Monday, December 9, 2013

My Quads Survived the Quad Dipsea

The race starts up these stairs!
The 28 mile Quad Dipsea trail race has a little something for everyone -- whether you prefer stairs, hills, or more hills. The race starts in downtown Mill Valley before quickly ascending up 688 stairs to the Dipsea trail. Then you basically run up a mountain to the top of "Cardiac Hill" before running down the other side and descending another couple hundred stairs to Stinson Beach. Then you turn around and run back! And then you do it all again. WTF!

Thankfully I'd never run the Dipsea trail before, so I had no idea what exactly I'd gotten myself into. But then some know-it-all standing next to me casually mentions that we're about to gain 9,276 feet of elevation (and descend another 9,276 feet) in what is basically just a mile or two longer than a marathon.

People complain about the Boston marathon being hilly with it's 783 feet of elevation gain. We are about to run 8,500 feet more! According to the race website, "within a few hundred yards the course heads up three flights of stairs as tall as a fifty-story building." Again, WTF!

I think I've made a terrible mistake

I'm the moron with no shirt and racing flats!
"I think I've made a terrible mistake" I say to my wife at the starting line as I look down at my skimpy 2.8 ounce Mizuno Wave Universe 5 road racing flats. Everyone else is wearing rugged trail shoes with armored rock plates, lugged soles, and waterproof Gortex shells. I'm wearing 1.4 ounces of mesh with a thin strip of rubber on each foot. My shoes weigh less than most other people's socks. What was I thinking?

I frantically start looking around for an escape route. Maybe if I duck behind that first tree I can sneak back to the car without anyone seeing me. Unfortunately the gun fires and we are off and running.

And some more stairs...
This isn't an "A" race for me and I didn't necessarily plan to race hard. But then I learn that the first twenty or thirty finishers get seeded bib numbers for the following year. So if you finish first, you get bib #1. If you finish 10th, you get bib #10.

My goal had originally been to try to finish in the top 10. But now I realize that no one is going to be intimidated by a double-digit bib number like #10. If I want to strike fear in the hearts of the other runners at the starting line next year, I'm going to need to finish at least 9th or better. Shit.

The race is off and we're flying up the road towards the world's largest flight of stairs. I'm huffing and puffing my way up the first stair case trying to keep the four or five guys in front of me in sight. Oh shit, I suddenly realize that I am already in 6th place. Usually I like to go out a bit more conservatively and try to reel in as many people as possible in the last miles. Also, I am certain I hear the familiar breathing of my wife Amy just a few steps behind me. I guess she's not taking it easy either!

Stairs, hills, and more hills

Running for my life!
Five or six miles into the race quickly learn that while I excel at running hills (both uphill and downhill), I apparently suck at running down stairs. As I am tip toing down the treacherous mossy stone stairs down into Stinson beach I get passed by two runners flying with reckless abandon. I almost yell something like, "watch it you whippersnappers" before thankfully catching myself. Well, welcome to the 40 and over age group I tell myself.

After reaching Stinson beach in 1:03:24 I turn around and head back. The return is slightly harder and takes me 1:08:19 but I pass a couple of guys and move back up to 6th place. Unfortunately, as soon as we turn around and start the whole thing over again, I get passed going up the stairs by my buddy/arch-nemesis Karl Schnaitter who has beaten me in every race we've ever run together.

Karl starts to pull away from me. In addition, two other guys catch up to me on the climb up to Cardiac. Suddenly it looks like I might slip to 8th place. Which would be fine. But then I can only afford to let one other person pass me or I might lose my tenuous grip on a coveted top 9 finish.

It is in moments of doubt and despair that I call upon a higher power, a source of inspiration that always guides me safely through the darkness and into the light. Beer. I turn my thoughts to the cold Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA waiting for me at the finish line. Suddenly I am flying and the two guys behind me and getting smaller and smaller. I hit the final turnaround in 1:12:40, slower than my first two legs but still respectable. Now it's just one last 7.1 mile leg back home.

Going for broke...

Running on empty
The last leg is the hardest and I am really starting to suffer. However, much to my surprise I keep getting reports from other runners going in the opposite direction that Karl is only 20 seconds ahead. "That's odd," I say to myself. I thought he was long gone.

After cresting Cardiac for the final time I find myself inexplicably flying down the mountain at 7:00 minute pace over treacherous rocky, rooted terrain. Oh hey look, there's Karl.

I fly by politely, almost feeling the need to apologize for running so fast. In the back of my mind all kinds of warning bells and alarms are going off. Surely I shouldn't be running this fast. Surely something very bad is bound to happen. And it does.

Two miles later, as we approach the last uphill before the stairs down to the finish, both of my legs seize up. I went for broke and I lost. Karl is going to pass me back. Those other two guys are going to pass me. Heck, I don't even know if I will be able to make it to the finish line. Ugh.

Sorry D-Bo, I need a beer!
Time to trouble shoot. I quickly take stock of my supplies. Two remaining salt pills, one PowerBar gel packet, and 3/4 of a bottle of sports drink. I swallow everything in one gulp and hope for the best. Somehow I am able to at last jog slowly, so I begin the death slog up the final hill.

I keep expecting Karl to pass me at any second, but when I reach the top and look back, he's still not in sight. My Quicksilver teammate Greg Lanctot is standing at the top of the hill cheering wildly. "Podium, 5th place, blah-blah-something-else-or-other, hold on let me get a picture". Did he just ask me to stop and pose for a picture? WTF dude!

As I awkwardly make my way down the last 688 stairs to the finish, I am still expecting Karl to come flying by me. But finally I see the last flight of stairs and start to realize that I'm going to hang on for 5th place. Whew! What a day.

I sprint across the finish line in a very respectable 4:41:34 despite running a 1:16:57 final leg, my slowest of the day. But I don't care. I'm done, and I know there's cold beer in the cooler!

Mr. and Mrs. Burton
Suddenly, elite Pearl Izumi runner Dylan Bowman appears out of nowhere and wants to congratulate me. He finished 5th at Western States this year and is a personal hero of mine. But I can't be bothered to exchange pleasantries just yet. He's standing in the way of me and my beer. Five seconds later after pounding a bottle of Lagunitas life is all good again.

A few bottles of beer later my wife Amy comes sprinting into the finish, 3rd woman and 30th overall in a time of 5:20:27, her fastest time ever of her three finishes on this course!

Shortly after crossing the finish line I swore to myself that I'd never do this race again! But then I remembered that because I finished 5th place this year, next year I will receive the super-intimidating #5 seeded bib number. Oh yeah. I'll be back. And maybe next year I'll wear real shoes. Nay, probably not.

And maybe next year I will try to win my age group. I will only need to take about an hour off my time in order to beat that Dave Mackey guy who nearly lapped me. Apparently he broke Leor Pantilat's course record or something :)

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