Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Running the Excelsior

I haven't written about running in some time, in part because I'm doing it less. But I still do it, and will likely keep doing it until my knees or hips snap or otherwise become permanently damaged. It is easy (no equipment necessary - though I always have my preferred sneakers, a digital watch, my iphone, and bluetooth earphones on me), you get to see a lot (when you're running outside and not on a treadmill), and it generally feels good/is good for you/etc.

My San Francisco neighborhood of the last few years is the Excelsior – a residential, somewhat foggy, enclave that some SF residents think is Daly City when driving south on Mission Street. It slopes down toward Cayuga Creek (or Islais Creek or Rodeo Viejo Valley) – a creek long covered by Cayuga Avenue; up hill to the west is Balboa Park; up hill to the East is McLaren Park. There are no major hills by San Francisco standards, but still a lot of incline and decline. I happen to be adjacent to McLaren Park, so it is challenging to find a sufficiently lengthy route in my neighborhood that is flat, without running back and forth several times.

So I start one of my frequent neighborhood runs going downhill towards busy Mission Street. My legs are still cold, so I have to avoid pounding down on the concrete while I continuously check for inattentive drivers - of which there are many. Mission Street has the added bonus of large buses, taxis and Uber/Lyft cars making illegal U-turns; plus many more pedestrians.

model of Corpus Christi church
I attempt to make the most of the flat roadways in the neighborhood by maximizing my route along Alemany Boulevard and San Jose Avenue - both traveling parallel to the old creek, like roads on the edge of a broad canyon, they are fairly level. Alemany has a bike lane in each direction, as you would expect for a relatively flat road. Follow the bike paths in San Francisco and you'll usually be on the more manageable routes. As I run my first section of Alemany I pass Corpus Christi church – notable because it shares a name with my birth city, but also because the vicinity is full of human obstacles on Sundays (since I'm off on Sunday and don't go to church, it is a common running day for me). I cross right there and continue down a ways before turning and continuing my descent.

Little City Gardens
Just as my legs are loose enough I begin one of the steeper inclines of the run up to San Jose Avenue. At this point I pass by Little City Gardens. You'd probably miss it if you drove by, but it extends back several yards between private homes, full of rows of flowers and vegetables. It is a working farm; among other things, it provides food to local restaurants. It's future is uncertain, however, and along the way you can see little yellow signs in some of the front windows of homes that say "Save the Farm."

Onto San Jose Avenue - a minor commercial corridor with two corner store/sandwich shops, a bar, tattoo parlor (parlour?), a Samoan church, a Korean church, laundromat and a Chinese restaurant, among other assorted places. It is dominated on the West by Balboa Park - a park that has many forms of leisure and exercise, and also happens to be a public transportation hub. There is an enclosed pool, various playing courts, baseball fields, and a skate park. The J Muni light-rail line runs along San Jose and ends at Balboa Park station – the busiest BART station in the Bay Area outside of downtown San Francisco.

Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse back in the day
Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse marks my turn back downhill. This stretch of Geneva is busy, but mostly residential. There is supposed to be a public garden here (Geneva Community Garden), but that plot is mostly dirt and weeds at the moment. It is a somewhat steep downhill and back up, getting back onto Alemany for a last stretch of flat concrete. This is a good spot to crank up the pace – one last push to avoid ending up with a horrible average speed.

As I continue back uphill into my neighborhood I pass the Persia Triangle – really a colorful laundromat/car repair parking lot/makeshift church. There are future plans to make it a friendlier triangle, which will be nice, but it is central and busy anyway. The large windows at the Dragon House sometimes draw one's attention to kick boxing, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu and the like. Again, this is Mission Street so watch out for scofflaws, Ubers and impatient drivers in SUV's with loud mufflers. (I once saw the intersection blocked off by police, a truck on the sidewalk a few yards beyond, and groceries scattered about the road.)
Heading up the long, steady incline of tree-lined Persia is sometimes made more difficult by smoking pedestrians or exhaust fumes. The wind is typically at your back, however. Passing the towering murals of Cleveland Elementary (home of the Peacemakers!) is an encouraging reminder that I'm nearly home and I switch my iphone to a a more victorious song, if appropriate.