I survived Dances With Dirt; however, a more appropriate event name might have been Mingles With Mud. Then again it was definitely more than just mud I was slogging through on that nightmarish horse trail. My performance wasn’t pretty, but I finished. Of course the ugliness was mostly, as is usually the case, self inflicted.
At the urging of fellow DINO runner Steve B. I went off way too fast at the start. I managed to stay with Steve all the way to the second aid station at about the 9 mile mark. I had to stop there to take my left shoe and sock off to clean out the mud that had built up under my toes. At around the 2 mile mark there was a long section of ankle deep mud. Running through that shoe sucking ooze wasn’t the best way to start a race, but being fresh made it seem easy. There was a lump of mud about the size of a quarter inside my sock. It was packed in there pretty hard and made it feel like I had a nail poking through my shoe. I managed to catch back up to Steve about a mile out of the aid station but then quickly realized I couldn’t go another 20 miles at that pace. At this point there were only about 9 runners ahead of me but I was suddenly making frequent stops to allow others to pass me.
I wasn’t completely wasted yet, but knew reaching the finish line would be painful. There were a few moments where I seemed to get a second wind and was feeling pretty good. Those moments didn’t last long. There were a number of small creek crossings with cool flowing water. After the second aid station I didn’t even try to avoid the water. I actually started planting my feet firmly in the rapid flow and would squish my feet around in my shoes to clear out the mud. This worked well and I never again had to remove my shoes. Also the cool water helped sooth my aching feet.
I stopped paying attention to where I was on the course because there was no point in wasting any energy on negative thoughts about how many miles were left to go. Just keep moving forward, no stinkin’ thinkin’. I hadn’t studied the course description much, but I knew Ogle Lake was the last aid station and from there it would be just less than 7 miles to the finish. I thought I might be getting close to Ogle Lake and seeing a trail sign pointing to Ogle Lake was one of those moments when I started feeling pretty good. I soon reached the aid station, topped off my water bottle, grabbed a handful of pretzel sticks, and was quickly munching my way over the dam. They had pretzel sticks at all the aid stations. Pretzels are my favorite race food anyway, but these sticks were easy to grab. This time I even thought to poke one of the sticks into the jar of peanut butter they had. Mmmm, gourmet trail running food.
After crossing the dam there was a nice little climb up from Ogle Lake. Upon reaching the top of the ridge I started repeating my mantra from the Ice Age 50 miler “walking only prolongs the misery” and starting running as much as I could. A mile or two out of Ogle Lake the course came onto a paved road. Just up ahead I saw a lady pop out of an outhouse on the side of the road. She turned around and said, “Come on I’ll jog with you to the aid station”. I said, “huh”? That was about all the conversation my brain could muster at this point. Turns out she was a race volunteer and there was indeed another aid station just ahead. She said it was a surprise aid station and a pleasant surprise it was. It was there for the half marathoners. She had hoped to be gone by now but not all the half marathoners had come through, lucky me. Water bottle topped off, orange wedge, handful of pretzel sticks, a fresh shot of adrenaline and off I went. Only 5.4 miles to go. I was feeling good. Woohoo! I was running even though my legs were screaming walk. I was running because it was smooth flat trail and at about 5 hours 30 minutes into the run I started thinking I could still finish around close to 6 hours 30 minutes. Plus that nice lady at the aid station lied to me. She said there were only about 12 runners ahead of me. (I should have known better, turns out the number was closer to 3 times 12.)
Then it happened. By it I mean the course turned onto a section of horse trail that was pure hell. This time I wasn’t fresh. I wasn’t able to just plow right through it. Every step in this shoe sucking muck was also sucking out what the little remaining energy I had, not to mention any chance I had of coming in anywhere close to 6:30. Before the start the race director said we would start hating him 20 minutes into the race when we hit that first mud section. Then I was fresh so it didn’t bother me. Now I was worn down ready to be finished. Now I didn’t just hate the race director, I wanted to hurt him. This seemed to go on forever, no end in sight. I passed another runner through this section. I even saw several horses. One pair of horses turned and came up behind me very fast. I was hoping they would trample me to death and put me out of my misery, but they missed me. Eventually the course turned off this section and soon after I could hear the sound of a highway. The trail soon opened up to an old ski slope. I could see highway 46 and a building that I first thought was Mike’s Dance Barn (the start/finish area). It wasn’t, big disappointment. I kept running though, now being motivated by the thought of maybe coming in under 7 hours. I didn’t quite make it. My finish time was 7:00:57.
Except for the mud I liked most of this course. There weren’t many big hill climbs and most of the trail was very runable. I think if I had started out at a sensible pace I could have run this course under 6:30 maybe even close to 6 hours. Also on the positive side is the fact that my left calf gave me no trouble at all. I’m now cautiously optimistic that I can get this year turned around and headed in a positive direction. I have three weeks to find some speed for the DINO 15k May 30th at Brown County which is run on some of the very same trails as DWD (thankfully not the extreme mud sections). Then exactly one week later is Another Dam 50k at Englewood MetroPark in Englewood Ohio.