Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Touring San Fransisco

In addition to running Bay to Breakers, while in San Francisco the other weekend, we did a lot of fun things.  Below is a summary of how our general schedule shook out.  Enjoy!



Our flight out of MSP was at 11 am Friday morning, with an estimated flight time of about 4 hours.  Since we were fortunate to fly faster than anticipated, the local time in San Francisco was just after 1 pm when we landed.

Wanting to save money, and very likely time too given traffic in California, we opted to take the BART from the airport.  Our hotel was the Hampton Inn on Mission Street, which meant our stop in downtown was Powell, and our ride cost $9 per person.  If we had planned our travel sooner rather than later, we could have purchased a Clipper card and saved some additional money on the cost of the train ride, but we didn't figure that out until it was already too late for our trip.  Oh well, my loss is your gain, right?

After exiting the BART at Powell, it was a short (yet somewhat dicey) walk to the Hampton Inn.  I say dicey because there are a lot of vagrants and other shady looking characters roaming around downtown San Francisco.  Unfortunately, we did see the worst of this too, as someone had tried to mug a young man a few days into our stay ... right outside of our hotel ... and we saw him laying on the ground, bleeding from the head and surrounded by police, just after it happened.  I was only thankful to have seen that towards the end of my trip, so as not to have it place fear into my visit prior.

The above mugging and bums aside, overall my sister and I were just fine navigating the area.  So it's not that it was TERRIBLY dangerous.  But at the same time ... it's not exactly a glamorous area ... so you may want to research other hotels up by the pier or in nicer areas of the city instead of downtown.

Upon settling into the Hampton Inn, my sister and I activated our 3 day Muni pass (the public transit service for downtown San Francisco), and rode a tram out to pier 35 to do packet pickup.

You have to admit the public transit options in San Francisco are pretty cool, especially when you factor in the cable cars and the like.  Plus, when you consider a single ride on a cable car is $7, a 3 day Muni pass for $32 is pretty much a steal.

After a long day of travel and the adjustment of arriving in San Francisco, we were all pretty pooped.  To keep things simple, we decided to have dinner at 54 Mint, which was right out the back door of our hotel.  The menu had a lot of appetizer type options and only a few main dishes, so we went for kind of a tapas style meal with dessert at the end.  It was very good.

With full bellies and tired eyes, our first day in San Francisco came to a close.



Since the time change made our bodies feel like it was 7 am at 5, my little boy served as a natural alarm clock at about 5:15 am on day two of our trip.  Thankfully, we had gone to bed fairly early the night before.

Overall, the early wake up wasn't a big deal, as the hotel started serving a free breakfast at 6 am, and we had an Alcatraz tour booked for 9:30.  After everyone in our group had a chance to shower, we ate a leisurely breakfast and then hopped on a street car to pier 39 ... because nothing says (smells?) good morning like a heard of seals.

At least there were other nice views there as well to make up for the stink, LOL!

I actually highly recommend going to pier 39 so early in the morning, as there are zero crowds to fight, and you get fabulous views of the ocean (without a bunch of dumb tourists blocking your way).  The only down side is that the shops are all still closed, so you can't do any gift shopping ... but you could always come back for that later.

The walk from pier 39 to where we needed to board our Alcatraz ferry was only a short distance, so after getting our fill of the seals we hoofed it down to pier 33.  I had booked our Alcatraz tickets months in advance, anticipating things would be busy due to Bay to Breakers weekend, so all we had to do was basically show up with our printed tickets in hand and get in line.  That was nice. 

What wasn't so nice was the $6.50 bottles of water at the gift shop outside.  Pro tip: buy yourself water once you get to Alcatraz.  When we were there, they were selling standard size bottles for $1.50 each.

One other pro tip - if you think you'll use the Muni and go to Alcatraz, look into the CityPass.  In addition to giving you a 3 day Muni pass and an Alcatraz tour, it also includes a ticket to the California Academy of Sciences, entry into the Aquarium of the Bay, and your choice of visit to either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum.  To put costs into perspective: during our visit, an adult CityPass was $89, whereas a 3 day Muni pass was $32 and an Alcatraz ticket was $37.  So for a $20 add on, you can do three other attractions (assuming they are up your alley).

Anyway, back to Alcatraz. Let's get on that ferry and get to the island, shall we?


There are several options available for touring Alcatraz.  Knowing that I had a baby with us that would have a somewhat short attention span, I opted to sign us up for the standard day tour without the Angel Island add on.  I had heard great things about the Alcatraz night tour, but ... that's just not an option with a one year old, let's face it.

Speaking of kids, Alcatraz was extremely easy to navigate with a running stroller.  There is one tricky part, as getting in for the cell block tour takes a little bit of trial and error to find elevators and such, but the staff was incredibly helpful and it ended up being a minor set back in the grand scheme of things. 

Aside from the expected cell block tour, I was amazed by the beautiful views on Alcatraz - both of the island itself, and of the San Francisco harbor.

Without rushing, but also without dawdling, we ended up spending an entire morning touring Alcatraz.  Just after noon some time, we lined up for the ferry to leave the island ... but not before getting a stamp in my son's national parks passport first (read more about that here).

After taking the ferry back to "mainland", we decided to walk down to the Fisherman's Warf area.  Had I realized how far that actually was, I probably would have hopped a street car instead.  Regardless ... we survived. 

Overall, Fisherman's Warf was equally touristy and packed like pier 39 was, so it wasn't really my bag.  The only reason I wanted to go there was this:

Yep.  Double cheese, animal style, with fresh cut fries.  It was worth it.

After gorging ourselves on lunch, we took the baby back the hotel for a nap.  Once he was settled in (and my husband as well - LOL) my sister and I returned to Pier 39 for some tourist trinket shopping. 

Since the afternoon got away from all of us, and having had a heavy lunch, we opted to eat a light dinner at a nearby pub called Urban Tavern.  It's name looked more appealing than it's actual offering, so ... not one of my recommends.  The service was fantastic, but there weren't many menu choices, especially considering the name was Urban Tavern and there were maybe 5 beers on tap.  But it filled the need for the night, and the ramen I ordered wasn't half bad once I mixed in the miso (which I didn't realize was served on the side until I was halfway through my bowl).

With another day of high activity and lots of eating, we threw in the towel around 9 pm.



Since you likely already read my race report about Bay to Breakers, I won't repeat that except for to add ... if you're in San Francisco, seriously consider going to the Golden Gate Park.  It's SO BEAUTIFUL!  Much like Alcatraz, I think anyone could easily spend a morning there enjoying the sites.

Here's a few gratuitous photos of the park before I move on.

Since my sister and I had eaten a light breakfast pre race, and we had certainly worked up a 7+ mile appetite, we opted to eat a slightly late but large lunch at Scoma's after Bay to Breakers.  Well ... after showering ... after Bay to Breakers, that is.

Scoma's is located on Fisherman's Warf, so back out that way we went.  It's a little off the beaten path, hidden back behind the touristy shops, so you have to hunt for it a bit.  But with it's fresh boat to table fish, the extra trek is worth it.  Literally - there are boats pulling in and unloading their catch into the "Scoma fish processing house" as you are entering the restaurant on the other side of the dock.  That's how you know it's fresh!

Admittedly, I'm not a huge seafood fan, so I shared some crab cake with everyone as an appetizer and kept my main meal simple with an order of fish & chips.  My sister, however, went for the gold along with my husband (although he had a mixed grilled fish platter, which didn't look quite as good as what my sister ordered below).

While the meal was a little expensive, given the fact that it was all fresh caught fish, I think it was worth it.  And obviously we all HATED it, given we practically had to roll ourselves out of there.  Heh.

With full bellies, and a son who had taken a nap during our Bay to Breakers run, we decided it was now worth an adventure out to the beach to check out the ocean.  From Fisherman's Warf, we hopped the Muni towards Crissy Beach East.  The bus ride was maybe 20 minutes, and required a bit of walking from exiting the bus until arriving at the beach, but it wasn't anything too terrible.

Once at Crissy Beach, my sister stripped of her shoes and touched into the ocean for her first time, with the Golden Gate Bridge bearing witness to the event.

Since the water was expectedly frigid, and I have been to the ocean before, I opted not to get wet.  Call me a party pooper if you want, but you deal with hand carrying a baby, a diaper bag, wet feet inside shoes - all after having run a 7+ mile race.  Then pass judgment.

Once we wrapped up at the park, quite by accident (since we were looking for Muni transit back), we stumbled upon the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.  This is another awesome gem, in my opinion, of San Francisco.  If you're heading to Crissy Beach anyway, may as well swing by there and check it out before heading to your next stop.


After roaming the Palace, things got a little ragged, as we struggled to figure out Muni transit home.  It's a long story that basically boils down to the fact that San Francisco apparently has other bus lines in the city that aren't Muni operated, and Google maps kept trying to direct us to those instead of back to a Muni line.  Tired from a long day and lots of time on my feet, and three failed bus stops later (plus maybe a mile or more of walking between these three stops), we finally threw in the towel and booked an Uber ... only to turn around and go back out shopping with my sister upon arrival to our hotel - LOL!  She had decided to purchase a few trinkets that we first saw at pier 39, so we went back out there to end our day with shopping ... and a snack of "cake by the ocean".  Heh.

With a big seafood lunch late in the day, and it already after 6pm by the time we finished up shopping, we opted to keep it simple and order pizza delivery for dinner.  Somehow I still screwed this up because apparently Zpizza doesn't deliver to hotels.  But whatever I did to screw up the order made them deliver to us.  Whoops.  Totally unintentional, but ... ok, I'll take it!

Two pizzas later, delivered via skateboard might I add, around 8 pm we were about to eat this:

Being that my son was already out for the night, the three of us piled into our hotel bathroom, closed the door, and picnicked on the floor.  Keepin' it classy in San Francisco.  Oh well!  Regardless of location, the pizza was delicious all the same.

With a third night of tired legs and full bellies, we were off to sleep for our last night's stay in San Francisco.



With no agenda for Monday, and a flight leaving at 3 pm, I was kind of hoping we might get to sleep in for a bit.  But, as anyone with kids knows ... you may as well forget about that.  Heh.

Around 5:45 at the latest, my son was "Ah da-da"-ing away in the hotel provided pack and play crib.  Since we weren't in any rush to eat, we all took our time showering and packing up our bags before heading down for breakfast. 

I think when we were done eating, it was about 8:30 am, which meant we still had plenty of time to kill.  So, with a few last possible "would like to dos" on our to do list, we decided to try to check them off.

First, the "Full House" houses, also known as the painted ladies.

This was a pretty short bus ride to and from the hotel, so after we had our photo op and got back to the hotel, my husband split with the baby for a bit to see if he could get in one last nap.  While he did that, my sister and I tried to queue up for a cable car ride.

What a joke that was.  After 45 minutes of waiting in line and still having roughly 50 people ahead of us, we decided to nix it and bail out of line.  It was already 10:40 at that point, and hotel check out was 11, so we figured there was no way we'd be able to even get on a car before check out time anyway.  What a waste.  Grr.

Even though our attempt was unsuccessful, it was still fun to see the conductor and gripmen (and gripwoman) operate the cars, though.  So, not all was lost.

With nothing else on the agenda after hotel check out, and hoping that our little boy who still hadn't napped for the day might get in a snooze pre-flight, we decided to call it.  With all our packs loaded back up, we strapped everything onto our backs and headed back to the BART, airport bound.  Fortunately, my little boy managed a 20-30 min nap on the train.  Plus, our flight check in and security clearance went smoothly.  With three wins in our belt, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the airport and boarded our plane.  Which of course, was delayed, because you can't have 4 wins in a row.  Figures.

Despite a 30-45 minute takeoff delay, eventually we left San Francisco behind.  And by 11 pm that night, we were finally home, tucked into bed, and sleeping it off ... only to return to work the next morning.  Blech!  Reality, huh?!  Ha!


While I have to say it was fun to see the city, in the above I omitted a lot of commentary in regards to vagrants/bums, public urination/feces/drug use, and other situations  that I witnessed while in San Francisco that were all extremely unpleasant.  As a result of these situations, I have to admit I'm hesitant to say I would ever go back to San Francisco. 

Admittedly, we booked a hotel in the heart of downtown, which is likely why we saw so much of this activity.  So if I make any recommendation to someone going to San Francisco, it would be to research your hotel and try to pick something at least not in the financial district.

In the end, regardless of what I saw, I'm still glad that I got to have the experience.  And if the opportunity presented itself for me to run Bay to Breakers again in the future, I'd love to.  I'd just find a way to avoid downtown.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bay to Breakers 2017 (Rainbow Beads)

Bay to Breakers 12K (about 7.5 miles)
Average Pace 15:09/mile
*Hayes Hill Challenge: 10:07.67

I have been pining over racing Bay to Breakers for years.  Running?  Costumes?  Beaches?  Sunshine?  California?  Sign me up!

Yet, for some reason, every year since it came onto my radar, I've always been unavailable for Bay to Breakers weekend.  But ... in 2017 the stars aligned.  Well, technically, the stars started to align in 2016, as that's when my husband realized that point prices were REALLY low for airline and hotel reservations, and he had plenty of points (and then some) to cover us.

So late last fall, with my sister roped in to my shenanigans and our travel reservations booked, we started planning costumes for Bay to Breakers.  Because that's the most important part, duh!


Thanks to Amazon, the starting point for our costume was this motor inflated set of wings:

And, immediately after receiving delivery of two pairs of wings via USPS, the starting point for my sister's smart ass comments (which paid homage to this race costume from years ago) was this:

Luckily, I did NOT need to run test these wings for flutter effect, since it was obvious they would work.  The elastic bands at the shoulders proved to be quite comfortable, and the wings were made of nylon, not vinyl like a typical inflatable is, so they seemed to feel fairly breathable (read - not sweaty to wear).  Plus, an added bonus was the motor fan that kept the wings inflated served as a nice personal AC unit.  Score!

Until race day, the rest of our outfit was a little bit of a toss up due to possible weather conditions.  Eventually we settled on a simple black wicking workout T and rainbow chameleon InkNBurn capris.

The net result ended up looking like this (don't mind my still saggy post pregnancy belly ... bah):

Yes, we got many questions RE: what we were supposed to be.  I don't know, don't ask me.  A butterfly of some sort, I suppose.  Although, in San Francisco we did get a lot of other interesting suggestions ... including rainbow vaginal beads.  Ok.  Huh.  Go figure.


Traveling to San Francisco from Minneapolis went fairly smoothly, especially considering I had a 1 year old in tow on a 4 hour flight.  We had all taken Friday off work for travel, making for an especially relaxed day, which was nice.  Everything ended up about on time, and our mid day flight got us into SFO a little after 1 pm.

Although there had been some recent news stories in regards to crime on San Francisco public transit, I hadn't seen any headlines in the 2-3 weeks leading up to our visit.  Figuring the risk was relatively low, we hopped on the BART train from SFO to downtown.  The gamble proved successful, as we arrived to our hotel unscathed.

By the time we had checked in and settled into our hotel room, it was just after 3 pm.  The race expo was scheduled to be open until 7, and since we had a fair amount of time until it closed, it seemed worth a shot to head out that way.  I had read online that lines into the expo in years past lasted up to 3 hours, which sounded like no fun for a 1 year old, so I asked my husband to say back at the hotel with our son while my sister and I worked on getting our bibs.  That request proved unnecessary, as we were able to waltz right into the expo without any line at all.  I should have just had them come with.  Oh well, I won't complain!  No line is just fine with me!

Upon entry, we went to the wall to find our bib numbers:

And then off to check in to get our bibs and shirts:

After we got our bibs and shirts, we were dumped out into the sponsor area - Alaska Airlines was the person footing the bill for that this year, and their presentation was amazing! 

I was particularly fascinated with the giant streamer chandelier they hung from the ceiling, and the faux grass and carpeting they had for their entire section.


Oh - I should add here that it was the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco, and to honor that anniversary, Bay to Breakers had chosen it as their theme:

Alaska Airlines, who ran with the theme 110%, had booths for tons of free stuff: photos in a hippy van, stations to make flower crowns and friendship bracelets (which included super cute enameled charms in shapes of peace signs, hippy vans, flowers, etc.), hippy themed temporary tattoos, and a station where you could get a live screened shirt of your choice (I chose a white, unisex shirt with a teal colored screen of the Bay to Breakers hippy bus logo on it). 


With so much free swag before I even got into the meat of the expo, my head was spinning ... or maybe that was just the contact high I got from the people smoking out on the street.  I dunno.  Heh.

The rest of the expo was your typical stuff - energy bars and drinks, store branded running gear, promos for other races and the like.  Since we had our fill of free things thanks to Alaska Airlines, we pretty much just glossed over the rest of the offerings and headed straight to the exit.

Overall the expo was very well organized.  I was amazingly happy about that.

With packet pickup out of the way Friday, Saturday we simply spent the day being tourists ... and pre race fueling, animal style of course.



On race day, we were recommended via the official Bay to Breakers email to arrive into our corrals 45 minutes or more prior to race start (which was 8 am).  Having done other large races in the past, and knowing what a cluster corral entry can be, I was on board with that suggestion ... no questions asked.

Though our walk from the hotel to the race start for the most part was uneventful, my sister and I did have a brief moment of panic when a very ... not lucid ... homeless man started screaming things at us like "Imma slap the shit outta you bitches".  Luckily, we were able to quickly walk away from that scenario, and security at the starting area was very good, so no further problems ensued.

Though I did have a slight issue once inside, as I almost got a concussion from a corn tortilla.  Heh.

If you're new to Bay to Breakers, apparently this is a "thing" there.  Instead of bouncing around balloons or beach balls, racers bring packs of corn tortillas and throw them around like Frisbees.  It was extremely entertaining, and really broke down barriers among strangers in the crowd.  I mean, how can you not laugh if your neighbor (me) gets hit in the head with a stray tortilla and goes "ah!" as you are standing there waiting for gun time? 

Since I had read that most people vastly over estimate their race pace, my sister and I registered for the 4th group to be released on course - corral B (8-9 minute miles).  I knew this might be slightly aggressive when I signed up last fall, as my usual pace is closer to 10 when I'm in shape.  But from what I read in other reviews, if you didn't get into corral A ... or at least B ... you might as well walk the entire course.  Knowing I wanted to run as much as my body would let me, I definitely wanted to be in B.

Sorry not sorry.  I know I can't do 8-9 min miles over a 7+ mile course, but nuts to walking with a bunch of drunk back of packers (this race is known to get a little wild in the slower groups).

After the two elite groups were released, along with corral A, I realized I was just fine in corral B anyway.  With 20 minutes (roughly) on the clock, we were released, and many immediately began to walk out of the starting gate and onto course.

Even about 1 mile in, where my husband was scouting for pictures, people were still barely washing out to a 12-14 min pace.  It was a little frustrating, but I pretty much expected this given the size of the race.


To help pass the time, I began counting naked runners.  Yes, this is another "thing" at Bay to Breakers in addition to throwing corn tortillas at the start.


Another "thing" for Bay to Breakers is the "caterpillar" race category.  It's essentially a group of 6 people tied together who have to run the entire course at the same pace - which sounds pretty challenging when you think about the fact that everyone in the group must keep up with each other for over 7 miles.  I was pretty impressed by how many elite runners alone chose this option.

After counting about 12-15 naked runners, but seeing very few caterpillars, we came upon Hayes Hill.  For those of you unfamiliar with how horrendous running in San Francisco can be, let me present to you some photos:

Now, I couldn't find a good picture on the Google machine that showed Hayes Hill without people on it, but here is a similar San Francisco hill so you can get a feel for what I'm talking about, and an actually Hayes Hill elevation map for reference.


Yeah.  You let me know how you feel about running up that hill.  Especially knowing it is almost a mile long.
Seeing the above pictures, it should come as no surprise to you to hear that Hayes Hill is (1) the most difficult part of the course and (2) is known for being the biggest party spot of the entire race.  People with houses on course host huge parties on their front steps, and booze is offered all around for spectators and participants alike. 
Here's an example of one of the houses we passed in 2017 - you can see how it's basically like a giant frat party:

After experiencing some of the ... finer points ... of San Francisco on the days leading up to the race (ahem, bums pooping on sidewalks, people smoking strange things in public, ahem), I had my doubts about accepting anything from strangers on course.  My sister and I simply trudged up the hill and enjoyed the *sometimes naked* people watching as we went.

Hayes Hill is a little tricky, because while you're on it you think you've finally hit the last plateau a couple of times ... only to realize you still have another climb coming.  When it was finally obvious we had finished the climb (we passed the second set of chip readers indicating the special time read for Hayes Hill was over), my sister and I celebrated by partaking in our first water stop of the run ... and getting eye frisked by course security to ensure we had legit bibs and no booze in hand, both of which are large issues given the party environment on Hayes.

With the worst of the course behind us, my sister and I finished our celebration and water ... and then proceeded to be "parted" by various runners for the next 3 miles.  Apparently, our wings were an attractive gateway to be entered, and numerous silly runners opted to duck/run/dive in between us with their hands together in prayer position (much like you would to dive into a pool). 

Imagine this, but with more butterfly wings and less booty shaking

The majority of the runners who did this did so in good jest, cheering and laughing as they passed.  Knowing that we took up a fair amount of real estate on course due to our wingspan, and knowing it was part of the experience of Bay to Breakers, my sister and I took it in stride and just laughed.  To clarify though, it was never really like we were clogging the course, as things were tremendously spaced out at this point anyway and we were on a 4+ lane street.

With around 3 or so miles left of the race, we entered Golden Gate Park.  If you've never heard of this before (which I hadn't), it is almost like Central Park in NY.  In this aerial view, you can see how this massive stretch of green is almost out of place amongst the city:

I had no idea how beautiful this part of the run would be, and I loved every minute of it.  It was slightly hazy from the ocean fog, and fairly shaded due to the overhanging trees.  There were even old fashioned windmills and (fenced in) wild buffalo on course ... none of which would I have expected to see in the middle of such an urban city. 
While I didn't take many photos myself, here are a few I borrowed off Google for reference.



I really enjoyed this portion of the race, and for the Golden Gate Park piece of the race alone, I wouldn't mind repeating the run again in the future - that's how beautiful it was.  It was such a unique experience, and something I've never seen on any race before (which says something, being that I'm over 70 races complete at this point).

The only down side to all the trees and winding roads of Golden Gate Park was that it was pretty hard to tell where the finish line was.  Even with about a quarter of a mile left, I wasn't sure visually where we would end.  But - have no fear!  After passing a professionally hired group of Asian performance drummers, there it was.  The finish line arches were there, with the rolling ocean behind it.


Despite the large volume of runners, the exiting process was fairly smooth.  My sister and I both managed to quickly snag a bottle of water, our finishers medals, and a energy bar as a snack.  After milling around looking at what else there might be to eat or see, we decided that there wasn't much that interested us so we took off for the muni - which true to Natalie form, included going to the wrong side of the park (we wanted the N, but we were on the side for the 5, which required almost a 1 mile detour back through the park), boarding a train going the wrong direction, boarding another train that was packed like sardines, and having to stand for almost 45 minutes in order to get home.

Good thing we had pre-race fueled with a double cheese animal style at In-N-Out the day before.  After all that race day activity, and some more tourist roaming later in the day, we had earned it.


And that's the story of how race bib #78 joined my collection.  Fortunately, I only had to see 37 naked men, and take a couple of corn tortillas to the noggin in the process.

Here's to another race soon!