Indiana: Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone Marathon

You’d think I would be a little more productive getting these years old reports written when forced to recover from a calf strain (sob) after my first 100 miler, but I apparently write these mentally while moving. Thanks to swimming, we can move forward now…

I knew about the Dances with Dirt series after having run the Green Swamp marathon in Florida. This race fit with the goal of doing a marathon every month in the summer as a build up to a PR attempt on road at Wineglass in October. The timing was good, it was a cheap flight to Indianapolis, and I had a friend to stay with after I finished the race. As usual, the longer distance options at this race (50 mile, 50k) meant I wouldn’t have to worry about the cut off time – the marathon had a “loose” cut off of 9 hours. The race website has plenty of information on the course, including descriptions by section. They also estimated the elevation for the marathon at 5000′, so I was nervous when I signed up, but it wasn’t even close to that according to my Garmin.

Gnaw Bone elev
3,200′ gain for the marathon course

I flew into Indianapolis, picked up my cheap, tiny rental car, and headed south. Google was creative with the directions and there were a few places I drove that I am not completely sure were public roads, but I eventually got to the very charming town/artist colony of Nashville, IN. I’d debated staying at one of the recommended cabins in Brown County State Park, but ended up going with the small motel on the south side of Nashville and not far from the start line. Although appealing, I skipped the hot tub room. The lodge was clean and comfortable and looked exactly like the pictures. I drove 5 minutes to Mike’s Dance Barn where we were to start the next day and was relived to see activity at the start line (in contrast to the small Delaware marathon). I picked up my packet and got intimidated by the serious looking runners who were obviously doing the longer distances the next day. I headed back to the motel to obsessively prepare for the race. I’ve learned to pack my own food so I don’t have to worry about finding a safe pre-race dinner. The motel was quiet and I got a great night’s sleep after carefully reviewing and re-reviewing the maps I had printed out.

website map
Follow the PINK!

Not too far off from the Garmin version:map

Race report: The weather was forecast to be mid-50s at the start, warming to 60s but with cloud cover. It had rained in the days before the race but was supposed to be dry for race day. I went with my usual sleeveless shirt, shorts, and visor because I tend to run hot. But then I forget how cold it is at the start and I shiver for a while. This time I had remembered handwarmers and I’d brought extra socks in case I needed to change. (Past reviews said it was muddy and I guess I was worried about my delicate feet? Not sure now why I brought the socks but they made good gloves.) The race started on time at 7am and the first section was on a road along a bubbling stream. It was beautiful. Then it was very, very ugly. I’d read the section descriptions (here again, for your convenience) but somehow skimmed over the “I’ve been slimed!” description of the first almost 4 miles. After that pretty little brook, we were sliding through almost two miles of shit. Sorry, but it was a bridle trail and there was no question that it was heavily used by horses, so that truly is the best descriptor. I set aside my desire to not be DFL and carefully slid up and down the trail. After the slime ended, the trail was wide and not bad at all.

After the muddy miles.

We hit the first aid station pretty early on at less than 4 miles. I remembered from the Green Swamp marathon that the stations had good food and the course description included information about whether stations were minor or major aid. I surveyed the food at this first stop only so I could start planning my grazing for the rest of the race. I usually stick to one of the few gels or chews I’ve brought early on and I knew the next aid for marathoners was in about 3 miles. I was speechless when one of the volunteers at that first station angrily shooed me away and said that the food was ONLY FOR THE ULTRARUNNERS. I reassured her that I wasn’t eating this early in the race, just wanted to see what was ahead, and by the way, do you mean only the food here is for the ultra people or is that at all of the aid stations? She said if we had read the instructions as we’d been told, we would know marathoners need to have brought their own food. I thanked her and went on my way, thinking…


I think the next 3 miles were pretty. I’m not sure. I was trying to calculate how to dole out my few gels for the next several hours. I remember trying to enjoy the course and thinking it was nice and not too technical. About 1 mile away from the next aid, I caught up with a couple, checked that they were also marathoners, and asked if they were also told that we get no food. They were and had been worrying about this also since leaving the angry volunteer. We made it slowly up the very long staircase and found the next aid station at the top. (I went back the next day and took some pictures when it was beautiful and sunny.)

One of several long sets of stairs.
next day view
View after you get to the top of the stairs and cross the road.

The wonderful volunteers had heard the rumors and the first thing they yelled to us was “Welcome! Yes, you can eat the food!!” The best aid station ever! They weren’t sure why we would have been told no food for us because there was plenty. Things were looking up. I could now enjoy the course, the company, the rolling hills, and the occasional passing horse. One of the later aid stations (fire tower?) had a relay exchange, tons of volunteers, crew, and real bathrooms!!! Well, real, vault toilets anyway. They were not portapotties and I was excited.

About 20 miles in, the grit in my shoes was starting to get to me. I found a log and enjoyed the luxury of having clean, handwarmed socks to change into. We had a few more sets of stairs to climb, one set to descend, and another crappy mile (horse slime again, but a shorter section) before hitting the descent to the finish:

almost finish
Course went down the hill in the background, across the field,
over the bridge, then along the river, and a quarter mile through the river (to remove all of the mud?) to the finish.

My shoes were mud free after that cold walk in the river and my almost defrosted hands were cold again – the temperature was consistently in the mid-50s. The post-race party and food was good and the crowd that stayed to welcome finishers was friendly with solo runners from out of state.

Off trail: Indiana University is only half an hour down a pretty country road and there is plenty of sightseeing and great food.

The Best Chocolate in Town is really the best chocolate in Indy. My friend also took me to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and we wandered around the beautiful park there.

Mid-50s and cloudy is good for running but cold for standing and waiting at the start.

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