Saturday, July 29, 2017 was the Maah Daah Hey trail races. I did the half marathon. Other distance options are 5k, 10k, marathon, 50 mile, 75 mile and 100 mile! All the races end in Medora, ND.
I did this run last year and it was very challenging for me. I still consider myself a “new” runner and quite honestly, I feel a bit like a fraud or faker when I show up to these events. I don’t have the typical gear – the hydration vests, neat/new gear, trail shoes, etc. It’s just me and my favorite shoes and I’m ready to run and be my usual, awkward self. I get a bit nervous before a “race” since you never know how it will go or how you might feel. BUT, the great thing, is all the trail runners are so nice. I have never had a negative encounter from the few trails I have run.
Running can be pretty lonely but trail running really takes that up a notch. You can easily go several miles in a half marathon without seeing another soul. I cannot wrap my brain around a marathon, 50, 75 or 100 miles! Crazy and awesome.
We went to Medora on Friday to take in some dinner and then the musical. If you are familiar with Medora, you know the musical is similar every year. I thought this year it was really nicely done and I liked the jokes and costumes. It is truly a MUST if you are a North Dakotan. We went to the hotel right after and were in bed shortly after the show ended. We had the most beautiful night of weather – just a breeze and quite warm with no need for sleeves.
The race started at Buffalo Gap Ranch a few miles from Medora at 8 am Mountain Time. My Mom was kind enough to drive me so I didn’t have to take the shuttle and wait around for 45 minutes. The #1 thing I would change about this event would be for it to start earlier at 7 or even 6 am. July is usually hot and the sunrises early. The forecast was calling for mid-90’s and it was nearly 70 degrees when we started.
The Badlands are hilly and the trail is primarily gravel, soil, crushed rock and is pretty compact. The Badlands themselves are beautiful but this year we are in a severe drought so everything was extremely dry. In fact, a fire happened a few weeks earlier closing part of the trail until up to the race event. There is hardly a tree to be found on the trail and no shade. At all. The sun beats on the canyons and reflects heat back up. You won’t find anyplace to cool off unless you count a creek. Sadly, most of those are also dried up this year.
I have ran a LOT (for me) this summer and have really found a passion for getting outside and getting in longer miles on a trail or gravel road. I don’t always have the time or a chance to do this, but it has become my favorite. I started running in 2015 and it was mostly on a treadmill, inside, a few times a week. I never ran if it was windy and never in the rain. In 2016, I got a little bolder and ran outside more and in the rain often, but still only a few times a week. This summer, I committed to running more outside and in any weather condition. So for 2017 that has meant mostly in the wind and no rain. Definitely have had some humidity though! I can’t say I have ran much in the direct sun. Mostly of my runs take place at 4:15-6:30 a.m. hours. On the weekend I can sleep in and usually go at daybreak. I have been putting in 50ish miles a week since April except for the week of July 4th when I was sick – much more important to rest and get healthy. I have honestly surprised myself with how much I enjoy getting up and running before going to work. It’s been a pleasant surprise though!
My goal for this event was to improve on my time ran last year. I was very nervous for the sunny, hot forecast. I had a talk with my running buddy, Robin, about paces and letting go of that. I know runners sometimes say that the numbers don’t matter, but we always track them and note them, right? What I have found liberating is just trying to stay within myself. I want to improve my times but I can’t focus or care what others do. I can only try to improve myself. I try not to be too hard on myself and realize that crappy runs happens. I’m not here to win, place or qualify for anything. I run because I love how it makes me feel and to enjoy the camaraderie of other runners. I am still learning and still new to the sport. With that, I knew I wanted to beat 2 hours and 30 minutes (my time last year) and was hoping for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
We start from Buffalo Gap Ranch up a gravel road where we then get right onto the Maah Daah Hey trail. The first few miles were good, I was trying to find my pace, my place in the pack and find a comfort level. The first and only checkpoint for the half is at about 5.5 miles. I stopped here as I wasn’t carrying any hydration. They handed me one Dixie cup of warm water. I was not thrilled but I kept a smile on my face as I appreciate the volunteers so much. They asked if I wanted any fruit but I asked for another cup of water. I really wanted about two more cups but didn’t want to be a hog especially in case the supply was limited.
Shortly after continuing we came to the only creek (this year anyway) and I ended up totally stepping in it and soaking my feet. Ugh, crap. I was worried about blisters but also hopeful the dry heat and hot sun would dry them out quickly. After the creek we get to the 10k start area and into more serious (for me) hills. There is a lot more walking at this section and I also got the opportunity to talk with a few people starting here. The downside, it was only getting warmer and brighter by the minute. As mentioned, there is no break from the sun, no plants large enough to make substantial shade. I did come across a bush that cast a shadow and in my mind if I squatted there a bit it would be quite lovely but I continued on.
(I forgot my hat! But Dad let me use one of his thank goodness!)
Eventually, the trail starts going downhill as we make our way into Medora. The last mile is paved and into town. It is blacktop so again, quite warm. I was hoping to run this last mile as it is all flat but the heat was a bit much for more. I instead did a walk/run and chatted with a kid from Fargo and another man who was just walking after he thought there was a second aid station but there wasn’t. The kid from Fargo said his feet were pretty painful as he also got wet and was certain he had blisters. Luckily, my feet held up just fine (thank you, calluses) and were basically dry by this point.
As I got closer, I could see and hear my mom cheering for me. She is such a supporter for me and I appreciate it more than words. I was sure to run at the end and finish strong. My shirt felt like it weight 10 lbs. from sweat and once I stopped running, the sweat poured out of me. I crushed a cold bottle of water and had mom snap some pics. She remarked how crazy it was that some people crossing the line looked like they were out on an afternoon stroll. I was dirty, feet caked and so sweaty! I had a few more waters and we had to hightail it out of there before too long as we were not granted a late check-out and I needed a shower in the worst way so we could explore and eat in Medora before going home.
My finish time was 2:18:41 – not quite to my goal but I finished healthy and happy!
Afterwards, I met up with Robin (she did the 10k) for an iced coffee and also ran into a few friends that did the 10k. I love that I have been able to make friends by seeing familiar faces at events. I also love catching up with Robin. We were really good buddies back in high school and we’ve reconnected over fitness.
A few things I *think* have helped me with running this year and falling for it would be:
- Letting go of some of the pressure and expectations
- More (just slightly though) confidence in my abilities
- Get off the treadmill (running in other weather conditions and road surfaces, relying on finding my pace naturally)
- Doing hills on the treadmill (I definitely could have done more though and they are pretty non-existent since the Black Hills 30k – whoops)
- Run in places you aren’t familiar with (new areas, run on a gravel road, different town, whatever)
- Cycling / strength (cross train)
- Stretching (keeping my calves and feet loose in particular)
A few things I *think* could help me more and make me better
- Some heat training – do a few long runs later on in the day
- More elevation running – difficult but not impossible for this flatlander
- Prescribed training/paces – I generally try to run a few days of the week on a treadmill to increase intervals on the days I teach spin. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I imagine I could benefit from reading some specific training plans or websites?
- Experience more trails, different surfaces. I was so intimidated by the MDH but after I ran the Black Hills, I had a new outlook. I cannot imagine running where there is real elevation. Maybe one day?
Not every race has to be an all-out balls to the wall for me. I like the event atmosphere, making it a vacation, time with friends and family. Of course, I’d be lying if I said numbers didn’t matter. They do. To every runner. I want to do well but at the same time, it IS recreational fun. I hope to look back at this time in my life and remember running a lot and having fun. I doubt I’ll remember every race pace time but I will remember every race due to experiences. Thanks for reading this LONG run recap!
Quick side note: The female winner of the half was a musical performer and sang our national anthem before we ran. How awesome is that!?!