The first mile is the hardest. You haven’t settled into a stride yet, your breathing is uneven, and you feel a catch in your right ankle. The remnant of an old injury healed long ago. 

But you don’t allow those things to deter you. Rather, you enjoy running down Market Street like a child, weaving in and out of the crowd, secretly trying to race cyclists until they pick up speed and zoom off.

Ever since the city banned cars from the two-mile stretch between South van Ness Avenue and the Ferry Building, this route has taken on a new feel. Quieter, calmer, and more relaxed. You take your headphones off to listen, delighting in the sound of your own shoes striking the pavement.   

When you reach the Embarcadero Waterfront, you cross an invisible threshold, reentering the familiar activity of downtown. The sound of your steps are replaced by the rumbling of engines, but as you jog across the crosswalk, you continue to count the beat in your head. One… two. One… two.  

This section of your route has more traffic, but it’s a welcome change. Variety keeps the run interesting. On the waterfront, you have the added challenge of dodging shoppers, families with strollers, and people waiting for ride shares. 

The second mile feels better now that your ankle has fully stretched out, but the real magic doesn’t happen until you reach mile three. That’s when you achieve a meditative state, the runner’s high. It’s a peaceful surge of energy that leaves you feeling composed and refreshed, although you know you should feel tired. And even though you’ve seen the Bay Bridge a hundred times before, you experience a sudden rush of gratitude, thankful for such a beautiful running path.  

You allow your mind to freely wander, your feet effortlessly tracing the familiar route until you finally look up and realize you’re back home. You hold onto the last wisps of the runner’s high, until the reverie finally breaks and reality sets in. 

Back upstairs, it all catches up to you. The tightness in your calves, a shortness of breath, and a desperate need for water. You’re exhausted yet exhilarated at the same time. Something that only happens after a long run. 

Filling up your water bottle, you begin to think about tomorrow’s run. You could switch it up by focusing on time rather than distance. Or by creating a new playlist to change the mood. You could even adjust your route for an extra challenge, running toward Union Square rather than away from it, but you won’t just yet. Now that Market Street is a “car-free” thoroughfare, you think you’ll enjoy the newfound openness for just a bit longer.