run italia

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We’re back from a two-week journey through Italy. I ran just five times, a big mileage drop, even during my post marathon recovery phase. At the start of our trip, I reminded myself that a family vacation is not a running vacation, so the lower volume was fine. I partially made it up by walking at least five miles every day and climbing to the top of towers, churches, and monuments. Finding the time- usually before sunrise- to squeeze in some miles took me off the beaten path and gave me a fresh look at Italy.

Our itinerary was not always runner friendly. Sidewalks were rare. Most roads were narrow with a chaotic mix of cars, scooters, and pedestrians. A six-inch shoulder was generous. Running over cobblestones was a treat. It was hot.

Staying loaded with carbs was not a problem! I took advantage of the local cuisine at every stop and might have spent as much effort eating as I did running.

SORRENTO

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Our trip began with a visit to Pompeii. We decided to avoid Naples and stayed in Sorrento, an hour south along the Mediterranean coast. After twenty hours of flying and driving, we arrived at our hotel, and it was clear that running along the main road (narrow, full of cars trucks and buses, no shoulder), was out of the question. Even though it was late, our body clocks were up for a shakeout and Alex and I scouted a road that wound up into the hills. To call it a road was generous; more like a lane that turned into a track, a path, and finally a trail. Since it was dark, we headed back to the hotel and decided to explore the route the next day.

With an afternoon breeze cooling us, we followed the road past lemon and olive groves, tiny villages, and stone houses clinging to the hillsides. Most of the area seemed to be hundreds of years old with hardly any modern additions. After five miles, we headed back and were rewarded with views of Mount Vesuvius north of us and the Isle of Capri to the south.

The next day we took a taxi to Naples to catch a train to Rome. Our driver was wearing the same model Garmin as me and during the ride he told me that he was training for the Florence Marathon later this year. When he dropped us off, instead of saying “ciao,” we saluted each other with a “run strong!”

ROMA

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No sea breezes in Rome. We spent three searing days exploring the city under a cloudless sky. It was warm at night too- beautiful strolling weather but not good for running, especially since I’m used to cool mornings along the Pacific.

I managed to fit in a predawn run along the banks of the Tiber. Not only was it cool enough, but a bike path followed both sides of the river. I headed north past Castello St. Angelo and the Vatican. I crisscrossed the river on bridges that were centuries old, and ran along roads used by the Romans. Since it was so early, I cut back through the city to our hotel and explored the streets and alleys, ending up in Piazza Navona. It was a treat to experience the city so early and so quiet.

FIRENZE

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Our next stop was Florence. Just as hot as Rome but now with humidity. Most days topped off at ninety-five degrees and most nights stayed around eighty. Once again, just before sunrise was the best time to run and I ventured into the early morning streets twice.

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The Duomo dominates the city and was the starting point for my runs. On the first day, I wandered around the old part of town, through narrow alleyways that opened into medieval and renaissance squares. It was impossible to get lost since the top of the dome was visible from most streets.

On the second run, Alex joined me. This time we crossed the Arno river and headed away from the city center. A mile outside, we wound our way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of Florence.

VENEZIA

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I was unable to run in Venice. We only stayed a day and a half. On our first day, the heat wave broke and we were drenched by thunderstorms. Day two was full of sightseeing, then packing and travel home. Even if I had the time, finding a route proved difficult because of the crowds and canals. There were not a lot of open areas and every hundred yards or so was a dead end, canal, or stairway. On our last day, I discovered a running store around the corner from our apartment and the owner (also training for the Florence Marathon), invited me on a 10K group run that evening. I had to turn him down but not before I purchased a Club Venezia running singlet. Next time!

Now that I’m back in the States, I’m starting up my training routine. My flight home did a number on my IT bands and I’ve had to go a little slower than I prefer. I had a happy reunion with my foam roller that should get me back into a groove soon. Running in Italy was a blast even if I left some miles on the table. I do not travel to run but I can appreciate running when I travel.

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norcal

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A quick trip to the San Francisco Bay Area gave me a chance to keep a new year’s resolution: run when I travel. We spent three days up north and went running every day.

Day one: Lake Merritt, Oakland.

merritt_01After a day of driving and a good night’s rest, I woke early and ran two miles through Oakland to reach Lake Merritt. Fortunately, I remembered to pack my gloves. Temperatures were in the low 40s, a good deal cooler than Southern California. I ran a brisk three mile loop around the lake just as the sun rose. My run ended with a two mile climb that took away the morning chill.

merritt_02Day two: Tiburon.

On the other side of the San Francisco Bay, we spent an afternoon in Tiburon. Ruby and I ran the bike path downtown, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I continued on my own and turned back at Blackie’s Pasture, at the edge of Richardson Bay. I headed home with San Francisco’s skyline in the distance.tibuon_blackies

Day three: West Ridge Trail, Oakland Hills.

What started out as a short run on my last day turned into an adventure. From the trail head I entered a redwood forest and ran steadily uphill. When I reached the ridge, the trees cleared and I started to loop back. I soon found myself surrounded by more trees and losing elevation in the wrong direction. Five miles of wrong turns and doubling back later, I reached a road that was still a few miles from home.

What was supposed to be a four mile run turned into ten. Not what I was expecting but a great way to end my trip.

rainy day running

What’s this? Southern California is rainy for the first time in ages. My running vocabulary grew to include wet, cold, and muddy.  I love it.

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After years of training on dry roads and dusty trails, I’ll enjoy the rain while it lasts. There’s a thrill of getting caught in a downpour and showers during my workouts are a treat.

All of my usual haunts are transformed.

Beach runs during an approaching storm are a dramatic change from the usual blue skies.

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Griffith Park offers a misty morning trail run with sweeping views of the cloudy sky.

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Out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula the trails are a mess. I need to scrape the mud from my shoes while the wind catches me out on the bluffs.

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Sunshine is on the way. Maybe just in time so I don’t get tired of the rain and a special start to my running season.

 

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Our family traveled to the Pacific Northwest this Summer. I’ve always had trouble fitting in my runs during vacations but this trip was different. My son Alex joined his high school cross country team and has to maintain a weekly mileage count. So we teamed up and explored all of our stops.

Vancouver Harbor: our first run was seven-miler in downtown Vancouver. It was raining but since rain rarely visits LA it felt like a gift. We had an excellent workout. A network of paths surround the bay- leftovers from the 1986 world fair- and we seemed to join all of Vancouver’s runners this morning.

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Stanley Park: the next day we headed along the same path in the opposite direction. Our route took us north along the Seawall and into Stanley Park.

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Soon we were looking out to the Pacific Ocean and spied Victoria Island in the distance. The fresh air energized us and put some extra spring in our steps.

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Vancouver was a perfect city for running although some of the locals cautioned us to test perfection in February…

Seattle: at our next stop we stayed in the Queen Anne neighborhood, a hill just north of downtown with a great view of the skyline:

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Since we were on a hill, there was plenty of elevation change and even a few flights of stairs. As in Vancouver we marveled at the green surrounding us. Our run took us mostly through residential streets plus a cemetery and was a great way to explore the city.

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Portland: our final destination and another great running city. Portland is compact enough that on our first run we crisscrossed the Willamette river, explored downtown, and made it back home in time for breakfast.

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Exploring while running is a great way to understand the character of a place, and Portland’s neighborhoods were very green and a pleasure to run through.

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Adding running to our trip made it one of my favorite vacations ever. As a bonus I was able to train with Alex. It won’t be long before he leaves me gasping if I try to keep up with him. From now on I’ll remember to pack my running shoes when I travel.

grouse mountain

At only 2km, my ascent of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC, is the shortest distance I logged this year. But the “Grouse Grind” as the locals call it was one of my toughest workouts in a long time.

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Grouse Mountain sits just north of Vancouver where I spent part of my summer vacation. The Grind rises up through the forest- over 2000 feet of steady climbing- and tops off at a skiing center. The trail is so narrow and so steep that it’s a one way journey and you must ride the gondola back down.

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We joined our Canadian cousins for the hike and started on a trail that wound through dense forest. I wanted to test myself and see what kind of pace I could hold but since this was a family activity I volunteered to bring up the rear. It turned out to be a good strategy because the trail immediately steepened and became increasingly rocky.

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As we started to climb, our path was a combination of boulders and tree roots. Most steps were irregular and I needed to look down constantly to avoid slipping. My son Alex and cousin Glen vanished up the trail and while I wanted to hike with them I hung back and walked with Ruby and Ryan. Despite the shade and cool temperature we were all dripping with sweat and breathing hard. We reached a sign that marked the one-quarter mark and said that this was the last chance to turn around. We all thought we were at least halfway up and it was a discouraging blow to the team’s morale.

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We continued and the Grind became rockier and steeper. Stopping to rest and drink water was a mixed blessing because we were guaranteed to meet some of the largest and hungriest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. When we made the 2/3 mark, Ruby waved me ahead and said we could meet at the top. Not that it mattered; I continued to slog my way up trying not to trip over the roots and boulders.

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The forest canopy held until the last few yards and when the trees cleared I saw the ski lodge ahead of me and realized I’d made it to the top. Fifteen minutes later, Ruby and Ryan emerged from the forest and our party reunited to enjoy the view from atop Grouse Mountain.

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After recovering with some group photos and water, we lined up to take the tram back down the mountain. A panoramic view of Vancouver rewarded us with Victoria island in the distance. While it took an hour to hike up, the ride down was over in minutes.

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Postscript: my calves ached for a week after completing the Grouse Grind. I discovered some new muscles that live somewhere between my calves and ankles. My traversal of so much vertical terrain was paid for in pain but if I ever return to Vancouver I will repeat the grind. I ran into a runner on my hike who was training for the annual race. He wanted to break 25 minutes for a 2k distance. That does not seem too difficult but trust me, it is.

orinda, ca

Whenever I travel I try to fit in some running. New scenery refreshes and invigorates me, so when my in laws told me about Lafayette Reservoir near their home in Orinda I had to check it out.

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Orinda is about 15 miles east of San Francisco. I visited during Christmas and the winter morning was cool, frosty and clear. I followed a bike path and city roads for three miles before reaching the reservoir. Since it was a weekend during the holidays there were a lot of hikers and families on the shoreline path. I chose a route along the ridge of the hills surrounding the lake and found the trails mostly empty.

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The steep rolling hills explained the lack of fellow travelers. After a steady climb of 700 feet the ridge trail leveled briefly before a series of steep ups and downs. I was no longer cold and my breath came out in clouds while my sweat was steaming as it evaporated.

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I was running in a classic California landscape. Old oak trees and rolling hills that would turn golden when spring arrived.

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Once I circled Lafayette Reservoir I had another six miles left on my run. With the tough part out of the way I was able to run smoothly and stay loose as I headed home. I don’t know when I’ll get to run Orinda again but I’ll be ready when the chance comes.

del sol fire road

It is easy to miss Del Sol fire road. I ran past it many times before discovering the entrance along Via Campesina in Palos Verdes.

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While Del Sol only lasts about two miles, it is a worthy addition to any run and I try to include it whenever I am training nearby.

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From the start there is a 300 foot climb; 500 feet if you count getting to the trail head. It’s hard work but worth the effort.

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On the way up the surface is paved and surrounded by heavy brush. When I run in the early morning it is mostly deserted. I’ve passed a few hikers, runners, and dog walkers but I usually have the road to myself.

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As I climb, the trees thin to reveal a long view of the Los Angeles Basin. On the clearest days I can see as far as Malibu and the Channel Islands.

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Del Sol then empties onto city roads with more climbing until it reaches the Douglas Trail head. This is where the fun begins.

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Douglas Trail is mostly downhill, much steeper than Del Sol, and single track all the way. Tree roots and loose soil are constant reminders to watch my step.

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The north side drops steeply to the ocean and the trail tends to slant sideways. It feels like running through a landslide caught in slow motion. My most recent run was shortly after a rainstorm and the dirt turned to black sticky clay. I was wearing my Newton trail running shoes but the soles caked with mud and made my footing rather loose.

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Before the final descent, the trail levels briefly above Bluff Cove. It’s a perfect place to take a break and look out over the Palos Verdes bluffs.

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Del Sol fire road is one of my favorite trail runs and a regular part of my training. It’s rough on the way up but the views and technical conditions make it a new adventure every time I run it.