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Is Marin County’s Dipsea Race really the oldest in the country?

Hey Area is where we find answers to questions you ask. Listener Nastassya Saad wanted to know: Is Marin County’s Dipsea Race really the oldest in the country? 

The first runners to take off at the Dipsea Race starting line are known as the race’s “who’s-who.” They are men 74-years-old and older, and women 66 and older. But this isn’t a race for seniors. It’s a gruelling seven mile haul that runners of all ages across the country dream about. The race’s unqiue handicap system, calculated based on a runner’s gender and year of birth, allows anyone to compete with a chance to win.

Racer Bob Benal has been running it since the 1960s. He says, if you’re a runner and you grew up in Marin, you did the Dipsea. On this trail, familiarity with the route gives racers an edge.

Bob adds that the Dipsea Race is a Marin County tradition. Every year on the second Sunday of June, runners climb up hundreds of stairs and barrel through the long, difficult Dipsea Trail that goes from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach.

In 1905, the San Francisco Olympic Committee organized the first Dipsea Race. Its many years of history have fuelled a local rumor that it’s the oldest race in the country.

“I often hear that it's the oldest, and I get a little frustrated at that almost,” says sport historian Dr. Rita Liberti.

She shares that as a historian, it’s hard to pin something down as the oldest or the first because new historical findings can occur. However, in the United States, the Turkey Trot in Buffalo, New York is largely considered the oldest foot race, with the Boston Marathon following shortly after.

“The Dipsea Race is,” she continues, “if not the oldest, certainly among the oldest races, and possibly the oldest trail race.” What’s more important to this sports historian is why a race such as the Dipsea has gone on for so long. It’s had a century to earn notoriety.

According to runner Olivia Allen-Price, there’s a reason for that. “There’s some falls, you see blood,” she says.

But father-son racers Gary and Cody Rudman make it clear that it’s the people who run the Dipsea, and the community they’ve built around it, that makes it the race it is. They are two of many that run the race with family.

“So this is the first time my son Cody has passed me,” Gary jokes after the 2019 race.

Cody jabs, “As loud as I could I said, better luck next time dad.”

Gary concludes, “It’s our Super Bowl.”

Yet this race has been around over 50 years longer than the Super Bowl. This year, the Marin County Dipsea Race celebrated its 109th official running.