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Dances with Dirt 50K Ultra Marathon


This post starts the evening of Friday September 7th as I was preparing for my first 50K event.  After tons of research about the event and numerous exchanges of e-mails I had created my list of all the items I should pack for Saturday morning.  Besides the normal gym bag packed to the brim with stuff that I may not even use, I have learned the hard way it is better to be prepared than not have something, I also packed a drop bag that would be waiting for me at mile 19 of the event.  I was very grateful that for this event they setup our drop bag location immediately after our mud and river crossings.  The drop bag was also filled with everything that I may need and hopefully not have to use besides shoes, socks, and a new running shirt to change into.  After waking up at 3AM on Saturday morning I met the crew and we headed off to Hell, MI for Dances with Dirt.  Upon arrival at the park the misquotes were already out in full force at 5AM, I guess they got up early also to feast on the runners, but one cool thing was that since it was still dark the sky was full or stars.  Reminds you of the things you miss when you live in the city.  After applying several coats of bug spray, getting ready for the race, and the typical bathroom stops we were lining up to start the event. 


With flashlights in hand, since it was still dark, about 250 runners took off for the trails with some of us on our way to become first time ultra marathoners.  The pace was slow to start as everyone crowded onto the trails but you could tell that everyone was having a good time.  Right away we began giving funny names to roots and plants that tried to trip us up.  For example trippies, snarkys, shoe grabbers, and “that one can take off an ankle”.  At times you would feel your leg or ankle get cut up but the pain would be ignored as you continued on.  I will admit at the end that my left ankle was bruised up and my right calf looked like I lost a fight with a cat but it is all apart of the experience.  As we made our way along the route ribbons were placed to guide us along and even “Wrong way moron” signs were hung at places where you may have made a wrong turn to keep you on track.  If I recall we only went off course twice but for no more than about a quarter of mile.  It was actually not that bad to stay on the course.  All you had to do was remember to look for ribbons on the trees to make sure you were going the right way.  There were aid stations about every 4 to 6 miles where volunteers filled your water bottles, offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, plus took down your number to make sure you were staying on course.  Our little band took a few minutes at each aid station to get refreshed and then continued on.  We were treating this race as an adventure, not as an actual race.  Us rookies only wanted to survive and did not worry about placing.  I had been warned many times about something called a dirt ladder on the course leg titled “Stripper Pole” and I was not really sure what to expect, but we were finally to it.  I have to say a dirt ladder is the best description for this obstacle.  This part of the course required you to bear crawl straight up for about 200 feet.  If you did not use your hands to pull yourself up you would slide right back down.  Once we were at the top I was grateful to get that part over with. 


The next challenging leg would be “Styx, the River of Death.”  In Greek mythology, "the River Styx" is a river which formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, I hope that it would not be that bad.  As we slid down the shore into the river we experienced that the river was more mud than water.  Every step you prayed that your shoe would not be sucked into the mud.  Hence the reason that I re-tied my shoes before the next mud/river crossing.  After four times of this madness our shoes and ankles were covered in mud but we knew we would encounter the river one more time before our drop bag location at mile 19.  The last encounter with the river was much more pleasant.  The water was clear and cool, so it actually felt good on the legs.  But the pleasantries were made challenging by the fact that the water was waist high and we had wade up stream.  After a quarter mile of navigating the water we had escaped the water and were at our drop bags.  Dry socks, dry shoes and a dry shirt never felt so good!  After refilling our water bottles and gel packs we were off for the last 12 miles of the event. 


As the miles rolled on, 20 miles, 26 miles, I did not feel like I normally do after running those distances on road surfaces.  I guess trails are easier on the body.  I will admit that my legs were getting weak and the sense of balance was not as strong as it was earlier in the day.  Stepping over a simple root or rock became more challenging as the day went on.  We pushed on and crossed the finish line and became Ultra Marathoners.  For the 31 mile event I finished with a time of 6 hours and 52 minutes.  I had planned on finishing between 6 and 7 hours so I was happy with my time.  I was even happier that I had survived the adventure and was still standing upright.  Crossing the finish line and no trip in the ambulance is always a good day in my book. 


As I think back about the event I will admit that I am looking forward to the next 50K and have fully crossed over to the dark side of running.  After saying in February of 2007 that I would never run more than 26 miles I have definitely crossed into running territory that I never imagined I would be at.  When I first started running with a simple 5K in 2004, I am very shocked and grateful that I have come this far and look forward to what lies ahead on the next turn.  I have to give a special thanks to Jeff for introducing me to trail running, and all of his positive peer pressure and support.  I hope he knows that he is building a small army of trail runners.  Also thanks to Julie and Dave for taking the journey with me on Saturday September 8th.  The day that the three of us became Ultra Marathoners.                 


September 13, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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