Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dances With Dirt in Hell -- 100k Relay

A sample of conversations you might overhear at Dances With Dirt in Hell:

"Where are we?  Everything's bovine."

"Did you do the stripper pole?"

"I'm a cheating bastard."

"This sucks."

"Someone took down the trail markers."

"If she doesn't hurry up she's going to ride home naked."

Angels and demons in Hell

On Saturday, September 22, 2012 I had the pleasure of joining several hundred other lovely nutcases in Pinckney and Hell, Michigan for the annual Dances with Dirt in Hell 100k relay, put on by Running Fit.  The day also includes a 50k and 50 mile option, and I was frankly relieved to not be running an ultra today.  My three legs would only total 17 miles, and I planned on having fun ripping through the woods and cheering on my relay teammates.

For years I've been hearing about the antics at DWD Hell that make this race sell out within days if not hours, and this year I had the last minute opportunity to experience it myself on a team with Jennifer, Shawn, Mitch, and Nicole, for they needed a fifth runner, unfortunately due to injury.  I told Alaina that I was doing the relay so she jumped at the chance to join a very competitive, fast group of women who needed another runner.  They called themselves The Bobcats...because they're too young to be cougars.

Left to right: Nicole, me (blinding!), Shawn, Mitch

The Bobcats.  Because they're too young to be cougars.

One piece of this race that stokes everyone's embers is the team costume contest, which is a riot to watch, from men in ladies clothes, to Sesame Street characters, to St. Pauli girls, but equally as creative were the team vehicle decorations and team banners that signalled to incoming runners where their next runner would be waiting.

Handsome ladies, eh?
Vehicle design as important as costume design

Team Beat Jon Kramer was everywhere - even had stickers in the porta potties.
Don't be a chicken in the mud.
The cleanest these maids will be all day

Motivation is key to the day
The beatings will continue until morale improves
The 100k relay race is a series of 15 legs, most of them point-to-point, with each team member running 3 legs of their choice, or rather their misfortune, since every leg features gnarly hills, bushwhacking, and "some stupid spots" (RD's words of choice right there), which could be briar patches, mud up to your hips, running up a river, hand-over-hand climbs, or all of these combined.  Add to that the fact that it rained all night and most of the day of the race, and it's a recipe for big fun in the mud.

Shawn started the first leg, The Stampede, living up to its name with a sprint start out of the gate.  Cheers were roaring this cold morning, and teams were ready to run.

Extremely fast start
Our team's flamme orange was highly visible for incoming teammates
Shawn came blazing into the chute of teams with their flags and banners and we hi fived to send me off into the woods for The Buttslider, a 4.55 mile trail stretch cut straight out of the brush, soft dirt underfoot on a cambered pitch, and at least a dozen fallen trees to climb over and under.  I was tearing through the woods with hoots and whelps, hardly able to contain my excitement at running hard through dense forest.  Soon I caught up to a conga line of 10 or so runners and was halted to a walk.  The brush was so dense that I simply could not pass for minutes at a time before I just ran with head down straight through bushes, briars, tree branches, etc around the other runners.  

I'd start running for a few minutes before repeating the same thing: 10 or so runners in a row and nowhere to go, so I settled in line and went around when I could.  A ripe patch of ankle-deep, spongy horse mud pulled hard at my shoes and I heard more than a few yelps behind me, we got our money's worth of "stupid" on this leg.  

Finally the trail opened up onto the Potto and I hammered it home, finishing on a familiar stretch into the chute at Silver Lake for a 39:12 leg at 8:18/mi pace, though I did have the section long on the Garmin at 4.72.  Alaina did this section a few seconds faster than me, so bragging rights so far belonged to her.  That dang fast wife of mine!

Race ready vehicle

As we traded relay legs from runner to runner, each of us came in with war stories of the ridiculous trail, the pain, the cold, and the fun.  One of the many highlights of this race was getting to know my teammates and cheering everyone on.  I haven't been on a team since pairing with Alaina at American Triple-T, and not on a group team since playing a couple games with a rec softball team in college, so the team experience energized me and turned the fun up to eleven.

My next leg was Purgatory, a 5.5 mile section on the Potto (hills) with some dirt road running (flat), where I was able to open up my stride and put in some faster miles.  This one was all about loving the lung pain and burying my head into my chest on the roads and soaking in the positive vibes of the forest.  I came into Hell Ranch, which was the start/finish area of the Hallucination 100 just 3 weeks ago, and the memories of that race spurred me into the chute to tag Nicole, who pulled the notorious This Sucks leg.  I hammered this section in 38:15 at 6:51/mi, which was 1 minute faster than my last leg, which was 1 mile shorter.  Feeling groovy now.  

This Sucks. Photo courtesy of WCRZ

Nicole, after This Sucks, with the team

Nicole cleans up in the ice bath at Pinckney Elementary School after This Sucks. 
Nicole had probably the worst leg of the day in This Sucks, not only because of the hip-deep mud, but because someone had removed the trail markers, and basically everyone got lost.  Since we were running a little behind finishing schedule, we had to become Cheating Bastards, which means you send off your next runner before the previous comes in.  And you must yell (and have everyone around you yell) "I'M A CHEATING BASTARD!"  in good fun.  The time adjustments are written on a card to reflect time spent running and submitted at the finish.  

When Nicole came in, covered in mud, we took her over to have her shoes power washed by volunteers from the community, and got washed up in a freezing cold tub on an even colder day.  Brrr!  I decided it was time for a cold beer, so I joined the day's tailgaters and cracked a PBR and cheered in Jennifer, coming back from her leg, Stripper Pole, named for the hand-over-hand climbs; she got some very nasty hill sections in Hell.

The rain and wind picked up as we drove from point to point to hand off runners, the team members revelling in the warmth of the truck and fuelling on Snack Packs, Ensure, potatoes, PBJ, and Cheetos, of course!  

Shawn pulled the Hell Creek river running section, which crosses the creek four times before running straight down the middle of it, all while the rain came lashing down.  Brutal.

Nicole and I freezing with our team flag
After my teammates ran a few more fantastically-executed legs back at the party-zone at Silver Lake, we drove to Half Moon Lake, the start/finish of this race, where I was anxiously awaiting my last and longest leg, Vertigo, a 7 mile, hilly segment of the Potto, rolling dirt roads, and some bush-whacking sections.  

Alaina was also running this section, so I knew I had to throw down something filthy to have a shot at bragging rights in the house.  Granted, she was already done with this leg before I started it since her team was so damn fast -- so fast in fact that they WON fastest all-women's relay team today, and she definitely motivated me.

Now that hurt. I went deep into the pain cave to pull this one out.  My legs were screaming from the start, and my lungs were burning the whole time.  We finished at this cow farm that looked like eastern Kansas with its rolling green hills and I felt like I was on another planet from the oxygen deprivation from running hard.  I hung on the edge of 6:20/mi - 6:40/mi during the dirt roads and mustered just under 8/mi on the hilly trails.  In the end, I managed 50:23 or 7:02/mi on average for this leg, and happy to say that I beat Alaina by 5 minutes!  Bragging rights, yah?

Jennifer handing off to me at Half Moon
Ah, now I could crack some Bell's Kalamazoo Stouts and cheer my teammates in with some additional gusto since my legs were over.  Everyone ran brilliantly, and just to top the day of rather foul weather off, Jennifer ran the final leg through a brief but powerful thunderstorm, but we all ran in through the finishing chute together before grabbing our medals and the two hot pizzas and icy pop the race organizers had ready for us.  What an awesome day.

My proud, happy team at the finish

Dances With Dirt in Hell lived up to its name and its reputation, and if you ever get a chance to put a team together for this 100k relay, I strongly suggest you do so.  See ya' in Hell!

Can you tell me how to get to Hell Street?

The Bobcats won pitchers, pint glasses, and flashlights as first place all-female team

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