Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dances With Dirt Hell 50k-ish

Back in May I ran my first 50k in Gnawbone, Indiana. It was crazy fun and I quickly broke my cardinal rule of never signing up for a race when you’re still on a high from your most recent race. I not only signed up for the Dances With Dirt 50k in Hell, Michigan… I signed my husband up too. What a nice thing to do for your spouse, right? That’s what I thought!

So, here we were four months later driving to Hell, Michigan. I was trained, in good shape, surrounded by friends (that came to run AND came to cheer) and I was ready for adventure. This race did not disappoint!

Race day started normally enough. People showered; got themselves race ready and we exited our room right on time. Win! We were greeted by Sleeping Party Boy. While we were laying out all our goodies for race day the night before I had heard some noise outside our room, I would have to assume that this guy might have had a little too much fun at the party. He was passed out on a chair in a lounge area still wearing his shiny suit vest and dress pants. His friends were even thoughtful enough to throw a blanket over him. Good or bad race day omen? I have no idea. But at the very least it was a funny way to get the day started.

After a 35 minute drive on curvy unlit roads, we arrived at the start. As the parking attendant flagged our car in, he told us “the port-o-potties were knocked over last night…. So do what you gotta do”. We had no idea what that meant but we were thankful our car was directed towards a parking spot that was 30 feet away from a port-a-potty that was not knocked over. We “did what we had to do” and relaxed in the car for a bit. At about 5 minutes til start we headed towards the starting line to hear the speakers saying the race would start in ONE MINUTE! Yikes! Quick warm up run to the starting line and then we were off!

The race started at 6:15 which meant DARK. We all started out with headlamps. Had I practiced with my headlamp? Nope, not at all. I wear one in the winter so, I figured it will only be an hour or so, what could go wrong? Oh, I know… I freaking HATE WEARING A HEADLAMP! Ugh, mine is uncomfortable and makes my head hot and it kept sliding all over the place. And then I tried to tighten it and the buckle came undone. Oh for pete’s sake. This was not working the way I planned. Aside from wanting to throw my headlamp into the abyss and counting the seconds until it was light enough to pack it away…. I did notice that it was kind of cool to be running in the dark with only little reflective lights to show you the way. Well, it was cool until I thought, “oh my god, there’s no one behind me. I’m already the very last person in the race and it’s dark and I hate this 75 pound headlamp and THIS IS THE DUMBEST THING I’VE EVER DONE!” To be fair, about two miles into every race I run, I almost always wonder why I do this crap because it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. This is a pretty standard thought process for me, headlamp or not.

Dawn finally broke and I was able to stow my stupid headlamp and settle in. The cool thing was that I had already stumbled through almost five miles before daylight even happened. The not cool thing was the cool but humid weather that the previous night’s rain had brought and the hot headlamp sweats I was having were causing me to burn though my salt pills at lightning speed to try to avoid cramping. When the sun was finally up I grabbed another salt pill and saw that I was already down to four. CRAP! I decided on a rationing plan hoping that the humidity would drop a bit (it did) and my body would level out (it did). My stash was also refilled when my husband (who had taken a wrong turn due to some missing flags) came up from behind me! He’s a faster runner than me so it was a surreal moment when I heard him shouting my name from behind. Thankfully his head was in a good place and he was enjoying himself. AND thankfully he had not used a million salt pills in the first nine miles of the race so we traded salt pills and he zipped ahead with the other “got lost boys”.

It might have been somewhere around this point that I was trotting down the trail and noticed a one person camouflaged dome tent on my right. And it was that point that I realized I was not close to any other runners. And it was that point that I sped up…. A lot.

Two of our friends and their adorable pup Toby had come to the race for cheering and general merriment and we had no idea where they would be on the course. This adds a whole new level of fun. Every dog bark had me wondering…. Is that Toby? Nope, just some dog that wants to eat my face off as I tromp through the woods…Is that Toby? Nope, just some unseen death dog out to get me. When I finally did see my friends and Toby I, of course kept my cool and started screaming Toby’s name at the top of my lungs. Always keeping my cool…..but not at all…..

 I left friends and pup and started on what would be a big loop. Follow the blue flags up and the pink flags back.... got it. On the way out I saw my friend that was running the race and shouted things to him. He looked strong and was smiling, so that was encouraging. I settled in to a groove and got moving, following the pink flags. Eventually I caught up with another runner. As I eventually passed her I asked if she was ok and she said yes. The funny thing is.... this is something that happened a few times. As a lifelong back of the packer, I just assume that if I am passing someone, they are having some kind of catastrophic breakdown. Or maybe, I've just become a stronger runner and am not used to giving myself any credit. Anywho...

I knew there was a big hill coming up that was refered to as the stripper pole. I had seen a You Tube video of it and it was not encouraging. As I was running with a gal, I found out she had run the race last year. I then proceeded to ask her, "is this the stripper pole" on a steep incline. Nope, she said I would know when I saw it. I did. I believe I stopped in my tracks and said, "holy sh!t". I yelled back to her that yeah, I get it now.
And up we went. Hands on the ground, bent over, in a bear crawl. It was hilarious and painful and was only made more hilarious by listening to other people curse as they saw the hill. A guy came up behind me and I told him to feel free to zip on ahead if he wanted to. He assured me that there will be NO ZIPPING! After what seemed like 475 years we FINALLY got to the top of that stupid hill and the guy behind me screams F!CK ME! And the gal behind him says, "no thanks, I'm too tired". It was really funny when I thought they were running together. Even funnier when I realized they weren't.

At some point after that we hit our first water crossing which felt amazing. I took my time and enjoyed it. Too my right, there was a guy sitting in the water cooling off. A gal next to me told him, "you know there's a chemical in the water that turns blue when you pee in it". He shouted back, " I ALREADY DID". These people are great. Nobody is taking this too seriously which means 100% more FUN!

The first water crossing was chump change compared to the hike down the river. I had a fella in front of me that allowed me to see where the water got deep and various hazards to avoid.

When we came to our exit point we were greeted by Satan as we climbed up the hill and out of the water. Seriously? This is fantastic!
I sat down on a conveniently located bench to shake the rocks out of my shoes. After shaking out my left shoe, I got bored with the project grabbed an orange slice and went along my merry way. As I was running out of the aid station I noticed the giant party/ music/ hearse convention going on. It was WONDERFUL! There were people everywhere and frankly, I was half interested in staying there to hang out. Instead, I headed up the road with the Friday the 13th music playing in the background.

Around mile 20ish I started having a heated discussion with myself:
     Why would I ever want to run a 50 mile race? That's the dumbest idea ever.
     Sure, my legs feel fine, but my feet HURT!
                And then... the question that always pops up around mile 20

     I wonder what Hokas feel like?

Yep, Hokas. When I'm running a 4 mile run Hokas look like weird Kiss style platform shoes that I would never consider in a million years....
But at mile 20ish? They look like magical pillows that would be my secret weapon against the weaknesses of my silly feet. Have I ever tried a pair on? No, but this is not the first Hoka related fantasy that I have had at some mileage after 20.

I crossed a road and realized I was heading back to the start.... wait a minute. I'm gonna be really short on mileage. Wait, there's all my friends! Why is Steph running at me? Oh my lord she's holding a giant fat head of me! That's the most horrifying/awesome thing I've ever seen! Honestly, friends that come to the race just to cheer for you are great. Friends that come to the race and make giant fat heads of you are friends that you keep FOREVER!

As I ran past my friends laughing about the giant heads I asked them where I go. They said, “just follow the flags”! And the flags took me right to the finish line… My Garmin said I was short on mileage, but it the flags lead you into the shoot…. I guess you’re DONE! When I crossed the finish line I was told that I was fourth in my age group and I got a pint glass for my MAJOR AWARD (which I promptly filled with beer).

It ended up being a great race for me for quite a few reasons. I haven’t run a trail race of the marathon distance or longer on my own and that ended up being quite an experiment. Without anyone to push my pace or cry to, I had to depend on myself and made of conversations with other people in my head to keep things moving forward. Sure, that might look crazy when I type it out, but it made total sense during the race. I’m in better shape and could tell that I have improved from when I started slogging around with heart rate training. WIN!

The distance wasn’t what I had expected, which was initially disappointing. But then I thought more about it. Why did I sign up for this race?

To challenge myself: I did that

To have an adventure: I did that

To spend a weekend in Michigan with some of my favorite people: I did that

Who needs a couple of extra miles when you have a whole boatload of awesome and a giant fat head of yourself? Total WIN!

Run this race!


  1. That's so awesome that you got an award and that you can tell you're becoming a much stronger runner. Just looking at that picture of the stripper pole makes my legs hurt!

    How many full marathons did you do before you attempted your first 50K?

    1. I think I did 5 marathons before I started training for my first 50k. And I did a marathon during that training, you know, as a training run (that's ridiculous). My husband on the other hand did his first marathon in August and his first 50k in September. There's no rules! I was just ready for a new challenge.

    2. Thanks Erin! I'm trying to plan my 2014 out and I think I'm going to shoot for my first marathon and 50K for the fall and winter ... using the marathon as training for the ultra ;) I'll probably start bombarding you with questions sometime next spring/summer! haha