It’s that time again in late september when I get to travel to Hell Michigan with some of my closest friends…I can’t wait! It was 12 years ago when I first heard about this race called “Dances With Dirt” and signed up “the team”. It’s put on by the owners of Running Fit shoe stores, Rand Step, AKA “the goat” and his task master wife “the dirt diva” and many many volunteers. It’s a day of fun and festivities running 100 kilometers of trails through and around the town of Hell, Michigan. My favorite parts of this trip are not only being able to run through the woods, on trails, across rivers and muddy bogs, breathing in the crisp, cool air as you race the scenic terrain, but more spending time camping, laughing, running and loving my friends.
As soon as you arrive at the start/finish on race morning there is no doubt that this is a special race with special people. Thousands of runners, volunteers, spectators and rescue personnel are gathered to kick off the various races of the day. The 50 mile and 50k individual ultra events kick off before the sun even rises leaving behind more than 300 relay teams that are ready to compete for speed and/or team theme awards. With thousands of athletes gathering on race day, a fun-filled day of entertaining shenanigans ensues, complete with the Head Goat’s commentary and a great community of athletes cheering each other on in a friendly, competitive atmosphere
We have participated in many team relay events, but I am always amazed by the costumes and vehicle décor that this particular race brings out. Both imagination and insanity contribute to making ‘ordinary’ runners dress in costumes like crayons, Sesame Street characters, zombies, cowgirls, ninja turtles, etc. as they then attempt to run in them through more than 62 miles of Michigan trails. These are certainly not your Wickham park style trails either. Actually, a fair amount of this course is run well off the beaten path. As soon as you start to enjoy some nice wide, well marked, dry, soft pine needle lined trail, a pink or blue flag out of the ordinary will alert you that you have missed a turn and are now off course! No worries, simply backtrack, find that cursed flag, breathe in a sigh of relief, make your turn, and then continue on into the swamp (where you need rope to escape) or into a river, lake or up and down hills that will wreak havoc on your glutes, shins, calves and quads for days to come. This being the perfect complement to your lower legs, which have already been shredded by prickly bushwhack all day. But don’t worry, as soon as your legs start feeling better it should be just about time for the poison ivy to show up.
Why do we do it? Because it’s fun, that’s why! You will curse the trail as you run (or walk) it, but you will be sorry it is over once you are back in the team vehicle trying to describe the conditions of your leg versus your pace to your teammates as you head to the next exchange. It’s really hard to explain just why you ran a 10min average pace during a leg like the “Sticks River of Death” to someone who has never run that leg or experienced one similar. Each handoff leads to a story and each leg provides an adventure, which makes the anticipation of taking on a new leg each year that much more endearing.
Once your last runner comes down the hill and your team runs through the finish together to claim your spot in the rankings, it’s time to grab some pizza and beer, then plop down in the grass to stretch and reminisce of the day’s events as you cheer and watch all of the other runners and teams finish. What a great way to spend a day with your friends and mix up the sometimes monotonous training schedules we endure on the asphalt and concrete. It sounds crazy but it’s that one adventure I get to share with friends that I don’t get to spend time with enough! I wouldn’t miss it for anything!
What adventure will you spend with friends this weekend??