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.




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