Small Wonder: "
My guess is that most of you know the oldest footrace in the country. Answer: the Boston Marathon. How many of you, however, can name the second oldest?
It’s called the Dipsea Race. This year marked the 100th running of this historic event, though it wasn’t the races century anniversary that captured the imagination, it was the incredible outcome.
Before I tell you what that outcome was, let me tell you a little bit about the race itself. Perhaps the toughest 7.4 miles you could conceive, the Dipsea begins with a brutally steep climb up 688 stairs and then proceeds to gets more grueling and technically challenging from that point forward. The footing is a tricky mix of gravel, dirt, rickety wooden stairs, and rocks. There is almost no level terrain the entire distance.
And the winner of this years’ race…drum roll please… an 8-year old 4th grade student. No, that’s not a typo. In a sprint finish, Reilly Johnson edged out the second place finisher by eight seconds, 68-year old grandmother of four, Melody-Ann Schultz (that’s not a typo, either).
The Dipsea is a handicapped race and both Reilly and Melody started twenty-five minutes ahead of 4th place finisher, and overall time winner, 24-year old Alexader Varner.
I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Reilly’s mom, Wendy, and asked her a couple questions about the event. Her responses are incredibly moving. Here’s what Wendy had to say:
Q: You must be incredibly proud. Tell us about the experience.
A: Indeed, I am incredibly proud. Truth be told, I am in awe more than anything else. Reilly never really "trained" for the Dipsea the first two times that she ran it. This year was the first year that she told my husband and me that she wanted to actually prepare for the race. Having done her 3rd grade report on the Dipsea the year prior, she knew a lot about the race. Reilly's objective, when she set out running once weekly — yes, just once weekly — in mid January, was hopefully to beat her dad and maybe, just maybe, secure the coveted Black Shirt for finishing in the top 30. We supported her, and she gradually increased the intensity, frequency, and duration of her workouts, never exceeding 4 days of running a week and only running 15-20 miles per week at her peak. Notably, she was not doing any other activities after school. As parents, we tend to favor under-scheduling our kids vs. over-scheduling them, partially to maintain my sanity, partially to provide them with ample time to just play outside and invent games like my sister and I did as kids (we seemed to turn out okay), and simply to unwind. Who would have thought that by running only 15-20 miles per week at the peak of her running, under the amateur guidance of her parents, she would have pulled off beating her dad, her personal hero, and everyone else? The #1 Black Shirt, the new trophy, the youngest to ever win, her name on the stairs, being swept up in the arms of the all time great Sal Vasquez in the presence of all the Dipsea greats including the amazing Melody Anne Schultz, all on the 100th running, after falling AND throwing up proceeding the steep climb up Cardiac? Who would have thought? As I said, I am, and forever will be, in awe. I had told her that with hard work, determination, focus and a belief in herself that anything was possible. Now she can truly internalize that fact and draw upon it in the future.
Q: Were you concerned about her before the race?
A: For the first time, I was not concerned in the least about Reilly during the race. In the past, I would worry about her on the more technical descents. However this year, thanks to advice from last year's winner Brian Pilcher, Reilly worked on some of the more difficult sections of the trail repeatedly with her dad. I knew, on race day, that Reilly had the confidence and ability to nail those sections. Naturally, anything can happen on race day, but I felt far less anxious than in years past. She had done her homework, so to speak.
Q: Were you relieved to see her finish?
A: I was relieved to see her finish last year. This year, I was could barely contain my pride and overall joy. I knew she had the potential to make the top 10, possibly even to win. Seeing her bobbing little pigtails in the lead in the final stretch brought tears to my eyes. She had done it. She had believed in herself — she had believed that winning was a possibility — and she, and she alone, had made it happen. To say that I was delighted to see her win is an understatement. She took 15 minutes off her time from last year. She trained diligently, she pulled herself together after tripping and throwing up — something few adults could probably pull off — and she led almost the entire race. What a display of tremendous tenacity and character, especially for an 8-year old. She is such an old soul in many ways that it is easy to forget, as a parent, that she is just 8.
Reilly Johnson. Remember that name, I get the feeling you’ll be hearing it more often in the years to come.
Reporting from the Dipsea trail,