Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Dipsea

The Dipsea is a race like no other. Consider the handicapped head starts given to runners older and younger than the 19-30 year old "scratch" competitors. Peruse the 100+ year history of the oldest trail race in the country. Feel the community entrenched around this coveted race. The black shirt awarded to the top 35 finishers is likely the most coveted race tee on the planet. It took me three tries, but I finally gained entry to the 2014 Dipsea, the 104th edition. The allure of the Dipsea is unavoidable to trail runners from the Bay Area and beyond. Since its start in 1905, it remains a local institution. I was in love with this race from the moment I learned of it, and consumed everything I could on the subject. Movies about the Dipsea Demon Jack Kirk, the Bruce Dern movie "On the Edge", blogs and books; I thought about the race every time I set foot on the legendary trail.

Ann worried that I might sustain an injury, given the technical and crowded nature of the course. Steps of varying sizes and materials separate Mill Valley from the summit of the first climb at Panoramic Highway. Shortcuts with names like Suicide and Swoop bring the courageous down steep trails cut through thick brush. The descent into Steep Ravine is more akin to a controlled fall than running. I knew I had to take it easy. I would never forgive myself if I failed to toe the line in Squaw Valley because of a 7 mile trail race gone awry.

Just three weeks before Western States 100, I figured Dipsea would be a welcome distraction from the impending taper madness. I was right. It is always liberating to toe a starting line knowing I would be dialing it back. Twirly dropped me off and headed straight to Stinson Beach, trying to beat the traffic. As a first year runner, I was set to start in the "Runner" section. The top 750 finishers (overall) from the previous year get an automatic entry. They also get to start first. I watched the 26 waves go off, one each minute, before the Runner section even began. As a 42 year old, I would only have a three minute head start on the scratch runners. The AAA invitational group had a 49 minute head start on me. It became obvious to me that racing my way into the top 750 would require an honest effort!

Once the whistle blew, the adrenaline carried me up the steps. Local residents played music and cheered. The steps were scrawled with chalk; words of inspiration from friends and family members. Walkers stayed to the right, and runners hopped up the left. I passed when I could, but kept my effort in check. A steady stream of scratch runners filed by in the early miles, but I spent most of my time in the fast lane with them. I was anticipating much more difficult passing conditions, but everyone was on the same page. Go hard on the left, stay to the right while you're sucking wind.

My power hiking practice paid big dividends as I passed runners while hiking. My legs felt solid, and strong. Once at the summit of the first climb, I let loose. Descending into Muir Woods I kept pace with some fast runners around me. At the last minute, I turned left to take the Suicide shortcut. Pre-race I was unsure if I should risk the steep slope. The shortcuts are off limits outside of race day, and I had no idea what to expect as I followed the conga line of runners into the bushes. The trail was soft, and a cloud of dust obscured the footing. I could not see a damn thing below my knees. I focused on the hips of the runner in front of me, watching for the larger drops.

Through Muir Woods and across Redwood Creek I did a quick assessment. I felt in control and strong. No niggles. The hike up Dynamite and Deer Creek came and went, and once on the Hogsback I continued passing people. The cool shade of the rain forest was a welcome change from the exposed grasslands of Hogsback. Cardiac Hill was near. I kept a steady pace and gave Cardiac my best effort, setting a PR for the climb on Strava in the process. I dumped my water bottle over my head at the aid station, got a refill and took off for the two mile descent to Stinson Beach. I ran hard, falling into line with a couple guys who had the same plan. The Swoop shortcut offered no passing opportunities amongst the conga line.

Once I hit the bridge on the floor of Steep Ravine I could smell the barn. I ran Insult Hill hard, and kept increasing the effort along the Panoramic Shortcuts. I tried to pass as many people on the road as I could, increasing my turnover on the smooth pavement. Then we would jump back into the bushes and the single file roller coaster ride. The terrain was technical and I found I had to back off the runner in front of me to see where to put my feet.

Then we were back on the Trail headed for the beach. I burst onto the Highway and ran with every ounce of effort I had left. I think I passed another dozen people on the final quarter mile of pavement. When I crossed the finish line, I felt that familiar 5k nausea. I didn't leave much out there!
Finishing chute, photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling

My 1:22:xx was good for 844th place overall. I was 4 minutes late for the top 750 and the invitational entry for 2015. I'll apply again next year and figure out where to shave off four minutes this winter. Heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers and organizers. This race truly is special, and I look forward to many, many more.

Post race party, photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling

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