Barry Spitz to be Inducted into the Dipsea Hall of Fame

Marin Independent Journal photo

For more than three decades, Barry Spitz has been the Voice of the Dipsea Race.

He has been its one of its strongest advocates, perhaps its greatest ambassador and, on June 14 for the 34th year, he will be its venerable race announcer at the finish line.

More importantly, Barry has been the Dipsea’s historian, its authoritative figure and a champion for the Dipsea and all it stands for.

For all of that, Barry, on June 12, will be inducted into the Dipsea Hall of Fame at the Dipsea Race Foundation’s Hall of Fame dinner, a hallowed museum and a fundraising event that he in fact founded.

To purchase tickets for the dinner and induction ceremony at the Mill Valley Art and Garden Club, CLICK HERE.

“I am truly gratified to be selected for the Hall of Fame,” says Barry, who will be the 29th member enshrined in Dipsea’s hall. “I have devoted thousands of hours to the Dipsea and it feels good to know that is recognized. I like to think my greatest contribution is helping, in some way, to make the Dipsea’s story so well known that no bureaucrat can ever kill the race. Sadly, many have tried. And to be in the same ‘club’ as heroes of mine such as Norman Bright, Jack Kirk and Sal Vasquez is a great honor.”

Barry says it’s no surprised he became “enchanted” with the Dipsea. He moved to Marin County in 1975 and became actively involved in the running world, as a runner and racer, a writer for Runner’s World, City Sports, and Running Times magazines and as a race announcer. He became the Dipsea’s race announcer the same year as Vasquez’s first of a record seven Dipsea wins. Barry replaced James Farren, Jr., who had died of cancer.

In 1992, Barry received ironically the James Farren Award for Leadership, Sportsmanship and Dedication to the Dipsea. He also has been presented the Jerry Hauke Trophy.

With his Dipsea books, race announcing, writing of newspaper stories, and originator of the Dipsea dinner as we know it, he has helped keep the race tradition alive,” says Hauke, Dipsea Race Foundation director emeritus. “Barry gave the Dipsea Race stature, notoriety, and was instrumental in planting the Dipsea brand in the running world.”

Barry’s reverence for the Dipsea Race, however, goes far beyond the finish line.

“For Barry, the Dipsea is beautiful and organic, a living thing,” says Pam Spitz, Barry’s wife who met him on the Dipsea Trail in 1988 when he was leading a Marin Discoveries hiking group and was in the process of writing Tamalpais Trails.

“He immerses himself in the natural beauty of the course, the challenging terrain, the extraordinary human effort, discipline, and months of training that go into racing the course, plus its storied history since 1905, the lore of towering spirits from days gone by, runners who stretched their personal limits and achieved astonishing feats, the understanding by today’s runners that they are part of this continuum and unique legacy, the annual undertaking by the community to organize the race, that every race brings so many people together and creates its own character. All of these qualities live inside every Dipsea and are cause for the great respect Barry feels for this special event. The Dipsea has a kind of purity and is like no other race.”

Hence, Barry’s title for his Dipsea book: Dipsea, The Greatest Race. With Mark Reese’s 1979 book, The Dipsea Race, out of print and in high demand, Barry forged forward with an updated, enlarged history of the race with Reese’s blessing and extensive files. Still, Barry spent hours in the Mill Valley Library researching the race on his own, many with his young daughters, Sally and Lily, at his side.

“My dad loves the Dipsea for many reasons. I feel one of the most important ones is that the race creates a community not only of runners, but of friends and family,” says Lily, 23, now a photographer who graduated from UCLA in 2014 with a degree in Art. “The people who both run the race and work at it have become part of my dad’s community, and his wider family. My dad is eager to engage with those that are part of the race, to listen to their stories, and to educate them.”

Barry’s education of the Dipsea started at home where he proclaimed Dipsea Race day “the holiest of days” Before the kids were born, Barry and Pam would host pre-race parties at their house in San Anselmo. Their kids grew up hearing tales about, in Sally’s words, “gory health failures on the trails, upsets, underdogs rising to the occasion and stories about young women winning the race to the surprise of experienced, obsessively trained adults.” They met Norman Bright, the former course record holder who won the Dipsea in 1970 despite being legally blind. They visited Jack Kirk, a.k.a. the Dipsea Demon, on his secluded 400-acre ranch in Mariposa in the midst of Kirk’s record of completing 67 consecutive Dipsea Races, the last at the age of 95.

The Spitz family routinely hiked the Dipsea Trail and others. They became fixtures at the Dipsea finish line every year. Barry would read reports from check points on the race course handed to him by Pam or the girls and then enthusiastically paint an imaginary picture of the race with his dramatic words and wisdom.

Barry doesn’t just announce the Dipsea race. He lives it.

“I think he loves the Dipsea because he loves running and being in nature, and the Dipsea is a combination of those things,” says Sally, 24, who graduated from UCLA in 2012 with a degree in Art and Women’s Studies. “He also loves the feeling of freedom. He has made specific life choices which allow him to live and work without ever having a boss to answer to. He loves the Marin landscape specifically and has been exploring running trails there for years. The Dipsea must be his ideal race.”

Eventually, Barry found an ideal way to honor it. He re-introduced the idea of a pre-race dinner which had been a tradition for Olympic Club race workers into the 1920s in Stinson Beach. In 1993, Barry brought the pre-race dinner to Mill Valley and staged it as an induction ceremony for Dipsea Race legends to be honored in a Dipsea Race Hall of Fame.

On June 12, Barry will be introduced at the very Hall of Fame dinner that he created as the newest inductee into the Hall of Fame that he founded. Then, two days later, he will once again drive to Stinson Beach and announce the Dipsea Race, trying his best to identify every runner who crosses the finish line, making them all feel like Hall of Famers.

“With his electrifying voice Barry added another dimension to the finish line spectacle,” Hauke says, “Imagine yourself in those runners’ shoes; exhausted, bruised and bleeding in some cases, and determined to go those last 200 hundred yards, and then hearing your name called out to spur you on to cross the finish line with your red badge of courage.”

“His voice is one of authority and passion and his figure reassuring to Dipsea crowds,” Pam says. “Barry’s passion and enthusiasm, knowledge of the race’s rich history and running over all, and intimate familiarity with finisher pedigrees know no equal. No one is more knowledgeable about the Dipsea, historically or currently, than Barry. Dipsea, The Greatest Race stands as both an enduring testament to the race’s importance in running lore and an homage by Barry to this extraordinary event. Barry has become a Dipsea tradition.”