Photo by Ian Collins.
My Tumblr dashboard is full of fitness porn. That’s what “fitspo” stands for, right? No? Anyway, lots of landscapes and chiseled, sweaty people being pretty, often with a typset aphorism to punch it up. Not judging! Some of them are pretty catchy. Made one myself. But most training days, the only way I’m actually going to find myself in one of those heart-lifting panoramas is if I use Photoshop.
Because the subtext to all these photos is the helicopter and the stringer for National Geographic with $10,000 in camera hanging around their neck and the Escalade that dropped the model off after warming up in the parking lot at the entrance to the national park and getting spritzed with glycerin-laced water by the production assistant while the stylist arranged the singlet just so. And so for every beautiful shot of the glorious nature that’s your birthright, there’s a natural gas tanker puttering across the Pacific or an oil pump lazily swinging in the desert sun somewhere.
The reality of day-to-day training, for me and I’m sure many others in San Francisco and other cities, can often involve some quick footwork around dodgy potholes, sprint intervals to avoid blissfully unaware motorists and quiet space and consideration for people camped under freeways. Even if I had a car, I wouldn’t move it for fear of losing my overnight parking spot for the day. I’ll get a rental for a race weekend on rare occasion, but usually the only way for me to get out on the open road, run picturesque trails and go skinny dipping is to get multi-modal: Bikes with busses, boats and trains.
The best part about cycling is that it easily builds in low-impact, aerobic effort to your day. I hop on my bike to skip past some of the denser, pedestrian-unfriendly traffic in the eastern neighborhoods to get straight to the Embarcadero or the Panhandle for longer runs. Or to get to and from the gym. It’s the perfect warm-up and cool-down effort, and makes everything more time efficient, since it’s the fastest way to get around San Francisco and pads workout hours. The skills you learn navigating city streets on your bike will translate to more nimble handling and situational awareness on race day. Not to mention the high-intensity interval training you can indulge in when drag racing other commuters at the next green light!
Just remember to lock your bike up nice and tight and carry away any valuables. I’ve been known to loop my bag strap through the lock and leave a change of clothes, a trick I learned doing brick workouts for triathlon. I’ve never had a problem with anyone stealing my smelly, broken bike shoes and sweaty jeans while I was off on my run.
If you’re not comfortable biking in the city, and would prefer to get your long rides in out on the open road, mixing in public transportation can get you out to the edges of the city.
Buses, Trains and Boats
Photo by Adam Engelhart.
The vast majority of the busses on all of the major regional networks in the Bay Area carry bikes. San Francisco Muni, Golden Gate Transit, SamTrans, AC Transit and the VTA. Now, space is often limited, especially during commute hours and from popular suburban stops. With usually only two to four slots per vehicle, it’s important to have a flexible schedule if necessary. Best to plan a ride by hopping the bus (or boat or train) to the start of a nice route, or stretch your range by heading out and then riding, running or hiking back.
Photo by Richard Masoner.
The three major regional train systems also allow you to bring bikes — including BART, Caltrain, the Capitol Corridor and other Amtrak lines. Except during commute hours when bikes are sometimes turned away from Caltrain and not allowed on BART, room to park your ride is generally plentiful. BART in particular connects to some of the more popular routes around the Bay Area from tours of the East Bay Hills to the famous Tunitas Creek Road.
Photo by Jack Hebert.
All the ferries — the Blue and Gold Fleet, the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry, the Golden Gate Ferry and the San Francisco Bay Ferry all also allow bikes. Angel Island in particular is a paradise for folks who are just getting started out and looking for somewhere outdoors that’s convenient, gorgeous and traffic-free to do a long run or get off the stationary bike and onto the real thing. Frankly, I’ve been known to hop on the ferry from Sausalito on my way home from long rides in Marin just because it’s pleasant and they serve coffee and donuts on board. A nice opportunity to treat yo’ self!
Clothes and Gear
One of my biggest fears is that at some point I’ll be caught out on a long run or ride with an injury or breakdown just as the fog or rain starts to set in. While that can provide motivation to keep going through minor discomfort — after all, keep working if you don’t want to cool down — there is a real risk of exacerbating and injury or suffering from exposure the farther you stray from civilization, and that’s compounded if you’re relying on an intermittent service like public transportation.
For starters, I always go out on long runs with my state ID and my Clipper card. The ID is for the benefit of any public safety professionals, but the Clipper card alone can be a life saver. It’s saved me from having to walk my bike home miles across town on more than one occasion. Keep some loose change in transit cash on it for that spontaneous ferry ride or emergency Caltrain back to the city. Keep some real cash and maybe a credit or debit card, too — especially on long range trips, where a quick meal or a replacement bike part can help get you home.
If you’re on a cycle, carrying support gear and a change of clothes is as easy as a messenger bag or panniers. If you’re running, you’ll need to travel a little lighter. There are plenty of packs for runners out there, as well as integrated water bladders, though I haven’t tried any — if you have, please share your thoughts in the comments! As always, dress in layers, including wool and synthetics that will stay warm even when wet. Leggings and long-sleeve tops can help ward off chills on the ride home. Even just some light rain gear or one of those shiny emergency blankets can keep the shivvers and teeth chattering at bay while you wait for your bus.
And don’t forget to charge your phone or at least learn how to manage the battery to ensure that you have something left to check schedules, route maps or phone home if necessary. The last thing you want is to twist an ankle only to find the power on your phone went out while you were running a mobile hotspot, a GPS tracker and singing along to Kreayshawn in the middle of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
For endurance nuts like myself, the long training distances have meant I might as well make a weekend of it from time to time. There’s plenty of places to camp or cheap motels to crash in out on the road. Once you’re used to carrying support gear, dressing for changing weather and familiar with a few transit systems and their routes, you can really get pretty far out there without having to drive.
My favorite? Northern California Hostels. With locations along the coast in Pigeon Point, Montara, Marin Headlands and Point Reyes as well as at the end of the Capitol Corridor line in Sacramento, it’s a relatively convenient and inexpensive way to really extend your range. Point Reyes, in particular, is a fitness paradise. The last time I visited, I ran with quail and had a moment with a four-point buck from the stand of native elk. Put some AnCo in your headphones and go find your spirit animal!
I’ll admit, some reasons I run and ride are to work off my Muni rage or avoid it entirely, respectively. I’ve been known to treat myself to a ZipCar and a sleazy motel for a remote race, and it is relatively luxurious! But it’s not the only way to get out into nature for some fresh air and wildlife to make some of those pornographic fitness fantasies from your favorite fitblr a reality.
Jackson West has previously written about cycling in San Francisco for the Appeal. Have a question or suggestion or just a story to share? Send it in! For more indulgent, self-involved health and wellness coverage visit Fitness Douchebags.