Sunday, July 24, 2016

Earth Runner's High

Dirty Girls Trail Race, Mansfield Ontario

I did the Dirty Girls, and I have the T-shirt to prove it. This tough trail race with the politically risky name (try googling it) has been part of the Ontario Ultra series for a decade now, although there was a suggestion from the announcer at the starting line that it may be coming to an end.

Dirty Girls logo. The race is tough, really.
I hope not, because a lot of loving care has gone into this race, and it shows. The event has a visual theme of cute, clever artwork that belies its gritty character. One touch I appreciated is that each section of the course is given a name – Chatty Girl Escape No.1, Earth Girl’s High, Dirty Boy’s Confusion – and this actually goes a long way to help with orientation. Hint: When you reach Beer Gut Boy’s a-Singin’! you are near the end.
The race is run around an 8k loop, which means that you get to enjoy the same hills and stumble over the same roots multiple times – familiarity can breed contempt or confidence. For all of the events except one, the distance is variable: you are measured on how many laps you can do in a given time – 6, 12, or 24 hours. My event was the only one with a fixed distance: 32k, or a modest 4 circuits. I thought of this one as the Fun Run.
Ultrarunning magazine describes the course as “hilly … with substantial … roots.” (The editor in me thinks they mean that there are a lot of roots, not that the roots are huge.) But what trail worth running does not have hills and roots? Much of the Dirty Girls takes place on forest paths, not groomed trails, so yes, hillier and rootier than some.
Hills? Runners follow a trail that goes up and down the Niagara Escarpment. To give you an idea of scale, this is the same geological rift that forms Niagara Falls. So … not inconsiderable in terms of elevation gain and loss.
Most of the climbs are comparatively gentle, though, and a serious competitor (not me) could run up them easily. Toward the end of the loop there is a long uphill called Dirty Runners’ Pain that might slow down even the most motivated.
Some of the paths double back on themselves, so that you can look through the trees and catch a glimpse of runners going in the opposite direction, to the point where you might wonder if you are going the wrong way (see Dirty Boy’s Confusion, above).
Enough said.
My third and fourth laps were much slower than my first two, telling me that I need to do more hill work before my next outing. Somehow I have still not gotten the message that a clamber up a 30-degree, uneven, scrabbly slope takes more out of you than an easy jog along the bike path behind my house. I’ve felt less tired after some marathons I’ve done than I did after this event.
As always, the volunteers were cheerful and supportive. There is one aid station at the far end of the loop, but to augment this I strongly recommend taking water, electrolytes, and nutrition along. If nothing else, having your own stuff to chow down on when you are alone in the woods can be a good morale booster.
I eventually crossed the finish line far later than I had intended, as usual just up few notches from the bottom of the field. The last lap was really very enjoyable (possibly because it was the last). In terms of toughness, variety, and pure fun, this was one of my favourite races in my novice trail career so far.It has been very hot and sunny in our area for the past few weeks. However most of the Dirty Girls course is sheltered by trees, and there was a good breeze at the top of the escarpment, so my run was warm but survivable.

When I crossed the timing mat for the last time, the worst heat of the day was still ahead, and it seemed strongest in the open field that makes up the start/finish area. As I stood recovering, feeling like a cupcake in an Easy Bake Oven, my heart went out to the runners who were gamely trotting back up the hill to continue on, some of them for nearly 20 more hours. I remain in awe of these athletes and I am always proud to have a chance to run among them.