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The Nike Women's Marathon

Stephanie has run seven marathons, including the Boston Marathon and numerous half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. She loves running and exercise!

The 7th Annual Nike Women's Marathon

On October 17, 2010, the 7th annual Nike Women's Marathon took place in San Francisco, California. I was one of the over 20,000 participants that toed the start line at the dark hour of 7:00 a.m. It was my second marathon (I ran the Portland Marathon in 2008), and definitely a wonderful race.

If you are a runner, I suggest putting this one on your "bucket list" of races to run in the U.S. The race is the largest woman's marathon in the world!

The Nike Women's Marathon is open to both women and men. A full 26.2 mile certified marathon course is available, as well as a half-marathon distance race of 13.1 miles. If you are looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you can do so on this USATF-certified course. However, it is quite hilly and difficult, so be prepared!

Anyone who loves San Francisco should consider this marathon; it is a wonderful way to see the City. The first half of the marathon - the complete 1/2 marathon route - will take you along the waterfront, past Pier 39 and the Fisherman's Wharf, around Ghirardelli Square, up and under the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Pacific Ocean and through the famed Golden Gate park.

The end of the Nike Women's Marathon is an extra-special treat for the ladies. San Francisco firemen, dressed in tuxedos, greet you as you cross the finish line. Each of them are holding a silver platter, piled high with blue Tiffany's jewelry boxes and tied with crisp white bows. Instead of a finisher's medal, you get a silver Tiffany's necklace. Each year's design is unique!

We definitely left our heart in San Francisco - will be returning for next year's Nike Women's Marathon

We definitely left our heart in San Francisco - will be returning for next year's Nike Women's Marathon

Golden Gate bridge from along the Nike Women's Marathon course

Golden Gate bridge from along the Nike Women's Marathon course

Wall of participants' names at the Nike Women's Marathon outside of Niketown, San Francisco

Wall of participants' names at the Nike Women's Marathon outside of Niketown, San Francisco

Registration for the Nike Women's Marathon

The Nike Women's Marathon is so popular that there is a lottery system to get into the race. Regardless of whether you want to run the full marathon or half, you will need to first submit your name - or register as a team with other friends that also wish to run.

Race officials will draw names of participants until the maximum number is reached. The only guaranteed entries are to those that have run or walked in every one of the Nike Women's Marathon since its first year, in 2003, or those that are participating with the Leukemia Society Team in Training Program.

Although I got into the marathon through the lottery - registering as a team with my sister and her friend, I know many others that have registered for the Nike Women's Marathon through Team in Training. Team in Training raises money for blood cancer research, and you'll have to do some fund raising to participate. It's a great way to accomplish your fitness goals while donating to a worthy cause. Supportive coaches will be with you throughout your training and while running the race!

Cost is approximately $120 to register for the full marathon, or $95 for the half-marathon distance. You cannot change your registration to run a different distance.

The Nike Women's Marathon is held in October each year, usually the third Sunday of the month. Registration/lottery begins the first week in March!

Outside the Nike Women's Marathon Expo in Union Square, San Francisco

Outside the Nike Women's Marathon Expo in Union Square, San Francisco

The Nike Women's Marathon Course

The full marathon and half marathon follow similar courses for the first 13 miles. Other runners that have completed the race have commented that the first half is more scenic than the second half of the marathon. I would have to agree!

The races start together (runners, walkers and both distances) in Union Square, downtown San Francisco. You'll run about 3/4 of a mile through downtown streets towards the Embarcadero. Miles 1-3 are right along the waterfront, past Pier 39 and other sights. Its fairly dark as dawn starts breaking about 15-20 minutes into the race.

At about mile 3, there is a short 1-2 block hill when you circle behind Ghirardelli Square. You'll run through Fort Mason, which includes another 2-3 block climb. By mile 4, you run through a cheering zone in front of the Safeway grocery store on Marina Boulevard.

The next 2 miles are enjoyable. Right along the waterfront, along Crissy Park with the Golden Gate bridge looming off to your right in the distance. Enjoy it now. Things are about to get interesting....

As you run through the Presidio, mile 6 will start a challenging 1 mile climb past a popular viewpoint for the Golden Gate bridge. Take it slow and steady to save your legs for some additional challenges coming up soon. When you reach mile 7, you'll enjoy a little break as you run through some gorgeous neighborhoods. Prepare for another climb from miles 8-9. Big cheers when you reach the top and then coast down for about 1.5 miles to the waterfront on the Great Highway - along the Pacific Ocean.

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After you run past the famous Cliff House, you'll spot the turn into Golden Gate Park. You are just about to mile 11 now. Approximately 2.2 miles into and out of the park is next. Its still a climb, but a much more gentle slope. For those that are only doing the 1/2 marathon, you will split off around mile 12 from the marathon runners.

You exit Golden Gate Park at around mile 15 and head south along the Great Highway. Expect the weather to be different here - windy, rainy or both! You are right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, which has its own micro-climate within the City. You'll run about 2 miles along the highway, rutted and rough, so watch your step. Past the entrance to the San Francisco Zoo, you'll climb a very small, gradual hill from the highway to Lake Merced. Don't expect scenic views here. The 2-3 mile run around the lake is tough. Fewer spectators, traffic passing you on the street and the "Bite Me" zone - that part of the marathon where you just want to be left alone and get it over with!!

After you circle the lake, you'll head back to the Great Highway for the last 2+ miles of the race. Its flat - which is good - but you'll be tired! You can start to spot the finish line from about 3/4-1/2 mile away, depending on weather conditions. Spectators start lining the last mile of the course to the finish. An announcer calls your name (make sure your bib is visible) and you cross the finish line onto a red carpet where your swag awaits!

Today, I Ran... (Video from the Nike Women's Marathon 2010)

Support Along the Nike Women's Marathon Course

Nike really has this race well-organized! You'll find ample support along the Nike Women's Marathon Course. Each mile is not only marked for distance, but a digital clock displays the time elapsed since the gun at the start of the race. Excellent for keeping you on pace!

You'll find water stations every few miles, offering both water and electrolyte drinks (Gatorade). Portable toilets are everywhere! First aid is also offered along the course, whether you simply need a band-aid or more intensive medical attention.

If you are the kind of runner that enjoys entertainment along the course, you won't be disappointed! Cheerleaders and live drumming bands will encourage you along the way, and there are at least 7 Nike stations at which energizing music is playing. For runners that have a Nike+ wristband, you'll get your exact mileage/time displayed, as well.

My sister and I enjoyed using the automatic Facebook updates offered this year at the marathon. Nike Women's Marathon created an application that you can use to pre-write your status updates that will be posted to your Facebook wall as you cross miles 3.1, 9.3 and 22.7. The timing chip on your shoe tells Facebook when you've reached these distances. The course itself has strips set up, over which you run, to show your splits at the 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K, 30K, 35K and 40K distances. The tracking is also to make sure that runners don't cheat!

Towards the end of both races (1/2 and full marathon), Ghirardelli offers you chocolate squares. Grab one and put it in your pack. Wait until the end before enjoying it...

Nike requires that all runners and walkers finish by 1:30 p.m. That's 6.5 hours from the start of the race at 7:00 a.m. If you will not make it, they will pick you up in a shuttle to the finish line.

The course is a point-to-point run. That means you'll need a ride back to Union Square at the end. A shuttle ride is only $15 ($10 if you purchase it when you register for the race). Be prepared to stand in a long line to wait to board the buses.