Dances with Dirt - Devil’s Lake
July 10, 2010. A “Same Day” finish! Just under 7 hours. You can’t get hung up on the 26.4+ mileage. Sometimes a 3 mile leg will take longer and be more work than a 4 mile leg… actually it will seem like twice as long as it is. No matter how bad it sounds as I describe it, it was worse! Ridiculous elevation changes! It took almost 3 miles before I could get my heart rate back to normal. This is why the organizers of the Dances with Dirt 4 event series say this is the ultimate life or death experience.
The marathon course started out through a field and then instantly on single track. At least we did not have to run up the ski slope like the 50M/50K did. I made a decision to wear regular running shoes at the last moment instead of trail shoes. Big mistake. About a half mile into the marathon, I slipped and went down and crushed my hand-held water bottle. The first few miles were mostly single track uphill with tree roots and rocks galore and you really had to watch your step. In this first 4.2 miles we had a 850 foot climb and 440 foot drop before leveling out. My calves and Achilles got extremely uncomfortable real fast from the quick change of terrain.
The second 1.5 mile leg we got a break from climbing with only a 100 foot gain and 220 foot drop. The difference was that it was rugged with rocks & roots. They said at the start there were about 75 of us for the marathon and about twice that number for the 50K. About 7.5 miles into it, I went down for the 2nd time. Those around me thought I broke my hip because they heard a big crack sound. I heard it too. Must have landed on a branch though because I don’t even have a bruise.
The 3rd 3.7 mile leg was on a nice wide trail, if you like running on stones. It went through the campground areas of Devil’s Lake State Park.
The worst part came in the 4th 3.2 mile leg where we were the climbing the bluffs on side of Devil’s Lake. This is a heavily used narrow trail and extremely steep. I could not maintain any pace here. This section had a 670 foot climb to a narrow paved path which was crowded by lots of hikers. When I got the best view of Devil’s Lake to my left, I missed the right hand turn. Fortunately, a couple hikers yelled at me and said I was only about the 50th person to miss that turn. This next stretch had what was referred to as “stupid spots” through woods with bad footing and messy snowmobile trails. It was slow but at least we stopped climbing.
The 5th leg was an easy 2.4 mile out & back on a shady gravel road with only a 200 foot ascent and descent.
Leg number 6 is a 1.9 mile off trail with terrible footing, some rocks and twisting ankles. We then crossed a real road onto a narrow, heavily used trail with great views of the natural topography.
The 2.2 mile leg 7 started at the north end of the lake and it was the last chance to breathe normally. I just wanted to dive into the lake to cool off. This unfortunately wasn’t part of the course but instead was the start of another 800 foot climb of the east bluff. I actually sat down and rested for about 10 minutes halfway up the second side. I was not prepared for all the uphill climbs. The down hills (420 foot drop) were just plain dangerous. My legs were so tired and the single tracks were roots and rocks and just muddy enough that you slipped.
Leg 8 was back to a 1.6 mile trail with good footing and a 200 foot drop. I made some time back but was simply exhausted by then.
The 1.5 mile 9th leg was the reverse of our 2nd leg with some more climbing. Whew!
The final 4.2 miles of the last leg is for the most part… the scariest. It was mostly downhill with rocks & roots, tired legs and I was somewhat paralyzed with fear of falling forward and really hurting myself. The last mile was back on the Ice Age Trail to the finish.
I’d say about 2/3 of the course was in the woods which made the heat & humidity bearable. You could feel that it was at least 3-5 degrees cooler in the shade. I walked most of the second half. Even with that, it was hard because the vampire mosquitoes and deer flies attacked with a vengeance. They had good food (burgers, brats, beer & lemonade) at the end.
No river crossings. Several streams to cross but you had rocks to use to cross (unless you slip of course). Some stretches were muddy. I finished with mud on my hands, right arm, side and back from my tumbles. My toes were sore from tripping on roots & rocks so many times and of course the steep down hills. My ankles got twisted many times due to the uneven footing. There were several people assisted off the course due to injuries. I felt pretty beat up after finishing and yesterday… much better today.
Due to the timing, I did not see any half marathoners. The 50M and 50K started an hour before us, so many of the 50Kers finished at the same time as the marathoners. Most of those seated around me after the event were 50Kers and they loved the course and wanted to do more the DWD series. For me it was a learning experience and I’m just happy to get away without anything serious other than exhaustion and dehydration.