2015 Dipsea Race

Running Time: 1:05:13
Finish Time: 1:04:14 (1-minute head start)
Pace: 8:41
Place: 263 of 1419
AG%: N/A

It feels like it’s been a long time since I updated this. Normally I would have been writing something around April about the Boston Marathon, except that in February of this year I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my tibia. This meant a complete cessation of running in February and March, and only a gradual resumption of run/walk starting in April. While my doctor had cleared me to start running (ok, run-walking) by the Boston Marathon I was not in the position to run a marathon.

That meant my first real race would be the Dipsea in June — the annual trail run from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. This race is the oldest continuing trail race in the country, having started in 1905 (though was not run for a few years during the Great Depression and WWII) and continuing on today.

I decided I’d take a month to do some rehab-running (April), and then a month to start to introduce proper training (May) before the 105th Dipsea on June 14th. With only a bit more than a month worth of training, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get back up to speed to handle the Dipsea. Not only is the Dipsea a competitive race, it’s also extremely hilly and challenging — with both massively steep uphills (688 steps of stairs to start with) and super fast descents (with names like “Suicide”) through some gnarly terrain.

Last year I was run as a Runner and qualify with a 1:09 to be invited for the 2015 race as an Invitational runner. To keep that status, I figured I would have to run a 1:07 this year but I wasn’t sure I could knock off two minutes from last year’s time. Granted last year was warm and times were artificially slow, but I had gotten to the start without having any injuries along the way.

The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach
The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach

Based on Russ Kiernan’s previous splits, I had three course goals that would keep me on track to maintain Invitational status and run around a 1:05: 1.) hit the top of the stairs at 7:40, 2.) hit the bridge across Redwood Creek at 18:45, and 3.) hit the top of Cardiac at 43:50. If I could hit Cardiac in 43:XX, I knew I could run the remaining couple of miles pretty strong since they’re fairly runnable and downhill/flat.

Connor and I decided to start off together, mostly because he wanted to keep from going out too fast, although I told him that I wasn’t sure what the final miles would have for me. I wasn’t sure if my strength could get me through the final fast miles and said he should drop me if he still had the legs to go in the last downhill 2 miles.

Connor and I got in the corrals and before we knew it the countdown started. “Your race begins in 5… 4… 3… 2…….. 1!!!!”

Immediately I saw Rickey Gates fly off the front of the pack. This was no surprise, and he would go on to post the fastest run of the day. What a talent! Our group was fairly fast so I tried not to get caught up in the excitement of the start, nor the jockeying for position. I wanted to save my legs for the two massive climbs in the race.

The Dipsea course elevation profile.
The Dipsea course elevation profile.

I hit the stairs taking two at a time, monitoring my breathing and heart rate. When I found myself working too hard, I’d stay to the right on the stairs and let faster people pass left. Once in a while I’d pass left when my heart rate had come down, but I made sure to stay in a fairly aerobic zone because so much of the race still lie ahead. It was on these stairs that I saw Alex Varner fly by me and I knew I’d never see him again. I wondered if he’d be getting his 7th consecutive fastest-runner triumph.

Hitting the top of the stairs, Connor and I emerged exactly at 7:40. Wow, what pacing! I was happy that I hit my first course goal, and looked forward to the descent down to the creek. Of course I had forgotten that between the stairs and the descent to the creek, there’s still a sizable climb passing the 1-mile mark. Ugh. Lots of people were passing me at this point, but I was trying not to worry. I’d catch them on the downhills and still wanted to conserve energy.

Soon enough the descent along Muir Wood Road came and I let my legs turnover to gain some speed. Hitting the bottom and crossing the creek at 18:40, I was so please to be on pace. Still, I knew the climb to Cardiac would make or break the race.

The climb from the creek gets pretty crowded; by this time we were catching up with a lot of the earlier groups. “Passing left!” was coming out of my mouth constantly, whether I was running or power-hiking my way up. I tried to pay attention to any section that got remotely flat, and therefor runnable, and sped up. When at one point Connor slipped ahead of me on an uphill climb, I found myself quickly catching up to him on the flats. Knowing that he and I were primarily road runners and have more raw speed than most of the other trail runners, I shouted to him as I caught up: “You gotta push on the flats!” Most of the other runners were recovering on the flats after hard uphill efforts, and us pushing the flats up to Cardiac is where we really started to make up ground.

Cardiac this year felt a lot easier than last, and I’m not sure why. I kept my head up when I could sense the summit approaching, and looked at my watch. We were around 41:00 and I told Connor that if we hit the top at 45 minutes, that’d be good. But if we hit the top at 43 minutes, that’d be great! We hit the top at 43:24. I was so happy to have hit this split. I knew if I kept up the effort I would finish right at 1:05.

Once at the top the running gets pretty good. I slowed down for a quick Gatorade, and in that half second a dozen guys jumped ahead of me seeing the flat and fast section atop Cardiac. That meant Connor was now way ahead. The trail gets super narrow, so passing was not always an option — especially if the person I wanted to pass was passing someone. The congestion and narrow trails made it impossible to catch up to Connor, which was frustrating. Not only did I want to run with him, I didn’t want him to beat me!

I was feeling good so I didn’t worry about Connor dropping me. I’d pass when the trail allowed it and had the confidence that I could put in a properly hard charge over the final two miles.

Unfortunately after Cardiac we entered the Swoop, a section that this year that was so massively overcrowded that at times we were forced to come to a full stop; other times we were able to march a a snail’s pace, which was unacceptable considering it’s downhill. While it was incredibly frustrating, there was nothing I could do about it so I just bided my time and took the opportunity to recover a bit.

Exiting the Swoop, there’s a bump called Insult. I can’t convey how much of a bump this really is. Everyone talks about it but I feel like it’s over before it starts. It was nothing to sweat over. With only a little over a mile left and the trail a little wider than before I decided it was time to make my move to catch up to Connor. I’m a good downhill runner and don’t get [too] scared about taking stairs or hills fast going down and I made it my mission to pass everyone to catch him.

I powered down everything and anyone in my way, and with about two hundred meters before hitting the Shoreline Highway (about a half mile from the finish) I managed to meet up with Connor on some stairs that I was attacking. I yelled at him to come with me and we had only 800 meters of downhill road separating us and the finish. We kicked and managed to average 4:50 for that final stretch, crossing the finish together in a chip time of 1:05 and managing to maintain our Invitational status for 2016.

Crossing the finish, I couldn’t believe how perfectly the race had gone. I hit each of my sub-goals within a matter of seconds and crossed at exactly my goal pace. It’s not often a race works out with such perfection, especially a trail race with such varied terrain. I was ecstatic.

I had guessed at the start that we’d need a 1:07, and it turns out that the cutoff this year was 1:08:02. It was good knowing that we were several minutes under this, because next year the pressure will be a little less. We’ll know exactly what it takes to qualify again and I think we’ll even be in better shape.

This year my goal was to finish uninjured and to qualify to run again next year. Next year my goal is a bit more ambitious: run under 60:00 and juuuuuust maybe crack the top 100.

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