"The race continued as I hammered up the trail, passing rocks and trees as if they were standing still."
- Red Fischer, Wasatch 1986
That quote does a great job of illustrating my feelings about the Black Hills 100.
I chose to run the Black Hills 100 as a back up plan if I once again failed to get drawn in the lottery for Western States. But beyond the timing of the race, I was also drawn to it because it was rumored to be extremely difficult, it's almost entirely single track, and the thought of running through the Black Hills was very alluring.
It's one of the best decisions of my life.
Beautiful Sub 24 Hour Bling
Our good friend, Rob Goeckermann, was going to join us in South Dakota and he would be attempting his first 100 miler. I have shared a lot of great trail running experiences with Rob and I was excited to have an opportunity to be there for his first 100.
Runners and Crew on a Hike
I had planned to use this race as a "tune up" run for the Leadville 100. It made sense because they have a similar amount of elevation gain and the day time temperatures would be about the same. I wanted to focus on my fueling and hydration strategy and I knew if I had a successful run in the Black Hills, it would boost my confidence for Leadville.
Preparation for this race was the same as always. I drafted a detailed race plan and documented my anticipated split times between aid stations. Jo keeps a copy of this plan with her during the race and she uses it to update me on my progress.
About a month before the race, I was toying with the idea of using two hydration packs during these long ultras. This would allow Jo to have one with her at all times and get it prepared for me before I arrive at a crew accessible aid station. My race plan outlines everything I need loaded into the pack and we simply swap packs as I come through. This could potentially save me valuable minutes at each aid station, which can really add up over 100 miles. Every little bit helps.
Geared Up and Ready to GO!
There is some irony with my #2 bib that will reveal itself later in this episode...
The Black Hills 100 starts in Sturgis, snakes along the Centennial trail (trail 89) and dumps us out in Silver City where we turn around and head back the way we came. It has 16,231 feet of elevation gain and the race is almost entirely on single track. Out and back courses are nice because it gives me a chance to preview the last 50 miles while I'm running the first 50 miles, making mental notes along the way.
Rob and I at the start
The race starts at 6:00 AM, which is a bit later than I would like because we're not taking advantage of all the available daylight. There are three events that start simultaneously. In addition to the 100 miler, there's also a 50 miler and a 100K race. Yellow bib = 100 mile runner.
While we were milling around the start line, Gary Knipling came over to me to wish me luck. Gary is somebody I have always admired from a distance and I was honored by his presence. And I was a little shocked when he started to rattle off chunks of my race history. It was both flattering and humbling to be recognized by such an inspiring man.
Shortly before 6:00, we all settled into our appropriate positions at the start line, and we were sent on our way.
Rob starting his epic journey!
The race starts on the track at Woodle Field and then we meander along a paved path for a mile or so before we meet up with the trail. This allows us to thin out nicely before hitting the single track.
The climbing begins almost immediately. This is a dangerous kind of climbing because it's all so very runnable. I had decided I would run the hills for the first several miles and adjust later in the race depending on how I felt.
After about 3 miles of rolling hills, we ran up a grinding ascent that lasted for more than 2 miles. This was my first glimpse of how this race course was going to play out.
We get to our first aid station around mile 6. It was already warm out and I was sweating profusely. Jo was waiting for me when I arrived and handed me a full bottle of Perpetuem as I ran right through the aid station without slowing down. I had covered that first 6 miles in 55 minutes, which was a bit faster than I had planned for.
Alkali Creek Aid Station
After leaving Alkali Creek, we began a long climb up a series of switchbacks. We were getting deeper into the Black Hills and the woods became more dense. The timing was good because the shade was much needed by this point.
We crested out at a ridge and bombed down a steep, technical drop off. I made a mental note that we would be passing through this section around mile 91 and it was going to be a painful climb back out.
I came into the Bulldog Aid station and topped my hydration pack off with ice, grabbed a banana and rolled back out. This wasn't a crew accessible aid station, so I had 7 more miles before I would see Jo.
The next 7 miles of trail were nothing less than breathtaking. The scenery was amazing and the trail was picture perfect. I slowed my pace somewhat so I could really enjoy my surroundings. I assumed it would be dark out when I passed back through this area, so I didn't want to miss anything.
The rolling hills and grinding climbs continued and I was already feeling a bit fatigued. My legs felt great but I just lacked energy. It was way too early to feeling like this.
Coming into Elk Creek Aid- Mile 17
As planned, I stripped my pack off and Jo handed me my second hydration pack and a fresh bottle of Perpetuem. I was in and out of the aid station in under a minute. I was 25 minutes ahead of my race plan.
Cruising the 89!
And this is where my race almost ended...
After leaving Elk Creek, I completely bonked. When you bonk at mile 17 in a 100 mile race, you're in trouble. I assessed my situation and decided that I wasn't getting enough fuel into my system to properly run all these rolling hills. My energy expenditure was far greater than my fuel intake.
I struggled along while I sucked on my bottle of Perpetuem and took Hammer gel from my flask. I also ate a Snickers bar for some quick sugar.
I muddled along the trail and was getting passed frequently. I had no defense. I was helpless.
I came into the Crooked Tree aid station and refilled my pack, grabbed some bananas from the table and headed back out. Things were not looking good.
Dalton Creek Aid Station- Mile 29
I came into the Dalton Creek aid station and was greeted by Jo. She instantly knew something was wrong. I filled her in on my condition and we loaded up some extra fuel for my next leg of the journey.
I was previously 25 minutes ahead of my race. During that last 12 miles, I had given those minutes back to the race, plus 10 more. I was now behind my plan.
I took my time, trying to bring myself back to life. I walked, ran and shuffled down the trail while I dumped calories and electrolytes into my body.
Sometimes...Shit happens...What good is a 100 mile race report with some fecal related tragedy???
Well, here it is...
I had to step off the trail to take care of a bit of business that would require a certain level of privacy. I dug a small hole and got into position when I realized my bib belt was impeding progress. I unsnapped the belt and laid my bib on the ground and went about my business. When I was finished, I realized my bib had somehow blown into the hole and was now fully soiled. I stared down at my bib and pondered my choices. It quickly came to me that there were no choices. My bib and belt are now lying in an unmarked grave in the Black Hills.
The irony of wearing #2 on my bib struck me in full force. It was almost like it was meant to be.
Now back to the race...
The trails continued to be beautiful and brutal along the way. I was depressed, yet inspired by the beauty around me. I was hating life, but loving the trails. I was in a weird place.
I saw Jo again at the Nemo aid station at mile 36. I was feeling a bit better but was 13 minutes off my plan. We doubled up fuel again and I was gone.
Coming into and going out of Nemo involves a bit of road running. I would complain about this, but it was dead flat, so I was actually pretty happy about it.
After leaving Nemo, I began to feel better. I was running stronger and regaining a few spots along the way.
When I reached the Pilot Knob aid station at mile 42, I was back in the game! We exchanged hydration packs and I was back on the trail. I was running with renewed energy and spirit.
I was now only 2 minutes off my race plan.
It was almost 3:00 by now and the sun was really becoming a factor in the race. It was only in the 80's but felt much warmer. I payed very close attention to my hydration, shed some clothes, and prayed for sunset to come.
Coming into the Silver City Aid Station- Mile 50
Random Picture of Single Track
I was back on my race schedule when I got to mile 50 and I was feeling good. There were several casualties lying around the aid station and I didn't want to linger and risk being drawn into their misery. I was quickly back on the trail.
Coming out of mile 50, I quickly passed a few other runners that were succumbing to the effects of running 100 miles.
Now that I was heading back to Sturgis, I got to greet and be greeted by all the runners that were heading to the turnaround. I find that this really helps pass the time.
A few miles into the return trip, I ran into Rob. We stopped and chatted on the trail for a few minutes. Rob was looking great. I was really thrilled to see him at this point and I was excited for his first 100 mile finish.
Coming Back Into Pilot Knob- Mile 57
I seemed to be gaining strength as the sun moved lower into the sky. I began to really have fun on the course at this point.
By the time I reached the Nemo aid station at mile 64, I was feeling better than I had felt all day. I took a few minutes at Nemo to talk to some other runners and spectators. Jo fueled me up and I was off again!
Is That a Penny?
I was still encountering outbound runners after leaving Nemo at mile 64. These were people that realistically had little hope of seeing the finish line. It was a total parade of carnage. All I could do was give them a few encouraging words and hope for the best.
The sun was beginning to fade when I reached Dalton Lake at mile 70. I was looking forward to some night running and the cooler temperatures.
I was now 20 minutes ahead of my race plan.
The miles from Dalton Lake to Alkali Creek flew by. It was pitch black in the woods and I was totally focused on chasing that spot of light that my headlamp was throwing on the trail. I was totally turned off to the rest of the world, only focused on business and getting back to Sturgis.
I Could Almost Smell the Finish Line From Alkali!
I scrambled up and over the hills after leaving Alkali Creek, made the long descent toward town and eventually my feet left the trail and met the concrete that I hadn't seen in 98 miles.
I was headed home!
During that final mile, I reflected on everything that had happened over the last several hours and I smiled.
I crossed the finish line in 23:05:08. My only real goal for the race was to get the sub 24 hour buckle, so I was pretty damn pleased with my time.
We rushed back to the hotel and slept for about an hour before we got a text message that Rob had just passed through the Alkali Creek aid station. We got dressed again and headed out the door.
Rob Making it Back to Sturgis!
I was extremely excited to be there to watch Rob finish his first 100 miler. Even more so because this race is extremely difficult. I was impressed with his strength and intelligence in this race and he should be proud of accomplishing this in such a strong and convincing manner.
I have had the great pleasure of running in some of the most beautiful places in the world, but I think the Black Hills 100 tops them all. The scenery was stunning and trails were simply awesome. There are very few races that manage to string so many miles of single track together. Being a big fan of single track makes this race tops on my list.
I can't say enough good things about this race but I would definitely encourage others to come out and give it a go. You won't be disappointed.
After bonking so early, I'm just happy to have made it to the finish line. A similar issue at the Zion 100 last year led to a crushing DNF. I have learned a lot about running and nutrition since then and I was thankfully able to salvage my race this time.
Jo and I will be heading to Leadville for the Silver Rush 50 miler in a couple of weeks. It'll be nice to be back in Colorado for some amazing miles.
Thanks for reading my report and thanks to all of you that send encouragement and support. It's very much appreciated.