Monday, July 16, 2012

Dances with Dirt Ultra: Sometimes Your the Windshield

Where to start? I guess bottom line up front this years attempt at the Dances with Dirt 50 mile UltraMarathon was not the disappointment that last year's attempt was, I chronicled that here This year was not a total success though and lessons were learned that will be used on upcoming Ultramarathons.  I can see that Dances with Dirt and I are going to have a sordid history, I will call this year's attempt a draw. I finished but as my brother said DWD is going to be wearing a few more of my toenails around his neck on a string.

This years choice of hotel was much better and closer than last years, something to remember for next year. Myself, Starr and Jay drove up on Friday, checked into the hotel, drove the 15 minutes to packet pickup and then chilled the rest for the evening. I tried to go to bed early after laying out all my gear but didn't actually fall asleep until about 2300 for a 0315 first call, nervous anticipation I guess.

So everything went as planned on race morning, we met my brother Steve in the parking lot of the hotel at 0400. This stud drove 7 hours after work Friday night to make it in time to help crew my race. That is awesome. So we all piled in the Scooby Van and headed to the start line at the Devils Head resort. We got there about an hour early for the 0530 start which gave me enough time to get my shit together and get ready for the race. Soon enough the 5 minute call was made and we all lined up behind the timing mats. There were two races, my 50 miler and a 50K, starting at the same time so maybe 120-150 people where at the start. Later on the would have a marathon, half marathon and 10K sharing part of the course with us. So the announcer said go and we were off.

Like last year the course started out with the first 4.5 miles being straight up a intermediate ski slope and then down an expert slope covered with waist high grass. This year however they reversed the direction and we ran this loop back to the start in a counter clockwise fashion. I remember thinking running it this way was easier than last year, I wouldn't be thinking that the second time through this loop however. But that was 12 hours in the future and I finished this first section in a decent time of 54 minutes even with all the congestion at the start and on the single track trail.

After I passed the start again and headed out on the next section we ran along a sandy road for about half a mile then turned into the woods back on the single track. As soon as I did this I was swarmed with hornets. I got stung about 4 times the worst one on top of my head, the guy in front of me must have stirred up the nest. I am just glad I am not allergic although my noggin did throb for a few miles. This section was basically about a mile of straight up hill then flatness and then downhill. I was feeling good and even though I knew I shouldn't I let it rip. I flew through that section over some pretty narly rocks and roots passing train after train of people on the single track. I didn't worry about twisting an ankle, I just flowed, it felt awesome. I got to the next aid station (Steinke Basin) at mile 10 in a little under 2 hours. I was still feeling really good, I got to see my sister Deborah and her husband John who had driven up that morning from Madison to help out. I waved, grabbed some more water and a PBHoney flat bread and headed out on the next section. 

This next section was where the race really started. It was a loop that went up a very steep bluff then down the other side. Then it went out into a swampy flat area for about 2 miles and you turned around and went back up the bluff and back to the Steinke Basin aid station. That loop was almost 15 miles of extreme elevation changes, temperature extremes and uneven footing. Did I mention by this time it was approaching 95 degrees and when I was not in the shade it felt like I was in an oven. We had also ran up this bluff last year but from another direction so this was also a new section of trail for me. Once I got to the top though the view was awesome, then it was a quick stop at the aid station on top ( South Bluff) and down the other side over the creeks and through the woods. My crew would shuttle between the aid station in the swamp ( Bug Pit) to the one at the Steinke Basin and I would see them every 10 miles or so. They did an extremely competent job at refueling me and encouragement. They did such a good job I barely even used the provided aid stations preferring to let them take care of me when I stopped. I completed this first 25 mile loop in about 5 hours, a decent time especially on this terrain and well under the cut off. I was smelling a PR but the trail gods had something else in mind.

 So I headed out on the second loop, this one was a lot lonelier. All the other racers had headed back t the finish and it was only the 50 mile racers left. I ran most of this 15 mile section alone in the woods, stopping only to piss and take some pictures. During this point of an ultra at least the ones I have done, there isn't much position changing. That happens at the beginning and sometimes at the end. In the middle people are just trying to survive and not a lot of extra effort is being put out to pass. The guy that  won the race this year took the lead in mile one and held on until the end. I was starting to hurt a little after over 30 miles of this punishing terrain. The published map said the course had over 7900 feet of elevation gain and I believe it. The bottom of my feet were starting to get tender and my feet were also starting to swell. Something I have discovered after doing a few of theses races is that my right foot seems to be smaller than my left, so consequently when I lace my right shoe after about 30 miles it is either too tight causing pain from my foot swelling or it is too loose allowing my toes to slam into the front of my shoe during descents causing blisters and trauma to the toenail . This happened again during this section, I have to get a handle on fixing this issue, maybe a smaller size shoe on the right foot? I got  to Bug Pit for the second time and my crew was there shouting encouragement. My wife had made a large sign and was waving it up and down like a maniac. i couldn't have loved here more than at that point right there. I had finished about 36 miles and with only 14 to go I felt pretty solid but had slowed down somewhat. I knew I wouldn't beat my PR from the Ice Age Trail 50 but thought I could be under 12 hours. So I headed back up the bluff to Steinke Basin.

When I got to Steinke and 10 miles left, I was starting to feel a little sorry for myself. I had covered 40 miles in about 9 hours 20 minutes but I was a hurting unit. My brother made mention of the fact that I was slacking and I hadn't even fallen. I flipped him off and ran down the trail on what should have been an easy section back to the start. This section is devious though about two miles into it, the trail gods got the last laugh and I was ambushed by a fricking rock and did a head over heels faceplant on the trail. I did a quick assessment and discovered all parts where still functioning. I was covered in dirt though and had a big scrap on my left palm. My left big toenail that had just grown back from last years race was a goner as well. This section that I had flown down at the beginning ate my lunch, where did all the downhill come from? My quads and feet were screaming for mercy. Eventually I just quit running and discovered I could actually move faster and in less pain if I walked with a purpose like I was trying to make time on the expert infantryman 12 mile road march. So I strode it out for about 3 miles figuring I still had plenty of time to make the 13 hour cutoff. Eventually I made it back to the start/finish and the last aid station. I had 2 hours to finish the race so I gave my brother my hydration pack and grabbed just my two hand bottles for the last 4.5 sucky loop up and down the damn ski slope. I kept walking at a very brisk pace up the slope until I reached the top. With about 1.5 miles to go the ski slope stretched out below me and I started running again. I just pointed my tips down hill and let it go. It wasn't pretty but I gritted my teeth and went with it. I passed a few people on the downhill and crossed the finish line in 12:22:40. This was about 90 minutes slower than my previous best effort but I will take it. Every race is different. All in all this is a great race at a great location. The best news is we raised over $1500 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Donations will still be taken until 9.14.12 so don't be shy!!!


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