We headed out to Gnawbone, IN very early this morning. Our destination? Mike's Dance Barn: Dances with Dirt Headquarters. The ride there was fairly uneventful.
Except for me vomiting a LOT. As soon as we got in the car, I started feeling incredibly nauseated. I was trying not to puke (because I had just taken my medicine), but I couldn't hold it. Luckily, we had a bag I could use. I felt IMMENSELY better after vomiting, but was left with a feeling of overwhelming fatigue and weakness. I'm blaming the strong antibiotics that I'm on.
Shortly after we arrived, we found the rest of our team: Wes, my dad, and Terry Quigley. We slapped on our bibs and, before we knew it, it was go time. In case you're not familiar with DWD, the main race is a 100K relay. Each runner on a team runs 3 legs--not all at once, but spread out throughout the day. It's an all-day event, starting at 7:30 and going into the early evening (and perhaps late evening if your team is slow enough).
It is, for the most part, not a serious race. The majority of the participants are hashers and are thus more concerned with drinking that running. They wear (mostly inappropriate) costumes. They sound horns, beat drums, and act otherwise like complete idiots. There are a few teams (ours included) that I would call "normal" and who do not drink during the race. But we are certainly in the minority there. My dad once saw a guy taking shots of vodka and then chasing them down with Red Bull. And then taking off to run minutes later. Um, okay.
DWD is advertised as being "Off Road." Virtually none of the race is on the road--just trail crossings. It is all on trails, and sections of it are TRULY off road--as in there is no trail...you're just in the middle of the woods, bushwhacking. Last time (and the only time) I ran DWD, I was almost 7 months pregnant. And so I only ran two legs, and I picked the "easiest" ones (which aren't easy, but at least are manicured trails). This year, I was less than a week out from surgery. I'd like to run it when I'm not in some special circumstance physically.
Anyway--as team captain (meaning only that I organize everything), I assigned the relay legs. I gave myself two of the "easy" ones, and for my last one chose one of the hardest ones--the final leg. I figured I'd see how I did on the easy ones. If it didn't go well, Wes said he'd run my last leg for me.
Tim started us out this year. When he finished, we were in fifth place (which is VERY good). Quigley took the next leg and held our place. Then it was Wes' turn. Wes passed some people and I THINK got us into third (it is hard to tell because "cheating" is legal at DWD--slow teams are allowed to start a runner early so that they finish before dark...but many teams abuse this privilege and thus end up on the trails the same time that the faster groups are). Then it was my turn.
My first leg was titled "Short Bone." All of the legs have catchy names: Stairway to Heaven, Devil's Daughter, that sort of thing. Mine was called this because it was the shortest of all the legs. I stood and waited for Wes, and I still felt SO weak. I told myself I'd just run steady and not push it. Before I knew it, here came Wes over the ridge, covered in sweat. We did the big high-five handoff and I was off.
The guy who took off in front of me had about a 4 minute head start. I had a feeling the guy starting behind me was going to be pretty close. It became my goal not to let him pass me. This trail was very hilly, but very firm and well-maintained. I felt weak, but otherwise I felt good. Just some incisional soreness and a slight bit of the liver pain, but I was okay. One thing I didn't like about this leg: STAIRS! I had to go up and down 5 flights of very steep stairs. At first, I ran them. Then I realized it was faster to walk and skip a step.
About halfway through the leg, I came to a turn. They mark the trails with ribbons. There was NO RIBBON. I was running totally by myself and had no one to follow. I went with my gut and turned left. I was wrong. I got about a minute down that way and realized this was no longer really a trail. I turned around and headed back to the turn. As I did, I saw the ribbon....on the ground. Crap!
Getting lost at DWD is common, but it's not fun. I ran pretty steady, but not terribly hard until the last mile. I had no idea if the guy who started behind me had passed me when I took a detour. I finished on the ridge to the sounds of drums beating (from the team dressed as Indians), sirens blazing (from the team called "Border Patrol"), and a song about Jesus being a hasher (from the group dressed up as the nativity scene). It was down a steep hill and then a mega-handoff to dad. Turns out, the guy behind me did pass me by when I was lost. Crap again!
We got in the car and headed to our next stop. This is where dad would come in and hand off to Tim. Tim then handed off to Wes (who ran the mostly grisly leg of them all--you should have seen the blood on his legs when he emerged! At the handoff, he said "That was an effing nightmare! Must've been bad, as Wes is a trail runner by heart). Wes handed off to Quigley. Quigley handed off to dad, and I was next up.
My second leg was called "Ogle This, Bub!" because it's basically a trail loop that goes around Ogle Lake. As I was waiting for dad, we figured up that we were at least in the top 6, possibly top 5. That is much better than we did last year. Dad slapped my hand and I was off. I had about a quarter of a mile on the road (thank you!) and then it was all trail. LOTS of climbing at first, but it was nice and firm. And beautiful. The run is in a state park and very scenic.
I noticed I wasn't even looking at my Garmin. I was just running. And that felt nice. Same kind of pain as the first leg, but I felt okay. When I got to the last mile of this leg, it became slightly downhill. I was able to really fly, and caught up to a team in front of us. I sprinted and handed off with Tim, who was awaiting me at the next exchange. I felt good enough that I decided I should definitely attempt the last leg.
After that, as we headed to the next exchange, I couldn't believe how tired I was. Not leg tired, just overall exhaustion. I felt like I could fall asleep any minute. I hate that feeling. Tim handed off to dad, who headed out on his final leg, called "Lunchmeat." Dad handed off to Quigley, who ran, for the first time ever "Stairway to Heaven." This is a very (in)famous DWD leg. Quigley survived and handed off to Wes.
And then it was my turn. My final leg was called "Crack of Doom." The description of it made it sound awful, but I couldn't believe that it could really be that bad. Well, it was....and more. First of all, it started in a creek. Yes, in a creek. I don't mean like crossing the creek bed...I mean I had to run up the creek. I don't know if you know this, but Indiana has been getting a TON of rain. This was one high creek. I tried to jump on the rocks, but quickly realized this was futile. Then, there were no rocks. It was up to my waist. I couldn't run, of course. So I walked as fast as I could. I finally found a rock--a big flat one. Guess what? That rock was SLICK! I fell smack dab on my butt, and my whole head went under. I got passed when I did that. I hurriedly got up and caught back up with him.
And then we were stopped by a guy who was working for the race. He mumbled something about the ribbons we were supposed to be following (the white ones) not being along the correct path. GREAT. So he described the course and told us we'd have no trouble. I was so afraid of getting lost.
About a quarter mile after that, we came to the ski slope. Yes, an actual ski slope. I tried to run up it. IMPOSSIBLE. I had to scale it like a wall. It took me forever to get up it, and I was huffing and puffing when I reached the top. After that, it was flat, and there WERE ribbons, but there was no trail. Just woods. And limbs. And thorns. And downed trees. And more creeks! I can't tell you how many times I fell. Once, I fell and actually slid down, probably 50 meters, in the mud. I couldn't get any traction. I just started laughing. This was insane!
And it only got worse. Soon, I came to the actual "Crack of Doom." The CoD was actually made by nature. It appeared as though 3 trees had been struck by lightning and all fell on top of one another. Limbs were everywhere, as were thorns. It was at least 30 feet tall. I came to it and stopped. How do I do this? I couldn't go around it, as there were steep banks on either side. I couldn't fit under it. I had to climb it.
I saw a guy, wearing a red shirt, on the top of it, struggling to get over. I actually did it without falling, but wow I wasn't trained for that. When he jumped down, he looked over his shoulder at me and took off hard. I made it my goal to pass (chick, Bill) him. Still no trail. Nothing even RESEMBLING a trail. It was like a field with a ton of trees and debris. For large portions, I couldn't run. It would have been impossible. Too many limbs.
I made it through that madness and came to a huge, extremely steep hill. I looked around for the ribbons, as I was certain there was no way we could be expected to get up THAT. Then I saw Red Shirt trying to climb it, on hands and knees. Then I saw the ribbon. Okay, I guess I'm supposed to go up it.
When I say I couldn't run up it, I mean that I couldn't stay vertical on it. I, like Red Shirt, got flat to the ground and pulled myself up with tree roots. Several times I slid down on my belly, and tried desperately with my mud-soaked trail shoes to get some traction. In this section, my ARMS were burning. I pulled myself up and, when I got to the top, briefly looked down it wishing I had my camera. No one would believe what I had just gotten up.
After that, more and more bushwhacking. Then, we reached the top of the ski slope again...had to go down. And this is where I caught Red Shirt. I told him good job and he said "Do you know how much longer this lasts?" I laughed and went on.
So, I went down, down, down the ski slope. I was terrified of falling, but I didn't. That took me back down to more creeks. I could hardly move in them, they were so deep. I saw two guys in front of me in the water. I knew there was only one way to catch them: swim. So I did. I swam right by them. Nobody said you couldn't swim.
I jumped out of the creek and was finally on a halfway decent trail. I poured it on and passed two more people. My team was waiting for me at the finish and we crossed together. We came in under 9 hours, over an hour better than last year! My last leg was so difficult it was funny. That's why they have to say "Off Road!"