From the most important facts about the franchise to the traditions that define what being a San Francisco 49ers fanatic is all about, author Daniel Brown covers it all in 100 Things 49ers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. It includes highlights such essential experiences as the best places to soak in 49ers lore, and this excerpt examines The Hill, the running trail that Roger Craig and Jerry Rice used for their offseason workouts.
To understand how Roger Craig and Jerry Rice could dig deep when the game was on the line, grab a pair of running shoes and head for the Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve in Redwood City, California.
Don't be fooled by the beauty. This idyllic little county park is home to a four-mile trail that became the 49ers' offseason torturing grounds for much of the 1980s and '90s. Craig, Rice, and several other players of that era did endurance work here, charging up the steep inclines so fast you'd think they were being chased by a mountain lion -- or Lawrence Taylor.
The training ground became known simply as The Hill. "That hill was pretty much the fourth quarter for me," said Rice, who continued to run the trail even after turning 50. "It taught me how to be able to endure -- in pain -- and still perform at a very high level. You have to challenge yourself. And that's what I did in the offseason."
As usual when it came to 49ers fitness, Craig led the charge. The late Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame running back from the Chicago Bears, had told Craig that the key to thriving in their position was endurance, and that the key to endurance was training on the steepest hill he could find.
At first Craig trained on a nondescript stretch of mountainside just off Highway 280 not far from the 49ers' Redwood City headquarters. The terrain was steep, which was good, but the footing was treacherous. Arthur Ting, a noted Bay Area orthopedic surgeon, happened to drive by one day and spotted Craig tramping down the rocky pathway. "You can blow your knee out here," he told the running back. "Come with me."
Ting, an avid runner, introduced Craig to Edgewood Park. And it was all uphill from there.
"It was the toughest thing I ever did in my life," Craig said. "I threw up a couple of times going up this trail. I was a football player. I'd never run that far. I was only good for 100 yards. I ran track and stuff, but as far as running four miles, that was unheard of. [Ting] said, 'Just hang in there ... So I did it for a few weeks with him. And I started loving it. I could feel it. I was getting in great shape. So I introduced it to some of my teammates. I said, 'Man, you guys need to come out here and run this trail.'"
As Craig and Rice became disciples, The Hill soon went from training ground to proving ground, an initiation to show what it took to become a champion. Are you tough enough? Are you dedicated enough? How much are you willing to suffer? Craig said they eventually had a group of up to 15 players running the hill three times a week. To this day the tradition endures. On May 7, 2012, not long after the 49ers drafted receiver A. J. Jenkins, Rice tweeted him: "I'm getting in top shape to get you up that Hill." (Jenkins never took Rice up on his offer; he had zero catches as a rookie.)
Rice points to this training regimen as a reason he was able to remain productive even into his early 40s. He may have been old, but he was never over The Hill.
He takes pride in scoring more touchdowns in the fourth quarter than any player in NFL history. "That's when I was at my best. I was in such great shape," Rice said. "The defensive backs were breathing hard, and I was bouncing around saying, 'Okay, I'm ready to play football. Let's go!' That was exciting to me."
Among the challenges of running The Hill is finding it in the first place. It's tucked away at the corner of Edgewood Drive and Old Stage Coach Road in Redwood City. Craig, now a veteran of several marathons and half-marathons, has run the trail so many times that he does it by memory, not maps, so his directions tend to be esoteric. Watch for this tree…there'll be a little slope to the left ... Don't take any of the switchbacks.
In researching this book, I ran The Hill three times to make sure I got it right. I'd periodically check back with Craig to describe what I saw, and he'd talk me through it again: "Did you see the bench? No? Then you didn't go high enough."
When I became confident I was in the right place, I ran The Hill with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other. Here's the four-mile path to glory:
1. Use the parking lot at 10 Old Stage Coach Road just off Edgewood Road.
2. As you walk from the parking lot toward the park, stay toward the left. Your starting point is the sign marked "Sylvan Trail Exercise Loop," which runs parallel with a private road for about 30 yards.
3. It's a steady, gradual climb from the start. There's a sign at the one-mile mark, and just beyond that, the trail forks. Follow the sign to the left that points toward Live Oak Trail.
4. Follow the sign to the right toward Scenic View.
5. After a few hundred yards, you'll see that the peak of the hill is to the left. There's a trail but no sign. Trust your instincts.
6. You've reached the summit. The telltale sign is a bench with a plaque that says "In Memory of James and Margaret Hutchison." Enjoy the view. You're in the footsteps of Roger Craig and Jerry Rice.
7. Retrace your steps back down toward the main trail. Look for the sign that says "Ridgeview Loop Trail" and follow it left (to the west).
8. The Ridgeview trail takes you back down the mountain. You should be able to see the I-280 freeway in the distance.
9. A little less than a half-mile (0.4 miles) down the Ridgeview Loop Trail, there's a fork with a high road to the right and a low road to the left. Take the low road (Franciscan Trail).
10. After just a quarter-mile, follow the sign to the right. From this sign it's 2.04 miles back to the parking lot. It can be tough to tell whether you're on Edgewood Trail or the Serpentine Loop trail, but the key is just to follow every arrow toward the Old Stage Picnic Area.
11. The finish line is the parking lot. If you've been carrying a football, spike it here.
Got it? You're ready for training camp. If you approach the trails like a cross country runner at a steady pace, The Hill is mildly strenuous. The key to making it a workout worthy of the 49ers dynasty is to attack the toughest parts of the course by sprinting up the inclines.
If you have a hard time at first, don't worry. You'll be in good company. "When you first start out the trail, everything is new," Craig says. "There are all these switchbacks. So you have to run it a few times to feel comfortable."
-- Excerpted by permission from 100 Things 49ers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Daniel Brown. Copyright (c) 2013 by Daniel Brown. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter @mercbrownie.
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