The Dipsea Race: A Long Running Affair

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I don’t seem to be able to give it up. Every year, on the second Sunday of June I’m full of excitement and trepidation, ready to start running the Dipsea.  It’s been 30 years since I started this affair and there’s no end in sight. The Dipsea race itself just celebrated its 100th running  — the race actually began in 1905 and is the oldest trail running event and second oldest footrace in the United States. It starts in Mill Valley, a picturesque town north of San Francisco and ends at Stinson Beach. It is beautiful and it is brutal.

What I love about running the Dipsea is that it is not just about running a hard and historic race. It is steeped in tradition. Over the years people create their own traditions too. Three of my favorites are Saturday morning practice runs over the trail with friends followed by breakfast at the beach, Thursday night practice running followed by a salmon dinner barbecue and a scone breakfast at a friend’s house the weekend before the race. There has to be some reward to compensate for the pain of running such a hard course.

It’s a quirky race and people either love it or hate it. Most people who run it love it and come back for more. Jack Kirk did for 67 years. He was 96 years old when he ran his last Dipsea. Every year, one of my favorite Dipsea moments was when the crowd would roar as Jack came into view near the finish line and everyone would rush over to watch and cheer just as I did when I was lucky to capture him on camera. He was an amazing man and runner. And check out his footwear. Talk about minimal running shoes!

The Dipsea Race is a true spectacle for spectators and runners alike. Since it is a handicapped race with staggered starts spanning 25 minutes many racers get to watch their running buddies start. It was quite a sight to see an 8 year old and 68 year old start running together — and with an interesting twist, the spectators saw them finish almost together with 8 year old Reilly Johnson just seconds ahead of runner-up Melody-Anne Schultz. During the race I was able to observe all the different elements of running form as people would come flying by. I couldn’t help but notice Alex Varner when he passed me — he looked smooth and relaxed, and he had the fastest time of the day. Good running form does make a difference.

A highlight for me was at the starting line when the race announcer looked down at my starting group and said “Hazel Wood is still here running after all these years, it must be the ChiRunning that keeps her from running injuries!”. That put a smile on my face and helped me relax. It was an incredible day and I feel very fortunate to have been part of the experience. Everything was in alignment — the weather, the beauty, the challenge, and the camaraderie. Post race activities were fun and festive. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’ll be back. Same time, same place next year.


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