Sunday, November 27, 2022

Quad Dipsea 2022: perfect conditions for a come back!

As I mentioned in my Turkey Trot race report on Friday night, the good side of our persisting drought calamity is we get perfect conditions to play in our backyards. I've run wet editions, it's not equally fun on such tricky trails. But with this ultra Bay Area tradition which got started by Tropical John Medinger in 1983 and set on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it should be right in the rainy season. Hard to complain though.

I left home by 5:15 am and got a great parking spot, one block from the start (parking quickly becomes an issue with so many residential restrictions around). While John and Lisa where absent this year as they crew for Gary at UltraMan in Hawaii, usual ultra volunteers and BAUR representatives were there to help out with bib pick-up, setup then timing, for instance Stan Jensen and Steve Jaber. Errol Rocket Jones was there too, and at the turn around aid station later.

No line at the 6 porta-potties at 6:30 but quite a long line when I came back from the car at 7:10: I'm glad I woke up early, in part thanks to some remaining jet lag after spending 10 days in Europe, with a mission for a client in Barcelona. 7:10 am was Pen's call for the Pamakids club picture, a gathering where I was going to hand out 7 plaques for the 2021 Grand Prix. What she hadn't planned was a surprise her team put together to mark the end of her successful 4-year MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Team Captain stint.

Luisa Cheung, 2021 W40 Champion:
Handing over the coveted M50 Age Group champ to Shiran, for his 2021 performance (like Shiran is teasing me, I'm letting him borrow the plaque after a 13-year stint... while we alternated injury experiences... :-/).

With all this fun, I didn't have much time to get ready and, like at Lake Chabot 50K at the beginning of the month, I started the race without my GPS set with all the satellite tracking. For one thing, the start is so steep, the coverage isn't optimal at the Old Mill Park.

Still suffering from my hamstring tendon injury last year, I started quite conservatively in the middle of the pack and got stuck in the long conga line for the first 700 stairs. This year I started close to the front, getting to the stairs in 20th position or so (photo credit: William Dai)

Not confident I could hold a fast pace yet, I decided to settle behind David Smith who was walking the stairs. David approached me before the start to say how happy he was to have just moved up to the M60 age group and avoid a confrontation. Well, he killed his age group with a super strong run today, it was going to take me 9 miles to finally pass him!

As we were power walking these first 700 stairs, we got passed by dozens of runners, quite impressive start! More walking on Dynamite right after crossing Redwood Creek and the subsequent hills up to Cardiac. I couldn't refrain from thinking of the time I was mostly running these hills when clocking 4:20, 4:19 and 4:25 in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Granted, a few years have passed, not to mention a major injury lately, but I can't stop dreaming, that keeps me younger... ;-)

Carrying 2 bottles (GU Energy Brew and water) plus 6 GU gels and a Vespa concentrate, I had planned on saving minutes not stopping at aid stations. I ran through Cardiac then, the aid station that is, not the uphill, and could keep David and a group of 3 runners in black with white sailor's sun hats, in sight. My GPS had 6 miles when I crossed the lead runner, Nick Handel. That meant I was already 2.2 miles behind, wow! Overall I counted about 50 runners ahead by the first Stinson Beach turnaround, including 4 gals as I recall. Big number I thought, although I was happy with the 1:12 split. Indeed, beyond getting age group points, I was dreaming of breaking 5 hours again after a disappointing 5:28 last year.

There was no time to lose for that goal and, teaming up with Darin Nee up Steep Ravine, we caught up with David and his crew of white hats, a group I passed less than a mile before the Cardiac aid station, where I didn't stop either. I-Tao (Tsai) took this shot on this own way down Steep Ravine:

Then Shiran took a nice slo-mo as I was pushing down Cardiac.

After a year off, albeit spent on the active volunteering at our races, it was so great to see Shiran back at running. I was also carrying my phone but only stopped twice on the last leg, he definitely beat me at the picture game this Saturday!

I passed a few more runners in the steep downhills. I crossed Nick again shortly after the Redwood Creek crossing, where Victor Ballesteros was officiating as course monitor. I was now 4 miles behind... This time though I counted about 30-32 runners ahead as I did a touch and go at the Mill Valley turnaround, which our Pacific Association MUT Ultra Volunteer of 2021, William Dai, captured with a few pictures.

Gaining about 20 spots wasn't small feat but David was finishing his last flight of stairs when we crossed, there was no time to waste! I mostly power walked the stairs again while taking an S!Caps and Vespa concentrate, short of making any stop at aid stations yet. The field had stretched significantly now so, between the rest of the pack as well as the lead runners in their final stretch, it was a good flow of crossings, some quite epic on such narrow and tricky single track trails. I tried to return most of the uplifting "Allez Jean" encouragements, there were so many, I might have missed a few, thank you all!

I didn't recognize most of the lead runners so I wasn't sure how I was doing in my age group, apart from seeing a more mature runner among them. I was more than 10 minutes behind him and not in shape to go faster anyway. This time, I stopped at the Cardiac aid station to grab two pieces of banana and half a cup of Coke. And I wasn't even in the Steep Ravine stairs when I saw Nick on his way back. Behind though, the pursuit got sparser, he had killed it. I counted 23 runners ahead by my second passage at Stinson Beach. Yassin Diboun was in 9th and teammate Gaspar Mora Porta in 12th place. But our brand new recruit, Andrew Catanese, was missing (he had dropped at Mill Valley). And so was our not so new recruit, Jim Magill, unfortunately. With Jim, before the start:

After the first solid 1:12:36 and 1:12:54 Dispea splits, I had now lost 5 minutes: 1:17:42; sub-5 (hours) was going to be tough. Especially with both inner thighs freezing as I got on the first stairs after crossing Route 1. Dang, that was early for such cramping with 7 grueling miles to go. The rapid alternance of steep up and down hills are so tough on the legs! I walked a bit on the way to the Dipsea Trailhead aid station, taking one more S!Caps, drinking some water and, more importantly, focusing on taking huge breaths in. In addition to keeping electrolyte, sodium and magnesium in checks, I found that getting more oxygen in is quite an amazing trick and solution to cramping. With the variety of trail tricks, Dipsea tends to get your breathing off.

At the trailhead aid station, I picked a ziplock with 4 pieces of banana before realizing later on the trail how tiny the pieces were, more like thin slices. And I drank so much that was out of GU2O by Cardiac this time.

Back from the beach, focused (photo credit: Shiran Kochavi):

I caught and passed a couple of runners on the last stretch, including Gaspar who was struggling down Dynamite, but I also lost some time handling additional thighs cramping especially on the way down from Cardiac. Overall, I ran the last Dipsea in 1:26 for a total of 5:09:41, 22nd overall, 18th in the Men. 

At least I didn't fall, especially in the final flight of stairs where I remained highly focused despite the cool encouragements of a large cheering group at the bottom: super cool but distracting! ;-) Nice pictures from David Tran, just missing the audio as I was telling these youngsters I was too old to rush in the stairs! ;-)

A shot from Emi Yasaka, in the final chute down to the finish line:

Finally, William again, at the finish:

Yassine took 10th overall and first Masters in 4:47.

David finished in 34th, winning his M60 age group with a super strong 5:22.

In the M50, Daniel Kono, 53, of Berkeley, took the win in 4:55. All results and splits on RaceRoster.

As for the Quad Man gang, I still don't know what this was about, but these guys running all the way together were really cool.

From the super strong local trail running bringing the broadest spectrum of runners, our engaged Pacific Association MUT teams, those attracted by the challenging and renowned Dipsea trail, the many dedicated volunteers, the families, there was quite a nice party vibe again under the redwoods. Among them was Alex Varner who had fun watching us having a good sweat while seeing his amazing 3:41 course record still holding on: 7 years and counting!

Another very special guest was Bill Dodson, visiting us again with his daughter Estelle, to bring back great running memories. After Skyline and Ruth Anderson earlier this year, it has been wonderful to see Bill having so much fun meeting our knit community, thank you Estelle!

Special thanks and kudos to Race Director, John Catts, for running such an ultra tradition with calm, kindness and professionalism. After Tropical John's initial 30 editions, John is going for Quad Dipsea's 40th anniversary next year, exciting! Huge thanks to the many helpful volunteers who spent hours to allow us to test our limits again. This race surely needs many attentive course monitors with the 6 road crossings multiplied by 4.

Janeth and William having so much fun holding the Quad Dispsea Bank at the finish line:

A nice tradition of Quad Dipsea is to honor the 10-time finishers with a very nice vest. This year, Edmundo Vindel, Nakia Baird, Andrew Grant,  Joseph Stefani, Claudia Graetsch-Vasquez and Mary Press all made it to 10. Steve McCluhan will have to come back... After a long hiatus due to a foot injury, it was great to see our ex MUT scorer, Nakia, back on the trails with a solid sub-6 performance to celebrate this 10-year milestone.

Greg Nacco and Geoff Vaughan were tied with 26 finishes, Geoff now has the overall lead with 27! Ted Knudsen closing behind, now at 24, with Catra Corbett still at 23. Impressive numbers!

With a DNF in 2016, I'm now at 6 finishes, still a lot of work before getting to the 10-year goal. But, after the past 3+ years impacted by an injury, feeling grateful for building my legs back and dreaming of speed and long races again, phew!

To conclude, I can't resist sharing what Agn├Ęs' vision was of the course: "you go up from Mill Valley, then there is a trail, then you go down to Stinson Beach, and repeat." Well, the reality is much more complicated between the two ends of the Dispea trail. I like in particular this super concise course description from the Quad Dipsea registration page:

Stairs, hills, and more hills. About 9,000 feet of vertical packed into 28 miles.  It begins at 7:30AM at Old Mill Park (Throckmorton Avenue, Cascade Way, & Old Mill Street intersection), in Mill Valley, California. Within a few hundred yards the course heads up three flights of stairs as tall as a fifty-story building, and up some more through an old horse ranch to Windy Gap. Then it plunges down into Muir Woods, across Redwood Creek, and begins a tough grind up through both trees and grasslands over trail sections named "Dynamite", "The Hogsback", "The Rainforest", and "Cardiac." At the top of Cardiac, the course levels out with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean before it plunges down over the rocks, roots, and stairs of "Steep Ravine" and the discouragingly steep but short climb up "Insult Hill." Finally, as the course follows the relatively gentle slope of The Moors toward the ocean, Stinson Beach is in sight a mile ahead. 
Once to Stinson, you turn around an head back to Old Mill Park following the same course. 
And then do it all over again for the QUAD!!

This Relive fly-over isn't even making justice to the technical sections, but it shows how convoluted the whole Dipsea trail is (click on this link or the image below). And yet, you won't get how challenging some sections are until you hike it yourself! So many opportunities to twist an ankle when you want to go fast, luckily, I only experienced one moderate twist this time.

Our MUT 2023 season has started: if not already, please consider joining our Grand Prix which still has 14 more events, including 4 half or shorter trail races for those still intimidated by ultra distances!

PS: thank you John for taking time to select special meaningful bibs for several of us! Between age to number of participations, I saw too many of them to think it was serendipity! :-)

San Francisco in the background (the views were so amazing, I had to stop for a few seconds...).

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