An inside look at the oldest trail race in America: The Dipsea Race

Conquer grueling trails and tackle steep hills to earn your reward of unbelievable ocean views and an unrivaled sense of accomplishment.

Stinson Beach. Photo: Courtesy of

Stinson Beach. Photo: Courtesy of

Notoriously brutal, the Dipsea Race is the oldest trail race in America (since 1905) which offers runners breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and epic sights of the redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument.

Because of the potential environmental impact, steep and narrow trails, the number of runners is limited to 1,500, according (which is less than half the number of people who apply every year).

How to Earn a Spot

The starting line. Photo: Courtesy of

The starting line. Photo: Courtesy of

The best way to earn an invite to this race is to do well in the previous year. The first 450 invitational runners who finish are automatically eligible for the invitational section the following year. For other runners, it’s a bit tricky.

The remaining 900 openings are distributed through the following system:

Mail-In Application

Five hundred slots are assigned race bibs on a first-come, first-accepted system. For the last several years, the official applications must be downloaded from the website and then mailed back (I repeat … ONLY through snail mail).

This gives local residents a head start. If you’re not local, you can overnight it to the Dipsea Race P.O. Box: Post Office Box 30, Mill Valley, CA 94942.

Silent Auction

The next 100 slots are filled through a silent auction (also known as bribe money). The bidding begins at $90 (race entry fee) and $60 for children under 16.

Applicants who send in the highest bid win a spot in the race. All bids go to the Dipsea Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that awards scholarships and maintains the trail.


The final 300 openings will be awarded through a random lottery.

However, there are two more ways to earn a spot. The first is to send a sob story convincing the race committee to make room for you. (They’ve heard just about everything, so good luck with that one.)

The other way is to attend the Annual Dipsea Race Foundation banquet the Friday before the race. Invitational race numbers, starting at $500, are auctioned to the highest bidders.

Inside the Dipsea Race Course

Photo: Courtesy of

Photo: Courtesy of

If you’re lucky enough to earn a spot in one of the most challenging athletic events in the Bay Area, here’s what you can expect when navigating your way through this course that’s over 7 miles long.

“The course is difficult (2200 feet of climbing in 7.4 miles with 672 stairs in the first mile and a treacherous descent down Steep Ravine to the finish). The hardest part is navigating the people in front of you,” says 13-time Dipsea Race participant Alex Varner.

Start downtown Mill Valley, then run down Throckmorton to Old Mill Park. Climb three flights of stairs, which is as tall as a 50-story build, and if that’s not enough, head up a few more steps through an old horse ranch to Windy Gap.

Next, sprint to Muir Woods, across Redwood Creek. Trek through trees and narrow trails to “Dynamite” and “Cardiac.”

It's rugged terrain.

Photo: Courtesy of

Make your way up top to Cardiac trail where the course levels out for a bit — giving your legs a slight break — before plummeting down through the “Swoop” and over rocky terrain “Steep Ravine.”

If you’re legs aren’t tired yet, they’ll sure be exhausted after the steep climb up “Insult Hill.”

With one mile left, continue along an easy slope (The Moors) toward Stinson Beach. Cross the finish line at Stinson Beach to enjoy the post-race festivities — and celebrate your accomplishment.

“The energy on race morning is incredible. The picnic and awards ceremony at the finish in Stinson is one of the most fun events of the year. Everyone is done, mostly happy and the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s truly one of my favorite days of the year,” expresses Varner.

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