The annual Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park 15k Trail Race and 5k Family Run was held on Saturday, June 4. Registration was from 7-8, 15k at 8:15 and 5k at 8:25 a.m. I saw this advertised on Facebook and was surprised the entry fee was only admission into the state park which is $5 per vehicle. My Mom said she would be down to walk the 5k and we’d ride the 50 or so miles together from Washburn to the park together so this race was really $2.50 each (they did have boxes for monetary donations to the park). You really cannot beat that deal.
I have never participated in a trail race before. I have been to Fort Lincoln so knew it was hilly terrain (at least for this flatland living N. Dakotan) but also great views onto the Heart and Missouri Rivers and also looking towards Bismarck to our capitol building past all the wonderful, green farmland. It has been said that you should always carefully read your map so you know where you are going. I thought I did, but I didn’t. In this instance though, it was a blessing in disguise.
Mom and I got up and left her house at about 6:30 for the hour or so drive to the park. It was a bright, breezy and cool morning. We each had our running/walking clothes on plus another layer on top for the cold. We easily registered with the very friendly and helpful park staff right outside of the Cavalry Post/Gift Shop/Restroom area. You only had to register if you wanted to know your time, otherwise you were free to participate on your own. There were a lot of families, a few dogs, some wagons and people of all ages. We stayed in the gift shop area until the race as we were chilled. Both Mom and I debated if we should keep on our long sleeve shirts or not. We decided to ditch them as the sun was shining bright and warming up every minute.
Soon, the park ranger was calling the 15k runners up to the start lined to explain the trail and where to follow. I made sure the listen closely so I didn’t make a wrong turn or get lost. My Mom wished me luck and I left her to toe the line on my own. The ranger basically said 3, 2, 1, Go and we were off. I didn’t put any pressure on myself other than to finish. Right away we took off on a gravel path and then veered off onto a more grassy path up a huge hill. I was so nervous after that huge hill and was wondering what I got myself into. I wore my Garmin to see my time afterwards but made a vow not to look at my watch running time. I felt slow to start though. Right away a pack of about 6 or so broke off and led the charge, I stayed back and was soon on my own with no one in sight. I was already glad I ditched my long sleeves. When we were out of the wind, that warm sun was beating down on me and soon I was sweating.
I knew from the map we’d curve and snake around. The ranger told us to look for marked signs, another ranger on an ATV and some water stops. The trail varied from grass, flat, dirt, sand, hilly, trail, deep trail, narrow deep trail, wooded, wide open and then some. There was a variety of footing and I really had to make sure to watch where I was going which is different from road running. I did trip and almost fall once but caught myself. There was a section where I was going, going, going alone and there was no marked signs. I felt strongly I was on the correct path so just kept going. Sure enough, I made it to another sign but since I was so unfamiliar with the trail I was nervous to be lost. Only on occasion would I catch a glimpse of the woman ahead of me by a minute or so. I passed one man and one woman passed me at the beginning otherwise I never saw anyone.
At one point we run along the edge of the hill with sweeping, grand views of farmland and river. The sights were so beautiful, everything was so green, I wish I had a photo. Truly stunning and if you hike or bike, I encourage you to go try the trails at Fort Lincoln. You won’t be sorry, but you will be surprised these views are only 7 miles from Mandan. The trail continues to go up and down and vary in terrain. Just when you catch your breath on a downhill, an uphill arrives it seemed like. I just tried to keep trucking. On a few of the sharper switchbacks, I did walk for a few steps to get my breath but was proud to hardly walk at all.
Once I finally got the water station, I knew I had to do another loop and was dreading that first huge hill. To my surprise (after reading the map incorrectly) we didn’t have to do that hill again. I checked with the ranger to make sure I was heading on loop #2 and she said yes. This gave me a mental boost and I was ready for round 2. After that second loop, the water station came again and we were to go downhill now. My watch read we were close to 9 miles so I was ready to finish strong. This section of the trail was more like grassland. The path was mowed throughout the race, but this was like an open field. You had to watch for holes and rough patches. As we approached 9.3 miles (15k) I didn’t see the end. I know races are often off from watches so obviously, I just had to keep going. We got through the grassland and went up through a ditch onto a gravel road where we swing around to go past the check in area and over the finish line. My mom was already done with her 5k and was waiting for me and cheering me on. I did finish with a smile.
After the finish, I grabbed some water – both to drink and to wash off my very salty, sweaty face. I only had ½ of a little cup of water on the course. I just couldn’t stomach anything. I had some food with me but never ate that either. My Mom was visiting with her friend Gavin (who was the FIRST place 15k racer!) and we rehashed the course a bit and Mom said the 5k went well. She started walking ahead of all the wagons and stroller but kind of behind the runners. She said she met friendly people on the course and even talked to a couple from Barnesville, MN for a bit. I even actually got to see my Mom for a quick second while I was up on a ledge and she was below on the paved walking/biking area. That was fun.
We cleaned up in the bathroom and headed into Bismarck to do some shopping while we waited for our results to be posted. I knew I was at about 1 hour and 33 minutes from my watch (it read about 9.63 miles) and my Mom knew she was at about 43 minutes. We were both satisfied and I was thinking my Mom really did great.
Once they posted the finish times online, I was thrilled to see my Mom was the FIRST 5k walker of MEN and WOMEN. How cool is that? I am very proud. I know she walks a lot in town and gives it time, so it really is paying off for her. I was happy with my time as well. I liked the challenge of doing something different and the 15k distance was fun and new. I learned a few things I’ll take with moving forward. I am proud I started out conservatively and stayed consistent throughout which is something I have been working on – instead of gunning fast and ending slow.
A huge thank you to the amazing staff at the park. Everyone was kind, generous and patient. We drove through the campground after the race and wow – it is just beautiful. If you camp, be sure to reserve a spot here. I’m so happy Mom and I had this day together.
*Most of the photos above are from Fort Lincoln’s Facebook page.
My times according to my Garmin.
- 9.63 miles
- 9:44 min/mile
- 784’ elevation gain
- 9:15 (I think I had a pep in my step b/c I thought I was actually on mile 8)
- 5:35 0r 8:51 min/mi 0.63