One of my favorite (and lately, one of my only) trail races of the year – the Double Dipsea – took place Saturday. A stunningly beautiful and gruelingly difficult 13.7 mile trail race, the Double Dipsea is one of three primary races that take place on Marin County’s famous Dipsea trail every year. The most famous of the three is the Dipsea, a 7.5 mile race that has been held annually since 1905, making it the oldest trail running event in the United States. For super aggressive runners, there is also a 28.4 mile Quad Dipsea race.
The Double Dipsea course starts in Stinson Beach, CA, runs to Mill Valley, CA, and turns around and heads back to finish Stinson Beach where runners often cool their burning calves and wash away the inevitable poison oak in the frigid waters of the Pacific. The terrain is serious – climbing and descending a total of 4,500 feet over uneven single-track footpaths. The heat can be unrelenting (it was this year). There are a few harrowing descents, made more dangerous by the elite runners bounding down them body lengths at a time, seemingly floating from step to step. Six hundred and seventy-one stairs descend into and out of the halfway point in Mill Valley, shocking first-timers and still surprising the veterans.
Despite all of this – actually, because of all of this – the Double Dipsea is a magical race. It’s a “handicap race,” meaning that everyone (regardless of age or gender) has a chance to win. Basically, the oldest women start first (about an hour before the race officially starts), and the 20- and 30-something men start last. While a 27-year-old guy won this year’s race, a 73-year-old man came in 12th. It’s an amazing feeling to near Mill Valley – having traversed massive hills and soaked in sweeping views – and see the first grey-haired athletes running toward you, heading back to finish line. May we all be so lucky. This format makes it feel like everyone is in it together, reflecting the strong camaraderie that marks trail running in general — fiercely competitive and overwhelmingly embracing at the same time.
And so, I head back to the Double Dipsea year after year, lured by the history of the trail, the spirited volunteers, the friendly locals, a committed groups of friends, the challenge of the course, and the heart of the tribe who know and run it. Who’s in for next year?
Do you have a favorite race or event? When did you get hooked on it, and why do you love it?