Tag Archives: Dances with Dirt

DWD Gnaw Bone Recap: Dances with Mud

Big Bone 2

The trails of Brown County State Park in southern Indiana are the setting for the Gnaw Bone races, the second in the Running Fit Dances with Dirt series. I ran the first one, DWD Green Swamp, in Florida earlier this year – you can read my recap of that race here.

View from Hesitation Point, Brown County State Park.

View from Hesitation Point, Brown County State Park.

Green Swamp is relatively flat. Gnaw Bone is – not so much (nearly 5,000 feet of elevation change). It’s similar to the Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney where April’s Trail Marathon Weekend was held, only with steeper climbs and descents, several hundred stair steps, off-trail bushwhacking, and for good measure, a downriver wade. And I was running it with a bruised and swollen right knee. What’s not to like?

But I will let the photos tell the story.

I wore my bright orange Trail Marathon shirt, both for inspiration and to make it easy for Search & Rescue to find my body. And I saw at least two other runners in the same shirt, so I wasn’t the only one running two trail ultras in two weeks.

At the start area with a fellow Trail Marathoner of two weeks ago. I may be crazy, but I have company!

I may be crazy, but I have company!

We were off and running at 6:15 a.m.

6:15 a.m. We're off!

The flat parts – the first 200 yards, and the last 200 yards.

The course included several sets of stairs, including one of nearly 200 steps. Sorry I didn’t get that photo – I think I was too busy gasping for breath.

How steep were some of these hills? Does this help? (There was another set of nearly 200 steps later on.)

Could have used these at the “wall o’ mud” around mile 18.

Things went pretty well for the first 8 miles or so – and then the fun really began.

Slogging up a long climb. Well, could be worse - like it could start - raining - oh, nuts.

Slogging up another long climb. Well, could be worse – like it could start – raining – oh, nuts.

One benefit, at least, was no shortage of water.

Didn't see any rattlesnakes, but there were plenty of drowned rats.

Mile 12 – haven’t seen any rattlesnakes, but there are plenty of drowned rats.

One thing I really appreciate about trail ultras is the aid stations. Unlike road marathons, they offer real food. I can only handle so much Gu and Gatorade.

The ultrarunner's secret fuels - salted potatoes and Pretzel M&Ms.

The ultrarunner’s essentials – bananas, PB&J, salted potatoes and Pretzel M&Ms.

The Park Service is good about clearing the main trails of fallen logs. Naturally, that was unacceptable to our race planners.

Rain and mud? Sure, let's jump over a few logs, too.

A few hurdles will keep those legs supple.

I think this is a Black Diamond ski slope in the winter.

DWD Gnaw Bone - descending

Downhill is good, right? Tell that to my quads at mile 30.

Over the woods and through the river…or something like that.

Hint: Don't wear new shoes to this race.

Hint: Don’t wear new shoes to this race.

And then – the finish line!

My finish line photo isn't ready yet, so this is simulated. Just pretend one of those buff Quaff On team members is me.

My finish line photo isn’t ready yet, so this is simulated. Just pretend one of those Quaff On team members is me. Yeah, I’m buff.

I gotta say the swag and perks were pretty good, too.

Finished! Got a medal, cool blanket, and free beer. And all I had to do was run a 50K!

Got a medal, cool blanket, and a free beer. And all I had to do was run a 50K!

And the best part – my knee held up. I was even able to help pick up trail flags on Sunday morning. Slowly.

Next up – rest. No running for at least a week. I’ll give it my best shot, Coach.


Down and Dirty: Green Swamp 50K Race Recap

Personal numbers from last Saturday’s Dances With Dirt Green Swamp 50K:

Me with fellow PR Fitness ultrarunner Tracy, enjoying a post-race adult libation.

Me with fellow PR Fitness ultrarunner Tracy, enjoying a post-race adult libation.

Time: 5 hours, 28 minutes, 59 seconds
Overall finish place: 15
Age group finish place: 2
Snakes nearly stepped on: 1
Face plants: 3
Men’s tree relief stops: 2
Creeks waded through: 2
Salted potatoes consumed: too many to count
Hell of a good time: 1

Green Swamp is one of the four DWD races put on by Running Fit every year. Each offers a variety of races ranging from 10K up to 50 miles, and team relays. And this year, there’s a super cool belt buckle for anyone who completes an ultra (50K or more) in all four. Having never done a DWD before, naturally I signed up for the whole shebang. You don’t know what you can’t do until you try!

Withlacoochee Park at 7 a.m. was around 42 degrees, but it warmed up quickly to the mid-60s – a perfect morning to run, and a gorgeous afternoon for hanging out after the race. The 50K course consisted of an initial 10K loop, then a 20-mile loop out in God’s green nowhere, and a final five-mile loop, each time ending back at the main aid station – handy for changing clothes or shoes.

Green Swamp - First 10KI prefer racing trails to roads; the scenery is better and the ground is more forgiving than cement. And it keeps you sharp mentally. While with some road races you can practically close your eyes, at Green Swamp there were logs to jump, creeks to wade, and mud fields that could suck your shoes off. It equalized the field a bit – just being a fast runner didn’t guarantee a top finish.

There are some tradeoffs. For one, it’s easier to get lost. The course was marked by little flags spaced every so often, and if I missed a turn I could go a long way the wrong way. I was saved from doing just that once by someone ahead of me retracing her mistake. One poor guy wound up back at the start half an hour into running his marathon. (No, he wasn’t that fast.) And five of us ran quite a ways along a barbed wire fence – only to find out we were on the wrong side. It was either retrace our steps, or crawl through. You can guess our choice.

Green Swamp - Batman 2

How superheroes stay in shape. (Relay team.)

But keeping a sharp eye on the flags led to losing sight of other hazards (see “face plants” above). Stupid trees, they think they can just put their roots wherever they like. And the snake I didn’t see until too late is likely grateful I missed him. (Not that I would have been in trouble. He was only 19 feet long with twelve-inch fangs.)

250px-Gadsden_flag.svgAnd it got lonely out there; the 50K runners started out together but spread out pretty quickly, and for a long time on that 20-mile stretch it felt a lot like I was the only one out there. The aid stations were a big relief, as much for touching base with humanity again as for the food.

Remember when you could do this in Michigan? (Or did I dream it?)

Remember when you could do this in Michigan? (Or did I dream it?)

My food and drink plan was pretty simple. Just a banana and some oatmeal pre-start, then salted potatoes and water at the aid stations. After finishing, I took last year’s lesson in wooziness at Run Woodstock to heart and ate more potatoes and drank a lot of iced tea and lemonade. The result was that I felt fine the rest of the day and had no problems driving back to Orlando and flying home that night. Well, other than stiff legs. And Orlando Airport on Saturday night is no place for a civilized person to be. But that’s another story.

After the race, one of the organizers asked how I liked the course. “It was fine,” I told him, “but do something about those tree roots next time, will you?”

Next in the series – Gnaw Bone, Indiana in May. Can’t wait!

Green Swamp, Red Can, Black Goodness

DWD Green Swamp - Start-Finish Line with Deer

I’m in not-so-sunny Florida today, resting up for my first ultra of the year – Saturday’s Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K in Dade City. This morning I was out at Withlacoochee Park to help set up. I love volunteering at Running Fit races; the events crew is laid back and the pace is unhurried, yet everything comes together on schedule. And after an intense week of being audited and traveling (Costa Rica – yes, it was rough), it was great to hang out with fellow runners and decompress.

It was cloudy and chilly all day, and the Michigan contingent wasn’t too pleased. But race day promises to be sunny and warmer, starting in the 40s and warming up to the low 70s. Excellent for running an ultra. Can’t wait to hit that trail. I will have to watch my step, however, and not just for roots.

Watch your step! Fire ant nests are everywhere - including the starting chute.

Fire ant nests everywhere, even the starting chute.

More about Costa Rica with my race recap next time. For now I will address a subject as dear as running to my heart, and equally important to civilization and the future of humanity. I’m speaking, of course, about coffee.

Cafe Britt - Dark Roast 2

Grocery-store stuff in Costa Rica, but good.

Costa Rica has a deserved reputation for excellent coffee; the Doka Estate’s French Roast remains my favorite. Trouble is, there’s also a lot of cheap, poorer stuff and/or bad preparation; the outstanding hotel I stayed at unfortunately served coffee I found undrinkable. So I went to their gift shop and got a dark roast to make in my room. Their only size bag was much more than I needed, but it was quite good, and I packed the rest for my trip home.

So today, as I helped set up the registration and awards area, I was asked to wash the coffee maker – a vital piece of equipment at 4:30 a.m. Saturday as the crew begins race day activities (such as sending off the 50-milers at 5:30). And in the box of coffee supplies I came across the dreaded RCOD (*).

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Now runners love coffee as much or more than anyone else, and with all the attention serious runners pay to what else goes into their bodies, you’d think they’d be just as discriminating about their choice of coffee. Apparently not. “We’re on a budget,” I was told. “And at 4:30 we just need something hot.”

Clearly, an intervention was needed. These folks would never try to save money buying $40.00 sneakers to run their marathons in. They needed to see that drinking nasty coffee to save a few bucks per pound was just as nutty.

Synchronicity! I had the Costa Rica coffee in my running bag in the car. I retrieved it and donated it to their cause. I’ll let you know what happens, but if at least one more person awakens to what real coffee is, it’ll be more than worth it to me.

READ MORE: How to drink better coffee, and support those who care about quality, without busting your budget


(*) RCOD = Red Can of Death. Refers to a certain distinctive red can which contains a bad-smelling, worse-tasting substance marketed as coffee. I don’t know if it actually contains floor sweepings, but many cheap brands do, according to the BBC.

Fueling Around

My first long race of the year – the Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K – is just two weeks away, and I can hardly wait. Not only is it my first-ever spring ultra, it’s in Florida, where I hear the weather is actually above freezing.

What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

Winter riddle: What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

I’m currently running around 30 miles per week, Saturday’s group run being about half that, with shorter runs and speedwork mixed in. This is actually a bit light; many in our group are running 40-50 miles or more per week training for Boston. But with snow shoveling, Aikido, and my twice-weekly torture sessions added, I think I’m in good shape.

But physical fitness is just part of preparing for a race. There’s also how I plan to eat and drink before, during, and after – what the running world refers to as fueling. And boy, is there a science to it. Food becomes reduced to its constituent elements – protein, fats, and carbohydrates – presented as pills, powders, gels, and bars, while liquid intake is concerned with electrolyte balance and hydration. And, naturally, there are several wonderful companies that have exactly the right products for you to run your next race like Superman.

So good...and so good for you!

So good…and so good for you!

I got some insights at a recent nutrition clinic hosted by the Ann Arbor Triathlon Club. An ultramarathon, like a triathlon, is an endurance event, and the rules for getting the right stuff into your body at the right time are basically the same. So I signed up and drove through a snowstorm to learn all I could. I’ll save the gory details for another time, but here’s some highlights.

  • Don’t try to replace the calories you burn during a race, or even all the water you lose. The human body is designed to operate without food while running, and eating or drinking too much can make you sick. Look to replace no more than 240-280 calories per hour, and drink to your thirst.
  • Don’t overdo the sugar. Glucose is what the body uses for fuel, but the stomach can’t handle too much simple sugars at once. Complex carbs are much easier to handle, and tossing in a little protein helps even more.
  • The first hour after the race is a key time for recovery to begin, so don’t neglect replenishing food and water. I ignored this rule after last year’s 50-miler at Run Woodstock because, well, I wasn’t hungry, and paid the price with a period of nausea and light-headedness. (Salted potatoes and lemonade brought me round.)
Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both felt really good!

Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both were great!

Just as important as how much to eat and drink is finding out what you can and cannot comfortably consume. So I’ve been experimenting with different foods and amounts during my long training runs. One interesting finding: eating breakfast before the run doesn’t seem to make much difference, as long as I eat properly during it. My marathon nutrition book says a quick bite just before the start can help, and that seems to work okay for me too.

For my two road marathons I subsisted mainly on Gu gels and Gatorade, and by mile 20 I couldn’t stand the sight of either of them. For the trail ultras and long training runs, I’ve had more substantial food with no digestive issues. Bonk Breaker bars and Gu Chomps (not the gels) seem to work particularly well. At 15 degrees it’s challenging to gnaw my way through them, but I get there.

Next up: Florida in March…what will I wear to the race? The short answer is “prepare for anything” but I only have so much space in my luggage.

The culprit - the elusive recyclables bin!

The culprit – the elusive recyclables bin! Yep, the wind was that strong on Saturday.