Monday, June 11, 2012


The Legendary Annual  102nd  DQ-ipsea Race
Lights are on, no one's home.. Galen Burrell photo

Slipped away this past weekend to the Marin area for the Dipsea race, a legendary 7.8 mile mountain trail race which goes from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach over a couple of significant climbs. (A must read.. Barry Spitz’s “Dipsea: The Greatest Race”.. Barry signed my copy this past weekend, dedicated to my kids in hopes they experience the run someday)  Over a thousand people run this handicapped race, meaning that the starts are staged so that, in theory, everyone crosses the finish at the same time. Well the system is flawed and favors the old and the very young, with a one 25 year-old who gets 4th or 5th each year, but almost without exception these days an older folk or young girl wins the race with their significant head start. I love this format, as it reinforces in all who love trail running that it truly should be a life-long sport, and even the extremes of the spectrum should have a taste of competition and chance at the W. 
I had never even witnessed the Dipsea, but all my Marin trail running friends raved about the race. I picked up my bib Saturday afternoon, had a burrito with Rickey Gates and Galen and Kristin Burrell (and baby Autumn), and spent the evening with the Fitzpatrick family. Tim Fitzpatrick noticed I’d been given the wrong bib number, and the small print name at the bottom of some other guy indicated indeed he was correct. No worries though, the next morning at the race start I went to check in and got my “correct” bib number. Noting my wave start on my bib as the U wave, Tim mentioned that he’d missed his start in the past times he’d run Dipsea.. me, I would never do that, I told myself.
The starts went off, with Barry Spitz announcing runners from each wave. The 75 year olds with 6 year olds went first with their handicapped 30 or so roughly minute head start, then each minute another wave would go off.. 65 year olds with 10 year olds, 55 year olds with 15 year olds, etc etc until the last wave of “scratch” wave, meaning 25 year old men. It was real cool and inspiring to see the older folks and an 8 year old girl being recognized as past champions, yet intimidating in the gap that would have to be made up to catch them. The crowd of hundreds in downtown Mill Vally roared with each announcement in this race which has defined Northern California short distance mountain running.
My wave was to start 2 minutes before the scratch wave.. not really much of  a head-start.. and as Barry called the U wave into the start corral, I misheard this as the U runners should be behind the current start wave.. I climbed the orange fence into the guys my age, and looked at the bibs next to me.. W! The gun had gone off with the U’s about 30 seconds before, and I quickly scurried off to start my race alone in front of the crowds.
Up the 700 or so steps of the first climb, I had never called out “on your left” as many times in that race as I tried to make up my lost time. Passing is really har in this race as runners are three abreast on the 700 or so stairs, and all single track after that through thick forest of brush and poison oak. The race is an open race, so you can short cut in designated places, if you know where to go, so the locals are favored for sure in the dozens of ways they can cut minutes from your total time. I knew most of the good short cuts, and used them as needed, and I was always feeling in control of my own private pain cave, pushing hard as an ultrarunner can but  always feeling like I could do it all day. Over into Muir Woods, the effort increased for the 1200 foot climb to the hill they call Cardiac, passing always but never being passed, all classes of age groups and sexes who’d started before me finally coming in sight of legendary Colorado runner, Andy Ames at the top of the climb Cardiac. Kim Gaylord handed me my Vitargo gel flask at the top, refueled quickly, and  passed Andy on the Swoop shortcut, until I saw Gary Wang taking photos. Gary said I was 15th, and with only 2 miles left in the race with no one in sign on this super techy downhill through the Ewok forest I thought there was no way I’d catch them all. The next bridge in the woods had crowds cheering who said I was 8th, so being corrected in my placing I pushed hard up the “Insult” hill and passed three runners in succession.
 The dreaded Dipsea downhills..Gary Wang photos
The Hoka Bondi B and Injinji socks doing their job right.

The last section, if you use the short cuts, which almost everyone does, puts you on the Panoramic highway for a 100 meter bit, hearing footsteps behind me, I saw the super fast 55 year old local just ahead of me, and both were motoring. Jumping off the hwy to another shortcut in the brush, heard more Ewoks laughing, and I crashed down it and passed him too aggressively.. I think he cursed me as I bumped him, then took as super sharp right turn back onto the Dipsea and one of the Ewoks tripped me on the trail, obviously pissed at me. Getting up,  I saw the 55 year old Marin legend Brian Pilcher had found a short cut and as now 30 feet in front of me with the 25 year old who had joined him just ahead. I motored, passed Brian, and gunned to try to make up 17 year age gap just ahead of me. It was not to be.
Into Stinson Beach finish of thousands, I held me head high as I came in 5th place is just over 52 minutes, high enough in the standings to place and score a big silver Dipsea cup at the awards. I was really happy, as the 72 year old winner had come in a few minutes earlier and there was no way anyone was going to catch that mutant. Diana Fitzpatrick was third, and with my placing the Tamalpans would take the team title… or so I thought.
After two hours of watching finishers come in and chatting and having fun, Lisa Jhung, walked to the beach, cooled down run in the sand, swam , etc. Life was good.
I had a flight that I needed to catch though and headed back to the finish and wards area. Seeing Victor Ballesteros, I said hi and he asked why I’d started my race early, as he and I are the same age, and he’d started three minutes behind me. Huh?  I pulled my bib out and showed him the U wave.. his wave was W though. On this I saw Tim Fitzpatrick walk up, who proceeded to push me straight off my cloud. He pointed to the fine print name on my bib number (my second bib number given to me).. the name was not mine.
Doh! Not only had I FUBAR’ed the starting gun once, I’d twice gotten the wrong bib handed to me.. and I’d failed to check the name on the bib twice.. What’s the saying.. Fool me once.. but fool Dave five times and he will still be standing there like a jackass.
I really had to get to Mill Valley to get to the airport, so left it in Tim’s kind hands to deal with the race director to decipher this mess.
Today I found out I was DQ’ed from the standings, which is all fine as far as I am concerned.. I deserve it! I still had a fun time chasing old ladies in the woods, got a great work out doing it, and will come back some year for this classic to get my ass handed to me. I am also going to hire one of the local Mill Valley kindergarten five year olds to read my bib name and start wave letter to me, and point me in the right direction when the gun goes off.

Aftermath and sequelae here.. the "black shirt" is a big deal if you get top 35

Smart man who knows how to read bibs.. Hans Schmid, 71 year old winner and 40 minute 10K road runner. Mill Valley Patch photo.

Hans Schmid's story here
Rickey Gates' awesome photos
Boulderite Lisa Jhung will write fine Dipsea prose here in the next couple days,8032,s6-238-511-0-0,00.html


  1. Victor BallesterosJune 11, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    Hey Dave, as always, it was good seeing you. Sorry to hear about the weird confusion. Despite the fact, you ran a great race! Next time listen to me when I say we start at 8:52! ;-)

  2. Re: flawed system
    The 'flaw' would be that the Dipsea attracts world class age groupers whereas world class 25 year olds are off running bigger races. I would classify that as self selection, not a flawed system.

  3. Obviously this is only your account of what happened, but on the basis of what you have written you were treated harshly in my opinion. It wasn't just your fault but the organisers' as well, and they've shoved all the consequences onto you. They should have just given you a time penalty. Why should it be your responsibility to check that the organisers are doing a good job? For me that's in the price you pay to enter a race. In my eyes by disqualifying you they're saying you cheated. What's their excuse for giving you the wrong bib no. twice - lack of experience as this was a new race!

  4. mack attack. can you send me a note as I have questions about genr8 usage etc... would appreciate it! chris

  5. Victor.. Indeed I was supposed to start with the X wave(8:52.. as you say): not W as I wrote.
    Anonymous..My use of the term "flawed" may be off, but I stand by my statement that the handicap system favoring the outliers of participant ages... I really like it that was personally.
    Hungarian.. I think it was a perfect storm that created my result; I messed up, and the organizers messed happens. I guess they could have tagged me an penalty instead, which would have been fine with me too.
    Twardzik.. I will email oyu.. I owe a couple comments on Vitargo usage actually.

  6. Dave, thanks for a great read. I learned all I know about Dipsea from your post, but now it sounds like fun.

    Great attitudes prevail,

  7. We'll make sure you don't get the wrong bib at Speedgoat. :-) You coming or what?

  8. Stairs, my major enemy. I have to admit that I hate to run through stairs. Specially when they are carved into the soil with a wood like those.