(Excerpted with author's permission from the book, "Dipsea, TheGreatest Race" by Barry Spitz)
The precise origins of the Dipsea Race are obscure and shrouded in legend. Even the root of the name "Dipsea" remains uncertain despite exhaustive research by Mark Reese and others. The name first appears attached to the Dipsea Inn, a hotel that opened north of the resort Willow Camp (today's Stinson Beach) in 1904. Did the name arise from the beckoning "dip in the sea" for hotel visitors? Or from another hostelry elsewhere? From a poetic reference? From a corruption of the words "deep sea"? Or from theseeming dip into the ocean of the trail (today's Dipsea Trail) tothe Inn? No one is certain.
Marin, the county just north of the Golden Gate from San Francisco, was a bucolic land in 1904, the year the seed for theDipsea Race was planted. The last wild bear had been killed lessthan two decades earlier. Dairy farms covered the landscape. The population was only 15,000 in 521 square miles, the first significant influxes would follow the San Francisco earthquakeand fire of two years later.
The huge Spanish and Mexican land grants were just breaking up. The parcels that were to become central Mill Valley had onlybeen laid out and sold in 1890, the city itself incorporated in1900. The first subdivision map for Willow Camp would not bedrawn until 1906. Outside of a few town commons, none of Marin'sland was in public hands. Indeed, the canyon that was to becomethe first public park, today's Muir Woods, through which theDipsea Trail passes had been saved from a proposed dam only theyear before.
Four separate elements converged to create the Dipsea Race.First was a nascent distance running boom on the West Coast,spurred by the first Olympic Games (1896) and Boston (1897)marathons.
Second was the rise in popularity of hiking, which, in theSan Francisco Bay Area was then (and still largely is) centeredon Marin's crown jewel, 2,600 foot Mt. Tamalpais. A favoritehikers route on Tam was the Lone Tree Trail, today known as theDipsea Trail.
Third was the opening in 1903 of an electric rail lineconnecting the San Francisco-Sausalito ferry to Mill Valley. Thatmade the depot in Mill Valley the principal starting point formost Mt. Tamalpais hikes.
Fourth, in 1904, the Dipsea Inn opened on an isolated sandspit north of the tiny Pacific Ocean resort hamlet of WillowCamp. The Inn was built to serve tourists arriving on twoproposed rail extensions, neither ultimately ever built. One wasto connect with the Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway at West Point, the other with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks inPoint Reyes Station.
Immediately after the Dipsea Inn opened, it was visited by ahearty band from San Francisco's Olympic Club who regularly hikedon weekends from member Alfons Coney's cabin near Muir Woods.Someone, perhaps under the influence of spirits at the new hotelitself, got the idea of racing from Mill Valley to the Inn. Coneyand another Olympic Club hiking stalwart, Charles Boas, took up the challenge much "hiking" in those years actually was fastwalking over lost distances.
On an unknown day in 1904 the two set off on their epicrace, with bets placed by Club members and pride on the line.Boas won, his time and margin of victory unknown. (In lateryears, after Boas had died, Coney would claim there was a dispute over just who won!)
The success of the match race led the celebrating Olympiansto consider making an annual competition of it, open to all. Theinfluential, all©men's Olympic Club had been founded in 1860, theoldest athletic club in the United States. In the early years ofthe century, the club was fielding teams that were competitivewith the finest professional and collegiate squads in most everysport. A race sounded appealing.
A week later, they formed a sub-group within the OlympicClub and called themselves the Dipsea Indians after the DipseaInn. A Grand Chief (Judge Timothy Fitzpatrick) was chosen andorganizing committees established. The run would be called theDipsea Race.
The Dipsea Indians deserve lasting praise for thethoroughness of their preparations. Putting on a large, point-to-point, cross country race is a daunting task at any time. Tostage an inaugural edition, using part-time volunteers in an erabefore automobiles and modern communications, was truly a feat oforganization. If the 1905 race came off as anything less than acomplete success, the Dipsea would likely have been only a brieffootnote in the annals of regional running.
Prior to the first race, the Indians settled on two of theenduring foundations that were to forever make the Dipseaspecial. One was that, although a suggested route was wellªmarked, runners were free to choose their own way. Thus, perhapsout of necessity (monitoring the full course was all butimpossible), was born the idea of an open course. The courseremains technically "open" to this day, though several areas haverecently been declared off limits.
The second was headstarts, or handicaps. They were based ona runner's ability, so as to theoretically give every competitora chance to win. This handicap system, which was one day to makeDipsea champions of 9-year-old girls and 60-year-old men, alsocontinues today, though now based strictly on age and sex.
The stage was set for the first Dipsea. The considerableprestige of the Olympic Club ensured that the best runners inNorthern California, and all the major newspapers, were on hand.And so, on a rainy November 19, 1905, 84 men gathered in downtown Mill Valley to run to the Pacific Ocean. The Dipsea Race was born.
August 30, 1970
Among many storied Dipseas, the 1970 Dipsea stands out.Reese calls it "one of the most sensational in Dipsea history."Indeed, for drama, it ranks among the greatest of all Americandistance runs.
Its story begins 35 years earlier. In 1935, Norman Bright,holder of several U.S. records and a world mark, made his Dipseadebut. Over a very muddy course, Bright ran the day's fastesttime (52:53; scratch) but finished 2nd, 200 yards behind winnerJohn Hansen. In 1936, expected to break the course record thatMason Hartwell set in 1912, Bright had an off day and was 19th.The next year, Bright, at his racing peak (in March, he set acourse record in the Cross-City race that would stand for 27years), left nothing to chance. He trained hard on the course,seeking out and secretly marking every shortcut (markers found by Jim Imperiale two decades later), cutting branches, openingfences and more. He did break Hartwell's standard, running 47:22,but again finished 2nd, ironically to a man with whom he sharedmany of his training tips, Paul Chirone.
Bright did not race the Dipsea again. He held variousteaching jobs in different parts of the country. His marriagebroke up and he was separated from his one child. He served inthe military during World War II. But he never forgot hisfavorite race, and the tape he had never broken. And, despitemany increasingly close calls, his Dipsea record still stood.
In the late 1960's, Bright faced his greatest challenge;failing eyesight that would ultimately leave him blind. He cameto the 1969 Dipsea from Seattle as a guest of the Race, to handout the awards and presumably congratulate the man who wouldbreak his course record. Instead, Byron Lowry missed his mark by 17 seconds. Bright heard, for the first time, about the newhandicapping system which insured him the maximum headstart. Hedecided to make another bid for victory himself.
Bright's plan was based on what he dubbed his "60-60-60"formula; he felt he needed to break 60 minutes, at age 60, in the 60th Dipsea, to win. He made over 20 trips by bus from Seattle,where he was a counselor at West Seattle H.S, to Mill Valley topractice on, and study, the course. His preparations, partlynecessitated by his failing vision, were even more meticulousthan in 1937. Again he placed arrows to guide him, cleared roughpatches, laid logs to ford streams, stashed water bottles andstationed friends and relatives along the way for assistance. Hereopened the old direct route up Dynamite Hill, covering theentrance with a branch (and replacing the branch when he passedon Race day). His friend Chirone encouraged him throughout.Bright even fed bones to a dog that guarded the newly-built houseon Panoramic Highway so that he alone could gain unimpeded accessthrough the property. Prophetically, a picture of Bright was onthe Dipsea Race program cover. Bright himself sensed the upcomingdrama, telling "The Amateur Athlete, "Wouldn't it be cool if Icould win the race I hold the record for on a day when somebody else probably will break my record?"
His effort, fortunately captured on the film "33 Years toVictory by John Gorman and Pax Beale (who helped in the effort byfiling the soles of Bright's shoes for better traction), wasremarkable. Again in the colors of the Olympic Club, as he hadbeen decades earlier, Bright set off with the first group of men.But now he wore bib #1179. Waiting were a record 1,000 otherentrants. One runner, a youngster named Daniel Martinez who didnot know the course well, challenged him. Bright disposed of himby ducking into a shortcut at a key intersection; Martinez gotlost and finished well back. Bright leapt down Suicide; his years of high-level mountaineering undoubtedly helping. He hurdled barriers. Heremembered every shortcut. Bright ran alone along the course heknew so well, aware that others were gaining. He twisted hisankle on a rock while crossing Redwood Creek, his grimace clearlycaught on the film. Bright limped up Dynamite, but then ranthrough the injury.
Bright had stationed his nephew Ray Bright at White Barn.Norman asked Ray if anyone was in view. Ray saw no one but, tospur Norman on, said he spotted someone. Norman renewed hiseffort. Seconds later, Ray did see a pursuer through the thickfog. It was the swift Rich Delgado, who had been second overallat Bay to Breakers three years earlier.
But Bright, displaying flashes of his great innate speed,hung on. He was first into Stinson, meeting his time goal byrunning 59:46. He finally won the Dipsea, 35 years after hisfirst attempt -- a feat perhaps unmatched in American racinghistory.
The unbridled joy was short-lived. Streaking down the finalstraightaway was Delgado, finishing 16 seconds after Bright.Delgado's running time of 47:02 (2hc) broke Bright's legendaryRace record. And then, 1:40 later, 19-year-old scratch man Don Makela crossed. His actual time was 46:42, a new best. Thus, acourse record that had been altered only once in 58 years(another mark probably unparalleled in U.S. racing) was brokentwice in 100 seconds! Bright later said, "I'm not unhappy aboutmy record being broken, for it's good to see young runnersimprove and conquer new goals."
To add even more color, the 6th finisher was Jack Kirk, whohad run with Bright in the '30's and who remains the Dipsea'sonly other 60-year-old winner. This was to be the 14th and last top-10 finish of Kirk's fabled Dipsea career.
More came out afterwards. Delgado, not completely familiarwith the Dipsea course, had lost at least 15 seconds at thejunction below Cardiac Hill until the next runner came along todirect him. Delgado had grown opposed to the idea of handicaps soskipped the two previous Dipseas. When he discovered that now, at age 30, he received two handicap minutes, Delgado phoned Dipsea director Jerry Hauke the night before the Race to enter. His course error might have cost Delgado the victory and record.Delgado's 47:02 remains the fastest ever by a runner with a handicap.
Makela, meanwhile, revealed two lucky breaks that helped him get through the largest Dipsea field to date. One was at WindyGap; he went straight between the two new homes on Panoramic, onthe old course, and was not stopped; others went longer to theright. And climbing out of Muir Woods, burly Pax Beale wasclearing the way for Darryl Beardall, inadvertently aiding Makelaas he came through. Makela had been the Marin County AthleticLeague cross country champion in 1968 while at Novato High Schooland was now a star at the College of Marin. This was his fourthDipsea.
Actually, it was neither Delgado nor Makela that wasexpected to break the record but Ron Elijah or Bill Scobey.Elijah, who would indeed soon twice set Dipsea all-time marks,had been regularly beating Marin A.C. teammate Makela by 45seconds or so in practice runs over the course. But at Windy Gap,Elijah took a longer route down than Makela. Elijah then made asupreme effort to re-catch Makela on the Muir Woods Road, andsucceeded. But that downhill pounding exhausted him and Elijah"only" managed a 49:01. Scobey, unfamiliar with the course'sshortcuts, had to settle for an impressive 48:21 in his firstDipsea.
A few weeks later, veteran Dipsea and AAU official ThomasLaughran announced he had measured the course and found it .2miles shorter than that used in Bright's 1937 run. There was talkthat Makela's mark should have an asterisk, like the one then invogue for Roger Maris' 61 home runs. Reese, however, alsomeasured the two routes some years after and concluded that theyvaried "by no more than 86 feet."
Scores of women ran. Leading them was Mary Cortez, part of aprominent family of Peninsula runners (brother Dave Cortezfinished 4th). She finished 57th in 1:02:13 (9hc), just 11seconds off the women's record.
There were a high of 12 past, present and future Dipseachampions in the Race. Six (in order; Bright, Kirk, DarrylBeardall, Don Pickett, Alan Beardall and Mike Boitano) were amongthe first 23 finishers. Others included Homer Latimer in hisdebut, John Satti, Phil Smith, Vance Eberly (the defendingchampion who lost eight handicap minutes for turning 11 andfinished 41st), Ernie Marinoni and Mary Etta Boitano.
George Leonard, who had owned the land through which the DipseaTrail passed from Steep Ravine to Stinson Beach, ran the Race forthe only time. Joining him were his daughter Barbara Robben andnine©year©old grandson Michael. This was probably the firstexample of three generations of a family in the same Dipsea.Barbara has missed only two Dipsea Races since. George's son Markhad been third in the 1964 Dipsea. George and Wilma Leonard, whohad donated a permanent Dipsea Trail easement to Marin County in1968, were in the process of selling their Mt. Tamalpais holdingsto the new Golden Gate Recreation Area. George Leonard died in1991.
Russ Kiernan, who would become one of the best, and best liked,of all Dipsea runners over the next quarter-century, debuted in 591st place.
Dr. Paul Spangler, 71, covered the course in 1:31:07 and was 681st. Officials, not prepared for the record turnout, ran out of their supply of 900+ finish identification tags. Race chairman BillDevlin said, "I'm sure we had more than 1,000 runners."
1. Norman Bright, 59:46 (15) [:16]
2. Rich Delgado, 47:02 (2) /2nd best time
3. Don Makela, 46:42 (0) /best time
4. Dave Cortez, 53:45 (7)
5. Bill Gray, 51:37 (4)
6. Jack Kirk, 1:02:50 (15)
7. Bill Scobey, 48:21 (0)
8. Ed Sias, 56:42 (8)
9. Howard Labrie, 48:50 (0)
10. Darryl Beardall, 50:54 (2)
11. Wes Hildreth, 50:57 (2)
12. Ron Elijah, 49:01 (0) /1st HS
13. Don Pickett, 55:03 (6)
14. Pat Kelly, 55:07 (6)
15. Richard Burkhardt, 1:04:08 (15)
16. Ralph Paffenbarger, 56:15 (7)
17. George Derderian, 49:28 (0)
18. Alan Beardall, 51:36 (2)
19. S.L. Bartelate, 49:39 (0)
20. Peter Mattei, 56:43 (7)
"Team Marin A.C.: Makela, Hildreth, D. Beardall, Bob Biancalana(28th) and Larry Hoyt (34th)
941 timed finishers, total probably over 1,000; foggy
To order "Dipsea, The Greatest Race" by official race historian Barry Spitz
(240 pages, 65 pictures, updated through 1995,includes Dipsea Trail map)
send a check for $27.95 (hardcover),$18.95 (paperback), plus sales tax, to:
Potrero Publishing, P.O.Box 3007, San Anselmo, CA 94979.