Friday, 9 October 2015

Hotels California

It was a long time coming but after pulling my hamstring at the Hollins Green 5k I had to get back into racing at some point. With all the other issues I was having with my body my recovery had taken a long time. Thanks to physio, Richard Mason, I had a recovery plan and, although it was slow going, it was going. Initially I didn’t make any plans for a race, somewhere in the distant future was all that I had in my sights, as I tried to just get back and enjoy my running. After a couple of weeks of introductory speedwork I decided I was close to being right, but with a holiday in California on the horizon I was keen to put some kind of marker down before I went away.

Originally I had planned to do a local parkrun on 22nd August, but the night before I just didn’t feel that I was ready. Yes, a parkrun isn’t a race and I could easily jog round in 20 odd minutes, but I could do that anywhere, if I was going to run a parkrun I needed to at least attempt to run it hard. That way it would give me some indication of form, from which I could progress. The following weekend we were visiting Edinburgh, I had some business to attend to so we thought we’d make a weekend of it and go to some shows at the festival. Perfect opportunity to run a flat, if a usually windy, parkrun. Decision made, Saturday we would run Edinburgh Parkrun.

I always look forward to the Edinburgh Parkrun, for starters it means we’re up in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities in the world, secondly, I take it as an opportunity to perhaps bump into old running friends from times of old. Sadly once again I was disappointed, but I suppose not surprised, that none of my old running friends were out, I imagine they have plenty of races to take part in, as I used to when I lived there, though I was surprised not to see my old training partner Jim Buick, who usually runs at these events. I did recognise one young lady, Scottish International Freya Ross, but I don’t know her personally so we just acknowledged each other as one Edinburgh AC member to another (well I’m no longer a member but I was wearing my old City of Edinburgh singlet on this occasion).

It was another breezy day, not as breezy as the last time I ran at Edinburgh, but breezy all the same. I wasn’t bothered by a bit of wind, I knew I was out of shape so was fully expecting to run over 18 minutes. After the first k I started overtaking other runners and was surprised how far up the field I was, and also surprised that Freya wasn’t much further ahead, I figured she must’ve been coming back from an injury too. I finished 7th, a couple of seconds behind Freya, I had been catching her up, gradually, but I was fully spent by the end, though I’m sure I might’ve been able to muster a bit more if it had been a race that counted, but she probably could too and 2 seconds is actually a significant distance at a good pace. My time surprised me, 17:59, considering I ran 18:00 last time I was up, when I was actually getting quite fit, the week before the Masters National Road Relays (though it really was windy then). So quite pleased with that debut, though it will be a while before I race again, due to the holiday.

My intention, during the holiday, was to train when I felt like it, but not to extremes. We were travelling around and I knew that meant we’d be needing to get up and just go, and in all fairness, Carole had footed the bill for this one so it was only fair she got maximum return on her investment. Had I been running well I might’ve had a slightly different attitude. However, as it turned out I ended up training a little harder than I’d anticipated.

I’d not been to California before, I’d thought about it previously but not had as strong a drive or desire to go as to places like Australia and New Zealand. But Carole had been a few times and was keen to show me, so this was our opportunity.

We flew from Manchester, via Heathrow, to San Francisco and caught the train to our hotel, just off Union Square, easy enough. Long day as it was we weren’t too tired and so it was a quick change and off out to see the sights, while it was still light. Knowing her way around Carole took me the route to The Embarcadero, where all the wharfs are, as this would be the best place to get a run in, that was near to our hotel. It did mean crossing a number of roads to cross to get there but then it was traffic free, mostly. We walked up to Fishermans Wharf and had a look at the sea lions, as one does, and then it was time to head back to our hotel, across town, over the hill, finding somewhere to eat on the way. The one point that struck me more than anything else about San Francisco was how many homeless people there were on the streets. Now I’m used to seeing homeless people and I am aware that cities tend to be more of a draw than a village in the back of beyond, but there did seem to be a significant number, and of this number a high proportion seemed to be shouting out loud, whether to themselves or someone else.
Getting a spot in the sun in San Francisco almost as bad as on an Italian beach

The next morning it was up and out for my first run in the USA. I took the same route as our walk on the previous day but continued along from Fishermans Wharf until I got to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, where there appeared to be a swimming event. No time to watch, I had breakfast to aim for. I decided to try going back through town, rather than back the way I’d come. I expected it to be a bit hilly, but I’m not afraid of a few climbs and I wanted to see Lombard street, to see what all the fuss is about. Ok, I found out, there were some steep hills, particularly going up Lombard Street to get to the crooked bit. And then more so cutting back across to our hotel. Luckily, it being a Sunday, the street weren’t too busy with traffic as I had quite a few junctions to cross. Back after 49 mins, a nice little sight seeing trip of San Francisco.    
The Streets of San Francisco, or Lombard Street to be exact

Now I knew where I was going I decided I was ready to do some speed work the next day, though this time I kept to the flat, less roads to worry about. I had started my speed work a couple of weeks earlier by doing 4 x 5 minutes with 5 minutes recovery between reps and 5 x 4 minutes with 4 minutes recovery between reps, each week I would reduce the recovery by 1 minute, so my first bit of speed work was a 4 x 5 minutes with 3 minutes in between reps. It went well, the sun was shining and I didn’t get run over. The following morning, we had a busy day so I was up early and out for a 6 mile run. During my stay in SF I had noticed that runners didn’t appear to be as polite as some other places I have run, i.e. I come from the running background of making some kind of acknowledgement to runners as you pass them, whichever way they are going, whether this be verbal or a nod of the head. I’ve got used to being ignored by people with ear phones in but in SF runners coming the other direction would just stare blankly ahead and not even take a 2nd look to my smile and ‘morning’. Having spent a few days in SF I decided that this wasn’t blatant rudeness, it’s just a protection mechanism, based on the premise that the only person who speaks to a stranger is a madman, and there were plenty of them in SF. So By now I’d decided to be less friendly to other runners, but then I got engaged in conversation with a fellow runner, it was only brief, a young lady who I overtook but clocked that she wasn’t hanging around, she caught me up at some traffic lights, that were too busy to jaywalk, so I told her I thought she was moving well, we exchanged a few words, and the lights changed we were off. I quite expected her to come with me and was prepared to slow down to enjoy a Southern California running conversation, but she wasn’t there a few metres later so I ran on, we passed again on my return and we wished each other well, and I went home for breakfast, this was the only runner I had any kind of conversation with in California, not counting the shop in San Diego. The difference in traffic, on a working day, was pretty significant, I wouldn’t have wanted to run again in that. Thankfully, from a running perspective but not from a leaving SF one, we were picking up a car, early the next morning, to begin our trip to San Diego, so running would be off the agenda for the day. I was ready for a rest by now anyway.

When I was last in the states, Boston and the East Coast, we did some driving and I suffered from a dodgy hamstring, something that I do occasionally have problems with. So I was a little concerned about how the drive would affect me, but this time, we weren’t travelling anywhere too far, so I’m glad to report it didn’t.

Next stop down the road was Monterey. We weren’t located too far away from the place we’d booked our car hire, and that was round the corner from entry to the 101, so it was an easy exit from SF and a straight forward drive, to get used to the overtaking/undertaking mentality of drivers in the states. On the way we popped down the 35 to Santa Cruz, where a few films have been shot. It was a lot smaller than I expected, and fairly deserted, but it was at a point when lunch beckoned. After a wander through town Carole selected a place, but after 5 minutes of being ignored by the staff and thinking it looked a little dirty we left and went across the road to another joint.
Famous boardwalk in Santa Cruz

Lunch done and it was creeping towards mid-afternoon, time to set off for Monterey. We arrived late afternoon, but the sun was still shining, and as I’d allocated this as a no run day, we went for a walk along the front and up the pier. The pier was, a little fake, but interesting. As we wandered up the pier we kept getting enticed into the bars for happy hour. Carole was keen as there was sparkling wine involved, me not so much as the choice of beer was poor. We did find one, that didn’t quite match Carole’s objective, but did mine, but they had no outdoor seating. Finally the bar at the end of the pier had it all, IPA on draft, sparkling wine cocktails and seats in the sun, so we stopped there. The beer was actually a bit of a let down, the only poor IPA of the holiday, so we only stopped for two and went home to dress for dinner.
The pier at Monterey

Having walked to Cannery Row for dinner I knew where my run would go the next morning. And so it did, along a cycle path/walkway, which was quite busy with early morning walkers, fitness walkers, joggers and cyclists. Still it was good enough for me and a session of 5 x 4 minutes with 2 minutes recovery. After breakfast we visited the famous aquarium, which was so interesting it kept us occupied until mid afternoon. Whilst we were on the pier, the previous day, we’d looked at the various whale watching trips. I wasn’t too bothered, I’d been twice before, but girls just wanna have fun so we decided to go for what we thought would be a 5:00 sailing, thankfully we got there iin time for the last sailing of the day, 4:30. As usual it was a long drawn out trip to get to the sightings, but once there, whales were everywhere. We saw diving, breaching and even that move they do where they scoop up a load of fish in their mouth. Dolphins, as normal, on the way out and back, and it was a good fun trip.

The next morning we were moving again, driving down the 1 (scenic route, longest route north to south (or south to north depending on your viewpoint and direction of travel) in the states). It’s not a particularly long way to Pismo Beach but the ‘1’ is a long and winding road, with some spectacular scenery, just lending itself to stopping for photo opportunities, plus we were intending to stop at a couple of places for excursions as well. With this in mind, and still being in my ‘I’m on holiday, not a training trip’ state of mind, I skipped my pre-breakfast run so that we could get away sharpish. We avoided Carmel, which everybody tells me is another beautiful place, relying on getting down the road some before the slow pace kicked in. And then we hit the Big Sur. Many people have spoken or written about the beauty of this drive, I’ve even seen some pictures, but, it was far more stunning than I expected and brought me to the conclusion that this was the most attractive drive I had ever undertaken, and I’ve done my fair share of driving. I may be wrong, I remember some great ones, the drive from Corran Ferry to Acharacle struck me both times I drove it, the sheer peace and beauty of the setting, even more so if you’re in a convertible. We stopped on a number of occasions just to get sight of the views and to take numerous pictures, which won’t have done it justice.
First official stop was at San Simeon, to see the Elephant seals. There were lots of them, it smelt a bit fishy. They weren’t as big as I was expecting, probably the wrong time of the year, most were asleep and those that were fighting were only schoolboy fighting, again, probably wrong time of the year.

Next stop was Hearst Castle. According to the rules, and knowing the background of the Hearst family I’m sure I could be facing a lawsuit if I was to breach them, I’m not allowed to publish any pictures of the property, so I won’t bother trying to describe it, other than to say, it was worth a visit, we enjoyed it very much and I could have spent a good couple of hours more there had I been accompanied by a more patient wifey. But we still had some miles to travel before we touched down in Pismo Beach so fair enough.

So off we toddled to Pismo Beach, we found what we thought was our hotel, it seemed ok, bit near the motorway, nice views over the sea, we hadn’t gone into town yet so we weren’t sure how far that was, but it didn’t seem that near! Turned out it wasn’t our hotel, the hotel we had been booked into, some months back, had changed it’s name and was a little further up the road, further away from town. It was a very pleasant hotel, with great views from our balcony, but not for the last time would we find ourselves a long way from the action, communication obviously broke down between the wifey and the travel agents when discussing our criteria, but you’d think they’d inform you that what they had booked you had changed it’s name. Feeling a bit frustrated I decided to don my running kit and have a run down into town to see how far it really was and to see if I could find a restaurant I’d been recommended. It had been a long day, I was tired, hungry and dehydrated, so it was a bit of a shuffly run, and a bit frustrating as I went down road after road that looked like it would lead to the beach, only to find they were fenced off. Finally I made it and ran along the promenade to the end of town, it didn’t take long, it’s not a big place. I ran back along the next street, thinking this was the only other street, couldn’t see the restaurant I was looking for and decided it was a bit of a dump.

I reported my findings back to Carole, as she lounged by the pool, and went to have a shower. I couldn’t see me enjoying myself these next two days, after the great places we’d just been to. Having looked up the restaurant I realised there was another street, but decided I’d need to drive down, rather than take a long walk. Driving down into town it was the first time we’d had to use the car to go out for a meal and was the first time we encountered the parking issue (despite there being lots of parking spaces, there don’t appear to be enough for the amount of cars requiring them). We did eventually find a place and decided to have a little walk before we looked at the restaurant I’d been recommended, and it just so happened we found an Italian restaurant that looked good, it also looked busy but they surprised me by having a table available. We had a great meal and almost witnessed the Heimlich manoeuvre first hand when a woman on a table near us stood up and started panicking about not being able to breath. Heimlich not required, it was just a panic attack. A swift walk along the promenade made me realise that it wasn’t such a bad place afterall.

The next morning it was quality run, I was going to do the 1,2,3 stock training run. I decided to go away from the town as I’d seen some paths that led to a cliff walk. Sadly they didn’t go far enough and within 9 minutes I had to turn around and head towards the town, still it was a fair way towards the town so I didn’t have to cross many roads and had a pretty decent run. The rest of the day was spent visiting various places, starting with San Luis Obispo, nice place, some old buildings, low level town, nothing much there of significant interest but a pleasant enough place. We left SLO and headed to a small town that I can’t remember the name for. It was a lovely town though and we sat and had lunch there before heading back down to the beach, via Oceano and Grover beaches, where they allow you to drive your car across the beach, which in effect made it look like a giant car park with people sitting on deckchairs by their car and having a picnic, we didn’t stay long. Then onto Pismo, where we surprisingly found a parking space and went for a walk down to the beach. It was busy in town so for dinner we decided we’d try the restaurant attached to the hotel we originally thought we were staying at, the added benefit of which was that we could walk and I could have a drink. Knowing how busy it was we went to book in, but they weren’t taking anymore bookings, their policy was for people to turn up and wait for a slot. Ok, so we were getting used to that by now, so maybe we’d have to wait 30 minutes. Back home, some relaxation time.

When I’d gone out for my run in the morning, I had realised that the views further away from town were pretty good, so we decided to walk that way, before heading to the restaurant, that way we’d probably see some nice sunsets. But as we got closer we decided that it would be a better idea if we got some fish and chips and sat on the cliffs watching the sunset, so we diverted to the business end of Shell Beach. We couldn’t find a take away, but we did find a bar serving food. Still we had plans to see the sunset and eat at the place down the road. So we headed back to the cliffs and strolled around, taking pictures, then we went back past our hotel to the restaurant, to be told the wait was 2.5 hours. 2.5 hours, I could not believe it, we’d walked all that way and it was a waste of time, the girl we spoke to in the afternoon hadn’t given any indication that the wait would be that long. Well that was it, I decided we’d have to get in the car and we’d try the bar up the road, no point in going to Pismo, it would be mobbed. Back at the bar, there was a queue there too, but, as we were happy to sit at the bar we got straight in, and it turned out to be a great meal and the bar man was a nice chap, even if it did mean we had to watch some American football.

The next morning we were heading for Santa Barbara, so it was a simple 6 mile run down to the beach and back up to the cliffs, north of us, then back to the hotel. We arrived at Santa Barbara too early to book into our room, but, once again, found ourselves a long way from the town centre. We decided to drive into town and find a car park. However before we did we found a nice little space on the main road, just before the main town, and took it. Conscious we’d probably only have an hour’s parking we thought we’d explore a little and try to find the car parks, but, as it was Sunday, it turned out to be free parking all day. So we left the car where it was and walked into town.

Santa Barbara, is a bit different to the sort of cities I’m used to. There isn’t so much a centre, where everything is huddled together, it’s more of a strip where shops and restaurants stretch along one street, with some shops off on side streets but very little, other than businesses and housing in the streets that run parallel to this main strip. Plus it goes a long way with a tunnel under the 101 to get you down to the beach.  With our hotel a couple of miles away from the start of this strip I couldn’t see me doing a quality, or any other kind of run down to the beach, as you know, runners aren’t keen to stop once on the run. As we got near to the beach we came across a running shop, so I went in to ask for some advice of where we might be able to do some good quality sessions near to our hotel. Very helpful assistants but I don’t think they understood what I was after as they could only come up with runs that were completely unsuitable. Oh well, I’m good at making do and can make a session in a small area if I have to. The next morning I was out before breakfast, we were on a busy main road, but just a couple of blocks back it was almost quiet. It was time to do my 4 x 5 minutes, I was down to 2 minutes recovery. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal of space available before I ran out of safe ground but I made the most of it, running uphill for 5 minutes, down the same hill for 5 and repeat.

The following day was going to be our longest drive, through LA to finish up our stay in San Diego. Because of this, and the fact I couldn’t face doing a steady run up and down the same hill, we decided we’d just get off and run later in the day, it looked like our hotel in San Diego had some decent running routes nearby.  It was a long drive, but not too long, thankfully, and thanks to the car pool lane, which allowed us a slightly swifter journey through LA, so we arrived at our hotel early afternoon a bit tired and a little bit hungry. After changing our room for a slightly better one our first impressions weren’t great, the hotel was once again way out of the city, the island view was muddy and it was raining, hard. Although this was the first day we’d had rain since we’d arrived in California, it was a bit disappointing, when you’re tired and hungry it’s the little things that matter. We headed off to try to find some food, but roads that are simple to navigate when you know exactly where you are, become a nightmare when you’re unsure of yourself and Carole’s navigating, particularly when the roads are multi-lane and busy. Eventually we found somewhere and had a nice Mexican. Then onto the beach at Pacific Beach, where Carole insisted we went shopping, I ended up buying her two pairs of sketchers and in the process had my credit card cloned. Thankfully my credit card company dealt with this a lot quicker than I expected, though that meant the end of my credit card use for the rest of the holiday. And that was a big shame, no more shopping!

Back to the hotel, I thought I’d check out the area, see how good it was for running. I was a bit tired so just ran around the park area the hotel was situated in, a nice 6 miles covered and recce done for tomorrow morning’s speed work. The next three days in San Diego were fantastic, weather was back to being great, it’s a great city and we were constantly busy visiting loads of places, again a little problem with finding parking spaces and the first grumpy waitress was encountered here. On the last morning, as I was doing my final quality run in the park, before heading home, there were large groups of college runners and a marked out course on the grass. It looked like there was an inter college cross country race meeting, but I was too busy trying to run fast to ask, besides we were on holiday, Carole wasn’t going to entertain watching that.

And then it was all over and we were heading back home, to surprisingly warm temperatures. I did feel very jetlagged when I got home, many years ago I could come of a flight like that and smash an 8 mile run, not these days, it actually took me about three days before I felt fully with it again, so my training did suffer a little, but I was soon back training hard, then it was off to Lisbon, but that’s, maybe, another blog.

But to finish off, my training is now back to normal, I’m getting fitter, faster and stronger with each run. There’s still a way to go yet but I feel like I’m getting competitive, not that I know when my next race is going to be, these days you don’t seem to be able to just rock up to them on the day and I obviously didn’t enter any whilst I was in recovery mode. I could try a parkrun, I may try a parkrun, but we’ve been so busy since our return from California that I quite like the idea of a lie in on a Saturday.

Written by Roger Alsop

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