I make no secret of having a passion for finding ways to run while traveling, and have had the pleasure of running in many notable cities around the world. Seizing the opportunity to explore these cities from a predawn perspective provides a vivid experience, and running let’s you cover far more territory than even spending the entire day walking can typically allow. Additionally, running in a different location provides the opportunity to regain your mojo, which, if you push yourself hard enough, becomes an almost essential skill to get through any marathon training season.
This year’s trip to San Francisco for the SEMICON West show (or rather a bunch of meetings in a suite near the shoe, as ten meetings over two days doesn’t allow for any booth visiting) was timely. While only ten weeks back to training, the recent heat and humidity in the Midwest and a rapid increase in weekly mileage to seventy had left me drained, and I found myself looking at my watch (even when usually left on time-of-day) to count down the remaining minutes far more than usual on the 4 double-digit mileage runs per week I’d been logging. And I hadn’t left home for a trip since our family vacation to Cancun, over six months ago. I was itching for some new terrain, and looked forward to two solid days of running in San Francisco.
In fact, I was so eager to run, that I added a quick 5-miler the afternoon I arrived, looping from the Marriott Marquis down to AT&T Ball Park, and along a bit of The Embarcadero and back. Like most mid-day city runs though, it was marked more by dodging and starts and stops than by any particular quality, though since I’d run 6 miles already that morning, this was more of a bonus run.
Tuesday morning was the first opportunity for a run backed by good motivation. For once, I knew I would be wishing the run didn’t have to end instead of counting down minutes. And I took advantage of the chilly (if damp) San Francisco air by putting on the arm sleeves that make me feel fast and knocking out 10 marathon-paced miles as part of an 18-miler. I used my favorite route out The Embarcadero and across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, providing a pure benchmark against a nearly identical run last year.
And perhaps this is the first moment when stupidity began to creep into the plans. Instead of relying on a recent 10-mile race to dictate my present marathon pace (6:48), and further acknowledging the toll that lots of miles in heat and humidity had been taking on this aging body, I got it in my mind to run at the desired end-of-season marathon pace (6:30).
This, and the choice to start the MP miles after climbing up to the Golden Gate Bridge, just before the steady upward slope of the bridge itself, turned the early miles into a “push”, something more than “comfortably hard”. A 7:07 first mile led to a little panic, but the subsequent downhill and mixed slope miles gave the opportunity to recover both breath and confidence. And eventually I did find a 6:40 groove, and enjoyed passing another of the many runners out in the second half of my run, who muttered under his breath, “I hate when that happens.” A late fade to a closing 6:51 mile (as I tried also to close a persistent gap with another runner who had been running the exact same pace for the four miles since I first saw him at Fort Mason), and losing that desire to keep going forever, clearly showed that this workout had been made too difficult.
Nonetheless, I was bound and determined to run my medium-long run the next day, as I really wanted to follow Laura Pizmoht’s suggestion to run in Golden Gate Park. I also like the long/medium-long combo as a training tool, though the “policy” (perhaps more of a “guideline”) is to keep both runs suitably easy. The hope was that keeping this at recovery pace would allow for the miles and aerobic gains while avoiding any damage.
Maybe that approach was the first encroachment of stupid for the day. The second came from not recognizing the impact of a few beers and bluntly awful glasses of Hungarian dessert wine during dinner with a customer, accompanied by sparkling water that I generally can’t stand to drink. Not a hangover, but definitely not a good hydration strategy. Not generally a problem at 55 degrees, but San Francisco’s summer humidity (100% on this morning) still has an impact on your sweat rate, as did the reflective light vest I wore.
Finally, I forgot to check the elevation changes I’d find going too and through Golden Gate Park. I know San Francisco is hilly – I took advantage of that in running hill sprints last year. But I thought this route might avoid the hills. Knowing about the hills wouldn’t have changed my approach, but I would have been more mentally prepared to face them.
There can be a fine line between fun and stupid, and after the three miles to get to Golden Gate Park and around a mile into it, this run was not on the fun side of that line. The originally planned 15 miles, previously hedged back to 13, was wanting to be 12 at most, and it was a struggle to just do the extra mile before turning around. Breathing was labored, the heart rate was undoubtedly more elevated than I’d usually find running at a >8:00/mile pace. By mile 7, I was beginning to wonder if I’d make it back in time to have breakfast before my first meeting.
And then, realizing I was in a park, I actually thought to look for a water fountain. It took another half-mile, but there it finally was. After a lengthy drink, I was recharged. Easy felt easy again, and I was naturally accelerating to the usual 7:40/mile recovery pace. Even the hills seemed to turn favorable at that very moment. I didn’t regret turning around enough to want to re-lengthen the run (and thus toy with stupid again), but I did wish I’d taken more of an opportunity to explore the traffic-free confines of Golden Gate Park. The run had ended up fun, and maybe even valuable, after all.
42 miles in three days at this early point in my recovery from Achilles tendinitis and in only week six of the eighteen-week marathon training plan, with a hard workout in the middle of the longest run this year included, looks stupid on paper. And it will sound stupid to some coaches whose advice I admire. But to take advantage of the reprieve in the climate and learn more about a city I’ve run in over twenty times, I’ll choose to toe the stupid line time and again. But maybe next time I’ll take a pass on the Hungarian wine.