Having already tackled two mid-distance runs and miles upon miles of walking on the hills of San Francisco, I was a bit apprehensive about doing a 19 mile long run there. My apprehension was over shadowed by the thought of a beautiful, California long run versus a hot, muggy Oklahoma long run after a full night of traveling home. I was not disappointed in my decision.
The panhandle of Golden Gate Park is not even a mile from my uncles’ home, which made it very easy to navigate my way through GG park to the coast. Husband and I had walked a similar route on Wednesday. We had, however, taken a straight shot down Fulton St. rather than winding our way through the park–our mission on that outing was Ocean Beach. I found it amusing that the park literally ends at Baker St. This is made abundantly clear by the fact that the city has placed the DMV on the opposite side of the street.
The panhandle of GG park did not have any hills. I passed cyclists commuting to work, dogs playing fetch with their people, and parents taking their kids for a stroll. This section is much like a typical park, other than the clean smell of the eucalyptus trees and fancy cross walk signs.
Continuing through the park, you really don’t have to contend with busy city streets. You do, however, have to pass through one crazy intersection around mile 1.5 at Stanyan and Fell St. Apparently, a lot of accidents happen there. Someone has painted a car on the path with the title “Caution: Death Machines”. I didn’t notice that until my run or I would definitely have taken a photograph. San Franciscans are very clever.
After crossing Stanyan, you are officially in GG park. I thought of how amazing it would be to commute through the park to work. The city offers cyclists wide, well-kept paths along the main road. At approximately mile 2, you get to see the Conservatory of Flowers. The picture I’ve posted was taken just before mid-day and does not do the structure justice. Seeing it in the early morning hours meant less of a glare from the vibrantly white building. The intricate detail of the structure reminds me of the Hindu mandirs that a friend showed me in photographs from her home country. We ran out of time during our visit to San Francisco, but my parents visited the conservatory and highly recommend it.
Just past the conservatory of flowers (mile 2.5) is a rose garden and the first water fountain I made note of for the run back. It was not in bloom while we were visiting, but the amount of buds suggested quite a showing within the next few weeks. The rose gardens are where Husband and I began walking down Fulton rather than through the park. Hence, I do not have photographs of the next 2.5 miles of my GG park run. Two serene lakes still awaited me, complete with ducks and swans. Near both lakes were EXTREMELY clean rest rooms, water fountains, and, in one instance, a yoga class. At mile 4.5 I was surprised to see buffalo. I really didn’t expect this, but it made me feel at home for an instant.
A bit further down the path, the trees opened up to a lovely tulip garden. I looked up to see the back of the giant windmills that face out toward the Pacific. I was under the assumption that these windmills were gifts from the Dutch. I have since learned that they were constructed in the early 1900s to pump subterranean water to the park. They were restored in the 1980s and the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden is behind the first constructed of the two windmills. Directly past the windmills, I crossed the Great Highway onto the ocean side. My Garmin beeped at me: 5 miles exactly. I looked left (south) toward the flat stretch of sandy beach. I looked north toward the Cliff House and a steep curving incline. I chose the path of most resistance, knowing that my glimpse of the bridge without fog might be around the road’s bend.
In a way, I was mistaken. I was, however, greeted with a view of the bath houses over my left shoulder. The ruins look alive with various microorganisms now, but in the late 1800s this site was home to the world’s largest indoor swimming establishment. They now hold an even fonder place in my heart after learning this due to an appreciation for what is quickly becoming my favorite of the tri sports–swimming. I had planned to continue past Lands End Lookout down the scenic drive, which I thought would turn into Geary. (I had looked at a city map earlier in the week, but my mind was a bit fuzzy thinking about this as I continued climbing.)
Past the construction for the new Lands End Lookout, I saw people hiking on trails. I decided to take a detour. The trail took me downhill, which was a bit disappointing after all the work I’d done to get up it. You really don’t stay disappointed for long in a place like San Francisco. The first sign I saw let me know that the longest path I could take would end in 1.2 miles at Eagle Point Lookout. It wouldn’t get me the 9.5 miles I needed for my out-and-back run, but it did promise a great vantage point. I wish I had pictures of my run on the Coastal Trail. It’s a well-kept trail with stairs (lots and lots of them in places), steep drop offs toward the rocky coast, lush vegetation, and other trail lovers out silently enjoying the views. My focus was on the ground for most of this portion of the run with an occasional glance down at the ocean or across the water toward what I think was uninhabited/protected land behind Sausalito. I rounded another curve and…
…the entire GG bridge was all mine. This is not true at all, really, but it felt like I was the only one allowed to view it on this day at this moment. The sky was bright blue, the air clear of fog, the surrounding land bright green, and no one near me on the trail running 19 miles. It is hard to describe a positive feeling of loneliness, but that’s what I was experiencing.
The trail emptied into a posh neighborhood filled with homes that I will never, nor do I care to, own. I followed the “Scenic Drive” signs backwards and ended up circling back to the trail head just past mile 8. I knew I could continue down the scenic drive and find my way over to the GG bridge. However, I was unfamiliar with the city streets near this area and didn’t know how busy they would become. I also liked the idea of running back on the trail and knew that, although I wasn’t in need yet, I would be pining for those water fountains I’d passed in GG park.
The trail had become a bit more crowded on the run back. Everyone was smiling. Of course, why wouldn’t they be? I passed dogs that bounded up the stairs and coasted down the hills. There is nothing quite like a four legged creature to make you feel like a clumsy oaf. I took a water stop in the park around miles 10 and 12 and was able to complete my pick-ups during miles 14-16 in the flatter section of the pan handle, although I did have to stop and wait at the “Death Machine” intersection. I zig zagged on Oak, Page, and Haight streets to complete the tempo portion without climbing straight up a hill. (Yes, I ran across Haight and Ashbury!)
I had hopes of running into my uncle and wanted one last view from Buena Vista Park. I ran up the south side of the park because I am brilliant (you can see this incline on the elevation chart towards the end of the run). Once at the top, I debated ending the run at 18 miles. I figured I’d done more training on vacation than I’d ever done in the past. Buuuuut…after walking backwards down the steep hill up to the park to give my calves some relief and approaching semi-flat Castro St., I opted to continue by running in circles around the neighborhood. I ended up averaging 8:59 pace, which I’ll begrudgingly be content with since I did conquer some pretty good inclines in the process.
I was analyzing my exhaustion and soreness post run. Initially, I thought with all of the hill training this week that I might’ve overtrained. Breakfast and a good stretch post-shower reminded me that I was no more sore now than I was after a 10-miler or 2×4 tempo months ago. It is incredible what training will do for you if you just stick with it. I will close by stating, for the record, that this was my favorite long run to date. If you find yourself in San Francisco, do not be afraid of the hills. Just take them one step at a time. Enjoy!
Note: All of the photographs that are not my own are linked to the pages/photographers from which they were obtained.