Race Report: Dances With Dirt-Gnaw Bone 50M

As I arrived to Nashville, IN from the Chicago area the first thing to really strike me was the smell. Everything was in bloom and there was a fantastic aroma of wildflowers and blooming trees that saturated the thick muggy air. This was the springtime smell of my childhood growing up in southwestern Ohio. I drove through the quaint artisan town that is a main attraction to visitors of the Brown County State Park. It looked like there were some pretty interesting little shops but I didn’t have time to stop (plus they were all closed). I went straight to Mike’s Music and Dance Barn which is only a couple of miles outside of the town of Nashville and was the location of the race start. I picked up my race packet and headed to the hotel to check in for the night and get everything prepped for the race the next morning.

I stayed at the Brown County Inn which was only 5 minutes from the race start and right at the edge of town. Not a bad place and they have a restaurant and bar with live music on the weekends. I hauled all my crap from the car into the room and ate my traditional ribeye with bacon as my pre-race meal (no carb loading for me). We were allowed 2 drop bags for the 50 mile race and since I was doing this race solo (sans any crew) I figured I’d take advantage of the drop bags just in case. I packed an extra pair of shoes (which I never change in races), a couple pairs of socks, first aid kits, extra electrolyte packs, maple syrup, and a couple containers of mashed sweet potatoes. I would carry 2 hand held water bottles (about 20 oz each) with a 3 oz squeeze bottle of maple syrup, caffeine pill, small container of salt, electrolyte packets for my water, chafing lube, and some butt wipes. I went to bed early for a 4:00 am wake-up. When I got up in the morning I took a shot of maple syrup and drank a full bottle of water with electrolytes. I then took a half of a caffeine pill because I wasn’t having coffee. I like to start races with an empty stomach but getting a little sugar early from the syrup helps to fire the muscles on the early hills in the race. I was hoping the caffeine pill would make me poop before the race (to avoid that all too familiar stop-off behind a bush) but no such luck. Guess I’d just have to cross my fingers. I was debating on just wearing the speedo that I had specially made for this race or putting on a pair of compression shorts over the speedo. I decided to wear the compression shorts for most of the race and then strip down to the speedo with about 8 miles to go (at the last drop bag location). The decision was based mainly on the chafing factor (didn’t think my inner thighs could take 50 miles worth of rubbing). I packed my drop bags and a duffel bag with a towel and change of clean clothes for after the race in the car and headed out. I got to Mike’s Music and Dance Barn with about 30 minutes before race start. It was still dark out so I just sat in the car until it was almost time getting myself ready for the race by listening to a little Jocko Podcast. It was a balmy 67 degrees out and I knew we were in for a really hot day. The forecast had the temps reaching up to almost 90. I got to the start line with a few minutes to spare and dropped off my drop bags and lined up in the starting corral. The timed ticked down and off we went.

The race starts off on a gravel road and then through someone’s side yard (I thought this was kinda funny as we had to dodge their car parked right in the middle of our path) to the first small climb of the race. I heard this section was called Slime Mountain or something to that effect. It didn’t seem to wet and slimy to me but what did I know. We finished the first small climb and I was unimpressed with the sliminess that I was expecting. I was unaware that we hadn’t reached that point yet. We hit the slime and it was pretty close to my expectations. It was a horse trail that had some pretty extended sections of ankle deep shoe sucking mud. That early in the race, there were too many people to try to avoid it, so I just went straight though. I didn’t lose a shoe but it definitely added some weight to my feet as the mud piled on. My feet got wet but I’ve never really had any issues with wet feet or blisters so I wasn’t worried. Once we got to the top of the slime hill it was nice and flat to the next aid station, Playground. From Playground there were some really nice long downhills that I could really bomb down for a good portion to Ogle Lake. This was a really runnable section and I did a lot of passing going down the hills. The trails were in great condition and this was one of my favorite sections of the course. Ogle Lake just had a small aid station with water so I refilled my water bottles and chugged some maple syrup. Then it was off to Hoosier’s Nest. The trail was still very runnable and I power hiked the uphills (which weren’t too bad) and bombed down the nice long downhills. This was another great section of the course and I couldn’t believe how much running I was doing. It seemed like the uphills were short and steep and the downhills were really long. I didn’t have any trouble with trail conditions and didn’t trip over anything at all (which is typically an ultra tradition for me). I flew through the next aid station and just topped off my water and sucked down a little more syrup. We were about 10 miles in and I was feeling pretty good. The next aid station was Hesitation Point and the first drop bag. I continued with my typical routine of power hiking the uphills and bombing down the long downhill sections. The race was spreading out by now and there were only a few other runners around that were running about the same pace as I was (mostly 50K runners). We hit Hesitation Point and I took my first break of the race to refill my maple syrup bottle and eat some mashed sweet potatoes. By now it was really starting to get hot so I also took a couple of pinches of salt (which I just put under my tongue to dissolve). I learned a valuable lesson after leaving this aid station…mashed sweet potatoes are way to heavy for me to eat during a race. I tried them out once in training but I wasn’t training in the 90 degree heat or on a really hilly course. That pile of potatoes sat like a cinder block in my stomach and really slowed me down for the next few hours. The next couple of sections of the race were much the same as the previous with very runnable sections on pretty decent trails. I don’t remember anything really sticking out about the trail up to about mile 23. I was pretty stoked that I was able to run this much of the race and power hiking was pretty minimal.

After the Fire Tower aid station we dropped down onto some really nasty horse trails which were covered with ankle deep shoe sucking mud and a bunch of horse turd mines everywhere. It was really starting to get hot and my stomach was sloshing with all the water and electrolyte I was consuming (plus there was the 20 pound potato wad in my stomach that wouldn’t go away). I had dedicated one bottle for dumping on my head and the other bottle for drinking. At this point in the race I was running by myself and couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. This is actually how I prefer running trail races, but there are definitely some benefits to having other runners around (as I would soon find out). The combination of the heat and my stomach sloshing around and the ankle deep sucking mud distracted me just a bit. I trudged through sections of soupy horse trail followed by creek crossing followed by soupy horse trail. I started thinking I was Atreyu trudging through the Swamp of Sadness in the Neverending Story. I came across a group of Amish kids riding their horses through all that muck and they asked me if I was doing some sort of cross country running. I just smiled and felt sorry for those horses because I knew exactly what they were going through. I slipped and slopped a little ways further and came to a section where the trail forked. This would be a good time to let you know that the course was marked with pink flags so the runners knew where to go. I didn’t see any pink flags around and then realized that I hadn’t remembered seeing any pink flags for a while. Shit, I must have missed a turn somewhere all the way back through the Swamp of Sadness. Well, I turned my sad ass around and started trudging back the way I came. I was going even slower now because I had to not only keep from killing myself in the muck but also keep an eye out for the pink flags. There was a really eerie section where the sun was beating down and I was lost and I looked up to see a buzzard circling overhead. It was like a scene out of a John Wayne movie or something. I was hoping this wasn’t a bad omen. Finally I saw another runner coming down the trail. I asked her if she’d seen any pink flags recently. She said she couldn’t remember so we both started heading back from where she was running to look for a flag. We then saw two other guys heading down the trail towards us. They had a puzzled look on their face because we were going the wrong direction. I said that I thought we missed a turn. One of the guys said that he heard some voices way up the mountain but back a little ways, so we went back to where he said he heard them. Sure enough, there was a pink ribbon tied to the branch of a tree off to the side of the trail and some pink flags leading off into the woods (off the trail). We bushwhacked our way, following the flags to a ridiculously steep slope. I read about this in other race reports where people called it a mud wall that forced runners to climb by grabbing trees and roots. I wouldn’t call it a wall, but it was probably a good 70% incline and you definitely needed to grab for some trees and roots to make it up. Once we made it up the huge incline it was more bushwhacking through the forest trying to keep an eye out for the pink flags to tell us we were still on the right path. There was no trail at this point, just a series of pink flags that you had to navigate from one to the other through the dense woods. This is about the time where I started thinking that it felt like I’d been running for a really long time without seeing an aid station and I was running low on water. I guess the 45 minute detour I had didn’t help much. There were a couple more pretty gnarly climbs through the woods and then it was down to a little lake that we ran around and then up a couple of flights of stairs. The first flight was too bad, but then after a short ways up the trail you hit this flight of 169 stairs that goes straight up. That was not my favorite part of the loop. We then emerged from the forest and were out by the Nature Center. I thought for sure the aid station would be right there…nope. It was a miserable mile long run on the blacktop through the campground to get to that aid station. I had run out of water a while back and my legs and feet were really starting to hurt. This was, by far, my least favorite part of the day. I finally made it to the aid station and this was the point where the 50 mile runners could elect to drop down to the 50K distance (it’s about mile 27). Apparently a bunch of the runners had done this because of the heat. I knew I had to eat something at this point but my stomach couldn’t handle anything solid and even my maple syrup was tasting pretty bad. I had a few grapes, a banana, and choked down some syrup. I figured I was going though a bit of caffeine withdrawal so I decided to take 1/2 of a caffeine pill. I stretched out a bit and told them at the aid station that it felt like I ran 15 miles since the last aid station and that the mile on blacktop was cruel and unusual punishment. They asked if I wanted to drop down to the 50K distance and I said I’m just not that smart and I’d keep going as long as I had enough time. They said I was under the cutoff at this point so off I went for another loop and continued on the 50 mile course. My stomach was still really sloshing around at this point but it was a really nice downhill section that I was able to cruise down (not quite as fast as I was on the first loop). This nice downhill section coupled with the caffeine pill I think really helped empty my stomach a bit and the sloshing subsided. I started getting a little more spring in my step and things were looking pretty good. We swung by the Ogle Lake micro aid station (water only) and there was no water to be found. One of the aid station workers ran to the trunk of her car and grabbed some cold water bottles to fill up with. She also gave me a cold towel to put on my head (which was just heavenly). From there it was off to Hesitation Point and my drop bag.

When I got to Hesitation Point I knew I had to get in some calories. No way was I going to eat more sweet potato and I couldn’t stand the thought of anything solid. I knew what had to be done…pour me some Mt Dew! I finished off 4 cups of ice cold Dew and took another big pinch of salt. I loaded both water bottles with 1/2 water and 1/2 ice. I was 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff time for the 50 mile race so I knew I really had to haul ass to keep from getting stopped before the finish line. I left Hesitation and that’s when things changed for the better. The calories that I was in desperate need of were finally back in my system. My sore feet started feeling better, my sore calves and sore legs started feeling better, even the chafing didn’t bother me as bad. I knew it was about 7 miles until the next major aid station so I took off and started bombing down the long hills and running up all the hills I possibly could. I knew there was no wiggle room for walking unless it was absolutely necessary. I ran 85% of the way from Hesitation to the next major aid station, which was probably more that on the first lap through. I was positive that I made up some time on the cutoff and was hoping that I’d have at least built up a 45 minute cushion over those last 7 miles. I hit the next aid station and downed a few more cups of Mt Dew, swallowed another big pinch of salt, and filled up my bottles with water and ice. Last thing I did was to check on how I was doing for time. I was still only 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff! Shit, I really needed to move! Off I went to the next aid station which was Fire Tower and also happened to be another drop bag location. It was 3.5 miles away so I bolted on down the trail as fast as I could possibly move. I ran down the hills and up most of the hills. There were a few of the bigger hills that I had to power hike up, but I kept a good pace. By this point in the race I was breathing so hard I sounded like a damn freight train coming down the trail. The casual hikers in the park could hear me coming from a mile away and they got the hell off the trail when they saw me coming. I was on a mission. I pulled into the Fire Tower aid station and was feeling really good…really hot, but really good! I slammed a few more cups of Mt Dew (nectar of the gods) and decided that this was the point that I needed to rip off the compression shorts and sport the speedo for the rest of the run. I de-robed and posed for some pictures from the ladies at the aid station (I’m hoping my picture makes it on the website for next year). From here I knew there was only the crazy section with bushwhacking through the woods and gnarly, near vertical climbs to the torturous mile of blacktop to the last aid station before heading down to the finish. I was not looking forward to this section because this is where I got lost the last time and this particular section seemed like it lasted forever. I made up a little time that last section so I was now 30 minutes ahead of cutoff but I still wanted to make it out of there fast because you never know what can happen (like getting lost). I had a singular focus leaving that aid station…run your ass off and don’t get lost (I guess technically that’s a dual focus). I bombed down the hill leaving the aid station and ran as much as I could through the horse trail goop that was still ankle deep mud despite baking all day in the 90 degree sun. This time I found the cut off into the woods and navigated my way up the dirt cliff and through the dense forest. I was still freight train breathing even going up the huge climbs. I felt like I was gaining momentum with every step. People really must have thought I was an escape mental patient or something running through the woods in a speedo and breathing really hard. I didn’t care, I had things to do. After the off-trail wooded navigation it was back down around the lake (I definitely got some strange looks from people down there) and off to the Stairway to Heaven. I was in full freight train mode going up those 169 steps and was totally oblivious to everything else around me. I passed a family with a couple of small kids on the stairs who looked at me uneasy as I passed. I really can’t blame them. Those kids were certainly traumatized after seeing me huff and puff right by them. After the top of the stairs it was back on the Highway to Hell section that killed me during the first loop. I hit that blacktop and was pouring water on my head, drinking, and breathing like a maniac. I got into a freight train trance and just started running my ass off. I felt like I was running a 6 minute mile but was actually lucky if it was 10. I was in such a trance that I almost stepped on a 6 foot black snake that was crossing the blacktop! I came to a screeching halt and tried to coax it off the blacktop because I didn’t want it to get flattened by one of the passing cars. Just then, a ranger was driving by so I flagged him down and he stopped to get the snake out of the road. Good deed for the day…check! The first time running on that blacktop my feet and legs were really killing me. This time I was doing much better. It’s amazing what some calories, caffeine, salt, and a few gallons of water will do for you. I made it to the last aid station and they said I had 90 minutes to make it the last 4 miles to the finish. No prob, Bob. I got this. The first 2 miles were nice and flat so I ran the entire way. Then I came to Slime Mountain and the running came to a screeching halt. It was really disappointing that I had a nice downhill section that I had to walk because of the shoe sucking slime. I slithered my way down Slime Mountain and down the last hill through the same guy’s side yard (where I almost tripped on his 200 pound white furry dog laying right in the path). I hit the gravel road and knew I was pretty damn close. It was full speed ahead for the speedo express. I was huffing and puffing and smiling all the way to the finish line. I made the cutoff by 15 minutes! I got my finisher medal and sat in the grass while I sucked down my free beer. It felt good to be done.

Although I barely finished the race in time, I think it was a pretty good race considering the heat element and getting lost for 45 minutes (I guess I actually ran 52 miles instead of just 50). Here are some of the things that I think went pretty well: 1) My hydration and electrolytes were spot on for this race. 2) I had to improvise on getting in calories late in the race but it worked out well and probably was the main factor in my finishing on time. 3) My coordination was surprisingly good during this race. I usually bite it at least once by tripping on a rock or tree root but not this time. 4) I don’t think I negative split the back half but I definitely finished stronger than I usually do in races. 5) My power hiking is much improved since I started wearing a weight vest on incline treadmill hikes. Some things that I definitely need to improve upon are: 1) No more sweet potatoes! This heavy food just sits in my stomach and causes problems instead of giving me energy. I just need to stick to the liquid calories as much as possible. 2) Try to pay attention a little better, especially on trails that you know have some crazy sections that veer off into the unknown. 3) Don’t skimp on water to try and save a little weight…especially if it’s 90 degrees out. Fill up the water bottles at each aid station. 4) I might be able to push some of the hills a bit harder earlier in the race. Try running some hills instead of power hiking, especially in a 50 miler.

All in all it was a great experience. I really like these low-key type of races and the course was laid out so that we got to experience a lot of different things all on one course. I am really looking forward to the next Dances With Dirt race in July…Devil’s Lake. I need to get working on my custom speedo design for that race. I highly recommend this race for anyone who wants a bit of a challenge and also wants to spend the day running through Brown County State Park.

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