Avenue of the Giants Marathon – May the 4th be with you

Ever since visiting Redwood National Park a few years ago, I’ve wanted to run the Avenue of the Giants Marathon. This year, on May 5th, the day after Star Wars day, I finally got to.

If you aren’t familiar with the Avenue of the Giants, it’s a road in Northern California that weaves through some old growth Redwoods – the really big, really old trees that NorCal is famous for. They are beautiful You may also remember them these trees from the Ewok scenes on Endor in Star Wars; they filmed those very close to where this race took place.

I drove up the day before to pick up my packet and get situated. I stayed with my friend Austin at a motel / campsite about 45 minutes south of the race. It was very cute – secluded in the woods between the road and a river (which I definitely took a dip in when I arrived).

Race morning was perfect running conditions – a little chilly but not freezing. The first part of the course was an out-and-back half marathon, and I fell into step with a couple of women who were running about the same pace – Jordan and Karen. Jordan and I ended up running the first half of the race together – it was fun to get to make a new friend on the course.

Jordan and I running amongst Giants

The second half of the race was an out-and-back as well, along a different road. This part of the course was shared with the half marathoners, so I got to see Austin on his way to the finish. I also saw Karen again briefly too! This part of the course is the more famous stretch – if you’ve driven along Avenue of the Giants, you’ve probably seen this part – it’s right near the visitor center.

Trees everywhere

I finished in 3:47 – not bad, considering the rolling hills on the course, and that I’d had a pretty rough and sleep-deprived couple of weeks at work leading up to the race. Karen, Jordan, and I had a quick celebration before parting ways.

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Karen and I at the finish

I didn’t bring my phone, so I don’t have useful splits to share. I had my watch but wasn’t really watching the time. It was nice to run without a phone – those monsters are getting bigger and bigger.

Hardware

Tall trees

Overall, this course was probably top five for me for scenery, and I loved how intimate it felt. Couldn’t have asked for a better race day.

 

 

 

Austin and I at the finish

 

Austin and I headed back to the hotel to shower, then grabbed some pizza on the way back to civilization. It’s so amazing to live so close to such a gorgeous part of the world – a very fun weekend jaunt.

Tree huggers. Pretty sure we walked into poison oak for this photo.

As a reminder, I have a discount code for the San Francisco Marathon – use “AMBOLISA25” at https://www.thesfmarathon.com/ for 25% off. 

Oakland Marathon – Running with Pacers

I ran Oakland Marathon back in March – about a week after my birthday. I signed up for it because I was looking for some fast, local courses to tackle. This one ended up being super fun.

A quick side note: ever since I ran the Lake Tahoe Relay a few years ago, I’ve wanted to run around the lake solo – it’s 72 miles. It’s always been in the back of my mind as something exciting I wanted to do. So, when I was at the Expo for Oakland, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that, in fact, a race like this does exist – The Lake Tahoe Midnight 72 Mile Express. I immediately signed up and was rewarded with a Lake Tahoe bottle of Vodka (pictures on request).

The morning of the race, I took an Uber across the bridge to the start line. It was pretty chilly without any heat lamps, but I found a generator and stood next to that before the start.

Today wasn’t going to be a PR race, but I was feeling pretty well-rested. I decided I’d try to stick with the 3:40 pace group for as long as I felt like it, so I found them at the start.

The first few miles were pretty easy. Around the first or second mile, I noticed some guy – also running with us – taking selfies with him and the pace group. At first I was somewhat grumpy about it – very few people look good running, and who was this guy? But then I recognized him as an ultrarunning friend of mine – Peter! And he was taking pictures of his son, Garrett, who was one of the pacers for the 3:40 group! It was really fun to see them both, and a reminder that running is such a small community.

Who is this guy taking all these selfies?! Oh, it’s Peter!

Flying in the early miles (Photo credit: Peter)

The gang’s all here

Around mile 7 or 8, one of my toes started hurting fairly badly – like I had pinched a nerve. I tried a few different gaits, but none of them really worked, so I just powered through it. It ended up being fine later, but was a weird pain that I hadn’t experienced before.

This arch was on fire – with literal fire!

The draw for this particular race is the opportunity to run across the new portion of the Bay Bridge to Yerba Buena Island. The miles leading up to that, though, were … very industrial. Lots of old train tracks embedded in asphalt, and some very uneven concrete, required us to be careful with our steps.

The bridge was very fun, but definitely a challenge. The whole out-and-back portion of the race on the bridge was a couple of miles. The “out” portion of the bridge was a slow, but inexorably steady, climb.

I was still with Garrett, and decided I’d try to stick with the pace group until bridge turnaround point, which was around mile 16 or so. We slowed down a bit going up the bridge, but still kept a pretty solid pace, and I kept up with the group. When we turned around, the downhill was very rewarding, and we were able to pick up our pace a bit. These were some of the fastest miles of the race for me, which is surprising, because they are usually some of the hardest!

Run da bridge

Coming on down (Photo credit: Peter)

Garrett killing it with his pace sign

Leaving the bridge, we were about 19 miles into the race. At this point, I figured I could probably gut it out with Garret & the other runners in the pace group for the next seven miles. So, that’s what I did.

Running under some bridge 

 

Home stretch – working hard

We picked up the pace a bit at the end, and I ended up finishing in 3:38:56 – not a bad time for a pretty hilly course, and 4th in my age group. Also my 3rd fastest marathon time.

Crossing the finish line

I was very pleased with this outcome. The best part was sticking to a pretty consistent pace throughout – I have never started and finished a race with a pace group before! Even more exciting was getting to do it with folks I knew.

The pace crew at the finish line

 

Finished!

Overall, super fun day. Very cool to get to run across the bridge and see some new streets near my home city!

Splits, for the nerds

Hardware

As a reminder, I have a discount code for the San Francisco Marathon – use “AMBOLISA25” at https://www.thesfmarathon.com/ for 25% off.

 

50k Birthday in San Francisco

Ever since I ran my marathon birthday – 26.2 miles on my 26.2th birthday – a few years ago, I’ve been running my age in miles for every birthday. Most recently, I turned 31, so I ran 31 miles around San Francisco.

Highlights this year:

  • Ran the whole thing without looking at a map – it was cool to be able to get around my city
  • Got to see some of my favorite parts of the city (Ferry Building, AT&T Park, , Dogpatch, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Cliff House, GG Bridge, Embarcadero)
  • Visited a new (to me) place – the Labyrinth at Land’s End
  • Ran despite the rain (which was pretty aggressive!)

 

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Collage from the day. Top: me finishing at the Exploratorium, the Strava results of my run. Bottom: At the Labyrinth, at GG Bridge, another finishing photo.

Here’s a link to the Strava if you’re into that kind of thing

Previous Birthday Miles:

Golden Gate 50K (and a little extra) – Race #4 of 2019

Last weekend was the Golden Gate 50k, with my favorite Coastal Trail Runs. I ran it with my friend Ingrid, who you may remember from Lake Chabot last year (where we tied for third!). We decided to run this race together – she is currently training for a 100-mile race, and I was recovering from my Surf City Marathon six days earlier, so neither of us were planning to go fast for this race (which ended up being a good thing, since it was a hard course!).

The course consisted of a half-marathon loop, which we did twice. On the first loop, we would add on another, smaller loop for an extra 4.9 miles, which theoretically would bring a total of 31 miles (or 50k). It has about 7,000 feet of climbing.

Lap 1

Climbing up the first hill – we are so happy!

The first lap was good – we started slow up the first major hill, then descended into Tennessee Valley before starting on the 4.9 mile loop. This 4.9 miles was probably the most beautiful part of the course – running south on single-track trail along the cliffs, overlooking the ocean. The light was beautiful as well, with the rain clouds holding their distance and the sun streaming through them.

We hit the Tennessee Valley aid station again at the end of our 4.9 mile loop, then started up the second major climb – a slow ascent of about 1.5-2 miles, which we mostly walked.

The weather in NorCal had been pretty bad the last few weeks – lots of rain. I was optimistically banking on having a brief respite during this race. Which we did, for the first three hours or so. It was around this time that it started hailing. Hail hurts on skin, I learned, but sounds cool on hats.

We reached an intersection at some point on this loop – a fairly significant decision juncture, we’d learn later. It was super clearly marked to go to the left. This surprised Ingrid, who has run these trails a bunch of times – most of the races she’s done have gone to the right at this intersection. So, without even thinking about it, she had veered off to the right. We paused for a moment and looked at the markings together, and decided left was correct – and another runner behind us agreed, so we headed left.

The trail to the left took us down to a road, then up that road a ways (if you’re familiar with SF, it’s the road you’d take to get to Hawk Hill). The course was really well marked the whole way along this stretch, and all other runners had taken this same route. When we got to a roundabout (by Slacker Hill), we crossed the street, hit the aid station, and ran back down to finish off the loop. So far, so good.

As we hit another road, the course took two not-super-fun side trips up steep, very muddy trails to the left. There was … a lot of mud. Going down these hills felt almost more like skiing than like running. We took it slow.

 

Coming down these muddy hills was no joke!

Runners who were just finishing shorter distances (e.g. 30k) were pretty grumpy about this side trip, and kept saying “just one mile to go!” I knew that, from where we were on the trail, they definitely more than just one mile – maybe like 2.5 or 3 more. However, there’s a lot of sensitivity in ultras around talking about distances. While racing, thinking about distances is such a psychological game – one that people approach very differently. Giving wrong information (or right information at the wrong time) can be very demoralizing for a runner. So, I didn’t correct them.

End of the first lap

As we passed by Ingrid’s car, I picked up my rain jacket. This is the second time ever I needed my rain jacket during a race (the first being this awesome race in Philly). It was pretty cold, and still raining intermittently, so I was glad to have it on the second lap. I was also glad to have an aid station attendant just up ahead, as my fingers were to cold to operate the zipper. Thanks, aid station guy!

Lap 2

We climbed up the first hill again, then down into Tennessee Valley. The folks at the aid station made a very jokingly-serious attempt to get us to head out on the 4.9-mile loop (not required for the second lap), and we jokingly considered doing it.

It was raining on and off for pretty much the rest of the race, at this point.

Up the second big hill, then along the ridge again. Then we got to that turnoff that had caused us to pause last time around – remember the one, where we all went left? This time, it was clearly marked to the right. Like, no ambiguity here – go to the right.

So we shrugged and headed to the right, coming up to that next aid station much more quickly than on the first lap.

Ingrid had a GPS watch and was kind of looking at it periodically, but not saying anything. Remember how knowing distance is a bit of a psychological game? We have an agreement that she doesn’t tell me the total distance we’ve run – I don’t like to know during ultras, usually, since the hills just throw off the pacing, which makes thinking about the total distance very depressing at times. She finally said, laughingly, that she wouldn’t tell me the distance – but we were definitely going to be doing a little extra today.

We headed up the two little hills on our way to the finish. During this stretch, we saw a little rainbow – a bit of recompense for the not-great weather that this day had provided.

We finished the race in just under 7 hours – definitely towards the slower end for both of us, but right in the middle of the pack for this race. It was a hard day on a hard course.

We done and we cold!

Afterwards

We immediately headed to the car and pumped the heat up as high as possible. Neither of us could really feel our extremities, so we sat in the car and held our hands to the vents for a few minutes before heading out.

Ingrid uploaded her watch data to Garmin, and you can see it here. I’ll give you a preview, though – this was not a 31 mile race. We ended up running 33 and some change.

Remember that left vs right intersection? My theory is that they mismarked the course at this point. See below for the route that we ran (and you can see on her Garmin). The first lap is a takes this detour, adding … just about two miles.

Just to be clear, Ingrid and I are pretty great at following trail markings – this was not a case of runners misreading the signs. We both have run a lot of races and did not misinterpret the course markings. Also, all the other runners went this way, too! So this is a mystery that may forever remain unsolved.

You can see the different routes – specifically, on Lap 1, we definitely ran an extra two miles.

 

We wrapped up the day with some sweet, sweet, post-race Mexican food at Tacko in San Francisco (where Cyndi took me after we ran New Year’s One Day!)

This wraps up my early 2019 racing season – four races this year so far. It’s been a lot of work, but I feel like I’m in really good shape, and running faster than ever. My target race is still about 7 months away, so as long as I stay injury free, there’s a lot of opportunity to get even faster.

As a reminder, I’m also an ambassador for the San Francisco Marathon (Sunday, June 28). I’ll be running the ultra again, which I really enjoyed three years ago. I also have a discount code for the race (all distances!) so let me know if you’re planning to sign up and I can share it!

New Year’s One Day 2018/2019

On New Years Eve for the past few years, I’ve run a race in San Francisco called the New Year’s One Day. It’s a timed race, which means you run as many miles as you can in a set period of time. The course is a one-mile loop around Chrissy Field. You’d think it feels like running in a hamster wheel, but it’s actually a really fun course – you get to see the Golden Gate Bridge every ten minutes, and watching the light change over the course of the day is a gorgeous thing to behold.

The first two years I ran this, I tried for the 24-hour version, with varying degrees of success, stopping at just about 8 hours in 2015 and after 17 hours in 2016Last year, I ran the 6-hour version came in 3rd, which was pretty neat!

This year, however, the race moved to January 5th, which sort of defeats the purpose of the activity – e.g., running it on New Year’s. So, instead, I went to Zurich and ran a marathon at midnight there.

But I just couldn’t stay away. I love this race. So I came back to SF and ran the 6-hour race on Jan 5th. And it was awesome.

At the start line with Ingrid and Cyndi. You may be able to tell that it was cold.

Part of the motivation to run this year was that a couple of amazing ladies I know were also running. Ingrid, of Lake Cabot 50k Fame, had signed up for the 24-hour race, because she is a beast. Cyndi, who ran her first ultra at Burning Man, wanted to run her birthday miles, so she signed up for the 6-hour as well. So it was a pretty easy decision to join them both.

Last year, I came in 3rd at this race, with 34.1 miles run in 6 hours. This year, my goal was to run between 36-40 miles in six hours, which would put me somewhere between a 9-minute and 10-minute pace. Given that I’d just run a marathon four days earlier, I wasn’t sure how possible it would be, so I “recovered” and tapered hard for in the intervening period.  I did a three mile tempo run two days before the race, and nothing else – I felt well-rested when I got to the start line.

Start line

The forecast was for torrential downpour. I wasn’t too concerned since it would be a short-ish race and I’d be moving the whole time, so I planned to wear a short-sleeved shirt and shorts for the whole race. I showed up to the start line with an umbrella and warm jacket, though.

When I got to the start, it was drizzling slightly. My Pokemon umbrella was immediately put to good use. My drop-bag was well-waterproofed – and by that, I mean that I put some extra clothes in a plastic trash bag. I stashed it in the drop-bag area, under the designated tent-covered picnic table, and went in search of of Ingrid and Cyndi.

I immediately found Ingrid, who was bundled up like she was headed to Alaska, but had absolutely no other gear that I could see, despite prepping for a 24-hour run (she’s a real badass – did I mention that she accidentally won a 100-mile race last year?). Cyndi arrived a few minutes later, and the three of us all sat in Ingrid’s super warm car to catch up for a bit before the race started.

We headed over to the start line about five minutes before the start of the race, which was pretty luxurious. I stripped off my own Arctic gear and was immediately freezing. Our intrepid race director, Wendell, counted us down, then we took off.

Beginning

When I think I’m going to run a fast race, I like to speed up for the first minute or two in order to scope out the field and see who else is thinking about going fast. Because a lot of folks running this race would be on the course much longer than I would be, it was pretty easy to break from the crowd to accomplish this. About a quarter of the way through the first lap, I had a decent idea of what was going on. Specifically, a girl with super long hair was already way ahead of me. But she was pretty much the only one, I thought!

In order to measure how far we run, we wear these grey, Velcro-clad ankle bracelets with chips in them. The chips are triggered at a timing mat, which beeps every time we run across. The mat is set up at the beginning of the mile loop (or, mile-ish – this year, the course was 1.0275 miles long, I think, which is shorter than previous years). The mat-and-chip combo keeps track of the number of laps we do. The ankle bracelets are pretty unobtrusive and don’t chafe at all, although they do look a bit like the kind that ex-cons under house arrest wear.

Run Happy

I ran a few laps at a pretty good pace – about 9-minute miles. At the end of lap three, I realized I hadn’t heard the timing beep when I crossed the mat, so I spent the next mile planning to pay closer attention. At the end of mile four, I realized that the timer had definitely not beeped. So I stopped for a minute to validate that this was an issue. Wendell gave me another anklet, and I did another lap. For a few miles, I made sure to call out what lap I was on (“Starting lap six!”). By lap eight, it was all sorted out, and we were back in the game.

Around lap seven, I saw Ingrid, who was looking great and cruising.

Middle

Around mile 10 or 12, I found Cyndi. She has a super fast base pace – faster than me for sure. She likes to take breaks at aid stations though, so it often evens out. She was a lap or two behind me, but we fell into pace together for a solid eight or nine miles. It was awesome to get to chat with her and catch up on life. Alex, her boyfriend, who also ran Burning Man 50k, came to cheer us on for one lap – it was awesome to see him on the course. It started raining quite a bit during the stretch Cyndi and I ran together – we were drenched for a few laps!

Alex pretending he’s running with us, but actually being an awesome cheerleader

Around mile 19 or 20, I was struggling a bit (but, on the plus side, had dried off from the rain). I ran another lap or two with Cyndi, then let her go ahead while I did a few laps of refueling. I popped my caffeine Gu and grabbed some PB&J sandwiches and those delicious peanut-butter filled pretzels at the aid station. I was hoping these calories would help, but I still had about two hours of running to go. I was not feeling super great about my prospects of hitting my 36-40 mile goals – I felt like I had started out too fast, and my hamstrings were really beat. However, I hadn’t brought a watch and there was no timer on the course, so I wasn’t totally sure how much time had elapsed.

Around this time, it really started raining again. I was completely soaked in about sixty seconds. It rained like this for probably 20-30 minutes. It was so unexpected – this downpour – that it was super energizing in ts absurdity. The rain provided a much-needed boost of energy and excitement for me, and I picked up the pace quite a bit. I’m also very excited to see the photos from this part of the race – I do not photograph well while running, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how much my running form could be confused for that of a wet sea lion during these laps.

End

At some point, I asked someone how much time had elapsed. We were about four and a half hours into the race. I think I was about 27 or 28 miles into the race. Whatever it was, I knew that if I kept up around a ten minute pace, I could probably hit my 36-mile goal.

Running hard in a rare moment of sunshine

I was at a bit of a decision juncture. I wasn’t in a great headspace – I had a lot of negative thoughts in my mind during this stretch. Here’s what I was thinking:

  • I’m tired and my leg muscles hurt.
  • I didn’t taper for this race, so really didn’t have any right to think I could go fast.
  • I haven’t run a distance longer than a marathon since August, so my preparation for this race was … sub optimal.
  • I don’t know how far ahead that one girl from the beginning of the race was, or if there were any other women in front of me.
  • I feel bad for trying to use a podium-finish as a motivation – there’s a bit of a weird stigma against “racing” / running for competition in ultras, and I’ve never really gotten past that. I’m also not a super fast / competitive runner, so I always feel weird using that as motivation, since I don’t feel like I have a right to it because I’m not that fast.
  • I only have 90 minutes left of running, so I’m a slacker for even thinking about slacking, and I should just muscle through.
  • Speaking of muscles, I’m tired and my leg muscles hurt …

Someone once said that the definition of intelligence is being able to hold two contradicting ideas in your mind and still be able to function. When I think about all of the gifts that running has given to me, I think about this one the most. Running has given me a very powerful ability to be zen in the face of difficulty. I can hold two opposing ideas in my mind – the fact that this running is hard and I want to stop, and the fact that I really don’t want to stop because I want to be proud of my effort – and still function. Or, as I really learned at Mountains2Beach – this is hard, and I can do it.

So I kept running.

At some point, I asked for the time – we had about 50 minutes left. I’d just finished my 31st lap. I was feeling optimistic – I could run 12-minute miles and finish 4 more laps, which would get me to 35 laps, or about 36 miles. So I’d be right at the bottom of my range – a good enough finish! I could also run about 10-minute miles and get one more lap in.

So, I asked myself – what’s it gonna be?

I ran another lap, then had 40 minutes lap. I told myself if I finished my 35th lap with more than 9 minutes on the clock, I’d sprint it out for the last lap. So I ran another lap and had 30 minutes left. I found a guy with a feather in his baseball cap – Rickey – who was finish up, so I ran this lap with him. Then I ran another lap with Rickey and had 21 minutes left … I was running faster than a 10-minute pace! While Rickey got a quick beer, I ran another lap and had … 12 whole minutes left?! I ran my last lap and finished with a few minutes to spare.

36 laps … 37 miles! I was ecstatic. That’s about three more miles than I ran in the same time last year, which is a pretty great accomplishment.

Afterwards

Cyndi met me at the finish line – she had run her farthest distance ever, about 33 miles. Not bad at all for her 2nd ultra. I think she’s got the bug …

We finished!

Why did we do that!

I hung around for the awards ceremony, and was excited to learn that I’d come in 2nd! The girl ahead of me had only run one more lap than I had, which was a meaningful distance, but not as much distance as I’d thought based on her pace for the first few laps. I didn’t think I had another lap in me, so I didn’t have any regrets. 2nd place is not bad at all.

Cyndi and I stayed for a few extra minutes to cheer Ingrid on for one more lap, then Cyndi and I went to get quesadillas at a Mexican place nearby. I went home and showered, then headed out – I was going to visit a friend and spend the night at their place.

That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ingrid, who was still out there, running in the rain. I woke up a few times and almost got out of bed to go check up on her. It was a strange feeling – I think I just have developed an extreme appreciation for how hard those early hours of the morning are in this race – they are cold and lonely and exhausting, and I knew it was raining. When I woke up, after a quick coffee with my friend, I went back to the race to see the last hour of it. It turned out that she’d stopped around 77 miles (an insane distance) and headed home because the cold and wet was really unbearable. I’m pretty sure she still came in 3rd overall, which is an incredible accomplishment. It was not an easy day on that course.

All in all, this was yet another fun New Year’s One Day. I loved getting to see my girlfriends running, and I was proud of my own accomplishment as well.

I’ll post race photos when I have them. Look forward to the wet seal running pose …

Adding the coaster to my collection

Birthday Miles – 30 years

Ever since I ran my marathon birthday – 26.2 miles on my 26.2th birthday – a few years ago, I’ve been running my age in miles for every birthday. This year was 30.

The crazy highlight this year was seeing this amazing rainbow in Golden Gate Park. It’s going to be a good year!

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Can you believe this insane rainbow?!

So happy

 

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GG Bridge

 

No photo description available.

Run run

 

 

New Year’s One Day: Fresh Start Effect

Not bad, GG bridge. You’re looking good today.

I’ve attempted the New Year One day a few times: once in 2015 and once in 2014. In this race, which takes place on December 31st, you run around in a circle for as many miles as you can in a certain period of time. The previous two times I’ve attempted it, I took on the 24-hour version. Turns out, I’m not great at running around in circles for 24 hours, because it is boring and it gets cold.

Me running this race a few years ago

These last few months have been fairly tumultuous from a personal perspective. I’ve gotten promoted, gotten married, gotten divorced, and finished an Ironman. So, as the new year came around, I was really looking forward to a fresh start. I wanted to do some running, but maybe not 24 hours of running. I signed up for the six hour version of this race about two days before the race.

This was some of the best running I’ve ever done, and not because of any particularly fast running that I did during the race. I was happy – super happy – for pretty much the entire race.

There are a few races that are great not because they are particularly hard or easy, but because you’re in a positive state of mind when running them. For six hours, during this race, I was the most content I’d been in a long time, for all the reasons that make running great. I was running for myself, propelled by myself, relying on the skills and capabilities I had built. I got to catch up with some old friends I’d met in previous races. I got to push myself just a little outside my comfort zone. I got to see some pretty scenery. And there was nothing that could stop me. It was me and this perfect little mile of 60% asphalt and 40% dirt, with iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge every 10 minutes. I was paying homage to my city, my running, 2017, 2018, and my own strength.

All in all, this was an extremely uneventful race. I ran fast, consistently, and happily for six hours. I ran in the opposite direction for a little bit, then ran the original way again. Then at the end, I stopped running. And I felt good the whole time. And because of that, it’s one of the races I’ll keep close to my heart for a years to come.

The new year is a turning point, and even though it’s a made-up milestone in the scheme of civilization, sometimes that’s okay. For me, this race was a return to my roots.

Bring it on, 2018.

San Francisco delivers.

 

I am $25.00 fast