Driving wind. Thick fog. Can't imagine better conditions to go after my first KOM (King of the Mountain, on Strava).
The climb from Elk to Portola along O'Shaughnessy is a 1.2 mile, 318ft slog. Just steep enough to be a real climb, just long enough to be a grind, but still totally runnable. You wind up the hill with Glen Park Canyon to your right with Diamond Heights above. As you reach the top, a football and track drag you forward, all the way to the light at the top and Portola Ave. Twin Peaks, another 400 feet above, looms on the horizon.
As I started my run this evening, I wasn't sure I'd actually go after the KOM. It was windy, chilly and my legs felt heavy. But I knew they'd shake out on the way over, a 1.5 mile warm up. But as I kept running, I was reminded of a conversation with KJ I had, wherein we discussed that training isn't just for your body. If you never suffer during training runs, you won't be used to it come race day.
Don't scrap your run because of wind and driving rain, but cut it down and go out anyway.
So I settled into the knowledge that I'd give the climb my best, if for no other reason than to set a benchmark for future ascents.
I hit Elk at 14:00 and was off, 8:22 my target time. The climb starts off flat enough, but I took it easy to stay out of the orange early on. Once you hit the orange, it's not only hard to bring it back down, but for some physiological reason I don't understand, you're more susceptible to hitting it again.
There's an early steep section, which I blew through feeling good. My legs began to complain, but I reminded them that I had only just begun. Running fast uphill is a funny thing. If you're smart about it, you can convince your body that you aren't actually climbing. That it's actually flat, and there is no reason you should be going this slow. Because your body knows the incline, and pushes you to ease off. Strong mind, weak body.
At the 4-minute mark, I realized I still had a long way to go. The middle section of the climb is a consistent, gradual grade. I pushed it and was happy to feel good, able to stay in the yellow. At the 6-minute mark, I knew 8:22 was out of reach, but I pushed on anyway.
I sped up, wanting to set a high benchmark for myself. I hit the final turn and could see the stoplight dead ahead. I put my head down, leaned into the wind and turned it on. My breathing labored, but I kept it up. I breached the crest just past 23 minutes on my watch, so a little over 9-minutes for the climb. Damn, 8:22 is fast.
My lungs ached and I recovered down Portola, giving up on going to the top of Twin Peaks. But 100 yards on my legs felt much better. I flipped around and kept rising. Up, always up.
Into the fog, periodic wind whipping through the canyons. I paused to give two lost tourists directions down, and pressed against the gusts at the peak. Around the vista point and down the other side.
The way down is long. Seemingly endless descents pounding the quads. But great downhill running practice, since you can basically run as fast as your body can handle. Down, off Twin Peaks and through the Castro. Weaving in and out of traffic, running past cars creeping through stop signs is a great feeling.
I hit Dolores Park and turned right to home. A final two bumps which now barely feel like climbs, even to my aching legs.
What a run. While disappointed that I still have 40+ seconds to shave off my climb, I also finished the run as envisioned and felt great at the end. Tired, but strong. My legs had it, but my lungs didn't. Time to hit the track!