Lone Runner Organizes, Wins the Inaugural Bernal Hill Marathon

Bernal Heights Marathon, 2011

Bernal Heights Marathon, 2011

Bernal Heights Marathon, 2011

Dick Draxler is a 62 year-old Bernal Heights resident who likes to run long distances. Before this weekend, he’d completed 27 marathons. On Sunday, he notched number 28. He did that becoming both the organizer of and lone participant in the inaugural Bernal Hill Marathon, which took place with little fanfare yesterday on Bernal Heights Boulevard.

In an email Dick sent out on Friday night, he explained how the idea for the marathon was hatched:

Shortly after doing the ever feel-good Humboldt Redwoods Marathon in mid-October, I went online to commit to my fourth and final marathon of the 2011 season — the California International in Sacramento, a notoriously fast, slightly downhill race on Dec 4th, 2011. But much to my chagrin, it had filled quota over that weekend. I could still get one of 300 remaining “charity entries” for something like $250, but a charity shakedown is still a shakedown. I decided to do something of my own for free on that hill I wear out.

I measured it out, and a lap around Bernal Hill is basically .97 mile; times 27 hits 26.2 almost perfectly… I’ve got a marathon!

So there you have it. Sunday morning I’ll be up there at 8:00 to start a journey of 27 laps that will probably take me to 12:30 or 1:00 to complete, depending on distractions and/or visitors and/or “pacers” (which I hope to have a lot of). Come on up, be one of them. The weather looks to be beautiful, maybe too warm (damn!). Pop some corn, bring your lawnchairs, watch me come by every 9 to 10 minutes. Better yet, do a lap or two with me…I’ll gladly slow down or try to speed up to your pace. Get in on the first year before it becomes too big.

Fantastic! A self-organized marathon, with just one very determined participant. It was too late for Bernalwood to sign up as the media sponsor, so we instead showed up to lend our support.

I stopped by at around noon, at which point Dick had just completed the 21st lap of his 27 lap circular odyssey. To track his progress along the way, he kept an official tally in official chalk on an official curb near the south entrance of the park:

Bernal Heights Marathon, 2011

To be honest, he was making it look easy. The changes in elevation around the Bernal Heights Boulevard loop were challenging, he admitted. But what about the monotony? The same route, 27 times in a row? Dick laughed and shrugged that off, recalling a friend who once completed a marathon by running more than 500 times around the perimeter of an indoor gymnasium. “Compared to that, this is scenic,” he said.

After I left, Dick went on to complete the full marathon.

I did do all 27 laps. Do you know the low and high points (elevation) are on Bernal Heights Boulevard, so I can shout out total elevation gain/loss to marathoner nerds back in the mid-west?  The Bernal Heights Marathon is NOT an easy thing, with that hill times 27.

Frankly, I can only imagine.

But here’s the best part: Dick is thinking about organizing another Bernal Hill Marathon, and he thinks he know the perfect co-conspirator:

Maybe we have better chance of making it an annual event with bikini girl’s collaboration.


In the meantime, Bernalwood sends our hearty congratulations to Dick Draxler for his record-setting victory in the first-ever Bernal Hill Marathon. Well done, sir!

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

26 thoughts on “Lone Runner Organizes, Wins the Inaugural Bernal Hill Marathon

    • That’s Lucy …VITP (very important training partner) the dalmation, pit bull, holstein mix! She was there for the first two laps and then nabes brought her home for me, where she sniffed slowly cooking baby back ribs and awaited my return in the afternoon. Todd came late and didn’t get a sense of the importance of me doing first marathon ever where one of my dogs was somewhat involved.

      • Hi Dick,
        The San Francisco DSE Running Club congratulates you on your achievement. We would love to join you next year for the event. If you want to, just let us know when you’ll be repeating this event and we’ll come and run and cheer you on too! Wendy Newman

  1. You go, Dick! Had we known, we’d have been up there cheering you on! BTW, Dick’s a long-time friend of my husband Art, and he just finished a beautiful kitchen remodel for us that we are SO pleased with.

  2. IN +1
    Please let me know the next one you’re doing, Dick, and I’ll join you for either a 10K or a half. Or, at the minimum, I’ll set up a support station.

  3. Which direction did you run? Clockwise or counter-clockwise? I usually run counter-clockwise. Is one direction easier than the other or about the same?

  4. One of my neighbors had an idea of staging a “Stairs Cases of Bernal” marathon, where the race path would have runners go up or down each stair case on the hill (how many are there, 7? 8?) but had no idea how to organize such a thing. Does this idea interest any of you marathon lovers?

    • Sounds like a great idea, but I think 7 or 8 is an underestimate. I sometimes walk/jog a circuit that hits 7 or 8 staircases without going wast of Peralta or south of Mayflower (just the NE corner of the hill). Add the 4 or 5 staircases off the south side of the loop, Esmeralda stairs (3 sets on the west side), and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Does anyone have an official count?

    • From what i just counted in the “Stairway walks in San Francisco”, i counted 10 staircases that attached to Bernal Heights Blvd. I know that some of these are part stairs part trail (at least down here on the south slope) but are all really fun and interesting. I dont know how the residences would feel about all the foot traffic next to their quiet foot path, but if they knew it was a Bernalwood event, they may even cheer on the runners (or walkers like me). I love this neighborhood just because of our 50 (more than any other neighborhood) staircases. They make taking a walk so interesting and intimate!

  5. Well done! I believe the park entrance at the bottom of the ring (at Folsom) has a sign with some elevation information. From my GPS, I think the elevation difference between there and the top (at Andover) is somewhere between 120 and 150 ft.

  6. Per a marathon type person I know:
    To be an “official” marathon, you have to have 5 people start, 3 people finish, have a race director, and post results online.

    So we could have an “official” Bernal Heights Marathon with just a bit of organization.
    I’m thrilled to have an accurate measurement of the loop around the hill. I knew it was @ 1 mile, but now I know exactly!

  7. I’m going to settle on congratulating Dick for this accomplishment. I would like to think that I could join him in the next running, possibly even to join a marathon I could win, but something about the up and down of the course would probably drive me crazy. In a typical marathon, miles of straight lines makes it possible to get a rhythm going, where I fear this would be unbelievably harsh.

  8. I’ll commit to a half marathon! That would be soo cool! Let’s do it.

    Runners of Bernalwood, unite!

  9. I also go the counter-clockwise route. The hill is steeper but it’s shorter and the downhill is longer so not as harsh. I tried clockwise on one of my runs but the long uphill on the south side made me feel like I was running through molasses and then the steep downhill was harsh on the quads.

    According to my Runkeeper iPhone app, the hill loop is .92 miles with a 213ft elevation change each loop [this doesn’t include the part of the trail that goes up to Sutrito Tower, just the main loop].

    • Great! we’re having a dialogue on this. I normally park on the south side and run with my dog Lucy down to the north gate and then back up and up to the dirt trails that are more fun. So I’m clockwise if you talk full loop which I don’t normally do, but did for this. Wanted to be somewhat accurate for this and measured with a surveyors wheel (.95 mile) and friends bike odometer (.97) trying to stay extreme outer circumference…gravel which I prefer to run on anyhow. Either way it’s an uphill slog after 20 laps….friend ran the first 8 laps with me yesterday and she said it’s worse clockwise but I try to shut that nuance out mentally when I’m doing an M. Share your enthusiasm for this, we’ll do it next year, I’ll become race director, porta-potties, tee-shirts, and City of SF involved…Parks and Wreck.
      Bernalwood has me open to thinking about this, though nervous…liability? I like 213 feet elevation change times 27….feels about right.

      • My hats off to you for going the clockwise route! Amazing! You’ve clearly got the mental toughness down.

      • Nice on the surveyor’s wheel and bike odometer! That’ show the USATF does it, so I daresay you could almost get this one certified. : )

  10. HI, I was that crazy person with the idea of the “Stairways of Bernal” event. (Perhaps Stairway to Heaven is a better name). I think there must be more than 15 staircases all over the hill. I do not know of one place that has listed the details all of them (listing starting and ending points, number of stairs and distance to next closest set of stairs.)

    It would be great to create a sub-section of Bernal wood, were these details can be collected and a reasonable race path be created. I think it would bring in extreme athletes and, more importantly, publicity and dollars for neighborhood businesses/charities.

    Someone out there must have the passion to organize an event like this that would be unique to Bernal in all the world.

  11. I’m in for a half, 25K, etc. And, don’t forget that the Bernal Bikini Run exploratory committee is toiling away behind the scenes to try to add another race to the Bernal Heights Race Calendar!

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