Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dances with Dirt at Devil's Lake, a review

Dances with Dirt is a series of multi-trail race events (10K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50M). For 2012, there are four events, in Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan ( Today's event ( took place in Devil's Lake State Park (and Ice Age National Scientific Reserve), near Baraboo, WI. This was my first trail race (half marathon) and so much fun! I'm hooked! Comparatively, road races are rather prosaic.

I've only one complaint about today's race: It should have been wave started. Half of all the participants, about 600, ran the half marathon, and, without a wave start, the usual congestion resulted but more so. The first two miles is basically an 800-ft climb on a single track trail. So, a good part of this section of the race is more a congested hike. At one point, someone behind me yelled out that someone dropped an iPod. Another person said just pass it up! There were only a few places where the trail was just wide enough for an "on your left." After two miles, the congestion eased a bit. After the aid station at 4.2M, the trail widened into the loop part of the course, and the rest of the race was fine.

The aid stations were well run (water, Gatorade, and GU), with cheerful, helpful volunteers. The station at South Bluff, with a 300-ft drop on three sides and a view of the valley below, got to be one of the most scenic of all races (worth it to lose a minute or so to enjoy!).

Other than the elevation changes, what characterizes this course is the rugged terrain. Definitely a heads up and eyes down course! Lots of roots and rocks and forehead-level leaning trees! There were several falls and near-falls by runners who were at around my pace. The first half of the fourth mile, particularly, was basically a bouldery swath of hillslope masquerading as a trail. Based on the event Web site, I was a bit concerned about the possibility of running through water in some of the low parts of the course, as I've not run in totally soaked shoes before (running in rain, sure, but that's different). As it turned out, this year has been so dry that the wet shoes problem didn't exist. As least from running through water. My shoes were still pretty wet, from the humidity and lots of sweat.

The race organizers overall did a super job coordinating the five different races, with overlapping times and course sections. I definitely would recommend the Dances with Dirt series in general and the Devil's Lake instance in particular.

Finally, a note about shoes. I ran in my Merrell Trail Glove and intimately felt the rough terrain! There were especially a few memorable landings that "made their point." For future similar races, however, I will not switch to one of those newer, more cushioned, zero-drop shoes, because I think the greater sensitivity of minimalist shoes like the Trail Glove makes me more aware of the terrain I'm running across, reminds me to take shorter and lighter steps, and allows me to react faster when I do misstep and, thus, minimize injuries.

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