Running in Rome

Image

Running has always been an integral part of traveling for me.  It offers a mechanism for experiencing a new place – including it’s natural or urban landscape and people – from a perspective that is different than your typical tourist activity.   In some cases, travel has been a means to run (i.e. for races), whereas in other cases, like my recent trip to Rome, running has been a means to travel.  Nothing arouses the sense of curiosity and wonderment while traveling like running through a new city for the first time.

I put this post together to help inspire others who are looking for a similar running experience while in Rome.  I didn’t do any exhaustive research, but i think I found a nice cross section of urban and trail running opportunities in and around the Eternal City that others might enjoy as well.

1. City Tour

If you only have one opportunity to run in Rome, it must be a city tour.  You can see more sights in 2 hours than most tourists would otherwise see in several days.  And that’s not to say that these sights aren’t worth spending several days enjoying (they certainly are), but there’s something very special about connecting them all together in one run that puts them all into context with one another and the city that they occupy.  It also is a great way to get one’s bearings at the beginning of the trip, making subsequent excursions to the places of interest a little easier.

On our city tour we ran alongside the legendary Circus Maximus, circumnavigated the Colosseum, linked up the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and finished by looping around the Vatican City with a pause in St Peter’s Square.   On another we linked up the beautiful Villa Borghese and Piazza de Poppolo.  We went back to each of these places during the rest of our trip to experience them with more time, but we both agreed the first impression we had on these runs were the most magical.

>> Strava Route 1: Colosseum, Trevi, Spanish Steps, Vatican, St Peters

>> Strava Route 2: River path, Piazza de Poppolo, Villa Borghese, Centro Storico

IMG_0643

Colloseum

IMG_0750

Villa Borghese

IMG_0699

St. Peter’s Square

IMG_0677

The Spanish Steps

2. Villa Doria Pamphili

If I lived in Rome and wanted to run every day, this is the place I would do it.  Villa Doria Pamphili is located in the southwest side of the city, easily accessible from Trastevre, and other adjacent neighborhoods.  It used to be a massive estate for an uber-wealthy family but now is the largest landscaped park in Rome.  The park features a nice variation of open space, trees, gardens, ponds, fountains and structures that remain from it’s original function as an estate.   There is a nice combination of dirt roads and singletrack; a  welcome break from the hard cobblestones of the City.

The network of trails, while unmarked, are quite logical in their layout, making it easy to cobble together a route of any distance from 1 miles to 10 miles.  By staying to the perimeter of the park, a very nice 5 mile loops can be completed.  Note that the park is bisected by a very busy highway, but a pedestrian bridge is located on the south side.

>> Strava routes 1 and 2

IMG_0775

Villa Doria Pamphili

IMG_0779

Villa Doria Pamphili

3. Via Appia Antica & Parco della Caffarella

Via Appia Antica (or Appian Way) is an historic road dating back to antiquity that connected Rome to the surrounding regions.  It was home to many historic events, including the crucifixion of Spartacus’ army and more recently, the 1960 Olympic Marathon!  There are many old tombs and catacombs that line the route, and there is  certainly a sense of history that one feels when traveling along its cobbles.  The first few miles are prone to traffic (except on sunday), but after that, it becomes quite peaceful and quiet and can be run for about 10 miles in each direction.

I highly recommend linking it up with the Parco della Caffarella as shown in my Strava route.  The park is absolutely stunning, and has miles of singletrack on rolling grassy hills.  There are also several archaelogical sites of interest within the park, but i was mostly captivated by expansive views, soft trails, and the herd of sheep we encountered (complete with a sleeping shepherd in the grass).

>> Strava route

IMG_0804

Parco della Caffarella

IMG_0810

Parco della Caffarella

4. River Path

Finally, if you just want to log some miles without leaving the city or having to think about route finding, the path along the Tiber River will certainly be of interest.  The path is sunk below the elevation of the roads and the rest of the city, which has a nice effect of reducing noise and stress of the traffic, but it also has a bit of a “concrete jungle” vibe to it.

IMG_0708

Path on the River Tiber

Advertisements

High Sierra Camps 50 mile Loop

Until this weekend, my experience with ultrarunning had been limited to a handful of 50km (are these still considered ‘ultra’?) and 50mi races.  The latter of those two distances had been met with mixed success, but the framework was generally the same: trying to reach the finish line faster than anyone else.  I was curious what would happen when there was nobody else at the starting line, let alone the finish line… no podium hopes, aid stations, or irunfar coverage?  I was curious how stripping all that stuff away would change the experience of ultrarunning.  So this weekend i set off on the 50 mile High Sierra Camps Loop in Yosemite,  alone, with virtually zero planning, specific training, or expectations.  Just a desire to go out for a big day in a beautiful place.Mt Conness as viewed from Glen Aulin

As the name suggests, the route connects the 6 High Sierra camps of the Yosemite high country.  While the camps themselves are of little note to a runner, they define a highly aesthetic, well-marked route that covers a nice cross section of the region’s scenic wonders. Granite domes and spires, glassy alpine lakes and quiet meadows that tempt even the most ambitious runner to stop and have a picnic. The Yosemite high country is a special place indeed.

The High Sierra Camps Loop

IMG_4794

For being a 50 mile route in the mountains, the terrain is relatively mellow – only 7600-ft of vertical (without any of the optional side excursions) and all between 7,000 and 10,000-ft in elevation.   Given its popularity with backpackers, the well-trodden path is always very runnable, allowing attention to be allocated toward the incredible scenery.

Classic high sierra meadow

Sub-alpine terrain

This time of year, the rivers and waterfalls are gushing with such force that the roar of their descent is heard throughout the route.  This was a perfect occasion to test out my new Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (thanks dad!).  At every river crossing, i simply pulled out one of the front bottles and scooped up the freshest, tastiest water money can buy.  No excuses for dehydration on this run!

Gushing creek bed

Loving the UD gear!

Despite my inspiring surroundings, i found myself struggling with the effort most of the day.  Early on, my steps felt labored and  I found my thoughts turning to work-anxiety and other life stresses.  Hiking seemed like a fine idea.  Reading a book back at the campground with a sandwich even better.  Clearly i was not in race mode.

But as the day went on, my connection to the landscape grew stronger, and with it my resolve to keep running. It felt awesome to be self-reliant out there in the wilderness, not just for resources, but also for motivation.  It’s easy to keep running when you know 4th place is hunting you down and a podium finish is at stake.  But the factors that motivate one to keep running 8 hours into a route that nobody knows you’re doing are a bit more complex — or perhaps subtle.  I’d like to say it’s the sheer enjoyment of it, but honestly that doesn’t quite capture the essence of it.  I found out that running 50 miles is darn hard whether competing or not.  And when things get that hard, the feelings of joy start to be replaced by something else more elusive.  It’s an exploration of sorts, and one i’m immensely curious about as i feel i have only scratched the surface of it.

double

My favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer. Favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer.

More details of the route can be found on my Strava page:

route

Autumn in Michigan

We all experience seasons in one way or another no matter where we live, thanks to our varying position relative to the sun and changing day lengths. Even here in coastal California we have four seasons, subtle as they may appear at times. But there are some places where the seasons are defined with such clarity, that it nearly transcends the place itself.

Michigan is one of those places.  I was lucky enough to spend 16 years of my life growing up there and have been coming back to visit family ever since. While I certainly have strong childhood memories of  the thick blankets of snow after a winter blizzard and the twinkling of fireflies on a humid summer night, it is autumn where Michigan really shows its colors. (and it is in Michigan where Autumn showed hers to the family)

It is an intimate season, with quiet evenings around the fire with family and friends, and solitary runs on country roads. It is a time when sunlight, rich in color, casts long shadows through kitchen windows where the season’s last tomatoes await their culinary fate. And It is a time when the lush canopies of oak, maple, and poplar burst into a grand finale of color before returning to the earth to repeat the cycle.

I also find it refreshing to step outside the cultural/tech/foodie incubator that is the Bay Area — so full of superlatives and innovation and forward thinking — and spend a few days in a place that a little more understated, yet utterly content in the present.

I am thankful for this place called the mitten state, with its distinctive seasons and quiet beauty. And above all, I’m grateful for my family who live there. It will always be a home to me.

Pikes Peak and Yosemite

pikespeak_top_running

Running near the summit of Pikes Peak in 2003

Each year when Pikes Peak race weekend nears, I feel a deep yearning to return. It’s as if all the years of training and racing up that mountain have left something inside me, (or more likely I left something on the mountain), and there is a sense of wanting to reconnect. I discovered myself as a runner on its slopes during the 4 consecutive years that i ran the marathon (9th in 2003, 1st in 2004, 2nd in 2005, 2nd in 2006). During those years, I discovered the patience, focus, and determination necessary to succeed on the mountain, and those qualities have defined my approach to training ever since.

I look forward to returning to my favorite race on my favorite mountain, but this year it was not to be.

So this past weekend I looked for an alternative mountain endeavor to take its place. Coincidentally, 6 month old Autumn was clearly jonesing for an adventure and Kristin’s brother Logan was visiting from mountain-deprived Michigan. So on Saturday morning, Kristin, Autumn, Logan and I packed the car and set off to Yosemite for the weekend.

For me, arriving in Yosemite is like a Catholic arriving at St. Peters Cathedral: An architectural masterpiece presided over by powers higher than your own. It’s at once humbling and empowering. No other place inspires me to explore its reaches more than Yosemite.

Pleasure to see you again mr sentinel.

Yosemite Valley from the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point

Once arriving in Yosemite Valley, we immediately set off on foot toward Glacier Point on the Four Mile Trail (it’s actually 4.6 miles to the top). Kristin and Logan hiked up with Autumn in the baby bjorne while I ran. Once the valley rim is achieved 3200′ of climbing later, spectacular views of Half Dome, Nevada/Vernal Falls, and the rest of the Valley are awarded. Tour groups and buses notwithstanding, it is one of the finest viewpoints in the Valley. [see the Strava route]

The Mist Trail. One of the finest short hikes in the world.

On Sunday, we collected our free coffee from the Lodge and ate breakfast while pouring over maps to plan the day’s adventures. Kristin would do a 10-mile loop around the valley’s scenic bike paths with the baby jogger, while Logan would do his own hike up to Mirror Lake. My objective for the day, was to run from Yosemite Valley (4000′ elev) to Tenaya Lake (8200′) via Clouds Rest (10,000′), 18 miles in total with 7000′ of climbing. The route was gloriously scenic, following the Mist Trail past Nevada and Vernal Falls and the John Muir Trail around Half Dome. The views from Clouds Rest, a massive granite formation perched high above the valley, are stunning. [see Strava route]

Yosemite, steeped in climbing lore and tradition, is also an ideal playground for the vertically inclined runner. The view from Clouds Rest.

The run finished at Tenaya Lake, where I took a bus back down to the Valley after a cool dip in the water.

upload

Tenaya Lake. Where rock climbers meet mountain runners meet standup paddle boarders.

It was a wonderful weekend in Yosemite. Only downside was not being able to do the hikes with the fam…

20120820-210903.jpg

Kristin & Autumn hiking up the Four Mile Trail. Autumn’s first visit to Yosemite!

On the Run – Another Week in Paradise

One of my Christmas presents this year was an ultra-compact camera given to me by Kristin for the sole purpose of taking pictures on my runs.   As my dad is fond of saying, “the best camera in the world is the one you bring with you”.  As a runner, that means size is paramount.  The Canon Elph 300 is about the size of a deck of cards and fits nicely in a small waste pack, or better yet, in your hand with the draw string wrapped around your wrist.  This picture shows the beauty of this camera in action… you can’t even tell it’s there in my hand.

The camera has the side benefit of keeping things mellow during this phase of base building.  There is a temptation to go out hard this time of year when i’ve feeling strong and inspired.  Having the camera in my hand forces me to stop and appreciate the scenery a bit.   And there is no shortage of that around here.  Here’s a recap of this last week in pictures, one of the finest weeks of running in recent memory.  A total of 80 miles, and 13,365 ft of vertical.

Favorite runs this week on Strava:

Around Mt Tam Loop, 19 mi, 4000+ ft vertical

Muir Beach Loop, 15 mi, 3500+ ft vertical

Coyote Ridge Trail

Coyote Ridge Trail

 

Muir Beach

Muir Beach

 

"Topher's cutoff" from Muir Beach

"Topher's cutoff" from Muir Beach. Named after Topher Gaylord who first showed it to me.

 

The Owl Trail

The Owl Trail

 

Mt Biker on Coastal View Trail

Random Mt Biker on Coastal View Trail

 

Choices, choices

The choices we are confronted with on the trail.

 

The Sun Trail, by day

The Sun Trail, by day

 

Moon rise over the Sun Trail

The Sun Trail, by night (full moon!)

 

The trail that begins at my driveway.

The trail that begins at my driveway on Janes St.

 

Pixie Trail

Sunrise on the Pixie Trail

 

Railroad Grade on Mt Tam

The things you see in Mill Valley.

 

Had to lean far to get this shot

Not a bad commute. Had to hang over the bridge a ways to get this shot.

 

Crissy Field

Crissy Field. One of my favorite places in the city.

 

On the Run, Mt Tam Loop

This was a great week of running.  After 1 week of rest and 3 weeks of easy running following the NF50 miler, i’ve hit one of those sweet spots in training that occurs when you’ve run just enough to get fit again, but not enough to get tired again.  And without any races on the schedule in the short term, i’m finding tremendous joy in running without an agenda.  No workouts, no goals, just having fun.  One could argue this is the ideal mindset for running all the time, not just during rest periods.  But i actually enjoy the cyclical nature of mentally focusing during heavy training, and then mentally relaxing and detaching during rest periods.  And i think incorporating both into one’s program are necessary for a sustainable and successful season.

At any rate, i’m enjoying this slow transition from rest to building up my base again, and especially since it is coinciding with what is likely the nicest stretch of weather i’ve ever experienced in the Bay Area.  It’s been 60 degrees and sunny for countless weeks, and showing no signs of changing.  Most locals talk about it with a giddy sense of disbelief, but we know full well that the rainy season will come sooner or later.

Energized by the beautiful weather, I spent my first long-ish run of 2012 exploring a new route up Mt Tam.  The Blithedale ridge starts from the east side of Mill Valley and climbs gradually up the northeast shoulder of the mountain, with steep undulations along the way.  With beautiful views of Mill Valley on one side and the San Francisco bay on the other, it makes for a delightful (and challenging) route to Mt Tam, and is certain to become part of my regular rotation.  BONUS: As a fire road, its surface is gentle enough for a baby jogger.

Mt Tam Loop, via Blithedale Ridge, 1/08/12
15.5 Miles, 4000+ ft climbing
[Route details on Strava]

Blithedale Ridge

Approaching Mt Tam from Blithedale Ridge

Blithedale Ridge

Blithedale Ridge, the Marin version of Boulder's Magnolia Road but with better views and easier to breathe. This is a rare flat section.

The summit of Mt Tam

Touching the door

Gotta tag the door to really call it a summit

Looking north towards Lake Lagunitas.

San Francisco bay from Mt Tam

San Francisco bay from the summit, with Blithedale Ridge visible in the left foreground, and on the horizon, Mt Diablo on the left and the City of SF on the right.

Coming home along the Sun Trail, a personal favorite of mine

The Sun Trail, Muir Woods below

The Sun Trail, with Muir Woods shrouded in clouds. (taken on another morning run this week)

Mt Tam Loop, via Blithedale Ridge, 1/08/12
15.5 Miles, 4000+ ft climbing
[Route details on Strava]