Sunday, July 01, 2012

Cruising the Black Hills 100m

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of joining 300+ runners for the second running of the Black Hills 100 Mile Run in Sturgis, SD, on a hot and sunny day. The views and trails were simply stunning, and although the course got the best of me (I dropped at mile 50), I had a great weekend meeting new friends and experiencing these wonderful and mystical mountains.

The Black Hills, long a spiritual home of the Lakota people, stretch across southern South Dakota and Wyoming with proud granite faces that erupt from the spacious Great Plains. This produces two wonderful results for outdoor enthusiasts - valleys full of single track, creeks, and lakes worthy of a super-endurance event, and long, smooth roads for motorcycle cruising.
(Nemo, SD, near Sturgis)
Motorcycle cruising? Absolutely! This is Sturgis, SD, after all - home of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where tens of thousands of Harley-Davidson motorcycles roam the streets every August. I've always wanted to experience that Easy Rider freedom of cruising across the plains, so I rented a Harley the day before the race and donned my Peter Fonda jacket to cruise Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Nemo Road, and visit some of the little towns that the 100-mile course would bring us to.


(I see myself on a Harley someday...)
(The Spearfish Canyon, photo courtesy of Steve Shames)
(Cruisin', photo courtesy of Jonco)
As soon as I hit the road with my chrome-and-blue Harley Softail, I was a welcome member of this vast two-wheeled community, getting a wave from every motorcyclist I passed. The loud purr of the V-twin announced my arrival at each stop where I was ushered into local restaurants, bars full of tourist trinkets, and a number of roadhouse saloons strewn with American Flags, tattooed locals, and retirees living the dream. The pride was palpable, fed by a joyous union of machine and nature. The simple life, surrounded by simple pleasures, and the freedom to take it in at any pace you see fit...quintessential U. S. of motherf*#kin' A. Given the love for the outdoors and regular deep, dark tans of dirt, I think trail runners and bikers have more in common than we think.

(Racer and crew, ready for the 50-miler)
Cruising on a Harley is probably not the best pre-race preparation for a 100-miler, and my body reminded me with a stiff hip flexors and motorcycle glove sunburns at the starting line. The temperature was already 80 degrees at 5am, and it was predicted to get in the 90's, far hotter than our Western States brethren were facing this morning. RD's Ryan Phillips and Chris Stores had created this race to be an alternative for those not getting into States, and an alternative it was!
(BGID - Beard Gettin' It Done)
(Billy sends us off with a prayer and song)
(...and we're off!)
At 5am, we watched the mountain bikers hit the trail for the inaugural Tatanka 100m, a 100-mile companion event that would share much of the same trails. I caught up with fellow run/blogger Olga (Varmolova) King, as well as former Bay Area runner Max Shchemelinin, who were both tackling the 100m distance and looking fit. We had 50 miles to Silver City, SD, and would then turn around to head home. A Lakota elder named Billy shared a native prayer, and a ceremonial drum chant that jump-started our rhythm. At 6am, we were off!

(Just follow the Centennial Trail and you can't go wrong)
The 5o-mile and 100k runners started with us, and after some chatter on the bike path, we lined up and ran the quiet single track through the grassy cow country. After studying the map it appeared the course would have a similar pattern: up a ~1,000 foot climb and back down, then an aid station. Repeat x5, turn around, and follow the patterns backwards for a total of ~16,000' of climbing. How hard could that be? ;-)

We refueled at the first aid station (mile 6), and dashed under the highway before escaping into the aspen trees for the next climb. The trails were wonderful! Plenty of shade with lots of steady grade switchbacks. If you listen close, the aspen leaves applaud you! (ha, ha) We had a group of five runners fairly close, including Naoki Ouchi from Japan taking more pictures than I was.

(Lush trails, covered in aspen trees)
By the time hit Bulldog (mile 10), only four miles later, I had already slurped both my water bottles dry. This was definitely going to be a day to stay on your liquids! I filled again, reapplied some sunscreen, and head out at a casual pace.

(I was wondering how we were going to cross the Highway)

(The Bulldog trail angel sets us up)
The trails to Elk City (mile 17) had more exposed trails along a ridge, and the creeks were dry this year (as opposed to last year when it was knee/hip deep and required multiple crossings). I felt a tad jealous as the first 50-miler runners came back on their return path, but then again, they're going to miss all this fun single track! You win either way.

(So far, so good!)
(The Black Hills get their name from the black trees)
I paced along with Max Shchemelinin (100m) and Paul Anderson (100k), and we were forced to walk some uphills as the heat increased to the high 90's. Max was having some stomach issues, so we did our best to laugh at how minimalist his Inov-8 250's were to my Hoka One-One's MAXIMALIST. Both seemed to do just fine on these runnable trails. As we crested the peak, the heat shushed us all to silent focus, easily passing 100 degrees in some sections as the underling dry rocks warmed like kindling. Max unlunched while Jeff and I staggered into the final descent, hoping some shade would bring relief. Water bottles empty again, the 20-minute descent had more hot patches than a microwaved quesadilla, so we just leaned into gravity and got it done.

(Gorgeous views...the iPhone w/Instagram ain't bad!)
Dalton Lake (mile 29) was a welcome oasis, and we were greeting by a crowd of eager volunteers with ample food, water, and ice. The noon heat was crushing many of us to a dead stop. I took a seat to have some food, ice my head, and gulp a bottle or two down before heading out. Bighorn winner Ty Draney was sitting with me, doing his best to get his stomach back to running condition. A half dozen runners also sat as we watched the first three 100k runners on their return trip. This time I didn't envy the return runners - it was going to be a long, hot hike back up that hill.

(Max and Stephen find some shade to regroup)
Max came in a sat down under the water jugs as I took one last gulp and headed out up the biggest climb of the day. This was a multi-use part of the trail, so the footing was tricker, but nothing the Hokas couldn't mow down. A few ATV'ing locals hollered out cheers as we descended down to Nemo (mile 36), where volunteers were happy to help us cool down with watermelon, ice, and snacks. Stephen Young, who got sixth at the Wasatch 100 last year, joined us under the canopy in an attempt to resurrect his stomach and recent bout with anemia. I felt better after seeing that guy!

(Jeff crushes some single track)
(Sharing the road)
I ventured solo for most of the next climb with Jack Black's Blunderbuss in my ears, and it donned on me that I hadn't peed all day and was getting REALLY hungry despite keeping up on my calories. Pilots Knob (mile 42) took care of the hunger problem with some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, but despite a quart of fluids, I couldn't get myself to tinkle. For somebody like me that has had issues with dehydration, I was missing an important data to sit at the turnaround at Silver City (mile 50) as long as it took.
(Grinding the hot uphill)
(More yummy trails)
I had good company on the final stretch to Silver City, especially John Horns, a doctor with the armed forces who was using this race to kick off a vacation at their family place near Nemo (he won the 100k last year). We found Stephen Young sitting on one of the big climbs, and he walked with us a bit before being forced to take another break. That kid is tough!

(Silver City, here we come!)
After 20 minutes of drinking and eating at Silver City, I finally had to pee, but it wasn't the news I was hoping for. Yes, the color was on the dark side (as expected), but there also was an unmistakeable spotting of blood. The medical folks had a good chat with me about it - it's not uncommon for a little blood to be in the urine, and for some people, it's a regular occurrence. I figured I would just keep on hydrating until I had to pee again and make the call then.

About half of the runners coming in were dropping, while the others pointed to the sun in its downward arc in the sky and said the worst was over. John Horns got out quickly (he would end up getting 2nd place in 21:25 - a negative split!), as did Olga King who came in first Woman (and would finish first Woman, 26:11). Max S refused to give up, no matter how long it took, and was soon on his way (he would finish in 30 hrs), while Bill Geist took a full shower before hitting the road home (he would get 7th in 26:30). Stephen Young was done after duking it out for 11 hours - definitely not his day.

I took a second pee with similar results, and decided it wasn't enough to risk that something bigger might be amiss. Alas, a rare DNF. I kept replaying the story in my head of how I would explain to my wife that I peed blood and kept going...not sure if that story ends well if I finished or not. ;-) The likely culprit was the Harley that shook my organs until they settled like sand, my lack of heat acclimation and long run training, or not being smart enough to bring a hydration option bigger than two bottles. I took solace knowing I had seen the whole course, and my legs had held up well. Given the smile on my face, this day couldn't possibly be chalked up as a disappointment. All in all, a worthy adventure.

(Women's winner, Olga King)

(In case you were wondering how tough Olga's her right foot at the finish)
(Jeremy Bradford gives a noogie to his 1st place trophy)
Stephen Young and his pacer, Kieran McCarthy, were kind enough to give me a ride back and spring for beers and fried chicken in Nemo on the way. Kieran would later surprise Jeremy Bradford and pace him in the last 17 miles to his CR-setting win (20:51), which is an impressive feat on three beers. I got a good night of sleep, and by morning, all body functions were back to normal. False alarm, perhaps, but no regrets.

As I congratulated those who finished the next morning, we all marveled at the amazing volunteers, ample food and water, and gorgeous trails. I don't see any need to market this race as an alternative to Western States - it stands up just fine all by itself. My thanks to the RD's, the great volunteers, the boys at Rapid City Harley-Davidson, and the good people of South Dakota for their hospitality. My soul has been awakened, and my smile hasn't left my face. I will certainly return!

- SD


  1. Eww, man! To the whole world!
    It was great to see you, and yes, indeed, you had a wide smile and didn't seem to be bothered by ending your journey early. Glad you're ok! One thing TX helps is heat, even though I hate it passionately. And in general, tough is boring. Fast, on another hand, is something I need a lot of work on...thus I stand true to what I said at the finish line:) Have a blast at Tahoe!

  2. Scott, it was a privilege to meet you and great to have the privilege to share in this awesome event. I made it a mile out of the turnaround - and decided to cash in my chips (I hadn't urinated since 5:45 a.m. that morning and didn't want to know what I'd find when I did!). Course and conditions threw a lot at me; I'm already plotting a return next year (maybe for the 100K, thought!). Great blow-by-blow of an epic day.

  3. Nice recap - thanks for a great read on an event I hadn't heard much about. Heat is my worst enemy and I would have been curled up in a puddle long before 50 miles were up. I love the sound of this race though (and that there are alternatives to doing 100 miles).

  4. Excellent blog! I like all the pics. Nice post. I am inspired from your writing skills. Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. It was nice meeting you out there. Hopefully I'll see you next year so we can get some redemption!

  6. I love your cover photo. Is that Muir Woods?

    Joel, author

    1. It's actually in Huddart Park, Woodside, CA, near the McGarvey Gulch.

  7. Next time I debreakfast I'll try to provide camera-ready warning. For next year I'm thinking a wingsuit to take advantage of next year's hurricane.


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