Dipsea Diaries: A Little Crazy Stupid

The 101st edition of the Dipsea Race is in the books. I followed the cowbell. What was your race like?

I have a pretty high tolerance for insanely stupid races. Last year, my sister and I raced Muddy Buddies (one bike, two-person teams) in full long-sleeve and pants costumes – in the desert. Last weekend, I did the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, which has its own set of challenges. But, having now finished my first ever Dipsea, I can testify that it wins the prize for the flat-out craziest thing for which places are awarded.

And I’m already convinced I can go faster next year.

What is shocking if it is your first time running the race (and first time doing the whole trail) isn’t the uphills or the stairs or the trails. It’s the falling-flat-on-your-face steep, fast downhills that go on forever. Or maybe that was just me.

My race, from near the back of the Runners Division, started out fun. Not starting until , gives you some time to kill. I hung out. I chatted. I listened to the commentary on every starting wave. I jogged and jogged and jogged. Then, we were off.

For some reason, the three flights of stairs at the beginning didn’t worry me too much. I’d been warned that when you start in the back the steps would be clogged with people and there was no way to really run it hard, so don’t stress. I took that probably too literally to heart, making jokes the whole way up.

I had been determined to stick with  for as long as possible – a great plan until she disappeared between some house halfway up the stairs, not to be seen again until the finish. Shoot.

As we neared the end of the climb (no, I don’t know the names for almost any of the parts of the course), the race really started for me. The fastest 10-year-old girl I’ve ever seen and I started pounding the downhills.

She slipped and slid down the stairs and weaved in between people. She didn’t even appear to be moving her feet at all. And, because I am stupid, I followed along, flinging myself over the stairs, with no actual ability to control it. As we flew down Panoramic Highway, we hit the next set of stairs and I was like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, thrown over the top from my momentum but without my feet able to keep up.

I did not choose to go down Suicide. Split second-decision, I picked the sign that said “Safer.” It cost me 20-30 seconds, but probably saved me from a broken leg.

After about 10 feet of flat, we all headed back up, up, up. 

There was still camaraderie and talking as we headed up out of Muir Woods. And, then, abruptly, all those people were gone and it was just me, by myself, on the trails as the fog came in. 

For about five minutes somewhere in Muir, I saw no one. I ran on, not sure if I had gone off-course or taken an unexpected “short-cut.” A deer even ran along the path in front of me. Then I turned a corner, a trail merged with the one I was on and a woman was up ahead of me. Phew.

“Is this the right way?” she asked as we came to a Y.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never done this before.”

Then, we reached the top and it was just all downhill from here. Usually, that’s a metaphor for easy; this time it’s not.

For anyone who has never done the race (and all those who have can back me up), the hardest part is that last couple miles from the top of Cardiac down to Stinson. Running downhill on paved road is hard on your legs. Running downhill on trail is more challenging. Running downhill on rocks and mud and stairs and uneven divots – all steep – is just plain crazy. There were parts that, I swear, weren’t even trails other than that they were just matted down grass because a few hundred people had run through before I got there. 

I passed a girl somewhere near the top of the descent, then spent the rest of the time alternating between slipping and falling and swearing and trying to run as fast as I could.

At one intersection, I stopped. I didn’t know which way to go. I looked both ways and saw no one in the fog. I yelled out, “Where do I go?” And, from down the trail, a cowbell sounded and someone yelled, “Follow the cowbell.” 

Thank you.

Finally, I ran fast right into the last ditch before coming out on Highway 1 – just a quarter-mile to go. Too late I thought, I’m not going to clear that ditch. And, I didn’t, stumbling and then pushing hard to the end. Some guys passed me. I saw a girl up ahead I thought I could catch her. I was a little delirious and it was only a few hours after the race that I realized it was the same girl I passed at the top of the descent. How did she get back in front of me?

I stumbled across the finish, sat down, and laid my head on a table.

That was stupid, I thought. Glad I got that out of my system. 

Now, with 12 hours of lying on the couch, but before the pain sets in tomorrow, I’m already plotting ways to beat all those girls with their short-cuts next year. I made the Invitational cut-off and I just need to bring my time down by seven minutes to get a black shirt (or wait 15 years for a extra handicap). I just need to practice the descents more. I just need to run the trail a few hundred times.

Maybe the Dipsea made me a little crazy stupid.

Share your own tales of the Dipsea below. Did it go great? Terrible? Where are all these shortcuts? What did you think was the hardest part?

Lauren Baxter June 15, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Nice job! My ankles are sore from reading this. So, someone told me they couldn't get into the Dipsea so they signed up for . . . the Double Dipsea? I can't believe someone could get to the beach and feel the need to turn around and retrace these steps. What's the story behind that race?


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