Honoring Ray Morris, the 17-time Dipsea Finisher
The angel in question is my late great uncle, Ray Morris. I had reconnected with Ray last summer after a 40 year hiatus, only to find he was more of a trail running nut than I am. Plus he was doing it back in the 70's and 80's right here in Silicon Valley...a true pioneer in the shortest of shorts. Unfortunately, Ray was also in the terminal stages of pancreatic cancer, and it was this reason he had reached out to reconnect about our shared passion. I happily made a few personal visits, swapping stories of trail adventures that magically cut through his dementia and struggle, always lighting up his sunken face with a big smile. He passed just a few weeks later.
|(Ray Morris, complete with Dipsea singlet)|
When I told Ray I had unsuccessfully tried to bribe my way into the race for years (settling for the Double Dipsea and Quad Dipsea, naturally), he just smiled. He had an Ace to slip up my sleeve - a letter from his death bed, asking if I could do the race in his honor. The Dipsea Committee happily obliged, and it was clear from their emails that honoring past runners was a big part of the spirit of the race. And just like that, I found myself at the starting line for 2016, grateful and humble.
The 106th Dipsea Race
I had plenty of time to kill on race morning, given my "Runner - Group W" starting slot. The Dipsea has a double handicap system - one handicap for your age (so 7 year olds and 70 year olds start first), and one handicap for first-time runners ("Invitational" runners start 27 minutes ahead of "Runners"). That put me in about 1,400th place at the start line (42 minutes behind!), so there was zero chance of placing. The best I could hope for was finishing in the top 750 so I could get "Invitational" the following year. But that meant passing ~700 people in 7.4 miles of trails...that just seems rude, doesn't it? Well, Ray would go for it, so I figured I should.
|(The Dipsea course)|
|(Meeting Julie at the start)|
|(And they're off!)|
|(Rickey Gates and Galen Burrell sport the awesome Pelican Inn Track Club shirts)|
|(Here come those steps!)|
|(Jason Reed among the younger competition)|
|(Alex Varner taking on Cardiac, photo by Steve Disenhof)|
|(Coming down the hill, photo courtesy of Chris Blagg)|
|(It can get a little crazy out there)|
I cruised the last section of road, and picked off a few more runners in the chute as long-time announcer and Hall of Fame inductee Barry Spitz called out my name. My watch said 1:02:53, which was going to slot me in 610th and 20th in the Runner section. Made it! Next year, I guess I'll have to get serious and find 5-6 more minutes to cut.
|(Awards galore, and the coveted black jerseys)|
|(2016 winner Brian Pilcher shares some tips)|
|(Hanging with Nakia Baird, Eduardo Vasquez, and Chris Jones)|
|(Samir Shah grabbed an iced tea and ran back to the start!)|
|(The fastest of the fast!)|
I know Ray would have loved every second of it. The familiarity, the adventure, the celebration of endurance and longevity. I can see why, in his last few days, it was memories of The Dipsea that remained as clear as spring water while the world faded to black. Perhaps it will be the same for all of us, and we secretly know it, so we toe the line again and again.
Thank you, Ray Morris, race directors, volunteers, fellow runners, and the great people of Mill Valley. I will see you again next year!