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May 29, 2017

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The Ups And Downs of the Dipsea

The defining feature of the Dipsea course is certainly its verticality. Save for a few flat blocks near the start, runners are nearly always going up or down. The hills make the race what it is, so success at the Dipsea requires a dedication to elevation. As Jeff reminds Tyler every week, it is not enough just to go fast on the uphills. Half the course goes downhill, so a good run is only possible if you’re really cranking on the descents. Jeff illustrated this in their first workout together and Tyler has taken the lesson to heart, running faster and more aggressively downhill ever since.   

The combination of climbing, descending and clogged trails makes the Dipsea uniquely intense. Though it is a short race by trail running standards, the toll it takes on runners is significant. Jeff reports that he experiences the sort of full body soreness and exhaustion normally associated with a multi-hour effort. Keen observers at various points along the course will tell the competitors their current place, providing extra motivation to chase down a few more runners. On top of that, the legal shortcuts provide a built-in inducement to risk taking, often providing faster, less safe routes down the steep hillsides leading to the Pacific.

The basic contours of the course owe themselves to a long-ago wager. Having arrived in Mill Valley on their way to the Dipsea Inn, in what is now Stinson Beach, several members of San Francisco’s Olympic Club made a bet about who could reach the inn first. The route proved to be an intriguing one, and the members resolved to return. They invited others to recreate a similar feat the following year, 1905, and the Dipsea race was born. As the race website reportsIn many ways, the Dipsea remains remarkably akin to that first race and a runner from 105 years ago would likely be able to find his way today.”

With the race just two weeks away, Jeff is thinking about the Dipsea almost non-stop. He has spent many hours analyzing previous races, calculating what time he’ll need to run to earn a black shirt. Black shirts, with the runner’s finishing place on the back, go to the top 35 runners in the Invitational section, and it looks like a run of 53 minutes should be good for one. Jeff’s pre-race analysis also extends to Strava, where he scouts segments and routes here in Santa Barbara that offer the steep nastiness his legs will need to be prepared for next month. 

With the course gaining about 2200 feet in less than four miles of running, the climbing at the Dipsea is intense. The sharpness of the early stairs taken at speed can easily soften up the legs of the unprepared, rendering them defenseless against the steep roads, driveways and trails to come. The stadium workout that we started with introduced the guys to stairs and their run at the park let them focus on quick uphills and downhills. The idea for this week was to stretch things out, adding in some steep trails and a larger total amount of climbing.

The workout Jeff dreamed up this week was definitely the toughest yet, challenging the guys from start to finish. Increasing the suffering was the presence of a guest, Kris Brown, one of the few guys in town capable of pushing both Jeff and Tyler to the limit. Kris—who is coming off of wins at Santa Barbara Nine Trails (in near record time) and last week’s Born To Run 30 miler—is currently putting in big mileage preparing for a 100 mile race next month in San Diego. He agreed to join the guys for some repeats of Jesusita Trail, a local favorite in the hills above town.

The workout was 3 repeats on a section of trail that is about 1 kilometer long with an average gradient of 14%. The plan was to start off easy and slowly build but, well, that didn’t happen. The pace was pushed early and hard and both reps 1 and 2 were run at near suicide pace. Clearly, Tyler and Jeff’s downhill practice has been paying off, as they were able to put some daylight on Kris on the way down. Kris, still recovering from a big effort for his win last weekend, shut it down after 2 laps. Jeff and Tyler pushed one another on to complete the third, suffering visibly as they coached each other to the top.

There was, as ever, lots of discussion about the downhills. The trails here in Santa Barbara are rocky and steep, unforgiving of mistakes. The Dipsea course is no different and Jeff tells us all tales of broken ankles, arms and ribs. There’s also the poison oak, which is so abundant that contact is inevitable. It really is a race that requires dedication, but Tyler has known that from the start. It sure seems that both guys have put in the work, paid their dues to the stairs and trails—one can only hope that their efforts will be rewarded next month in Marin.

Everyone agreed that this workout was hard, maybe harder than the Dipsea. Three repeats meant significant climbing late in the run, which is one thing that the Dipsea mercifully lacks. With more base miles in his legs than he’s ever had before, Jeff is able to push himself to new depths on the trails and the results are obvious. He was completely toasted after this workout but his history as an athlete would suggest that he will soon be stronger than ever. Tyler is in fine fiddle, dropping a sub-5 mile with a big smile on his face to polish things off.

After the run, talk turns to black shirts and runner’s section victories. It’s hard not to feel optimistic for Tyler, watching him run so well and have so much fun. Jeff’s goal seems within reach as well. Running is a sport that rewards consistency, and for the first time he has achieved that in his training. “This is my last chance to win a black shirt as a scratch” he says, and we all understand a little better why he has been working so hard.


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