Saturday, September 15, 2012

Running Across the Golden Gate Bridge

For me, running across the Golden Gate Bridge seemed like a bit of a pipe dream, akin to marrying a movie star for love or inheriting a designer shoe collection in your exact size--feasible, but highly unlikely.  It wasn't the physical challenge that made it seem difficult, but the logistical challenge.  For one, I live in Philadelphia, and San Francisco is a six-hour flight away.  Up until last week I'd never been anywhere north of LA on the West Coast, and my busy work schedule tends to make long trips more hassle than they're worth for a couple of days off.

Even when Mike and I planned our trip to San Francisco for a friend's wedding 2 hours south in Carmel, it still seemed unlikely.  Mike mentioned that he would like to spend one morning in California golfing, and I muttered something about running across the bridge, but that was it.

We drove down toward San Francisco on a Tuesday afternoon, stopping at Muir Woods, Tiburon, and Sausalito on the way.  When I first saw the bridge appear over the water in Tiburon off in the distance and shrouded with fog, I couldn't help but mutter, "Wow" and take a million fuzzy photos on my Blackberry.  When we drove over it a few hours later, I was sold.  I knew that I had to run it.

On Wednesday morning after stopping by the hotel Starbucks for a mocha latte and a banana, I visited the concierge desk to ask how to safely get to the park by the bridge.  He gave me a route that was over 16 miles, which seemed a bit ambitious on a trip where we had been awoken early every morning to people walking on squeaky floors above us or a Japanese business man making loud phone calls on speakerphone one room over.  I figured I could always take the long route back, but I wanted to get to the bridge in one piece.  I put my room key and a credit card in my pocket, grabbed my phone, and took a cab down to the Sports Basement in Presido by Crissy Field.  Crissy Field is that place where all of your Facebook friends take photos with the beach and bridge framed perfectly in the background.  It is not Golden Gate Park, which I may have found out the hard way...

My nice cab driver Amos gave me his cell number in case I had a problem or got stuck somewhere.  Then I was off, first left down the dirt trail along the beach and Crissy Field, winding towards the bridge. It was so foggy that I couldn't see the tops of the towers--even from a couple of hundred yards away.

I passed the Warming House, buzzing with chilly tourists ordering hot coffee and pastries, then followed signs up winding steps on my left, up the hill to Battery East and the bridge.

It was misty and foggy and gray, and I was so eager to get on the bridge that I started out way too fast and was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the top of the steps.  It probably didn't help that I was wearing four layers in an attempt to stay warm through the high winds on the span of the bridge.  (Apparently the bridge can sway up to 27.7 feet!)

At the top of the steps I bared to the right, winding on more dirt paths, then pavement with white paint dividing bike lanes from pedestrians.  It got a little hairy there, with me waving my arms at bikers who were so drawn in by the view that they weren't looking where they were going.  I passed the Bridge Round House and stayed to the right, and shortly there after I was on the bridge.  The path is on the right side of the bridge if you're coming from the San Francisco side, and is divided into a bike lane and a pedestrian lane.  (Why the man walking has to be Amish, I have no idea.)

The beginning of the path is dotted with yellow phones for suicide hotline counselors and slightly creepy signs that say, "Don't do it."  It's like an anti-Nike ad.  Maybe they should just mention that there are Great White sharks down there?

The signature orange railing only goes about waist height and there are openings between each rail that could totally mess with your head if you thought about it for too long.  There were some construction crews doing paint touch ups and replacing light bulbs along the way and bikers were instructed to walk their bikes through these stretches, although none of them actually did.  I had a nice police officer take my picture as proof.  (Please note what the wind has done to my hair, and the obvious fact that I'm not wearing any makeup.)

The traffic was loud and a few logging trucks went by and blew some dust in my eyes, but they never felt too close for comfort.  The only thing that really made me nervous was the bikers, some looking like they were ready for the Tour de France with clip in pedals and technical jerseys on, others on bicycles with baskets and cameras weighing down their necks looking over the bridge with their mouths gaping open.  Because the bike and pedestrian lanes are the same back and forth (pedestrians on the right, bikers on the left) when bikes pass, they veer into the pedestrian lane.  I was a little worried that an absent-mided biker might run me into the railing or off the path and into the road.

The bridge is 1.1 miles each way, with a few areas for outlooks over bay and out toward Alcatraz.  When you get to Marin County the other side, there is an outlook area on Marin County called Vista Point with a parking lot and restrooms, and a bunch of tourists taking pictures in front of giant photos of the bridge on a clear day, so they can fake their perfect moment.

From there you can turn around and go back the way you came, or head up the trails of Tiburon.  I chose to turn around, run back, and savor my victory by continuing on from there off to Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, and up Market Street back to our hotel.

Including the bridge both ways, the run ended up being about 11 miles.  It was easily the highlight of my trip, and one of the most empowering things I've done in a long time.  Best of all, I only had to pay for the cab ride!  I would highly recommend the experience to any runners visiting the San Francisco area.  The views are spectacular, and while the fog does usually burn off around 12:30 p.m., the crowds are much smaller in the morning which makes the bridge easier to navigate, and also makes you feel a little more like a rockstar for doing it!  Dress warmly, bring a camera, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Little Piece of Heaven

So I'm spoiled. We're staying in a gorgeous hotel in Carmel, California with a King Size bed, a tub that could moonlight as a swimming pool, and windows that open into a European courtyard with pale green shutters and window boxes overflowing with red flowers. There are no screens in the windows because there are no bugs. Just a fountain and chairs perfect for sitting and sipping a cup of coffee or glass of wine.

I woke up this morning and ate a delicious breakfast with what may well have been the best coffee I've ever had (and this from a girl who learned to like it in the cafes of Rome and would choose her Keurig coffeemaker as one of the three items she would rescue from a burning building) before seeing Mike off for his round of golf in our rented obnoxiously blue Mustang.

I shuffled through the paper before lacing up my sneakers and sticking $20, a credit card, and my room key in my pocket. Then I took off, first for Mission Ranch, the property owned by Clint Eastwood that bills itslelf as one of the most beautiful places on the Monterey penninsula. I couldn't help but feel like I was tresspassing, about to be billed as a crazed fan of Mrs. Eastwood and Company. It was pretty though, complete with tennis courts and little white cottages, and a restaurant with a sing along piano bar Monday through Saturday.

From  I ventured up the road to Carmel Mission, and then back toward town and down to the beach. 

The beach is so different from the Jersey Shore I grew up with. Cliffs and tree covered hills surround one end with a hundred lush shades of green on the Pebble Beach golf corse on the other. I ran along the water line my neon Nike sneakers such a stark contrast to all of the natural beauty around me. My feet played tag with the waves, as I weaved in and out of barking dogs sprinting down the beach after tennis balls real or imagined. Children chased after them, their free-spirited laughter so genuine that it sounds like music. There are a couple of "serious" runners sprinkled in, mouths clenched in a straight line as if to threaten the sand, to say, "I will finish you, you will not defeat me." Today, I am not one of those runners. I'm the one who can't stop smiling, who greets every dog and seagull and has to stop every five seconds to take yet another picture. 

And now I'm sitting here, typing this on my Blackberry, sitting in the sand and watching two labs chase each other in and out of the water, bounding after a ball as it bobs over the waves. I got to wave hello to Mike on the golf course and snap a few photos of him along the way. The breeze is strong enough to make me welcome the sun that covers my shoulders like a warm blanket. The air smells like salt and seaweed. It's my own little heaven, if only I could transport everyone I love here with me.

Risk and Reward

I am not a good flyer. I used to be, back in a time before terrorists were a regular presence on the nightly news and before I developed a totally irrational fear of spontaneously falling out of the sky. I'll do it, I will just stress myself out about it for weeks prior until by the time my flight actually arrives, I'm so worn out that I have no choice but to give in, board the plane, and accept that my fate is in someone else's hands.
 Of course, in many ways I guess it always is. It's in the hands of the tractor trailer driver behind me on my morning commute, in the hands of the chef at the family restaurant in town who knows just how fresh the chicken is in tonight's special. It's in the hands of every doctor I've ever visited, employer I've ever interviewed with, or man I've ever dated.
But as I sit here now on a beach in Carmel, with the ocean in front of me and the greens of Pebble Beach behind me, I can't help but think that without a shadow of a doubt, it's all worth the risk.
Without trusting a chef, you'll never have the kind of meal where you literally can't help but say, "yum" after every bite. Without trusting an employer, you'll never find your dream job, or at least be happy there for very long. Without trusting a date, you'll never find the loving security of a relationship where you know that someone in the universe gets you for exactly who you are, and will give his or her left limb to make you happy.
Without getting on a plane and trusting your pilot, you'll never see the view from above the clouds. You'll never get to experience a place so outside of your everyday realm that it reassures you that God has a plan and a vision, and everything is right in the world.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Downside to Marathon Training

So beyond the obvious part about spending hours on end running (which some people would consider torture in itself) marathon training can have some other unexpected consequences, including:

1) For one, I am starving.  All the time.  Well, that's not entirely true.  After I run, I want absolutely nothing to do with food.  I have to force myself to eat, when all I really want to do is take a nap and a shower, or lie down and watch reruns of Gossip Girl.  Then about two days later I can eat a full pizza and two hours later be ready for another meal.  Every night at 11 p.m., my stomach is growling.  It's totally annoying.

2) For another, my toes hurt all the time.  I learned the hard way the first time that I trained for a marathon that runners usually go up a full shoe size for running shoes because your feet swell when you run long distances, and if you don't get larger shoes your toenails will turn black and fall off.  Lovely.  Now I have all 10 toenails and order 9.5 Nikes, but I still feel like someone stuck pencils up my toenails.

3) Maybe most surprisingly (but maybe not considering #1) a lot of marathon runners actually gain weight.  I think there are probably a few reasons for that.  For one, if you typically run 25 miles a week, and still only run about 25 miles a week (even if you do 16 of them at once) you're still burning the same number of calories for the week, but your brain and body feel like you've worked way harder.  That means not only does your stomach act like you haven't eaten in a year, but your brain also thinks that you've "earned" that extra Whoopie Pie, scoop of Nutella, or serving of frozen yogurt.  For another, your body is being pushed to the limit and it holds onto extra fuel to prepare for the next time you decide to torture yourself on a treadmill.  So in other words, if you think you're going to run a marathon and look like a supermodel, you might have another thing coming.

4)  I have to do a lot of laundry.  A lot.

(Yes, that is totally me on the left.)

5) On days when I don't have runs, I get a little antsy, and a little cranky.  It's like I'm so used to having running as an outlet now that when I don't, I feel a little off.  How weird is that?

So that's it.  Happy Labor Day!  I'm off to do laundry, eat my face off, and look cranky!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Red Gatorade Season

Normally I'm not a big fan of sports drinks.  While I think they're great for hardcore athletes... Tour de France cyclists, soccer players, professionals in the NBA or NFL, etc. I fear that they are mostly consumed by teenagers sitting on the couch and playing video games.  They have a ton of sugar, multiple servings per bottle, and for anyone completing an average workout on a given day, they may very well consume more calories drinking a Gatorade than they actually burn exercising.  There.  Rant over
That said, every year around August I get the itch.  I play around on and look at training plans.  I plot out my weekends, making sure I have a few hours open.  I (quite literally) dust of the treadmill, and I pick bottles of Red Gatorade off the shelf at the grocery store.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is marathon season.
Of course, some of us are happier about this than others.  For my mom, it means one more thing to worry about, as she is always convinced that I will have a heart attack/get kidnapped/break something/wear myself out/or have some sort of undefinable problem that she hasn't come up with yet.  For Clyde it means a few hours outside because he will either bark at or attempt to jump on the moving treadmill.  For Mike it means refilling my water bottle, putting up with the noise, and loving me even though I'm a sweaty, snotty mess by the time I'm finished.
I realize that marathon training is something that seems insane to a lot of people, especially when you're completing a lot of your long runs on a treadmill.  The questions inevitably come up from friends and family members... Don't  you get bored?  How do you do it?  Don't you get tired?  Mostly I just hear, "I don't know how you do it."
To that I say, it's like anything else.  If you want to do it, you'll do it.  People can get used to just about anything... 14-hour work days, waking up every two hours to a crying baby, a 2-hour commute, going gluten free, giving speeches in public...they just have to have the right motivation.
For me, that motivation is the feeling I get on Sunday night knowing that I accomplished something I can be proud of over the weekend.  It's the belief that my body is strong, and that even though I will never have a six-pack, a face free of wrinkles, freckles, and brown spots, or arms that look perfect in pictures, my body works.  It's that belief that I can spend the rest of my day watching reruns of The Hills and eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches (not that that's what I'm doing right now or anything) without feeling remotely guilty about it.  It's raising money for a charity that I care about.  Mostly, I guess it is just getting to do something that I enjoy, that is just for me... and if I end up getting to drink some Red Gatorade in the process, well that's just dandy.