For 10 days, a young Diana and Tim Fitzpatrick wandered Montana’s Glacier National Park. They spent hours backpacking the trails, throwing rocks into flowing streams, and discovering waterfalls. It was an adventure in the wild, in the country–away from car horns and city lights.
It was a wild-West adventure for the two East-Coast natives, and it was short-lived.
On the 11th day, they were back in their normal routine. Diane was sweating during her hot and humid commute to a law firm in New York City and Tim headed into work at a branch of the Lehman Brothers.
Mid-morning, Diana got a call.
According to Tim, his managers had been trying to get in touch with him during the week they were on vacation.
“They asked him about relocating to San Francisco, California,” Diana said. “I was all over it.”
Though they were leaving close relations behind, this “dynamic duo,” as friends call them, shaped a new West Coast family, surrounding themselves with good people and great runners.
Diana, 59, grew up in Westchester, New York and graduated from Barnard College before heading to New York University for law school. She was living in New York City as a lawyer when she met Tim, now 56, who was from New Jersey. Tim attended Hobart College while playing Division III hockey and then moved to Shelter Island, New York, where he worked on a commercial-fishing boat for two years. He then went into banking.
“It is corny,” Tim began, “We met during the Shelter Island 10k, at a party after the race.”
They ran a race and that was it, he said. And, so the first adventure began.
Diana started running after watching New York City runners make loops through Central Park and the reservoir. She joined the prestigious Central Park Track Club, and a year later she met Tim. Soon after they were both living in New York City, and yearning for more vacations out West.
“I had been in New York for years, finishing college and working, and I never bought an apartment, only rented,” Diana explained. “I always felt like I had one foot out the door, waiting for the opportunity.”
“We were looking for that opportunity,” Tim chimed in. So when the call came to move, they both jumped for it.
“It was an adventure. We had no idea how long it would last or what would happen, and it turned into the coolest thing we did,” Tim said.
They arrived in San Francisco in 1989 and the day after, Diana went in search of local running clubs. Diana started working for the city attorney’s office until she had her children–Katie, now 24, and Chris, now 21–and returned to the work force after her youngest was in elementary school. She continues to work at a publishing company, which specializes in publishing legal information and resources. In 2008, the company Tim worked for went bankrupt during the country’s financial crisis. He became a ski patroller and now is a full-time patroller in the Tahoe, California region, where the Fitzpatricks own a cabin.
Tim lives at the cabin from December to April and Diana comes up for long weekends. Their main house is in Larkspur, California.
During the winters, particularly last winter, Tim and the team dealt with more than 800 inches of accumulated snow over the season and were out doing avalanche mitigation with explosives for about 40 days.
“It is a lot of thrashing and a lot of fun,” he said. “We do medical maintenance because we do see a lot of trauma. You name it, we see it, but being on the mountain and doing the avalanche work, I love it.”
When not working, the Fitzpatricks are training. Training, not just running. Training as in, track workouts every Tuesday, tempo runs every week, and a long run every weekend. Done side-by-side, 99% of the time.
They live in Marin County, known for the Tamalpa Headlands 50k–the race these two now direct–the Tamalpa Runners and the Impala Racing Team, and a lot more running elements.
It was the Impalas that Diana first discovered, after arriving in San Francisco.
“It is an all-women’s team and I wasn’t going to join at first because Tim and I have done all of our workouts together, but the women were great and kept calling me to come out for a workout. I did and loved the training and loved them.”
Tim joined the famous Tamalpa Runners group, and a few years later ended up as assistant coach for his wife and the Impalas.
For the next few years, the two focused on fast road running. Diane’s PR marathon, 2:37, has qualified her to enter the Olympic Marathon Trials three times and Tim’s barely beats that at 2:35.
“We are high-mileage people with a very regular, regimented program,” Diana explained. The three to five miles of track intervals, the tempo runs from four to 10 miles, reaching marathon pace or faster, and of course the long runs, usually not longer than four hours, all adding up to 50 to 70 miles per week.
“We do all of our workouts together and are very compatible in our capabilities,” she added. “I remember once we were running and I looked up with two miles of the race left and he was right in front of me. We don’t always run together but we somehow finish together.”
In the late ’90s, Tim had befriended the legends of Tamalpa running, and he was easily persuaded to run the Tamalpa Headlands 50k. That was in 1998, and in 2002 Tim was an ultrarunner, crossing the finish line at the Western States 100. With two kids still in school and busy with work, Diana waited a few years before following in her husband’s footsteps, but in 2004, she too crossed the Western States finish line.
“Our running lives center around Western States,” Tim said.
They each have run the race four times, once side-by-side the entire 100 miles and three other times on their own and during different years.
The years neither was racing, they were there volunteering at an aid station, pacing, crewing, or helping in another way, like this year when Diane and Tim helped manage the drug-testing station at the end of the race.
Diana has been on the Western States Board since 2012, and the two join in the annual Memorial Day training runs on the course each year. Over the years, this annual training run has become a sense of friendship and tradition.
It was during the Memorial Day run one year where the Fitzpatricks met their now good friend Meghan Canfield Laws (formerly Arbogast) and battled against Craig Thornley, now Western States Race Director, and his then team of Oregonians.
It was the ‘Tim and the Californians’ versus ‘Thornley and the Oregonians.’ Leading up to it, Tim started the trash talking, which erupted into the warring factions of a friendly rivalry, Thornley explained.
“Then on Memorial Day, it was called the Peace Run,” he said, laughing. “The run brought the peace between the two.”
It was during one of the Peace Runs when Canfield Laws, an Oregonian at the time, met the hilarious Tim and the sensible, kind Diana.
“I was new to the race, but the joking between the two groups was really fun. I remember the Fitzs being so nice,” she recalled.
Since then, Canfield Laws has been a friend, pacer, and welcomed visitor with the Fitzpatricks, and is still amazed by their kindness.
“The first year I went down to run The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, and was on my own, I stayed in their home,” she said. “The race started at 5:00 a.m. in December, and Diana offered to take me to the start and crew for me. We didn’t know each other all that well yet. But she got up before I did in case I didn’t wake up, drove me to the start, then crewed for me the rest of the day. She was super positive the entire time, always cheerful and happy. I was so impressed with her generosity.”
With ultras, the Fitzpatricks discovered, there was more to training than just chasing split times and running fast. Ultras combined training with the community, especially when that community circled around Tamalpa Runners and the well-known Greg Nacco, Mark Richtman, Brian Purcell, and many more.
“Western. There is just something about it…” Tim said. The Western States training group would carpool up to the course from Marin County every other Saturday, extending the long run each week for training.
“It is a lot of laughs and time on the trail with the whole ultra community, which is the thing we love about ultrarunning,” he said. “We haven’t missed a Western States in forever, every year we are doing something.”
Western States is one race the Fitzpatricks will never miss and the same goes for The Dipsea Race every June, another Tamalpa Runners club favorite, and one the Fitzpatricks look forward to each year.
The Dipsea Race is one of the oldest races in the country. The two runners have been competing for the last 15 or so years, stumbling into the secret of the Dipsea difficulties and coming back to them each June.
The race is unique in that it has a handicapping system which attempts to equalize runners of all ages and sex.
Explains Diana, “It is a very unique experience. I get a head start, so I am probably two miles into the race when others start,” Diana explained. The race is replete with hills and technical singletrack terrain on the famous Dipsea Trail, but thanks to the handicap, Diana avoids the rush into the woods.
“For someone like Alex Varner, he starts at the very end of the race. So for him to win, he must pass all 700 or so runners on the singletrack,” Tim explained. “It is a crazy event.”
Diana has won twice, in 2013 and 2014.
“There were some years I finished so high and started ahead, so that I am running by myself and there is no one around. I have to remind myself it is race day and there are very fast people behind me bearing down!” she laughed. “It is a different kind of running. You’re running scared.”
When Tim and Diana first started, they lined up with runners who had been participating at Dipsea for 30 to 40 years.
“It is funny how much people love this race!” Diana said. “So many people have been doing it for 20 years and more… that was longer than I had been married at that time.”
But once you start and finish, the two said, you understand it. You succumb to that craving to return.
“We have been doing it for just 15 years and we still feel like newcomers,” Tim added.
Living in Marin County, it is hard to not get involved in the ultrarunning scene.
Races like Dipsea and Western States are everyday, neighborhood activities, along with the beloved Tamalpa Headlands 50k. The Tamalpa Runners founded the race back in 1998, and it is still to this day organized and backed by members of the club.
This was Tim’s first ultra, and it continues to be a staple each year. After about 10 years, the race directors let the race become more low key until they decided to pass it off to someone else. Unfortunately, the first year with a new director, the proper regulations were not followed and the race did not start.
Tim ran the course for fun that year, thinking the entire time, Wow, this course is just too beautiful and nice to let die.
“The next year, we became the new race directors. We invigorated it, redid the website, everything,” he said.
What is unique about the Fitzpatricks’ management is their unwillingness to change anything. They race is run on the same course it was run on that very first year. Though the start and finish are in a different spot, they have data of aid station to aid station splits run by the veterans of the sport years ago. The race has acted as an USATF 50k Trail National Championships race in the past, and has had the feet of some amazing runners tread over it, which is great fun to watch, Tim said.
The August 2017 race is already sold out.
Headlands 50k is modeled after Western States: every runner, volunteer, and observer are all sharing in the same experience.
“We take pride in making the race as special an experience for the last runner as the winner, and people do feel that,” Tim said. The race has its own Golden Hour, where people stumble in with minutes to spare, finishing what is to them a Mount Everest climb. At 7,300 feet of elevation gain, that is pretty close for most!
“For a lot of people doing this, this is huge and we want to make them feel like it is huge!” he exclaimed. “I love watching everyone finish our race, just tons of gratification.”
When it comes to directing a race, the amount of bizarre emails and remarkable stories never ends, plus they are always good for laugh later on. One man, for example, asked for a refund to the race, after showing up on the Sunday after. Realizing his mistake, he instead ran the entire 50k by himself.
“It just wasn’t the same…” Tim remembered reading, chuckling to himself at the time. Then, there are always those who cross the finish line with seconds to spare, truly conquering their Everest, with their friends and family cheering around them.
Instances like that are when the emotion and tears come out.
As for race-director duties, Diana helps out with permits and regulations, and Tim takes on all of the extra details. He then is the main ringleader at show time, bullhorn in hand and a smile on his face.
“The day is a lot of fun,” Diana said. “There are people who helped us step up and make it successful from the start. It is a labor of love and not just for the RDs. People are at the aid stations all day and when you see the pieces that go into it… all those volunteers, we are so thankful that they help us the way they do.”
When Tim and Diana say the Headlands 50k is a community race, they truly mean the community.
There are two other running groups Tim and Diana belong to: two that include very different kinds of members, but who have all been touched by and benefited from the sport.
Tim and Diana have been coaching at Marin Catholic High School for the last few years. Tim leads the boys and Diana helps Coach Mary Churchill with the girls, training them on the roads, track, and introducing the runners to the trails.
“I coached the Impalas and adults for years, then transitioned to high school, which is a lot trickier,” Tim explained. “It is great when I get feedback from kids who have graduated who have told me how much they love running now.”
Churchill has known the couple for 20-plus years, so when Tim and Diana volunteered to help coach after the birth of Churchill’s second child, she knew what lay ahead.
There were bus trips to races filled with laughter and jokes, life-long nicknames bestowed, and the entire team got faster. Even when athletes needed new shoes they couldn’t afford, Tim and Diana helped out without any hesitation.
“The athletes love Tim’s down-to-earth nature, they trust him, and they want to work hard for him. Diana always lets the athlete come first. She never says one word about her own accomplishments. She listens and observes the athletes and gives very specific advice that is spot on about training or racing at the required time,” Churchill explained. “The atmosphere of their practices is happy, low key, yet with a distinct purpose and direction. Diana and Tim are 100% in sync and they are a perfect coaching match because their styles are complementary with Tim being more outgoing and Diana being more reserved, but always engaged.”
Diana and Tim have also been volunteering with the San Quentin State Prison, training the prisoners of the San Quentin 1,000 Mile Track Club. Diana first started entering the prison about eight years ago with Frank Ruona and Tim joined a few years later. They both now train the runners every other Monday night, doing workouts along a quarter-mile loop in the prison yard.
Every November, the prison puts on a marathon, where there are guys finishing the 106 laps that make up the race in the low three hours. When the club first started, one runner finished, and now they have more than 10 completing the race each year.
The prison is home to men serving all sorts of sentences. However, Diana and Tim see their efforts as a way to help them utilize running in the healthiest and most beneficial of ways.
“We really love it,” Diana said. “It is incredibly rewarding because these runners appreciate and soak everything up. You can see what running can do to better people’s lives.”
Tim and Diana share that same belief in the powers of running. They share the drive to train, craving the familiarity and tradition of pushing yourself faster and farther than you think you can. They look forward to seeing old friends every year at the annual races and desire that community support you don’t find often.
When you look at their calendar dates for 2017, they are nearly the same as 10 years ago, maintaining every tradition on each course.
Skiing in the winter, right into a 50 miler and a 100k to train for either The Dipsea or Western States in the early summer. The rest of the summer is vacationing in New York with family before Tamalpa Headlands 50k preparation and race day comes, and then fall cross-country training begins. Add in the San Quentin Track Club twice a month until the California International Marathon in December, and you have a pretty full year.
Next year, Diana has her eyes set on a fifth Western States for her 60th birthday and Tim will join her whether racing alongside her or pacing.
Churchill said it best when she said that when you meet Tim and Diana, it is clear they surround themselves with good people.
“They both have always selflessly volunteered in the community, giving back by volunteering at races, mentoring young runners, volunteering at San Quentin. All of this combined with having high-profile careers, being exceptional parents, and being talented runners and racers themselves. And despite all of their outward success they have always been two of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met in Marin,” she added. “They are a dynamic duo. They are individuals people want to be around.”
Years ago, running was all about chasing times and splits and wins, Tim said, but now, running has become a way to immerse into their community. Into the clubs of all ages, genders, speeds, and lifestyles.
“At the end of it all, you have incredible friendships whether you’re training, pacing, coaching, or race directing,” Tim concluded. “Over time, it is more about who you’re meeting and the people you have interactions with that create very intense experiences.”
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Do you know Diana and Tim Fitzpatrick? If so, leave a comment to share a story about running or racing with them. Thanks!