Thursday, June 12, 2014
The weeks leading up to the Dipsea are usually marked by trouble sleeping, strange race-related dreams, and a higher resting heart rate than normal. This year was a bit different, thankfully, as I guess my Western States training left me more tired than I have normally been in years past. Coming off of 5 weeks where I averaged 100+ miles, I wasn’t sure if I’d feel fresh on Dipsea Sunday. I haven’t hit that level of mileage in over 2 years, and last time I got hurt as a result of it, but I’ve learned a lot since then and finished the block feeling pretty good. I was a bit more tired than I had hoped early on in the week, so I dropped the mileage more than planned towards the end, and I think it paid off.
The Monday before the race, George hosted a Dipsea night at San Francisco Running Company. He interviewed Diana (last year’s winner), Roy, and me and it was a lot of fun. Rickey and Galen were there so I couldn’t divulge too much information, but despite my best efforts, some route choices were brought up. Just a thought: if you’re not running the race, don’t talk about route choices. Up until Monday, I hadn’t had much trouble sleeping or weird dreams but sure enough, Monday night found me waking up having dreamt vividly about the race. The rest of the week was considerably less stressful though, even if I was a bit more worried than in years past about the guys trying to win fastest time. This year had probably the fastest group of guys in it in several years. Galen, Rickey, and Johnny are all capable of running the fastest time on any given day so I knew I had my work cut out for me.
On Sunday morning I felt pretty good on my warm-up. I opted to head up further into Mill Valley from my apartment rather than down towards the starting line in order to get my head clear, but couldn’t resist making a small loop through the square before finishing up. Seeing everyone milling around the start always gets me ready to race. Before I knew it, we were at the start line and running down Throckmorton. It was also very nice having Gus next to me at the start again after his absence. My legs felt decent heading towards the stairs, but I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I’d have liked.
The stairs played out as they have in the past couple years – a decent amount of room to maneuver but some inevitable blockages. When we popped out of the top flight, I was running right with Johnny. We came through the mile around 8:10, a few seconds slower than last year, but not a big deal. He and I stayed together through Hauke Hollow before he put a small gap on me on Muir Woods Road. In retrospect, I should have made more of an effort to stay with him at that point, as the road is a great place to make up some space. But we were back even by the time we hit the creek in 14:50. I looked at my watch and knew I had lost time on the road relative to last year, but was OK with it, thinking if I could get a good climb, I could make up some of it, and more importantly, make up some ground on Rickey and Galen who had started in the Z group, 1 minute ahead of me. Heading up Dynamite, I was content to sit on Johnny’s heels. Again, I probably should have moved past him when he offered to let me by, but I didn’t. Dynamite is a very hard spot to gauge effort on the course on race day. You’re spending energy passing a lot of people but you’re not going as fast as you do in a solo time trial. My goal is to get to the fire road (after Upper Dynamite) feeling pretty fresh so that I can really attack the flatter part of the climb up Hogsback, but the tempo/effort set on Dynamite generally dictates the rest of the climb for me. From my experience, when I push up Dynamite, I might be more tired at the top, but the relative increase in pace can still prove to be greater than if I save my legs on Dynamite and have to really change gears. Basically, a faster Dynamite leads to a faster overall climb, even if I’m more tired at the top of Dynamite. I hope that makes sense but if not, don’t worry, I’m still figuring it out too.
Anyways, I got onto Deer Park Fire Road and opted to take the road at the first split. It’s the same distance as the trail but was basically deserted so I could run at my own pace. I think this point is where I put some distance on Johnny. I knew I had to do so during the climb since he’s been running phenomenally well on the track, which would surely translate to a fast downhill to the beach. I hit halfway rock in 9:18, about 25-30 seconds slower than I had last year. I was disappointed but knew I had to just keep pushing. The 2nd half of the climb was run in 9:02 (a fairly standard 15-20 second negative split), and I crested Cardiac in 33:10 (which, coincidentally was almost exactly Galen’s time). I had asked a couple of friends to be at the top and give me a time gap to Rickey and Galen but they weren’t there and so I didn’t get the gap. Another friend said he was yelling it at me, but it didn’t register, as I was busy looking for the folks I had planned on seeing.
I felt pretty good coming off the climb and was really able to push through the 5 mile mark and down into Swoop. I passed several people in this section and a couple of them told me they thought Rickey and Galen were 30-35 seconds in front of me. That energized me and I began looking to see if I could spot them around every corner. I didn’t see them and knew I just had to keep rolling.
Swoop was mercifully uneventful this year and Steep Ravine came and went without much of a problem. I’m not sure how we run down those stairs, but it’s always a relief to hit the bridge and know they’re behind you. They’re always treacherous and slippery and if there’s any sort of traffic, someone could easily end up in the ravine. At the bottom of Insult, I was staring at my feet and just focusing on surging up the climb when I heard, “Go, Varn, go.” It wasn’t a yell but I immediately recognized the voice of my high school coach, Steve. I looked back and said “Thanks!” and got an extra pep in my step.
Coming out onto Panoramic, I was again trying to see Galen and Rickey but they were out of sight. At this point, I was committed to going all out until the finish. Door 1 was a bit more cleared out than it has been in the past, but Kiernan’s Crossing was fairly overgrown and there was a big tree to duck under (sometimes it’s an advantage to be short). I saw another friend in the Grotto and asked for the time gap, but he didn’t have it for me unfortunately. Just before the stile, on the singletrack that is only used on race day, I came up behind Sissel and was unable to get by due to the incredibly narrow trail. As soon as I could, I passed her, hopped the stile, and sprinted down the road. Again, no sight of them on the final 3 straightaways, so I put my head down and ran as fast as I could. In years past, I’ve been able to enjoy the final quarter mile and soak in the crowd, but this year I didn’t have that luxury. Still, I did hear Barry yelling that I would win the fastest time award as I was about halfway down the final stretch, but I still didn’t quite believe it until I crossed the line and it was confirmed. Talk about a huge relief.
As the top finishers came in, we realized that Pelicans had finished in spots 2 (Rickey), 3 (Galen), 4 (me), 6 (Alan) and 9 (Jamey). In this race, you HAVE to have your scoring 5 in the top 10 to have a shot at winning the team title, since basically everyone who isn’t a Pelican is a Tamalpan. We thought we had a good chance at the team title right then, but had to wait until the awards ceremony for it to be confirmed. As everyone waited for the awards, we talked about our races and pretty much nothing else. This year was quite warm – the fog that had been prevalent during the week decided to disappear on race day and the climb up to Cardiac was especially rough due to the exposure and heat.
The awards ceremony was a great time as always and Roger’s party afterwards brought a much needed dip in the pool accompanied by lots of food and beer. Before I knew it, I was getting into bed and another Dipsea Sunday was in the books.
A few quick notes from the day that didn’t really fit in anywhere else (in no particular order):
1. Huge congrats to Jamey for his 9th place finish. He was our 5th man and without him, we wouldn’t have won the title. Talk about bringing it on race day.
2. Hats off to Rickey and Galen for their performances. It’s always interesting to see how rookies handle the crowds and the course. It’s totally different on race day than it is in training due to the people and they handled it amazingly well to finish 2nd and 3rd respectively. They had the 2nd and 3rd fastest times too, so for anyone keeping score, that’s generally what happens in non-handicapped races: the guys with the 2nd and 3rd fastest times usually finish 2nd and 3rd overall. So maybe this whole handicapping thing does work…
3. Diana is ridiculous. I don’t know what else to say. Maybe we need to go back to the 3-2-1 winner’s penalty (only slightly kidding?). Very much looking forward to seeing what she does at Western States.
4. Mark, Cliff, Don, Gus, and Jamie – all Pelicans who finished 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Not bad for a “B” squad.
5. Pelican Inn had the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th fastest times on the day. Maybe we don’t want those handicaps after all…
6. On a slightly different note, I think there is absolutely no room for this on race day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa1PB-oeVGE ESPECIALLY when it’s on one of the most dangerous and narrow parts of the course. My feelings on banditing are well documented and to not only bandit (if you want to run the race with your kid, sign up like everyone else) but then feel entitled enough to plough by other registered racers on a tough stretch of trail with a 3 foot pole is totally uncalled for. Get a clue.
7. Coming back to the positive side of things, running for the Pelican is an honor and a privilege. Winning the team title is something that we as a club strive for every year and it’s incredibly rewarding when our hard work pays off. I love the added dimension that the team competition brings to the race and hopefully we can get a few more teams involved in the future (O Club, Marin AC, here’s looking at y’all!).
8. Finally, congratulations to everyone who ran the race. It was hot and at times miserable, but finishing is truly something to be proud of. And to everyone who moved out of the way for someone else coming through, thank you. Your efforts might not have been recognized verbally, as we’re all out of breath for this whole race it seems, but trust me, whoever it was that passed out was thanking you internally.
A few more pics from the day:
See you next year!