Photo credit Ryan Bethke

Supermodel Christy Turlington headlines notable names participating in Bay Area’s favorite 13.1-mile event

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – On Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in the middle of the NFL season, days after the last World Series pitch, with the NBA and NHL just unfolding, it was distance running that commanded attention. Some 2,901 miles across the country, the world’s largest marathon in New York zipped about in the Big Apple with Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia winning in a course record 2:04:58.

And in San Francisco, more than 5,000 runners — many watching the NYC Marathon on their phones — took part in what a lot of runners consider the most scenic 13.1-mile race in the world, the 22nd running of the Golden Gate Half Marathon & 5k.

Taylor Gilland, a 32-year-old venture capitalist who ran the 1,500 at the University of Virginia, then put running on hold for 10 years, won his first ever half, breaking the tape in 1:11:56.

With sweat still soaking his singlet, Gilland, now a San Franciscan, wanted to talk not so much about his first ever half marathon win, but how beautiful the layout was.

“The view, when you go across the Golden Gate Bridge and you’re coming back, you can see the whole city, it is really spectacular,” said Gilland. “It’s cool to start in the early morning. (And San Francisco cooperated, delivering its landmark fog.) The sun’s coming up. I think it’s as pretty as a half-marathon can get.”

Gilland won by 46 seconds, with Lake Spradling of Livermore taking second in 1:12:42.

In the women’s half, Julia Vasquez Giguere was joined in the race by her husband of two months, and her cousin. She had to wait a while for them to finish, though, because Vasquez Giguere was the first female across the finish line, winning in 1:15:22. It was a dominant performance, Vasquez Giguere winning by 9 minutes, 4 seconds.

Julia did have one advantage. She lives virtually right on the course in the Marina District.

“I run the same route every day, and that’s half of what this route was, so I love the course,” said Vasquez Giguere, who turns 28 on Tuesday.

The scenic course starts on Van Ness Avenue adjacent to Aquatic Park. It cuts through the Marina, the Presidio, makes two passes across the Golden Gate Bridge, and Crissy Field before finishing in front of Ghirardelli Square.

“It was almost like a cross-country course,” said the women’s winner. “Because you’ve got the asphalt, the bridge, then some dirt, then some gravel, then some sand, so it’s definitely more technical than typical.”

One of distance running’s touching traits is that friendships can be born during a race. That’s what developed in the women’s half between runner-up Courtney Winterbauer, 29, and 21-year-old Cal Berkeley student Victoria Dinov.

At about Mile 3, Dinov, president of Cal’s running club who was tackling her first half marathon, said, “I can’t do this.”

To which Winterbauer replied, “You’ve got it. Pump your arms. Pull in your diaphragm.”

Said Dinov, “I’m like, ‘OK, OK!’”

The women finished just four seconds apart.

“Courtney is the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” said Dinov. “She should be hired as a pacer.”

Dinov’s goal was to finish in 1:30. She beat that by 5½ minutes.

“Only because of Courtney,” she said.

Another 2,000 runners participated in the 5K, which Arman Soleimani of Cupertino won in 16:39. Heather Cerney, 31, of San Francisco won the women’s 5K in 18:29.

Maybe none of the runners who took to the streets of San Francisco were more influential than Christy Turlington. In 2010, the now 54-year-old former Calvin Klein model founded Every Mother Counts, a non-profit devoted to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

While Turlington lives in New York, she was raised in the East Bay and was participating in the Golden Gate Half Marathon for the fourth time.

“This race is special to me,” said Turlington, who has run all over the world.

“There is no better day than race day,” she said. “And especially in times like this where we’re questioning humanity. To be with people that are all trying to make their lives better, be healthier, caring about each other. That’s what the world’s about. I very much had our current state of affairs in my mind as I was running as a motivator.”

Turlington ran her first marathon more than a dozen years ago.

“I just got hooked,” she said. “I feel so good when I do it. I love that I can do it anywhere. I love the friends and the community that I’ve grown and support.

“There’s a lot of metaphors around pregnancy, childbirth, parenting that people relate to when they’ve done a race. You need a team, you need to be trained, you need support. You get to the other side and you’re either like, ‘I want to do this again’ or ‘never again!’ There are highs, lows, adrenaline and all that good stuff.”

Looking back on what running has meant to her and how much she loves coming to San Francisco for the Golden Gate Half Marathon she added, “And I’ll be doing it again.”

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