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Running In Place

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The pandemic is scary. When you live in a densely populated city with 20 daily flights from the epicenter of a pandemic, you expect the worst is coming straight at you. The early days of COVID-19 lockdown in San Francisco were eerie, with boarded-up businesses, no traffic, no noise, nobody in the streets and everybody hunkered down in social isolation. Early reports of infection rates and deaths led to heightened fear of even passing interactions with other people.

Emily Hendrick cruises past UCSF Hospital on the approach to Mount Sutro. Testing tents, warning signs and masked medical personnel are daily reminders that all is not normal.

Against that backdrop, I went running, and so did a lot of others. California’s mandatory shelter-in-place order boiled down to “except for essential activities, stay inside” and “don’t travel.” Beautifully, running was listed as one of the permitted reasons to leave your home. An essential activity.

More people on the trails were running after the control, sense of stability, connection with nature and health benefits that come from running. For all the challenges of sheltering in place and running in an urban environment, this strange time has given me and others a chance to explore San Francisco’s urban trails and discover surprising bits of wilderness within city limits.

Now with heightened civil unrest, San Francisco has also instituted an 8 p.m. curfew for an indefinite amount of time. For those looking forward to the slow loosening of restrictions for COVID-19, this was a demoralizing blow forcing us back into our homes. Yesterday, I shook off my dismay at the new restriction, laced up my shoes and put in 20 gorgeous miles of trail before the sun went down. For those 20 miles, everything felt OK with the world.

Running with a face mask tucked in a pocket was the norm for the first few weeks. Even with social distancing loosening, people are required to wear a mask when passing within 30 feet of others. Most runners interpret that loosely, based on how nervous the people near them look.
Thomas Bukowski leaves the Mission District, climbing up Billy Goat Hill and onto the trails above. Runners face extra stares, whether or not they wear masks, from those who doubt the sanity of running during a pandemic.
John Elliott cuts right down San Francisco’s signature Market Street. Now that they are no longer packed with trains, buses, tech employees and tourists, running down the middle of now-empty streets feels safer than running close to others on the sidewalk.
Carolyn Link tops out on Twin Peaks, where 850 feet of steps almost straight up lead to a 360-degree view. With the city in lockdown below, the trails up here provide a moment of escape and solitude.
Hendrick finds that tall forests and foggy air make Mount Sutro a welcome escape in the heart of the city. Running singletrack comes with the added challenge of jumping off trail to give six feet of space to someone else. Not everyone is comfortable sharing air, even in outdoor spaces.

Melinda Winter logs early morning miles in The Presidio of San Francisco. The former Army post, now a National Recreation Area, has become a refuge for cramped city dwellers.