Legend has it that people who complete Dances with Dirt gain superpowers. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my super power is, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following possibilities:
1. Able to scale sequoia sized tree trunks in a single bound
2. Able to slide straight down a hill (while trying to run up it) without losing all my fingernails
3. Able to smile at the end of a 4-mile leg that turned into a 6-mile leg when my actual legs felt like they weighed about 20 pounds apiece
This is a mere sampling of the challenges I experienced while running a Dances with Dirt trail race. Dances with Dirt (DWD) is many things to many runners. It is a 50 mile trail relay event (5 runners), a 50K or 50 mile ultra event (for the truly masochistic runner), and a half-marathon and full marathon event (though not at all a typical race at these distances).
I was asked to be the fifth runner on an all-female team planning to dress for the occasion in a Princess Barbie theme. Yep, there is a team theme and costume contest thrown into the relay, which should be your first clue that this is no ordinary event. The winners of the “Creative Team and Vehicle Award” earn a free entry into the next year’s event.
I’m not a “girlie” girl by any means, nor were any of the women I was racing with, so it was an interesting choice, but I rolled with it and happily ran in my sparkly tiara and pink Barbie sunglasses while carrying a blonde “runner” Barbie (our team baton) over the challenging race course.
The inaugural DWD, in 1997, hosted 22 teams in Hell, Michigan. Each year for the past five years, 400 teams have hit the trails. The event sells out within minutes, which is one of the reasons DWD expanded into venues including Indiana, Wisconsin, and Florida over the past couple of years. Another reason is that event organizer and promoter Randy Step believes that the race calendar can use a few more relay events and he has so much fun creating the DWD course that he’s more than happy to take his show on the road. The next event is at Devil’s Lake in Bambaroo, Wisconsin on July 10th. Hurry and register now before prices go up in 6 days! Devil’s Head Resort will again play host to the Devil’s Lake trail race. This is going to be another epic Dances with Dirt trail race for sure! Check out the race course if you dare. Click on the link on that page for a full description of each of the legs on the relay.
Although every distance is equally challenging and fun, the relay aspect of the race is truly a blast. Once runners begin the race, the rest of the teams take their maps and pile into their official DWD vehicle (1 per team please) to head for the first transition point. Each team transitions at the same spot, but obviously at different times, so each transition area is kind of like a floating tailgate party with people constantly coming and going. Some folks are very serious about running DWD (why shouldn’t they be, this is SeriousRunning.com) and take off at high speed in hopes of competing for first place overall or a top place in their category. Others pack coolers of beer and treat it like an afternoon jogging in the woods with friends. The rest of us are somewhere in between those extremes, hoping to run a decent time overall, but interested in having fun along the way.
I recommend packing two extra pairs of shoes, a change of clothes and a cooler full of food and drink to last about 8 hours. Experienced teams scout the course beforehand and figure out which legs of the race are best suited for each team member. Legs average 4.5 miles and each runner is required to run 3.
DWD was definitely one of the most memorable running experiences I’ve ever had. The organizers clearly love what they do, the participants love to do it, the course is out of the world beautiful, sometimes ridiculously hard, but always lots of fun. All of this makes for a great combination of competition, community, craziness, and classic moments. As a result, my DWD “Survivor” medal will remain a tremendous source of pride for years to come.