Monday, August 06, 2012

Steep Ravine 50K

 On Sunday I ran this fifty-kilometer trail race. At least, I'm pretty sure I did. I have flickers of memories from the run and a T-shirt that proves I was physically there, but my mind slipped into a gray sort of trance and now I find it difficult to fathom how I was out there, running, for a full seven hours. Thick fog shrouded the mountain and I let my thoughts disappear into it. My body continued on autopilot, rudimentarily aware of my directives to "keep moving," "lift your feet," "watch where you're stepping." I didn't feel much in the way of fatigue and only mild pain in my banged-up knee. I stopped at every aid station to eat exactly two peanut butter sandwich quarters and a swig of pink electrolyte drink, which was the perfect amount of fuel. And I must have been relaxed because I didn't fall on my face or even stumble that many times, despite the technical nature of much of the course. Although there often wasn't much to see, it was a beautiful way to spend a morning — taking meditative steps through a peaceful fog. It was really the perfect kind of mindset for a long haul like UTMB; I hope I can figure out how to put my mind in in that place again.

 Beat and I ran the Steep Ravine 50K because it made for a great training run. The course is set in two twenty-five-kilometer loops; it begins at Stinson Beach and ascends Mount Tam in a thickly forested canyon on the Steep Ravine Trail, drops down the bald side of the mountain on an overgrown strip of singletrack, skirts around the Muir Valley and climbs Mount Tam again on the root-choked Dipsea Trail, then descends Dipsea's mud and slimy wooden stairs. Repeat. You end up with 32 miles and 7,070 feet of climbing, although in my opinion the technical descents are the toughest aspect of Steep Ravine. Due to my clumsy accidents earlier this week, I showed up for the race in heavy armor: Gauze wrapped around my raw right knee, basketball player elbow pads as insurance against a likely slip, and poles strapped to my pack in case my knee or shins bothered me enough to require support. Beat wore a large overnight pack stuffed with food and all the gear he'll need in the 200-mile Petite Trotte a Leon in France later this month. We must have looked fairly neurotic to the other runners lining up for a heavily supported 25K/50K race on well-used trails.

Autopilot survival instincts kept me from "bombing" any of the descents, so all-in-all it was a slow 50K. However, I felt I climbed well, maintaining a consistent pace and working hard enough that I was drenched to the point of saturation for most of the run — although this was probably more fog condensation than sweat. I hit fairly even splits — 3:25 for the first 25K and 3:40 for the last. The main issue that slowed me down in the last half of the race was my right knee, which stiffened up considerably. The pain wasn't terrible but it got to the point that if I didn't think about it, I wouldn't bend it. During the final climb up the steep Dipsea Trail, I'd catch myself stopping before a rooty "step" to lift my right leg sideways and swing it like a peg leg over the obstacle. The gauze on my knee was dirty, slightly blood stained and wrapped haphazardly around my leg like mummy rags thanks to multiple attempts to re-tape it when it loosened in the moist air. A couple of times I caught hikers regarding me with sad eyes, so I must have looked fairly pathetic. But I didn't really feel all that bad, and when when I snapped out of autopilot long enough to remind myself to stop walking like a pirate, I was able to bend my knee just fine.

Beat and his huge backpack finished in 6:28. I took 7:05, which despite injuries is about ten minutes faster than I ran a slightly different Steep Ravine course in better weather back in January. (This is one of the anomalies of San Francisco and the Marin Headlands; the weather is often sunnier and warmer in winter than it is during the summer.) Honestly, I wanted to do a little better than seven hours, but for a relatively pain-free 50K — one in which I did not fall on my face — I'll take it.