Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Black Hills 100 Mile

The Black Hills 100 miler would turn out to be a fine weekend and a decent race for a first time event. It was run on the Centennial Trail in South Dakota, so named for the state's 100th anniversary in 1989. The race would go 50 miles out the trail from Sturgis then back along the same course. It's a pretty rugged trail, though not as bad as Sawtooth, and would be a combination of single track and multi-use (pedestrian and atv) trails.

I had a great day for the most part and ended up pulling out the win with a time of 23:01:42, about 40 minutes ahead of second place. Results are on Ultrasignup here. So now that the quick summary is over, here is your chance to escape before the nitty gritty details.
One of two Silver Buckles for sub-24 and the bison skull 1st place award

Getting Going
The start was a crisp 6AM, the same time as Western States (5AM Eastern). I was out here with Brian Peterson and Bill Pomerenke. Brian would be running the 100k and Bill was crewing and pacing me, and in for just as long a day as I was. We'd driven out on Thursday and Friday and met up with the rest of the Minnesotans: Paul, Helen, Chris, John, and Daryl. A pretty good contingent of strong, experienced runners. We all trickled into the track at Woodle Field sometime after 5AM and hung around chatting with each-other and dealing with the pre-race nerves.

Soon enough, there was a huge crowd of people as all the 50-milers, 100kers, and 100-milers congregated on the track for one large group start. This was about 150 people with a lot of energy getting ready to head out. The start was on the track at the 100m point, and we'd head out clockwise around it, exiting onto a bike path on the back stretch. Paul and I lined up together midpack near Helen and Chris, while Brian and John were going off the front. I like going off the front myself, but with two shorter races and a long day ahead, I think I was in a good spot starting back, so I didn't blow up. There was a big countdown and we were off.

Paul and I ran next to each-other and chatted as we headed around the track and out onto the bike path. This was the only urban part of the run, lasting a mile or so, and even then it was on the edge of town. The paved path ended soon enough and we turned onto the Centennial Trail for the rest of the race. This first section, about 5 miles to the aid station, was a great introduction to the awesome scenery we'd see all day. As soon as we got on the trail we began a series of climbs through prairie and were soon presented with a superb view of rolling grasslands without a man-made structure in sight. We were also presented with a great view of the 800-foot climb we'd have to start up in about 5 minutes.

Paul and I cruised along for a couple miles, but as he fell to chatting with a friend on the trail I moved on ahead. I could definitely feel the 100k from Kettle on my legs, but that was just a lack of pep, not soreness. So in a long chain we did one of the biggest climbs of the day, finally cresting it and charging down the steep downhill on the back side. That was going to be a peach on the way back. Once at the bottom it was less than a mile to the aid station and we could hear the cheers as we got close. Bill shouted out to me and I pulled up to him, did a quick exchange of bottles and goo, and I was off. He had crewing wired and had me on my way at every station after just seconds in them. I was in 18th at this point, though Bill didn't tell me until much later.

Out of the first aid station at Alkali Creek there was a couple miles of prairie then into the woods, where we'd be until we got back here. The trail through the woods was pretty rugged and required a lot of downward looking, but glancing around was great, being surrounded by trees and the smell of pine. Things were starting to thin out a bit and there wasn't any problem passing or being passed. I was just running comfortably with no agenda other than to take care of myself, which I didn't do at Kettle, and take what the day gave.

So it was onward and upward. There was precious little flat running, and a lot of uphill and downhill. It wasn't long running when I got to the first unmanned aid station at Bulldog. After a quickly topping off the water bottles I was off, passing four guys taking their time doing the same. I had occasionally seen Helen closing in on me, but at some point around here either I pulled ahead or she dropped off, no biggy, though, she was running a different race, so I was safe from being chicked. After Bulldog it was seven miles to Elk Creek at mile 17 where Bill would meet me again. It passed a little slow since my ipod wasn't working. I just had to check out and actually enjoy nature instead of a constant stream of music.

Pulling into Elk Creek at 3:12 into the race, Bill told me I was in 12th. Cool, far enough back that I had no reason to push it and I could relax and just keep taking care of myself. That was just what I needed. Out of here was a lot of uphill and 5 river crossings to go through. The crossings felt great, and they were all within about a quarter mile of each-other. After the last one there was a pair of wet shoes hanging in a tree, that must have been the guy at the pre-race who asked if he could ditch a pair. A very odd request for a race like this. After crossing the river it was up up up to the second unmanned aid station at Crooked Tree. Again a quick refill and I was off.

A couple hours later I was coming down on Dalton Lake. This was a picturesque aid station set up in a field next to a parking lot. We came down on it from a hill and could see the crowd of crew cheering runners in. I remember running down behind a guy wearing the same yellow Hokas that I was. I pulled in here at 5:38 and in 9th place. Heck, I didn't remember passing so many people, and those that I did I had no idea what race they were in since the 100k folks were still out here. Anyway, I crossed the little bridge into the aid station to the cheers of the Holovnia clan loudly cheering me in. It was sweet to have all the support from Minnesota and for the TCRC team. Bill hooked me up and ushered me on my way.

I'd give you a ride
There would be about three miles of climbing right out of the aid station, starting with a little twisty turny climb through some trees then out onto the multi-use trail. John Horn and Brian came cruising down while I was still in the trees, John looking super, and Brian looking like he was having some hurt put on him.

The multi-use was wide, which was great, because it was muddy too. As soon as I popped out onto it there was a group of atvs there. I got the 'How far ya goin?' '100 miles' I said, 'I don't like to drive that far'. Some things never change. This was steady walking with precious little running, and felt like it went on forever. I had to keep making sure I was on the trail, but soon enough, a confidence flag would appear. After what must have been close to an hour of steady climbing I hit the 100k turnaround, wow, I would be in third for that event. Man it would have been sweet to turn around, but alas, I had 70 miles to kick out. So I turned up onto a high ridge and continued dodging ATVs.

I have to say all the ATVs I passed were super nice. Mostly they turned off their engines as I came up, and some even offered me water. (any reading race directors, I declined) This was pretty up here being so high up through the sparse pine. The occasional breeze was really refreshing since it was into the heat of the day. After the ridge, it was another big downhill then a large climb. As I started on the uphill I passed a line of 10 or so ATVers taking a break, but about 10 minutes after I passed them I could here them chugging up the hill behind me. Soon they were passing me, and nice and slowly. Clearly it was to keep the dust down, since when they were well past me they took off. Part way through the chain of ATVs one driven by a younger women slowed down and asked if I wanted a ride, I politely declined saying I'd be DQ'd if I took it. She smiled an drove on, then a a gal driving a couple behind her slowed and said 'I'd give you a ride'. Oh my, I think it must be my lycra shorts. Sadly I had to say no.

Soon they were all gone, and I was broaching the top of the hill and would begin the decent into Boxelder creek. After a quick couple of refreshing stream crossings, I was back at Bill. Doing the usual, he had me on my way in a few seconds in 8th place. I was definitely feeling the distance, but otherwise relatively good. Only 6 miles this time and I would be in the turnaround section. These were pretty uneventful and I got into pilot knob about 8:30 into the race and now in 7th. I did a quick shoe change from the Hokas (still wet) into the SLABs (not wet). That was about two minutes of sitting, the longest I'd do all day, and I was off again.

The Turnaround
This was a long hard section, steep climbing in the heat of the day and the miles felt a little off. I left Pilot Knob about a minute behind another guy, but took over an hour and a half to close him. He was kicking my butt on downhills, but I was killing him on the climbs. Doing our dance we dropped two other runners. Once I got up to him, I could tell he was hurting, much worse than me, heck I was having a good time still. There was a long decent into the aid station and I looked down on a reservoir the whole time, boy did that look inviting. I kept expecting to see the leaders, but they never came, in fact, I didn't see Marco, the number 1, until I was about five minutes from the aid station. Hmm, he was breaking, or I was going too hard.

Rinse wash and repeat, dropped old goo, water, and electrolytes. Picked up new goo and water. Notice something missing, yeah, me too, after about 10 minutes. This stretch back to Pilot Knob would be brutal. I was in third, having passed Alistar at the aid station, but as my electrolytes dropped off, he came tearing by me. I faced a steady decline throughout this section, the only high point being passing Marco, who was sitting down done with his race. I started seeing a steady stream of runners coming up the trail now and could gauge where I was in the field, and despite my steady decline, I was sitting good. I kept telling myself, take fuel, take water, you can make it there, while I kept getting more and more punch drunk. About a mile from Pilot Knob I took a hard dig, fortunately on dirt, but ended up with a bruised arm and hand.

Finally I got into the aid station and came to a stop about 20 feet from Bill and Lynn. I just said I need electrolytes badly. I just wanted one and refused a second, but then Lynn ordered me to take two and I relented. That's good crewing to know that you can tell the runner what to do, especially when you know better. They got me some heed for an extra kick, I told Bill I wanted him to run when I saw him next, and I started walking, in second place. The leader, Ryan, had spent a fair amount of time here, and Alistar was sitting again, tending to bad feet. How the heck did I get into second after that last eight miles?

Locked Cocked and Ready to Rock

I was down for a while and while running down a hill I heard thumping coming up on me. I was expecting Alistar, but it was Phil. I thought he was torched before the turnaround when I passed him, but now he was looking good. I didn't try to hang on, and he never pulled too far ahead of me, maybe 150 meters at most. Soon enough, though I saw two more guys on the trail, Ryan and his pacer. I walked next to them for a couple minutes and came upon our mutual friendship with Joe Z. I was slowly feeling better, and left Ryan to continue running.

Soon, I was slowly making up time on Phil, he was running up hills and I was pacing him by walking. Then it was like someone threw a switch inside me. I could feel full reserves of energy and concentration well up and I took off. I dropped Phil going down a hill and put a couple minutes on him quickly, taking over first with about 40 miles to go. I rolled into the aid station to some cheers and Bill had my gear and was suited up.

This was going to be the gnarliest section on the trail. It was still light as we started climbing, and at some point we reached the high ridge before the 100k turnaround point. Around 9PM the skies started lighting up with almost constant lightning and pretty close. I told Bill to start running about 100 feet in front of me until we got down, figuring at least only one of us might get hit. Fortunately, after what seemed like forever we started diving down to the big multi-use road leading to Dalton Lake. Almost immediately it started raining. This was heavy stuff, giving me flashbacks to Sawtooth last year. Soon, making it even more interesting it started hailing. I was screaming at Bill that it was hailing and it hurt and soon he joined me under a tree for a couple minutes until the worst passed. As we were to see, we must have been on the edge, as there was much more hail later on in the course.

The storm we ran through, shot by Rob

Nutting it out, we started bombing the hill, more and more just running through the shin deep puddles since we could barely see them anyway. The rain was down to a drizzle by the time we got to the aid station, but I was cooled off and at just the right temp, if it had gone one much longer I probably would have gotten chilled. And I was still in just a singlet.

Quickly picking up fuel from my drop bag we headed out onto the long 12 mile to Elk Creek. This was punctuated only with a stop at the Crooked Tree unmanned station, where there was a 100k runner hiding under the table. The dude had been there for three hours. He had a cell phone, but was only able to get a signal right before we got there. We made sure he was safe and continued on. This was probably the biggest failing at this event, not accounting for runners like this in a timely manner and not regularly checking the unmanned aid stations.

Down, down, down into Elk Creek we went. The stream crossings this time where quite a bit dicier. The river was a good eight inches deeper, and the narrower crossings had a pretty fierce current. No falls though, and we got to the AS. Again with the drop bags and swapping some batteries into my headlamp, and out for the last 17 miles. I was feeling good, but nervous not knowing what was going on behind me. Did I have a 30 minute lead, or just 5?

The 12 miles to Alkali Creek was pretty uneventful, just the ever growing fatigue. Lots of climbing, descending, and mud. I knew when we got to the prairie we wouldn't have far to go. But, man, did that prairie seem to take forever to cross. Your perspective really changes between the start and end of the race. The trail just before the AS was super muddy and difficult to run on, but we made it. Here, we just topped off our liquids and moved out, just 5 miles to go it was time to get'er'done.

We only had one large climb, that 800 footer. Once on top of that, I could finally smell the barn. We ran the long downhill to another section of prairie, then a smaller uphill, and that was it for the climbing. A bit more descending put us on the approach to the road. I was getting really excited now, I didn't see any lights behind us, and was pretty certain this was in the bank. Bill and I ran through the tunnel under the road and onto the paved trail leading to the track. Running parallel to the road, the RDs pulled up next to us and video taped us running the last half mile or so.

After a couple of turns we entered the back stretch of the track, just like Western States and I got the victory lap. I enjoyed every step of this and cruised under the arch at 23:01:42.

This was a great day, and a real trial with the thunderstorm, which sadly caused a lot of folks to drop. Chris and Ryan did a fine job on this first time race. There are a few tweaks to make, but this event will be the start of something pretty good. The trail was challenging the weather frightening, and the finish gratifying. What else could you ask for?


  1. Nice report and awesome job on toughing it out under the conditions! It is duly noted that you did not take water from any ATVers :).

    Of course, no matter how prepared you think you are for one of these things, something comes up (like a severe thunderstorm, for example) and shows you exactly where you lapsed in your preparation. Having more rovers and more solid communications is at the top of our list for next year.

    Glad you enjoyed the race and hope you come back out again sometime. Congrats on the win!

  2. You didn't even mention it was your second CR of the year! Congrats.

  3. Your patience on the first 50 (52?) really paid off. Great job! Wish I had a better day to stay up there in the mix with you guys. Congrats!

    Rob (in the yellow Hokas)
    p.s. I would love to do Sawtooth someday.

  4. Great job, Adam! Seriously inspiring!

  5. Congratulations Adam. Fantastic result and fantastic blog. You are a very deserved winner. Thanks for your company on the trails. I am hooked after my first crack at a long ultra and hope to get to share more adventures on the ultra circuit. Alistair

  6. Thank you Alistair. You were sure running strong around the turn around! I hope you recover well from this one, and have good success at your next race.

  7. I just ran 14 miles on that trail and that cooked me.....great work

  8. Made me want to come. Thanks for the report.