Sunday, December 26, 2004

Running In San Francisco

(pictured: San Francisco runner Chris Lundstrom)

If you’re willing to brave foggy, windy, 50-degree temperatures–in June–a swathe of unexpected hills of various altitudes, city traffic and the occasional hippie drum circle , San Francisco is an incredible city to run, jog or amble through. Scenery, greenery and gradual challenges await runners in San Francisco, a city where you can find a 5K, 10K, half-marathon race or simply a friendly run with strangers almost any weekend of the year.

Although I began running in high school (cross-country and track) at the time I was also an avid skateboarder. San Francisco is a skateboarder’s utopia, provided you can deal with the wear and tear of landing on concrete, cartilage damage and over-zealous cops. If my knees allowed for it, I would skateboard daily, but running is increasingly becoming an alternate for those who crave an individual active outlet that involves navigating local and foreign terrain.

Big yearly races include the 70, 000-person strong Bay To Breakers , which crosses the entire city from east to west; there’s also the whimsical Run To The Far Side , 10K based on Gary Larsen’s comic strip and the Zippy 5K , featuring the famed pinhead cartoon character. But in addition to the competitive, corpo-sponsored mainstream races, there are plenty of renegade and grassroots running events throughout the year as well. Flash-mob running is not uncommon either.

If you fancy a training group or running team as a means to motivate your 12-hour-a-day working self, groups, from the drunk-and-disorderly Hash House Harriers , to more sedate PacWest Athletics, meet regularly to develop fitness and introduce all levels of runners to the activity. Every Thursday I train with the K-Stars running group, which includes men and women who range in age from 12 to 60, including a former Army captain and a Grammy-nominated experimental classical composer.

You don’t have to be a jock to run: many former and current punk rockers, ravers and progressive types like to get sweaty. The tattoo and dyed hair quotient ratio is probably higher than you might think at races, ‘cause after all, many runners were outcasts, artists and anti-athletes in their youth. So grab a pair of shoes, sign up for a race or just get out and explore distance on your own two feet.

Kezar: A public, rubber-surface track open daily until 9PM, located adjacent Golden Gate Park at Frederick Street at Stanyan Street. Near Haight St, restaurants, Cala Foods supermarket and the dreaded hippie hill!

Golden Gate Park: 50 city blocks of paradise. Trails, polo field running circuit and varied courses for all levels. The dirt trails, botanical gardens, duck ponds, lakes and diversions make it an always-new and challenging option. Secret spot: find Strawberry hill (a trail surrounded by Stowe Lake in the middle of the park!) and view the city from the top.

Ocean Beach: From Fulton Ave to the north to Sloat Ave. to the south, this flat stretch of Pacific Ocean beach features brilliant sunsets and a soft surface option for runners with bad knees, very accessible by public transportation (5 Fulton bus, N Judah MUNI train).

The Presidio: San Francisco’s most challenging trail running. Near Golden Gate Bridge, miles and miles of winding up-and-down-hill dirt trails surrounded by pine and eucalyptus groves.

Crissy Field/Marina: With the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts dome as your backdrop, run along San Francisco Bay, and don’t forget to high-ten the bridge at Fort Point. Nearby are the city’s best running shoe stores including Sports Basement, Metro Sports and Fleet Feet.