Monday, November 26, 2007


Back in the mid-1980's when I did my first couple of Escape From Alcatraz triathlons, the run was the Double Dipsea. This the 7.1 mile run from Mill Valley, over Mt. Tamalpias down to Stinson Beach...and back. Each direction has about 2200 feet of vertical climbing plus it starts and ends with about 600+ stairs.
In the Quad Dipsea, as the name implies, it is an out and back and out and back course.
Here is a link to a Google Earth fly-over of the course: Course

I got to the race start. I had heard this was an informal event, but it was both larger and more organized than I expected. It isn't so much informal, as low-key and down-to-earth. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. In fact, it was very well organized. At the start I saw a few faces I recognized including Eric Clifton and Mark Tanaka. In the following race starting line shot, you will see Eric Clifton in his trademark loud tights standing next to eventual winner Erik Skaggs of Oregon (who was only the second person ever to run the Quad in sub-4 hours).

The weather was cold, clear and calm. It was perfect. Then the starting gun went off and we took off. Skaggs was flying up the hill with Clifton right behind him. We reached the stairs. These are quad crunching never-ending stairs.

Once we crested the stairs, it was a short run through a cul de sac and then down some stairs to a road. We were told to go about a quarter mile and then re-enter the trail by some mailboxes. Once we re-entered the Dipsea Trail, it was steps leading down towards Muir Woods. We crossed a parking lot and came to a small foot bridge crossing a stream. Here is the video from this race of the lead runners crosisng that bridge (I am at 57 seconds into the video): Bridge Video

The woods were beautiful. By now I had moved up and was somewhere into the top 10 or so runners. I was feeling great. The sun was peaking through the Redwood trees in Muir Woods.

Then it was a climb out of the woods up Cardiac Hill.

The trail got steep, but I plodded on. Every now and then I'd pass some one, but I was also passed every now and then. At one point I was behind a runner from Texas and he missed the trail fork. So I shouted to him and he came back and we ran up the trail together. We reached the first aid station on top of Cardiac hill (about 4.4 miles into the race). The views were stunning (all photos on my blog can be enlarged for better detail by simply clicking them):

The trail started to drop back down now. It started with a mild decline, then quickly became steep switch-backs and finally series of stairs that were almost completely vertical at points. I finally reached the bottom. By me was the second place female runner - I found out her name was Jamie (because everyone was saying "Hi Jamie" when they passed her). Then we started up a short incline which Jamie informed me was called Little Insult. After cresting that, we had a full view of the Pacific Ocean and Stinson Beach.

About this point, the lead runners began approaching. Way out front with Erik Skaggs - he was flying and making it look easy. Soon, Eric Clifton came running towards me: I shouted hello and he did the same.

Jamie and I continued on. we were in the top 20, probably somewhere around 18th. Then we dropped down to the second aid station at Stinson Beach. We were 1 hour 8 minutes into the race. Working this aid station (among others) was ultra-legend Ann Trason. I was very pleased with my pace and how I was feeling and turned around to head back onto the trail.

As the trail started back up towards Cardiac, Jamie started to pull about a minute ahead of me. The third place woman came up from behind me. Her name was Kate and we chatted a bit as we ran. Finally, the trail leveled off and I started off to the Cardiac Hill aid station. Again, the views were amazing as the morning fog had burned away:

After the aid station, it was a downhill run. I started flying and was soon picking off runners here and there. Soon I passed Jamie. I kept going and passed another few runners. As I was really tearing down the mountain, I had to keep watching the trail for roots, rocks, holes and uneven ground. At one point I knew that I must be getting close to Muir Woods. The trail kept going down and I kept running. I hadn't seen a runner for a bit. Soon I crossed a road and continued on a trail. After about 1/4 mile I came to a planked foot bridge. I immediately realized that I had not seen that before - I had gotten lost. So, I turned around and headed back. After 1/4 mile I saw a sign that said Dipsea Trail 0.5 Mile. #$%&*!! That meant I had added nearly 2 miles to my Quad. I knew my race was over at that point. I headed up the trail cursing at myself. I must have missed the fork in the trail while watching my footing.

As I continued up, I looked around. Despite being lost, the scenery was very pretty. One benefit of being so far from the 100's of other runners, the local wildlife was not scared away (look carefully and you'll see a mother doe and a fawn):

Soon I came back to the trail and followed it down to Muir Woods. I cursed myself all the way back to Old Mill Park at the start. I saw Eric, Mark, Jamie, Kate and other runners pass me in ther direction already on their 3rd lap. When I got to the park, I guess my mood was evident as one of the volunteers looked at me and said "Welcome to Old Mill Park Mr. Cheerful".

I didn't know wheter to even continue the race. This was my 3rd marathon or longer race in 5 weeks. I really didn't have to prove that I could finish the distance. I didn't know why I would bother bashing my legs now that I was out of "race mode". But I had never DNF'ed a race, so I decided to move forward. As I headed back up the stairs, a runner passed me and said "Hi there doctor." I look at him and it was Mario - one of the two runners who had run the last 20 miles of Quicksilver 50 with me. He was fighting cramps, but was still running. I chatted with him for a bit. Soon, we got separated, but I would see him again later as we crossed paths near the top of Little Insult: Mario Sans Shirt means Business!

As I exited Muir Woods and began the climb up towards Cardiac, I passed the point of my wrong turn. I took the Road Less Traveled to the right...others took the Road Nore Traveled to the Left (they did slightly better than I):

Once I got to the Cardiac Aid Station, I decided to stop and sit down. I took that opportunity to snap a few photos:

I stood back up and started running again. It was the downhill section towards Stinson Beach (with the exception of Little Insult) so I was feeling pretty good. Soon the race leaders came towards me. The first woman was Beth Vitalis - the same woman with whom I ran a lot of the Stevens Creek 50km. I saw Mark Tanaka looking strong also. Then I saw Eric Clifton approaching. I stopped and got a good position to snap his photo. He shouted: "You don't appear to be in a hurry" as he passed. Behind Eric was Krissy Moehl, one of the best female ultra runners in the country.

I reached the turn-around and headed back. By the time I got to Muir Woods (yes, I made the correct turn this time) my legs were feeling a bit tired from the pounding. But I started jogging and went up the last flight of stairs up towards the cul de sac:

I then got to the finishing line after flying down those 600+ steps. Final time: 6 hours 15 minutes 40 seconds. Getting lost sure added time to my run....but it sure allowed me to enjoy the scenery more and take a few extra (and less blurry) photos. Hopefully it also added to my base and speed for the Sunmart 50 miler in 2 weeks.


Eudemus said...

Alan, bummer about the wrong turn, but it sounds like you made the best of it anyway. I remember seeing you on as I was climbing up on my last leg. I thought I recognized you but then thought that you couldn't possibly be behind a mid-packer like me :-)

Peter Lubbers said...

Hi Alan,
Sorry you took a wrong turn. Nice pictures! I think the one of that specific turn might prevent others from making the same mistake.
Good luck at Sunmart in two weeks!

Alan said...


Yeah, it was a bummer but now I have an easy P.R. mark to break on my next Quad Dipsea :)


The turn actually was obvious on my second loop - I think I must have been looking down at my footing at the wrong time the first loop. Thanks - going for my first sub-8 at Sunmart. We will see what happens.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Alan, sorry that you made the wrong turn, but glad to know you hung in there and finished the run. I'll look forward to your sprinting Quad next year.

FYI, the wrong trail you made is actually the Miwok course. Miwok does not make a turn into the woods or vice versa. Perhaps it's something calling you to sign it up at 8am 1/6/08.

I made a wrong turn too on my first Quad in 2005. Luckily it happened right before the last flight of stairs. The struggle and upset was short. I missed the stair entrance but kept running the paved road until I saw no runners around. It cost me a chance to make sub-6hr. I finished 6hr 14min.

Good luck on your WS100 lottery and the back-to-back weekend in TX.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Alan, you shouldn't've figured out you were lost so fast, because then you could at least call it a 50k ;) Sorry man, I've done the similar (or worse) several times. Good you decided to finish. Remember, every race is a training run for the next. Good luck in Texas.

Great report with all the pictures. I'm too lazy...

Alan said...

Chihping: so I guess I did the Miwok and the Quad in one day :)

Mark - yeah, I did a bad miss at RDL 100 too. Thanks


Peter Lubbers said...

Tag, you're it Alan!