Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Steep Ravine Marathon

This was another race I was really looking forward to, Coastal's Steep Ravine .  I signed up for this because 1) I wanted to run a race on these trails 2) I wanted a marathon distance race around this time 3) I wanted something more challenging, elevation wise.  This fit well, since the elevation profile looks something like this:

I.e. Run up Mt Tam.  Run Back Down.  Run Back Up Mt. Tam.  Run Back Down.  Repeat.  I think there's a singularity at the top of the fourth hill.  And most of us don't really run all the uphill parts.  Especially the stairs.

I was well rested for this race, since I had more-than-tapered due to a cold I had been fighting for the prior week, which was still lingering a bit.  I also ran a training run on some of these trails a couple weeks back to see how much climbing there really was, and there’s a lot of it.  The 25k/50k courses are actually on trails I’d rather run, but I stuck with the marathon distance to avoid pushing myself too hard, since this would still be both a new trail run distance and a new elevation climb for me.  

With a later start at 8:40, the marathon and half marathon runners started together along a road in Stinson Beach.  I started fast in the group, much more so than normal, but it didn’t feel hard, so I stuck with it.  I usually adjust my pace based on effort/heart rate or muscle fatigue.  The course quickly turned up the Dipsea Trail, crossed the Panorama Highway, and started climbing.  On stairs, of course.  After maybe 50 or 100 steps, I quickly decided to drop my pace, but being in a crowd, I stepped off trail and let a large group pass.  Fast uphills are not my strength.  Dropping back in a moment later I was able to keep a fast stair-walking pace, mixing running and fast hiking for the rest.  There’s a lot of stairs here.  You know there’s a lot of stairs when getting to a 20% uphill grade where you actually can run feels like a relief.  Getting to the aid station at the top of Cardiac Hill, I drank a LOT of water, and made myself eat something I didn't really want, since I was going to burn a lot of calories.  

The next part was a lot of fun.  The very long slow climb up the Coastal View/Heather Cutoff trails from my training run a couple weeks back was now a long slightly downhill stretch perfect for running fast.  I made up a lot of ground here, dropping below seven mins/mile a few times, which I surprised myself with, given that the trail gets quite rocky in places.  I passed a number of people here.  Getting to the Heather Switchbacks, I kept the speed up, just kind of dancing down the hill.  It was warm and sunny and I was having fun.  At the bottom of the hill, I crossed the horse field/bridge, and ran most of the Redwood Creek trail, a very gradual uphill section, to the next aid station.  Checked in here, had a lot more water, a quick chat, and a quick snack, and started the next climb.

I deliberately switched to mostly hiking fast uphill here, since this was a new distance, and there were three climbs left to go.  I started passing the back of the 50k runners here, who had started earlier, but had more distance in already.  The course followed the Dipsea Trail back up to Cardac Hill from the other direction.  The final stretch through an upper part of Muir woods got harder and quite tiring—many roots on a steep part of the slope.  I had another quick snack, a lot more water and took off downhill.

At this point, it was time to pay for climbing all the stairs.  I kept my speed up, but about halfway down, my quads were feeling it.  Getting back to the start, I had finished the first half in 2:52.  I was curious if I could do that again, since I still had a lot of energy, but the downhill stair run had beaten down leg strength a bit.  I climbed back up of the third time, repeating the first climb, but this time felt notably harder, in terms of just forcing myself though it.  At the top, I refilled my hydration pack, chatted a moment, and took off back down the Coastal view trail.  

Heading down the hill this time I felt the muscle fatigue, so I backed off the pace.  Sometime legs just don't listen when you tell them to go as fast as you want them too.  I only saw one other runner on this stretch, who I passed on the Heather Cutoff Switchbacks.  I gave myself a walking break across the horse field and bridge this time, and I ran intervals along the Redwood Creek Trail, since my legs and feet were getting quite tired at this point.  At the aid station, the two guys running it, who were rather friendly, were watching out for the runners quite well, asking lots of questions to make sure I had hydration/salt/etc. in check.    

It was time to climb back up again.  This would be the last climb.  Somehow, it seemed easier this time.  I think my mind had just tuned out any body complaints and I kept climbing the hill.  I skipped out on running any parts of this climb, and I finally saw another runner as a 50k runner jogged past on a flatter stretch.  Reaching the Cardiac hill aid station for the fourth visit of the day, the volunteer and I said our farewells (you start to get to know the volunteers on these long loop courses), and I took off for the last downhill.

Mile 24ish
I thought I’d run it.  And I realized I just needed to walk a while.  That last climb took away a lot of flexibility.  One more 50k runner passed me, and that was the last runner I’d see.  I eventually started jogging and kept a steady pace going downhill, but when I got to the stairs, the stairs fought back.  I ended up massaging a pressure point on one leg on and off as I was running down the stairs, to keep the pace up.  Seeing tired hikers a mile into their walk quietly amuses me at this point, but they’re still doing the right thing.  After finishing the hardest part of the stairs, I stopped at a fence for a round of stretching, to make the last mile fun again.  That worked—I picked up the pace the rest of the way.  Unlike most recent races, I didn’t go all out the last stretch of the course, since this one was mostly about finishing and having fun.  I just ran back into town and through the finish.

I finished in 6:28:11, ~25% slower on the second half.  The stairs on the descent at the end of the first half definitely had their way.  I felt much better then expected, rested, stretched, ate, and stretched some more.  And out of nowhere GQ then walked through the finish area, a bit of a random surprise to both of us; he was out at the beach with his family.  We chatted for a bit; it’s always fun telling people that I’d been out running for that many hours.  Before heading out, I waded a bit in the great pacific ice bath.  It's nice to have the ice bath ready for you at the end of the course before driving.

With the small number of Marathon-distance registrants, I ended up first (out of two) in my age group.  9/18 overall, so just in the top half, which is typical lately.  I wasn’t solidly expecting that this time, with the combination of a much harder course then I've run in a race yet and a longer distance.  But I was overall pleasantly surprised.  Except for the traffic on the way home, it was a great day of running.  I find it ironic that, being being my third marathon distance race, the far more difficult course than the SF Marathon left me feeling a lot better.  These are also great training climbs; the two times I've been on these trails in the last few weeks have had a big effect on both my running and my cycling.  


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