At around 4pm, the Stanford campus is always filled with runners, cyclists, and athletes in cardinal red. I appreciate this, and yet, at the same time, I feel like I'm running among highly-intelligent pod-people who have sinister intentions beneath benign good looks and have assumed the forms of innocuous, white-bread athletic types in order to Blend In. I imagine that they detach their lower jaws and consume god knows what when my back is turned, and perhaps someday I will stumble upon a flying saucer delivering giant eggs. As always, this run was suspiciously uneventful.
This run kicks my ass. Almost every time, I experience infernal cardio and quad pain during the climb from the Stanford Ave entrance. The best stretch of the run is immediately after this climb — it's an S‑shaped quarter-mile heading due west (usually into the wind) and it provides a great view of the dish against the coastal range. But I'm usually fighting to catch my breath during this stretch, and spend most of it just trying to keep my shit together. This particular run was okay … I keep thinking that I'll get back to the good old days when I regularly clocked sub-50-minutes on this run. But I'm a long, long way from that right now. I ride my bike more. I run hills more. But can it be that I'm just not as fit as I was in those lovely, peaceful days of July 2002? I will remember July of 2002 as a series of quiet evening runs through the Stanford campus, punctuated by blissfully fast, fast times. Ah, to be young(er). Simpler times. Simpler, faster times.
I haven't done the dish loop in months … perhaps since before the New Year. Is that possible? In any case, I never expected to have such a terrible time with it. My PR is in the high 48's, and, in comparison, this one (54:44) just seems pathetic. I should probably subtract 3 or so minutes from the time, though, because I had to run down to the secret entrance after getting to the Stanford Street gate a couple of minutes after 5pm. So this one was really in the 51 range, though that still sucks in comparison. I was in pain for some of the run, as my new Adidas big-boys were killing my feet while I was at the dish. And it was a beautiful day, not that I was even noticing that.
I haven't done this run for a while, and tonight's was a happy return. I consumed a lot of caffeine at around 7pm, violating my only iron-clad self-medicating policy: no caffeine after 3pm. Ever. Or, almost ever. I was a golden god from 7pm on, and my run took advantage of this artifical self-esteem and turned it into an all-consuming delusion of athletic indomitability which became especially acute as I neared the top of BH. I wasn't even close to my PR of 28-something, but I felt great and the run felt like an extraordinary success because what else matters, really? It was moonless and misty, and the top of Bernal Heights was dark, dark. In fact, I couldn't see the trail at all, which didn't bother me because I WAS A GOLDEN GOD. Plus, I was the only person up there, giving me a really good chance to belt out Ween's song "Piss up a rope" and "Jolene". So I raced up and down, got my heart rate up there, and arrived back home ready to solve all the world's problems. Was it possible to solve them while playing Grand Theft Auto? I guess we'll find out.
Of course I decide to run on Sunday. Saturday was clear, warm, and easy-going in this way that I always knew California would be, and I spent most of it working on my law school personal statement. Sunday was rain. Rain and wind. Can anyone blame me for not being inspired by rain and wind? Or cold? Did I mention cold? My hands got cold near Tank Hill, and then I got one of those terrible nether-region numbnesses that forced me to do some provisional warming with my hand while I ran. Anyway, I turned back after I hit Tank Hill, going back through Cole Valley, Buena Vista Park, and the Castro. NONE of this would have happened if I'd run on Saturday.
The standard cruiser with nothing really special to note except that, even after three years of running through a campus that is easy of the eyes: Stanford doesn't do it for me. The sterile institutionality, the parking lots filled with BMWs, the lame sandstoney buildings, the false importance, the Stepfordy aspect of the students in their luxurious sportswear. It's all of these things, and none of them. There's something unnameably cheap about it; something that hits you afterward, like a bad smell. Either way, it's not a bad place to see at 8 miles an hour. Plus, there are always runners, like me, who look serious about what they do, like I'm sure I do. So it's like getting a very mild stomach ache from food that you like, and then just eating it again and again.
It's called After-Dark for a reason; okay, for a few reasons. I take 19th Street through the peaceful, family-friendly environs of Dolores Park through the beefcaked Castro, and then cut through that little park on Seward, skirt Kite Hill and finally corkscrew up and over the footbridge that dumps onto Romain in Twin Peaks. And from the cinematic, we move to the panoramic. Romain dead-ends into Graystone, or some street like that, but I maintain maximum velocity and keep heading straight and go up up up the side of the hill. No trails. Just me, the blackberry bushes, and the pain. Within 100 yards, I'm in the parking lot of an elementary school, and within another 50, I'm on a real trail that switches back all the way up to the viewing area atop Twin Peaks. This is where it gets quite literally very dark. The trail to the top is usually uneventful, except for the amazing views as you take the last little switchback before the top. After delivering the GE design work at the literal — LITERAL — ass-crack of dawn, I was very, very ready to run this evening. A lovely, lovely evening to run, too.
A little light rain always kinda spices up a run. It sprinkled on and off this evening as I did another little tour of the alleyways of Glen Park, and then somehow ended up in a housing project on top of Diamond Heights. It was surreal, really; I kept climbing higher and higher, and the houses were getting bigger and bigger, and then I noticed glass from a broken car window on the ground. The houses didn't look particularly like public housing, but they definitely were not cut from the same cloth as the hilltop palaces around Twin Peaks, Buena Vista Park, Corona Heights, etc. But it makes a weird sort of sense — being stuck on top of a hill isn't too different, really, from being stuck out near the airport, or just — away — from essential things, places that people don't have to pass through to get anywhere else. When I got back down to Glen Park, I found the best alleyway yet … it was right below the public housing, and it was a good 300 yards of dirt road that leads to an awesome, secret-feeling little park.
a hill-less run from folsom street to glen canyon park by way of precita park. i did a little exploring, and found another great unpaved alley called ohlone way near glen park. i also came across a sinister little summit park near the intersection of bosworth, congo and elk streets. it's called dorothy w. something park, and in the soft focus of this evening's rain and fog, it looked like el greco meets the brothers grimm — rocky and uneven terrain, droopy trees, ringed by a crappy, root-riddled trail. on a gentler note, the little flower hut at 23rd and shotwell was open tonight, bright light and flowers bursting out the door, making happy haloes in the mist.
When I was in Cuba, I kept hearing a Spanish version of the Carpenters' song about the kind of husssshh all over the world .. tonight .. etc. The Spanish version was an exact copy: "Hay un tipo de silencio sobre todo el mundo .. esta noche .." and it seemed like I couldn't turn on the radio without hearing it in 15 minutes. For some reason, whenever I run during the sunset, I always think of this song, and tonight it was going through my head on an endless loop as I skirted along Tank Hill and down through the Upper Haight.