The 108th Dipsea Race took place this past Sunday about 15 minutes from where I live on a trail that I’ve run on countless times. I did not participate partly because my wife was racing elsewhere that day but mostly because the Dipsea scares the ever-living sh*t out of me and I’m convinced I wouldn’t escape without serious injury. (You’ll see why in a bit.) It’s also not an easy race to get into, even if you live in the area.
So what’s the Dipsea, you might be wondering? It’s the oldest trail race in the U.S. and second-oldest race of any discipline in this country behind the Boston Marathon. It has an interesting application process and handicapped start times “so that people of all ages can compete in this race on a more or less equitable basis.” The field is capped at 1,500 runners and thousands get turned away annually. The course itself is a 7.4-mile point-to-point route that runs from downtown Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, California on a rugged singletrack trail featuring 700 stairs and 2,200 feet of total elevation gain (and loss, for that matter). There are shortcuts you can (legally) take if you know the trail well enough. It’s competitive as all get out and runners will fight for every spot (sometimes literally, as I was informed after this year’s race). The first 35 runners across the finish line get a coveted black shirt and the top 450 get guaranteed entry to the following year’s race.
This year’s Dipsea was won by Chris Lundy, a 47-year-old woman, who repeated as champion, holding off a hard-charging Alex Varner for the second year in a row. Varner, 32, ran the race’s fastest time for the eighth time, tying a record, but he’s never been first across the finish line in the 15 times he’s raced it. This oddity is part of what makes the Dipsea so quirky, but also compelling. Check out this brief video of this year’s race by Rickey Gates that captures the vibe along the course—and the myriad obstacles that runners face—at full speed. It pairs well with this photo gallery from the local newspaper, which shows just how seriously the locals take it (and how many people come out to watch it).
RELATED READING: Dipsea: A Trail Race Where ‘You’re Either the Hunter or the Hunted’ (The New York Times)