every part of the world, every age. It’s very empowering to see how anybody can race.”

The marathon made Gonzales feel connected with San Francisco in a new way, he added.

“Running the whole loop kind of allowed me to tap into the city together in a way that made more sense to me,” he said. “I didn’t consider myself a runner a year and a half ago. Here I am today, breaking my own conceptions of what I thought was.”

Olympic athlete and filmmaker Alexi Pappas shows off one of several personally designed posters she signed for finishers of the San Francisco Marathon's 10-kilometer race Sunday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

What moved former Olympic runner and filmmaker Alexi Pappas, who served as the race’s global ambassador, was the support of friends and families, including her own father, who was her first sports coach and currently lives in Alameda. He approached to congratulate Pappas while she distributed signed, personally designed posters to runners who crossed the 10k finish line.

“I think people realize that you can, you know, take your goals really seriously and not take yourself so seriously.” she said.

Pappas, who lives near Los Angeles, said she would take advantage of the occasion to make good on her family’s tradition of enjoying Sunday dim sum in San Francisco.

She thinks of the marathon as “a hometown race that people come back to,” Pappas said. “I think that this race will continue to be a tradition for people.”

James Gieger and Chiara Lewis hold a sign in support of friend and San Francisco Marathon athlete Jackie Hazelwood, who completed the half-marathon Sunday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

That could include San Francisco native Jackie Hazelwood, who ran the half-marathon.

“It was her first,” said Chiara Lewis and James Gieger, who had come out to cheer on their friend.

“She said it was a really beautiful day.”

George Kelly can be reached at