The First Half
There is a common saying in the running world that, “You know you’ve done your taper well when you’re itching to run on race day.”
Is that really such a bad thing?!
All I can say is that “the itch” took over for the first 25 miles. It was soooo hard to ignore this beautifully-groomed trail and the incredible weather that had managed to swoop in just for race day – low 80’s rather than high 90’s. Otherwise, there might have been carnage.
In the back of my mind I kept telling myself to slow down but oh, how I’d been longing to run for the last two weeks. It was by no means a blistering pace, but it was clearly too fast for what I expected to be at least a 24-hour run-fest. As I was leaving the Carroll Creek aid station, I was chatting with another runner who recognized me (and knew that this was my first 100). He seemed surprised to see me and reminded me just to run within myself. Sage advice, it turns out.
Through this point of the course, the new out-and-back in between the Pringle and Carroll Creek aid stations was the only deviation from the Mickelson Trail (in the first half). It’s a Forest Service road with some nice rollers and chunky rocks (compared to the Mickelson). This kept things interesting but out-and-backs generally just suck.
I was still in good spirits approaching the half-way point of the race. My disposition was good and mentally I was focused on just running. I wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery or the other runners. I was also trying to ignore the hot spots on my feet but then again, this is why it’s good to have a crew. Erik forced me to tend to my feet at the Hill City aid station. I was trying to negotiate and rationalize with him but clearly, after 10 hours on my feet, I couldn’t have rationalized myself out of a cardboard box. Blister pads, new socks and new shoes…oh yeah, that felt good. (Looking back, this was clutch.)
Approaching the Harbach Park aid station (mile 32) I was already having signs of GI problems. I had already gone through one bottle of EFS and was munching on traditional aid station food – potatoes/salt, some watermelon and grapes were the only things that seemed to sound good. Everything else made my stomach turn. Erik, my crew chief, was doing his best to force things down me at each aid station. Unfortunately applesauce, Snickers or Rice Krispy Treats were just not on my menu that afternoon.
The Second Half
Erik made me eat some turkey, cola and potatoes again before leaving Hill City…again, clutch. The salt and protein helped me keep things together as I headed out for the second half of the course.
Mentally, Hill City is tough because you know there is a 13-mile uphill run back to the Harbach Park aid station (Custer). Again, I put my head down and just ran within myself to knock these miles out. Since leaving Hill City however, I had been gradually been feeling a pain in my right ankle – dull and annoying more than anything. I’m just glad it didn’t become anything worse.
As I pulled into the Harbach Park aid station, my father started yelling my name. I knew they were driving down from North Dakota but I had no idea when or where they might show up. They had signs of encouragement and pictures (heads) of my wife, kids and siblings attached to sticks posted along the trail…if I only had a picture of that! It a very special moment to have my dad run with me for a few hundred yards. We took some pictures, chatted a bit as I tried to eat some food but I could feel my mood getting a little grumpy even though they tried to lift my spirits. Seeing them however was just enough to send me on my way as the sun began to set behind the Black Hills. I wrapped my jacket around my waist, clipped on the headlamp and went along my way.
From Harbach Park, I knew it was only a couple more aid stations before I picked up my pacer (Todd) in Pringle. This is about the time the distance (and time) between aid stations seemed to pass extremely slowly. Night time had closed in enough to turn on the head lamp and while I heard all the creatures of the night begin to come out of hiding, I continued to concentrate on keeping my form tight and my pace at or about 13 minutes per mile. I had thrown a jacket on and was counting down the miles before I picked up Todd at the Pringle aid station.
Surprise! Todd was at the Carroll Creek aid station with Erik just hanging out. I tried to convince Todd to join me 5 miles earlier than he planned…he had no desire to join the ranks of ultra-running that night! (though after the race, he seemingly regretted not joining me early…oh well). It was quite chilly by this time in the evening and the only thing that sounded good was hot chocolate – so I drank it. And it was good. Erik also discovered that he could cut up thin slices of banana and hand-feed me like a mother bird feeds its chicks. I think someone joked that at least they weren’t regurgitated. Not cool man, not cool.
So that’s how it was for the next couple aid stations – thinly hand-sliced banana and hot chocolate. Todd had since picked me up in Pringle and had taken over some of the slicing and nourishment responsibilities while Erik tended to head-lamps and videography…both doing a great job on keeping the mood light, me warm and my legs moving.
It was really until we reached the Argyle Road aid station that I seriously began to think about breaking the 24-hour mark. Tired, but still mentally acute to do basic addition, I knew it was within my reach. That fueled me on despite the fatigue and pain in my quads and right ankle. It hurt more to walk than run, so I just kept running.
Todd did a great job pacing – both of us rookies in our respective roles, he let me determine the pace between Argyle Road and the Coldbrook aid station. Still motivated by a sub-24 race and the family videos he had collected to show me along the way, I was really trying to run more than walk. But that damn Argyle Road <shaking my fist like Captain Kirk does to Kahn> just sucked with all its ups and down, inclined roads and sharp rocks. My feet were screaming at me. There was cursing. Yes, I was cursing a road.
Argyle Road seemed to go on for a very long time but again, walking the hills and running the rest was my plan for that stretch of 16 miles until we finally made it to the Coldbrook aid station.
Holy crap – 4 miles to go.
The conversation picked up during the last couple miles as we made our way through Hot Springs. I think the realization that (a) this was going to happen and (b) this was going to happen under 24-hours was almost too much to stand. Winding our way through the empty streets of this sleepy town was almost surreal…yet, those final 4 miles drug on just like the previous 21. I found myself never wanting to see a Dairy Queen so badly in my life (DQ is the landmark right before the finish line).
As I came upon the Mueller Center, the realization of what I had done overcame me. As I crossed the finish line with my good friends and my mom and dad there to cheer me on, I broke down with tears of joy, relief and pride. A new bar has been set.
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. – Christopher Reeve
Who runs a 100 miles?
This guy does – In 22 hours and 27 minutes. My journey is complete.
Race Wrap Up
Following the race, Erik, Todd, my parents and I found a place to relax in the Mueller center. You would think that at 4:30 am, there wouldn’t be much going on but to the contrary, the place was buzzing with volunteers, other runners and their families. We retold several stories from the run and talked about what I was feeling at various points in the race. Stories that were not funny at the time but certainly in the right context, were quite humorous to those who didn’t experience the race like I did.
I have to say, there was no point in the race where I felt out of control. I was lucid and mentally sharp the entire time (as evidenced by me cutting my own banana at the Morph aid station while Todd dealt with rocks in his shoe). At times, my vision was a little blurry in the tunnel of the headlamp but other than that, I didn’t experience any issues that impeded my running or brought me down mentally.
After taking an ice bath and catching about 30 minutes of sleep, I went and had breakfast with my mom and dad – allowing Erik to crash in the room. We went back to the Mueller Center about 9:30 for the awards and I was able to catch up with many of the friends I had made on that trail that day.
Cheryl. Raul. Robert. Steve. Just to name a few.
As it turns out, my time was good enough for 18th place overall (73 finishers)and 6th in my age group (men & women). I’m not one for tooting my own horn but I’m pretty damn proud of this seeing it’s my first 100-mile race.
Leanhorse 100 Comments
I had a fantastic experience at this race and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a straight-forward 50k, 50-mile or 100-mile ultra. Here are just a couple thoughts, comments and suggestions for anyone considering it in the future.
- Aid stations are the bomb – good food, great people and plenty of them. The longest between aid was 10.1 miles (between Pringle and Carroll Creek aid stations – outbound only).
- Be prepared for heat. It’s August after all. We were lucky to have cool daytime temps and even cooler nighttime temps (low of 47).
- Be prepared for dusty conditions on Argyle Road. As the crews leap-frogged their runners, they kicked up a ton of dust. It made for poor visibility and extra cursing.
As 100-mile races go (knowing there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ 100-mile race), I have to believe this course is on the mellower side of things. Minimal elevation and grades, nice groomed trail and still small enough to really appreciate the hospitality of the Black Hills. If nothing else a destination race that is really well done.
Thanks to Jerry Dunn and his team for another great race by Lean Horse Productions.