Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Running hills at the Stanford Dish

Being a Pittsburgh gal, I'm used to being able to walk out the front door and run hills.  Pittsburgh is pretty much up hill both ways, and it takes effort to find flat places to run.  And since I'm pretty much as lazy as they come, I end up running hills.  Sometime last year I decided it was taking way too much effort for me to hate hills, so I decided I should just learn to like them.  So I did.  I went from a card carrying member of the Hills Suck club to someone who actively seeks out hilly routes.  And this strategy paid off when I set PR's in both the 10k and the half marathon on courses with significant hills.  They also had significant descents, which is part of what makes running hills worthwhile.

Since we've relocated to the Bay Area, I've been whining about the lack of hills in my immediate vicinity.  It's not that there aren't hills, clearly there are.  San Francisco is made of hills.  I did the Nike Women's Marathon a few years ago and the hills were definitely there.  But where we live, it's pretty flat.  I haven't changed the gear on my bike yet, that's how flat it is.  So friends helpfully recommended a few different places I could run and I've been slowly checking them out.  The week before last, I took my 3 year old with me and checked out the Stanford Dish.  If you look at this badboy on Google Maps, you can see it starts with people walking up hill.  So yes, hills.  I strapped my little one into the jogger and away we went at the speed of a glacier.  I'm not entirely convinced many of the hills are runnable, especially with the jogger, and it was a lot of me huffing and puffing while he yelled "I thought we were going to be RUNNING, mommy!" and "I don't really think this is very fast, mommy!"  Some of the passersby got a good laugh out of him.  I would have laughed, too, had I not been gasping for breath and afraid I was going to bust a lung.  So the way we went, and it's a loop so you have your choice of straight uphill or slight downhill, and we went straight uphill, it kind of crests at the top, FINALLY, and the view is pretty damn cool.
You can't really see it in the photo, but you can see the San Francisco bay off in the distance.  And if your eyes are keen, Stanford University.
It looked like we were at the top of the world, and we kind of were, since I think it was pretty safely the highest point around.  I think this wasn't even a mile into the run, and we spent the next 3ish miles mostly going down, with some rolling hills in there.  Some of those "rolling" hills were steep enough that I couldn't run them with the jogging stroller.  If you've run down hills with a jogger, you know that there's a very real element of danger involved and you have to be conservative (and if you dig an element of danger in your runs, by all means, borrow a jogger, fill it with about 30lbs of sandbags, find a really steep hill, and have at it).  If you just floor it, you risk the jogger getting away from you (with your precious snowflake strapped into it) AND pulling you along with it since you've got your wrist looped into the safety strap.  The jogger is heavy, and wheeled, and it *will* pull you down along with it.  So that hand break comes in really handy. And sometimes on really steep hills, you just can't run with it, it's just not possible.  Adding to the excitement, we saw a fair amount of wildlife.  Also, near the end, a woman stopped me, fairly alarmed, and told me she had seen a "HUGE" coyote not far away, and suggested we stick to the far side of the path.  I'm not sure what that extra 3 feet was supposed to do if the coyote decided it wanted to eat us, but we didn't see it anyway, so it's all good.  At the end of our 3.5+ miles, I was pretty sweaty, and my youngster was pretty bored and demanding snacks, so we called it a success.
Look!  We saw some deer!  It was just like wild kingdom.  I didn't get a picture of the fluffy fat ground squirrels, but my god they were adorable.
The second time I set out to run the Stanford Dish, I wisely left my youngster at daycare and took to the road myself.  This time I found parking easily (I'll spare you the saga of my search for parking the first time - let's just say there was a lot of me cursing and a lot of the small fry yelling "Why don't you PARK already!" and "Why aren't you DRIVING!  We're just SITTING HERE!" while we sat at red lights), started my Garmin, and away I went.  This time I took the path that went downhill to start, because I figured the more steady ascent would be a better prep for Big Sur than the super mega steep crazy hills that I'd pushed the jogger up.  Rest assured, there were still some crazy hills, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and I'm confidant that I'll get my pace up after I've done it a few more times.  I got to run DOWN the super mega steep crazy hills this time, and it was pretty hard to run down them.  The road was slightly slick from it having rained (horray for rain!  There's a pretty major drought going on here, and that's nothing to laugh about) and I was afraid I was going to slip, so it was pretty pathetic.  And, even more pathetically, I was so concerned about running downhill and being careful that I missed the exit and went almost a mile around the loop a second time before I realized it and then had to go back.  I finished up with around 2 miles on the really awesome bike trail on Stanford Road.  It was gorgeous, asphalt, not on the road, shaded, and so damn pretty.  With the birch trees and wooden fences it reminded me a lot of running in Sweden, which is a very nice thing.  No sightings of wildlife this time, not even the ground squirrels were out.  Or maybe I was too busy trying to keep a decent pace that I just didn't notice.