at the start line of Dances With Dirt at 6:15 a.m.
stu allen photo


It was literally a cold day in Hell, Michigan.  My wife Shelia and I lined up in the dark waiting to start our day of adventure.  That would entail 50 miles of insane terrain known as Dances With Dirt.

Just as the race was starting at 6:15 a.m., a light rain began to fall.  It increased in intensity and before the first mile was done, most of us were already wet.  The rain would come and go multiple times before the day was  over, and it would bring some other stuff with it.

50 miles of trail running is a challenge.  Throw in rivers and mud and hills and off-trail running and you are looking at a full day's work.   That was our attitude as we began the day.  We would be out there all day.

Daylight came a little after 7, so it was time to put away the flashlights and headlamps.  Sometimes, being able to see where you are going is overrated.  By first light it was easy to see that were were running through poison ivy.  Turns out, it would be our companion for a majority of the day's adventure.

We hit our first water crossing at about 20 miles, and would encounter three more before heading upstream in Hell Creek for about a quarter mile.  From there we came out of the water to the aid station behind the general store in Hell.  Waiting at the top of the bank was the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, a.k.a. the Devil shouting out "Welcome to Hell."

We paused in Hell for a few minutes to take off our shoes and remove any  zebra mussels that we had picked up in Hell Creek. 

It started raining again as we traversed the hills and swamps heading back to the 50k start/finish aid station.  It was cold and miserable and the thought of bailing out at 50k was starting to look appealing.

We got to the 50k checkpoint just before 1:30 p.m. and quickly loaded up on snacks and fluids.  The longer we stayed there, the harder it would be to head back out for 19 more miles of this. 

The last 19 miles of the Dances With Dirt course is shared by the Ultramarathoners and the Relay Race teams.  The relay people cover 100k with 5-person teams.  That works out to around 12 or 13 miles per person.  Needless to say, they mostly flew past us at most encounters on the trail.

We reached the aid station at 41.5 miles with about 3 hours of daylight left.  We were still able to run on downhills and flats and were keeping a good walk pace on the other stuff.  The sun was shining and we were feeling pretty good about our chances to finish.

Not long after that, the skies darkened and a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder made us jump.  It started to rain.  Hard.  We are tired and still have about 7 miles to go and we are once again soaked to the bone.  Then it started to hail.  Fortunately, it was just buckshot sized hail, but they were cold and so were we. 

As quickly as the storm started, it ended.  The sun came back and helped to warm us up for the final push.  We made the last aid station at mile 45.9 at around 5:20 p.m.  It was time to head for the finish!

At mile 47 we ran through a campground and my wife needed to make a pit stop, so we stopped for a couple of minutes.  While I was waiting near the outhouse, a relay runner came up to me who appeared to be lost.  He was mad as a wet hen because he had just ran 4 miles  and realized he had 3 more to go.  I didn't have the heart to point out to him that we had already covered 47 and was thinking only 3 more sounded pretty darn good.

We caught up with another 50-mile runner in the last 3 mile stretch and ran together the rest of the way.  It was his first 50-mile run, so we were happy to see him accomplish his goal. 

When the finish line was finally in sight, Shelia turned on the jets and was heading for home.  I didn't have quite enough speed left to catch her, but she slowed down and we finished together, hand-in-hand.

It took us 12 hours and 8 minutes to cover 50 miles on foot.  Shelia won her age group (I won't tell how young she is) and I finished 5th in the 50-54 year-old men.  Not a bad day's work.  Normally, we would jump into the lake by the finish line and wash some of the grunge off, but we were both really cold so we headed for our truck and cranked the heater up while changing into dry clothes. 

For more on Dances With Dirt, visit 

 We will be running some shorter events in the coming weeks, like Run 4 Wine on October 11th, and The Zombie Run on October 13th

Hope to see you on the roads and trails!


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