Thursday, April 1, 2010

Running in San Francisco, Part I

I recently revisited an old Runner's World article that compiled a list of the best 25 cities for running. While I was happy to see Minneapolis nearly made the top 5 because of our 50+ mile car-free trail system, the minimal human congestion because of separate paths for runners and bikers, and the fact that we have four friggin' beautiful lakes to enjoy in the middle of a large city, I agree that this city is one of the best in the country for the sport.

I was also ecstatic to see that San Francisco was listed as the No. 1 city for running. However, some of my excitement faded with the article's opening line, where the author admits he's lived there his whole life and knows every inch of the city.

Naturally, we are going to stand up for what we know best and when we know where to run to vary our workouts. Similar to how I'm biased toward Minneapolis running because I know where to go to hit hills, sand, stairs, or anything else I want to change up my routine, I figure the author was biased in thinking San Francisco was the best.

So, while visiting San Francisco last week, I set out on a few runs to check out key spots in the city for running. My marathon training schedule deviated pretty significantly, but hey, I still made it out, right?

The Embarcadero/Fishermans Wharf/Fort Mason/Marina Green
I have run The Embarcadero a number of times for the same reason most runners head there: It's the flattest part of the city, there's a lot of camaraderie with other runners along the water, and it's relatively safe for running during the day and evening. I couldn't get my manfriend to join me on his skateboard this time like he did last time, so I opted to run where I knew there would be help/witnesses/whathaveyou if I needed it.

Even though The Embarcedero is very out of my way when I'm staying in the city, the pain-free, flat path is appealing. There is only one major problem (well, a major problem for those who care to track their splits) -- my Garmin doesn't accurately work there. Because Mr. Anastos tracks my movement, pace, and distance via satellite, he has a lot of problems picking up signals when they are refracted off the tall buildings. I have set Mr. Anastos to auto-stop when I stop moving (say, at a stoplight), and I'd be mid-step and the signal would cut out because he thought I stopped moving. I'd sometimes run as much as a 20 steps before it would auto-start again, only to have it auto-stop again a few steps later. This makes tracking splits nearly impossible.

Once I got away from the taller buildings downtown, Mr. Anastos picked up a solid signal and he was able to accurately track the rest of my miles ... I think. It's hard to know because those miles were soooooo slow. Really? Near 10-minute miles? I know I ran up a few dogging hills, but I also ran down a few speedy hills.

I headed up The Embarcadero past all the piers, pushing my way through Fishermans Wharf. Even mid-day mid-week, Fishermans Wharf was packed. Perhaps others were on Spring Break and were enjoying the clear weather, but the amount of people I had to dodge was extremely frustrating. I kept to the sidewalk, weaving in and out of miserably slow walkers, until I finally noticed other runners on the street -- in between cars -- running where things were moving faster. I heeded their unspoken advice and ran in the street between cars with them.
Beyond Fishermans Wharf was the Maritime Historical National Park. The park was flat, empty, and had pretty great views of Alcatraz and Ghirardelli Square.
In front of Ghiradelli Square, people were swimming laps (in wetsuits) in part of the water that was buoyed off. Now that is dedication. That water is cold!
Beyond the Maritime Park was probably one of the steepest hills I've actually run in my life. The hill feels like it is straight vertical, and although it isn't very long, it knocked the wind out of me. I tried to sprint up the hill, mostly because I wanted to beat some cyclists also trying to make it up the hill without stopping. I yelled at them to hurry up and reminded them they were being beaten by a girl We "exchanged pleasantries" as I powered up the hill, and I cooled down with a nice downhill canopy view.
Beyond Fort Mason Park -- where people were hanging out in the grass, eating picnics and smoking their ganja butter -- was Marina Green where I saw more people working out. A few people set up cones and were running sprints back and forth in the grass.
Toward the end of the green, a few people were assembling nets for what I assume was an impromptu soccer game, and this whole area seemed like a good place for attracting athletes. I saw others doing sit-ups on the grass and push-ups on the benches, and a few others were playing fetch with their dogs. I love when people utiltize what they have around them to get a full-body workout instead of paying for a gym membership.

Yes, that is coming from a person who just got back from Spinning at an LA Fitness.

Overall, this longer run was a nice route for hitting up decent hills between some very flat land, which is good for a mid-routine change up. The views are unmatched, the bay-side breezes are nice (albeit a bit smelly), and the parks are well kept. I found one restroom in Marina Green that unfortunately didn't have a water fountain (I hope that sink water was safe to drink), so bring water and be prepared to pop a squat if you have to. Also be prepared to dodge and weave a bunch of ignorant people who don't care to watch where they are walking.

7.65mi splits:
1: 8:28
2: 8:42
3: 9:42
4: 9:20
5: 9:41
6: 9:39
7: 9:13
.65: 4:56
Air Temp: 56F

Oh, and during my run before Spinning today, Minneapolis hit a milestone temperature a month ahead of schedule! :) It's nice now, but I'm thinking we'll have a cruel, cruel summer...
4mi splits: 8:43, 8:30, 8:14, 8:31
Air Temp: 80F

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