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Sufferfest Stories: The Quad Dipsea

The Quad Dipsea is a race like none-other. This course is the ultimate sufferfest, right in our backyard.

Sufferfest Stories: The Quad Dipsea

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year, runners gather in Old Mill Park just like they do for the historic Dipsea Race each June. They run up the hundreds of steps to start the race, ascend the infamous Dynamite, Hogsback and Insult Hill climbs to arrive at a beautiful ocean view and descent into Stinson Beach. But unlike the single Dipsea Race, these runners turn around and head back to Old Mill Park. When they arrive at Old Mill Park, they do it all over again. It’s been a tradition in the ultrarunning community of the Bay Area, and specifically Marin since the early 80’s, and the brutal yet beautiful course keeps bringing diehard racers back year after year.

The Quadruple Dipsea is a race like none-other: 28.4 miles and approximately 9,000 vertical feet of climbing. This course seems like the ultimate sufferfest, yet it is growing in popularity and many runners come back every year and never miss a chance to pin the Quad Dipsea bib on and cross the Dipsea Trail 4 times, to arrive back at Old Mill Park to celebrate with their friends. This year, Sufferfest will be pouring finish line beers for the racers and we are stoked to be part of this annual celebration.

We asked a few of the veteran Quad Dipsea runners some questions about their race experience and why the Quad Dipsea deserves a special spot on their race calendar each year.

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Photo credit: Brett Rivers

Victor Ballesteros, 46, San Rafael

Quad Dipsea #6

The Quad Dipsea was Victor’s first ultra in 2006 and has been a staple on his race calendar ever since, running the Quad consecutively from 2006-2009 and again in 2011. Victor’s company, Victory Sportdesign is a sponsor of the race and Victor is registered for Quad Dipsea #6 this Saturday.

Sufferfest Beer (SB): What do you think makes the Quad Dipsea special?

Victor Ballesteros (VB): The whole Dipsea trail. The vert on this trail is unique, and a surprise for many. It covers so much varied terrain. For being one of the shortest ultras, it packs a big punch.

SB: What is your favorite stretch of the Dipsea trail and why?

VB: The “Rain Forest”. The woods swallow you up, and are humbling.

SB: Do you have any goals heading into this year's race?

VB: Enjoy the company and suffering.

VB: The only reason I discovered the Quad and ultras [in general] was because in 1996 I screwed up and missed Dipsea registration. I ran the Double [Dipsea] and did better than I thought I would. Then someone told me about the Quad. That was the beginning of the end.

Victor has now run ultra-race distances up to 200 miles.

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Pon Somnhot, 35, Mill Valley

Quad Dipsea #7

Quad Dipsea 2009 was Pon’s first ultra attempt. He ended up with a DNF after three passes on the trail, but returned in 2010 for his first Quad Dipsea finish and hasn’t looked back, running consecutive years since then. Pon is racing this Saturday and has plans to keep coming back for many more years to come.

SB: What keeps you coming back to the Quad?

PS: The Dipsea trail is legendary! Why run it just once when you can do it 4 times?! It's tough, it's incredibly challenging, and it was my first ultra! I love seeing familiar faces on the out-and-backs, and it truly has that intimate community feel of an old school ultra.

SB: What is your favorite stretch of the Dipsea trail and why?

PS: My favorite stretch is the ascent up Cardiac Hill. Just one more push after a long uphill grind and you're greeted by smiles and cheers from the Cardiac Aid Station volunteers. From Cardiac to Stinson is (almost) all downhill and gives the legs a little break.

SB: Do you have any goals heading into this year's race?

PS: Sub 6 hours or PR!

PS: This race is near and dear to my heart. It's in my backyard and was solely responsible for my addiction to ultrarunning. I can't think of another race that comes close to it.

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Jeri Howland, 60, Corte Madera

Quad Dipsea #11

Jeri has been an athlete all her life. One year while competing at the Ironman Championship at Kona, she had a bike accident at mile 3. Devastated by her setback in triathlon, she decided to channel her energy into an equally tough endeavor: The Quad Dipsea. She won the Quad in her first two attempts and has run it 10 times total. Her next is on Saturday where she hopes to set an age group record.

SB: What makes Quad so tough?

JH: Besides the terrain and relentless ups and downs, to me Quad is like the Ironman. You can train perfectly but you must be smart from start to finish or you might not finish--and that unknown looms large.

SB: What is your mental state like when you’re running the Quad?

JH: Four times one of the hardest trails in the area can be daunting. Part of the success of this race is enjoying it. I don’t think about it like “I have to get across the Dipsea four times”. I think of it more like “I get to cross the Dipsea four times”.

SB: What’s your favorite stretch of the Dipsea trail?

JH: Going from Stinson to Mill Valley, the section right before Cardiac, it’s a bit of a flatter stretch and you know that Cardiac aid station and familiar faces cheering you on are close.

JH: The Quad Dipsea is an exceptional course and race. Hopefully it won’t get so big that locals can’t enjoy it, but I would love to see even more elite athletes come to challenge themselves on our backyard ultra.

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Rick Gaston, 45, San Francisco

Quad Dipsea #13

Quad usually closes out the year of racing for most of its runners, including Rick, though Rick has endured the “Dirty Double” twice, running the Quad and then North Face 50-miler a week later. Rick has run the Quad Dipsea 12 consecutive times and is looking to finish lucky #13 this Saturday.

SB: What do you think makes the Quad Dipsea special?

RG: It’s a historic trail, with a lot trail-running history, the embedded plaques on the stairs in the Mill Valley side hint to this. Short by ultra standards but hilly and beautiful. A lot of camaraderie on the trails especially when you see each other four times.

SB: What keeps you coming back to the Quad?

RG: It’s my favorite trail and I love the atmosphere of the race.

SB: What is your favorite stretch of the Dipsea trail and why?

RG: The stretch between Cardiac and Stinson Beach. Just a beautiful stretch of trail with great views and passes through Redwood trees--amazing views of Stinson Beach.

RG: The Dipsea is just a great trail, and the Quad is a race well-organized and run by locals, and has a great vibe. I love the finish where many folks stick around for food and beers.

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Ted Knudsen, 47, San Rafael

Quad DIpsea #19

Ted has run the Quad 18 times, 17 of them consecutive since 1999. Originally, Ted returned to the race year after year for the 10x finisher’s jacket, but now it’s more about being part of a local race on an iconic course. Ted returns to the race this Saturday and plans on running it next year as well for the big #20.

SB: What do you think makes the Quad Dipsea special?

TK: Everyone knows about the Dipsea race. But no one quite comprehends running it 4 times. But for me, it is the mental challenge. The course isn't about mileage or vert - it is about pacing and landmarks. Don't go too hard on the stairs, save a little for the 4th lap, run this section, walk that section, etc. I don't know the mile markers, but I do know every place where it "hurts".

SB: What is your favorite stretch of the Dipsea trail and why?

TK: Windy Gap on the 4th lap. 9 minutes until the suffering is over.

SB: What does your training look like for Quad?

TK: In the first 10 years I never trained on the course. Now I run a double Dipsea per week (3-4 total) as prep. Feels good to get back in touch with the trail.

TK: The race is special to me but it is hard for me to articulate why. There is a point each year in the race where I question why I am doing this. But when I finish all those thoughts are forgotten. Standing in Old Mill Park on the Saturday after Thanksgiving after running to Stinson Beach and back twice is the best feeling in the world.

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Course profile courtesy of the Quad Dipsea website

To say that the Quad Dipsea is tough is an understatement. To say it is beautiful is also an understatement. To say that Quad is special might be the biggest understatement of them all. The runners don’t come back to the Quad year after year DESPITE the suffering this course bestows on its participants, they come back year after year BECAUSE of the suffering. Because crossing the Dipsea 4 times is NOT a burden, it’s a gift. Criss-crossing this scenic and historic course with other runners and high-fiving and sharing in this trail and race experience with the community makes the suffering tolerable and the celebration even sweeter.

At Sufferfest Beer Company, we feel a kinship with the grassroots and local feel of this race and of course, we love that despite being one of the shortest ultramarathons around (by definition, an ultramarathon is anything longer than 26.2 miles), it’s also revered as one of the toughest, both mentally and physically to endure. This race pays homage to the local runners who decided to get together one day and go long on one of their favorite trails. Standing in Old Mill Park in the morning waiting for the race to start transports you back to the early days of ultras in its local character and ties to the community. Standing in Old Mill Park after you cross the finish line, as Ted stated, “is the best feeling in the world”.

This Saturday, there will be no better way to earn your beer. We will be pouring both Epic Pilsner and Taper IPA at the finish of the Quad Dipsea this year and just like each of the runners we interviewed, we also hope to return for many more years to come.

#seeyouatthefinish

For more information about the history of the Quad Dipsea, check out their website.

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Photo credit: Chris Blagg

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