Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dances With Dirt, Hell, Michigan - 22nd September


Going through some of the details for my next 'race', on Saturday. I'm running as part of a 5 man relay team in the 100k 'Dances With Dirt' in Hell, Michigan, an extreme trail run. Each runner runs three legs of between 2.4 & 6.9 miles, I'm running legs # 1 - The Stampede (4.79mi), 6 - This Sucks! (5.75mi) & 11 - Pure Michigan (2.5mi). The disclaimer has the word 'death' in the three times, the info pack, includes phrases like, 'please help the injured', 'decide how to best utilize or torture each runner', 'swamps may need buddy system'. Each leg is graded by what kind of issues you will come across, eg waist deep mud and how much poison ivy you will encounter, ie extreme. I'm a wee bit scared.

The Race

I had been wondering all week quite what I should take with me on this, my first Dances With Dirt. I didn't want to come across as the newbie and end up bringing too much, but the opposite would suck too. After much messing around, the decisions were made on the Friday night. I would bring my waterproof jacket and pants, snacks would be a couple of Milky Way bars, a couple of GU's, some Chomps, a couple of barbecue chicken breasts left over from a mid week dinner and water. I wasn't planning on eating it all, but better to have too much than too little. I also brought a couple of extra shirts, another pair of shorts and a two pairs of socks and a spare pair of running shoes (very old).

The morning looked like it was going to be pretty dank and bleak, the forecast was for storms and general nastiness. I got up, as planned at 5am'ish, got changed, made sure I had all my crap and decided that I may as well head out. I was meeting the rest of the team at a carpool parking lot about 30 minutes away, I knew I'd be a little early, but what the hell, just more time to get into the zone. Once I found the lot, no mean feat for me, it turned out to be extremely busy, just as well I decided to come early as I got one of the last spots, I guess it is a popular meeting area for competitors. A few minutes after I arrived, Jason, the team captain and guy responsible for asking me to take part in this event, pulled up in his van, I met the rest of the team and then were off. 

First Leg (The Stampede) - 4.75 miles; 284ft elevation; 44:38

Still totally unsure about how this whole thing was going to go down, it became time to take off the jacket and pants get ready to rock. I joined the pack at the starting line, about 2/3 of the way down. The rain had stopped for the moment, it was about 48F, so conditions not too bad. The gun went off and away we went. The race was a faster start than any I have run in before, probably due to everyone wanting to avoid the logjam at the back when we hit trails, by creating a logjam at the front. We quickly ran across a field toward the woods, the trail quickly narrowed and the hills started.

The trails were steep, full of exposed roots but dry. There were a few opportunities to pass people and some took them to pass me while I took some to pass other people. One solid place to pass people was on the uphills, I made a conscious decision to run the uphills. You tend to find, especially on the hills, that the really exposed root are in the middle of the trail, so some would walk around the outside, allowing me to use these roots as steps to help me get past fast.

Unfortunately, around mile 4, I started feeling a little pain in my left Achilles tendon, but kept on going knowing that I would be done in under a mile anyway, and would then have a few hours to try and rest up.

Coming from a road running background, I found it very tiring having to constantly look where I was placing my feet, due to the increased chances of rolling my ankle with ever step.

Elevation profile for 'The Stampede'

Second Leg (This Sucks!) - 5.53 miles; 196ft elevation; 58:36

After everyone had finished their first legs,it was time for me to start my second leg. I was starting at one of the local campgrounds and this was going to be the leg with the dreaded mud. One of my teammates told me not to wear my good trail running shoes and just wear the piece of crap alternate shoes that I brought with me, just in case. he also suggested that I tie them tight and consider double knotting them, just in case, all I could think of was, how bad could it really be.

The leg started by running through the campground for about 1/8 mile and then quickly up and into the forest and more of the same as my first leg, only more so. The Achilles tendon pain came back, almost immediately, but what the hell, I had to keep on going. The hills were steeper, the trails were much tighter with less opportunities to pass people, although when I called 'on your left', people would try and find a gap so they could let you past. There were more exposed tree roots and this time we also had low overhanging branches to contend with, it is a wonder more people didn't fall. After a few minutes on the trail, some Ultras were running in the opposite direction on the trail, and they were flying, after ~20 miles of extreme trails. At one point I fell in behind a couple of other runners that were doing about a 9:30 pace and followed them for a while, which I think helped me quite a bit.

At one point we took a sharp right turn, into some very dense forest away from a more established trail, I heard some voices not too far out and whaddya know, we were at the mud. The trail started getting muddy very fast until we came across a a river that had quite a few very messy people attempting to wade across. The water was a couple of feet deep, followed by another foot or so of extreme mud, very sticky and very nasty. I traveled through the 1/2 mile or so of nasty horrible, sometimes waist deep mud, with the same group, helping each other out along the way.

After the mud we had a mile or so of a 'rails to trails', gravel path and then a run down the side of the road toward a local school. This gave an opportunity to try and get some of the mud off the shoes, but not too much. The school had baths in which to try and clean up and baskets to dump your shoes into, which I duly did.

Elevation profile for 'This Sucks!'

Third Leg (Xodus) - 2.68 miles; 146ft elevation; 28:47

My third and last leg of the day was going to be very similar to my first leg only a little shorter with a little bit of a difference. More hills, more roots, more loose rocks, with a wee bit of marshland thrown in for good measure.
Elevation profile for 'Exodus'


Leg Planned Time Actual Time Difference
1 49:47 44:38 -4:51
6 1:06:27 58:36 -7:51
11 35:16 28:47 -6:29

General Observations

I loved it, I loved trail running, I loved being out in the woods, I loved the challenge of it, I loved finally having an altitude graph from my Garmin that was actually worth looking at.

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