Monday, July 30, 2012

Running in San Francisco

Sunday July 29 was the International San Francisco marathon. Both Marketa (full marathon) and I (second half marathon) participated in the race. Neither of us really trained for it, we had signed up in the winter months when it seemed like a "fun" idea to run in the city among thousands of other people. Both of us have been running mostly on trails lately, putting in decent mileages, so we did not think about this event as anything exceptionally hard.
The logistics of the SF marathon are difficult: packet pickup one or two days before means dealing with the crowds and lack of parking. The race day was even harder: I dropped Marketa off at the Ferry Building start at 6AM, then drove to the Golden Gate park to leave the car at the underground garage (supposed to open at 6AM according to the website, in fact opening at 7AM) to get to the 2nd Half start line at Spreckels Lake.

Al least, there were enough port-a-potties here, although the line was endless. The full marathon area was even worse, with many restrooms not easily visible from the start and no clear instructions.

Then of course, there is the weather to deal with. Many hot weather states (AZ, TX) have marathons in the winter, which in my opinion should also be the case for SF. One of the attractions of running in SF is supposed to be the views of the city. In a dense morning fog, there are no views from the Golden Gate bridge. Fifty degrees Fahrenheit is supposed to be an ideal long distance running temperature, but drizzle and humidity makes it feel even colder, at least to me. The fog did not break even on the usually sunny Embarcadero site of the town at the finish line, until noon, so the Mylar blankets were used by many finishers, who kept shivering in the fenced off area, standing in long and slow lines after getting their race medals.

We both finished and both of us actually enjoyed our runs, simply because it feels nice to be running. OK, it did not feel that nice when I started to cramp after mile 8 on a steep downhill, and Marketa did not take her arm warmers and gloves off for the whole foggy run, but there was a sense of accomplishment for sure, when we met in the finish area.

I chose the 2nd half marathon because Marketa and I finished within a short time from each other and could meet at the finish. I was also looking forward to running around the Golden Gate park, which is beautiful, even on a gloomy and drizzly morning. I was curious about the famous Haight Street, but frankly, I was disappointed. Mostly by the terrible street surface, which had me looking down not to trip in potholes, but whenever I looked up, you see poles and wires, like in this image snatched off from Wikipedia:

I am sure to many people this is just a part of the neighborhood's character, but I cannot help myself but think that it reminds me of New Delhi more than a modern American metropolis. The next part of town along the course, between Mission St. and Mission Bay was really bad, I would not come here by myself at night. Mission Bay is one huge construction site these days, with the new UCSF campus and many biotechs finding a new home here.

The new buildings are very modern, but the huge structures of concrete and glass made me feel small and lost. So from a neighborhood which looks like it was built by bums to a socialist style opulence. I think I would take the newly yuppie-zed Czech suburbs...

...or a historical Italian town

....over SF. So to finish my negative blog post on a negative note: Sorry Frisco, I am not coming back to run or bike your streets again!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dual Eyeware Sunglasses - First Impression

Getting older is mostly fun, but sometimes it may be less fun for people around me. During the California road trip, my friend John realized that I had trouble seeing the map details as well as the numbers on my computer, when I wore contact lenses, and he got tired answering my "are we almost there?" questions. I am short-sighted and I have been using contacts for sports for a long time. With age, a weird form of long-sightedness creeps up, but disappointingly it adds onto my primary vision impairment, and does not seem to even it out. See, I normally wear progressive multifocal glasses, but they can't make that gradient of power with contacts.
John has recently pointed me to a company who makes bifocal cycling sunglasses. You can buy them online, but I did not know how much power I needed to compensate my contacts to see better at the handlebar distance. I found couple of bike shops in Santa Cruz listed as dealers, called to confirm they had the glasses in stock, and set out for a road ride on Sunday starting near Skeggs preserve on Star Hill Road towards Santa Cruz. The ride itself was beautiful, I was riding on the fog edge, alternating between warm and sunny and cool coastal micro environments. The plan worked, I bought the $50 glasses with the +2.0 strength and gave them a first test on a Monday ride.

I like the shape and the wrap-around style, as well as the brown lens color (also come in grey). Ventilation is just so so, compared to my old Oakleys, and the nose pads are not adjustable. But the main point, using the bottom part of the lens to look down on your phone, cycling computer or a map worked great!

There is a problem, though and I will see if I get used to this: when clipping into my right pedal from standing, I like to do a quick visual check. With the glasses, the shoe and pedal are a blur. Next, while riding, I also like to perform quick visual checks on what gear I'm in (none of my bikes have gear indicators), again, looking down on your chain rings or cassette, you get a blurry image. Tilting your head way down to use the upper part of the lenses solves this issue, but I am sure this will take a little getting used to. So far, I take the advantages over this little inconvenience, and for fifty bucks I will be able to finally see how fast I ride :-)


You often hear people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area say how diverse this place is. It may mean different things to different folks, but if you look at the population, cultures, geography, nature and many other things, you'd have to agree. To me, the most evident diversity is in natural environments, weather, trails and the fact that you may encounter wildlife forms just outside of urban sprawls and industrial complexes.
The Saturday ride with my friend Pavel was a good example. It was a hot day, even the Belmont Blow cooling fan was not working, so we went to ride trails around the Steven's canyon, Montebello and Skyline Ridge. Taking a rest at the intersection of Canyon Trail and Bella Vista trail, Pavel noticed a movement in grass on the trail side. A big rattlesnake was sliding down the hillside towards our bikes. It went slow, its head up and an S-coil ready to strike at something just in case. We stepped away, but the snake must have sensed us, pausing along its way and moving its head side to side. Then it slid through the spokes of my rear wheel! I was so fascinated by the animal that I got my phone camera out too late, by then the rattler was almost gone in grass. For the rest of the ride, I kept scanning the trail ahead for snakes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Elusive Mt. Umunhum

Mt. Umunhum is the fourth highest peak of Santa Cruz Mountains, according to Google. I have ridden my bike to the summits of Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tam and several of the high points on the peninsula Skyline ridge, but I have never been to this mountain. You can see it from almost every high elevation point around the Bay, and it is easily recognizable by the silhouette of an old military tower on the top.
After a few days of being chilled by the infamous "Belmont blow" and some harder trail running, I came up with an ambitious plan to ride to Mt. Umunhum, crossing several mountain ridges along the way, hoping for warmer temperatures of the South Bay.
The ride started at Steven's Creek park and after a quick climb on Mt. Eden road and a descend to Saratoga, I pointed my front wheel upwards onto the Bohlman Rd. This is a 4-mile hill with an average grade of 9.8%. As I started climbing, I knew this was not my day. It was hot, my legs were sore and I sweated like a pig, feeling all the warning signs of an incomplete recovery after previous day's 11 mile run. But I made even the super steep section of "On Orbit Rd" without stopping and eventually reached the 2500 feet summit. The views from this road are amazing, this one is looking towards the Cupertino quarry, Montebello Rd and Black Mt:

But on this day, neither the views nor the interesting architecture of some of the hilltop houses improved my mood.
So far, I could not see the mountain I was trying to reach, but after cresting the ridge and starting to descend on the Montevina dirt road, Mt. Umunhum suddenly popped into a full view, seeming so much closer than before, I guess because I was a lot closer to it.

This picture does not capture it well but it is the leftmost peak on the horizon with the square object. I could also see the whole Lexington reservoir and the Highway 17 valley down below. Santa Cruz mountains on the first horizon, then the Monterey Bay fog and the real peaks of Ventana wilderness beyond.

Downhill on Montevina was cool, but as I reached the reservoir dam, I realized how much hotter it was on this side of the ridge. Lexington lake is a drinking water reservoir, but there is no water source there, nor at the adjacent St. Josephs regional open space, and none as well inside the Sierra Azul preserve, double checked with the park ranger. At this point, I was not low on liquids, so I started climbing on the Limekiln trail towards Mt. El Sombroso (2,999 ft). I really don't want to whine here but the steep loose, rocky and dusty climb took the last milliliters of my mojo out of me. When I reached an exposed ridge and saw the next "wall" of a fireroad ahead, I bailed.

I took the Priest Rock trail back down to the lake and crossed on the northern side of Hwy 17. The climbing was not over yet, though. Black road to Skyline had inflicted some serious pain on me before, but I knew there was a school and water faucets on this route, so that's where I headed. The water stop helped a lot, but I rode the almost 10-mile long climb in a "just spin the granny and you will eventually get there" mode.
From the highest point around the Castle Rock SP, it was all fast downhill to the car. So, Mount Umunhum stands unconquered, but at least I know what to expect on my next attempt!
40 miles, 6600 feet vertical, max temperature probably close to 100F, at least 20 miles short of the goal.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Independence Day Week

This year, America's birthday fell on Wednesday. It sort of made me think about independence during this whole week. The definition of "independence" can be found in Wikipedia, interestingly it says "Disillusionment rising from the establishment is a cause widely used in separatist movements, but it is usually severe economic difficulties that trigger these groups into action."
While many Americans stick to the ideal of independence no matter how much the system has them by the balls, that is not what I would like to write about. However, I am sure my recent thoughts about how to become more or less independent on the corporate circus, which chews you up and spits you out on the rubbish heap (as Connie says in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), were no doubt a result of my recent job loss.
So on the Independence Day, my friend Pavel and me decided to drive to the Wilder Ranch state park on the coast just north of Santa Cruz. The park has a variety of trails, from dusty doubletracks on grassy ridges, to singletracks winding through oaks, redwoods and eucalyptus groves, to some pretty rocky trails. The gem of this place is the Enchanted Trail loop.

We cris-crossed the park and finished the ride along the coastal cliffs. For the whole ride, I felt free of worries and independent. On the way home, Pavel and I discussed many ideas for startup companies, I bet at least one or two would work. Who wants to invest in us to make us independently wealthy?

Then on Friday, I had a meeting set up at Philz Coffee in Mission Bay. It was about a small company whose technology fascinates me. Having a whole day to get to the meeting and back, I decided to ride. I took the Bay Trail route, following my old work commute to roughly Genentech. From there, I entered San Francisco on Tunnel St. and onto the 3rd street. The neighborhood abruptly changed from mostly ethnic African to the yuppy environment of the new UCSF campus. I arrived at the meeting point right on time in two hours. The coffee was some of the best I ever had and the networking meeting was productive. Sixty eight flat miles, almost five hours of riding and close to two hours of talking science. Isn't that being independent on cars? (Nobody followed me to Philz coffee...)

Being pretty tired after the bike ride, I decided to go for a short run today. I would run in almost a shoe-independent fashion, wearing my Vibram Five Fingers. I bought these weird looks inducing "shoes" for the California bike tour in May, thinking there was not going to be much walking and for their weight (or lack of thereof). After the 6 mile hike a bike up Tehachapi pass, I had blisters, but not too bad. Thus the idea of running seven easy miles on the Sawyer Camp trail.

I am so used to how these gorilla paws look when you look down on your feet, and my legs felt light and my stride became quite natural after a mile or two. At the turning point, I knew I would have blisters, but the last mile felt great, fast and unweighted by heavy shoes (I run in burly trail running Adidas shoes). But the blisters were there. I hope my icing session (both internal and external) will take care of it.

I also think I have discovered the best application of these "barefoot" shoes: they provide a really great feel on pedals of your sports car!