Runners brave thick fog in city’s first full 26.2-mile run since COVID

More than 24,000 runners sped, trotted and walked past some of San Francisco’s most famous structures and sights on Sunday — the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Crissy Field among them — as they celebrated the return of the San Francisco Marathon. Francisco without pandemic restrictions.

As was typical for a summer in San Francisco, fog was thick over the city, and most attendees were blanketed in beanies, gloves and fleece jackets as the first wave of runners began their 26.2-hour journey. miles at 5:30 a.m.

As runners began crossing the finish line at around 8am, many became visibly emotional, with some collapsing to the ground needing to catch their breath, and others falling into the arms of a loved one crying with joy.

Tyler Neumann, 36, has completed a total of 11 marathons, including the San Francisco Marathon twice. He ran his first race in 2013, a year after quitting smoking while living in France. Neumann said running became a new, healthier addiction after smoking and also gave him the opportunity to travel the world to attend races in different cities.

A runner holds an American flag while wearing a powdered wig as he crosses the Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Marathon.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

“It all started with just wanting to do it myself to replace a really bad habit I had,” Neumann said. “I realized how good it felt knowing I could run that far every time I finished a race.”

Neumann finished Sunday’s race in just over 4.5 hours. When he first started racing nearly 10 years ago, he said he was obsessed with the fastest time, but now it’s more about the personal achievement of finishing the race.

“I think it’s made me more resilient in general since I apply the same kind of approach that I use with marathon training to everything I do in life,” Neumann said. “They always say ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ and now I use that in my professional and personal life too.”

It was the first in-person full marathon and half marathon in the city since the pandemic began more than two years ago. Last year’s race limited the number of runners and imposed a number of masking requirements for runners, staff and volunteers. There have been a number of new competitive offerings this year, including California’s first-ever non-binary category, which Bay to Breakers also recognized in May.

Prizes were awarded to the top three runners in the female, male and non-binary categories. The best male finisher, with a time of 2:31:42, was Simon Ricci, who took the lead after saving his stamina for the second half of the race, passing a handful of riders who covered most of the course . .

Eventual winner Simon Ricci exits the Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Marathon.

Eventual winner Simon Ricci exits the Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Marathon.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

UC Davis graduate Brooke Starn won the women’s category with a time of 2:44:38.

Cal Calamia made history in the non-binary category, which finished in three hours and three seconds. They also won first place in the non-binary category at Bay to Breakers.

But having the fastest time isn’t what drives all runners who enter marathons.

Jaymie Pizarro rediscovered her purpose and passion in life when she entered the marathon world in 2006. Before she started running at the age of 30, she said she had never been a great athlete. But when Pizarro felt her identity vanish under the demands of motherhood and her marriage, she said running gave her new life.

“I was a young mum who didn’t really have an identity and I didn’t have my own goals, so what running really did for me was it allowed me to set my own goals in life,” said Pizarro, 46. who traveled from Vancouver to run the San Francisco Marathon on Sunday, his 20th long-distance race. She crossed the finish line with her boyfriend around five o’clock.

Pizarro said she found meditation running and it became a time for her to reflect on what she wanted in life and rediscover who she was.

With the Golden Gate Bridge behind him, Joel Baez (green rain poncho) joins other runners running around North Vista Point during the San Francisco Marathon.

With the Golden Gate Bridge behind him, Joel Baez (green rain poncho) joins other runners running around North Vista Point during the San Francisco Marathon.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

Once she got hooked on the high and clarity she received after finishing a long run, she said she wanted to spread that joy with others around the world. Pizarro was inspired to organize a marathon in his hometown in the Philippines in 2010, hoping to show others the powerful effects running can have on their lives.

“Finishing a marathon will make you believe you can achieve the impossible, and when you do, you know that whatever you have in mind, you can achieve,” Pizarro said. “I want people around the world to experience the magic of a marathon too.”

Alexandria Bordas (she/they) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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