On Saturday I ran Dances With Dirt, my first trail half marathon. I’ve never been to Devil’s Lake State Park, therefore I had no idea what to expect, other than that there were going to be some steep hills. I’ve been meaning to run this race for a few years now and it was nice to finally check it off of my list. My husband picked DWD and it was also his first trail half marathon.
The weather was about 72 degrees, overcast, no wind and about a gazillion percent humidity. Somehow I made it through this half marathon without any chafe, thank you Body Glide!!!
I’ve spent a lot of time on the trails at Lapham Peak, which prepared my legs for DWD, but for the most part, the terrain is very (COMPLETELY!) different. The first quarter mile took us through the grass, onto a stretch of dirt with HUGE tractor tire marks, through a single lane trail into the woods and then spit us out onto a gravel path which then turned into a paved path. Quickly we were running on the Ice Age Trail, heading deep into the woods. This was a single lane trail and if you look at the elevation chart you can see the climb started immediately. It was at this point that my run turned into a (temporary) hike.
Did I mention that I was doing this race coming off of bronchitis? I was. Again. Duh. What would a race be without coming down with bronchitis, right??
The first 2.5-ish miles was all climbing, single file, with a lot of agility to get around rocks jutting out of the trail and tree roots. The wisest way to run this particular trail was to keep your eyes on the ground, just few feet ahead of you. There were so many obstacles, you really REALLY had to pay attention. Since I was at the back of the pack, there were times that I could only go as fast as the 25-30 people ahead of me were going. There were rocks to climb down in some parts and “go as fast” really meant “wait your turn”. It was all good though, I didn’t mind.
The first aid station was at mile 4.2 and this was where the course became a lollipop (out and back with a loop before the back), the trail opened up for the loop and there was a pretty good section that wasn’t single lane. I was a few miles in when all of a sudden I was at the top of a cliff, looking out onto Devil’s Lake. It was really breathtaking. I wasn’t running this course for time, but I couldn’t really putz around too much because the hotel checkout clock was ticking. I had begged for 30 more minutes which allowed me 4 hours total to run this course, enjoy the finish line, and then high tail it back to the hotel for a shower. But honestly, I could have stayed up on the rocks for a lot more than a few minutes.
The next aid station was right past here and I swear I thought I had been transferred back to the trail race I did last summer in Cheyenne, WY — I had to scramble down boulders! There was a point where my shoe got stuck in between two rocks and stayed there, of course I stopped to grab it.
Here’s the thing about trail running. They are slow, but they are also fast. A trail mile is slowest fastest mile ever. You have to watch where you’re going, every foot fall has to be made with complete purpose, yet somehow the time just files. Pretty soon I was heading back in from the last aid station and then after that I gained momentum and knew that what I had left was basically just a run down Crow Hill — when I was in Colorado last summer I would run down 2.8 miles down Crow Hill (elevation 9000′ down to 8400′) and then call my husband at the gas station to have him come pick me up. I noticed that my legs were feeling great, they weren’t crying for me to stop and walk, I wasn’t bonking!!!!
I ran* it in to the finish line, got my medal, chugged a beer and then quickly stood in line for food. The finish line food was pretty good, a cookout of burgers, brats, kettle chips and fruit. With a full plate of food, I started my walk back to the hotel so I could shower and cross my fingers that no one noticed I wasn’t going to make the checkout time (they didn’t!).
I did a few things differently for this race: The first was that I ate carbs like crazy on Thursday. The second was that I hydrated with Nuun all day on Friday. The third was my fuel on-course, I had a Gu at mile 2.5, a Picky Bar at mile 6, and then another Gu at mile 9. Normally I take a Gu every 45 minutes, but I found that this way to fuel worked really well for me. I didn’t bonk and I didn’t have any gut issues (YAY!!!).
Would I do this course again? Probably. It’s definitely not a course to do if you are a high pressure runner with a lot of expectations who doesn’t have any experience with running on technical trails. I mean, that first climb is almost 3 miles long and it’s at a 5% grade. We self-corralled ourselves for the race and then were let out in waves, but the front-runners were already on their way back in and passing me by the time I was at mile 3-4. Talk about an ego check — I had 9-10 miles left go and they would be done is about 18-24 minutes. GULP.
*Except for when I hit the pavement coming off of the trail, ohmygosh THAT was a jolt to the body. I’m pretty sure every runner around me came to a walk as soon as they hit the pavement.