Race (Volunteer) Report: Dances With Dirt HELL (9/21/13)

After running a little local trail 5k in the morning (I led until the last tenth, when she got me, grr)(but HOORAY FOR RUNNING without shin pain!), I headed over to DWD Hell (MI) to volunteer at one of the ultra aid stations with my mom. The weather was pretty variable in terms of sun/clouds and temperature changes, with a little occasional drizzle in the morning, but generally good. Mid-60s with dropping humidity throughout the day and a decent breeze.

Although we were just working the ultra aid, we got to see and in some way experience the beer-powered exuberance that is the DWD relay. It’s a totally different, but equally awesome, vibe than ultras. Vans would pull into the field lot and a group of energetic, fresh runners (who turned more tipsy as the day wore on) piled out and headed to the exchange pole. As their runner came into view, the whooping, jeering, and gleeful raising of bottles commenced. More often than not, the exchange was a brew handoff rather than a hand slap.


It was just such fun to watch. The relay covers 62 miles split up into uneven legs – an ultra distance, but with a team effort that is usually missing in ultras. The camaraderie, the ridiculous costumes which I couldn’t imagine running in, the excitement of tracking your team’s progress for each leg, the pressure on the anchor to kill those last four miles because The Poodle Team is just three minutes ahead…! 

And it was great because although they were all cheering for their teammates and busy with their race, whenever a 50-miler would come through, they’d cheer them on too. “Go ultra!” “50 miles, that’s incredible! Keep it up, buddy!” When some of the hurting runners came though, the relay-ers would shake their heads in awe as each and every 50-miler, no matter how bad they felt, walked, jogged, or ran out of that aid station. It was a fantastic way for two kind of different worlds to collide; although a fair number of the relay runners were also distance guys, there were some relay runners who had never experienced anything more than perhaps a half who got a glimpse of just what the last few miles of a 50 look like.

Which, of course, varies greatly. The field today was smaller than Run Woodstock, so there was never a big rush of runners all coming in at once – maybe three at the station at most. We were at the Bartell station, 4.1 miles from the end – those dreaded last four miles – and most of the people who came through seemed to be in decent spirits, despite the uneven trail and apparently some not-too-clearly-marked turns. The worst offenders/sorriest souls? The 10-mile guy, who didn’t seem too upset at the fact that he’d done about 100k instead of 50M, and the 63-year-old runner who set out to do a 4-mile leg and was out for five hours. The 10-mile guy didn’t seem to mind at all, as he was still making pretty good time. Not sure what became of the five-hour guy (I just know they did eventually track him down).

The hours ticked by and we ticked runners off our sheet. The first guy came through hours ahead of the main group, looking unfazed and fresh; same for the first woman – the first three women, actually. Third place was running her first 50 and looking amazingly strong and chipper at 45.9 miles. There weren’t too many people suffering a lot – a few guys came through with pretty bad stomach issues or cramps, but they all carried on. A few of the runners who got lost were disgruntled, but nothing unreasonable.

Then we got to the last runners. They came through knowing they were nowhere near any of the other runners, the relay runners having long departed. Shadows were starting to lengthen and the temperatures were dropping. Then sun had been covered by clouds for hours. As they came into view, we’d all cheer and clap them into the aid station. These were mainly a stolid bunch, quiet and dedicated to their last few hours on the trail. One kid came in towards the very end, obviously fatigued but determined to finish his first 50 miler. “I’m so close,” he said, breathing hard and eating a pretzel. “I can’t fail now.”

Finally, the last 50-miler arrived. We saw him coming through the field and checked our watches – good, he was still under the cutoff. Once he was closer, we raised our hands and cheered silently – he was deaf. Communication in this situation was surprisingly easy. The tired ultrarunner doesn’t change much person to person. Water? Yes. Yes, please. Anything to eat? Pause; a slow shake of the head. How much farther? Hold up four fingers.

How are you feeling?
Closed eyes for a moment; open them; a sigh and a shrug. Then he shouldered his refilled hydration pack and headed off.

All in all, DWD was a very different experience from Run Woodstock… but it was infectious. I definitely want to do a relay there sometime, or perhaps the 50k. (Not the 50M, I would get so annoyed at that rough terrain.)

And now, a few photos:

he stripper team exchange: “Get me on the ass, man!” (They didn’t realize there was a 1.5 year old in our tent… oh well)

nother quality exchange. Why stand up when you can fall on the ground?

 little blood never hurt anyone.

ust… oh my. The Porn Star team (turns out, I know one of those guys).

For any DWD runners: I have more photos of individual runners which I’ll put on Facebook a little later.

And I’ll do a separate post for my little 5k. Wish I’d been wearing my spikes.

peace love and – at last – running,


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