Dances With Dirt. And mud. And sweat. And boy, that was tough.

Every time I run a new race I think, "Boy. This is it. It will never get more intense than this. My level of invincibility WILL NEVER BE OUTDONE. NOT EVER." And then it gets outdone.

But this time. This time I swear it can't get more wild. I joined -- once again -- my four best partners in crime for the Dances With Dirt trail marathon on Saturday. An "extreme" trail race. It's no coincidence that I'm rarely without Anne, Tracey, Rochelle and Marty at a race. They become more and more the reason why I run. The fun we have, the adventures we share and the experiences we collect will never be rivaled -- until the next time we do something.

You may recall my running the half marathon at Dances With Dirt last summer. It was ridiculously hard last year, but AWESOME. The next logical step was to gather my favorite people for a weekend of camping, trail racing and beer consumption.

After stuffing our faces at a local Italian restaurant the night before the big race, half our crew retired to their hotel room, while myself and the other half retired to our campsite and makeshift campfire. Fire, it turns out, was a safety hazard in the haphazard campground, so we compromised by setting two Citronella candles in a miniature Weber grill and calling it a fire. We arranged our chairs around the fire, beers in hand, and spent the next hour laughing, forgetting all about the race that would collectively hand all of us our asses the next morning.

Five a.m. came pretty quickly after a night in a tent, serenaded by the sound of frogs and snoring from adjacent tents (not that I heard that, seeing as though I was, apparently, one of them. I can neither confirm nor deny this accusation). But sure enough, we were up and at 'em, getting ready for our respective races -- amongst our crew we had full marathoners, half marathoners and a 10K. Then a whole lot of beer to drink when it was all over.

I wasn't nervous, really, as we headed for the start line. It was more of a dread over how long it would be before we'd be back to that same spot, safe and sound, once it was over. We had a lot of miles, a lot of hours, a lot of sun, a lot of hills and a lot of off-roading to do before we got back.

Six hours and 43 minutes later, to be exact. From start to finish:

And yes, we finished arm-in-arm. Ran the whole straight-away into the finish that way. "Red Rover," we called it. The five of us agreed to it in the early miles. Start together, end together. A team. It's just everything that happens in the middle that makes the adventure.

I can't capture in a blog post this marathon. Not entirely. We even tried, while running, to come up with a word that would describe everything we endured over 26 miles, but we couldn't.

"Maybe when people ask how it went, we can just collapse," Rochelle said at one point.

We ran over and through any and all kind of terrain. Pavement. Single track trails. Crushed gravel. Stairs (up the bluffs at Devils Lake State Park). Over downed trees. Under thorny branches. Across, waist-high open prairie. Through streams. Over bridges. Into the mud. Through parts of the woods that had no trail. Over railroad tracks. Amidst boulders. On top of boulders. We tripped over rocks and roots and our own feet. Our elevation gain throughout the entire race was almost 3,000 feet. Three-thousand feet of climbing. And then back down, of course. In the end, I burned over 5,000 calories. I drank more water than I can fathom. Sweat even more. Aid stations were stocked with everything I never thought I'd want during a marathon, but shoved into my mouth like it was the last nourishment I'd ever receive. Green olives, Pepsi, pretzels, boiled potatoes, M&Ms, Goldfish crackers, Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, Pringles.

All jam-packed into under seven hours of sunshine, sweat and tired legs.

I know without a doubt that I would've never finished without Anne, Marty, Rochelle and Tracey. We operate like a well-oiled machine at this point, after having already spent hours running together through any and all conditions in the last year-and-a-half. We know each others' breaking points and moods. We know who should lead, we know who needs a boost. We have seen each other at our absolute best and absolute worst (I think I achieved both states of mind over the course of 7 hours). I love these people like they're my very own family.

We accumulated endless jokes, as we always do, helped craft bandaids out of tape when Rochelle started getting a blister, shared water when we ran low, stopped for Kodak moments since Marty brought along a disposable camera, gave each other much needed pep talks and did what we do best -- ran our little hearts out.

This time there were no tears at the finish line -- perhaps because we sweat out anything that could resemble a tear? Or perhaps because we were so damn elated to be done and rejoined with our friends that we forgot to cry. Marty had a Guinness immediately. We all shared hugs and sweat. I got my finish line kiss. And then, like in every man's fantasy, we all huddled under a shower together.

We spent the next four hours in chairs, in the shade, emptying our coolers of beer and sharing stories while watching the rest of the racers finish. To be honest, those several hours under the trees with my friends were just as memorable as the race, itself. We were happy. Excited. Relieved. Sun-kissed. Chafed. Exhausted. Turns out us ladies all placed in the top five in our age groups, too! It was kind of the most fantastic way to complete the day.

Another weekend and another race I won't forget. I feel lucky for all of it. Congrats to all my friends. I love you all.