Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Running the Stairs in San Francisco: The Greenwich & Filbert Steps

My boss and I have the same conversation nearly every time we travel together:

Boss: Let’s go to the gym and then have coffee.

Me: While you go to the gym, I’m going to go running.

Boss: Oh! You’re going running? How far? I’ll go with you!

Me: Well…I’m not sure how far and besides, you’re faster than I am so running together is really not a great idea.

Boss: SURE IT IS! Plus, you’re faster than I am!

Me: No.

Boss: Yes.

Me: Ok.

And so we go running together. And he’s always faster than I am. But he banana peels back and forth and we always have a great time. 

We’ve run to and around Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon was 2 weeks before we ran to Soldier Field

We’ve run along the Persian Gulf in Abu Dhabi at sunrise.  

Early morning run in Abu Dhabi to avoid the heat.  

By far the most exotic and strange running map I've made yet. 

And through the surreal Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

As if the real tropical plants aren't pretty enough, they add Dr. Seuss-esque fake trees & plants to the gardens in Singapore.  

So, when we were in San Francisco recently and he said let’s go to the gym and then get coffee and I said I was going running and he asked me how far and I said I didn’t know and he said he would go with me and I said that wasn’t a good idea because he's faster than I am and he said I was wrong that it was a great idea, we decided to go running together.

"How about something flat?" I suggested. "A couple of miles down to the bay and along The Embarcadero and then we’ll turn back?" 

So we ran down to the water.  

We took a left along The Embarcadero, enjoying the views of the bridges, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the piers and general hustle that seems to be always happening along the bay. Above us to the left, in the distance, stood Coit Tower.

When it was time to turn around, my boss suggested we take a left and head back through the city.

"Ummm, that is going to be really hilly, I said. If we go back the way we came it’s flat. We should probably go back the way we came."

"Yeah, but if we head through the city, it’ll be a new and different way, and that’s always better," he replied. 

I really wanted to run back on the flat Embarcadero. I wanted to make sure we had enough time to get ready for the insane number of meetings we had scheduled that day. I wasn’t really interested in an adventure. I hadn’t even had coffee.

"True," I said. "Let’s go for it."

So we headed to the left again and in a moment I saw it. The sign.

It said: Steps to Coit Tower.

My boss didn’t notice it.

"It’s the steps to Coit Tower! This is amazing! I’ve always wanted to run these steps! They’re famous! They are the Greenwich Steps! They’re gorgeous! Well, they might be the Filbert Steps. But either way! There are WILD PARROTS that live up there!" I shouted, pointing up the steps, that seemed to go on, and on, and on and on. 

"You want to go up those steps?" He asked, looking at me like I was insane. 

"YES don’t you???? Let’s run the Greenwich Steps! Or the Filbert Steps? Whichever these are! They are both famous and awesome and this is going to be amazing!! Don’t you want to?" I was so excited. 

"Um. No? Not really." he stated. 

"OK, but can we please do it anyway?" I'd completely forgotten about my desire to get back to the hotel for a hot cup of coffee and a shower and even about our many looming meetings.

And so, I started up the steps, my approach similar to running stadium stairs. Except stadium stairs are short, and the angle is relatively forgiving. These steps were something else. It was like scaling the Cliffs of Insanity. Which I guess, kind of made sense given the way my boss had looked at me when I professed so excitedly my immense desire to climb these steps. Meantime, he stood below, looking up at me, likely wondering how he ended up with a lunatic assistant.

I was anaerobic and nearly hyperventilating in no time. I quickly changed my plan and decided I would run each section with a short breather on the landings. This also gave me time to look around in amazement at the gardens, the tiny hidden houses, the brick sidewalks heading off in either direction along the sides of the steps. And I would turn and look out and down to the bay, which was glistening with early morning sunshine. 

I hadn't made it very far up when my boss passed me. Walking. He was calmly walking up the steps and he passed right by. He said something like, "Really? Maybe you should walk?" And he disappeared ahead of me up the stairs. 

I ran and rested and ran and rested and felt like I was living in an Armistead Maupin story. Besides not being able to breathe at all, I felt a tremendous sense of joy. Sunrise on the Greenwich Steps! Inside a secret garden built into the side of a cliff in the middle of a gigantic city! Or was I climbing the Filbert Steps? Whichever they were, I was in a dream land. 

At the top I reached Coit Tower and around it, more amazing views. 

 Coit Tower is the payoff at the top of the steps, on Telegraph Hill

My boss was calmly waiting for me, laughing internally I’m sure. But I was so happy! I had run up more than 400 steps! I was going to have to work up to running the whole thing without stopping, but what an adventure!

the views from the top of the steps are so beautiful

We looked around and spotted another set of steps that led to North Beach where we could cross over to China Town and on to our hotel. It was time to head down for coffee. 

The next day I figured out that we had climbed the Greenwich Steps. And as soon as I had a break, I headed out to find and run the Filbert Steps, huffing my way back up to Coit Tower through another magical garden with just as much joy. And I did ask my boss if he wanted to run them with me, but he said he'd go to the gym and we could meet for coffee after.  

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