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June 8, 2006

Where Everybody Knows Your Number

I’ve alluded a couple of times to the only Dipsea Race results that matter: overall finishing place. It’s a unique aspect of the race, and a noble attempt at meritocracy. In a perfect scenario, assuming everyone receives the appropriate head start minutes for their age and gender, then the people who cross the finish line first are truly the most accomplished runners in the field.

In reality, however, there are a lot of bugs in the system.

For the past eight years, only three people have won the race: Russ Kiernan (who is 68 this year), Shirley Matson (65) and Melody Anne Schultz (64). The very best open and high school-aged runners are very lucky to crack the top ten.

Head start minutes are adjusted periodically based on past results, but every year there is a lot of whispering at the Dipsea that the head starts give an insurmountable advantage to older runners. On the other hand, it’s tough to establish a legitimate age-graded handicap when you’re dealing with three of the best senior runners in America. It’s one of those enduring, never-to-be-resolved arguments that make the race interesting.

I really don’t worry about what goes on at the top of the lists. I do, however, pay attention to my overall finishing place. In this regard, there are four milestones that every Dipsea runner can recite by heart:

750: The place that “qualifying” runners need to beat to qualify for the following year’s race. This is complicated, so pay attention: every year, immediately after the official (called “invitational”) race, there is a second wave of runners who do the race – with the same handicap starts – to qualify for the invitational race the following year. If they finish in the top 750 overall (including invitational race participants), they automatically qualify. Essentially, it’s a rookie race, and it’s the standard method of entry to the main event.

450: The place that invitational runners need to beat to automatically qualify for the race the following year. In some cases, this is literally the line of no return; because entry to the race is so competitive, if you fail to hold your spot for one year, there’s a good chance you won’t be selected again the following year.

100: Beat this place, and you get your place on your bib number the following year. There’s a totally intimidating vibe when you’re standing next to someone in your group wearing the number “20” – and from my perspective, even “99” is pretty astounding. A few years ago, this was a short-term goal of mine, but not anymore (as I’ll explain shortly).

35: Beat this place and you’re awarded one of the coveted black shirts numbered with your finishing place. If I’m in the Bay Area during the summer or fall I’ll occasionally see someone wearing one of these shirts, and it’s like seeing someone wearing a Super Bowl or World Series ring. You just know that person is a Top Gun trail runner: the best of the best. I'm not kidding - it’s that impressive.

Where do I fit in? As I indicated yesterday, I’m right in the middle of the pack. However - perhaps naively - I have hopes of moving higher.

In my rookie year, I was faster than 750th. I don’t remember exactly what place, but it didn’t matter: I was eligible for the main event for the following year.

In my first three years of the invitational race, I finished in the mid-200s. When I finally got one head start minute three years ago, I improved to 180th. At that time, I figured I would gradually narrow the gap to the top 100.

That never happened. Each of the past two years, I’ve been some combination of injured and overfatigued, and I ran the race a few minutes slower than usual. After last year’s race, I wasn’t certain that I had even made the 450 cutoff until I checked the web results the next day. I made it, but in 374th place - by far my worst showing at this race.

For male runners in their thirties, advantages are very slow in progressing. I won’t get another head start minute for another few years. So while I'm not looking for dramatic short-term improvements, I have a long-range plan for this race in the years to come.

I honestly doubt that a top-35 finish will ever be within my grasp. Unless I have a dramatic transformation in my training and race performances and also manage to stay consistent as I get older, I just don’t ever see myself wearing a black Dipsea jersey. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’d truly be astonished.

More realistically, I’d love to finish in the top 100 some day. But it will be quite a long haul to get there.

I’m hoping to have a solid race this year and get back near 200th place – maybe even lower if I have a great day. Once I pick up another head start minute, I’d like to start climbing my way up the ladder toward the top 100. I’ll probably need at least 10 years, or maybe even (for you, Stronger) a 15-year plan for reaching that milestone.

But you know what? I like the idea of having some incredibly long-range goals. I recognize that there’s no guarantee that I’ll even run another week, let alone 15 more years. But I know that for every week and month and year that I’m able to run, this race will continually give me a lofty goal for which to strive.

And if you’re still reading my blog in the year 2021, I’ll keep you posted on every step of the journey.


olga 6/8/06, 10:02 AM  

Heck, now I am curious! But I'll take 4 more years to get an extra minute and to train extra hard:) Best of luck! 200th is totally cool!

backofpack 6/8/06, 10:02 AM  

In the year 2021, (wasn't there a song "in the year 2525" or something?) I will be 63 years old. I plan to still be running, and hopefully, placing in my age group. (Mostly because the other 63 year olds won't be running!)

Now, whether I'll still be reading blogs? Who knows? There might be some other spiffy form of communication by then (note the "spiffy", I'm practicing for when I'm 63).

Part of me wants to give Dipsea a try, and part of me feels totally intimidated by the thought. For now, I'll stick to my annual challenge: the STN on Saturday.

Mike 6/9/06, 12:27 AM  

Donald- very interesting couple posts on The Dipsea..I had heard about it but never knew about the seeding, etc. Your comments about your position in the Monterey / Bay area running hierarchy are hilarious....in any event, it's great to see that faster guys like you are dealing with the same things us more pedestrian runners have to deal with...THE BEAT DOWN...but at the hands of a 51 year old lady?! Sheez, that is STRONG!!

Sarah 6/9/06, 7:47 AM  

Aahhh....the Dipsea. : ) My brother ran that many times in the 80's. I think he did the double a few times too. Despite spraining his ankle there one year, he still has dreams of going back. I was always too scared!

Good luck!

robtherunner 6/9/06, 7:47 AM  

Who knows? Maybe Donald Buraglio (I hope I spelled that right) will be one of the top 50-55 year old runners in the world. I believe in you Donald. You can wear the black jersey someday.

Cliff 6/9/06, 8:36 AM  

This race is hard core. Very competitive. Boy this is the fun part.

Looking forward on hearing your progress year to year.

matt 6/9/06, 9:49 AM  

i think you will get that black jersey and i will be around to read about in 2021. i love the way you are breaking things down here. good luck this weekend, donald! i look forward to an excellent report.

angie's pink fuzzy 6/13/06, 4:34 PM  

and in 2021, I will still be laughing and smiling along with your observations, numbers and musings.

PS do you think that if you focused solely on training for Dipsea you could crack 100?

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