On Saturday, June 23, 2018 I completed the Black Hills 100 50k run. I am an ultramarathoner! I am so stoked! I have been working towards this goal for the past 4 months. I’m not going to lie – it is also a relief to be done!
The run is on the Centennial Trail which goes through prairie grasslands and up into the Black Hills National Forest. The trail was built in 1989 to mark the 100th anniversary of S Dakota’s statehood. The trail is 111 miles total. Wow! I was happy to only (!) be having to traverse 31.2 miles of this trail.
I had run the 30k as part of this race last year. It was tough but so rewarding. There is nothing comparable to this trail in North Dakota. It is hard to train for and apparently I like a challenge? I decided to go to the 50k distance this year upon the encouragement of my friend I met in 2017 at the 30k.
(Long post alert – you are warned.)
In the week leading up to the run, the Black Hills experienced a LOT of rain. I think the director said they had 7 inches of rain the week of the run. This made me nervous for extremely muddy trails. The race day report also called for an 80% chance of rain. This was not ideal, but what can you do? Race day weather is generally never ideal.
My parents were my “crew” meaning they were able to follow me along and stop at 2 of the 4 aid stations and drop me at the start and meet me at the end. They were going to haul my food, drinks, clothes, shoes, first aid kit and whatever else I might need. I knew they would be vital to my overall mood; especially my mental outlook.
We took off from home Friday morning and arrived to Sturgis, SD to rain. Drats. We went out on Vanocker Canyon Road to find the trailheads where they could meet me. We found them all fairly easily but one was not easily accessible due to strong rain and a big washout in the gravel road. The 100 milers had already started running and I was bummed they had to face strong rain, thunder and lightning only a few hours into their journey. We went into Sturgis to get my race packet, check into the hotel and grab some dinner and a couple of beers. The rain continued on but happily, the radar looked to clear for Saturday. I was relieved but knew we’d be facing challenging conditions. In fact, the streams had been dry the week prior and the RD emailed that all were flowing and to be prepared to cross them. OK!
Saturday we woke up to cool and sunny weather. Perfect. Perhaps a bit humid but no rain clouds in sight. My folks took me to the start and after a sendoff they took off to the next aid station they could access. This was the one in rough condition and they thought if they could get there before the crowds at the start, they could get a better position. We started at the Dalton Lake aid station. We took off and it was single track so I just followed the person in front of me and tried to seed myself in the middle of the pack. I quickly found myself behind some women from Sioux Falls and made it a goal to stay with them. The group was walking up hills and running the flats and down. Perfect. The first aid station came at Crooked Tree about 7.5 miles in. I stopped for some fuel and was back out with the gals again. I had told my parents I was hoping to get to Elk Creek (14 miles in and the first place I’d see them) in about 2-2.5 hours. I realized that was slipping away from me as this section of trail became very muddy and runnable sections were now spent walking very carefully so I didn’t fall on my face. This was frustrating but what can you do? Soon we came to several creek crossings and the water was COLD but it felt good. The sun was starting to warm up but in the forest we were shaded. The shade was nice but it was also stifling and humid. I splashed water on my face and neck to cool off at each crossing.
Shortly after the crossings we were at the Elk Creek trailhead at about 13 miles. This is where I got to see my parents and they were able to access the trailhead with no problems. It was a great feeling to come in and see them and hear them cheering me on. My mom had a new pair of socks and fresh shoes laid out for me and a chair to change my shoes. They also had a water, a Gatorade, some food and a salt tab for me to take when I saw them. I visited a bit and was off (I remember I was about 3 hours 10 minutes in) to the Elk Creek aid station which was straight up hill almost a mile in. That section wasn’t so fun.
My strategy was just to make it from aid station to aid station and not become overwhelmed by the sheer distance I had yet to travel. I was feeling good at this point, but I was pretty certain I couldn’t keep up with the Sioux Falls women. I wanted to run smart for me and finish strong and feeling good. The year prior, I finished very dehydrated and weak. No bueno.
The mud patches became less and less. There was several runnable sections but I was beginning to get sore. I met up with another women, Cat, and we ran for quite a while together and shared stories. She was from Colorado. Somewhere in this section, I got a severe cramp in my right calf. I never experienced anything that bad and fell over. Fortunately, into a soft section and I didn’t get hurt. I walked off the cramp but dang, it affected me the rest of the way. Bulldog Aid Station was at mile 20 and I stopped to eat a few cookies and drink several glasses of water and chat with those stopped. I was beginning to feel a bit sorer so stretched and squatted a bit. I knew Alkali Creek Aid Station was only 4.5 miles away and I could see my parents again.
Again, I ran a bit with Cat and enjoyed the miles. It was pretty and we were getting out of the forest and more into an open, hilly area. We had to go through a tunnel and my shoes got soaked again. Less than a mile up though was Alkali Creek where I got fresh socks and shoes and a mental boost from Mom and Dad. I was feeling good mentally but a little slow physically. Another Gatorade, water, salt tab and food. I told them I knew I’d finish but there would probably be a lot of walking. I remembered this section from last year and I don’t know if it is because a person is so tired or what but it feels like so much of it is uphill. At this point, running downhill hurt and the flats my run must have been about as fast as a walk. 7 or so miles to go to the City Park and the finish!
For this section, I was alone a lot. I was mostly trying to think positive and have gratitude for the situation I was in. Not to be too hippy dippy but there is no way I would have ever envisioned myself completing a 50k run 5 years ago. Or 80+ pounds ago. I was so happy to be ABLE to complete this. And to have my parents with my through the whole journey.
Before the finish I wanted to highlight a few changes that took place during my training that I believe helped me complete the 50K:
- I went from running alone to running with others and asking their advice. I am often one of the slower people in a group and that makes me nervous/shy. That is OK. Experienced runners will run your speed and give you advice. I almost prefer running with someone else now.
- Cross training. It’s important. Do it. I biked and worked out twice per week with a trainer. He knew my goals and helped me be able to finish in one piece and not feel like death.
- Switch it up. I got off the treadmill, ran outside, ran trails, ran gravel roads, ran in town, etc. I tried to make sure my long run was in a different place each week whether it was on the east side of town to the south side or in Bismarck or wherever else. Running early in Hazen during the week gets real old real quick. I ran some trails in the dark and put myself in some uncomfortable situations. Slow and steady was my mantra throughout. I have so many long training runs to get through.
- Stretch. I have worked to do but I stretched at least 4x a week consistently although maybe not long enough. Just being honest.
- Sleep. I made sleep a priority. Sleep is where your body recovers and repairs. For me, it is crucial. So I might have missed out on some fun nights but I think it paid off in the long run.
- Spring event. By keeping my “A” goal big event in the spring. That means I have all summer to enjoy myself and maybe make up for some of those missed fun nights out. I find myself living a precarious balance of eating healthy and working out but also saying you only live once so live it up and party hard.
What I’d do differently:
- In retrospect, I think I would change a few things. My training plan was 16 weeks and I think that was a little too long. I came in running a high weekly mileage so the four months really drug on and probably the last month I was just going through the motions with my running.
- That said, my training plan was something I created myself. I have no idea what I am doing. I think I would have reached out to some more experienced people to help form a better plan.
- I ran 6 days a week, all 16 weeks. In additional to cycling and working with the trainer. This was probably too much. Although I have time, I think I got a bit burned out.
The last mile or so is leading into the city of Sturgis on their walking/biking path which is concrete. This is actually quite brutal to run on after 30 miles of trail. It feels hard and jagged. I wanted to run this whole section but quickly switched to a run walk. It had started to rain just a bit prior to this but a nice rain that cooled me off. I was feeling quite warm in the exposed section of trail and this was lovely. The rain stopped and the sun came out as I approached the finish line. How appropriate!
My Dad was waiting at the finish for a high five. That was awesome. Then a bit further my Aunt appeared which was a nice surprise and finally I saw my Mom. Full circle. I was so happy to finish but also was again cramping up. I got my finish mug, a few photos, several cups of water and finally, a beer! I was just happy. Super happy to finish! Super happy to be an ultramarathoner and reach a goal I set for myself.
- 7 hours, 53 minutes, 59 seconds
- 15:12 minute/mile
- 22 of 44 females
- Roughly 4k elevation gain, 5k loss
What’s next? I don’t know for sure. I think I need a goal to stay motivated and working towards something. Recovery has been a bit slow. I feel great except for the calf I cramped up – every time I run I can feel it. I’m trying to be cautious and listen to my body. I think the post long run blues is a real thing and maybe I’ll talk about that soon. But I’m still basking in this finish. Thanks for reading!