Two races. 6 days apart. Same basic route. Both handicapped. Two totally different experiences. This is my review of the 2019 Dipsea and Double Dipsea.
The Dipsea can be difficult to get in to, especially if you’re not a local. Applications must be submitted via Snail Mail as soon as they’re available and entries are awarded on a first come first serve basis. This gives priority to locals, but if you’re not local – you can still squirrel your way in with a good sob story, or some good old fashioned bribe money. Once you get in, you must endure the initiation phase of the Dipsea: the Runner section. If you can manage to get top 750, you will then be invited back into the Invitational section which means you can now bypass the complicated entry process, as well as minimize the number of runners you have to pass on the course (the runner section has a later start time). The key is to maintain your invitational status year to year, by placing in the top 450. I ran my first Dipsea in 2015 and placed 719, barely squeaking into the top 750. In the last 4 years, I’ve maintained my invitational status which basically requires running a decent time, placing the Dipsea priority over other races that may be happening around this time, and sometimes hopping off your PCT thru hike to avoid going back to square one again.
To get in to the Double Dipsea, you can register on Brazen Racing’s website as soon as registration opens. Anyone can register – just try and do it soon, as the race tends to sell out quickly. Like the single Dipsea, you can register as a couple or a team. Yuch and I decided to enter as a couple and see if we could get the fastest couple award.
The Dipsea starts in downtown Mill Valley at the Depot and ends at Stinson Beach towards the back parking lot. The official race website claims the race is 7.4 miles long. However, your mileage will depend on the shortcuts you take (or do not take) on race day. The race also includes a couple of fast road sections which are critical places to pick up some time and pick off some runners. Getting to Cardiac is always rewarding as it signals the end of the climbing and the beginning of the descent to Stinson.
The Double Dipsea begins at Stinson Beach, turns around at Old Mill Park, and finishes at Stinson Beach immediately as you enter the first parking lot. The race is approximately 13.7 miles. The high point here is getting to Old Mill Park as you are halfway done. I also found it encouraging to see my halfway split was 1:07. Going into the Double, I thought if I ran a good race, I might run 2:20. Seeing my 1:07 time was helpful because I felt like I had been running smartly, not too fast and not too slow, and now felt confident that a sub 2:20 time was possible.
Both races have a handicapped system where runners are given “headstart” minutes based on their age and gender, in order to equalize the playing field. The Dipsea’s head start table is located here. The Double Dipsea’s head start table is located here. As a 35 year old female, I got an 8 minute head start in the Dipsea this year, and a 19 minute head start in the Double. In the Dipsea, I have to wait until I’m 40 to gain another minute, but then immediately get another minute when I turn 41. In the Double Dipsea, I will gain 4 minutes when I turn 40, but then have to wait until I turn 45 for 4 more. Finally – it “pays” to get old!
There are 3 primary “shortcuts” during the Dipsea – Suicide, Swoop, and the Panoramic shortcuts. These shortcuts will trim off a considerable amount of mileage and time if you can navigate them swiftly and without injuring yourself. My last couple of Dipseas, I have not taken Suicide, and gone for the “safer option” (there’s actually a sign that says Safer Option and a little voice in my head urges me to go for it vs. A Trail Called Suicide). For some reason, I got it into my head that Suicide will slow me down as I’m slower and more prudent on steep downhill than the alternative runnable section. This year, I decided “I’m taking Suicide!” I practiced it in training and it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, so I decided to go for it. I felt out of control as my legs moved underneath me down the hill faster than I could manage. I saw my friend Moriah, who is a downhill speed demon, on my left and I yelled “Moriah! I’m doing it Moriah!” and I couldn’t believe it when I flew/tumbled/magically appeared ahead of her, maybe not so gracefully but sans-face plant is enough grace for me. Suicide and Swoop brought more out-of-control Megan legs to my day with a lot of near ankle rolls on the narrow poison oak lined gullies.
Shortcuts are not allowed in the Double Dipsea. Anyone caught taking shortcuts or skipping any part of the course will be disqualified, which is exactly what happened during the 2019 race. It kind of surprised me, since it seems like a hard thing to “accidentally” do. Suicide is not obvious, Swoop had a sign on it, and the Panoramic Shortcuts are also very obscure. The elimination of the shortcuts may lead you to think less opportunities for poison oak, however I seemed to get more poison oak on the Double than the Single.
The Dipsea is very important to a lot of people. This leads to a more “stressful” anticipation of the race and a lot more competition out there in the field. Many of these runners have been running the Dipsea for many years on end, and are looking to slice seconds off their times. While many people do run it for fun, the Dipsea is a very serious matter! Before the race, you will see some runners warming up along Miller Ave. and Throckmorton so that the initial climb up the Dipsea stairs is not a huge shock to the system. The start waves are very organized with two separate bigger waves for the separate Invitational and Runner section. Within each larger wave, there are then 26 waves that start a minute apart, depending on your age and gender. Your race bib will have your wave on it, your wave will be called out in advance for you to get “in the pit” i.e. next up, and off you go. There is a huge crowd of spectators lined around the start and down Throckmorton to observe this crazy little race that is in its 109th running. During the race, it’s all business. “On your left” will be the most frequently spouted phrase, as every person passed counts on your 7.4 mile journey to Stinson. The top 35 will receive the coveted “black shirt” with their place on it, but this victory is not just your average victory. Getting a black shirt in the Dipsea is very hard to do, so if you get one – you’re pretty darn fast, if you ask me.
The Double Dipsea has a much more relaxed vibe. Once upon a time, this may have been different. The Double Dipsea clearly does not have as much history as the Dipsea having only been run for 50 years vs. 109. 50 years is still a long time. In researching past results, I found that the Double Dipsea used to be a lot more competitive. At some point, it lost this competition and I’m not sure if it has to do with the change from DSE to Brazen Racing or what. The start at Stinson was very different than the start at the Depot. There is only one bigger wave (no separation of invitational vs. runner). There was no pre-start line “pit”, and your wave is not written on your bib ahead of time. The race director casually calls out the wave times, and if you don’t know your wave ahead of time, you will likely miss it. As I stepped up to to the 35-39 year old female group, a man who was late for the previous wave nonchalantly made his way past us – something you would never likely see in the Dipsea! During the race, I passed many people, but did not get passed by many. I kept waiting to get passed by the Alex Varners and the Gus Gibbs’, but no such people seemed to exist in this race, at least not today. As I approached Old Mill Park, I began to see my competition – all the people who had started before me (or who may have passed me already) that were on their way back to Stinson already. On the way back, the pack of runners Old Mill Park-bound thickened on the singletrack paralleling Muir Woods Rd. The amazing thing was that all these runners would shout “Runner!” to the string of runners behind them, and everyone would move to the side, so that I could easily pass by. The communication was incredible. I was so used to fending for myself, I did not expect this. I started to hear people saying my name and cheering me on. At first I thought “Oh did I know that person?” and “Gee, who are these people that know me?” and finally “I must be famous!” Suddenly it dawned on me that my name was written on my bib. I guess I wasn’t famous after all, but I still thought it was pretty cool to have people cheering me on, even if they had no idea who I was. This is not typical in a trail race. During road marathons, I’ve had random spectators say my name by simply looking at my bib, but I was not used to this on the trails. It was awesome, and really cemented the vibe of the Double Dipsea and how I will always remember it. The descent from Cardiac to Stinson was primarily a solo experience in comparison to the Single Dipsea. There were few to pass, and even fewer passing me. It was quiet and meditative, like I was out on a run by myself.
Yuch got black shirt #15, and I got 44th place with a handicapped time of 57:24 and a running time of 1:05:23. While I only PRed by seconds, I placed significantly higher than past years. I felt good about my race, making considerable progress on the descents. So, how come my time does not reflect this?! Perhaps it had to do with how hot it was on race day, already in the 80’s at the start at 8:30 am in the morning. This was the hottest Dipsea thus far (for me), and I think it may have impacted a lot of the times on race day. Or, at least that’s my excuse! Regardless, I’m getting closer to that black shirt.
Yuch and I managed to snag the Fastest Couple award at the Double Dipsea with a combined handicapped time of 3:50:15. Yuch won the race, I got 6th overall, and 3rd female with two super fit 60 year old women placing ahead of me. My chip time was 1:58:05 and my running time was 2:17:05, with my splits being 1:07 and 1:09. I was proud of my fairly even splits and for running the Double faster than I thought I could. The weather was 20-30 degrees cooler than the week prior which made a big difference in how I felt physically out there on the course.
Both of these races are awesome and it’s so hard to compare apples and oranges here. While, the single Dipsea is a much more “serious” affair, it doesn’t have to be. I probably take it more seriously than a lot of people and less seriously than the rest of the people. It seems more stressful than the Double Dipsea because you have less time to do the work and get to the finish line. And as someone who is better at longer than shorter events, it seems more difficult to me. I felt more in control in the Double Dipsea. I never was gasping for air up a climb, clearly because I wasn’t going as fast. But, I just felt like it was easier to pace. My goal during the Double was to run even splits. My goal during the Single is always to run as fast as Meganly possible, which can always be a risky endeavor! Both races can be fairly dangerous with runners passing each other on sometimes very narrow singletrack. The Dipsea has 1500 runners flowing in the same direction, while the Double has about half that amount going in both the same and opposite direction. The trails most subject to injuries are probably the shortcuts in the Dipsea, while on the Double the most densely packed section is the singletrack paralleling Muir Woods Rd. Yuch, being the front runner, collided with another runner who probably wasn’t expecting to see anyone so soon. They both smashed into each other and then onto the ground, resulting in a very costly rib-smashing Double Dipsea victory for Yuch. While both races are fun and different, I found that for me they both are a solo test of how I can run each of these courses. It’s true I’m competing against others, but what really matters to me is my time and how I improve (or do not improve) from year to year on the same course.
So, now that I’ve presented with you with the pros and cons of each race, I welcome you to pick your poison. And if neither of these races sound like your cup of tea, there’s always the Quad Dipsea.