Thursday, June 28, 2018

Black Hills 100 Mile Trail Run: 50K

Oh, what a delightful adventure!

Last Friday I decided I’d like to enter the Black Hills 100 – 50K option. I entered the 100 miler in 2013 but Troy ended up with a scheduled baseball tournament so I never attended. I was excited to go out and run the shorter option.  The race offers a 100M, 50M 50K and 30K.  Something for everyone!

I asked if Steve or either of the boys wanted to accompany me out west and no one was interested. I decided I’d go out solo. After entering last minute, as entries were closed on Friday, I looked for lodging. None of the motels had anything available so I figured I’d call Sturgis RV Campground-the host for the race. Online it showed all cabins were taken but I figured I’d give it a try. Sure enough, the woman who did the scheduling told me that someone who had made a reservation was now coming alone and had 5 beds open. I told her I was interested and she told me she’d check on it and get back to me. Bingo!  I received a text that I was welcome. Awesome.

Is it weird to travel to Sturgis by yourself and stay with people you don’t know? I didn’t ask myself that question for more than 30 seconds. I decided there was nothing weird with it at all.

I was on the road Friday morning by 4AM, heading west. My trip out to Sturgis was thankfully uneventful. I stopped at Chamberlain Rest Stop and was wowed by the new 50 foot statue erected.  I ate my lunch in her shadow. I was so wowed by her in fact that I stopped back on my way home to lunch with her again. Impressive.

Very impressive statue at Chamberlain SD, overlooking the Missouri River.

Eating my lunch at the rest stop.

I arrived to Sturgis quite early, checked in at the RV Campground and then walked over to packet pickup. There were not many people around, I  walked over to cabin 13. Nikki, who reserved the cabin, was not there yet so back to pick up I went and volunteered for a few hours. I had so much fun meeting new people-not a strength of mine-but something I am working on. When I went back to the cabin my room mates had arrived. Theresa was in the same boat as I and scored a bed from Nikki, too. These cabins are only $60 a night. They are clean, small, but nice and have 4 bunk beds plus a bed in the loft. Really incredible. I learned that they get $2000 a week during Rally week. Amazing.

Sturgis, SD. I wonder what is in the pink bags?

Race Headquarters

Nice cabin, plus a loft where Theresa slept.

Very clean $60 nightly cabin.

Nikki arrived and we all introduced ourselves and became acquainted.  We had a great time over the weekend and all agreed that coming together at the Black Hills races was not weird at all! I would certainly do this again.

On a side note: the cabin right next to us was filled with Minnesotan's!  Last week I ran at Elm Creek with Amy - who was entered in the 30K and Troy - who was crewing/pacing for Matt, Brian, Jeff and Brain, all running the 100 Mile. Super fun small world!

All of the race events were held near the campground, the bus was at a park .5 mile away where the finish line and after party were held. It was a great place to stay. I think we were all asleep by 830 as Theresa had a 300 wake up for the 50M and Nikki and would soon be following her.

It was so great to have a bus ride out to the start, then finishing .5 mile from the campground. We rode the bus out to Dalton Lake. It was  a bumpy hour long ride. I visited with a man from Spearfish who grew up in Sturgis. I learned about the economy of the area and how the motorcycle rally sustains the small town, he answered my many questions. 

I thought that the city gave off a weird vibe. Huge bars and restaurants, big campgrounds and grocery stores, many gas stations…that have very few people inside of them. I felt like I was in a ghost town. Most of the people were tourists visiting the Black Hills and race entrants. I didn’t see many people who actually lived and worked in Sturgis.

Entering the 50K (versus the 50M or 100M) gave me a sense of adventure and calm. I didn’t have to worry about drop bags being packed and strategically placed along the course. I wasn’t worried about becoming sore and exhausted. I wasn't worried about injuring myself as the last two 50K and training runs I've put in this spring have been delightful. I have run easy and effortlessly, not pushing myself at all...just grateful to be back out in the woods. I have the endurance down...I'm ready to begin working on speed. I was excited for a run that would be challenging given the elevation and altitude, yet beautiful. I was so excited to be running again.

We were dropped off at Dalton Lake trailhead and 90 minutes before we would begin. I watched some of the 100 milers run through and was again thankful I was running the 50K. They had battled a lot of hail, rain and mud out there the night before. Now the sun was out and the sky was blue.

Making our way to the start.

At 755 the RD came to herd us up and send us off. We ran out of the campground area and onto the trail-to walk over an elevated cattle guard. This promptly spread us all out as we took turns climbing over it. There would be many cattle guards along the Centennial Trail.

Right off the bat there was a big climb.  We’d climb 1000 feet in a short time. I would feel myself huffing and puffing, telling myself to take it easy.  I kept climbing. I was more concerned about running down, would my knees be screaming? Climbing feels better than the downhills these days.  I made it to the top, shot a few pics, sucked back a gel and let my breathing get under control. Oh it was so beautiful!  I was so grateful to be right exactly where I was.

I was able to do a lot of running in the next section before dropping down into Crooked Tree. The course was heavily wooded with beautiful pine trees and  the trail was covered with soft pine needles. Really amazing. As I began to descend the 1000 feet I just climbed I tried not to take mincy short steps and instead let myself fall into a downhill run. My knees felt good, my neuroma was quiet. I was a given a gift of splendor. I was so filled with gratitude.

I ran into the aid station, threw away my empty gels and got out of there. I know not to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the aid stations. I was on my way. 

The next section was made up of short, steep climbs and downhills, not too grueling. This section was  abit muddy as the creeks were coming up next.  The scenery was amazing. I would stop and look up at the sheer cliffs surrounding me, then look down at the bright red mushrooms, at the crooked trees. I was so happy. I had a constant smile on my face.

I could hear rushing water, I knew that there was at least one crossing before the Elk Creek Aid Station at mile 13. A woman on the bus told me there were 5 crossings. I was quite certain she was mistaken. She wasn’t!

As I moved along with the creek I noticed that the trail seemed to disappear and drop into the water. There wasn’t a rope so I didn’t think this was the crossing I had heard about but I saw the Centennial Trail marker on the trees, surrounded by water. Hmmm…I guess I just go through this.  Yup. On the other side of the flooded trail was creek crossing 1. It was cold but felt so good!  It felt good to stand there, letting the cold water refresh my legs and remove all of the mud from my shoes. I wondered if I’d have to stop and fix my feet at the next aid station. Perhaps. 

Continuing on I crossed a total of 5 water crossings. The woman on the bus was correct. At the last crossing a photographer sat, clicking off a fun photo of me.

Another mile to the aid station, perfectly placed if one wanted to change shoes or socks after the water. I came into an area with my people spectating, assuming this was the aid station. As I walked around perplexed, looking for the drop bags, a person came running to me. I exclaimed ‘ oh, do you need my number’ then I realized it was Kevin Langton!  ‘No, I want a photo!’ Oops!  I didn’t recognize him all cleaned up and wearing shades!  We laughed, he took a few photos, promised he’d see me at the finish and I moved on.  He told me the aid station was another mile or so up the trail.  I decided not to work on my feet.  They felt really good and I was just pumped to move on.   I did grab a restock of Humma gels for my pack and refilled my bladder, grabbed a baggie of Advil/Aleve and headed on out to climb the next section.

Out of Elk Creek we climbed from 4300 to 5000. After that climb though was the most wonderful downhill section!  It wasn’t steep, it wound around and around, allowing for full stretch of legs and just running and running downhill. It was so great!  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good running downhill before. The trail was soft with the rains the previous night and was covered with pine needles. I couldn’t contain my joy. I didn’t bring music along but I was singing at the top of my lungs. I didn’t see anyone in sight. What a thrill.  In looking at the elevation chart I see that we dropped from 5000  to 3300 feet. Wow, that’s awesome!!

As I was running through the pine forest I kept hearing this chhhhh chhchhchh chhhchh sound. I stopped numerous times trying to figure it out. It sounded like it was from the top of the trees. I thought perhaps woodpeckers? It was constant as I ran miles through the pine forest. I couldn’t see anything.

At Bulldog Aid Station I decided to have a couple cups of COKE. Oh my, caffeine and sugar..what a hit ! I then added in 2 Advil and felt like a million bucks. I filled my pack with water and buzzed out of there. Running full speed ahead, down into Alkali Creek Aid Station.

Kevin's photo

I didn’t need anything at Alkali. There were only 5 or so miles left of the race. I knew I was going to finish well within the 11 hours offered. I had a few gels left and my pack felt like there was plenty of water. I checked in and out and climbed up the trail.

The last section was a mix of meadow, woods and the city of Sturgis. I ran through the woods, climbed up through a meadow where a thunderstorm decided to let loose. I pulled a black garbage bag from my pack and placed it upon myself. I was climbing through a cow pasture, going from 3500 feet to 4391 feet in the middle of a thunderstorm, with no trees in sight. A mama cow with two calves mooed at me as I passed through. I was relieved when the storm clouds passed and the rain stopped.

1 mile left!  I hit the cement sidewalk for the final stretch. The cement felt awful. I ran on the grass next to it. As I was running along the parking lot to the park…Kevin jumps from his truck with a camera in hand. He snapped a photo as I ran past.

Kevin's photo

As I came across the finish line in 7:56 I exclaimed how beautiful the course was and what a wonderful day I had. There was a group of people next to me that didn’t feel the same way and let me know. I forget that sometimes I need to curtail my excitement.  I was so thrilled, so grateful, so amazed by this wonderful gift I was given: to be able run in a beautiful place. I am so grateful!! My body felt strong.

Nikki congratulated me, snapped my pic and told me that she was 1st woman, 3rd overall!  Her first ultra!! Amazing!!

I hung out at the finish line for hours, catching up with my friends, making new ones and cheering in the finishers. I've missed this so much.

Sunday morning I awoke early, we all packed up and I headed back for home sweet home.

Gratitude. Lots of gratitude.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day. Yes, those of us whom run know that there is such a thing. Last year I tried to ignore posts on FB as friends and pages I like showed how much they loved to run. It was painful to feel pained while seeing them. I felt filled with envy, with hurt, with depression and anxiety. I felt a whole lot of things that I didn’t want to feel. I was kind of embarrassed of myself that I felt so low regarding not actively running.  I learned that I was more than a runner. I didn't realize how much I was wrapped up in the way I identified myself as a runner.  I let the feelings come, I cried, I went for an easy walk. I remember the day clearly. It was rough. Kind of like National Dog Day when I no longer have a Topaz.

I had a rough year. I had to learn to be ok with not running. I learned to be ok with not being a runner, with not identifying myself as a runner. I had been a runner for many years and not being a runner hurt me deeply. I truly felt that I wouldn’t run again. I had to be ok with it. I had to move on. I did. I learned that  I could. I learned that I could be sober and not be a runner. I never thought about drinking during this time period. 

I moved on, I learned to embrace not running. I learned to no longer pine away for it. To no longer force it.  I tried other activities. Hot yoga. Painting. Hiking. Knitting. All to fill the time, the void, I had in my life due to not running. It was hard but I had to move on. I had to cry, feel the feels, let them go and move on.

I ran a total of 7 miles last year. Every day I tried to run. Every day I wasn’t able to run. My feet hurt or my knees hurt or my hips hurt or my back hurt. Every damn thing hurt. It was crazy. I cried as I would stop after running a few steps .. and walk. At least I could walk.

I tried CrossFIt again and hurt my damn knee during a 15 minute box jump workout. Oh jeeze. I couldn’t believe it. Now I couldn’t walk or hike either. Unreal.

Hot yoga helped. I could stretch and sweat. I jumped into 5 classes a week. At least it was something. I changed my outlook. I no longer cringed when I saw others running along the road. I was no longer envious.  I was able to be happy for them. I remembered the happiness I used to feel while running. It was good. I was glad I had been able to feel that joy from running.

When others would ask about running I would say I was cutting back, when in fact I wasn’t running at all..but I didn’t know how to say that. I thought it would make them uncomfortable and they would ask more questions I didn’t want to answer. After 6 months I simply said ‘I’m no longer running’. Ugh. Not easy. 

Over the winter I tried a few knitting classes. I learned, I knitted, I spent hours in the chair, knitting.

Finally snow came…for some reason I decided to get on my snowshoes and hike. I wanted fresh air. I was tired of knitting.  My body didn’t hike. It ran. I was running on snowshoes for over 5 minutes. I was puzzled. How did I just run??

I was overjoyed but scared to be joyful over the 5 minutes I had just run on snowshoes.   The next day I tried a few more minutes running in the snow. Nothing hurt. A few days later I tried it again. Wow, 8 minutes total running out of 45 minutes walking. SCORE!

The ice storms hit and the trails became treacherous. I looked at my trusty treadmill. It has thousands of miles on it. It had been waiting for me for over a year. I started it and walked 8 minutes, then ran 2 minutes. Nothing hurt. I did it again. And again. Nothing hurt. Wow. I was overjoyed but scared. The pain could still come.

Fast forward 6 months. I  am a runner. Tears fall from my cheeks as I type out those words. I didn’t think  I would ever use them to describe myself again. I am a runner. I love running. I LOVE RUNNING. How can I love an act? How can I feel so deeply about the act of running?  I don’t know…but I LOVE running. It encompasses me like a friendly warm blanket. Unless it is a hot humid summer, then it is a fresh cool breeze. Yup, running is all that is good.  It is kind of absurd, unless you are a runner..then you know. 

Vacations are planned around races, camping around runs, I use vacation time to get in a long run some mornings…oh how I love it. I know that we wouldn’t have visited the places we have if I hadn’t been a runner. I wouldn’t have had the experiences that I have had if I wasn’t a runner. I wouldn’t have the friends I have had  if I hadn’t been a runner.

My knees aren’t swollen, my inflammation is low, I’m eating an anti inflammatory diet, I am taking cold baths, I am hydrating fully but  not too much, I am fueling my body…so that I can run and not become injured. That is my goal.

I am not in competition with anyone, not even myself, not looking for race goals or time goals or any of that.  I’ve been there and done that and loved it. It made me who I now am.  I am  just being myself, enjoying myself, enjoying running, while I run. I do strive to find the line between enough and too much, that is what I am on the look out for. I don’t want to snuggle up too closely to that line and I certainly don’t want to cross it. I am no longer afraid of it though. I need to learn to manage myself so that I am fully aware of the line. Sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I become too fixated on a goal and I cross it. I would rather not do that again.

Morton's neuroma in my left foot will need to be surgically removed as done in my right. It hasn't changed at all without running. It is still there, letting me know of its presence. I am wearing the toe separator and wide Altra shoes which really help. 

I am so black and white. So all or none. I have to wonder if my mind wasn’t able to allow any running for some time. If it had to be none. I don’t know. I don’t know.

National Running Day. I am a Runner. I am happy to be a Runner. I am grateful to be a Runner and to now know that I am so much more than just that!

Monday, June 04, 2018

Chester Woods 50K

On Friday Steve and I drove down to Eyota MN to camp and run the Chester Woods 50K. I've never run Chester Woods. I was always a FANS 24 Hour Run girl. Rain was forecast the whole weekend so I was kind of dreading the wet soggy tent!  Fortunately the forecasters were incorrect and the weekend was dry!  We had a fabulous time.

We arrived to Eyota, just out of Rochester before dark so were able to set up camp in the daylight. The campground was very nice, very modern. Usually we camp in more rustic environments, this was a treat. Clean showers and restrooms, electricity, firewood for sale..all the modern conveniences!

I woke at 4AM on Saturday and couldn't believe that it wasn't raining. After grinding my beans and creating my morning french press (yay for electricity) I walked to the start area to get my bib, tank and to visit. The website was kind of difficult to read..I wasn't sure of aid stations, entrants or course information. I didn't know if I'd know anyone at the race. I bumped into Greg, Rick, John, Kevin, Travis and Stephanie at the start. Yay for friends at the race!  

After learning that the course was a loop and that aid stations were plentiful, I walked back to camp and exchanged my pack for a single bottle. I wouldn't need more than a bottle and a few gels. I didn't carry any music or extras.

We started on pavement for half a mile or so before we turned onto grass trail. Most of the race was nice soft surface-grass, wood chips, soft was really great. Mostly woods, some open prairie, real cool bridges over water filled with people kayaking and fishing. 

As I ran back into the lot after the first 12.5 miles I caught a glimpse of Steve wandering through. What great timing!  He was looking for a place to fish from. I filled up my bottle with water from Greg's aid station at his car and ran on to loop 2. Greg and I ran 90% of the race together and picked up Travis for the third loop. We had  a blast. It was so great to run with them, laugh, catch up on what's going on the last year that in which I only ran 7 miles. It felt really great to be better conditioned and stronger than during Chippewa 50 only 6 weeks ago. I am certainly feeling more like myself. 

Travis, Greg and I ran into the finish at 640 or so...I nabbed a 2nd place in my age group. We were given cute mason jars, a jar/ornament ? for the age group placing. I drank a COKE, had a banana, passed on the hotdogs, chips and cheese and walked back to camp.  My body held together-no aches or pains. It was a fun day!

After showering in the hot clean modern shower, Steve and I hiked some trails out of the campground and then sat down to a nice fire with potatoes, carrots and onions on the grill. Yum!

I'm thinking of Black Hills 50K next. I'm liking the 50K distance-it doesn't grind me down. I am thinking about Voyageur 50 M but not certain...that's probably reason enough to let it pass me by this year. I did enter Afton 50K, looking forward to it!

Chippewa 50K was an 809, Chester Woods a 640. I'm getting more fit. Different courses but not all that different in topography.

Man it feels good to feel good!