Ride Report: RAMROD 2019

On Thursday July 25th, 2019 completed the RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day). This is the ride report.

Goals

I was just there to finish the ride.

This was something that was on my bucket list and I jumped on the opportunity to join a few coworkers who wanted to do it together. I also used this as a training ride and litmus test for this year’s real bucket list item, a 93 mile run around the same mountain.

  1. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Finish before the time cutoff – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Finish strong – SORT OF ACCOMPLISHED

Successes

What am I proud of from ride day?

  • Longest bike ride I have ever done
  • Longest duration I have ever done a physical activity for
  • Completed a fairly challenging ride on 5 training rides of 100 miles total

Failures

What areas could I improve for future rides?

  • Should have eaten more breakfast while commuting down
  • Had a section around miles 60-70 where I didn’t eat much & bonked a bit
  • Post ride beer was a bad idea – my stomach wasn’t ready for that

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • People to ride with
  • No flat tires or bike trouble for me
  • Support crews that were always there
  • Sock ice!

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • I really couldn’t have asked for anything better

Ride Recap

Strava here

This ride was a big test for me. I wanted to see what my body was capable of with little, to no training. I was able to finish the ride in 13 hours 37 minutes, 23 minutes before the time cutoff of 8pm. That meant I was one of the last finishers, not something I’m used to, but a finisher nonetheless.

Pre Ride Day

Going into the race I had done five training rides of a total of 100 miles. The longest was a 55 mile ride in April, three months before the ride. In the 12 weeks leading up tot he ride, I had done a total of two rides totaling 15 miles. I had run a bit more, averaging ~2 runs and 8-10 miles per week. Essentially I was riding off the couch.

The Morning of

I woke up at 3:30 so I could meet the guys I was riding with at 4am at a park & ride, so we could get to the start around 5 and actually get riding around 6. We had to park a mile or so away from the school where it started so, we got some extra miles in, just to make sure the day was hard. That was a long morning.

I had signed up for the pre-race breakfast. In retrospect I should have eaten something on the ride down and probably should have eaten more there. It was good to get some solid calories in though.

Since this wasn’t a race, the start wasn’t an all-at-once thing. Riders were able to start as they pleased anytime between 5am and 7am. We started towards the middle of that range, which put us towards the back of the pack. Most riders seemed either eager to finish early before it was too hot or nervous that they wouldn’t finish, and thus eager to start earlier.

Start

We started the ride by nearly immediately making a wrong turn. We were supposed to take a right turn on SE 424th st towards the top of the image below and then turn left onto 244th but ended up following some riders that seemed to know where they were going and went into the heart of Enumclaw before someone realized we were off course.

Thankfully our trusty navigator found a shortcut back to the main course on Griffin Ave, that avoided us having to backtrack 1.5 miles to the start. In the end I think we rode a tiny bit more than we should have, but not enough to materially impact the 152 mile ride.

The first 55 miles

The first section of the ride, from Enumclaw into the park was relatively flat and on country roads. The biggest issue I had was getting used to riding in a paceline again – something I hadn’t ever done much of as pacelines are illegal in triathlons. The road was fairly rough, generally bumpy asphalt, shoulders that sometimes disappeared, potholes, branches reaching into the road, etc. That meant it was important to pay attention to the people in front of you and to signal to those behind you, especially when you were in the front. I messed that up a few times which resulted in someone taking a branch to the side or a pretty decent bump.

Our group of 4 riders took turns in the lead spot and periodically we grouped up with other riders. We were going intentionally slow.

There are two rest stops in this stretch, one at 36 miles and another at 55. We took both opportunities to get out of the saddle for ~20 minutes. We ate, stretched, used the bathroom, put on sunscreen and took slefies. Generally we set the tone that we were going at a relaxing pace.

I averaged 106 bpm through this part, which is essentially the effort level of a brisk walk.

The Park & First Climb

After the mile 55 rest stop we started climbing. The next ~23 miles would take us from 1,500ft to 4,800ft, a climb of 3,300 ft. The nice part about this section was the pavement was like butter the second we entered the national park. The shoulder wasn’t huge but for the most part traffic was light and the fact that we were off regular-use roads meant that most riders were not in a hurry.

The park is essentially three climbs. A big one, followed by a partial decent, a small one, followed by some more decent and then the last big one – the one that breaks people.

Our group split up on the first climb and found our own pace, agreeing to meet at the top.

We ended up stopping for two unplanned rests on the climb though.

The first was a 20 minute break at 2,400 ft for our group’s one mechanical failure of the day, a flat tire. Thankfully ride support was nearby within minutes and sold Phil a new tire, as the one he was using had a hole in it and would likely result in another flat tube.

The second was a quick 5 minute stop to refill water and regroup less than 2 miles from the top. At that point most of us were out of water and we weren’t positive how far the next stop was, so we used the chance to refill. In the end we would have been fine pushing through it. I did forget to eat for a good bit of the climb though, and it had been three hours since our last aid station, so eating something at that point ended up helping me feel a good bit better.

We took another 5 minutes at the very top to refill water bottles and get a group picture in front of the mountain.

I generally tried to stay in the 130s for the climb, only popping up into the 140s briefly. I averaged 131 through this section, including rests.

The Descent & Minor Climb

From mile 78 to 86 was a beautiful descent past reflection lakes. The nice thing about cycling is downhills are restful and not high impact like running downhill. I averaged 28 mph and 97 bpm through this section, so basically I was resting. What I did notice is I was much slower on the downhills than the others in the group. I suspect that had a lot to do with me not spending any time riding this year, I hadn’t built up much confidence in my downhill abilities so I was riding the brakes.

We took a 20 minute stop at box canyon where I must have eaten five chocolate croissants. They really hit the spot. That was also a chance to reapply sunscreen and chammy creme before the killer climb.

The minor climb was mostly uneventful climb from 2,800 ft to 3,400 ft. I required 140 bpm through this section to keep 7.7 mph up though, so things were getting a bit tougher. I know from experience that 140 bpm is about my 10 hour limit, so I was nervous to get into the 140s much for fear of having a major bonk later.

We eased through the final part of that descent and stopped at mile 97 to refill bottles before the killer climb. There was a sign that said ‘Sock Ice’ to which I was immediately curious. The volunteer informed me you could fill a tube sock with ice and put it around your neck and then as you rode up the hill with the sun on your back it would melt and cool you. I was sold.

I decided to ride the rest of the ride without socks (which was my original intent anyhow) took off my socks and filled one with ice. I offered my other one to the other guys I was riding with but for some reason none of them felt like putting a sock I’d just ridden 100 miles in around their neck. Beats me.

Cayuse Pass

This is the climb that gets you. Cayuse pass is a name that will live in infamy for any rider who has done RAMROD. When I first looked at the course map I wondered why there was a rest stop at mile 4 of an 8 mile climb – that seemed excessive. On the day of the ride I ended up wishing there was an additional rest stop at mile 6.

It is 8 miles at a constant 6% grade rising from 2,400 to about 4,700 ft. Most riders get there at the hottest part of the day and the sun is beating down on your back as there is hardly any shade as you climb along the black asphalt reflecting the heat back at you. By this time you get to the start of the climb, just about 100 miles an 8k fi into your day, your legs are spent, your glycogen stores are depleted, the sunburn has kicked in and your sit bones are sore from, in my case, 9 hours in the saddle. Then you start climbing a hill that, even fresh, would be a solid effort.

This is the final test. Once you reach the top it just an easy 44 mile ride net downhill to the finish. All you have to do is make it up and the finish line is within reach.

Our group split into our own paces to grind it out. I kept slow and steady, averaging 6mph and 140 bpm for the first 4 miles and then pulled over at the rest stop I had previously (naively) thought excessive. By four miles in my sock ice was nearly melted and my bottles were now lukewarm so I refilled both with fresh ice & cool water before. This felt like a quick stop but was nearly 10 minutes. Our group hadn’t all caught up but the first two of us decided to keep going lest our legs lock up before we made it.

Just four miles left to go but each one was a grind. About three miles in I looked ahead and saw cars driving on a road way higher than I was. I started to dread that maybe my math was off and I had another few miles and thousand feet to go. I got to the point where I was just ready for the climb to be over – looking around each corner hoping to see a tent. Sure enough a tent appeared and I thought I was done. But unfortunately this was just a communication tent. Nonetheless I pulled over in a small patch of shade near it to cool off – mentally needing a rest before finishing the last mile or so.

The final mile was more digging deep, doing whatever I could to find 130 bpm until finally I reached the top. Seventeen minutes later I was down the other side of the hill that had taken me nearly two hours to climb. It’s funny how gravity works like that.

Deli Stop

The final rest stop had a lot of food to refuel everyone for the last miles. I was there for about 50 minutes as we waited for our group to catch up and then gave everyone some time to rest. I ate like a post race feast. Turkey sandwich, three or four croissants, chips, pickles, orange juice, cookies – I must have put away over 1k calories right there.

The finish is ~37 miles with ~2k net downhill but unfortunately there is a solid headwind. By the time we left the deli stop it was 6pm and the course closed at 8pm so we figured we had to average ~18-20 mph in order to finish on time – which seemed impossible given we had mostly been chugging away at 6mph for the past few hours on the climb.

It turns out we were able to form a pretty good draft line. We averaged ~22mph for the first hour taking turns in the wind. I found that I needed to put out 140-150 bpm to take lead where as being in the back of the draft line I could keep the same pace with only 120 or so. It is pretty amazing how much of a difference that makes. We ended up passing a few groups and periodically some of them would join our line, but none of them took the lead. Phil from our group ended up doing the lion’s share of the work out front.

As much of a physical rest as being in the back of the line is, mentally it is super challenging. I hadn’t spent much time (any time) riding in packs this year so I just wasn’t in tune for that, which makes it especially hard when you’re on your last leg.

Finish

The last miles drag on a bit as mentally the race was finished hours ago but a few miles of flats remain. We spun it in and got to the finish a solid 23 minutes before the cutoff.

Our one crash of the day happened at the finish line. A volunteer stepped in front of Matt to hand him his award patch and he slammed on his brakes, forgetting to unclip his feet. He tipped over in slow motion (as seen in grainy picture below) and I slammed on my breaks but hit him in slow motion right as I was stopping. If you’re going to wreck, do it at the end and at ultra slow speeds.

We ate ice cream, picked up our packets, noticing most of the 800 others had already been taken.

We then hopped back on our bikes to go to our car. 152 miles of riding + a mile or so before and after the race makes for the longest day I’ve ever spent riding.

We went out for burgers and beers afterwards and had varying levels of success getting food down. After 3 oz of beer I had the hiccups for a few hours.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this ride.

First, straight out of Strava, is the elevation chart and my speed + effort throughout. You can see that generally I chugged along at an even pace, minus the few big climbs and descents.

What is kind of interesting is that if you adjust the elevation profile by time you can see that I spent much more of the day going uphill. In total I spent 5 hours climbing of ~11.5 moving. This is because the downhills go so quick they take proportionately less of the day.

Race Report: Gulch Countdown 2019

On Saturday January 5th, 2019 I did not finish the Gulch Countdown race, getting disqualified after ~27 miles. This is the race report.

Goals

I really didn’t have goals for this race, I was just out there to have fun. Part of me wanted to see how far I could run untrained though to see if it was going to be a good idea to attempt to go on a 93 mile run this summer.

  1. Make it to 6 laps (13.1 miles) – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Make it to 12 laps (26.2 miles)  – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Make it past 50k -Not Accomplished
  4. Be the last man standing – Not Accomplished

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Somehow ran the farthest I had ever run in a day, despite low training
  • Did a great job implementing my pacing strategy
  • Had a lot of fun meeting other runners and talking on the trail

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Got lost in lap 1 and had to sprint to finish in time
  • Didn’t push it hard enough during the middle section of lap 12

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • Abram for organizing & facilitating the race
  • The family that hosted the race in their driveway
  • All of the effort that volunteers put into making this first time, small scale race one of the best I’ve been a part of

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Can’t really think of anything, this was a great race that I had low expectations for

Race Recap

This race stands unique as being the longest race I have ever run, the first race (of hundreds) where I did not finish and also the race I was least trained for, ever. I loved every minute of it.

First, I should set context, the format of the race was unique – it consisted of 2.2 mile long laps on a muddy, hilly single-track trail that started at fixed times of decreasing duration. Anyone who finished the last lap before the cutoff was allowed to start the next one. Finishing a lap early just meant you had to wait around for the next one to start. The pace of the first lap was ~15 minute miles, by the time I got eliminated the pace was closer to 9 minute miles.

Pre Race Day

Going into the race I had been running 4 miles once or twice a week, so I wasn’t sure how long I would last. I don’t think I’d cleared double-digits on an easy run in over six months. I had recently logged a few miles sub-six, so I knew speed wouldn’t be my limiting factor, it would be endurance – how long would I last before I simply ran out of energy. With that in mind, my strategy was to go as slow as possible and eat a lot early, so that I had every chance to still have glycogen reserves late in the day. I figured I could make it to 13 miles or so on guts and the slow pace cutoff. After that was a question mark. Going past 26.2 was a goal I had in mind as it would make this the longest I had ever run.

Because the race was a loop, and we had to wait after finishing a lap for the next one to start, having a self-provided aid station was perfectly possible. I had brought along a cooler full of clothing, food & gear to help me survive the day. Layers, braces, gels, and extra everything, just in case. In the end, it was a bit overkill.

The Start

There were perfect racing conditions when the race started at 8:30am – 40 and cloudy. I started off in three layers of clothes – including a fleece jacket. I took off on the first lap in the very back of the 50 runners. In fact, my GPS was having trouble getting calibrated, so I walked across the start line 15 seconds after the gun went off. You can see me looking at my watch in the picture below.

The first lap demonstrated one of the best aspects of this format. I had no motivation to run fast, so instead I ran with other people I might not normally have run with in a race. I spent most of that lap talking to my friend (and wife of the race director) Kristin. We were running slow enough that the main pack separated a bit and unfortunately, neither of us was paying attention to the course very well. During a place where the loop intersected itself, we accidentally doubled back on our tracks, putting us on a course to run an extra mile. We had been going pretty slow and so by the time I realized how far behind we were, there were only 10 minutes left to finish over a mile of the course. You can see me in the picture below way on the other side of the course from everyone else.

I took off running and logged one of the fastest times of the day on the back half in order to finish just before the cutoff. I went from an easy 130 bmp to over 170 and was thoroughly sweating in my fleece jacket. Kristin didn’t survive the lap, but I think she only planned to run one lap anyhow.

That first lap was a huge setback in terms of energy conservation. It would mean that I had not only run an extra mile compared to everyone else, but also that I had burned a lot of extra energy going top speed.

After that first lap things returned to plan for the most part. The next 5 laps were basically a nice slow group run where I got a chance to talk with a bunch of different folks. I slowly stripped off layers and ate food in the breaks between laps. I usually had 2-4 minutes to spare. I don’t think I ran two laps in the same outfit actually, I’d strip off a top one lap and a bottom the next – trying to keep as warm as possible without overheating.

Half Marathon

The end of lap 6 marked the half marathon was a marker in my mind at which point we’d start doing some real running. I planned a big reset and finished with a few extra minutes so that I could change socks, strip off my tights and hit the porta-potty. Once I was in shorts, it was time for business.

Laps 7-9 felt like a real run. I noticed it got a lot quieter. The number of people running had thinned a good bit and instead of rambunctious conversations on the trail, most of us were keeping pretty quiet. I started having less, if any, time between the laps and was more in need of support during those breaks. I took a bottle with me for one lap and probably should have had it with me for others. With all of the mud on the course, I wanted to keep my hands free though, in case I fell. It was about at this point that I noticed more people falling. Tired legs and a sloppy course that had been trampled 7+ times made it much easier to take a dive.

It was lap 10 where my mind shifted from, ‘I can do this all day’, to “I’m not sure how many more of these I have in me”. The cutoff time had now dropped from 32 minutes to 23 minutes, and we now all had 22 miles under our legs, meaning we were past the point of a run when people usually hit the wall. I made notes of a few milestones on the course to see how long it took me to get between them. I figured it would be good to know how close I was to finishing one of the coming laps on time. Lap 10 took a good bit of work.

Lap 11 was my fastest of the day. The group was getting thin and I was starting to hurt. I locked behind another runner and held on for dear life. We kept hitting the milestones on the course perfectly, so I just hung on. It felt like real work. We pushed the flats and downhills and power hiked the uphills. We finished with maybe 20 seconds to spare and the next lap would have a cutoff one minute faster, meaning we needed to run 40 seconds faster to finish on time.

Lap 12

Once I cleared lap 11, I knew my total would be at least 27 miles, even if I walked that last lap. Only 9 of us started that lap. I doubted I could finish on time, but there was no harm in trying. I thought I might be able to do it if I found the right runners to hold on to. After-all, I only had to go 40 seconds faster than my previous lap.

I started off hanging onto the main group at all costs. Surprisingly I crossed my 9:00 checkpoint on time. Just 12 minutes more and I would finish. As I hit the long steady uphill section, things started to fall apart. I let a runner in front of me go, and that ended up being a critical mistake. I caught another runner, but he was limping along and in no place to push the pace. I pushed him to dig deep and then took off, hoping to beat the clock. At the mark where I knew I could finish in 6 minutes, I checked my watch and only had 5 minutes left. This was going to be an all out sprint. I cleared the 3 minute marker with 2:40 left, I was making progress, but not enough.

My (Did Not) Finish

The cutoff whistle blew with me in eyeshot of the finish, I was probably 30 seconds away. I walked it in and crossed the line a few minutes later. I didn’t finish that lap within the time, so I was eliminated from participating in the next one.

It turns out only 2 runners went on to run lap 13 and they both ran another 10 miles before hitting a lap that neither of them could make the time cutoff for. Both of them could clearly put in the distance, the guy that won finished 19th in the Western States 100 last year, but the pace eventually got too fast for the trail. So even if I had finished, I would definitely have ended up in 3rd place and likely only finished one other lap before getting cutoff. My plan was actually to walk the next lap with some pizza and relax, but alas I was 30 seconds too slow.

Here is the race organizer, Abram, on the left with a few of us that DNFd on lap 12.

 

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

First, here are some overall stats to set context for the day. My GPS logged me at 27.79 miles and 2,817ft of climbing at an average pace of 11:24. Interestingly, I spent 40% of the day climbing. Of the 5.25 hours I was moving for 4.75 hours, so I had a total of about 30 minutes of downtime.

It wasn’t until after the first lap that I realized I should turn off auto-lap on my watch so that I could see the cumulative time for each lap and better measure out my progress over the day. The times below are a bit wonky because some laps include the rest time at either end of them while others include none.

The heart rate charts shows how well I executed my planned strategy of saving energy till the end. Other than miles 2-3 where I had to sprint and maxed out my heart rate, I kept it pretty conservative, even up the big hills. My last lap was my hardest effort of the day, which is all you can ask for.

Despite putting in a lot of work, my heart rate primarily stayed in zones 2-4, with a good bit of time in zone 1. For reference, in a marathon, I would primarily be in zone 4 and anything shorter than an hour would be almost exclusively in zones 5 & 6.

What is Next?

I’m hoping Abram will run this race again and that maybe I can put a tiny bit more training into it before next time so that I can get closer to 50k. I actually think with my speed that if the race finished around 35 miles again next time, I’d have a decent shot at winning it. Unlike a 100 mile race where I needed to have crazy endurance, this race favors being well balanced.

As a result of this race, running nearly 30 miles off of almost no training, I’ve decided to try and push what I can accomplish without training. I don’t have much time to train these days but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. This summer I plan to try and tackle the 93 mile Wonderland Trail off of about this much of a base. I suspect that run would be challenging no matter how much I prepared, so I might as well save some time in the process. Wish me luck.

Race Report: Dipsea 2018

On June 10, 2018 I ran the 108th running of the legendary Dipsea race. I finished in a time of 1:08:26 – good enough to requalify for next year.

Goals

  1. Finish/Survive – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Requalify for 2019- 450 spots – ACCOMPLISHED – with 117 to spare
  3. Average heart rate 170+ – ACCOMPLISHED – averaged 175 BPM
  4. Sub 1:02:04 (My course best) – Not Accomplished
  5. Average heart rate 180+ – Not Accomplished
  6. Do not walk or speed hike – Not Accomplished
  7. Top 100 – Not Accomplished
  8. Sub 1 hour – Not Accomplished
  9. Black Shirt – Not Accomplished

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Both Chris and I requalified and live to race another year
  • Great effort & performance on minimal training
  • Managed to stay upright the whole time & avoid rolling my ankle
  • Discovered a new shortcut that will save me some time (this is legal in this race)
  • Brought a frozen water bottle to drip on head & keep cool
  • Did not have to visit a medical tent or take an Uber back later to finish
  • Minimal poison oak
  • Helped a fallen runner out of a bush & back on to her feet

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Had a decent collision with one of the ~300 runners I passed because I got lazy and didn’t say anything when passing them
  • Forgot my foot pod, so I can’t see my cadence through the various sections

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • My amazing wife for letting this become a tradition
  • The Newman family for their amazing post race hospitality
  • Uncle Bill for offering his condo as race central again
  • 108 years of history that make this a great race
  • Volunteers that cleared the trail, handed out water, blocked dangerous parts & cheered

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Had a runner right in front of me fall which cost me ~200 yards
  • Got really bottlenecked in the steep downhill section where I would have gone pretty fast

Race Recap

The following is a detailed account of my race day. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

Only 1,500 runners get to participate in the Dipsea every year and many more try to apply. 600 of those spots go to runners that ran well the year before. I ran the race last year and did well enough to come back – that race report is here.

My goal this year was just to get invited back for next year and to make sure my friend Chris did as well. We’re both decent runners and normally wouldn’t have much trouble with that, but he broke his ankle earlier this year and I had only run 8 times in as many weeks since a calamitous Boston Marathon in which I had to drop out due to a hypothermia scare.

We knew that to be able to come back next year we would need to run somewhere between 1:10:30 and 1:11:30 so that is what I calibrated our pace milestones at.

For those curious how a father of four got to go away for a weekend and run a race – negotiations included two Saturday mornings taking the three oldest kids to the zoo by myself.

The Starts

The Dipsea has one of the most unique race starts I’ve ever heard of. There are ~50 groups that start one minute apart and runners are seeded based on a handicap system that accounts for age and gender. The first group to start includes men 74+, women 66+, 7 year old boys and 6 year old girls. It then works it way back until the last group – men age 19-30. Official info here. A great writeup by the NYT here.

What is so cool about this is that the finish ends up being really well mixed in terms of gender and age. To give you some context, within 1 second of me crossing the finish line, there was a 9 year old boy, 67 year old man and 44 year old woman. We were all racing for the finish line, they just happened to have started 12, 17 & 10 minutes earlier than I had. (I debated not passing the 9 year old boy, as they were announcing his name over the loud speaker – but the kid’s got to learn to finish strong somehow)

That mixture of gender is age is true for the winners as well. Normally the winner of a running race is a 19-30 year old male, but at the Dipsea it has been over 50 years since a 19-30 year old male has won the race.

The reason I love this so much (despite the fact that it disadvantages me right now) is that as I get older, I can still improve my overall ranking each year. I will certainly get slower as I get older,  but that will be counteracted by the head start minutes I get. That means this is the type of race I can continually aim to improve at. That is pretty special. It is a life goal of mine to earn a Black Shirt – an award that goes to the top 35 finishers every year.

My Start

Last year, as a first time runner I was in the open wave, running with a much less competitive group. I got 2nd place in my start wave and 21st of the 900 open runners.

This year I started in the invitational wave with the fast runners who had qualified in previous years. Lined up near me was Alex Varner, the 7 time winner of the fastest time award as well as Gus Gibbs, another frequent face in the top awards. I would not be getting 2nd place for my start wave (I actually ended up getting 48th!).

I would be getting a 1 minute head start for the first time as I’m now 31. So I had that going for me.

Chris and I started off slow and steady, enjoying the only flat part of the course. Our plan was to stick together and pull each other through tough stretches. We didn’t have much concern for the other runners around and nothing major happened over the start.

The Stairs

The Dipsea race has many reasons to be famous, but the stairs tend to be one of the more dreaded and well known. At 688 stairs in total, runners climb the equivalent of over one third the Empire State Building.

Last year I had some heart rate goals for various sections of the course. I learned from my planning mistake. This year my goal was to hit the stairs, redline and then do everything I could to hold it until I got to the finish line.

We planned to get to the top of the stairs by 8 minutes. We got there 15 seconds early despite a decent bit of speed walking. I made great use of my arms on the stairs, the only section where you have a railing to grab on to.

Cresting The First Hill

By this point, my lack of fitness was starting to be evident. I wasn’t passing people like last year, I was struggling just to keep moving. Chris and I traded the lead a few times and did our best to pick off any runners we could while the trail was wide. As we got out of the tree cover we got to see how hot a day it already was and I was glad to have some ice water to cool my head down.

Down To the Bridge

Last year when I hit Windy Gap, I got really bottlenecked. This year that spot was pretty open. This probably has a lot to do with me being slower and the other runners in my wave being faster – I wasn’t catching as many people early on and would hit bottlenecks later this year.

There was a lot of mud of the trail and steps, which made this section pretty challenging. After clearing that in one piece, I welcomed the downhill pavement section where I briefly went sub-4 pace and picked off a number of runners.

The ‘Suicide’ shortcut was a mess. There were too many people there so I couldn’t really run it. By having to put on the brakes, I was much less stable. I debate if going the long way at a running pace would have been worth it here.

At this point I knew Chris was a bit behind me, my plan was to let off the gas a bit and let him catch up so we could work together up the big climb. Our goal was to hit the bridge as 19 minutes – I was dead on and he was just a few seconds back.

Up To Cardiac

The next hill is the biggest. In total it is two miles that climbs 1,200 ft. You can see it here from mile ~2 to mile ~4.

It starts off with Dynamite – a steep section of switchbacks on muddy trail through a lush green forest. I did a lot of speed hiking through this section and traded the lead with a few different runners who would jog past, then stop and walk as you jogged past them. None of us had it in us to continually run. By this time Chris had caught back up with me as well.

We had wanted to hit ~12 min/mile pace up to the top of Cardiac, which should put us there by ~44 minutes. We ended up averaging 13 min miles – 20 mins/mile through the first section and 11 mins/mile on the steady part of the climb.

We traded the lead back and forth, putting 5-10 seconds between us. We were both redlining. When I felt good I’d pass Chris and encourage him along. When I felt bad, he’d catch me and I’d do my best to stay as close as possible. We passed my water bottle back and forth and had a few jelly beans I was carrying to make sure we were alert for the downhill.

We did a great job sticking to the trail, which is narrower than the fire road but a bit shorter distance to run. It ended up working out great and I don’t feel we really got stuck behind anyone. It also seemed to be a bit more tree covered, which was nice in the heat.

I was watching my watch and getting a bit worried we were too far behind schedule. I never really know how close we are when I’m on the hill because everything looks pretty similar and you can’t see the top. We ended up hitting our goal time right on the head though – cresting at 46 minutes.

With our goal of ~1:10-1:11, this meant that we had 24-25 minutes to get down the hill. Last year I did it in 20, but was really flying. I felt pretty safe at this point that we could do it barring any injury, so we planned to play it pretty safe.

Starting Down

The final part of the race is a huge downhill on steep, technical, mostly single-track dirt trails with a few roads thrown in towards the end. You can see it here from mile ~4.25 to mile 7.

The downhill starts off a fairly mellow rolling trail at around 5%. This is the exposed part of the course where you can see the headlands and the ocean. You want to enjoy it, but you have to pay close attention to your footing because there are lots of rocks sticking out.

Chris was right in front of me at this point and we were passing a few runners every 10-15 seconds.

Last year I flew on this section, but this year it was the section where I was slowest compared to last year.

At some point a runner fell off the trail, downhill into a bush and was laying with her feet in the air. It is all kind of a blur, but I recall a lady yelling in an intense panic, ‘someone please help her’, though the woman seemed pretty calm about it. There was another lady trying to help her up by the hand, but that wasn’t going too well as the fallen woman was basically upside down & caught in a bush. I stopped, grabbed her elbow and with one strong motion had her upright on the trail, at which point I jumped to the side and started running again. It was so fast, I can’t even see it on my GPS. But it was long enough that when I looked for Chris, he was nowhere in sight. It took me about a mile to catch him.

We hit the split between the main trail and the Swoop shortcut and one runner took the long way while everyone else in sight took the shortcut.

Because of that, the Swoop was a disaster. There were too many runners going in single file and no one was passing anyone else because it seemed silly to pass one person when there were 10 other people right in front of them going the same speed.

Yelling ‘on your left’ meant nothing here as the trail was pretty thin. This is a tricky race etiquette situation. The other runners are trying to go as fast as they can by picking the safest footing they can see. If they move to the side to let you pass, they are slowing themselves down to help you – their competition. On the other hand, if you chose not to move and to intentionally use your body as a physical barrier to another runner, it is hard to blame them for getting physical as well.

My strategy was to yell, ‘on your left’, stick my hand out in front of me and tap at their left arm and then come on through, regardless of what they had decided to to. If they had accommodated me, great. If they hadn’t, they would get a physics lesson.

Even with all of this effort, as we got out of the Swoop I noticed the runner that had taken the long way had gotten to where the trails meet each other at the exact same moment. It was all for nothing. Quite frustrating.

At this point I was pretty sure Chris and I were safe to requalify and I knew he wouldn’t be pushing it too much on the downhill because of his ankle – so I left him in order to enjoy a bit of speed through the final mile.

The Final Bump

The last climb is a short but steep climb that is aptly named ‘Insult Hill’.

Frustrated by the bottleneck in the Swoop and less than exhausted, I kicked it into high gear and got around a number of people. This is where I got lazy and stopped calling out my passes. One runner I was passing made a quick hop left to get around someone else and I hit them pretty hard. Not hard enough that they went down, but hard enough that I felt bad about it.

The Last Downhill

The final mile alternated between paved roads and trails that cut between curves in the road. The trails were not very worn, most sections looked freshly trimmed back and teeming with poison oak.

I was letting loose on the roads, but the trails were basically walking pace only. This was really hard mentally as I was trying to get to the finish line quickly to make sure I requalified.

Last year these sections were wide open for me as I had done all of the passing earlier on in the course. By the time I had gotten here, there were only ~30 people in front of me, meaning things were pretty spread out. This year the early parts of the course were pretty open and the bottleneck came here. By this point this year there were ~350 people ahead of me, so it wasn’t open at all. The lesson is that you’re going to have to pass people at some point, it is best to strategically do that in ideal places to pass, like the long climb up the wide trail of cardiac.

The Finish

The final quarter mile drops 120 feet and is all on asphalt. Though slower than last year, I ran it at about 5:10 minute/mile pace averaging 186 BPM. This is always such a great finish because you can really push yourself beyond what you think is possible thanks to gravity giving you a boost.

I hit the finish at 191 BMP, finishing at 1:09:25.31, right at the low end of what I was targeting. I looked back to see where Chris was and before I could breathe normally again, he was coming across the line at 1:10:01.03, right in the middle of our target range. A perfect execution.

Post Race

We then hopped immediately into the ocean to try and get the poison oak oil off and went for a light cool down run, doing our best Chariots of Fire.

Then comes the annual picnic and award ceremony –  for the Dipsea, the ceremony is kind of a big deal. For many races only the top three finishers and a few fans stick around to see the awards. For the Dipsea, there are about 40 awards and in the two years I’ve been there, I haven’t seen a single runner that wasn’t present. Here is a pic of some of the past winners of the race all gathered together.

Because of the crazy handicapping & starting system, depending on how you count it, I either got 48/69 in my start wave, 54/72 of all runners in my age group, 209/1,415 fastest time of everyone racing or 333/626 in the invitational, accounting for the handicaps. Basically it was a mid-pack performance.

Our friend Loren, however, had a phenomenal year and got a coveted Black Shirt for the first time. Gretchen ran her best race ever and is getting within range of a Black Shirt herself. Chris and I just requalified, but neither of us got hurt and that was good enough for this year.

It looks like there were ~560 runners that started ahead of me and 332 that finished ahead of me, including 29 that had started behind me. So I passed about 257 people – or about 1 every 150 feet. I know there was some back and forth passing though this year, so the actual number of passes might be closer to 300 or 350.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

This is the distribution of race times for everyone that raced. I’m much closer to the middle of the pack than I normally am. That is what I get for not training.

Pace wise, you can see I was all over the place, as is to be expected from a trail race with lots of hills. My peak pace was around 3:30 per mile and my slowest was around 20:00 per mile. I averaged 9:47 per mile.

Effort wise, as measured by heart rate, my plan was to redline and then just hold it until the end. You can see I did a great job at the first part of that, hitting the red zone within the first half mile. There were only a few parts where I feel like I wasn’t putting on the gas. The first is as I started down the first hill, and that is because it was a very technical and somewhat crowded section – I immediately spiked it back up when I got to the road. The next was at the top of the big hill, I was enjoying the view a bit and got caught behind some runners. I made a push out of that but got caught up again in Steep Ravine. You can see the big spikes when I hit Insult Hill, followed by another drop as a walked through a crowded section where passing was impossible. Finally, an all out finish that took me to a heart rate I haven’t seen since last year’s Dipsea.

Next I wanted to look at a comparison to some other runners that I was near during the race. This data all comes from Strava.

First, here are a few runners I stared with and how we finished. Interestingly, they were all ahead of me and behind me at some point. The light blue line was a runner that passed me right before I got bottlenecked – it looks like being just one minute ahead of me helped them avoid that issue.

Here is just comparing me to Alex Varner and Gus Gibbs, the two fastest runners from my start wave. Basically they put distance on me right from the get go and never let up. The only section where I was even close to their speed was the first downhill.

Here is looking at a few runners that started ahead of me but finished behind me. More or less, steady lines, but you can see a few spikes in sections where I got blocked up. Notice around mile 4.5 where they all jump a bit – that is where I stopped to help a fallen runner.

I was curious how the different start corrals broke down and what percent of the finisher from each finished in the top 35. The chart below breaks that out. You can see there are more runners towards the right side, in the start groups of younger, more fit runners. The big spike at start wave R/8 is where all women 19-39 go, which is why there are so many in that wave, it includes all of the peak racing years for women.

What is really interesting is there are 9 runners in the Z wave, the group that I was in that had a 1 minute head start, that finished in the top 35 and only 1 in the final wave. Perhaps this is a race where being over 30 isn’t as detrimental as the handicaps would imply. Or perhaps there are a just a bunch of great runners that have all aged into the Z start wave together and the final wave just hasn’t yet attracted enough high caliber younger runners to replace them.


What is Next?

The top ~450 people from the open section get invited back next year to run in the invitational section. I got 333rd so I will be invited back again. I’m not 100% sure I will run it, but I still want to attempt to break one hour eventually, so I kind of have to keep running, otherwise I might not be able to enter again. Remember, it took me 5 years to get in the first time, I don’t want to wait that long again. We’ll have to see if next year ends up being a good year to shoot for a record or if it will just be another year of trying to requalify.