flickr photo by MDV
Since I’ve come to enjoy sleeping in a bit on weekends, I upended my usual routine on Sunday and did my long run in the evening. Usually I run through the nearby neighborhoods to get my miles in. But with 14 miles to get through I didn’t want to invite boredom by looping around and around the same streets again and again. Instead I decided to run through Golden Gate Park even though darkness was falling as I set out. It was quite dark out by the time I hit the Panhandle and moved through the eastern end of the park near the Hall of Flowers and the museums. In that part of the park, though, there’s a lot of lighting and you’re generally safe as long as your aware of your surroundings. But I was going to be running all the way down to the end of JFK Drive and then back up along MLK Jr. Drive, so I was in for a surreal, calm but slightly unnerving experience. There were a few other fellow sufferers about, but by the time I got to Crossover Drive I felt I had the park all to myself. Foolishly I pounded down the path even though it was so dark at times I occasionally couldn’t see the path itself, anything that might trip me up, or low-hanging tree branches. Sometimes I would come into a clear area and the sliver of moon would throw enough light to show me the way, but then it was back under the tree canopy, and I had to run the path from memory, picking my feet up slightly higher than I normally do to clear any unseen obstacles.
Shortly after the turnaround point I passed one other soul, and moments later experienced the spookiest part of my run yet. I followed a route which took me onto Middle Drive which overlooks the Polo Grounds and Speedway Meadows. For about a mile or so I was on a street closed to traffic with no one else around and moonlight barely lighting the way. I was well aware I was alone in an isolated part of the park vulnerable to anyone who might wish to do me harm, and I could hear in my head any number of admonitions against running through a darkened park on a cool fall evening. But I was having too much fun to care. I find the effect of running through a quiet park, day or night, calming and peaceful. It’s so much easier to focus on the essentials of what you’re doing-trying to knife through the air like an efficient running machine-with all of the normal distractions of the city stripped away. The park portion of the run behind me, I emerged onto the boisterous, crowded sidewalks of Haight Street and made my way home.
While I wouldn’t recommend everyone run alone through a cold, dark, urban park without wearing any lights or reflective gear, I had some wonderful meditative moments which helped propel me through a great run.
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