Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Black Hills 100M (Race Recap)

Sturgis, SD
Friday, June 28 - Saturday, June 29
Ultra Marathon #34
100 Mile (attempt) - #9
Weather - HUMID, warm

Because I've literally become a crazy person, I was planning to run a 100 mile race AS A TRAINING RUN. Seriously, even as I write that it sounds like the dumbest thing ever. After I registered for Tahoe 200, I entered a few lotteries (read: WSER) and initially I landed on Sinister 7 in Canada as being "perfect timing" for a 100 miler. I was already going to have a long weekend from work, which would minimize the amount of time I needed to take off. Ariel had plans to go camping with her friend. AND, airfare was pretty darn reasonable. Then, as is life, things started to go wrong. I planned to wait until after we got back from Europe to book my plane tickets - and they NEVER went back down in price. All of a sudden my "under $300 flights" were going to be in the $400-$500 range. Then, A's camping trip got cancelled. Luckily, I was in the window where I was able to get all but 10% of my race entry fee back. But now what? Based on my training, I had a small window of when I could run 100 miles - and I didn't want something that was going to break the bank. Initially I impulsively put myself on the wait list for VT100, but that wasn't going to save me any money, and after almost two weeks I never moved on the list. So, with South Dakota only being about a six hour drive... my race was selected.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Ben was trying to get time off so he could come with me - which was what I was hoping for. Honestly, we had such a fun time in Georgia, I thought this could be a good mini vacation. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get the time off, so as a "second-best" option, he offered to stay at the house with Ariel and the cats while I was gone.

I also obsessively was watching the weather. Forecast kept getting warmer and warmer, in the days leading up to the race it was looking like I'd be running in nearly 100 degree weather.

As an aside, once bib numbers were assigned - I had a few days of panic. If you can believe it, I was assigned the same number as when I DNF'd at Chattanooga. Yep, bib #97. Ben was trying to convince me I was crazy, and that the number wasn't haunted or cursed. Well, we'd see about that.

Thursday

Intended to sleep in. Because I'm defective, I was still up early. Probably on the road by 8. Goal was to get to Sturgis with enough time to do my drop bags, and hopefully stop at a brewery or two and get dinner. Otherwise, no big exciting plans.

I haven't driven up north in a while, and all the traffic and construction was super annoying - but once I got off I-25, it was a fairly pleasant drive. I stopped only twice on the drive so I made it there in pretty good time.

Wyoming.
The first brewery I wanted to go to was in Lead (which I don't remember existing the last time I was in Deadwood). It was called Dakota Shivers. I sat at the bar next to an older gentleman and the bartender assumed we were together. The guy quickly corrected her and said we weren't together. I of course said he could buy my beer if he were so inclined. Put in my order and went to use the bathroom and when I came back - he HAD in fact bought my beer. So that was nice.
Planned to hit up the second brewery in Deadwood, but the construction was such a headache that I quickly gave up and decided to just head into Sturgis.

I found the RV Park without any problems. Bag drop off was very low key. A table with duct tape and sharpies to label your drop bags and a handful of volunteers. My "swag bag" included my big number, a shirt, and a sticker. That's it. So I dropped off my two bags (one for Elk Creek aid station and one for Dalton Lake). Both bags had hydration packs in them because I still wasn't 100% sure on what I would want to be using, spare shoes and some nutrition. My Dalton Lake bag also contained my Kogalla headlamp - I didn't want to carry that in the early miles. I did, however, have a headlamp on me anyway, "just in case" - although I clearly remember telling Ben that I would have no business running this race if it took me over 10 hours to do a 50K.

Anyway.

Felt mildly ill after dropping off my bags, and remembered that there was a brewery/pizza joint in town. I decided I'd stop there, get dinner, then head to the AirBnb. I had a beer, ordered a growler to go, and was talking to the bartender about ordering a flat bread pizza. It was funny when she said "you could probably eat the whole thing, but you wouldn't feel good about it." Turns out, I *did* eat the whole thing, and I certainly felt fine about it.

FINALLY, I headed up to Spearfish where I was staying. It was a bit tricky to locate, but once I found it parking was easy and I unloaded the car. It was a full apartment over a main house. Really, the only complaint was that it smelled like stale smoke.

Spent a bit of time finalizing all my gear and laying everything out. Opted to go down the street a mile to yet another brewery for a nightcap.
Went to bed early, and even fell asleep watching Snapped.

Race Day

I can never decide if it is good or bad to have a race that starts later. Historically, I've had insomnia and sleeping issues that lead me to believe the late start is good so I can get some sleep. Weirdly, I slept pretty fantastic all week, and even the night before the race I got a decent amount. So when I woke up about a half hour before my alarm, I decided to get up so I could just take my time getting ready.

Took a shower, got dressed, braided my hair, made coffee and loaded up all my crap. I still had about an hour and a half until the race started, but I still needed to get something to eat. Figured I would head back into Sturgis (almost a half hour away) and then I could get something there. Drive was uneventful and I stopped at Burger King and got a delicious breakfast sandwich. First, the GPS routed me to the wrong park!! Luckily I always leave a lot of time to get place and Sturgis is a small town. Only arrived maybe 15 minutes later than planned.

Once I was parked, I figured I would check in for the race, then get my feet lubed up and shoes on. I saw Christine and her boyfriend when I was putting on my shoes, and before I knew it, there was only about 15 minutes until the start. I used the bathroom, got my picture taken at the start, texted Ben, and then after a few minutes of announcements, we were on our way.
The first mile of the course was on the bike path out of town. I stayed in the back and planned on taking things easy. It was already feeling very hot and humid, although honestly, we lucked out with some cloud cover.
Photo cred: Randy Ericksen
We had to cross a highway (?) although the way the course was "marked," maybe we were supposed to go through a storm drain? Who knows - I followed the people in front of me.




Now, the climbing would begin. We first entered onto a trail that was double track and grassy. Not technical at this point. Really pretty and green. I was running a good pace near an older woman and a guy that only had handhelds (I would later find out that he would pick up his pack at the first crew station).
Photo cred: Randy Ericksen
Due to the impending heat/doom, the race had put up an additional water station about four miles into the race. I stopped long enough to soak my ice bandanna and top off a bottle. I don't remember much about this next section, other than it was definitely heating up. The first actual aid station was supposed to be about 7 miles in - and I desperately wanted ice in my bandanna. Probably was the most friendly/helpful of all the aid stations on the course. Volunteer immediately grabbed my bottles to fill them (and this was an unfortunate learning curve for me - the soft bottles are a GIANT PAIN MY ASS). They can really only be filled up about 70%, otherwise they do NOT fit back into the pockets. SO IRRITATING. I was super frustrated with how long it took to get them back into my vest, and only grabbed a few pieces of watermelon and a cup of coke before heading out. Annoyed that I feel like those minutes at aid stations were going to be what would cost me a finish on a tough course.

Bulldog aid station? I don't even remember being here...

Many miles of.... ? I have no idea. It was hot. I was definitely glad I had the ice bandanna and pretty happy that I had brought poles. The Leki poles were new to me, and I'm not entirely sure that I like them more than my Black Diamond ones, although they certainly break down smaller. It just seemed like they were a bit top-heavy when I didn't need to use them. But it wasn't enough to annoy me.
When I finally got to the Elk Creek aid station, and my first drop bag, I opted to not even use anything from it. Although I was wearing a new vest, it was not annoying me (except for the damn soft bottles!!) I was actually looking forward to the upcoming water crossings!! It was kind of a "last minute I didn't know this was happening because I guess I missed it in the initial course description" - but we would be crossing Elk Creek a half dozen times. And due to a high snow year and lots of moisture, the crossings were supposed to be pretty deep - and they had ropes for the crossings.


I actually did not mind the crossings at all, but I was a bit surprised at how fast the water was moving and how deep the water was! I love this picture that the photographer got though - I look tough, right?
Photo cred: Randy Erickson
(It's important to note that I'm drenched. Not from water, but from sweat. It had to have been at least eleventy-billion degrees). I do remember being very cocky about the water crossings, and assuming my feet would dry out at some point and I wouldn't have any issues with wet feet. (Spoiler - my feet never did seem to get dry).

Once we exited the incredibly green & forestry section, there was a bit more climbing until we got to the next aid station at Crooked Tree. There was a lively discussion going on between some guys that had seen a snake! Luckily, I missed it. By now, I'm actually feeling pretty good - and I'm relieved to see so many people at the aid station - maybe I'm not that far back!!

"Halfway to halfway" (if only)
Another big climb out of the aid station, then some nice single track that was pretty runnable. And here is where everything went wrong.

I actually had enough phone service to update Ben that I was hot, the course was pretty, but I was doing well. We were dumped off the 89 trail and (yes, shame on me for some of this) - I should have STOPPED when I realized we were at a junction. However, within seconds, I see a marking, and I had remembered the RD talking about an ATV road that we would be on for a while. It was downhill and not technical and I remember that I really was enjoying myself. Caught up to "M Dot" and kept running. But then after maybe 10 minutes, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any markings in a while. I thought I had remembered that this section wouldn't be marked as well, but something seemed off. I waited for the guy behind me to catch up. I asked him if he thought we were on the course. He (Jayson) said he had no idea where we possibly could have made a wrong turn, as neither of us had seen any flagging or a wrong way sign. I shrugged it off. But after another few minutes, uh... no more markers. We decided to wait for M-Dot to catch up to us. He thought we were fine too and wanted to keep going. I finally decided to call Ben to see if he could pull up the course map. I didn't have enough service to pull up the internet, but I didn't want to head back if we were on the right course. Unfortunately, I didn't really have enough service to make the call either. We were left in technology darkness. I pulled up google maps to see what direction we were going, and I could see Nemo on the map. Maybe we were fine, and we were just in a weird section without a lot of people.

All of a sudden, the ATV road we are on hits a junction with a big downed tree. We definitely see markings now, but it's weird to all of us that it isn't marked better. We find a section of grassy single track - back on 89 for sure, and seeing the buffalo skull markings. However, it seems weird to me the trail doesn't seem to be more worn down. Haven't like 60-70 people run this already? Why am I not seeing more footprints? We stopped to discuss a bit, and they convinced me we were fine, the way the grass was pushed down, obviously we were going the right way. And then we ended up on an ATV road again. Going up... and it looks... familiar. All of a sudden I see a gate and I know that we have made A GIANT CIRCLE OHMYGOD. We get about 40 feet more up the road, and I see the sign from when we were dumped off the single track after leaving Crooked Tree. And sure enough, what we should have done was cross the fire road for more single track. ONLY - there was no flagging, and certainly no wrong way sign on the fire road. AND LET'S NOT FORGET THAT WE WERE ON AT LEAST A MILE LONG SECTION OF "COURSE" THAT HAD MARKINGS... THAT WAS NOT THE CORRECT COURSE.

M-Dot was insistent on heading back toward Crooked Tree - I convinced Jayson that if we kept moving we could make up time. But the doubt was creeping in. I was barely going to be able to finish 105 miles, much less an extra 5-6?? But I wasn't going to drop, I wasn't going to quit, I was going to stay on course. I was able to get Ben on the phone again and gave him an update on what was going on.

There were no cutoffs in the first half of the course, but now there was really no room for error. Thankfully, Ben had mentioned to me that I should put an extra bottle in the back of my pack, and after being off course for at least 90 minutes, the extra water came in handy. I shared my water with Jayson and we both were focused on moving. No more time to do anything, but run and get through the next 25 or so miles until Silver City. Fuck.

We actually passed an older gentleman and he confirmed my worst fears. We had definitely put in an extra 5.5 miles. This was going to be hard to make up. Tried to not go into a dark space, but damn it. I was behind on fluids, I was behind on nutrition. The aid stations were the most minimalist I had ever seen - barely anything other than bananas, potatoes and watermelon. I'd had only a quarter of a PB&J and some Honey Stinger chews. If I didn't do something soon the extra miles wouldn't even make that much of a difference.
FINALLY, after about FOUR FREAKING HOURS, I arrive at Dalton Lake. Coming in, I passed the older lady that I had initially passed around mile 4. Talk about frustrating. The volunteers seemed surprised to see me and if it wasn't for Jayson's friend helping me, I don't know that I'd even have my bottles filled. I had mere minutes to get in/out of the aid station, and I was having all sorts of issues. Found my drop bag, put on my Kogalla, and then I was trying to grab extra nutrition. Not being used to my pack, I didn't really know where to shove everything, so I just ended up holding onto everything, which wasn't super practical.

The volunteers did make me a tortilla wrap (that was actually super gross, but I knew I needed to eat something). I headed out - on yet another section where I had to ask more than once where to go because I didn't see flagging. Arrived at the trail and it was a REALLY big climb out of the aid station. I kept dropping things and finally had to put all my stuff down in the middle of the trail to situate myself. Frustration level is VERY high at this point.

Turned on my Kogalla, and man, is that thing BRIGHT. However, we still haven't nailed down the best way to wear it, and I frequently would jar it, which would cause the strip to come off the magnet and I'd be in darkness. Overall, it was really easy to see where I was going. There was a nice, smooth section of ATV that I was able to run. I know a lot of people didn't like this section, but it was hopefully going to help me to make up time.
Nemo, which was a "town" was supposed to be the next aid station. I could definitely hear traffic and see headlights, so I assumed I was close. It was hard to tell where I was on course because of all the extra miles I had done.

Dumped out on a fire road and I'm heading down. Another junction with no markings. FUCK. AGAIN.??? Backtrack and see a handful of non-reflective flags that had made a hairpin turn from where I had come off the trail. Super super sick of not having easy to see markings. This section is in a wooded area and some of it is really slick from mud. Where is the aid station?

All of a sudden, I'm on the shoulder of a two-lane windy road. Where am I going?? I almost miss the aid station because it's on the other side of the road at the campground - again, no real clear signage of where to go. Grrrr. Christine's boyfriend is volunteering and he said she was lost on course too, and had come through about 25 minutes earlier. Oh. I had initially passed her about 2 hours in. But maybe there was hope I could catch her. I had to take off my shoe and lube my right foot. Definitely could feel a blister coming on my heel. I wanted to change socks, but the ones in my pack were soaked still. Ugh.
I grabbed some food and headed out. Again, nothing seemed super well marked, and it was confusing going through a campsite to get out. Finally get back on the "trail" - although it was more of an ATV road again. I was about two miles up the road before the faster people finally started coming towards me. Many of them seemed annoyed by super bright light. Sorry guys, I need all the help I can get. There is a lot of climbing here, and the road is incredibly muddy in places. Have I mentioned lately how sick of mud I am??

I finally get to Pilot Knob, the last aid station before the turn around. Somehow, M-Dot is there. How did he get in front of me? He certainly never passed me. I am super annoyed and almost lost it on a volunteer - "THERE IS NO FOOD HERE." Honestly, I have never run a race that had such few food options. Luckily she did have a half a grilled cheese sandwich hiding behind the table. I don't have time to screw around and search for food. Off we go. Playing a bit of leapfrog with M-Dot. We came across a road section where the flags seemed to indicate we should continue up the road. After a few minutes, no more markings, so went back. Absolutely did NOT see marking to indicate we should be crossing the road? WHATTHEACTUALFUCK. I shine my light and it looks like there is a gate. GRRRRR why is that not marked at all??? UGH!!!

At some point, it occurs to me that there might be a cutoff to get to the last aid station. I don't want to call Ben in the middle of the night, but I finally do anyway. He confirms that there is a 3:30 am cutoff at Silver City. SHIT. I have about 4-4.5 miles (I think) to get there. The section I had just been running was pretty good. I was able to run about 14 minute miles without a ton of effort. I my head, I figured if I could stay under 20 minute miles, I'd make the cutoff. I even looked at the cheat sheet that said the whole 6.5 miles stretch only had 512 feet of gain. I determined that to be a lie. The last three miles leading to the aid station were probably the steepest and most technical I had encountered.

Perhaps the biggest frustration was the battery for my Kogalla dying! I am used to headlamps flashing/fading or SOMETHING before they go out completely. Apparently, not with Kogalla! I had to whip out my phone and turn on the flashlight. I had a second battery pack, but even that caused some frustration as I couldn't really see what I was doing, even with my phone propped up on a tree. Maybe should have just dug out that headlamp, but I was trying to save time. Grrr!!

Every time I came across a runner, I'd get - "you're about a mile out" - and yet... I STILL WAS NOT THERE. At 3:30, I could see the lights for Silver City, but I wasn't there yet. I called Ben to tell him I was going to be cut.

Sure enough, I arrived at Silver City just over 6 minutes over cutoff. When I got there I said, "the cutoff was 3:30 right?" They nodded and I knew my day was done. All things considered, I really rallied and tried my hardest to get to the aid station in time to meet cutoffs. Had I made it, would I have finished? I don't know. But I sure gave it my best effort.

Outlined in green was our detour :(
Garmin time - 17:37:00
Garmin distance - 58.44 (should have been 52.5...)
Elevation gain - 8,471' for half the course
Miles 1-5 - 12:13, 14:05, 15:31, 12:38, 18:53
Miles 6-10 - 16:02, 13:13, 17:48, 15:48, 17:28
Miles 11-15 - 16:33, 16:44, 16:10, 18:10, 19:57
Miles 16-20 - 16:51, 14:26, 15:07,20:35, 16:04
Miles 21-25 - 17:02, 17:42, 16:54, 18:12, 24;38
Miles 26-30 - 23:42, 16:47, 15:27, 19:03, 20:04
Miles 31-35 - 20:31, 21:40, 18:19, 14:31, 15:25
Miles 36-40 - 15:31, 26:41, 22;34, 17:28, 20:42
Miles 41-45 - 18:20, 16:49, 16:24, 23:48, 18:34
Miles 46-50 - 21:13, 16:33, 17:01, 17:25, 21:56
Miles 51-55 - 20:27, 18:32, 17:30, 16:12, 17:40
Miles 56-58.44 - 21:16, 20:37, 20:38, 20:29

M-Dot arrived about 40 minutes later (yes, I was able to gain THAT much time) and we waited and waited. Finally, we were told that we could hitch a ride back on the buses that were dropping off the 50 milers. It was after 6:30 in the morning before I got back to the car.

I gave another runner a ride to Spearfish where he was staying and got french toast at Perkins.
I planned on taking a nap when I got back. A three hour nap. Somehow I slept through my alarm and ended up sleeping almost 6 hours. With my stop at Spearfish Brewery, I think I managed to get to every brewery in the area. That's dedication...
Headed over to the finish line to get my drop bags. Ugh, it's super demoralizing to sit at a finish line and watch other people come through - especially people I remember seeing on course. Talked with Grace and Ryan for a bit. Stopped at Pizza Ranch on my way back to the BnB. Ate half the pizza and went to bed early because I was grumpy and tired.
Thoughts:
  • This course was absolutely gorgeous. I like it when I am pleasantly surprised with how pretty different parts of the country/world are - and this was no exception. A lot of it reminded  me of Colorado. Lots of trees. Other parts reminded me of the south - with lots of green foliage. Overall definitely pretty!!
  • Course description actually says: "this course is probably harder than you think it is." While it was definitely "hard," I think what made it "harder" than say Leadville (which the race also says "several runners have described it as harder than Leadville") is the course markings - or lack there of. While I have not run the Leadville 100, I have run the shorter races up there, and there is NO WAY getting off course so many times would happen there. 
  • Aid stations were spaced nicely, although again, the selection of food wasn't great. I always dislike to say anything negative about volunteers. Heck, I volunteer a ton and know how hard it is to please people. It's super frustrating to be at an aid station, wanting to get out quickly, and having to ask multiple times/people what jug is water and which is heed. 
  • What on earth was I paying for for $300? Swag was just a tee and a sticker. Course markings were minimal, at best. There was no medical on course. There was no police required/used for any crossings. Aid station food was minimal. Even at the finish line, only two kegs of beer and some chili/rice and other regular aid station food. Maybe I'm spoiled with races that seem to give you more "bang for your buck"
  • The last few races, I've had blisters to deal with. I have to I guess blame the water crossings, humidity (yes, it was humid) and mud for these again. When I finally took  my shoes off, they were still wrinkly and gross.
  • Would I recommend this race? No. Not unless they get it together and fix some of these things. I'm no expert, but I'm certainly not a novice, and these things shouldn't happen during a non-orienteering 100 miler.

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