Dances with Dirt in Hell, Michigan


This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill. Fifteen percent concentrated power of will. Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain. And a hundred percent reason to remember the name.

This is a belief of the limitless potential and possibilities. That’s what drives me; a curiosity. And even if I don’t reach #1, the journey is second to none.

Dances with Dirt Team, 2011.

For the third year in a row, our team, “Soles in Motion” (a group of athletes racing for a cause to encourage others to get ACTIVE, GO GREEN, and donate their shoes to those in need around the world), boarded the plane on September 23th for our annual Dances with Dirt reunion. Our team was once again registered for the race months in advance and excited, despite several pending injuries. DWD Hell Michigan is the original 100k ultra trail team relay that ignited what is now a 4 race series in 4 different states throughout the year. My first introduction to these team adventure racing shenanigans began with the Keys 100 mile relay in March 2009. However, it wasn’t until after an introduction to the Taper Madness group in Hell, MI 2009 that I got hooked.

Coming from a competitive athletic background and 4 years of intense collegiate training and racing, it has been a lot of fun to mix up the competitive individual races with these destination trip team relays. Like all of the other Dances with Dirt racing series locations, Hell, MI is also found in the State’s smallest cities. Home of Jiffy, this quaint town with the traditional hotel and local pre-race dinner location, always brings back great memories and provide the perfect venue for the annual reunion with all of our Northern friends.

As soon as you arrive at the start/finish on race morning there is no doubt that this is where it all started. Thousands of runners, volunteers, spectators and rescue personnel are gathered to kick off the various races of the day. The weather was cool and we lucked out this year with clear skies and no rain on race morning (versus a very muddy 2010 event). 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. And 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.

My favorite parts of this trip are just that; being able to run through the woods, on trails, across rivers and breathe in the crisp, cool air as you race the scenic terrain. This year I took on the 3 longest and most hilly legs: Rave Run with Distractions, Stripper Pole with Chutes and Ladders, and Vertigo with intense mountain slammers. A total of 18-20 miles comprised of both up and downhill running, mountain climbs, buttsliders, rocks, lakes and pickers, which make our Florida causeways now seem like undulations.

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 of Brevard County.

Thanks to this year’s teammates; Steve Chin, Scott Larson, Shane Streufert and “Admiral” Jonathan Campbell for racing strong despite injury and especially working together as a team to adjust our typical mileage to compensate for the extra or shorter mileage legs this year! We made it happen and along with our bodily souvenirs, mud laden clothes and shoes, our team also managed to bring home a 10th OA finish. An improvement by 5 spots from last year, which for this race isn’t bad at all, especially for us Floridians!

If you ever find yourself worn out by your daily training/racing regime, I encourage you to get your friends together, book a trip and participate in an adventure together. A lot of the mud races, relays and adventure runs are a great way to just run for pure enjoyment and fun! Get back to your roots, visit another climate and I guarantee it will rejuvenate your love of the sport.

Join us in March 2012 as this DWD series returns to Florida. More details to come but you can start putting your team together now: www.danceswithdirt.com and join us in running for a cause: www.giveshoes.org/active.


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