SF Marathon week brings runs and new inclusive races

Runners are lacing up their shoes as the San Francisco Marathon returns this weekend, bigger than ever. 

Organizers say nearly 24,000 people have registered for the 2022 events, after years of virtual races and a scaled back marathon weekend last September.

On Friday thousands came to pick up their race bags at Fort Mason's Festival Pavillion.

"San Francisco is special there are a lot of uphills so I think it will be a super challenge," said Pedro Morando, who came from Mexico.

"Just glad to be back in full force on our 45th anniversary," said Christiian Abrahamsen, one of the SF Marathon organizers, "People are able to travel again or more willing to travel again so that has definitely bumped the numbers up."

New this year, the marathon will be the first in California to have male, female and non-binary gender categories.

"Just giving everybody a chance regardless of what you affiliate yourself as, just knowing it's a safe place to be and we're happy and excited to have you there," said Eileen Nichols, a San Francisco resident who plans to run.

Also, exciting for young runners, is a new 1k Family lollipop run.

"I think it's great to get the kids involved. I think physical fitness is very important," said Sharon Chang, a San Francisco mom who was registered with her husband and four-year-old daughter.

The marathon is also partnering this year with sponsor Degree to include a special team of runners with disabilities.

"I was diagnosed in 3rd grade with a degenerative eye condition...I lost my sight at 30," said Michael Zampella of Philadelphia.

Zampella is on a team with a woman from Houston who has multiple sclerosis. They plan to finish their first marathons on Sunday.

"We work so hard just to do basic things so to do something extra like a marathon is crazy difficult but so worth it," said Sagirah Ahmed Norris of Houston who struggled with MS.

Vendors say they're glad to be back. They say they have missed the marathon events which often brings new business, but they say running has become more popular than ever.

"There were more and more runners because people weren't going to gyms, so running sale shoes are booming during the pandemic," said John Zilly, co-founder of Vimazi, which was started in 2019 making special running shoes.

Some people say with the pandemic still not over, they don't want to run the risk of catching Covid. Some say they'll be bringing a mask to the starting line.

"I am a little bit worried about COVID still," said Maricar Montano, an SF Marathon pacer who came from Hong Kong to run.

"It's going to be about thirty minutes of just standing around in a big crowd," said Montano, who says she'll likely remove the mask once she starts running and the crowd thins out.

Masks are not required on the course this year.

The marathon starts at 5:30 a.m. Sunday and residents are advised to watch for road closures.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.