AUGUSTA — Before the world as we know it changed, Ryan Jones wasn’t even a runner.

Aside from the occasional jog, Jones, a Hallowell native, rarely found himself out on local trails or sidewalks as recently as two years ago. Yet the early stages of the pandemic spurred a lot of new hobbies for folks worldwide, and Jones was no exception.

“I think when this all started, a lot of us were looking for that new thing to try that we’ve never really done or pursued before,” Jones said. “For me, that was running. … I never really had a background in it at all, but it was something I wanted to at least try.”

Try he did, and in the two years since, Jones has become an avid runner of all terrains. In just under a month, he’ll travel across the country to take part in his toughest — and most daring — run yet as he competes in this year’s Dipsea Race.

The Dipsea Race, founded in 1905 and contested in Marin County, California, is the oldest trail race in the United States. With a distinct handicapping system that gives all competitors head starts on various stages of the course based on age and gender, it’s a race long considered one of America’s most eccentric.

It’s also one of the country’s most dangerous. The 7.5-mile course, which begins in the city of Mill Valley and concludes in the quiet seaside town of Stinson Beach, is tight and traverses settings from forests to city streets to a 680-step stairway. Runners trying to pass one another in these conditions only adds to the precariousness of the race.


The race might seem, then, to be a daunting task for somebody who was barely a runner at all two years ago. From the very start, Jones hasn’t been fazed. In fact, he pulled out all the stops to ensure he was among the 500 of the 1,500 competitors admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“As soon as the registration dropped, I emailed a friend everything, and he already had prepaid for the amount,” Jones said. “I researched postal regulations to find the most centrally located post office just to make sure it would get there fastest. It was probably overkill, but there’s so much pent-up demand for outdoor recreation, so I wanted to be safe.”

Ryan Jones runs through Capitol Park in Augusta on Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Since picking up running two years ago, Jones has progressed to more and more difficult terrains. He started running flat courses before running hills and then incorporating both into his routine. He concluded 2021 by making the trip north to compete in the Millinocket Half-Marathon.

There have been some hiccups along the way. At the start, Jones said, he experienced several injuries as he adjusted to running in more challenging environments. He nearly missed out on the Millinocket Half-Marathon as he spent time nursing a sprained ankle following a slip climbing Hamlin Peak in Baxter State Park.

“Rebuilding after that was really a labor of love,” Jones said. “I had to confine myself to a 3-kilometer trapezoid near my apartment in Hallowell so I would be right near home if something went wrong. … At the time, I didn’t know if Millinocket would be something I’d still be able to do.”

Jones, fortunately, was able to pull it together and finish the half-marathon without aggravating the injury. He did so alongside his older brother, Kyle, who made the trip from North Carolina to the Katahdin region to participate in the fifth running of the race.


“I don’t remember whose idea it was, if it was his or mine, but it’s [an event with] a great story, and he was determined to power through it and run it with me,” Kyle Jones said. “I was ecstatic that he decided to take up running over these past few years. To pick up a new activity like that in your 40s is something that’s cool to see.”

Although the Dipsea Race has a California-heavy field, runners from 30 different states are participating in this year’s race. Dave Albee, a member of the race’s organizing committee, said only one runner, a competitor from Italy, will be traveling farther than Jones’ 2,733 miles from Hallowell to Mill Valley.

Ryan Jones of Hallowell will run in the 111th Dipsea Race in California on June 12. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Dipsea Race’s handicapping, though unorthodox, also contributes to the beauty of the race. With the race neutralizing factors such as age and gender, any competitor can win, as was seen in 2010, when a 8-year-old girl weighing just 62 pounds took first place, and in 2012, when a 72-year-old man became the race’s oldest-ever winner.

As a 43-year-old man, Jones’ head start over the top category (20-25-year-old men) will be just three minutes — the fourth-shortest among the 26 categories. Despite that disadvantage, Jones is confident he can earn a spot in the top half of the field, which would automatically qualify him for the 2023 edition of the race.

“I am cautiously optimistic that, barring unforeseen circumstances, I can finish in the 50th percentile,” Jones said. “I’ll do a pre-race test run on the course and gradually increase weekly mileage between now and race day.”

That race day is scheduled for June 12. Participation in the Dipsea Race and the increased training regiments leading up to it, Jones said, will help as preparation for his next endeavor, the Oct. 16 Mount Desert Island Marathon.

The race will certainly be a step up from anything Jones has tried thus far. Yet his progress over the past two years has led him to unforeseen heights, and after his Millinocket comeback, Jones’ brother is just as confident in his ability to succeed.

“He’s a super smart guy, and he does not do anything [he’s not prepared for],” Kyle Jones said. “He’s a librarian by trade, so I have no doubt in his preparation and plotting. He’s going to great, and honestly, I’m a bit jealous.”

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