Mission Peak Dark Descent

June 13, 2014

Some of the most memorable and enjoyable runs I've done have been at night. Things are quieter and have a special feeling at the end of the day. The sky turns all of its colors on the way to darkness, and if you're lucky the moon helps guide the way then.

With Arti's ever-present encouragement, I headed out to the Mission Peak trailhead after dinner at around 7:45. This put me on the trail just after 8pm. Sunset and moonrise was at 8:30 on this day, so I knew most of the run would be pretty dark, especially the descent. After a week in Hawaii with some epic but slow/technical runs and a week of general laziness to follow, I had low expectations for what I'd be able to do this evening, time-wise.

The Stanford Ave parking lot was still full (!!) so I parked along one of the side streets. This ended up being a blessing since it forced me to do a short warmup prior to passing through the trailhead gate. A longer warmup would probably be beneficial but I still haven't really internalized the benefits there.

I hit the trail feeling surprisingly good. I ran the first quarter mile (flat-ish) feeling fast, and shifted down to hillclimbing gear once the trail shot up. At the first cattle grate the trail gets steeper so I usually feel the need to throttle back, but this evening I didn't want to let up at all.

Head down, breathing at maximum, focus on keeping a pace that felt faster than before. If I started to focus on fatigue I'd slow down, so I shifted my thoughts to solving some work problems. That's my usual strategy to distract myself from zeroing in on how difficult this thing is that I'm doing. I'd oscillate between solving computer problems and checking in on my pace/effort (mentally) and tried to keep moving. "The faster you go the sooner this is over", I kept telling myself.

The trail climbs about 1500 feet in the first two miles then flattens out at the Grove Trail. I turned up the speed here for the next quarter mile, then downshifted again to hillclimbing run gear until the final climb. Time check at the fencepost before the last super-steep climb looked good -- I knew at this point I was on personal best pace (about 30 mins) and I needed to keep pushing hard to stay with it.

I saw two guys ahead that I thought may be Zombie Don and Zombie Zac. They had just started the final climb and were HAULING up the hill. I tried my best to preserve my distance to them, but I had spent a lot of energy up to this point and they pulled away ever so slowly up the last half-mile (500 feet of climbing).

The view from the peak at night is always a stunner, and today was no different.

Beautiful Mission Peak

I realized at the top the two guys I was chasing were not the Zombies I thought they were. Bummer! That would have been fun.

The full moon was just rising to the southeast. It was huge and awesome looking, but I knew that since it was so low in the sky it wouldn't be doing much to illuminate the trail. Sorry, no photos of the moon. I was on PR pace dammit! :)

After running to the wooden peak marker, I took a couple of swigs of water (the first of the run so far -- a record for me!) and started the descent. Lucky for me there was still some glow in the sky to illuminate this very technical and steep part of the run.

Hopping down this section is one of my favorite parts of doing Mission Peak. At night it gets even more challenging. The runs I did I Hawaii were a good lead-up to this, since in both cases I needed a super duper connection between my eyes, brain, and feet to make sure I didn't twist an ankle or fall on my face. It wasn't a PR descent by a long shot, but it was still fast and fun.

With such a clear sky, there was very little city-glow to light up the trail. The moon wasn't helping -- in fact, it was kind of hurting my vision since I'd glance up to see how awesome it was, and the brightness would erode my night vision. So no more looking at the full moon! Just running, looking down, trying not to get blinded by hikers' flashlights they were waving around haphazardly.

I managed to pull off some low-7 pace miles on the way down which was surprising. I was running somewhat conservatively because I didn't want to catch a toe on a hidden rock, but perhaps since I couldn't see all the detail I was doing fewer unnecessary small adjustments to where my feet were landing. Who knows?

Anyhow, I made it down without any incidents. A cool-off jog back to the car and we were done! I love this hill!