November 30, 2002
by Peter Holleran
"Non-runners think of the pain, the agony and the exhaustion and ask why.
Runners think of the pain, the agony and the exhaustion and ask why not."
"The Quad". The very name sends shudders down the spine of the knowing runner, but last year I braved the challenge, and this year came back for even more. (Time and tide wait for no man, as they say. The clock of age is ticking. How long can one put these things off?! Better hurry, or so I think). Well, I survived the adventure and actually did better than expected, considering I hadn't run in a week due to a sciatica-like burning pain from right butt to calf that kept me inactive. Plus I carelessly twisted my right ankle two days before the race while walking home from the bank. I took the back way along the railroad tracks and tried walking on the rails for a mile to "improve my posture and balance" and rolled the right ankle. That was real smart. The next two days the shin predictably cramped up. I didn't know until the morning of the race whether I would be able to run, but I had chiropractic adjustments, and took alot of ibuprofin (generally against my religion - I only use it in a pinch for sports injuries) and homeopathic remedies (arnica and ruta) that seemed to help, and prayed that several months of training wouldn't go down the drain.
This monster race consists of four crossings on the famous Dipsea Trail from the town of Mill Valley, California, to the ocean and back, with 1000 stairs, two hills and 2300 vertical feet - EACH way - for a total of 28 miles and 9200 feet of brutally steep ascending AND descending. Just the thing to work off one's Thanksgiving feast! I ran fairly carefully the first two legs and the right hamstring tightened up on the last two, but my general aerobic conditioning and relatively even pacing (:81, :83, :88, :89) allowed me to pull off a pretty decent race. I ran 5:42:56, 18 minutes ahead of last year, finishing 77th out of 231. In my age group (50-59) I was 7th out of 36, and 9th out of 58 if you include women and over 60 year olds (I like to do that - it makes my performance seem better). On the first descent to Muir Woods a couple dozen runners got stung by bees after disturbing a hive on the trail. It seemed odd to have bees this late in the year. I heard the runners ahead of me yelling and saw them swatting themselves when all of a sudden I felt a hard smack on my lower lip. It swelled a little bit but I think only from impact, not from a sting. I'm actually not sure if I ever had a bee sting in my life, so I didn't know what to expect.
The weather was spectacular, clear and cool, and fast times were the rule. (Last year the course was a sea of mud due to torrential rains the night before - which didn't seem to effect the winner and superstar Carl Anderson, probably because he never tried to slow down, but others were slippin' and slidin' most of the way). Other than the bee incident the most interesting experience I had was a trance-like moment on my second trip from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach when for about 10 seconds I forgot that I had ALREADY run the 14 miles and four hills out and back to Stinson Beach once, and for a few brief moments that made the run seem easier and I thought athletically I had achieved a higher level. As I said, however, it only lasted about 10 seconds, and then reality set in again! On one grueling uphill a fellow runner said to me, "boy, this is the most fun race ever." I replied to him that according to the diagnostic manual of the APA saying such a thing would probably qualify him as clinically insane. He laughed - sort of.
On the Quadruple Dipsea they say that there are really two races: the first three legs, and then the fourth. The last one really separates the men from the boys, that is, those with the requisite prior miles "in the tank". You can either do it or you can't. The Quadruple Dipsea isn't like running the average 5k. You can't fake it. It is hard to describe the feeling one gets heading back up the infamous Steep Ravine for a second time on the fourth and last Dipsea crossing. You either have what it takes or you don't, but in any case you have to dig deep.
This year I didn't so much run faster than before, but - more importantly on this kind of race - I SLOWED LESS and it felt easier, and, moreover, I didn't fall. If I had been pain-free and fresh as on better practise days, able to run fast downhill without holding back, I think I might have had a chance at breaking 5:30, my original goal. My current long-term plan and expectation is to continue getting faster until at least age 60 or thereabouts, when the "descending curve of age" starts to catch up with the "ascending curve of improvement" begun at the late age of 49. Thereafter I will measure improvement not by faster times but by how little I slow compared to everyone else! Truly speaking, races are not an end in themselves but only benchmarks of fitness, and motivators to get out there and enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature day in day out. It helps to have the wondrous trails of Mt. Tam just minutes away. You see, I really don't like pavement, which is why I haven't yet run a 5k, 10k, or marathon. My feelings were expressed perfectly by Christopher Lloyd in the last line from the movie Back To The Future: "where we're going we don't need...roads!".
First man over 50 (Danny Dreyer) ran 4:59, first 60 year-old (Russ Kiernan) 5:22, and the winner Carl Anderson (42) a phenomenal 3:57! The laggards - still way beyond "couch potatohood" - finished in 8 hours. For those in excellent shape a fast hiking time would probably be 10-12 hours.
As I write this, two days after the race, I park as close to the office, mall, or supermarket as possible to minimize walking, which still isn't that easy. It's feels strange to say "I recommend it", but the Quadruple Dipsea is actually my favorite race. Unlike more hectic short races, here there's plenty of time to relax, warm-up, and deal with personal demons. It's good for the soul.
On May 24-25, 2003, an unbelievable Quad-Quad was achieved - 16 Dipseas back to back - by Don Lundell, in 41 hours. The November before, Lundell ran a double Dipsea before competing in the Quadruple Dipsea race. I'd say that's hardcore.
Quadruple Dipsea Official Website