At some point on the trail early Sunday morning, I remember I had looked at myself in the mirror a couple days prior. I had stared into my eyes and said "Finishing is all that matters." I can't for the life of me remember WHY it mattered. But OK fine, just gotta keep going, just gotta get there. Because apparently it mattered.
John and I journeyed from the Denver area up to Sturgis, SD for a trail race in the Black Hills. It seemed like a good location and good timing for some long training in support of a couple big races later this year. I wasn't as prepared for 100 miles as I would have liked, so I decided to try a "Big Dog pacing strategy" for the first half and see if that would help me get through it. John signed up for the 50 mile race, ever the smarter one during race registration.
I don't have any race photos to share this time, so here are some pictures from our drive (more photos below the race report text):
The Black Hills sure are pretty!
The pre-race weather wasn't great, lots of rain during the week and showers the night before. We prepared for wet feet. The race started down a paved bike path, but soon we got our feet soaked in a flow of water in an underpass. Wet grass, muddy trail, puddles here and there. Soon my wet feet were forgotten as the challenge became staying upright.
Slippery mud was the name of the game Saturday morning. The trail went up and down through fields and woods, nice views of Sturgis and surrounding areas. I tried to memorize the gist of it, since the course was an out-and-back. Uphill took extra work with feet sliding backwards, and downhill took some gumption and quick decisions. The traverse toward the highway was the nastiest of all, so I was happy to see a faint trail through the tall grass that another runner had blazed. As I was passing people who were sliding all over the place, I gained a following, and the group of us arrived at the highway underpass together.
The tunnel reminded me ever so slightly of the Barkley prison, making me giggle because it was an incredibly tame version. I took it easy on the gentle climb up the meadow toward the Black Hills, letting other folks go on ahead. My pacing strategy called for keeping things light and loose, especially on the uphills. In the meantime, I inventoried my mosquito bites and fervently hoped that the course wouldn't be covered with those biting creatures (it wasn't, thank goodness).
Long, switchback-y climb through the woods - very nice! It was still muddy but not as bad. Some slopes were even sandy and mostly dry. Rain threatened briefly but moved off. I debated about the jacket, putting it on for the first shower, but then deciding that it was OK to be wet during the day. There was a nice wind and my clothes were drying quickly.
A couple aid stations passed, I mixed a Spiz at each one and took some food. I'm happy that food digestion during races is going better lately so I can supplement the liquid calories with something solid. Later on they had blueberries and raspberries and I was even more thankful that I was able to eat, yum!
More long climbing, mostly moderate slopes with an occasional steep haul. I enjoyed watching the scenery and studying the topography, thinking about the rogaine in August. The trail topped out at "Beaver Park" which had a slew of large teepee-shaped stick piles that I can only imagine are manmade? Quite strange.
Sweet long gentle descent, a beautiful downhill run to Elk Creek aid station. It took a minute to locate my drop bag, then I was on my way again. Down a slippery trail to the creek where we were promised 5 creek crossings. From the sound of it, the water was rushing pretty good. I followed another woman and watched her cross the first one. It didn't look too bad, and it wasn't. Careful on the rocks, but otherwise the rope helped a lot and the water wasn't cold.
During the next 4 crossings I met the woman, named Erika, and we chatted about different things. She was fun to talk to, and having company on the creek crossings was pleasant. She eventually let me go ahead during the next long climb. I actually passed a few people on the uphill even though I was trying to take it easy. When I'm feeling good it's sometimes hard to remember that passing people isn't the goal here.
Another aid station, then there's John coming toward me! He caught me sucking down watermelon pieces from a cup, and we laughed and talked about how things were going. He was doing great. Nice running, John! Time to continue on. More climbing, eventually I passed the 50-mile turnaround sign. The trail conditions got better with that many fewer feet ahead of me. Still muddy but not nearly as bad.
I passed a couple people on the next long downhill, another nice run down to an aid station. I spent more time trying to find my drop bag, then wasted time coming back to reclose the bag (knowing it would likely rain later!). The volunteers were super awesome, filling my bottle and providing all kinds of great options for refueling.
The next climb was steep for a short way, then we reached a 4WD road at the top. I could hear off-road machines in the valley, but apparently they had plenty of other route options and didn't feel the need to share the trail with a bunch of runners, since I saw very few of them. That was really nice. The huge puddles on the road were a bit of a challenge but I managed to work around them without getting my feet wet.
Finally the 100 km turnaround sign, the point I decided I could stick my iPod in my ears. I had an Elmore Leonard book to finish and that kept me entertained for miles. In the meantime, the course was rather rocky, still muddy, and pretty steep going down the other side of the hill. The sun was shining, heating up the air pretty good, so I slowed down to try to keep from overheating. One little slip and I stuck a foot in a puddle, argh. My feet had been dry most of the afternoon, oh well.
A bit of pavement and soon I was at the next aid station, then some dirt road back to the trail. This next section went by quickly as the sky clouded over and I immediately felt better. The first 100-mile runner came toward me, nice work! Wow, that was fast.
I could see dark clouds just ahead, then heard some rumbling. I scrambled to pull my jacket out of my pack and got it on just as some large drops of rain landed. Within a couple minutes it was pouring. My jacket worked great and I continued down the trail, running fast the last mile to the aid station.
They had a great setup with a trailer and an awning so I could replenish supplies out of the rain. Some chicken noodle soup and I was ready to go again. A few minutes later the rain stopped, yay! The rest of the evening was beautiful, and overnight turned into clear skies and good weather.
I saw a few more runners on their way back as I worked my way toward the turn-off to Silver City. I was hoping I wouldn't miss it, and when I came to the intersection it was quite clear that I wouldn't - plenty of signage there! The trail down to Silver City was quite something - very steep at times, then traversing and even a little uphill, then another steep plunge. This would be interesting coming back up...
A nice meadow, a short up-and-over, and one field to run across to the turnaround spot. We could go indoors, excellent! I grabbed my drop bag and took off my shoes and socks to air out my feet while I got some food. I drained a small blister under a toe. New socks = happy feet! It all took some time, but it seemed worth it.
I managed to start out of the aid station in the wrong direction even though I had just come from the trail a few minutes earlier. Well, I did very little extra mileage in this race, so no biggie. Starting back across the field I saw a bunch of women running toward me. Seems I was leading the pack of "everyone after the top 3" on the women's side. Also no biggie, I wasn't in it to compete this time. Like I said - what's important is to finish.
The climb up went better than expected, still feeling strong. I was happy with my running between 50 and 57 miles, enjoying the cooldown of the evening. I saw a woman behind me, and after I got out my lights I noticed her stop to beg a headlamp off a guy waiting in a car (not sure if she knew him?). We came into the Pilot Knob aid station together, then she took off while I took my time, not wanting to get into a race at this point.
It took a lot longer on the doubletrack road on the way back. The puddles were harder to go around in the dark and I was listening to "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which I found tedious in places. I think I was also getting tired?
The Nemo aid station was quiet, but the volunteers were as helpful as ever, and they had blueberries still, so yay. Next was a long rocky climb, and here my legs really were tired of climbing. Not overwhelmingly so, just enough to make it feel slow, and that's how they stayed for the rest of the miles. The top ridge was windy and rather loud in the pine forest. Not too cold, that was nice.
I had legs to run parts of the 4WD road along the top and the drop down to the next aid station. This time I found my drop bag right where I had left it (yay), and the aid station soup was warm and tasty. Plus there was a bathroom where I could sit for once, most helpful.
One big long climb to face in the dark. That went on for a long time. Near the top I came across a woman (possibly Erika?) who asked if I had any ibuprofen, so I was happy to help. I found the 25-mile turnaround sign, awesome. 75 miles down, no major issues. That probably was the right distance for me at that point in my training.
But no, 25 miles remained in order to finish. Dawn, sunshine, a pretty day in the making. The rest of the morning I didn't have any major issues, but plenty of minor ones. Spots under my toes got sore, no additional blisters or anything to slow me down, just spots of occasional pain. No matter how much vaseline I used (and it was plenty), my butt cheeks rubbed worse and worse. The biggest concern was a spot on the top of my left foot that seemed aggravated by the shoelace. Yet I couldn't adjust the lacing in any way to fix it.
Between all that and my tired legs, it turned into a slog. Nothing enough to stop me! But I was ready to be done as soon as I could make that happen. Wait, potty break. Hold on, put lights and clothes away. Sooner or later I'd get moving for real.
Down the hill to Elk Creek. It was still running fast. The creek crossings were not any harder, except this time the water was frigid cold. Yikes, that makes for cold feet. Brr, brr, another crossing, come on, you can do it. Finally the last two and I could start the climb up to the aid station. Someone was waiting for their runner and asked how I was doing. "Cold!" was all I could say. Just my feet actually, but that was too many words to explain.
The curse of the hidden drop bag returned, but at least I found it and at least it was the last time. I changed socks for the last time, glad for a clean, dry pair. One last big climb, let's do this.
The uphill was mostly gently, mostly broken up into short sections, so I forgave it for taking a while. Beaver Park (still weird!), then a rocky downhill. There was a lot less mud but a lot more rocks on the way back. I'm OK with that.
Long downhill, running OK but eventually the pain on the top of my foot made it more difficult and I was having to walk parts of the downhills. At the Bulldog aid station I met a really sweet volunteer. She was worried about a runner who was having difficulty standing up out of the chair. We watched him struggle up the hill with his pacer, and I told her that he would be OK, he was just stiff. Sure enough, after I passed him going up the hill, they ran by me going down the other side.
Across a long field, through the "Not the Barkley" tunnel, across the now-dry traverse to the final aid station. Finally! And they had sunscreen I could use, very helpful now that the sun was full-on shining. I hadn't planned on being out here this long, but here I was.
I was wondering where I might see John, but didn't see any sign of him yet. One steep-ass climb, oh my gosh that's a doozy. Downhill, over to the fields. I heard a "whoop!" and looked up to see John waiting for me above. Yay John!! I got there as fast as I could, which wasn't fast at all.
He accompanied me the final couple miles (thanks John!), me demonstrating my left-foot-limp and my lack of climbing legs. He helped greatly in passing the time, telling stories and listening to my minor woes. Just gotta finish, for whatever reason. Toward the end a couple ladies ran past me, putting me down in the standings by a couple places, but I had long since stopped thinking about that. Which was good, because I wasn't having any of that "running" thing.
I managed a half-decent walk along the bike path, sticking to the grass where possible to keep my feet happier. And - finally done! As I told the race director at the finish, that was hard!
But I made it, that's all that matters! :)
John posing pre-race with the awards that we thankfully didn't win (although they are really cool):
100-mile buckle - no that's not what mattered, but it's also cool:
On the way back to Colorado we made a detour to the high point of Nebraska. It's not any more of a mountain than the high point of Kansas. But we made it!
I'm still moving!
More highpoint photos: