Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dances With Dirt Devil's Lake Extreme Trail Half

The image above was from the back of the race shirt for the trail half I participated in this past weekend.  The race was definitely no laughing matter as I've heard stories of broken bones and unconscious runners occurring during past events.  Even with that knowledge I still decided I wanted to give things a go and have some fun with it... if climbing 700 foot hills is considered fun when you're only used to flat ground.

I took Friday off work and after a short run and a shower I loaded up the car and drove towards the land of cheese curds and beer.  About half way there I realized that I had forgotten my watch.  I wasn't going to be stuck in the woods not knowing how much further I had to go so I did some quick research while stopped for lunch.  I decided that I'd just upgrade to a newer model watch and oh look, there's a Fleet Feet in Madison practically on the way.  The Fleet Feet in Madison was tiny, but they had the watch I wanted and I made it to the resort and checked in followed by picking up my race packet and then going to the outlet shops near the Wisconsin Dells.

The race itself only offered up a shirt and a bib with tickets for food and beer post race.  The beer sponsor, Bell's, provided all sorts of stickers, pins, and sunglasses, etc. for the runner's to take as much as they wanted of.  I kind of liked it this way since you didn't want up with any unwanted or un-needed swag.

I knew going into the race that the course was hilly.  We were provided the elevation profiles, etc.  What I didn't know was how I would handle the course since I'm not used to hills like this at all.  It turns out I can't handle the big ones and wound up walking any hill that would take more than 30 seconds to run up.  This meant I walked a lot during the race.  I also wasn't very concerned with time, but just wanted to enjoy the experience.  I wound up taking a lot of pictures.

The Start

The opening field looks innocent enough

Then the hills started.  Notice the lean.
Some hills you couldn't run if you wanted
Even the non-hilly spots were tough to run
But it was pretty
And the rolling terrain sections were fun
The view made the climb worth it
It was so nice I didn't even ruin the shot
But it still felt great to reach the finish
This was a medal earned with sweat and sore muscles

It's pretty hard to put into words everything I experienced during the race.  Trail running is just so different from road races and can feel more rewarding at times even though you are basically forced to run slower or even walk.  I had a mile that lasted over 17 minutes.  On the flip side my fastest miles were at the end of the race flying downhill, and yes I was really flying when I felt like I could navigate without tripping and breaking my face.
Can't forget the post race beer
The crowd for events like this are different too.  Everyone is a bit more close knit and friendly since there were also ultra races involved and those are smaller, more close knit communities.  Many of the runners camped out overnight next to the race staging area complete with a hose "shower" and port-a-johns.  I opted to sleep pampered at the neighboring ski resort.  Oh did I forget to mention the ski resort?  The 10K runners ran up and down the ski hill twice.  So did the 50K runners before they went and ran the marathon course. The 50 milers did the ski hills to start their run,  then ran the marathon course twice, before doing one last loop on the ski hill.  These guys and gals were pretty badass, and many had the tattoos to back it up.

One of the top 50 milers chugging a beer brought by his GF before his final loop on the ski hills
Even the race director was getting in on the friendliness and was known as the "Head Goat".  He biked up to the top of the bluff to literally lend a hand at the aid station up there.  We had some rocks we had to literally climb down in order to continue on with the race and he made sure we didn't slip.

After suffering for most the first 4 miles I got a bit of a second wind around mile 5.5 after taking in some accel-gel.  Right around mile 7 or so is when we hit the views on the bluff and I couldn't help but stop for a bit and take everything in.  This was my 2nd slowest mile of the race.  Once the adrenaline from the view wore of I started to wear out again around miles 8-10.  I took another accel-gel and once we got past the real rough and rock section I posted the picture of above I started to feel better again and let loose for sections of downhill.  My finish time was 2:50:49 which is a personal worst in a half by 35 minutes, but not at all unexpected with this event.  It wasn't something I was doing for time at all.  I enjoyed myself immensely.

After getting my medal I decided to walk back to my hotel room and take a cold bath to help with the legs and then showered and re-hydrated and had a quick snack before heading back out to the race grounds to watch the marathoners and ultra runners come in.  I was also keeping an eye out for Amanda as I had seen her post the night before that she decided to do the marathon at the last minute. When I got back out to the side I grabbed my food and beer and found a place to watch the race from.  I saw the marathon clock was around 6 hours and thought maybe I had missed her, but saw no signs of her finishing and she wasn't in the results they kept printing and posting as the day wore on.  I also figured that it it took me 2:50 to do the half, she would of been around double that, if not more for the marathon.  She finally came in with a friend in tow.  I greeted her and we got some pics and had some much earned beers before she hit the road.  I stuck around for another night and headed to the Dells again for some conquest grub.

Some food for thought on the difficulty of the courses -
Top half finisher was around 1:30
Top marathoner was 3:43
50K was 4:23
50M was 7:46
These are far slower times that you would see from the winners of road races for sure. 


  1. Nice job. At least you got a course PR? :) The course looks pretty scenic and it sounds like the people were pretty friendly!

    1. Yeah I guess I do get a course PR by default. Definitely a ton of fun. I want to go back and maybe even tackle one of the longer distances.

  2. You're so right about trail running being a whole different beast - not only did I once have a mile that was 19 minutes, but I felt like someone had beaten the hell out of me with a sack of oranges the next day.

    Congrats on finishing your first trail half :)

    1. I was surprisingly ok the next day, but then again I wasn't blazing up the trail as hard as I could. I also took a cold bath immediately after to help with soreness.

      This is actually my 2nd trail half since I did Nearly Sane last year, even if that trail was a bit lame in comparison.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. All I can say is "Wow"! ;-)

    I've never done a trail race but I've been reading more about them that I want to add one to my list.

  5. Oh...my...gah. You weren't kidding about this. How intense!