Running San Francisco’s Bay and Breakers with Strava

by Paul Thompson

Sham and I have just returned from a week with her sister, husband and new born baby in Emeryville, just north of Oakland CA. and across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. It was my second ever trip to the West Coast – the first was when I ran Bay to Breakers in May of 2014 –  and this time I had more days to get acquainted with the local running scene along with my new running pal Strava who promised to record it all.

Before I share a few of the highlights of the week a few casual observations on the Bay Area. On paper the Bay Area’s vital economic statistics are impressive. It’s economy exceeds half a trillion dollars, similar in size to Argentina, Sweden and Belgium. It’s GDP per capita is the highest in the US and at over $75k comfortably bests London and Singapore. It’s arguably the innovation capital of the world. Almost all the world’s biggest and most life changing companies hail from the Bay Area – Apple, Google, Facebook to name but a handful.

The running scene is similarly impressive if not life changing. First impressions were favorable. Our port of entry was San Francisco International Airport. Futuristic in design if not in the detail. We boarded the BART, after navigating the querky ticket vending machines, and 40 minutes later were at our destination. It was a sun soaked day with temperatures in the 50Fs.

East Bay Trail, Berkeley 

My first run was a 10 miler along the East Bay Trail where Berkeley meets the San Francisco Bay.  The first mile or so is an acquired taste I’m never likely to acquire – a jungle of big box retail outlets and malls with a myriad of roadways. But the flat bike trail along the shore line of the San Francisco Bay with its spectacular backdrop – starring Alcatraz, the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and more – was ample recompense for having to navigate traffic lights and shoppers at the start.

Being my first run, and with a strong headwind as I ran up to Marina Park, a narrow headland that juts into the bay, I was planning an easy run. But my Endomondo app, soon to be usurped, told me that I was already running low 6s by the fourth mile. As well as taking in spectacular views I also spotted Snoopy and the Red Barron twice. This was an out and back with the turnaround at the entrance to the Eastshore State Park. The strong wind buffeted me most of the way since Marina Bay from around mile two had been either behind or alongside me. With plans of a steady run abandoned in the opening few miles I decided to pick it up and make it a moderate tempo – 10 miles @ 6:20 average pace!

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Bay Bridge to Treasure Island

After much encouragement, that verged on nagging, from friends, both runners and cyclists, I’d conceded to retire Endomondo in favor of the new kid on the block Strava.  Strava’s first workout would be the Bay Bridge towards San Francisco. I’d heard there was a new bike cum pedestrian path that got you almost to Treasure Island. So I thought I’d check it out. It did not disappoint.

Soon after the unavoidable road and retail section  mentioned above I was on the trail headed to the bridge. To the left hand side of the trail was a gravel lane.  The first few miles were largely under flyovers but as the bridge came into view I found I had Oakland harbor to my left and a ten lane highway to my right. And as the path commenced its 3 mile climb to the turnaround on my left I had the old road bridge in the process of being demolished.

The great thing about this run was that after the long steady climb – with impressive views of Treasure Island, the city skyline and old bridge – the way back was largely a steady descent with views of the Oakland skyline, Berkeley and the low lying hills behind to savor.  At the finish Strava revealed I’d covered the 10 miles @ 6:20 average pace (again!).  And that I now held, amongst those that had run it using Strava, the second fastest time on the out and back segment on the bridge. Within barely an hour of finishing two former club mates who’d relocated to San Francisco had connected. Kudos!

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Golden Gate Park

A few days after arriving we  headed to San Francisco to visit Sham’s friends Lilian and Scott and to run in Golden Gate Park. Their place on The 10462813_10153054110321645_4262976348708960836_nAvenues was just two blocks south of the park. I’d gotten familiar with the park on our last trip to San Francisco: the last 3.5 miles of the Bay to Breakers passes through the central spine of the park. While Sham and her old school buddy Lilian ran a loop of the central section, including the high point with its panoramic views from Strawberry Hill, I picked my way around the trails at the outermost edge of the park.

As some early evening fog rolled in the temperatures, especially closer to the ocean, dropped into the fresh 50s. I figured I needed to keep the houses on the perimeter of the park within eye shot.  The run was varied – sometimes I was on bridle paths but most times narrow trails that weaved, ducked and dived and occasionally passed through the equivalent of a homeless person’s bedroom. The flora and fauna was as varied as perhaps any urban park I’ve ran in. Almost five miles into the run I passed the windmill at the south west corner and ran to the beach to catch a view of the breakers.  The route home took me steadily uphill for over four miles. The Strava app caught it all – 10 miles @ 7:15 average pace.

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As I circled Lilian’s neighborhood to get to 10 miles I came to realize the locals were very polite and accommodating. Even cars would stop to let you run across the road. This was most welcome but felt foreign. That feeling meant only one thing – I was now hardwired as a New Yorker but would readily be rewired as a West Coaster.

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