Last weekend was the third race in my quest to attain the Boned, Blood, Burned and Bruised belt buckle for doing the four ultras in the Dances with Dirt series. This race was in Merrimac, WI at Devil's Lake State Park. This was another road trip for me and my trusty ultra-companion, Leslie, who is my favorite running buddy because to almost any question I start with "Hey, do you wanna..." she finishes with a "Sure, what distances do they have?" You have to love that!
This was another camping trip for us. Because I got a late start on the camping reservations, we were staying at Rocky Arbor State Park, just outside of Wisconsin Dells, which is a kid-friendly, tourist-trap type of town, with dozens of water parks, amusement parks, and other touristy things like duck boats, that we were not at all interested in. The race was about a 20 mile drive that took us out of the tourist scene and into a more beautiful natural area.
The drive up to Wisconsin was a huge pain. Both Google and Mapquest recommended the I90/I94 route through Chicago. Big mistake!! We sat in a traffic jam for hours. I had never been through Illinois before and was unpleasantly surprised at the tolls. Tolls alone on the trip ended up costing about $40. Are you kidding me??? I have to pay to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic and creep through continuous road construction... Not a fan of Illinois highways.
We found the campground and got camp set up. There was camping at the DWD site, but with no electricity or showers. We opted for the more cushy state campground with hot showers and electricity to the tent to power our much-needed fans. The temps were over 90 all three days we were there, but the nights did cool off.
Packet pick-up was uneventful, but we had a really fun time driving around and taking a look at parts of the course. I had spotted some flags crossing the highway on the drive in, and when we went back, we found some of the Running Fit crew unloading the supplies for the aid stations. We followed them like a couple of stalkers, whizzing along the highway chasing their white van, and were able to scope out sections of the course in advance.
Once we had completed our reconnaissance, we headed back to town to find a place with mashed potatoes, both Leslie and my choice for pre-race carbo-loading. We found an Applebees, had double sides of potatoes each, and then headed back to camp to turn in. The race start was at 5:30 am., with a 30 minute drive to the start. With 45 minutes for coffee and the rest of the pre-race routine, that meant up at 3:30.
We rolled out early and headed out for my 5:30 am start. It was a typical low-key DWD start, with probably a few hundred people. The relays for this race were canceled, and the half marathon, which Leslie was running, did not start until 7:30. I had time for two quick trips to the Porta-Johns and then we were off. The 50 mile, 50k, and marathon started together, so there was a pretty big group at the start. I was rushing to the start from the Porta-John, so slipped under the flags toward the front of the group but did not have a good sense of where I was seeded. I did not expect to do too well in this race, given the number of hills, so did not really think it mattered much.
The first loop of the course for us was about 5 miles, up and down some ski hills by the Devil's Lake Resort where we started. I was expecting the climbs there and was pleasantly surprised that this section was not as bad as I thought it would be. Actually my biggest worry in this section was my hat. It was already starting to get hot, probably mid 70s, by the end of the loop. Besides the fact that my hat was making me hot, it would not stay put on my head and kept slipping back. If I would not have felt so strongly about littering the trail, the hat would still be up there on the ski slope. Instead, I pulled it off, tucked it in my top, and waited for the aid station at start/finish to ditch it. As I went by the aid station, I was surprised with how well the first hilly section had gone, but was dreading the next section with an even bigger climb.
|The course: Yes, it really is as hilly as it looks|
The next part of the course was another section of about five miles connecting us from the ski lodge area onto some really nice single track, much of which was on the Ice Age Trail, that took us over to the Devil's Lake State Park. This was a long climb but with some runnable sections.
I did better than I thought here mainly because of the technical nature of the terrain. There were a lot of sharp rocks on the trail. I am not geologist, so I can't say much about the rocks except that they were plentiful, jutted up from the ground, and had sharp edges. This type of trail is what I love and is similar to the rocky trails I had run in the mountains of California, so it did not slow me down as bad as it did some people. On the runnable rolling and downhill sections, I know some people thought I was crazy for running as I did, but that was my strength, and I needed to take advantage of it to do well. I certainly wasn't going to be making up time on the climbs.
The aid stations on the course were nicely spaced, with some manned and with a few others unmanned but with plenty of water. It was nice to have previewed the course a bit in advance so that I had some idea of where I was headed. I got to the aid station at Steinke and someone called out "Hey, aren't you the stalker from last night!" It was one of the crew from Running Fit working the aid station. It was fun to see a familiar face.
After the aid station we began another section that included a climb. Since it was the first time I had run the course, I had no idea what to expect. As we reached the top of a climb, we merged with the half marathoners, who had by now started and were midrace. We were at about 17 miles. Suddenly, we popped out of the trees onto a ridge and the view was absolutely stunning!! We were on a rock cliff overlooking Devil's Lake below.
There were huge rocks and boulders jutting out and runners were stopping everywhere to take pictures. There was an aid station right there at the top on one of those big rocky outcroppings, and we all just were in awe of the beautiful view. Despite the climbing, I would be tempted to do the race next year, just to get to see the view again. Pictures cannot do it justice. I was so mad, though. I had dragged my cell phone along with me on this one to get pictures, but when I pulled it out, the battery had died. Isn't that how it always is? Thankfully Leslie saved the day by getting some really good shots.
After the beautiful view, things went downhill in more ways than one. We made a right turn and split off from the half marathoners and started down this long and fairly steep descent. Normally this would delight me, but about halfway down, people started passing me going in the other direction. That is when I realized that we were heading down to the "Bug Pit" aid station and a short out and back area of the course. I was going to have to go back up the ridge we were coming down. Damn! That made me pout for a little while, but soon the fun of having a nice continuous downhill took over. I was even singing at one point as I barreled down the hill, probably much to the chagrin of the runners within hearing distance.
At the bottom of the ridge we came to a meadow area that soon showed why the aid station for this portion was named "Bug Pit." Part of this section was a mowed area through the grass, but another section, in typical DWD fashion, looked like it had just been stomped down the night before. The "trail" here went through waist deep grass and weeds and was about ten inches wide. The only redeeming feature here was that the weeds had some type of flower that smelled really nice as we ran through. Unfortunately, by this time, it must have been about 10 am and about 90 degrees. There was not a bit of shade on this whole section, which led us across the fields, past an aid station (with cold wet paper towels!), across a wooden bridge to a sign in the middle of the field that said "turn around."
Now, my "plan," if you can call it that, in these "races" had been to enjoy myself, take in the beauty of the trails, not hurt myself, and not worry about racing. Good plan -- it went right out the window as soon as I started watching people coming toward me. The 50 mile, 50k, and marathon were still on the same course, but the bibs were different colors, so we could tell what race the people meeting us were in. As I got closer to the turnaround, I realized that I really had not seen many women with blue bibs (for the 50k). That is when I started thinking that maybe I was doing better than I thought. After I made the turnaround, though, I saw that there was a big group of women ranging from about 1 minute to about 3 minutes behind me and several of them were in the 50k. And, the one closest to me looked like she could be in my age group.
I tried to pull myself together and pick it up a little. The problem was that we were soon back to the base of the big climb, never a good thing for me. Throughout the climb I kept expecting people to come by, and some guys did, but only two of the women caught me, and they were in the marathon. As I arrived at Steinke aid again, I looked up a long road behind me and did not see any women coming. I was feeling pretty good because I knew I had a good long section of downhill at the end.
Unfortunately, I did not remember that there was a rolling section and a climb before I hit that final downhill... My legs started to rebel on me in the rolling section. They did not want to make the necessary switch from hiking the uphills to running the downs. I was slowing down. Still, I wasn't being passed and was even managing to pass a few men who were worse off than I was.
Then, on the last uphill, somewhere around mile 28 or so, one woman came flying by me, with another one not far behind. The second one was the one I had suspected might be in my age group. She slowed down for a bit to hike behind me, so I asked the question and got the dreaded answer: "How old are you?" "50." "Oh crap, me too." I was really dreading a race to the finish, but thought with a downhill coming up, I might have had a chance. That hope was dashed about thirty seconds later when she started to run on the uphill. I rallied for about twenty futile seconds, but there was no way I could keep up with her on the climb. I spent the next ten minutes alternately cursing the running gods and praying for the downhill to be coming soon, but by the time I got to the downhill section and took off, she was nowhere in sight.
I finished the race strong, thanks to the downhill. As I crossed the finish, the Running Fit crew volunteer with the clipboard asked the usual question about my age group so that they could hand out the age group awards at the finish line. As she wrote my name on the clipboard in second place for the 50-54 age group, I noticed there were not many other names on the board at that point. I was bummed to be second in the age group, but happy I had done well in the overall. Later I found that I was 5th place overall for the women, which really made me happy. Apparently, before I had been passed by the two women on the last climb, I had been in 3rd place overall! That really pumped me up and made me feel like my training is starting to pay off!
Of course, Leslie was there waiting for me after the race. She had a good time in the half marathon and had met some great new friends on the top of the ridge and gotten some great pictures. I was glad to see her because I was in a world of hurt. The combination of hard uphills and downhills, with the lifting to get over the roots and rocks, had absolutely trashed my legs. I was in serious pain. It was the close your eyes, put your head back, don't move, and try not to cry kind of post-race pain. As one of my ultra friends used to be fond of saying, "Even my hair hurt." Leslie was so good, going to the car to get me my chair, a diet Coke, my flip-flops so I could take off my soggy shoes and socks... What a great friend!
|Not a smile -- a grimace|
The post-race atmosphere was typical DWD, with music, food (even some awesome portabella burgers for us veggie athletes), beer, and runners draped around the finish line in various levels of pain and stages of repose cheering in the finishers. We hung around the finish line for another hour or two, but because we didn't know anyone in the 50 miler this time, decided to head out to get a much needed shower.
All in all, this race was a great experience, despite the hills and heat. The area is absolutely beautiful. If you are a mountain goat that eats hills for breakfast, this would definitely be a great race for next year's calendar. Even if you are not a fan of hills, it is worth doing at least once, just for the view from the top of the ridge.
|The bling: AG prize a DWD flashlight upper left corner|
Race Report: Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone
Race Report: Dances with Dirt Green Swamp
2012 Goals: Burned, Bloodied, Boned, and Bruised