Thursday, June 22, 2017

The 107th Dipsea Race - Lessons Learned

"Oh, you're fast just didn't want it enough."

Such was the feedback given to me by a 24-time Dipsea runner at the finish line, soon after I gasped to a personally disappointing 126th place (1:00:51). This was just after he scolded me (loudly) for NOT pushing him to the side when careening down the crooked stairs of Steep Ravine, an act that would be considered an assault charge on any other day of the year. But on Dipsea day, you have to give everything for every place, and my new friend was correctly pointing out that I had not. This was a day of lessons learned.

I had high hopes for the 107th running of this 7.2 mile classic cross country race, even though it was only my second time running it. Last year I was in the "runner" section, and had finished fast enough to get an "invitational" entry this year where I assumed the pace would be faster. I was old enough to get a six minute head start (the race is handicapped by age), so if I just took a few minutes off my raw time from the previous year, I had a shot at one of the coveted "black shirts" given to the top 35 finishers. My fitness was good (more tuned for marathons or longer, but still) and the weather was felt like the stars were aligning.

(I'm coming for you!!!)
My inspiration was on full stoke as well. I started running the Dipsea in honor of my great uncle, Ray Morris, whom on his death bed two years ago made me promise I would honor his 17 finishes and 3 black shirts by "giving it a go" (thus gifting me the right "sob story" to actually be accepted to run the race). I had a fancy new Rabbit singlet covered with inspiring women ultrarunners that was worth at least a 45-second boost, and the brand new inov-8 TRAILROC 285 shoes that had quickly become my favorite downhill running shoe. One of my running heroes, Amby Burfoot (winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and editor of Runner's World), was going to be running along with us, and a one week sit-on-a-boat-and-drink-beer vacation was lined up the day after the finish. What more could I need?!?

(Hanging with Amby Burfoot!)
(My Uncle Ray, running the Bay to Breakers with my Dad in the early 70's)
(Time to do this!)
(The famous Dipsea stairs, photo courtesy of
(If you've got road, PASS!!! Photo courtesy of
(77-year-old Hans Schmidt en route to 35th place, photo courtesy of
Well, as it turns out, I needed more race experience, ferocity, and training specificity. Here are a few things I figured out:
  • For a fast runner, the "invitational" section is actually more crowded than the "runner" section. Last year as a "runner", I was able to enjoy a few miles by myself in the second half, but it was butts 2-3 wide the whole way this year. 
  • Unlike the "runners", most "invitational" runners don't step aside for faster runners, even if you ask. I got caught up behind 10-year-olds on Suicide, and 70-year-olds on the Swoop, and easily lost four minutes waiting for places to pass. The runners who got by them (and me) didn't wait at all, even if it meant a few elbows and some bushwhacking in the poison oak. 
  • It's not enough to be familiar with the Dipsea Trail, you need to know it cold. Particularly the left eight inches of the Dipsea Trail where you will be passing people. 
  • The climbs are everything. In comparing my splits with black shirt finishers, they were taking the steeper climbs like Dynamite and Cardiac 1-3 minutes faster than me. That means they were full red line and had the leg cannons to back it up. 
  • There really are some undocumented shortcuts out there. I kept seeing the same runners popping up in front of me like a glitch in The Matrix. Time to train with some locals! 
  • You get your "old person" extra minutes because you need them. Even Galen Burrell, a many-time Dipsea top finisher (5th here today) commented "I thought with one extra minute I was going to crush it...turns out I needed every one of those 60 seconds to hold the same place I got last year". 
  • You have to pass while running down stairs. You HAVE to. Just make that decision before you start. 
So, plenty of lessons learned. My Uncle Ray had tried to tell me this, saying I shouldn't expect to do well in my first 3-4 runnings. I guess I'll have to come back again and "give it another go". 

(Chris Lundy lines up with previous winners)
(Chris gets the champagne shower)
(Runners of all ages!)
(50 finishes!)
(The top finishers)
Personal setbacks aside, the Dipsea Race was a great experience, and once again a tremendous source of inspiration. I got to run with Amby for a few steps, climbed Hogsback with some wicked-fast 12-year-olds, watched Chris Lundy become the first women to win the Dipsea in decades, see Alex Varner pick up 2nd place (his best yet!) and his 7th fastest time award, and talk to former winner Hans Schmidt, who at age 77 took the coveted 35th place black shirt. In the grand scheme of things, 126th place isn't bad (and it is auto-entry for "invitational" next year) and much like all of these superstars, I am grateful for health, adventure, and perspective.

This is one of those races that seems to allow fitness to defy time, both young and old. I will certainly be back, hopefully in black!


  1. Last sentence, political correctness not withstanding, should be: "I'll be black (shirt, that is).

  2. Scott, I would have been insanely happy with 1 hour and change. Come train with us in Marin next year and we'll show you all the shortcuts. - Diana

  3. If Diana is asking you to come train with them you're in the money for next year...third times a charm!


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