by Scott VanLoo
The second stop in the 2014 Running Fit Dances with Dirt (DWD) series was held in Nashville, Indiana on May 10th. One would think that a trail event in Indiana would be an easy run on flat trails. Wrong! Once again Randy Step (race director) and his Running Fit crew held an amazing event on some of the most beautiful and challenging trails in the Midwest. The Running Fit DWD series involve multiple events (50-mile, 50k, marathon, half marathon, 100k relay teams) on unique and challenging trails in Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan that all include great post-race beverages, food, jamming music and more importantly the trail running camaraderie. This year with support of my family I’ve chosen to tackle all four of the destinations and compete in the 50-mile events. In doing so I’ve signed up for the ultra-challenge belt buckle, the 4 B’s Buckle (Blood, Bones, Bruises & Burns).
Brown County State Park is nick-named the ‘Little Smokies’ because of the resemblance of its big brother with its 16,000 acres of rugged hills (to me they felt like mountains), ridges, and fog-hidden ravines. We booked a weekend stay at the Abe Martin Lodge that is nestled in the State Park, a great location for family members, kids and more importantly spouses to hang out at while you’re running 10-plus hours because they have an indoor waterpark. Needless to say the hot tub felt exceptionally great after the race.
The 50-mile course for this year’s event was started by taking the runners out 3.5 miles to a section that basically starts a 21-mile loop around the park. The overall trail involved single track paths traversing up and down beautiful ravines and winding through streams. Once again the DWD aid stations and support crew throughout the event was amazing. From fully stocked food to quickly grab and go to the volunteers offering to refill, tie your shoes, wipe the dirt off your face or help out with anything that you needed.
With the race starting at 6:15 a.m. it meant that we didn’t need to gear up with headlamps. Bonus, as that meant more time to sleep in! After dropping my gear bag off for the 21-mile aid station I went through my typical pre-race routine before the start and had enough time to hang out with some friends before toeing the line. At first light, 6:15 a.m., the official “GO” was shouted. This wave of runners included 50-milers and 50k runners, so right out of the start there were some runners that were definitely going to bring the heat for the day. I knew going into this race that I would have to work hard at finishing it as I’ve heard that the elevation gain of the 50-mile course is around 8,000 feet. The first half of a mile takes you on a dirt road then quickly you’re on single track and heading upwards on some wicked soft mud. Eventually the trail flattens out and hardens up and you are connected into the Brown County State Park trails. By mile seven, I realized that the day’s effort would be a totally different experience than the Green Swamp DWD 50-mile in early March of the year.
While the terrain was incredibly brutal at times for this Michigander, the views of the valleys and the amazing ravines that you’d drop in on were absolutely breath taking. As I did for Green Swamp, I carried along my GoPro camera to capture the views and the experience on the run (check out my adventures at vimeo.com/vanloorunning). At Fire Tower aid station (gear drop site) I was at 21 miles and I decided to swap out my Salomon Mantra for my Salomon S-Lab XT-5 as I heard there was a section coming up that may require more traction. This was a good decision as from here on out as the day unfolded the morning rain that we endured for a solid hour would provide some adventurous trail conditions. This section definitely earns the DWD tradition for a true challenge as you’re basically on all fours climbing and grabbing anything you can to not lose your footing.
Playground is the name of the aid station at mile 25, from here you get to make that decision to either drop to the 50k or finish the 50. From there the crowd definitely singles down and you find yourself either grouped up with some runners or trekking the trails by yourself. At this point of the race I was feeling the hills and my quads where destroyed. I knew that some walking would be in store for the rest of the afternoon and I was okay with it.
As the day went on so did the miles. I broke up the mind game into five-mile sections, on each I would make sure I was eating and would reward myself (if you call it that) a half mile walk even if it was on a downhill. The humidity was climbing and was literally sucking everything out of me. When I ran in Florida in March, I filled my 70-ounce Camelbak bladder in my Ultimate Direction SJ vest and still had some water left when I was finished. This race was different though, as I ended up filling the bladder again during the race plus I finished off a couple 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade. The only time I felt light headed was towards the end so I felt that I was staying ahead of hydration. At the Playground aid station (mile 45) I sat down for a solid minute to take in some more calories plus some Mountain Dew. From here on, the trail conditions were twice as hard as they have been all day (if that is even possible). For the next three miles the trail was pretty flat but during that time we had another quick storm cloud roll through and the skies opened up with some heavy rain. While this made the terrain even worse, it cooled me down just enough to push for the last section as fast as I could.
I quickly checked into the last aid station with my number and proceeded to attempt to knock out the final 2.8 miles as quickly as I could manage. This was harder than I thought it would be. The aid station was called Nosebleed and I found out why. Some sections were 10 to 15% grade on some slippery mud along with rocks and boulders randomly placed. I heard from friends leading up to the race that while you’re coming back to the finish the course takes you through a creek so you’re nice and ‘clean’ for the finish. At this point I was hoping they were correct, as I really wanted to cool off.
With the sounds of the DJ and crowd in the distance, I came along the creek I had heard about. Yes, it felt good and yes I may have slowed a bit during this section to just cool down. As I exited the creek and made a couple turns onto the trail, I could see the familiar DWD finish line arch. My friend that paced me in my first hundred mile race last year was the first person I recognized and high fived as I rolled out of the brush and headed for the line. Along the way I noticed my wife and boys jumping up and down as they cheered me on.
I did it, I survived the DWD Gnaw Bone 50-mile race, not a PR in time for this distance but a personal best on the toughest terrain this Michigan native has ever experience (15th overall, first in AG with a time of 10:48:25). Would I go back? Definitely, but some hill repeats are in store for my training before I set foot in Gnaw Bone, IN again. Running Fit hosts incredible trail events that should be added to your bucket list. Now it’s time to recover, continue my training for my fall 100-mile target race (Running Fit Woodstock Hallucination 100), and begin to start planning for the third stop in the DWD series, Devil’s Lake in Merrimac, WI on July 12th. See you there! To read more about my running adventures check out my blog at vanloorunning.wordpress.com.