With the 1.5-mile car-free corridor now a permanent fixture in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, a walk — rather, run — down memory lane.
Much like consensual group sex, running brings me an immeasurable amount of joy. It’s melodic in its tedium — to put one foot in front of the other in repetition until either a distance is met or the body gives out. It’s also quite biologically straightforward; as a species, we’re as evolutionary adept at running as we are privy to constructing tools.
At this moment on planet earth, where any amount of certainty remains a mercurial albatross, running affords me a feeling of tangible faith. That we can do hard things, which make us feel good on a cellular level; that we can achieve things — great things, small things, medium things — at our own accord; that forward propulsion is, more often than not, simply enough.
Bay to Breakers this year, which was the first IRL iteration half of the iconic SF raise since the pandemic began in March of 2020, was an exercise in just that: giving into pleasure at your own pace.
Yes, there’s a “Straight Pride” tinge to it all… that I don’t wholly care for. Sure, the moral compasses of its fiscal sponsors don’t, say, point in the same direction as most race-goers. The traffic delays and displays of outright drunkenness are odious.
But it’s San Francisco’s equivalent of Mardi Gras.
Running Bay to Breakers’s precariously steep road course is nothing new to my lower body. This was, after all, my fourth year running the race… without shoes.
(What perhaps might surprise you most, dear reader, is that this race, in particular, is one of the best ones of its kind in the county to run barefoot. It’s an entire closed-off road course, lending itself to conditions rife for the seasoned minimalist runner to relish in his or her or their well-earned calluses.)
It’s a monotonous spectacle I’ve grown fondly of. Like the early spring rain on bougainvillea. Or the first blanket of unusually thick haze to roll over the Golden Gate Bridge come “Fogust.” How the passing hand wave of a benevolent stranger on Page Street reiterates a particular wholesomeness still evident in San Francisco.
What I failed to comprehend at the beginning of the race was the fact that something has, in fact, changed this time around: We’d be racing down a permanent car-free JFK Drive for the first time since it was solidified by the City legislature in April.
My breath had yet to ease coming into Golden Gate Park — a fit of respiratory distress made no easier by my recently recovered case of Covid-19 — but there was levity in the air.
Not the lightness afforded by the stripping away of mass.
What I’m referring to is the frivolity of watching pedestrians reclaiming roadways. Then realizing this earned dominion out from automobiles will continue to exist after the alumni barriers are taken away.
It was at the intersection of Conservatory and JFK drives that I felt truly present and engaged with San Francisco. The nearly five miles leading up to that point were set inside a fishbowl of stimulus; the inebriated onlookers were only exacerbated by the deafening roar of well-meaning applause; it was an orchestra of encouragement that my introverted self found more distracting than valuable — but that by no means negates the joyous, celebratory, supportive nature behind those chants.
But all this cacophony of motivation dissolved into a calmer, more still impulse to keep on going on JFK Drive, all while appreciating the gorgeous city I, somehow, managed to find myself in.
Where I can race toward a horizon hugged by the sunset-kissed Pacific.
San Francisco is where I met a kerosene beauty, a man who burned me anew after it all became ash — and, in his absence, set a wildfire inside me somewhere along Lincoln Avenue on a December run.
My journalism career germinated here; has since dug its roots deeper here; producing saccharin fruit and periwinkle flowers from tending to those roots with a fastidious obsession.
I, too, noticed my pace had quickened on JFK Drive, finding itself back in the 6:30-minute-mile range I was gunning for the entire race. My brows relaxed, shoulders dipped. A smile was smeared across. Sweat continued dripping down my hat and onto my lip as if to remind me (through saline means) just how hard my body was working.
At this point in the race, I surrendered to whatever sharp detritus might lodge itself in my calluses. Much like how primates preen mites off one another, I’d soon be participating in a comparable pursuit — albeit a solo affair that would see me pick loose splinters before they ensconced themselves further in my epidermis.
Balance is an ephemeral thing we’ve put a glossy veneer on and iced with vanilla bean frosting. Rhythm, on the other, is something less pressured and expected. We understand the inevitability of coming and going, and how everything in our lives is in a state of entropy — a key principle of rhythm but one that doesn’t fit all too nicely in the ethos of balance.
As I sat a few yards from the finish line, holstering a yet-peeled banana and guzzling down a bottle of water, I, in one pruning motion after the other, removed the debris from my feet. In those rhythmic motions to rid my soles of foreign rubbish, I basked in the content that had washed over me those past 7.65 miles — and realized, as well, a substantial amount of that joy was sponged up running along car-free JFK Drive.
Now months removed from that run, I still find immense pleasure in running along the aforenoted car-free corridor… sans footwear.
Feature image: Courtesy of SF Parks Alliance via Sergio Ruiz