I’ve written about the Amtrak credit cards from Bank of America so I think it’s time I talk about options for riding Amtrak. Specifically, I will be discussing the routes for Amtrak found throughout my home state of California.
Amtrak has 8 routes which travel through at least some part of California. These 8 routes are the:
Sunset Limited; and
Most of my travel is on the Capitol Corridor and every now and then I take the Coast Starlight. This is because I travel on Amtrak between my home town and university, Sacramento and San Jose.
Without further ado, “Where do these routes go?” The major cities served by each route listed on Amtrak’s website and duration from end to end are:
California Zephyr – 51 hours 20 minutes
Emeryville (San Francisco connection)
Capitol Corridor – 3 hours 15 minutes
Auburn (mostly by thruway bus)
Coast Starlight – 35 hours
San Francisco Bay Area
Pacific Surfliner – 5 hours 45 minutes
San Luis Obispo
San Joaquins – 6 hours 15 minutes
San Francisco Bay Area
Southwest Chief – 40+ hours
Sunset Limited – 48 hours
Texas Eagle – 32 hours 25 minutes (Chicago to San Antonio) 65 hours 20 minutes (Chicago to Los Angeles)
These travel time are slower than driving (San Jose to Sacramento is only 2 hours without congested traffic) and much slower than flying. However, there’s no need to worry about going through security like TSA at an airport, riding a train can be more scenic without as much trouble with changing pressure messing with your eardrums, and it can be cheaper than flying.
But there are times where time cannot be spared. In the end, how you travel really depends on what your preferences, needs, and options are.
A week ago, I competed in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco half marathon. From getting to San Francisco, making my way through the pre-race expo, and trudging up and down the hills of San Francisco, this race had me face new obstacles in real time.
Walking up to the race Expo, I wouldn’t have know there was a race Expo going on inside if someone had not walked in the doors ahead of me. I knew the Expo was at Pier 35, and I saw Pier 35 on the building, but the signage for the Expo was rather limited and small. There were some people near the entrance because they, like me, needed to confirm their registration to learn their number and then sign the race waiver.
With my number in mind and waiver signed (that rhymed, didn’t it?), I made my way to pick-up my number. I was one of the first groups because the bibs were organized 0000-0999, 1000-1999, etc. and my number was in the 4000’s. At this first stop I only received my bib; I had to continue to the next stop to grab my shirt and bag.
Before I continue, this Expo was split into 4 “Stops”. Stop 1 was getting your Bib, 2 was getting your Shirt and Gear Bag, 3 was Merchandise and 4 was Main Expo.
When I grabbed my bag I thought “Okay, this has all of my things including my VIP information” without realizing the bags were not unique to each other and not noticing the VIP table was not “just up ahead”. This meant I did not have my VIP packet, but I’ll move on for now.
The merchandise was nice, but I had everything I needed so I didn’t spend much time in Stop 3. I did take a look at the glasses they were selling with a Rock ‘n’ Roll and 13.1 logo.
The vendor I was most excited for was United because United had their new Polaris business class seats on display. Other vendors I noted were Brooks, Garmin, Run Disney, and SF Chronicle.
The one “vendor” I actually needed was the VIP table. Unfortunately for me, I was pre-occupied mentally. However, the VIP table was at the very end in a back corner of sorts. All of the vendors were set up with one row on the left and 2 rows on the right. VIP was the 2nd on the right so it wasn’t even easy to see when walking towards the exit.
Race Day Morning
If I had received my VIP packet I would have known where the VIP shuttle pick-up was, but since I didn’t I needed the general shuttle pick-up area which was at the Civic Center Plaza.
Before leaving my hotel room I had to change into my running clothes, which meant I got to put on my Forrest Gump costume! With a natural beard, it’s hard not to want to dress as Forrest Gump.
I left the hotel and headed to Market St. towards Bay and noticed the streets were pleasantly barren. The sidewalks were being cleaned, but this isn’t a review of the streets of San Francisco.
Parc 55 San Francisco
After a quick shuttle ride to the start, I had to walk past the start line and through the general information and port-a-potty areas to the far back. This is where I was able to get my VIP wristband and VIP breakfast.
Once I felt ready I shed my jacket and shorts and checked my gear in my bag with the VIP bag check, grabbed a croissant breakfast-bag, and headed to the start line. Next, I began my warm-up by doing a quick jog down the nearby trail and to the corrals followed by some dynamic stretching to get my body ready for the next 3 hours of hills.
Everyone started congregating and condensing around the “Corral #” and pace runner signs as 6:15 began approaching. I saw the 2:45 pacer and wanted to get ahead of them so I could take it easy at places while still finishing close to them, so I looked for the 2:30 pacer.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the other pace sign well so once I got close enough to notice it said “2:00”. I thought I must have been blind since “2:00” was in Corral 7 and “2:45” was in Corral 8. But I wasn’t blind, the “2:15” and “2:30” pacers either weren’t holding their signs up or didn’t have them yet.
Anyways, Rock ‘n’ Roll races feature rock ‘n’ roll music blasting on speakers at the start, roughly every mile throughout, and at the finish of the race. But this time there was no music at the start. Maybe it had to do with the start line being in Golden Gate Park, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed about not having music at the start.
Good news was we still got a count down, of sorts. The lack of music was most likely because the race couldn’t make a lot of noise which meant they also couldn’t shout the count down through the speakers nor use an air horn.
The Race – 13.1 Miles of Hills
Crossing the start line, we headed to the left and met our first tease of the course, a slight hill to get out of the Golden Gate Park. Once we summited this “bump” we had to go back down it then immediately turn to the right and then another left to introduce us to our first real hill.
If you haven’t realized it now, I’m going to be saying hill and talking about climbing frequently in this race review, so get ready!
On our way to the Golden Gate Bridge
This is a San Francisco half marathon so it has to include running over the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). Of course that means we had to get to the Bridge from Golden Gate Park.
Getting to the GGB meant we had about 3.5mi of gradually steeper and steeper hills. The bottom of the first set of climbing featured a band dressed as hippies. I almost asked if any of them had seen Jenny but they were busy taking selfies with other runners.
Right around the 2.25mi point the final climb leading to the GGB began. Nearly 1mi later, we had climbed nearly 300ft with almost 200ft in the last half mile.
I am proud to say I did not walk the entire climb, nor was I alone in walking part of the climb. And as the saying goes, “what goes up must come down” and down we hiked. It was just as steep going downhill as it was uphill, but the downhill was longer.
After the torturous 1mi climb and 1mi descent, we were finally in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge was pretty crowded because there were nearly 6700 runners who needed to pass over the bridge in two traffic lanes with one lane going North and the other South.
Reaching the Vista Point was a relief because there was much more space so the runners didn’t need to be shoulder to shoulder anymore, plus the view was nice. This also featured the second band, this one being a band of military personnel. Heading back to the Bridge and starting the return into San Francisco helped remind me just how long the Golden Gate Bridge is and how long it was going to take to get back across.
Despite all my complaining about the hills and length of the Bridge, the view made the trip worth the suffering, as well as the Forrest Gump references from people crossing paths with me. One woman complimented me on my outfit and said I had the legs to pull it off, so that eased the pain I was feeling.
Bidding the Bridge Fair-well
With the Bridge in my rearview mirror, I was tasked with running down to Marina Blvd which, surprise surprise, featured a steep downhill which I had to walk most of the way down. Once I got to Marina Blvd, it was nice and flat.
Marina Blvd allowed us a mostly flat course for about 2 miles but then we were right back to the typical San Francisco hills making our way towards our final summit.
After beginning to climb the city streets past Marina Blvd, our summit was About 2 miles with about 200ft of climbing. Now, the finish line was all downhill from here.
However, if you remember, downhill does not mean the final stretch was a walk in the park nor was it a piece of cake. I did walk, but only because it was still a steep downhill and running was difficult (but it’s a half marathon, it’s not supposed to be easy). And there wasn’t even cake at the finish line.
I finally made it to the final stretch without much of a slope and I was feeling fine so I picked up the pace. The final performer was dressed as Beyoncé and almost everyone was passing the performer on the right so I decided to go left. Coming in to the final 0.1 mi and I started passing people.
At the finishing chute the announcer was calling off names and told everyone “here comes Forrest” when I came into view. Crossing the finishing line, I was finally done and able to avoid any and all the hills I wanted.
The finish line had the usual volunteers passing out medals, people taking photos with their new medals, and others trying desperately to get refueled via chocolate milk and sports drinks (that was me).
Music was played by another live band, but the music made it difficult to hear people. Fortunately, I had not reconnected with my parents yet so this wasn’t much of a problem for a few minutes.
Since I had my VIP package, I made my way to the VIP area, but I accidentally went to the VIP area for people from The Westin. Strangely, my checked gear bag was at this VIP area instead of at the United VIP area next door. So it worked out despite me being in the wrong place.
In the VIP area I found some light food and got a massage after changing my shorts. The masseuse’s name was Sean, I think, and he was magnificent at the massage. My neck had a kink for about a week (hey, I rhymed again) and my upper-back tends to get tight when I run so I asked for my 10 minute massage to be focused on my shoulders instead of my calves.
Check-out at my hotel, the Parc 55 San Francisco, was at 11 and my massage ended at 10:10 so I needed to hurry back to my hotel. I texted the hotel desk to ask for a late check-out and they said yes, I could check out an hour later. That left me enough time to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant, shower and change back in my room.
Overall, I thought this race was lacking when I compare it to what I’ve seen at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose the previous 2 years. The pre-race Expo was arranged too neatly. I know that seems weird but the orderly layout of the Expo prevented me from getting my VIP package at the Expo.
Beyond the Expo, I was disappointed in the lack of music at the start line, and I was not able to train for the hills well, so it was not entirely Rock ‘n’ Roll’s fault I didn’t have a blast.
If I do this race again I’ll have to be in a more hilly region while I train or I need to make some trips to San Francisco. However, I’ll have a better understanding of the organization of the events for the weekend next time.
In the end, I chose this race because it is local and one of the four races which qualify people for the special California medal, which requires 3 of 4 California half/full marathons. With that, I’m glad I did the race, and I’m happy with my performance.