Thursday, June 19, 2008

Running Adventures Over The Golden Gate

I don’t know what exactly inspired me to run so long yesterday. Maybe it was the daunting realization that marathon Sunday was less than two months away. Maybe it was the sight of all the runners and bikers already out on the boardwalk at half past five in the morning. Or maybe it was the intimidation of running in a foreign place under mysterious skies on unfamiliar roads and trails that made me run further than I’ve yet run this year. Whatever the cause, I’m grateful because it made for the most incredible running adventure I’ve had in a very very long time.

It all started when I unexpectedly woke up at 5am on conference day. Because lectures didn’t start until 8:30am and I hadn’t had a good run in a couple of days, I decided to lace up the shoes and run over to The Embarcadero. My plan was for a short 3 mile run to Pier 39 to bid good morning to the sea lions that commonly play and frolick in the docks nearby. The sun had barely pierced the horizon by the time I started my run, but already there was bunches of runners out on the walkways. The weather was unseasonably cool the past few days since my arrival, and coupled with the dense fog covering much of San Francisco, the early morning breeze blowing off the ocean front made the early morning downright frigid. Still, I was quite content to know that I was running miles while the city was still mostly asleep.

By I reached the pier where I had intended to stop, the wind had died down and the dawning sun was shimmering specks of light on the water. It was still rather cool, but having warmed up sufficiently in the previous miles, I felt rather comfortable. Just as I was about to stop, I saw a large running group of 10 or so pressing onward in front of me and decided to follow. Since I hadn’t planned to run further than the pier, I thought I’d run with the group to see where they were headed so I wouldn’t get lost. Unfortunately for me, after about another block and a half, they made a U turn and started running back. I didn’t know what to do, but since I was still feeling somewhat fresh, I decided to continue running onward…at least until the end of the Embarcadero.

I ran through Fisherman’s Wharf, which brought me to the end of the Embarcadero; through Jefferson Street, through a park on Marina Boulevard, then along a trail next to a beach, then onto the Presidio. Eight miles later, I arrived at the northern tip of the San Francisco Bay. For all intents and purposes, this should really have been the end of my run, since the beachfront trail ended there. I took a mini-break at that point to assess my scenic run and enjoy the view. I was about to head back when I saw a car climb up a really steep hill on my right hand side. I didn’t know where that car was headed or where the path led, but because I had been running on a flat path the entire way up to this point, I felt I needed to run up the hill just to give my hamstrings and quadriceps a little workout.

The hill climb was a little strenuous and difficult. I was about to complain and turn back when I scaled the crest of the hill, made a sharp right hand turn and literally felt my jaw drop in amazement, because right in front of me, less than 100 feet away, was the majestic structure known as the Golden Gate Bridge! I must have stood there for a good 5 minutes just staring and saying “Wow!” I have driven past the bridge on a previous trip, but had never seen it up close on foot before. And even though I had already run 9 miles, and had struggled up a steep hill to get there, I knew I just had to run across. So I did.

Let me tell you…running across the Golden Gate Bridge was definitely one of the most thrilling runs of my life. On the one hand, I was awed by the incredible views all around me. Because the pedestrian walkway sits right to the right of the road and next to the edge of the bridge, it offers a panoramic view of all the surrounding land and water down below. However, once I got beyond being blown away by the scenery, my feet became quite numb from the altitude. Yes, unbeknownst to me up to this point, one can actually develop a fear of heights from running across a bridge (even if it is one of the tallest suspension bridges in the world). And the more I tried not to acknowledge the fact that I was a wuss, and should enjoy the awesome view as much as possible, the more my fear became a paranoia. At times, I even imagined that any minute I’d see Magneto rising out of the water, and use his mutant powers to transport this bridge over to Alcatraz (an Xmen III reference for those who never saw the movie). Also, not only was the bridge massively tall, it was extraordinary long too. It literally took me more than ten minutes to cross it, which is quite a long period of time when you’re sure you’re somehow going to end up falling over the railing!

Once I made it over the bridge and into the safety of the Marin County Visitor’s Center, I paused a bit to enjoy the cool breeze and the incredible scenery before psyching myself up to run back over to San Francisco. I’ll admit I had to close my eyes for part of the way back to calm the nerves. Eventually, I made it back over, down the hill and onto the running path for the trip back.

By the time I made it back to my hotel, what had originally started as a 3 mile easy run to greet the sea lions became a 20 mile amazing journey through three different parks, four different boulevards, four different subclimates, and one majestic bridge that became both a thrill and a terror both at the same time.

19 comments:

audgepodge said...

This post pretty much summarizes why I drove an hour to SF every weekend for all my long runs last summer. You can't beat running in the city - the views, the atmosphere, the weather... just not the same down in the south bay.

Of course, now you have sort of ruined the surprise of the SF marathon course!

Just kidding!

Jamie said...

Very cool run! I'm sad when I actually used to travel there I wasn't much of a runner. And yeah totally got the xmen reference :)

Irish Cream said...

Wow, Lam!! Sure sounds like your run yesterday kicked the pants off my yawn of a treadmill run! LOVED reading your account of it!

Andrew is getting fit said...

Oh man I am so jealous. That sounds like an awesome run. :)

Victoria said...

I literally just stumbled on your blog. I live in the Bay Area and I've only run across the GG bridge a couple of times, but the BEST way to run across it is by doing The Relay (runner #6), where you get to run across it in the middle of the night, all by yourself. It's so eerie and perfect. Of course, as you've discovered, the bridge isn't bad no matter what time of day you run, but I'm just sayin', that if you ever have the chance to run The (incredibly fun) Relay, you should a) do it and b) insist on being Runner #6. The only thing better is running in the hills of Marin...

Xenia said...

Wow! That sounds like a fantastic run. Glad you enjoyed yourself.

D10 said...

Running 17 unplanned miles is crazy. But, I can totally see how that happened, what a great adventure. It must have been such a wonderful and beautiful run.

I would have had thoughts of being blown off the bridge too.

Sarah said...

I admit I am jealous. I spent my childhood in the SF Bay Area and despite going back and forth over the bridge by car many times I never once had got the opportunity to walk or run it.

I don't know how much longer you plan on being in SF, but another area/street I would highly recommend as having the potential for an awesome run is the Great Highway which parallels the ocean shore at the western edge of the city. It's part of the Golden Gate National Rec Area.

Nitmos said...

That sounds awesome. Before you said it (wrote it?), I was totally thinking I would get nervous at some point while running on the bridge. You want to do it but, darn, its long and large. That's one for the memory banks.

sRod said...

This is exactly why I want to run the SF Marathon!

The Laminator said...

Thanks for the cool comments.

audgepodge - I think it'll be different running the bridge with 20,000+ than by my lonesome. I totally understand why you'd do all your long runs in SF, the scenery is fantastic.

jamie - Thanks. Xmen reference was so totally in my head as I was running and freaking out about how I was going to end up in the water down below.

Irish - welcome back from your vacay. Treadmill running is definitely hard in its own right.

Andrew - thanks. That run was fun.

Victoria - thanks for dropping by. Wow, running GG at night?! What a cool concept. I'd definitely think about it if I didn't live on the other side of the coast. Unfortunately, I'm leaving town tomorrow so won't have a chance to run in the city anymore.

Xenia - I most definitely enjoyed myself...but truthfully more after the run than during!

d10 - Yeah, running unplanned miles made me feel like a kid again. No rules, no boundaries, free to explore new running paths...it's a shame that it's such a foreign concept to most of us.

Sarah - thanks. It's so totally different driving vs running across the bridge. It was so surreal! Thanks for the suggestion of running routes but I'm leaving town tomorrow so I won't get to do anymore running explorations. I would so love to though!

Nitmos - You totally hit the nail on the head. Honestly, even though it was completely awesome, I don't think I'd ever do it again...at least by myself. It is so very tall and so very long, it feels likely an endless expedition.

P.O.M. said...

That sounds dreamy.

Tiny Frog said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog!! I have added you to my list of runners blogs that I read daily. Now I just have to read some of yours!!!

Shilingi-Moja said...

Remind me to **NEVER** head out on a short run with you! I'll just meet you at the bridge. (LOL) Running over the GG Bridge sounds like an awesome run and I'd love to do it. One day....

Laura said...

Glad to hear you're enjoying San Fran! I'm think I'm going to give it another shot and go back in August to do the SF Marathon - running over the bridge sounds amazing.

Jacky said...

i hope your SF marathon does not include the GG bridge - or does it? if it does, you'll definitely sprint that part - hehee.

Glad you enjoyed the 20 mile run. don't know if i'll ever get to that point - i need to conquer the mud run first.

Alex Gonzalez said...

Ahh 20 mile training runs....my quest for sure...San Fran is an awesomely picturesque city.
As for bridge paranoia, I know the feeling. It can be pretty overwhelming. Awesome you had a great training run. Wow. I am jealous!

MissAllycat said...

That. Sounds. Amazing.

A spontaneous 20-miler? Unheard of!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog and as one always looking for a good run when I travel, followed your route (at least 7 miles of it)! Definately one for the memories. Thank you.

 
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