By John Ramos

MILL VALLEY (KPIX) — The annual Dipsea Race in Marin County was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic but, Sunday morning, the oldest trail race in America returned, a bit late but still offering its usual grueling challenge.

The Dipsea Race started when two friends visiting Mill Valley made a bet about who could get out to Stinson Beach first.

“That was in 1904,” said race director Chris Knez. “They made the bet and, a year later, about 90 people showed up at the start line and that was the first official running of the Dipsea Race.”

Mark Tatum - Dipsea Race Winner

Mark Tatum of Colorado Springs won the 110th Dipsea Race on Nov. 7, 2021. (Courtesy Dipsea Race Committee)

Over the years, the off-road trail race became a part of history and tradition for runners of all ages and abilities. The start is staggered, with slower runners sent first while the faster ones are held back. Whoever crosses the finish line first, regardless of their time, is the winner.

Twelve-year-old Alaia Vicari, a race veteran, had some advice for her little sister Anara.

“Definitely, pace yourself. Also, the stairs are demons.”

Dipsea Race Stairs

Runners climb stairs as the 110th annual Dipsea Race gets underway in Mill Valley. (CBS)

Those demon stairs are the first major obstacle, all 680 of them. From there it only gets more brutal. The race is 7.5 miles long and takes people over hills nicknamed “Cardiac” and “Insult.” Still, some of the scarier moments come on the steep downhill sections.

“There’s these spots where everybody is fighting to get by … Because it’s single file … either you’re stuck behind someone or you’ve got to figure out a way to get around them,” said 17-year old racer Kent Friel.

Professional videographer and editor Tim Amyx has been documenting the race since the early 1980s, creating a visual record to preserve its history.

“I’ve always — from day one — had a feeling that this is a historic and special race,” he said.

It was a big deal when the Dipsea was canceled last year due to the pandemic. The only other times that happened were during the Great Depression and World War II.

“We didn’t want to cancel it two years in a row as long at the conditions were there for us to be able to do it,” race director Knez said.

On Sunday, with all competitors and volunteers fully vaccinated, the Dipsea Race was back, this time in November rather than the typical second Sunday in June. It still offered the challenge that brings people back year after year even if, like five-time racer Ashley Hauke, they’re not always sure why.

“At the finish I feel great,” she said. “I’m glad I did it but, at the beginning, I go: Why am I doing this? Why do I come back?”

This year’s 110th Dipsea Race was won by Mark Tatum of Colorado Springs, a 61-year old man who is the first non-Californian to win the race since 1986.

Tatum finished first out of 1,300 runners from 22 states.

Tatum placed second in 2019 and, on Sunday, outran an impressive field that included the runner-up, 62-year-old Dan King of Boulder, Colorado, organizers said.

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