Black Hills 100 Mile Endurance Run
June 23-24, 2017
What a different experience this was for me from last year’s race! A solid training cycle combined with cooler race temperatures were a winning combination for me!
My training cycle for this race went extremely well. I was able to avoid any significant injuries, and especially during the last several months of training, I felt very strong. My average pace dropped while running at the same effort level, and I continued to feel great during and after my runs. My mileage topped out at a weekly total of 72 (84 counting hiking) with my longest back-to-back runs at 18 and 32 miles.
I feel that the key components I added to my running workouts that contributed to my successful training cycle and race were consistent strength training, regular soft tissue and adjustment work from my sports chiropractor, weighted vest max incline treadmill hiking, and attention to nutrition and recovery.
(For more details on my training plan, see my other blog posts.)
As race day drew near, I had a hard time staying calm. In spite of my best efforts, race nerves started affecting my sleep a week or two out from the race. I felt ready and just wanted to “get it done.” I think I was less nervous than last year as the race approached, since I wasn’t facing the “big unknown.” But on the other hand, now I knew how tough it was to travel 100+ miles with 18,600 feet of vertical gain and an equal amount of descent.
During the first week of my three week taper, a low-grade nagging problem with my left adductor muscles flared enough to concern me. (I confess that it was probably because the first week of taper I ran a 20-mile long run too hard. But I felt so good—and it was my fastest 20-mile trail training run ever! I know. It was not a smart decision.) I began focusing even more on daily stretching, mobility, and soft tissue work, and visited my sports chiropractor weekly until the race. The adductor issue did improve, but not as much as I would like. Of course, I was praying about it, and I asked for some special prayers from the elders of our church. Then I did my best to put it in God’s hands and not stress over it.
Since the record-breaking heat was a huge factor at last year’s race, we kept a close eye on the forecasted weather. The closer we got to race day, the lower the predicted temperatures fell! It seemed strange to pack winter running gear. With rain and possible thunderstorms looking likely and temperatures potentially dipping into the 30s at night, I started worrying about hypothermia!
At the last minute, I ordered a waterproof rain jacket (something I have wanted, but not previously purchased because of cost). I chose the Ultimate Direction Ultra jacket, and I love the fit and feel of it. My jacket arrived the day before our departure for Black Hills, and shortly afterwards, all chances of rain were removed from the forecast! I’m not complaining. The rain would have made everything harder, especially for my crew, and I’m sure my rain jacket will get plenty of use in the future.
Of course, my husband was making the trip with me. He patiently endures my hours of training and supports me at every race! Last year, our son Aaron was my pacer, but this year, he had an invitation to pace a friend at Western States (which is the same weekend as Black Hills). He was very torn over the decision, but I insisted that he must go to Western States. It was too great of an opportunity to miss (plus he and his wife planned a California vacation afterward)!
Our daughter Elizabeth stepped up to be my pacer. She is a national record-holding speed skater who has always said she hated running. Then last year as she crewed for me at Black Hills, she got a taste of trail running magic and now is a “convert” (although she still hates road running).
At the last minute, her sons Kadan (12) and Kolton (9) were also able to go also. My crew was rounded out by Brian Simpson (Elizabeth’s friend and speed skating coach). Although not familiar with trail or ultra running, he was a fast learner and a valuable asset to my crew.
Our Wednesday departure day arrived. We crammed luggage for six and race gear into every nook of our van plus a car top carrier and rode up together! We arrived in Sturgis around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and went straight to packet pick up. One of the lady volunteers remembered me from last year and gave me hugs and encouragement. Next we drove to our rented cottage in Deadwood. With many last minute details to attend to, the evening flew by. I don’t sleep well the night before a big race, and this was no exception. I managed to get in a total of 5 to 5.5 hours, which is a bit more than last year, so I figured I would be okay.
Race morning arrived and it was time to get ready! I wore my usual Asics race shorts, my new Asics Core short sleeve shirt, plus arm warmers, a light weight headband to keep my ears warm, and my Patagonia hat. I put on my Inov8 Terra Claw 220 shoes with DryMax Trail Lite socks. I planned to change into my Altra Superior 3.0 shoes later during the race. I used Squirrel Nut Butter lube on some potential trouble spots. If rain had still been forecasted, I would have Vasolined my feet, but under normal race conditions, I do not use foot lube with the Dry Max socks. I did not wear calf sleeves this year. I stopped using them several months ago when they seemed to be aggravating some tightness behind my knee in my upper calves.
Of course, I used my Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 12-set pack. It is an older 2013 model which is no longer available. I had to replace a zipper and do a bit of mending, but I was not ready to retire it. I decided to start with Brian’s Garmin Forerunner 310XT because of its reputed superior battery life, and swap over to my Garmin Forerunner 205 later in the race.
Since I had three hours till the 10:00 am start, I felt pretty safe having my usual breakfast of oatmeal.
With a brisk north breeze and temperatures in the 50s, I wore a jacket and warm up pants to the starting line. I was loving the cool temperature!
At the start, I checked in, walked around a bit and did my usual warm up of lunge matrix plus leg swings. The race director soon arrived with a reluctant goat in tow who was wearing a Black Hills shirt and a straw hat. The goat was only interested in eating grass, but I managed to have my photo taken with her.
As start time approached, I took off the pants and jacket, but decided to start with the light headband and arm sleeves. After a few announcements, we counted down from ten, and we were off! I was so relieved to finally be headed out on the course. The cool air felt amazing, and the scenery was beautiful! I felt joy in simply being able to run and spent the first few miles praising God and grinning nonstop! I reminded myself to take frequent short walk breaks and keep my effort level super easy. The arm warmers and headband came off quickly as I warmed up.
There were two major changes to the course this year. The first one was that the long, steep climb and descent into Alkali Creek (the first aid station) had been totally rebuilt into a switchbacked trail. This broke the climb and descent into shorter, less steep sections, but the down side was that it added 1.5 miles to the length of the trail.
The second change was a temporary reroute of the Centennial Trail later in the course because of logging activity. This reroute made that section of trail 1.5 miles shorter, so it all evened out (thankfully!).
The course starts out on 1.2 miles of concrete bike path, then loops up and around some smaller (relatively speaking) grassy hills before hitting the main climb and descent into Alkali Creek. As soon as we started the first serious climb, my legs responded to the challenge, and I started passing people hiking uphill. I was so glad I had toughed out those hours of hiking at max incline on the treadmill with the weighted vest. It was paying off now, along with my diligence to weight training. By the time I reached Alkali Creek (mile 7), I was leading a train of 3-4 other runners. This position made me a bit uneasy, since I tend to push harder than I should with a string of runners on my tail.
It was great to see my crew and give them a good report on how I was feeling—which was absolutely amazing! I was thrilled that I was on track with my calorie intake and my stomach felt fine. I had eaten ½ a Honey Stinger waffle, drank all of my TailWind, and taken 1 S-cap. At the aid station, I ate some watermelon and a spoonful of chocolate hazelnut butter.
My grandson Kadan was in charge of the nut butter and hand fed it to me! Look for him holding the jar and spoon in all the aid station photos. Kolton’s job was filling my bottles with ice and water. My crew asked if I wanted my ice bandana. After a moment’s hesitation, I said yes. It was a bit too cold as I headed out, so I pulled it back off my neck, but I was glad to have it along as the temperatures warmed later.
It felt like I spent too long at this first aid station, but my crew timed it at less than four minutes. Nevertheless, “the train” had moved on without me. This irked my competitive side, but I knew that now I would feel freer to run my own pace.
I did give in to one competitive impulse early in the race. When I had read the race information, it said there would be awards for the top three finishers in each age group. In my category (female 50-59), there were four of us racing. I investigated the other three ladies on UltraSignUp.com (Go ahead and laugh, but my competitive blood leads me to do such things!) and found they were all very experienced ultra runners with multiple 100-miler finishes. I reminded myself that my only goal was to finish under the time cutoff, but at mile 3 or 4 when I came up behind a lady who clearly appeared to be in my age group, I expended a smidgen of extra effort to pass her and stay ahead. (I never saw her after that and it appears she DNFed.)
As I made plans for this year’s race, I realized that my fueling plan last year had been way too loose: Eat a bit or drink some Tailwind every 15 minutes when my Garmin alert sounded. I had also realized that I needed more variety of fuel options, including some that were not sweet. My go-to resource was Jason Koop’s Training Essentials for Ultrarunning. Using charts and formulas from Koop’s book and plugging in variables such as my weight, the length of the race, the vertical gain, and my estimated hours on the course, I came up with a target zone of 105 to 150 calories per hour. I also followed Koop’s advice for having fuels in the following overlapping categories: At least one real food; at least one engineered food; something sweet; something savory; something salty. Based on this, my fuel trove was Tailwind (half-strength), Honey Stinger Waffles, chocolate hazelnut butter, soup (for nighttime), candied ginger, rice balls, Lara Bars, cutie oranges, and small amounts of kefir. I typed up a calorie content sheet for my crew so they could help me stay on track with my intake.
The next aid station was Bulldog at 11.6 miles with no crew access. I was in and out quickly, only stopping long enough to refill both bottles with ice and water, add Tailwind powder to one bottle, and add ice to my bandana.
During training, my homemade sticky rice-sweet potato-chili rice balls had become my favorite running fuel, and I expected to lean heavily on them during the race. But every time I tried one, they tasted bland and dry. I fell into a pattern for fueling: Frequent swigs of Tailwind with bites of Honey Stinger Waffle until my Tailwind bottle was empty, then bites of Lara Bar (cherry chocolate torte—yum!) with water until the next aid station, with a few pieces of candied ginger thrown into the mix.
I power-hiked the long climbs (and there were some several miles long!), and ran conservatively on the downhills. I walked for brief periods when I felt the need or when the trail was extra rough. I felt strong! My stomach felt fine! Coming down into the Elk Creek aid station, a powerful wave of emotion overcame me as I remembered how overheated and sick I had felt at this point last year.
I was feeling my left adductor muscles a bit, but only nagging and not escalating. I did some active release on the problem areas as I hiked (when no other runners were in sight). I requested that my crew have my Stick handy for some quick soft tissue work at the next crew access aid station. My crew took such good care of me!
Again, I was in and out of the aid station quickly and on my way, headed toward Crooked Tree aid station (23.8 miles–no crew access). There were several other runners in sight ahead and behind me. I kept catching up with a couple of older fellows in front of me, but then they would take off again.
I came into Crooked Tree behind a gal who had passed me while I was stopped for a potty break. “There’s a big rattlesnake on a rock back there,” she informed the aid station volunteers. “Yeah, he’s been there all day,” they replied casually. What?!
“I didn’t see him,” I said.
“I thought about telling you about him, but I figured why freak you out,” the lady said.
The big chunks of watermelon looked tasty on the aid station table, and I indulged in one, taking it with me as I walked on. I had eaten smaller amounts of watermelon with no problem at Alkali Creek, so I didn’t give it a second thought. I should have remembered that fruit and Tailwind don’t mix well in my system—a lesson I had learned the hard way in training a few years back.
The re-routed section was several miles out from Crooked Tree. The description had said all 1.5 miles were downhill—and they were. We were directed by signs onto some very rough multi-use trail, but fortunately that segment was no more than a half mile. Then we traveled a narrow, recently weed-whipped path through a beautiful aspen forest. Brushing tall weeds on both sides, I expressed gratitude that there were no chiggers in South Dakota! The path was littered with sticks and hidden rocks, which made running tricky in some sections. Finally, we were dumped out on a gravel and dirt logging road.
I don’t remember exactly where my stomach started hurting, but it was well before I got near the next aid station at Dalton Lake (30.5 miles). I took the standard approach and switched to water-only for a while to give my stomach a chance to settle. It was starting to feel a little bit better by Dalton Lake, although I was still having some episodes of retching.
Trotting down the logging road, I spied my grandsons, Kadan and Kolton. They ran to me and escorted me into Dalton Lake, chatting about the beautiful stream they had been playing in. A few glances confirmed it was a lovely stream, edged with car-sized granite boulders. I concentrated on trying to keep my stomach on an even keel and not let on that I didn’t feel great. It was 5:45 p.m. when I reached Dalton.
Temperatures were cooling, so I dropped off my ice bandana and had my crew put my jacket, arm sleeves, and headband in my pack. I also picked up my phone (for music) and a flashlight.
The trail from here to Pilot Knob was rough multi-use trail, so as planned, I changed into my Altra Superior 3.0s at this stop. My dear husband wiped my dusty feet clean, before helping into clean socks and shoes.
My legs were feeling a bit of wear, but not bad for about 50K into the race. On toward Nemo I headed. I seriously dislike the multi-use trail, but I felt like I was moving along fairly well. I had spells where my stomach hurt and I stopped and doubled over to retch, and other times when it felt okay.
I caught up with fellow Kansas City Trail Nerd Will Sprouse during this section and ran/hiked with him for a while. He told me that during ultras when his stomach hurt, but he couldn’t throw up, he stuck his finger down his throat. Vomiting, he insisted, resets your system. I told him I just didn’t think I could do that. Will was hiking quite a bit due to injury problems, and after a mile or so, I went on ahead. I took in only water between Dalton and Nemo, plus an S-cap.
When I got to Nemo, it was 8:00 p.m. and still daylight. I remembered coming into Nemo in the dark last year. I had taken in nothing but water since shortly after Crooked Tree (and a tiny bit of candied ginger). My crew sat me down and insisted that I eat some chicken noodle soup. It went down okay. Elizabeth walked out with me a ways as I headed on.
I knew the stretch of multi-use trail ahead was the roughest, rockiest section. And it was where I had hit my lowest point of nausea and hopelessness last year. It was refreshing to cover it in the daylight with my stomach feeling okay. I sipped Tailwind and ate some candied ginger and a bit of my rice balls on this stretch of trail. It was very dusty, and there were still some motorcycle and ATV riders out stirring up even more dust. I focused on how much better I felt this year than last year and kept moving forward. I was still feeling my adductors a bit but just low level and they were not getting worse.
I was feeling decent coming into Pilot Knob. I ate more chicken noodle soup (with extra noodles) and headed out. The next aid station was the turnaround at Silver City! Getting to the turnaround point and heading back toward the start/finish area is always a huge mental boost for me. Plus our daughter Elizabeth would be pacing me part of the way back.
There is some nice single track trail past Pilot Knob and then a big climb and very long and often steep decent to Silver City. During this section, I ate most of a Honey Stinger Waffle and some Tailwind, plus an S-cap. The closer I got, the more runners on their inbound journey I saw. I set a goal of reaching the turnaround by 1:00 a.m. and actually arrived at 12:53 a.m.! Last year, it was 2:53 a.m. when I reached Silver City. I was two hours ahead of last year’s time! I was feeling good again. In fact, I could hardly believe I felt so good at the halfway point.
I took a few extra minutes at Silver City to put on light weight tights. The temperatures there were below 40 degrees, and it was getting colder. The higher sections were significantly warmer than the low lying areas.
I ate more soup and took a few swallows of kefir. I took another kefir with me in my vest pocket. It was awesome to have Elizabeth with me. The climb out of Silver City is extremely steep in many spots. Some sections are narrow with significant drop offs. We trudged our way along. It got warmer, the higher up we climbed.
I sipped on Tailwind, water, and also some kefir. At some point, my stomach started hurting again. The reason seemed less clear cut this time. Perhaps the Tailwind plus kefir was not a good combination. Could I be taking in too much sodium? Actually, looking back, I think it was because my stomach was too empty, plus the kefir might have been too much to digest.
As we grew close to Pilot Knob, Brian’s Garmin died. It had lasted about 17.5 hours. Down, down we went. It got seriously COLD! I tried to keep running and hiking at a brisk pace to generate heat, but the cold was seeping to my bones. I was painfully cold before we reached Pilot Knob. As soon as we arrived, Elizabeth put me straight in the van with the heater blasting. The temperature was 32 degrees.
Elizabeth decided maybe we should skip the soup at Pilot Knob in case too much sodium was contributing to my stomach issues. I picked up my Garmin Forerunner 205, and as soon as I warmed up a bit, we headed out for Nemo. At least we would be climbing so it would get warmer as we went.
This was the hardest stretch of the entire race for me. Between Pilot Knob and Nemo is the roughest part of the multi-use trail and my least favorite section. Now, in a reflection of last year’s race, I was traveling it with serious stomach problems again (except I was inbound and had a pacer with me this time). I ran when I could, stopping often to double over and retch beside the trail. All I could think was “I cannot run the rest of this race with nausea like I did last year. I just cannot do that again.” Sleepiness also began to overtake me.
Elizabeth started telling me that my stomach was hurting because it was empty and that I had to eat something. I don’t think I believed her at first. I was afraid to eat. Then in desperation as I was squatted down and retching beside the trail, I stuck my finger into my mouth. It didn’t take much to throw me into a violent episode of dry heave vomiting. Absolutely nothing came out.
When it subsided, I felt somewhat better, and I was ready to admit my stomach was totally empty. Then Elizabeth insisted I must eat and began getting baby food squeeze pouches down me, just a bit at a time, but frequently.
Just before dawn, I was overcome with sleepiness. It was not tiredness, but sheer sleepiness. I could hardly keep my eyes open and started weaving on the trail. I felt like I was actually sleeping, even though my eyes were open and I was moving forward. This was a very strange sensation. I wanted to lay down—any where would do—but knew I could not. I never experienced problems with sleepiness last year. (Tiredness, yes. Sleepiness, no.)
I don’t consume caffeine in any form in daily life (no coffee, no pop—well, some occasional chocolate)—and don’t use it during races either. Elizabeth said my sleepiness would abate when the sun came up, but if it didn’t, I was going to ingest some form of caffeine—like it or not! Fortunately, when the sun came up, my sleepiness disappeared.
By the time we reached Nemo, I had gotten down half of a Honey Stinger Waffle and one squeeze pouch. At Nemo, Elizabeth convinced me to take some Pepto-Bismal tablets. I hadn’t taken Pepto-Bismal since I was a kid, so at first I was leery, but finally decided I had little to lose. Between the Pepto-Bismal and getting some easy-to-digest food in me, my stomach started to settle down. The worse was over.
As we headed out from Nemo, I asked what the cutoff time was for that aid station. “7:45,” someone called out. I looked at my Garmin. It said 7:15.
A huge wave of discouragement hit me. Only 30 minutes ahead of cut off? I had lost way more time than I thought from Silver City to Nemo. I said something to Elizabeth. “It’s not 7:15!” she informed me. “Your Garmin must still be on home-time. It’s only 6:15!” I checked my phone (which I was still carrying for music). She was right! That made me feel much better. I had lost some time feeling sleepy and nauseous, but only 30 minutes, not 1 hour, 30 minutes!
Elizabeth kept telling me I had to eat about every twenty minutes. I ate one-third to one-half of a squeeze pouch each time. It seemed like I was eating a lot, but I really wasn’t. I was taking one Pepto-Bismal tablet every hour and drinking plenty of water (with a pinch of unrefined salt added). I’m pretty sure I was never dehydrated at any point during the race, based on how often I had to empty my bladder.
I shed my tights, extra shirt, arm sleeves, and head band fairly soon after Nemo as the day was sunny and warming up quickly. My stomach continued to improve. I was so thankful to feel good again as we approached Dalton. Once again, finishing seemed possible.
I managed to get down two squeeze pouches and some ginger by the time we reached Dalton Lake (70.5 miles) at 8:23 a.m. Saturday. (The squeeze pouches were about 60-70 calories each.)
There are long downhill switchbacks into Dalton, and my IT bands felt a bit tight at the sides of my knees after that stretch of downhill running. I was using the Stick on my legs at most aid stations, and that seemed helpful.
Elizabeth’s legs were feeling good, so she decided to go on with me from Dalton Lake, knowing she was committing to another 13 miles to Elk Creek. On we went!
As the morning progressed and we climbed through some of the higher, exposed sections of trail, it started feeling toasty warm. Especially after we passed Crooked Tree and headed for Elk Creek, I wished for my ice bandana. I slowed down and hiked the hotter, exposed sections. I was not taking any chances on overheating this year! I also started taking an S-cap every hour, since I was using only water and no Tailwind. I started feeling a hot spot on the end of my second toe of my right foot (which is often a trouble spot, since it is my longest toe).
We were starting to see quite a few 50-mile runners catching and passing us. (The 50-mile race had started at Silver City at 6:00 a.m. that morning.)
We reached Elk Creek two minutes past noon—2.5 hours ahead of cutoff! I had eaten two squeeze pouches and half of a Honey Stinger Waffle since Dalton Lake. My stomach was fine.
I insisted that Elizabeth stop at Elk Creek. She had covered about 33 miles with me—farther than she had ever run before. Granted, we were moving slowly for most of those miles, but still I did not want her to risk injury.
Elizabeth told my crew to fill one of my bottles with Tailwind and the other with water (plenty of ice!). I used the Stick on my legs, got my ice bandana filled and tied around my neck and headed on my way. I was feeling optimistic and strong. It was less than 20 miles to the finish, and I had almost 8 hours before the final cutoff!
Still, 20 miles is a long way, especially with many significant climbs and descents still ahead. It sobered my excitement a bit to think I still had at least 5 hours before I was done. Just keep moving forward. I set my sites on Bulldog aid station.
It had been comfortable to have Elizabeth telling me when to eat, when to take a Pepto-Bismal tablet, when to take an S-cap, but now I had to pay attention and think for myself. I took a few sips of Tailwind, but then thought about the fruit content of the squeeze pouches as well as the Lara bar I was carrying for fuel. No way I was going to risk mixing fruit and Tailwind in my stomach again! I decided to stick to only water, which meant I only had one bottle to get to Bulldog.
I was moving along at a conservative pace. I looked behind me and saw “that lady” perhaps 150 feet behind me—the one Elizabeth had said was probably in my age group. I thought I had left her far behind, but there she was. I picked up the pace a bit and tried to discreetly look back once in a while. I wasn’t losing her.
A couple of young 50-miler guys caught me going down a long rocky descent. “You’re doing a great job,” the first guys said and stuck his fist toward me. It took a moment for my brain to realize he was trying to fist bump with me, but I recognized it in time to bump him back before he sped on. The second fellow said some encouraging words, too, but stuck with a high five—which he must have considered a more likely move for a lady my age to comprehend!
On one of these rocky descents, I had my only fall—which wasn’t really even a fall. My feet skidded out from under me on the loose rocks and I sat down hard, scraping my wrist enough to cause minor bleeding.
I slowed down a bit and “that lady” caught me, along with a guy who was running behind her. Now I was leading a train. I kept trying to figure out how much further it was to Bulldog by the mileage on my Garmin, but I cannot do math when I’m running. I told the lady behind me that I thought we had at least another mile to go. A few minutes later, we popped around the corner and there it was! “I’ve never been so glad to be wrong,” I told them.
The aid station volunteer lady at Bulldog was the one who remembered me from last year. She gave me a big grin and told me I was looking good. I dumped the Tailwind and loaded up both bottles with ice water, also filling my bandana with ice. Then I headed out well ahead of “that lady” and the other runners who lingered at the aid station. As I climbed out of Bulldog, I thought to myself, “I have my ice bandana on, my legs feel good, my stomach is solid. There is no reason not to pick up the pace. So I did. Once you make your way up to the top of the hill past Bulldog, there are several miles of runnable downhill switchbacks to the prairie surrounding Alkali Creek. I ran!
I was incredulous that my legs did not hurt at this point of the race. I felt tightness on the outside of both knees from my IT bands, and I had a few achy spots now and then, but no leg pain! I still took some walk breaks for my IT bands, since the downhill grade goes on for miles, but I knew I was traveling faster than I had for hours. I began to estimate my arrival time at the last aid station, Alkali Creek. Could I reach it by 4:00 p.m.? I thought I could. That would mean I would have FOUR hours to finish the final 7 miles of the race. I started getting excited!
I caught and passed a few runners in this section. I saw no sign of “that lady” or the other runners behind me. (She finished more than 30 minutes behind me and later told Elizabeth that she could not keep up with me on the climbs. She was younger than my age group any way.)
At one point, I came up on a girl runner and her pacer. She looked like she was struggling. “Nausea,” she told me as I caught up to them. They had run out of electrolytes, so I gave them several S-caps. I tried to give her some Pepto-Bismal tablets, but she didn’t want them. “It might help,” her pacer suggested. I gave them to him in case she changed her mind and headed on.
The pine trees opened up onto the grassy prairie section and I knew I was close. I kept running and grinning crazily. I couldn’t wait to see my family crew and show them how strong I still felt and how well I was doing!
Through the drainage tunnel under the highway. Up the grassy hill on the other side. I saw some crew standing on the hill waiting for runners, but not mine. “They don’t expect me yet,” I thought to myself in satisfaction. I was most of the way up the hill when Don saw me coming. I was smiling and waving. He was laughing excitedly as he met me, and we were both almost crying. “You’re doing great! You’re going to finish!” he exclaimed and we both knew I was! This was a high point of the race for me, almost as exciting as the finish line. It was the point where I knew I was going to get my buckle.
I came into Alkali Creek at 3:51 p.m. Between Elk Creek and Alkali Creek I had taken an S-cap every hour, plus a couple of Pepto-Bismal tablets and eaten half a Honey Stinger Waffle, plus a couple of the squeeze pouches and 3 pieces of candied ginger. My stomach felt fine. Elizabeth said her legs felt fine and she was going to run the last 7 miles with me. We hustled through refilling my water and ice, grabbed some fuel and headed out.
Leaving Alkali Creek, we passed through grassy prairie on our way to more hills. As we passed through tall grass on both sides, I heard a sound that I had never heard before in real life, yet I knew instantly what it was. At almost the same moment, Elizabeth screamed. I turned around and saw a rattlesnake near our daughter. She told me later that when she saw it, the snake was coiled and reared back ready to strike—but it didn’t. Instead it slithered off into the tall grass beside the trail.
I firmly believe that rattlesnake did not bite our daughter (or me as I went by it without noticing) because of a direct answer to prayer. Venomous snakes are one part of trail running that make me anxious, and I never set foot on the trails without praying for God to protect me and all those on the trail from venomous snakes—specifically that no one will be bitten. I had prayed and asked for this protection before Black Hills and multiple times during the race. We are so extremely thankful for God’s protection in this dangerous situation.
We were both a bit edgy after that, and as we went on, we scanned the trail and surrounding areas with heightened awareness for any sign of snakes. (We didn’t see any others.)
The big hill past Alkali Creek is sandy. Outbound with my Inov8 Terra Claw 220s, I didn’t notice much sand getting into my shoes (fortunately), but inbound in my Altra Superior’s I could feel a significant amount of sand rubbing between my toes. This made the sensitive spot between my left big toe and second toe quite a bit more sore. I had decided previously not to stop and deal with it, since it was only mildly sore and not worsening, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop now so close to the finish.
Elizabeth kept urging to push a bit harder through these last seven miles, but I kept my effort level easy. From the math I did (or tried to do!) in my head, I didn’t think I could finish sub-32 hours without a huge effort, and I decided it was not worth suffering. My legs were not painful, but they were certainly fatigued. So I trotted along in my comfortable zone with frequent walk breaks.
The other factor in my decision not to push harder was that my stomach was feeling a bit “off” again. We figured it was from excitement. (I was feeling pretty keyed up about nearing the finish!) I’m sure the jolt of adrenaline from the rattlesnake incident hadn’t helped either. At any rate, I took a Pepto-Bismal tablet and tried to stay calm.
“Are you going to be upset with yourself if you finish a few minutes past 32 hours? Are you going to regret not trying to go sub-32?” Elizabeth asked me, knowing finish time numbers are important to me.
“Absolutely not!” I assured her. I knew I was going to finish close to 32 hours, and I was thrilled with that.
The familiar trail to the finish line at times seemed to unfold quickly, but at other times it seemed endless. Down the back side of the big sandy hill, across the road, through the cow pasture (complete with cows), up the last big, steep hill, then winding up and down a series of smaller hills.
Suddenly, we were at the trail intersection where Aaron and I had gotten lost last year. Could we be so close? Only about 2 miles from the finish? I had no hesitation over which way to turn this year. I picked up the pace slightly (or at least I felt like I did). I was ready to be done.
A horde of emotions crowded my mind as I ran down the grassy slope, through the tunnel under the road and onto the concrete bike path for the last 1.2 miles of the race. Could I really be at these final moments? All the months of my training flashed by in my head—long, long runs on the trail, often continuing through the daylight hours and into the dark of night before my miles were complete; sweating in the gym and finishing one more round when my body felt done; persevering with the weight vest on the treadmill when I just wanted to hit stop; brutal hill workouts with tired legs on Argo road in the heat of the day.
And then the race itself stretching out for endless, endless hours—the stomach distress, the never-ending climbs, the rocky descents, the dogged tiredness. Could my long journey really be so close to completion? It felt surreal.
The concrete bike path was punishing on my tired legs. I tried to run in the grass along side the concrete, but it was clumpy and uneven, requiring too much effort. I settled for walking on the concrete with spurts of running. Kadan and Kolton came out to join us and “run me in.” And there was the finish!
Helpful spectators pointed me the correct direction, and I ran under the finish line. Running for God’s glory is paramount for me, and as I crossed the finish line, I spake the words I had predetermined to speak: “Thank you, Jesus!” And I meant it from the depths of my soul.
The video taken by my crew shows me running 20-30 feet past the finish line—maybe because I couldn’t really believe I was done. But I was! I had finished at 32:05, almost two hours under the cutoff time and almost 4.5 hours faster than last year!
I was overcome with simultaneous laughter and crying. My husband rushed me and wrapped me in a big hug! Next, I hugged Elizabeth and my grandsons!
Then I looked around. Where was that belt buckle? I had been envisioning holding it my hand for months!
I walked over to an official-looking table. No belt buckles in sight. My volunteer lady friend was there, though, and gave me an enthusiastic hug. “You did it!” she hollered.
Finally, someone pointed me to the race director who was sitting in a folding chair by the finish line with his phone and tablet (to communicate with aid stations and record race stats). He told me that because of the good weather there were more finishers than they had planned for. They were out of belt buckles, but he would mail one to me. He took my name. (I found out later if they had ordered two more belt buckles, I would have gotten mine at the finish line.)
My daughter had the presence of mind to jump in at this point. “Can you just get a belt buckle for her to hold and take photos with?” she asked. God bless her! And soon there was that beautiful buckle in my hand! Of course, I had to give it back after photos. (I hope they expedite their order and shipment of my belt buckle, because at times I am still overcome with a need to hold it in my hand.)
Removing my shoes revealed a large blister on the inside of my left big toe, but otherwise my feet were in good shape. I rinsed the dust off my feet and calves, put on my compression socks, and just enjoyed laying in the grass (no chiggers, remember?!) with my legs elevated.
I drank my Naked Protein drink, and cheered heartily for the runners who finished after me. We waited for quite a while hoping to see Will Sprouse finish, but finally were compelled to leave for food, showers, and sleep. (He did finish, slightly over cutoff, but still listed as an official finisher!)
Two other moments post-race remain in my mind: One was an unknown lady approaching me and telling me that I was such an inspiration to her. I was surprised, but thanked her with a smile. My crew told me later that as they sat around the aid stations and waited, of course, they talked to the other folks there, so more people than I realized knew about my struggle last year and my redeeming finish this year.
The other moment was watching a runner leaning heavily on her trekking poles and struggling to get into her vehicle, aided by her husband. “Look at you walk!” she commented as I strolled by. And I could walk. Much to my amazement, I could walk the next day, too!
Looking back, I realize that I ran a pretty conservative race. I certainly didn’t “leave it all out there,” but my goal was not to finish as fast as I could, but to insure that I finished. I did not want take any risks that would jeopardize my finish, and ran the race within my “safety zone.” It was the right choice, and I don’t regret it.
I told my husband that the race wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as my expectations. I had no idea it was possible to run 100 miles without leg pain. I told him that after feeling so good during the race and feeling so good after the race, it was hard NOT to think about running another hundred next year. I’m not planning on a return trip to Black Hills 100 in the foreseeable future, but there are other 100s on my bucket list. It is something I will be considering and praying about.
Postscript: The award ceremony for all distances was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. the next morning (Sunday). Since I woke up and felt good, Don and I planned to run down to Sturgis and pick up my third place age group award. It ended up, we all went along. At the park, I was impressed with the cool bison head mini-trophy awards. I looked down the table for mine, but didn’t see it. Another runner asked where the age group awards were for the 100-milers. “There aren’t any for the 100-milers,” the race director informed him. “Only for the shorter distances. The 100-milers get belt buckles.” (Or at least we will eventually.) I’m thinking they need to clarify the pre-race information to make that clear.
Oh well. The age group idea gave me some good motivation to run faster through several sections of the race, even if it was a myth. And I was third in my F50-59 age group, even if I didn’t get an award.
A perusal of UltraSignUp results showed that I am the oldest woman finisher ever of Black Hills 100! That is satisfactory, too!