From Brooklyn To Dipsea Champion

Eddie Owens racing to his first place finish

When 28-year-old Eddie Owens was in high school growing up in Brooklyn, he first read in Runners World about a unique footrace about 3,000 miles away. It was his introduction to the Dipsea, the country’s oldest trail race.  

“I thought it sounded so crazy -- a race where the fastest people start last? Passing people on narrow trails, running up and down stairs? Shortcuts?,” Owens recalled after winning the 111th Dipsea in June. “I grew up in New York City, so trail running was the last thing on my mind, and I didn't really think about the race again.”  

Until 2020. Owens moved from Oakland to Larkspur during the COVID-19 pandemic and was trying to get back in shape. He was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease during his senior year at Princeton University and wanted to resume his running regimen during his off hours from his job as a data scientist for Nextdoor.  

That’s when he reconnected with an old acquaintance Tony Scott.  

“He had run the Dipsea a few times, so he knew what it was all about and encouraged me to get in shape and train for it,” Owens says. “He has since accompanied me on the bike on countless workouts, so he deserves a lot of the credit for rekindling my competitive fire and getting me back into racing. Once the spark was lit, the Dipsea became a primary focus because I was fascinated by all its quirks and history.”  

So much so that Owens personally sought out Dipsea historian Barry Spitz, author of “Dipsea: The Greatest Race.” Owens bought the book then devoured its contents, hungry to know how young runners like himself could compete in a such a race where they would start from the back of the pack. He was fascinated by Alex Varner, the Dipsea record holder with nine best time trophies. Except Eddie wanted to do what Varner has never quite been able to do: Win the race.  

With a time of 48:35 on June 12 – more than a minute faster than anyone else in the field – Owens easily won the 111th Dipsea with a race for the ages. He became the first runner in his 20s to win the historic 7.5-mile foot race from downtown Mill Valley to Stinson Beach since 25-year-old Carl Jensen was the last person to win the event from scratch in 1966.

That feat followed Owens’ astonishing Dipsea debut effort in November of 2021 when he denied Varner of a 10th Best Time Award by finishing fourth overall with an actual running time of 47:47, the fastest in 16 years. 

“I’ve run races all over the country and all over the world, but there is nothing like the Dipsea,” said Owens, who was a member of Team USA at the 2021 World Mountain and Trailrunning Championships. “I look forward to coming back for many years and decades to come.”

Owens was given a one-minute head start in the Dipsea, a unique race in which each of the 1,500 runners are assigned head starts based on age and gender. With a two-minute head start Paddy O'Leary, a 34-year-old cancer researcher from San Francisco, finished second one minute and 17 seconds behind Owens and Clara Peterson, a 38-year-old mother of four from Corte Madera who was a two-time All-American cross-country runner at Duke University, was third. She started seven minutes in front of Owens’ starting group and posted the fastest time (55:45) by a female in the race, finishing one spot ahead of Stephanie Howe of San Rafael, another two-time NCAA All-American in college (Northern Michigan University) who was making her Dipsea debut. Fiona Lyon and two-time Dipsea winner Chris Lundy finished right behind, the first time since 1992 that four females have finished in the Top Six of the Dipsea.

Mark Tatum, the defending Dipsea champion from Colorado Springs, CO, placed eighth overall. Owens said prior to the race he was most concerned about Tatum and considered him his chief competition who beat Owens by about a minute a half in 2021.

“Once I saw Tatum and passed him a few minutes into the downhill after Cardiac, I was pretty sure there was no one else ahead of me that I couldn't catch,” Owens said. “I still had to track down maybe six more people, but I felt confident that unless one of them was having the race of their lives, I would catch them.”  

At the bottom of Insult, about 1.5 miles from the finish line, Owens passed Joannie Siegler and was free and clear from the rest of the field. However, Owens realizes with the one minute “champions” minute he will incur in each of the next three years, he will be challenged to repeat his feat on June 11, 2023 at the 112th Dipsea.  

“I consider this year’s win a sort of appetizer, while next year, with my winner's penalty, will be the real test,” he says.  

The 112th Dipsea on June 11, 2023 will also be an opportunity for rivals Tamalpa Club and Pelican Inn Club to settle a score from this year when they tied for the team trophy. Clara Peterson and Stephanie Howe -- along with two-time Dipsea champion Diana Fitzpatrick of Larkspur, 25-time Black Shirt winner Brad Byron of Penngrove, and Tonya Fredericks of San Anselmo – pushed Tamalpa into a remarkable first-ever tie with rival Pelican Inn  for the Dipsea’s Team Trophy. Alex Varner, Cliff Lentz, Don Steward, Jeffrey Stern, and John Gardiner were the top runners for Pelican Inn which won the team trophy in 2021.   

The mother-and-son team Elena Shemyakina of Geneva, IL and Mikhail Shemyakin of Mill Valley won the Alan Beardall Family Trophy for the third time and Berkeley High School student Oliver Nickelsen claimed the First High School Boys Finisher for the second year in a row and won another Dipsea Black Shirt. He was joined in that select group by seven first-time Dipsea Black Shirt winners (Carolyn Latham, Benjamin Koss, Anthony Fagundes, Taylor Fortnam, Lacee Phillips, Matt Seidel, and Ibet Allen.

Emma Dunmire of Tamalpais High School was the First High School Girls Finisher and Patrick Green of Long Beach was the first finisher in the race from the Dipsea Runner’s Section.

Diana Fitzpatrick, who won her record-tying 19th Dipsea Black Shirt to match Dipsea Hall of Famer Jamie Rivers, was named the recipient of the Norman Bright Award for “Extraordinary Effort in the Dipsea Race” in a post-race awards ceremony staged in person for first time at Stinson Beach Park since June 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Robert Alexander, who made his Dipsea Debut in 1984 at the age of 32 when he placed 13th overall, was named the recipient of the Dipsea Demon Award for “dedication, perseverance and performance over time” to honor the late Jack Kirk, who completed a record 67 consecutive Dipseas, the last at the age of 95. Alexander, 66, competed in his 38th consecutive Dipsea on Sunday. Longtime Dipsea volunteer Mari Allen, who led the charge in organizing a centennial celebration of the Women’s Dipsea Hike in April, was named recipient of Red Tail Hawk Award for “Leadership, Dedication and Sportsmanship” named in honor of the late Jerry Hauke, the Dipsea Race director for 37 years.

This year’s Dipsea race featured runners from a total of 30 states plus the District of Columbia were entered in the 111th Dipsea from as far away as Maine and Italy.