Dances With Dirt (DWD) has it's origins in Hell, MI with a crazy relay and Ultra race that makes it's way through rivers, swamps and lakes and manages to throw in some stupid hard hills and rarely used trails with challenging footing.
My first 50 miler was DWD Hell, and you can read about that crazy day on one of my blog pages.
In preparation for the Woodstock 100, I opted to do my second in what is now four DWD races (the other two being Gnaw Bone Indiana and some gator bait swamp in Florida). What I did not properly plan for was the 16,000 feet of elevation change in this race...
The gun goes off at 6:30 a.m. and you go straight up a ski hill. First the bunny hill, then the intermediate. After fighting your way through some technical trail, it's time to go back down the double black diamond. That would be hard enough on it's own, but at 7 am the grass is wet with dew and it is a challenge to simply keep your feet under you (can you say, "butt slide" ?). Once safely down, at about 4.5 miles, it's time to head to Devils Lake State Park.
Pam and I missed each other at our first planned spot, Steinke Basin, just outside the park. The handlers instructions listed it as the 13.9 mile mark, but it was closer to 10. She got there just as I ran through. She saw me, but I never saw her. No worries for me as it was so early, but she was worried that I was going way too fast. I was confused, but felt comfortable so just stayed on that pace.
Devils Lake State Park is incredibly beautiful, and the race route includes four passes over the two bluffs (twice on each). These bluff climbs were about a mile in length, I believe, and climbed at between 1200 and 1500 feet in that mile. Ouch.
The first pass went well and we headed out of the park to the Burma aid where I saw Pam for the first time. This was about 16 miles and I switched to a lighter hat as there were no flies so I didn't need the hat with the fly flap. From Burma we did a 3 mile out-n-back, so a quick kiss at 19 and it was back to the park for the second bluff pass. At the base of the climb we travel through this amazing rock slide along the water (photos here).
This is a tougher climb than the first, and I was pleased to find aide at the top of the climb. Had orange slices (and I don't remember what else - just remember how great that orange tasted!) and headed down. A technical decent and then it's back to Steinke Basin, which is 25 miles. Arrived there at 5 hours (4:58) - right on my goal pace of 12 min miles. The only problem was that I had to work harder for this pace than I should have. 12's was supposed to be a 100 mile simulation (i.e. fairly easy for 50). I knew the second half would be much tougher as I was feeling a bit tired. The temps had risen well into the 80's and would top off at 89 before too much longer. Thankfully the humidity wasn't too bad.
At 29 miles I was back at the Lake Aide stop, where we pass through several times during the day, and I was still on pace and the volunteers were very encouraging about how well I was doing. It was here I realized every other runner I'd conversed with was doing the 50k though. Uh oh. Turns out most of the 50 milers were behind me and were obviously running a smarter race...
Some PBJ, a piece of licorice and a little trail mix (if I remember right), a topping off of the bottle and I was off to the third bluff climb. And that is where the wheels just fell off. On the way up I started cramping badly. While I had been taking electrolytes all day, I was obviously behind the curve. I made it up and over but found the downhill treacherous as my foot placement was challenged due to the leg cramping.
Down from the bluff I shuffled out to Burma Road aide where Pam was waiting for me with a chair and dowsed me with ice water and put ice down my shirt - front and back. She filled my bottles, I took in some more solid calories and it was off to the 3 mile out-n-back again. When I returned (~34 miles) she commented on how much better I looked. The previous ice bath really helped. Ok, just one more bluff climb...
The final bluff pass was ugly. My quads and hamstrings started cramping terribly as soon as I started climbing and the heat messed with me from the waist up with nausea and dizziness. Several times I was forced to stop and regroup, trying not to throw up or pass out :-) I got passed by a guy who gave me electrolytes from his stash (I'd been getting them from Pam, and didn't have any on me - in hindsight, a mistake).
I made it up to the bluff top aide and the woman there was out of everything except water. I found a rock to sit on for a minute but like she said, I had no choice but to go down on my own - there was no other option. Having heard that several had already been pulled from the course with nasty injuries (broken elbow, broken hand, and one unconscious runner found on the trail) I made a point to simply stay safe. Once down it was back to Steinke Basin for the last time. This was 39 miles and I told Pam I thought we should just pack it in and call it a day. She reminding me I'd hate myself if I didn't finish - even if this was just a training race.
Power walking was all I could manage from there to the 45 mile mark which is at the finish area. But in sight of the finish, it's a turn to the left, away from the finish, and back up that ski hill! The trip up was brutal, but there was a woman a couple hundred yards up the hill and I just kept trying to bring her back. Near the top I caught her, and one other caught me. We stayed together until it was time to head back down, but I was unable to move down as quickly they were. In fact, I needed to grab a big walking stick out of the brush and use it as a brake going down as I didn't have the leg strength to stop myself from toppling forward.
Finally, I reached the bottom and from there it was an easy downhill slope for a 1/2 mile or so to the finish where I attempted the best cartwheel I could (cartwheel photos here).
Finish line reached. Mission accomplished. Worked way too hard for this one, but glad I did continue to the finish. It's 10 days now from the race as I (finally) write this and can say that it was the right call. On five days rest I ran as part of a relay team in the Great Lakes Relay this last weekend (see me on Facebook for pictures of that crazy race), and managed a nice slow 17 miler this morning. I think I'm recovering well and believe I'm on track toward the 100 miler (but then, how would I really know? :-)
As always, I tip my hat to be beautiful bride and #1 fan and supporter. She is so committed to seeing me through these crazy events, and with the help of Terry, another ultra-wife she met out there, she is learning the tips and tricks to handling an ultra-husband when the going gets tough.
My finish time was 12:29. My naive goal was 10 hours (12 min/mile), but after talking with some folks the night before the race figured sub-11 was probably more realistic. My inexperience led me to the 5 & 7.5 hour halves, as I went out too quickly. Live and learn!
Of 98 starters in the 50 miler, only 54 finished. Feel fortunate to be listed in that selection.
I'll post a few pics from Pam, plus a few shots I found online taken from the bluff tops. Enjoy!
Press on friends...
Early on, feeling good...
Reaching the finish...
Grabbed these from the Internet, just to share some bluff shots..
Be sure to check out these 360 views...