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Runners prepare for record-breaking San Francisco Marathon

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Marathon runner Scott Benbow, left, and Greg McQuaid, right, train for the San Francisco Marathon on the track of Kezar Stadium. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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When you run faster at age 54 than as a teenager, you must be doing something right.

At last year’s San Francisco Marathon, city resident Scott Benbow — now 55 — beat by 33 seconds the record he set at a marathon in New York City at age 17. He said his lifelong running experience has taught him to appreciate a thoughtful strategy, proper nutrition and to ride on a runner’s high.

On Sunday, Benbow will set out to run again at the 40th anniversary of the San Francisco Marathon where — along with 27,500 runners from a variety of of running levels and countries — he will rush through The City’s streets.

“After around one kilometer, I just feel good,” Benbow said of his previous races. “I’m in a very good mood, and that’s what carries me through — through any distance.”

This year saw the largest group of runners in the 40-year marathon’s history and was also the fastest in buying tickets. The race had a record early sell-out on May 6, organizer Michelle LaFrance said.

The marathon offers five races for runners: a full 26.2-mile marathon, two half-marathons, a 5K and an ultramarathon, which is an extended distance race with an urban course.

The full marathon starts at 5:30 a.m. near the Ferry Building at Mission Street and the Embarcadero, and ends at Folsom Street and the Embarcadero in front of Cupid’s Arrow. The race follows the Embarcadero, over the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury District.

Benbow, a resident of San Francisco for nearly two decades, said running on familiar streets is part of the fun of the marathon.

“I run in my home city, and I know every street I’m running on,” Benbow said.

The route for the annual marathon changes every year, but always includes iconic spots that attract runners from all over the world, LaFrance said.

The marathon has grown from nearly 1,000 local runners to 27,500 participants from all 50 states and 79 countries, according to event officials.

The marathon can mean various things to runners, from a journey to overcome cancer to completing an ultimate physical challenge, LaFrance said.

For San Francisco resident Greg McQuaid, the race is all about promoting lung health. A 20-year smoker in the past, McQuaid broke the habit in 2006 and the very next year completed San Francisco Marathon one hour faster.

This year, he will run the marathon for the fifth time, but speed worries him less than it did in the past. To raise funds for the charity Breathe California, McQuaid runs a marathon — a distance of 26.2 miles— every week.

“You basically can only train for one marathon at a time, and you just keep going, ” he explained. “You just get stronger.”

Besides running, participants and spectators can enjoy food and drinks at the Finish Line Festival in Justin Herman Plaza — anything from beer and Golden Gate Cider to a protein shake and Kombucha with probiotics. Runners will be able to have their heart rate checked and sore muscles massaged, LaFrance said.

Supporters can track the runners and find cheering stations with the San Francisco Marathon Race App.

To help thousands of people travel safely throughout The City, more police officers will manage traffic and crowd situations, said Police Department spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca.

Northbound traffic lanes of the Golden Gate Bridge will be closed from 6 to 9 a.m. to allow runners to cross, according to the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.

The approach to the Golden Gate Bridge is where the longest and steepest hill of the race is located, but it is also the bucket list destination for runners, LaFrance said.

“The view from the top makes it worth of struggle to climb the hill,” McQuaid said.

He added that aside from stunning views, he loves to run in San Francisco where the weather is just chilly enough, and city officials are constantly improving the conditions for runners, adding dirt pads on trails and hosting events like San Francisco Marathon.

“I’ve never lived in a city that is so perfect for running,” Benbow agreed. “There is no excuse not to run.”

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