Of the many lessons I learned last month at Mt. Diablo, running a course for the first time in a race doesn't make the race any easier. Especially one with the word "mountain" in the name.
So with the Mt. Tam Trail Run next Saturday, KJ and I trekked to Stinson to scope out the trails.
With the marathon over, I'm really looking forward to getting back into trail running. Driving out to the trails is a bit more of a commitment than falling out my front door, but every time I make the effort I wonder why I don't do it more often. And having somehow managed to run trails in San Francisco for three years now without having set foot on the infamous Dipsea Trail, I figured what better way to spend the Sunday after the marathon than getting my trail legs back.
Rising from Stinson, the trail winds through the brush, immediately introducing you to the stairs for which these trails are so well known. After a mile or so you arrive at the ominously named Steep Ravine Trail. Its aptly named, but what struck me was the scenery more than the steep.
A crystal pond greets you as you dive into the ravine and you're enveloped in ferns and craggy trails, the path rippled with roots and rocks. Stairs hewed from rock, steep climbs are interspersed with rolling, runnable inclines. The iconic ladder hits you halfway through, forcing you to scramble a quick dozen steps up. Its freaking gorgeous in here, like running on Endor.
We took it easy, mixing in some hiking, knowing there was plenty of climbing left to go.
We popped out at Pantoll Campground looking for the Ben Johnson trail. We followed signs down a narrow, winding trail that became increasingly narrowing winding. Turning back seemed logical several times before we actually did. Getting lost isn't that big of a deal, but getting lost where you can actually run is a lot better than what was barely a deer trail. As it turns out (as it often does), if we had pushed on a few hundred yards further we would have popped out onto the right trail.
Back at the trail head, we forged another route in our attempt to find our way to the course. Another fail. This time at least we hit some nice trails, finding a fire road that would have taken us all the way to the Mt. Tam summit if we had been inclined. We weren't, and turned around.
We finally managed to find our way down to where the first aid station would be, realizing that we had turned too early in our search for Ben Johnson. We stopped to chat with a local runner who gave us some helpful tips for next weekend and regaled us with his weekend training schedule for the Quad Dipsea (Mill Valley to Stinson, back to Mill Valley, then do it all again. 28 miles and A LOT of up).
Not looking to spend all day on our feet, we abandoned our attempt to run the entire course and headed back down, noting the sketchy footing and surprise hills on the dipsea back to Stinson.
Its not hard to figure out why the Dipsea trail is so renowned. Epic Pacific views, challenging climbs, a variety of terrain, incredible scenery and I only saw a fraction of the trail.
The sun was out, the weather crisp but warm and all in all it was about as good as a mellow day out on the trails can get. My legs felt surprisingly good just seven days after the marathon and I'm pretty stoked for next weekend.