Conquering New Terrain: 9 Miles Through Golden Gate Park

I tried not to go into Wednesday’s pre-planned 9-miler through Golden Gate Park with the highest of expectations. Anyone who knows me as a runner is perfectly aware of my fear of new or unknown terrain, a quirky distaste that’s likely developed after so many mornings spent navigating what’s become the very familiar streets of Manhattan.

From the start, I was sure to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, creating a lengthy list of must-have items to pack (you know, good sports bra, Sparkly Soul accessories, etc.) in order to prevent any mishaps during the run. I found that creating a sense of normalcy before even heading out the door actually turned out to be a huge advantage, and that not having to go on a scavenger hunt for last minute headbands, socks and other such equipment eliminated any anxiety I might have otherwise been harboring prior to the morning of July 4th.

Noah and I woke up nice and early on our first full day in San Francisco, and while we’d udually have lounged around the apartment before running on any other weekend (or vacation) morning while munching on breakfast foods and sipping on coffee, we instead got right to it, jumping out of bed and slipping on too-bright gear in order to see what the city had in store.

Of course, because we were in an unfamiliar setting, there were a few items we checked for before leaving for our excursion:

  • Phone (with camera)
  • Credit card (for our post-run brunch)
  • Cash (for water, since we weren’t sure where the fountains were)
  • Hotel keys (because those would just suck to forget)

After so many consecutive weeks of hot, sweaty runs along New York City’s humid streets, the crisp 57-degree temperature and surprisingly sunny, fog-less skies on Wednesday morning were, well, a breath of fresh air.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my New York City runs. But for one day, and one day only, I was indescribably happy to be enjoying the change of scenery. Reasons why San Francisco’s weather in July is so much better for runners than New York’s:

  1. It’s very, very dry. What that means is that you break a sweat eventually, but not after a mere block or 2.
  2. It’s perfect shorts and a long sleeved shirt weather; I at no point wanted to strip down and jump into the nearest lake.
  3. The look on fellow runners’ faces appear to be content and optimistic, not as though they’re forcing every stride if only to reach the next water fountain quicker.
  4. There’s a breeze, thanks to that giant body of water known as the Pacific Ocean that lies adjacent to the city.
  5. Cars — brace yourself — stop for you when you want to cross the street. What they most definitely do not do is try to run you over despite the fact that you are much smaller and less powerful than a moving motor vehicle.

Within moments of my inaugural west coast run, I began to revel in the opportunity to take in all the city had to offer on foot, including hills — like this massive incline we inevitably faced immediately after turning our first corner. (Really, it’s much steeper in person.)

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this would be the worst of the climbs. In pestering everyone I knew who had been to or lived in San Francisco at some point in their lives, I obviously asked about the hills and how they’d affect my run ahead of time. To all of you who suggested that Golden Gate Park’s inclines might be remotely comparable to those of Central Park, all I can say is that you’re horribly mistaken. Meet me at Harlem Hill. I dare you. See you there.

(See? Nice, flat, cab-less surfaces.)

At any rate, the plan was to run through the park until we reached the Pacific Ocean about 4 and a half miles away (which, as Noah put it, is much more pleasant than hitting Harlem, referring to Central Park’s northern most region). Being that we were on a “fun run,” we never hesitated to stop and check out the small artsy outlets of the park, like the Japanese Tea Garden, making those two or so hours all that much more interesting.

While we certainly weren’t running for speed, just knowing that I was covering 9 miles was reassurance enough that I’d be okay to train for the Philly RnR Half Marathon, which begins in a few weeks. Overall, unlike other instances in which I’ve covered new grounds, I felt strong, happy and confident for the duration of the run, and genuinely enjoyed the range of terrain offered, from pavement to sand and even a bit of trails.

Around mile 5, I finally greeted the roaring and furious Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore was music to my ears; and despite my typical tendency to blast tunes while running, this alone was reason enough to eschew headphones when conquering a new city.

Still not convinced to pack your sneakers next time you travel to a new city? How about this…

…or this…

…or the fact that we spent the rest of our day eating our way around the city because, oh wait, we ran 9 miles. Yea. Bring on the champagne and sourdough bread, San Fran.

Ok, so in most instances, 9 miles is far more than is required to have an excuse to indulge without any regard on vacation. Still, I highly recommend at least squeezing a short to medium run into your next getaway, if not for the dietary aftermath then for the chance to take awesome pictures wearing brightly colored mesh and sparkly headbands. Because it’s way cooler than looking put-together anyway.

  • Tell me, do you like to exercise (or run?) on vacation?
  • What’s your favorite destination run ever?

27 thoughts on “Conquering New Terrain: 9 Miles Through Golden Gate Park

  1. This is awesome. 🙂 Great pictures and sounds like great fun!

    It’s hit or miss about exercising on vacation; often, if there’s a gym, I will, or if I remember the pack the yoga DVDs we’re doing. I’m always hesitant about running in newer places. Though I do have to say, running in the cold in New Mexican mornings was pretty awesome. It was along the main thoroughfare near our hotel, but it was great fun to see what we normally whisked by in a car.

    This post may have changed my mind about running when I’m out of town!

  2. That does indeed look like a lot of fun!

    Running in Sydney’s botanical gardens with the sunrising over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge was pretty magical, if not very hot and sticky – even at before 7 a.m!

  3. I love planning running routes for my vacations. I had my heart set on running part of Central Park when I visited my friend in NYC this winter, and I have a hunch I’ll be dragging my guy out for a trail run when we head to the Georgia mountains for Thanksgiving.

  4. Welcome to my home — I do all my long runs in the park. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed! Now I want to go check out Central Park… I love a good hill challenge! (PS Come run the San Francisco Marathons some year — best summer marathon ever.)

    • Thanks for the welcome words! What an AMAZING place to do long runs. The uphill is gradual, but not killer at all, which was an awesome change. (Though 9 miles might have been a bit much for my piriformis issue. Oops!) You’re SO lucky to have the Pacific Ocean as a “go-to” place to run. Like I said, Harlem just ain’t the same, though I do love the park itself.

  5. San Francisco is still, and will always be, one of my favorite places to run, hands down. It’s a mere hours drive fro my parents home, so anytime I’m there, I try to squeeze in a SF day. Unfortunately since it’s just a day trip, not many miles have been logged in my running shoes, but many miles have been walked. I’ve also done Bay2Breakers twice and ran Nike Women’s 1/2 last fall. Beautiful backdrop for a short, medium, or long run/walk/stroll!

    • Well that just inspired me to consider a second trip for a fall half. (Though perhaps not this year. Flights are NOT cheap!) While running though, I was definitely thinking how great a race would be there. You’re right!

      • I highly recommend it 🙂 I won’t be in town/the state for Nike this year and am really bummed because I wanted revenge and to PR the course! It’ll have to wait until next fall I think. And you’re right, not cheap at all!

  6. Destination runs are always fun. You never know what you’ll find and getting out and getting some exercise is an added bonus. Love that last picture of you and the bridge. So fun/ky!

    • Nothing says “I hate you, legs” like adding a minor climbing wall to a 9 mile run 🙂 They’re fun. Sometimes they can be miserable. But, I suppose, you never regret them once they’re over. Fortunately, I loved every second of this one.

  7. “Cars — brace yourself – stop for you when you want to cross the street. What they most definitely do not do is try to run you over despite the fact that you are much smaller and less powerful than a moving motor vehicle.”

    I did not know such a place existed. Need to get to San Fran one day and see this for myself.

    • It’s WILD. I was literally confused. I also gave the “thank you” nod to each and every one in gratitude. It’s like another world!

    • Secretly plan a long(er) run to something like food, or beer, or something manly like that. That’ll get him to tack on an extra mile or two! Just have to be sneaky 🙂

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  10. Nice post! I’m running a 10k in Golden Gate Park this Sunday, Dec 9, 2012. I was very curious about the terrain as well… Is the park very hilly? I live in Jersey and am used to minimal terrain. Thanks.


    • I actually didn’t think it was as bad as people told me, but I’m used to running in Central Park. One way was super flat, the other was a long, slight incline. Nothing horrible though.

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