Scenic Half of San Francisco

My Life as a Runner > training > Scenic Half of San Francisco
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It’s been three days since the Oakland Half Marathon, but I needed to squeeze one more 20-miler before my taper, so I decided to run it today. Fortunately, rain stayed away and I even got some sun in the first half. As you can see it on the map on the left, I did a loop that pretty much covered a half of San Francisco. From my Noe Valley apartment, I ran through neighborhoods of Mission, Design district, South Beach, Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Crissy Field, Presidio, Sea Cliff, Lands End, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, Castro and back home. This loop is definitely more scenic half of the city than the other half. So, I thought about writing about it and share my run with the world. I took some pictures with my iPhone today, but the weather was not perfect for photography. So, some of the pictures are not from today but from sometime before when I was walking around.

mission muralToday’s 20-miler was basically a dress rehearsal for Boston. So, I put on my Saucony Kinvara 2, CEP compression shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, iPhone with RunKeeper on, Timex watch (wish I had a better watch) with heart rate monitor, and a cloth to wipe sweat off my face. I applied some sun screen and Glide on necessary parts. I brought a 20oz bottle of Gatorade and a packet of GU with 2x caffeine. The only things that will be different on the race day are shirt, Gatorade, and it turned out, the GU. I usually use Clif Shot Blocks to fuel during a marathon. But I saw this GU with twice the amount of caffeine at Oakland Marathon Expo this past weekend and decided to give it a try. Before I set out, I ate a little bit of it as instructed, then kept the opened packet tucked in my shorts, the way I thought it won’t spill out. Uh, a big mistake. Within two miles of starting, running through Mission, I felt some gooeyness on my hand that was touching my left hip flexor where I had the GU. I looked at it and most of GU oozed out of the packet and all over my shirt and shorts. I was not going to run 20 miles with this gooey GU all over me, so I went into Caltrain’s bathroom and freed myself from the sticky mess. Phew! Anyway, the neighborhood of Mission has always been referred to as one of ‘up-and-coming’ areas of the city. Used to be predominantly colorful and flavorful Latino neighborhood with lots of yummy taquerias and fantastic murals; however, recent years have seen many young people with other ethnic backgrounds moving in. This subsequently triggered lots of hip coffee shops, bars, restaurants and all sorts of other businesses to open in the Mission. Hip, hip, hip. These days, there are a few small start-ups moving into the neighborhood as well. I used to live in the Mission. While it is lively and convenient to restaurants and coffee shops, I longed for certain level of tranquility (and some other reasons) and decided to move.

San Francisco Presidio overlooking crissy fieldWith my hands no longer sticking to shirt, shorts and Gatorade bottle, I ran through nearby AT&T ballpark where San Francisco Giants play and then onto the water front. The water front has been developed very nicely since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Many of the warehouses and piers have been remodeled and got really nice facelifts. The Ferry Building is one of them, and locals and visitors gather for their transportation needs, shopping and chillaxing. Their farmer’s market is very popular on Saturdays and it seems they have everything organic, and of course, expensive. Running past Pier 39 and dodging tourists near Fisherman’s Wharf, I came to Aquatic Park where one can find Ghirardelli Square and Maritime Museum. Since it was a mid week, there were not many people today. Some people actually swim in the lagoon from time to time. I ran on through Fort Mason and Marina district, with Alcatraz island on my right, Golden Gate Bridge in front, and multi-million-dollar houses on my left. After Marina, I entered Crissy Field, which used to be airfield and now a part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The picture above is a view of Crissy Field from Presidio. You can see the bay, beach, and the downtown in a distance, too. As soon as I entered Crissy Field, I passed a family of four pedaling one of those wagon cars struggling to maintain certain speed. But me passing them got their legs working harder and soon they passed me back giggling. A little further down, I caught up with them and chatted a little while. They were visiting from Minnesota for the week. After wishing them a good visit, I started to climb up a hill leading to Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge. Another uniqueness of San Francisco is that it has many microclimates. Locals often dress themselves in layers to adapt to changes in weather as they move from one neighborhood to another. Up until Crissy Field, I had mostly blue sky and the warm sun. But as soon as I ran up the hill, misty air signaled that the next few miles will be rather cool, if not cold.

Golden Gate Bridge from Lands EndThe downward shift in temperature was actually a good thing and kept my running more pleasant. I ran under the Freeway 101 that leads to the Golden Gate Bridge to the north, and I came out to the Pacific Ocean side of the city. From here, the elevation dropped about 170 feet as I ran next to the steep cliff and the sound of waves crashing in the Pacific. As many people know, one of famous topographic features of San Francisco is its hills – many of them. You cannot really avoid running hills here when you go for a long run. Today’s run was flat for the first nine miles or so. After that, it was either going up or down. Not a bad course to train for long distance. Since the Boston course has rolling hills and since the first half is predominantly down-hill, I tried to speed up whenever I went down hill. My quads need to be strong to survive Boston without slowing down. The picture above is a view of Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End trail. It was all misty and foggy today, so this picture is from earlier this year.

San Francisco Lands End trailThe Lands End trail is a stretch of path, about 1.5 miles between south-end of upscale Sea Cliff neighborhood and Sutro Baths. The trail is popular among locals and offers some breath-taking view of the Pacific and its surroundings, as well as a nice exercise in a cool and fresh air. Above the trail, there is Lincoln Park golf course, Legion of Honor museum, and VA hospital, but it is separated from them by wilderness. At places, the trail gets narrow and not very safe to run fast. Also, there is a steep hill that takes breath out of anyone who walks up. The picture above was taken after I climbed up on the other side. You can get an idea how steep it is, right? By this point, I hit 13 miles and I was getting hungry. This happens quite often when I run more than 13 miles. But I really don’t know what to do with it. I cannot eat much while I am running and risk slowing down. In the past, I ate some bananas and orange wedges as volunteers handed them out along the course, but they don’t fill me up and you can eat so much bananas and oranges. I wonder what other people do.

Golden Gate Park trailTrying not to think about the empty stomach, I left the Lands End trail behind and came out to Sutro Baths and Cliff House. Sutro Baths used to be a private swimming pool but burned down in 1966. Since then, it is a ruin and a part of Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Down the hill from Cliff House, which is a restaurant with a gift shop and a small-scale museum, I briefly ran by the Ocean Beach and entered Golden Gate Park. San Francisco is not known for its beaches, mostly because the water is too cold to swim in, it’s often freezing at the beach, and the waves are not good enough for competitive surfers. But there are always some local surfers at Ocean Beach for bystander’s amusement. Golden Gate Park is one of my favorite places to be and to run in. Larger than New York City’s Central Park, it attracts many runners and hikers. Even if you are not runners or hikers, it is a fantastic place to have a picnic, visit several museums (De Young, California Academy of Science, Japanese Tea Garden, etc.), or simply enjoy the trees and flowers that filled the park with colors and scents, stimulating your senses. For runners and hikers, there are some trails in the park, whether it is a narrow path along the road, or more challenging path among the trees. It’s nice not to have to run on the road beating the asphalt, which is harder on the joints and muscles. Today, because of losing GU to fuel myself with, I totally hit the wall after mile 15 or so. In addition, I felt a little nauseous, which has not happened before. Was that a delayed effect of a little bit of 2x caffeine GU I tried for the first time? Is that from starving? I drank some water out of fountain and kept going, though. As mentioned earlier, the Boston course is mostly downhill but there are a couple of uphills starting at mile 19 in Newton. One of them is infamously known as Heart Break Hill, because it comes when your glycogen is most likely depleted and your legs tired. Those hills are not steep as elevation gain is about 130 feet in a 1.5 mile stretch, but they just come at the wrong place at the wrong time. I certainly experienced that today at mile 15 when I gained 270 feet over the next 2.5 miles. But thanks to my training, I was able to maintain the pace of 7:30 or so, which is about 10% slower than my race pace. As I came out of the park, my hunger turned starvation. Though I had $20 on me, I did not want to stop and eat. So I chugged along and finished my run in 2:34:16. My RunKeeper said I ran 20.9 miles, while the plotting on Dailymile appears to be 20.5 miles.

So, that’s how my long run went today. I am happy that I did not run into any trouble or injury. I still don’t know if I can run sub 3:00 in Boston, even if it turns out to be the perfect running condition. When will I get the confidence to run sub 3:00? It’s less likely I get that between tomorrow and the race day, since I am tapering from now on. Hmmm… I am sure the race-day nerve and adrenalin will give my pace some boost, and I end up running the first half in 6:52 or so. But the next half? A big question mark! Only time will tell.

  • Dan
    April 9, 2012

    Looks like the description says it all – very scenic indeed. I live in Chicago so I don’t have the nature trails that you enjoyed on this run. And as far as hunger goes, I think it’s just something you have to deal with as long as you still have the energy to go on. I ran a marathon recently where I was hungry at the start. I couldn’t really do anything about it (and GU’s aren’t at all filling). I guess you just keep going and try not to think about it.

    • Koji Kawano
      April 9, 2012

      Thanks, Dan! I am going to take a banana, some nuts and Fig Newtons. Hopefully they help a bit!

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