San Francisco again

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I spent most of the months of May and June in San Francisco as a visiting researcher at the California Academy of Sciences. It’s the second time I’ve (briefly) lived in the city and worked at the museum, but both my science and my ability to appreciate the city have come a long way in the past three years. (Living just off vibrant 24th Street in the Mission District, in a storied artists’ haunt where SFO rock legends Flipper recorded the seminal Album – Generic Flipper, certainly helped).

My time at CAS marked the official start of my dissertation research, with the help of collaborators Zach Hanna, Anna Sellas, and Jack Dumbacher. I’ll write more about the underlying questions and motivations behind the project later, but the proximate reason for the trip was to attempt to collect genome-wide sequence data from the highly degraded DNA found in historical museum specimens. Zach, Anna, and Jack had been testing a newly described method to do this, and the ornithology collections at CAS had many of the specimens I needed for my research, so it was an obvious place to do the work. The push to finish data collection and run analyses before the 2016 Evolution Meetings in Austin, Texas meant long hours and a drain on everyone’s time, but we got it done. Once again, I feel lucky to have such wonderful collaborators. (If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details of the method we were using, I’ve written about it previously over at The Molecular Ecologist.)

The six-week stay also completed my transition from spring training to preparing in earnest for Leadville 100, now only weeks away. Without a car, I spent most of my time running in the city, linking together hilltop open space and cruising around Golden Gate Park, where CAS is conveniently located. When I did make it out of town to run, it was usually on BART, either hopping off in Berkeley to grunt up Tilden’s fire roads or south to San Bruno Mountain Park, an appealing chaparral coated ridgeline south of the city proper. The one exception to this public-transport trail running was an idyllic weekend on the Mendocino Coast with old college friends, where I tore around in the redwoods and survived a night in the fog without a sleeping bag. (Strong beer before bed, emebrs in the fire pit, and a wool blanket did the trick.)

My running was consistent to a fault — perhaps seeding some muscle imbalances I’m still sorting out after compulsively running around Bernal Heights the same way most mornings — but the hours of asphalt, exhaust, and hard dirt eventually took their mental toll. To shake the onset of complacency and burnout, I ended up racing twice last my two weeks in town, first jumping into the San Bruno Mountain Run Half Marathon, and then into the Rodeo Valley Trail Run 50K in the Marin Headlands. I won both events, but with markedly different degrees of satisfaction in my performance. On the one hand, the half marathon went off without a hitch: I could tell early on I was going to be able to pull away from the rest of the field without destroying myself, and ran a effortful but controlled race that resulted in a (very young) CR. On the other hand, the 50K was a far more uneven affair, building a 10+ minute lead over the first 20 miles and then nearly losing all of it to Jeff Quinn’s smart pacing after bad leg cramps set in. I’ve suffered from similar cramps before, and the common denominator seems to be running hard down dirt roads. Something to train for in the future.

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