Monday, June 23, 2014

6:52 AM
The Double Dipsea Course
In the larger San Francisco Bay Area there are multiple footraces that happen every weekend and on a year-round basis - races of all types and distances and beneficiaries. Given the high standard, when a local race is deemed “epic” and sells out quickly, if you are one of the lucky few who got a bib, you know that you are most likely in for a good one, or in my case yesterday, a good thrashing.

The Double Dipsea is a famous race that is run in reverse stagger starts (slowest first) and follows a very steep and technical single track trail (and thousands of stair steps) from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley and back. Because of the odd start sequence and the out-and-back nature of the course, you are pretty much guaranteed to pass, or be passed by, the majority of racers running in the same direction as you, not to mention those going in the opposite direction. It really gets interesting when all of those things happen at once. Going fast. On stairs.

It is no doubt a beautiful course, although I found the constant saying of “on your left, thank you” to be wearing, as was the constant stress of trying to go as fast as I could, while maintaining my footing, and at the same time passing the slower people in front of me, yielding to the elite men blazing past me, and avoiding head on collisions with the people running in the opposite direction. The combination of that mental stress, the physical wear of a trail so steep that most people walked many sections of it, and my poor nutritional preparation (3 glasses of wine the night before and 2 cupcakes for breakfast – it was my daughter’s 6th birthday party!) meant that after running strong and holding my position for 9 miles I completely and totally BONKED. Three glassed of electrolyte downed at the 11 mile aid station got me through to the finish line, and 5th pace in my age group, but it was not pretty.

The bad thing about “running” a 16-minute mile is that you know it is going to take you a long time to reach that next mile marker. The good thing is that it gives you a lot of time to think. This was especially the case for me when, deep in the throes of feeling sorry for myself for feeling so terrible and tired and hot and thirsty, I came up behind a woman running the race, struggling up a steep and rooted section of the trail, WITH A PROSTHETIC LEG. That shut me up.

So faced with THAT REALITY, rather than wallowing around in my own bonked state of self-pity, I decided to remind myself of all of the reasons why I love trail running and racing. Here is the list I came up with in my head while I stumbled through the last few miles of the Double Dipsea:

1. People build trails for a reason. To point out the obvious, people build trails for hiking, running and biking because there are beautiful places to be seen and explore. That usually means that during a race you are covering amazing and diverse terrain, are rewarded with breathtaking views, and are so engaged with what you are seeing and experiencing that the miles fly by.

2. The Three Ps are not an issue. Trail races tend to be pretty low key events that mean the bain of many races (Parking, Pre-race packet pickup, and Peeing) are not an issue. All three can typically be done within a few minutes of your very reasonable race start time (8 or 9 AM), and those stressful elements of a race experience are eliminated.

3. It’s good for the ego. Given that they are smaller fields, and the inevitable hill climbs are not for the faint of heart, it is usually much easier to place well in trail races, in the overall field and/or your age group. Sometimes this means you get very cool swag like free race entries, new shoes, or at a minimum, some bragging rights.

4. Your muscles (all of them) get fatigued. Unlike the repetitive pounding of a fast, flat course, the varied terrain of a trail race means that, not only are you vaulting over logs and leaping across streams, but you are using all of your musculature to power you up and control you down inclines, maneuver switchback turns and stairs, and otherwise navigate the trail.

5. The experience is exhilarating. For all of the above reasons (and the million I can’t articulate), and despite the crippling next-day soreness, I love, love, love trail running and racing. You will never PR in a trail race, but you will laugh, cry, bleed, leap, fall, fly, pant, gasp, wretch, heave, crawl, jump, climb, descend, smile, grimace, and most of all, and best of all, you will RUN.

To learn more about my Fitness Project, please contact me at,, or connect with me on Facebook.


Post a Comment