San Francisco – Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is the home of the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, run in February, and regular weekend races organized by the Dolphin South End Runners

There are obvious similarities between GGP and Central Park in New York: shape and size, both oasis in a concrete desert and homes to cultural buildings and monuments. Curiosity leads the more nerdy of us to check the size of each, which reveals that GGP is 20% bigger than its Manhattan counterpart, and that leads on to the question as to whether the Golden Gate Park is amongst the largest urban parks in the world. If you believe the Wikipedia link which lists urban parks by size, then not even close. But hold on a moment: the largest park on the list is Serra de Cantereira, which is a whopping 160,000 acres, or 160 times the surface of GGP. Now let’s get serious: ok, Sao Paulo is a huge sprawling city, but this park is about 15 miles north of the city center, and is not surrounded by built up areas on all sides. Another example, Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, 60 times larger than GGP. But again, it is a push to call that a urban park. So I guess we need to redefine an urban park: for me, an urban park would be a park surrounded by built-up areas on all sides, and probably relatively close to a city center where the value of the land form a real estate perspective makes the park’s existence a minor miracle (thanks to the conservation organizations) Topanga State Park (11,000 acres, in Los Angeles) is considered by some to be the largest park within the confines of city limits, but again, it can’t really be considered as being close to downtown. In any case, as you work down the list, you will note that there are many urban parks larger than GGP, both in USA, and even in Europe (Casa de Campo, Bois de boulogne, Bois de Vincennes)

Ibirapuera – a runner’s Eden

In all cities, runners, bikers and walkers congregate in parks. It’s an attempt to get back to our pastural past. When we penetrate into these havens of greenery, we leave behind us all the stress and concerns of modern living, at least for the duration of our exercise. All parks have this value, but if I had the choice of returning to any park that I have run in, it would be without a shade of a doubt Ibirapuera.

The park is not immense. With 545 acres, it is smaller than Hyde Park (625a) in London, Central Park in New York (840a) and Golden Gate Park (1027a) in San Francisco. But it is perhaps its compact size and the resulting density of runners that makes it such a place of communion. It’s almost like showing up at a track as opposed to a more multi-use park, but a track that loops around ponds and lakes amidst the greenery

There are also walkers and cyclists (cycling tracks are well marked) but whatever the discipline, everyone seems engaged, focused, but happy

I ran in the park early morning and late evening. I would recommend both, but the evening has a special atmosphere to it, with excellent floodlighting, and the noise seems different once night has fallen, the patter of feet and distant voices combine to create a special atmosphere

Brazil is a country where physical appearance and beauty are given a high importance.

There are security guards at the entrances to the park: we are in Sao Paulo, after all, but they are discreet and will reassure those who need reassuring. I was apprehensive before setting out from my hotel, having heard a lot of stories first-hand from local ex-pats about hold-ups at gunpoint, but once in the park, felt totally safe. However, be prudent, and use common sense, particularly on your way to the park – it is in a relatively nice neighborhood, but you never know

Monterey Bay – or running on the edge of the world

I started running seriously in the summer of 2009, with the objective of running a half-marathon three months later. What had started as additional mid-week exercise to get me in better shape for my regular Sunday morning soccer games had now taken priority. And I could not have picked a better place for my first race (it really was my first race, not even a 5K before that, the only previous race was an egg-and-spoon race at school….)

Monterey is a wonderful destination, known for its beautiful coastline, its aquarium, its past as a fishing port and processing center (Cannery Row) and its link with the writer John Steinbeck.

6am in the morning, runners started to emerge from their hotel rooms, starting as a trickle, and converging into a human wave as they advanced towards the start line. That morning was cold, many runners sporting hats, gloves and additional layers. The sun rose to reveal beautiful clear skies, the vista on section of the race run along the coast were truly magnificent.

The course is an out-and-back starting in downtown Monterey, passing along Cannery Row and in front of the aquarium, then along the Pacific Grove coast past Point Pinos until the Spanish Bay Golf course. Mainly on asphalt, with a few short hills but not long enough to hurt, and with a few incursions on well-kept trails towards the end.

Unbeatable venue, with great organization, but the entry fee is a little on the steep side. With a $95 to $130 price tag, how can we maintain that running is a sport accessible to everybody. That’s a week’s grocery bill for some…..

I cannot comment as to how safe it would be to run the course when it is open to traffic. Be careful, advance prudently, but definitely worth a try


New York City Marathon Solo – Part II – Manhattan and Bronx

Getting to the start: if you want to avoid the Queensboro Bridge, you’ll need to start on the Manhattan side. If you are not within walking distance of the intersection of 6oth and 1st, then take the N, Q or R, or 4, 5 or 6 train to 59th Street, then head 3 blocks east to 1st Avenue and you’re on the course which heads north. If you want to include the bridge, then start on the Queens side, taking the subway to Queensboro Plaza station (trains 7, N and Q) or Queens Plaza (E, M or R) Queens Plaza involves crossing an intersection, whereas Quennsboro Plaza is right at the beginning of the bridge’s pathway. Of course, if you really want to toughen up the run, you can start on the Manhattan side and do an out-and-back over the bridge (or multiples if you are really looking for an intense hill workout)

The course: From intersection of 60th and 1st on the Manhattan side, you have about 10 miles to the finish line in Central Park. Add 1 miles for each one-way crossing of the Queensboro Bridge. The course is very simple: all the way up 1st Avenue to the Willis Avenue Bridge, which takes you into the Bronx; a couple of lefts and rights which will take you onto and over the Madison Avenue Bridge, at the foot of which you will find yourself back in Manhattan. Take a left onto 5th Avenue, and with the exception of a right-left-left-right which takes you around Marcus Garvey Park, it is a straight line. Between 110th St and the 90th St entrance to Central Park, there is a bit of an uphill gradient: noticeable at the best of times, but it must be brutal after 22 miles. The days’s work is not over, as there are about 3 miles left, with a few rolling hills before you reach the Tavern on the Green. If you are feeling strong, you can carry on exploring Central Park

Getting back to the start: if you have any energy left, you should be able to walk or even run from the Tavern on the Green back to your starting point: 1 mile to 59th St subways, and 2 / 2.5 miles to Queensboro / Queens Plazas


New York City Marathon Solo – Part 1 – Brooklyn and Queens

Despite the 50,000+ field, not everyone will be able to run the NYC Marathon in their lives. But a good second best is to run the course, which you can either tackle in one go or in two halfs. You may not have 2 million people cheering you on, but you will experience the diversity of the Big Apple by visiting many heighbourhoods that the average tourist would never set foot in

Living in New Jersey, I was fortunate enough to be able to qualify for the 2014 NYC Marathon by way of the NYRR 9+1 program (run 9 races and volunteer for another, and you’re automatically qualified for next year’s event)Queensboro Bridge I’m also taking advantage of my geographical proximity to familiarize myself with the course, by breaking the race down into two halfs which are separated by the Queensboro Bridge (or 59th St Bridge, or Ed Koch Bridge, as it is also known)

The Verrezano will have to wait until race day

The Verrezano will have to wait until race day

Getting to the start: don’t even think about starting from Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, as there is only one day a year you can run over the Verrazano Bridge, and that is Marathon day. To get to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, you can take the subway to the 86th Street (R train)  station, or drive over the Verrazano and park in the surrounding streets


The course: flat for much of the early miles, with the exception of the Clinton Hill, but that is not a big deal. Williamsburg is an exceptional experience, with its community of Hasidic Jews, especially if you run here on a Saturday morning.  brooklynhasidicsComtinuing along Bedford Aveneue, you run through the trendy area of Brooklyn with its restaurants, bars and coffee shops. The Pulaski Bridge is a warm up for the Queensboro Bridge, which is quite long (ascension of 0.8m) and relatively steep. If it is any consolation, it seems that it is a lot steeper coming from the other side.

And that is it for the first half of the marathon. The other side of the bridge is mile 16 on the course, but given that you didn’t start on Staten Island, you’ll have 14 miles on the meter

You can of course continue a few blocks north west to the 90th St / 5th Avenue entrance to Central Park, and run the last three miles to where the finishing line would be situated, by the Tavern on the Green

Getting back to your starting point: if you parked your car at the start, you will need to take the subway back to 86th St station, or to your hotel or train station otherwise