The first annual Maah Daah Hey Trail Run was held on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. The unique challenge of running on North Dakota’s awe inspiring Maah Daah Hey trail was most definitely an experience I won’t soon forget. The Badlands are an amazing place with beautiful sights and I was lucky enough to see even more remote areas on this run.
The run options were a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, 54 mile, 79 miles and 106 miles. I thought I was just insane enough to attempt the half marathon with an elevation gain listed at 1,374 feet. My Mom was doing the 5k and my good friend the 10k. Considering I always run on mostly flat roads, I knew this would be a challenge and I was hoping for agreeable weather.
We arrived in Medora on Friday to take in a few sights and specifically to see the annual musical. When we arrived, it was pouring rain but that quickly gave way to mostly cloudy skies and a beautiful, cool evening. We grabbed a few brews and a bite to eat at the charming Little Missouri Saloon. We picked up our race packets at Dakota Cyclery right in town with ease. We made our way to watch the musical with my parents. It was a great show as usual.
After the show, we headed back to our hotel for a good night of sleep. I had a few things stacked against me for this race – I had gotten a blister the Monday prior (my first one all summer) and came down with a horrible cold on Tuesday, in fact, I even called in sick to work on Thursday. That Wed. night/Thurs. a.m. I did get over 12 hours of sleep and that helped a lot. I ran Monday and Tuesday, took off Wednesday and Thursday due to illness and ran an easy 4 miles on Friday morning. I could breath but definitely felt sluggish and harder to breath than normal. This was my “before” photo on the way to catch the 6:30 a.m. shuttle to the half marathon. The weather was cool outside and the run was scheduled to start at 8 a.m. I didn’t get to see my Mom or my friend as their shuttles left at different times. This race is a point to point so they started at various spots on the trail.
The shuttles left from the Chimney Park/Medora Family Fun Center area. Our departure area was the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch. I had never been there and it was a cute area with a bar/restaurant, some stores and a place to stay. This would make for an extremely easy departure for the race. My only (minor) complaint comes at this time. The shuttle out only took about 20 minutes. So we were at the ranch from before 7 a.m. until the 8 a.m. start. A LOT of standing around and nerves. If possible, it would be nice to have more shuttles to depart us closer to the starting times. If not, this wasn’t horrible as I got to make a few new friends by chatting and the waitress was kind enough to offer us pitchers of water and even sunscreen. I had eaten before we left, but would definitely like to return some day to eat or visit.
We were able to send our backpacks back with the gentlemen who was calling the start time so I could take off my long sleeves as it was warming up a bit. Overall, the weather was perfect – just a breeze and I think the hottest it was during the run was maybe low-60’s? A few places it was really beating down but then was cool when it went behind the clouds. I was grateful for this nice weather.
There were about 20 of us doing the half and we simply stood by the flagpoles and when he said go, we took off. We went up a gravel road until we got onto the trail. This was slightly uphill and I honestly was so nervous as I was tired, out of breath and my upper body felt so weak. I did not think I’d make this run. Most of the pack took off ahead of me and within a few miles I couldn’t see them anymore. Trail runners are a strong bunch of runners! I also didn’t have anyone behind me within eyesight. I was all alone.
About 5 miles into the run I got to the only aid station. Throughout the trail there were a series of gates we had to open and close due to wildlife. There was a gate here and it was before crossing a highway. I stopped to remove my shoe as I felt I had a rock or thistle in there. I was surprised it was actually a tiny pebble. I can’t imagine what something bigger would feel like. I didn’t take any aid since I had my water bottle and a packet of Gu gel.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll do some bullet points even though as always, I have a lot to say!
- I finished! Alive and healthy! And happy!
- The views were amazing and inspiring. Everything from prairie like land to steep hills, jagged rocks, narrow trails on steep ledges, greasy muddy areas (due to the rain the day before), dry sand, overflowed creeks (feet got wet) and everything in between. You always had to be paying attention.
- Going in, my goal was to finish under 3 hours due to my illness and not having trained for hills.
- Miles 8-9 were a lot of walking, mostly uphill.
- I ate one packet of Gu on the race. I tried to imagine it giving me super powers to run the entire race. That didn’t work. Lots of walking which I was actually OK with. Better than not moving at all.
- The last 2 miles or so were all downhill. Lovely, but also steeply downhill so it was a bit painful.
- I only almost got lost once after we got off the trail and went into town. It wasn’t marked well so I wasn’t sure if we continued on the trail or not? Sadly, one of the men in our group did go on the trail and ended up doing like 19 miles or something. How frustrating!
- I did my best to run the whole last mile but there was walking involved. I saw my Mom from the distance and she motivated me to run!
- My goal to finish about half way through moved up to 2 hours and 30 minutes when I could tell I felt well enough to continue after briefly wanting to quit at mile 1.
- I only saw normal animals (no bison or elk), one cow did MOO at me. Thanks for cheering.
- After going on the trail I only ever did see one more woman who I passed in the last 3 or so miles. A few times it was pretty lonely out there but always beautiful.
- I genuinely thought a few times I might get lost/never found/live in the wild/get eaten by rattlers, etc. You really have a lot of alone time out there to think!
- The warm chocolate chip cookies at the finish line were amazing.
- It was fun to be called out with my hometown at the finish.
Here I am a while after the race. We stuck around a bit after to chat with others and then watch the kids races. They were so cute! I am actually wearing my Mom’s medal here. They ran out! There must have been more than expected last minute sign ups. They assured me they will mail me one out. I am anxiously awaiting it! My shower afterwards was glorious. I was pretty dirty from the mud and dust and extremely salty from sweating.
After we were cleaned up, we went downtown to walk around to all the cute stores. I saw a few cute dresses and a lot of bicycle decor I liked. (I love bikes.) I had Mom snap this photo of me by these pretty flowers. I am not ready for summer to be over yet. This was such a perfect afternoon weather wise.
My husband and Dad were golfing the awesome Bully Pulpit golf course while us ladies raced. We met up with them later for pizza (the Badlands Pizza & Saloon is great!) and beer and I showed my husband a few of the bike pieces I liked. He surprised me with this awesome wall decoration. What a nice gesture and I was very, very surprised. We went afterwards to meet up with my friend for some ice cream. I don’t know what it is about Medora, but I always have to get their ice cream. So good!
My parents went back home while we stuck around for another night. We enjoyed some leisuring by the motel pool and later some cocktails downtown with live music. It was a wonderful day.
Here’s one more pic my Mom snapped of me coming into the finish. I was all smiles because I saw her and I was done. I am very proud of myself for taking this on. Trail runs are a blast and the camaraderie is amazing. Maybe I’ll even do it again? For now, I think I am going to take a bit of a break and go back to shorter distances and enjoy the end of the summer. Below are stats according to my Garmin and the official finish times. Also, Experience Land runs a great Facebook site, go give them a like.
Total Time: 2:29:59.8
Distance: 13.24 miles
- 9:56 (wanted to quit, upper body felt so tired oddly?)
- 11:06 (I think this includes my brief stop for the pebble in the shoe)
- 13:34 (so much uphill on this mile)
- 9:13 (0.24 miles)
Official Race Finish Time: 2:29:57 (yay!), 9th of 12 women – lots of room for improvement but I am very happy with this finish time and results.
Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend – I’ll be back sometime next week with another post!