“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.” Mahatma Gandhi
Before the race:
Running 100 miles is a rite of passage for ultrarunners.
I have dreamed of running 100 miles for several years. Since I started running ultramarathons a few years ago, I have finished numerous 50-ks and 50-miles and even a few 100-ks. Based on what everyone has told me, I should now be ready to finish a 100 mile race.
However, I had tried….and failed…. to finish 100 miles twice before.
At Lean Horse 2008, I became hypoglycemic and dropped in Custer at mile 64 Harbach Park.
At Lean Horse 2009, I felt strong early in the race but suddenly ripped a tendon just before mile 50. The pain was so severe, I could not weight bear and had no choice but to drop at Buckaroo. It was very discouraging because I truly felt I could have done it that year.
Would this year’s attempt be different?
I felt well. There were no nagging injuries or other things for me to worry about. I had been training hard since January and had run in several ultras this year.
I ran 65 miles at the 3 Days of Syllamo in Arkansas in March and finished the Greenland 50-k in Colorado in April.
At Laurel Highlands 77 mile in Pennsylvania in June, I was pulled 53.2 miles due to missing a cut off by a few minutes. Despite my consternation at being told to stop just as I was starting to feel better and move faster, I knew in my heart that had they let me go, I could’ve made it the entire 77 miles. The day was hot and humid; 50% of the starters dropped. I did not drop, I was pulled. There is a HUGE difference. Only a few days later I had minimal muscle soreness. I know I could’ve gone farther.
At the Northfork 50 mile in July, I dropped at 50-k because I decided I preferred a cold beer rather than 20 more miles of suffering in the heat. I wasn’t concerned, after all Northfork was only a training run.
Why beat myself up so close to my main event for the year?
All of this gave me confidence that my training was going according to plan; I would be ready for Lean Horse Hundred in August.
Physically, I knew I was as prepared as I possibly could be. However, the question I had in the weeks before the race: Will I be mentally ready? As race day approached, of course those demons of negative thought and doubt entered my mind.
I asked myself, “Will I be able to do it? Have I trained enough?”
“Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a 100 miler… running 50 miles and 50-k ultras are nothing to be ashamed of,” I thought, and so on.
I rapidly shut those thoughts out. They did me no good other than to defeat me from attaining my goal before my race has even begun.
“I WILL do it this year. I will NOT give up, no matter what!” I repeated this to myself over and over in the weeks before the race.
“I’ve put enough miles in this year, now it’s my turn to use the fitness achieved from all of my hard earned training. It’ll be like withdrawing money from a bank account. I know it will be hard but I will do it, no matter what.”
I promised myself that even if (when?) the situation appears hopeless, I would keep going, even if I have to walk those last 50 miles. I was not going to start my race planning on a second-half 50 mile death march but on the other hand, I would not let anything, other than a medical or personal safety issue make me stop.
“This year will be my year!” I exclaimed.
Friday August 27th- Day before the Race
“If the word quit is part of your vocabulary, then the word finish is likely not.”
- B.G. Jett
I was glad to see many friends and acquaintances registered for the race. This year there would be more runners from South Dakota than we’ve ever had before! In previous years, there had been only 3 or 4 of us. It is nice to see the number of “local” runners growing.
Ultramarathoners are a small tight-knit group of folks (how many crazy people like us can there be?). After a while, we all begin to know each other. We’re really like one big family. OK, maybe, we’re a little bit strange of a family- but we’re a family. The family of ultrarunning includes not only the actual runners, but also race organizers, volunteers, pacers, crew, our families- basically anyone and everyone who has had contact of any kind with ultrarunners and the sport.
At the pre-race meeting I was relieved to learn that unlike at many events, cut offs at Lean Horse would be “soft.” That means that excepting medical or other safety issues, I wouldn’t be told to stop just because I’m slow.
This was a great relief to me.
“I might not make it in time to get a buckle, but I’m going to make it no matter what,” I told myself.
Struggling to make cut offs always causes me great distress during races. I’ve been pulled many times due to missing a cut off when I was sure that if I had been allowed, I could’ve gone the entire way. Sometimes, I rushed to make cut offs such that I did not spend sufficient time eating, drinking and refueling at aid stations. I ended up bonking which might not have happened had I taken more time and thought about what I was doing.
Many front and mid pack runners have a “cushion” such that they can stop to regroup, even for a few hours, and still finish the race. We back-of-the-packers unfortunately do not have that luxury. Everything has to go “perfect” if not and we get behind, there’s a strong chance we’ll be pulled due to time.
Now I do understand why some races must be strict about their cut offs. Many ultramarathons are run over remote terrain. It comes down to an issue of safety and logistics:
How long should search and rescue be available?
How long should volunteers be expected to wait up for us slowpokes? Volunteers work many unpaid hours; they cannot be expected to give even more time than they already do.
Nevertheless, it has been frustrating and stress-inducing to struggle to make cut offs at almost every ultra I run.
I am and always have been slow. As a child, even the fat out-of-shape kids would often beat me racing across the playground. It was embarrasing. I was the slowest or second slowest runner on my high school cross country team.
And yet, despite my slowness, I have always loved running. I love the feeling I get when the miles float on by, the feeling of being part of nature, and the feeling as if….almost… I could run forever.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I discovered that I have a medical condition I was born with which prevents me from going fast. At higher rates of speed, I become much more breathless than most people. When my heart rate goes up, it becomes even worse. No matter how hard I train, there is no way around it.
Once one of my physicians asked me, “Do you have any exercise intolerance?”
Unsure of exactly how to answer that question, I replied, “Well sure, sometimes I am exercise intolerant.”
“You do? Please tell me about it…” he asked me sounding somewhat concerned.
“Well after about 50 or so miles, I get exercise intolerant… but then doesn’t everybody?” I explained.
He shook his head and smiled, “I don’t know what to say other than I think you’re crazy! But you’re better off than sitting on the couch sedentary and gaining weight like everyone else.”
Even though I’m slow, however, I happen to be extremely determined (just ask my family). When there were setbacks along the journey of my life, I did not give up. I kept going, I kept trying. It amazes me how far I’ve come in my career and in my life in general, simply by not giving up.
And so too it has been with my running.
I might not be able to finish every race I start but I can finish many of them. In ultramarathoning, unlike footraces of other distances, I am not looked down upon because I am slow and run in the back of the pack.
Speed is way overrated. To be sure, the fastest runners at shorter distances will be the fastest at ultra-distances. However, what counts even more in ultras is your mental attitude; other skills are also essential to learn, such as taking care of your feet and how to eat/ hydrate after many hours on the trail.
On occasion and even despite my physical limitations, I’ve “beat” (I put “beat” in quotes because really, we’re not competing against anyone but ourselves) other runners who were much more physically-fit and better trained that I was. It was simply because my mental attitude, at least at that race, happened to be where it needed to be.
I am slow. It is just how I am. I’ve finally come to accept it. So what. There are worse things to be than slow.
As the ultrarunner saying goes, ”To finish is to win.”
Saturday August 28th- Race Day!
“We take these risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us.”
- Submitted to the Run 100s website by Scott Crabb
In past years, race day was hot and dry. Although temperatures were predicted to be warm, they were cooler than they could’ve been.
I knew that if I had any chance of finishing, my only hope would be to go conservatively and finish just squeaking by the final cut off time. I have finished at least two other ultras with less than a minute on the clock. I wasn’t intending to cut it that close but was planning on doing whatever it took.
This year, Chris “Haliku” Pruchnic again came up to pace me from Denver. He is my best friend and basically a brother to me. He ran an excellent race at Laurel Highlands 77 mile earlier this year. I hoped that this year he would actually get to pace me, instead of me dropping out at mile 50 or several miles after.
My crew would be my wife and soulmate, Jeanne, and my son Nathaniel age 9. They worked together like the best NASCAR pit crew: organized, cheerful, efficient. They were exactly what I needed to keep me moving forward.
“With a support team like this, how could I fail?” I thought, then I cautioned, ”there are many ways to fail if you’re not careful…”
I asked Jeanne and Chris to promise me that if I was falling off my predicted race pace they were not to tell this to me. If I realized how far I was falling behind, that might be enough to put me in a negative mind set and convince me to give up. My main focus was to be relentless forward motion. No matter how slow I got or how bad I hurt, I must keep moving forward. If I hit a bad spot and had no choice but to stop and regroup- so be it- but it wouldn’t mean I was giving up for good. If I got into a negative race-ending funk, “there’s no hope now, I might as well quit!” I asked them to kick me in the butt until I got out of it.
There have been past races where I did give up. In hindsight, I could’ve gone farther, perhaps even finished. I would not let this happen to me to today.
DNF is not an option!
If I finished past final cut off time of 30 hours I realized that I would not get a buckle. However, whether it’s done in less than 30 or not- 100 miles is still 100 miles. I decided that I’d rather take an unofficial finish than to convince myself I have no chance and give up somewhere earlier.
“Do whatever it takes but don’t give up,” I repeated.
The race started as it always does at 6 AM behind the Mueller Center in Hot Springs. We slowly drifted off through town towards Argyle Road on to the Mickelson Trail beyond.
I’ve made it to the 50 mile turnaround and beyond in past years. How far would I make it this year?
“You will go ONE HUNDRED miles- no less!” I promised myself.
As the packed drifted off, I settled in to a nice and easy 15 min/mile fast walk pace. In past years, I had started off too quickly only to pay for it later. Many seasoned ultrarunners tell those new to ultrarunning to hold back, try to run the first half the same or slower than the second half.
For someone who is already exceedingly slow, going even slower without actually stopping is not easy. However, I had learned a great deal about pacing myself at previous events.
Just before reaching Evan’s Plunge, Hot Springs’ water park, Chris and Jeanne pulled up. Chris kindly suggested I try to go a little bit faster during the cool temps of the morning. There was no way anyone could dissuade from my plan, I stuck with a 15 min/mile fast walk with jog breaks.
”I’ll need every bit of energy and strength later on- I don’t have a problem hanging out with the slow old guys…” I thought to myself, “I’m a slow young guy!”
I refused to let a foolish mistake of “trying to make up as much time early so I have a cushion,” cause me to DNF yet again.
Been there, done that.
Slowly the sun rose and the temperatures warmed. It was turning out to be a sunny beautiful western South Dakota day.
The first few miles from Hot Springs and then on Argyle Road were rolling hills. Although none of the hills was particularly steep or long, on the way back after 84 miles they would be.
There were several runners I knew. I really was glad to see all of them. In some ways, races are like family reunions where runners can catch up about the news of friends and acquaintances. The main difference is that the reunion goes on all day and all night and the buffet tables are located about 4 or 5 miles apart.
There was Dave Elsbernd from Oregon. I had met him at Lean Horse 2008 and kept in touch ever since. He was here to run 100 in under 24 hours, so I didn’t see him for long during the race.
I saw both Loren Janke and Alan Rickel from South Dakota, whom I had met at Bighorn 50 mile last year and seen at Lean Horse 2009. It was good to see them. I even jog/walked with Alan for a time.
Tom Gladfelter was here from Illinois. I met him earlier this year at the 3 days of Syllamo in Arkansas.
Keith Happel was here from North Dakota running the 50 mile again. He asked me how I was doing and how I had recovered from my injury last year.
It was good to see that Ben Clark from North Dakota was back. I didn’t get much a chance to talk with him- he was much faster this year!
There was Jim Newton from Texas whom I ran with last year. It was good to see that he was back: “We’re both going to do it!” I said.
I also got to meet Mike Joyce in person. We had known each other through my blog but not in person; it was nice to put a face to the name. Mike was running his first ultramarathon. He’d only done marathons before. Heck, why not go big the first time? There are plenty who have finished their first ultramarathon which was a 100 mile race. No matter how it goes, valuable lessons will be learned.
Of course, there was Ulli Kamm. I see him at lots of races; at every one he is handing out info on Lean horse. He even tried handing out Lean Horse info to me when we were at Northfork, until I reminded him that it’s my hometown race and where we first met. He must be Lean Horse’s biggest fan. Ulli is amazing because he’s done hundreds of ultras and has finished every one of them by walking. At Northfork 50 I had the pleasure of jogging along with him the first ten minutes or so. His fast-walk pace was under a 14 min/mile. I simply could not keep up going up a hill and had to back off the pace. I cannot imagine the focus and concentration it takes to maintain that sort of pace for hour upon hour.
Someday when I grow up, I’d like to be an ultrarunner,…. er,…. an ultra-WALKER like Ulli!
Before the race began I also saw Teresa Verburg, Bob Whay, Chris Stores and also met Ryan Phillips- more of us local South Dakotans. Teresa had finished Lean Horse 2008 but DNFd last year. Bob is another back-of-the-packer like me whose tried and failed to finish Lean Horse before.
Gosh, I hoped this year would be their year too!
Holley Lange was here from Colorado. I can’t remember where I had met her first, maybe the 24 hours at Laramie? Since then I had seen her at several ultras and volunteering at Northfork 50 a few weeks ago. I was glad to see her. She had tried and failed to run 100 miles before.
I told her, “This is the year that we both run 100 miles! I know we can do it!”
I thought, ”Wouldn’t it be great if everyone I knew finished Lean Horse this year?” There wasn’t much time to think about how everyone else was doing, I had my own race to run.
As we headed west, I saw a fat and juicy grape lying on Argyle Road. I seriously thought about snatching it. Lucky for the ants, it was early in the race. I wasn’t hungry at that moment so I left it.
Yes, I admit it, I’ve been a trail scrounger before when I’ve been desperate.
At one ultramarathon, I was bonking and so hungry that I picked up a lemon cookie someone had accidently dropped and ate it. It tasted Oh-so-good. A witness just shook their head.
Outside of races some people have the “five second rule” for picking up and eating food that’s dropped to the ground.
Well in ultras, we have the “five hour rule.”
As long as there aren’t obvious bite marks and the ants haven’t gotten to it too much (a few can be brushed off), why let perfectly good food go to waste? This is especially true when you are bonking and need calories. Of course the reality is that the trans-fats in that lemon cookie were probably more harmful to me than anything the cookie could’ve picked up from sitting in dry leaves on the forest floor.
At Argyle Road Aid Station mile 16.6, we finally got onto the Mickelson Trail. Temperatures were warming quickly but I was grateful they were not as hot as 2009.
I told the aid station volunteers, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning! I might be in dead last place, but DFL beats DNF, right?” I was joking about the being “in dead last” part but I was absolutely not joking about making it back tomorrow morning.
I kept my steady 15 min/mile pace. I mostly fast-walked with some jogging breaks to use different muscles. On a few of the downhills I let my legs stretch out a bit and jogged a 11 or 12 min/mile but was careful to not use up too much of my strength and energy. I would need it later in the race. The first half of an ultra should be easy, so easy that it feels as if you could go on forever (in a 100 mile race, you practically will!).
Lime Kiln to Buckaroo- Miles 20 to 50
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
- T.S. Eliot
I was surprised to make it to Lime Kiln Aid Station at mile 20 feeling good. I felt so good that I was a bit nervous.
You can see Jeanne and Chris standing to the left of the trail in the lower photo above. Without their assistance and support, it would’ve been difficult if not impossible for me to succeed today. Crew members run their own ultramarathon of sorts, driving up ahead to meet their runner, all the while catering to their needs and demands.
“I feel almost too good,” I told Jeanne and Chris. “I just went 20 miles and yet I barely feel warmed up.”
“Am I going to get injured this year? When are the unforseen obstacles going to come?” I worried.
There’s no point stressing about that which has not happened so I rapidly re-focused on to the task at hand: eating, drinking, moving forward, not giving up and finishing this race.
I made it to Pringle at mile 24 still feeling well but finally realizing, “By golly, I’m actually running an ultra today! This is the real deal-it’s not just another a training run!”
Last year, it was so hot, runners had already begun to drop. I was glad to not see any of my friends in the chair out of the race here. I ate, filled my water bottle and Camelback and went on my way.
A little girl offered me: “Do you want a gel?”
“No thanks!” I replied.
For some reason, energy gels do not sit well in my stomach. Energy blocks or beans are fine, espeically when combined with real food. I’ve never had a bad experience with gels, but after mile 25 or 30 or so, they make be want to gag.
The next 12.5 or so miles to Custer are basically uphill. But every uphill must come down. I looked forward to coming down this steady incline in the cool of the night.
“I darn well better make it this far on the way back!!! No DNFing!” I chided myself.
At Carroll Creek Mile 30, Nathan asked to join me. It was a little too early for a pacer, but how can a Dad turn down a request like that? Nathan accompanied me only the short distance to the tunnel under the road where he got back in the car with Mom.
Along the way, we decided that if/when he is big enough and decides to run ultramarathons himself, it might be better if Uncle Chris was his pacer and Dad his crew, “Dad you are pretty slow,” he observed.
I ate yet another half of a turkey sandwich. During ultras, many of us prefer “real” food to energy gels alone. I’m no different. My food of choice is turkey and cheese on white bread. Although peanuts are fine and so is jelly, I’ve never been very particular towards both of them when combined together in a PB & J so I usually eat other things when given a choice. Other good foods I eat include cheese or mushroom pizza, chicken and noodle soup, bananas, cookies of any kind, small boiled potatoes rolled in salt and of course potato chips.
We still need carbohydrates to provide glucose and to keep from depleting our body’s glycogen stores. Once the body’s glycogen stores are used up, hypoglycemia results, otherwise known as “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” We need to eat approximately 100 - 300 kcal/hr during periods of extreme endurance activity. Even then, we finish our races in a caloric deficit.
I consume my simple carbs as blocks and jelly beans, but only if I have a “base” of real food in my stomach. I’ve found that I seem to be able to eat more consistently with less stomach upset if I eat something solid and then top it off with simple carbs compared to if I eat sugary-sweet foods alone. It’s what works for me.
In the past, I made the mistake of not eating until I was hungry more than once. That was what ended my Lean Horse 2008 race. I mistook my hunger-pangs for stomach upset. By the time I had realized my mistake, ten miles had gone by and I was hypoglycemic. If I had had sufficient time, I could’ve sat down for a half hour or an hour, ate and got back on track. However, I had no such cushion and mentally I was defeated anyway- so I stopped. I learned my lesson and learned it well.
Now I make sure to eat at every aid station and if I’m not hungry, take a little along in my fanny pack to nibble on along the way.
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
- George Sheehan
At Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36, Jeanne and Chris asked me if there was anything I needed, to which I replied, “I don’t know.”
They sat me down in the chair. “What would you like?”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you want anything to eat?”
“I don’t know…”
“Are you thirsty?”
“I don’t know…”
I was hot from the day. I needed a minute to cool down.
“Why don’t you try this…” I sampled some of the watermelon they offered me. It tasted good. So did the Gatorade and the potato chips.
One benefit of having crew is that they will remind you to eat and drink, even when you don’t really feel like it. Had I been alone, I may very well have not eaten or drank much at that aid station and paid for it later. Even if you are not hungry or thirsty, it is essential that you stay fed and hydrated. If you are not sure, try a bite or a sip. After that, you may find you are actually hungry and thirsty after all.
After a few minutes in the shade, I headed on my way. The ice under my hat felt good. I enjoy the part of the trail from Custer to Mountain Trailhead. It is where I come often to train. Just past the hospital is the high school track where I run intervals. I smiled. I was glad I didn’t have to do any speed training today. I know speed training is important, especially for slow pokes like me but I hate it.
On the east side of the trail, just a half mile out of Custer there are beaver ponds. I saw a mother duck with her four babies sneaking through the tall grass to get from one pond to another. They were as big as Mom. The only difference was their feathers were new, shiny and dark brown; hers were dull, worn and faded by the sun. Parents give much of themselves in raising their offspring. I do not know many parents who would say the result isn’t worth it.
Raising children- it’s another sort of ultramarathon.
I arrived at Mountain Trailhead mile 40.5 a bit off my pace. I started to get chafing in personal areas (no need for me to go into more detail than that). Another lesson I learned in the past is to address hot spots, chafing and blisters early before they become serious and potentially end your race.
My family was there waiting for me. After applying some sports lubricant, I refilled my water bottle and headed on my way.
I’ve found that the fluid that works best for me is plain old water. Sometimes I try a sports drink, mainly for the change in flavor and to increase palatability. I don’t have any particular favorite- I train with several brands to I can be flexible and tolerate whatever is being offered at any given race. I do try to avoid those containing large quantities of fructose. Some sensitive people have difficult digesting fructose during extreme endurance activity resulting in GI upset.
However, despite aggressive marketing to the contrary, there is no scientific evidence that one sport drink is better at ”replacing electrolytes” or preventing hyponatremia than another. In order for a sports drink to contain sufficient sodium and other electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat, it would be essentially undrinkable.
Exercise induced hyponatremia (low blood sodium) is a serious and potentially lethal medical condition duirng extreme endurance events. More than anything else, it is due to overdrinking of fluids. People who are predisposed to getting hyponatremia are those whose bodies for some reason do not shut off vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormone) causing excessive fluid retention. Factors that predispose include use of NSAIDs (Advil, Naproxen, Ibuprofen, etc) which is why I don’t take Naproxen until after the race.
Many runners take in salt caps and eat salty foods- so do I. If I crave salt during races, then it makes sense to follow my body’s signal, doesn’t it? However, the scientific data does not show that taking in vs. not taking in salt caps or salty foods prevents hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia- its all about the water- not about your salt intake!
To determine fluid status, pay attention to your urinary output. If you’ve peed within the last a few hours, then continue sipping fluids.
If you haven’t peed for some time or worse yet, you feel thirsty and/or dizzy and/or your pee is dark, then you’re dehydrated. You should immediately drink one or two water bottles (possibly more) and continue small frequent sips until you do pee.
On the other hand, if you’re peeing large amounts of crystal clear urine every 15 or 30 minutes- you’ve overhydrated. Stop drinking until it stops. Headache, confusion, abdominal bloating, excessive swelling and weight gain may all signal that you’ve overhydrated and become hyponatremic. If you stop drinking soon enough, you will pee out the excess fluid. If you continue drinking, the results could be serious. Rarely, it could be fatal.
For more info, I’ve written about exercise induced hyponatremia at my professional blog at the website of the medical journal Endocrine Today: http://www.endocrinetoday.com/comments.aspx?rid=41099#com and http://www.endocrinetoday.com/comments.aspx?rid=65774#com.
Just before the tunnel going to Crazy Horse Monument, several bicyclers stopped and asked me for directions. I thought it was ironic (and fortunate for them) that they picked me. Of the handful of other runners in sight, I was the only one who was a local and actually knew where they wanted to go.
As I started to head down the hill, I enjoyed the quickened pace but also thought about the inevitable “coming back up it” later.
Suddenly, about half way down the hill, a large back shape jumped out at me from under a spruce. I saw teeth and instinctively jumped to avoid them. A much smaller furry white animal rushed around the back. They began barking.
It was two dogs!
One was small, a fluffy white yapping furball. The other was much larger and weighed around 60-70 lbs. It was black with wiry long hair. Was it a Laborador-German Wire Hair Pointer mix?
The smaller dog barked and kept circling around trying to bite my ankles from behind. He was trying to distract me as the large black dog approached from the front. It’s amazing how after slowing down and feeling tired around 42 miles, I was instantly alert, ready to fight and defend myself.
“You lil sonovabitch! Stop it! Get away from me!”
Although I wasn’t worried about the damage that could be inflicted by the smaller dog, it pissed me off that he was purposely trying to get my attention so the big dog could make his move. I would have greatly enjoyed kicking that little ankle-biter several feet. However, he was too quick and dodged my leg every time I attemped to kick.
The larger dog, now he was as different question. He was the one who tried to bite me initially. I could see by his eyes and body stance that he was not the least bit afraid of me. Usually most dogs are cowards. They are usually bullies who wait for an easy opportunity and back down when their bluff is called.. To my surprise, when I yelled and stood my ground, these two dogs did not back down. They only tried harder.
Now this made me mad. It made me really really MAD. I have a hundred miles to go… OK at this point it was only about 58 more miles…. and here I was fighting off dogs.
I picked up a stick. Actually it was more of a club. Instantly- they turned and ran.
“So you’ve done this before- have you?” I thought. “You little mother-#$%#$%’ers!”
I was pissed. I chased them a few hundred yards down the trail shouting, screaming, and cursing. I yelled all manner of bodily harm I would inflict upon them if only they let me.
“I’ll chase you #$%$%#’ers all the way to Hot Springs if I have to!!!”
As we came down the trail, there was another runner coming the other way. He’d heard the commotion and picked up a stick of his own. As soon as the dogs saw that they were between two humans carrying sticks- they knew they were out-numbered. They turned off the the Mickelson onto a side road. I threw my stick hoping to hit the last one in the butt but they ran under a gate. Sadly, the stick harmlessly bounced off the metal pipe with a loud CLANG!
The other runner was wide-eyed, breathing hard and still grasping his stick. “Did they bite you?” he asked.
“Nah! But it was close. They’re lucky I didn’t catch ‘em!” I responded.
After a half mile, I looked at my GPS. I was running a 7:00 to 7:30 min/mile.
“Oh shit!” I thought, “I’d better slow down! The last thing I need is to use up all my calories and catecholamines now!” (Catecholamines are ‘stress hormones’. Remember, I’m an endocrinologist so my internal self-talk tends to be scientifically and medically accurate).
If you read some of my previous blogs you will see that I get chased,confronted by and/or attacked by dogs about two or three times a year. Dogs are no small problem here. South Dakota is second to Alaska in number of human fatalities from dog attack. I’ve heard of people who have been crippled and who no longer can run due to dog injuries.
Normally I carry pepper spray when I run. Of course, why would I carry such protection in a race? I left my pepper spray out of my fanny pack to cut on weight.
What were the odds of dogs ambushing me during an organized event? There were 150 plus other runners and yet they select me out of everyone else to ambush?
What the heck!?!
I made it to Oreville aid station at mile 45.2, still breathing hard and still mad about the dogs. Jeanne and Chris wisely calmed me down. I still had over 50 miles to go and needed to save every ounce of energy for moving forward- not being angry about dogs.
One strength as well as weakness that I have is that I am extremely passionate. My passion can be a good thing when it is enthusiasm about something positive. When I am happy, I am not just happy; I’m exuberant. When I am sad, I am not just sad, I am the deepest shade of blue.
My passion is also the foundation of my determination. It’s good to be stubborn if you are stubborn about fighting to do the right thing. I’ve always been one to try to do the “right thing” whatever it may be, even if it isn’t popular or easy or lucrative. Stubborness and determination is a good characteristic to have, no matter if I am fighting insurance companies on my patient’s behalf- or struggling to finish an ultramarathon.
However, if I’m not careful my passion can be a detriment when it is directed by negative emotion, such as anger or frustration.
Self knowledge comes only with time and experience. I’ve become much better at controlling my emotions than I was in the past. However, when discussing a thwarted canine attack- it’s hard to remain calm!
Before I left, I also saw Bob Whay resting at the Oreville Aid Station. I never saw him again after that or heard how his race went but I was sad to not see his name on the list of finishers. He’s slow like me. He’s tried running 100 miles at least as often as I have and certainly deserves to finish as much as me or anyone else.
I saw Holley Lange who was having muscle cramping and would drop. “Darn it!” I thought, “Holley has started enough of these 100 mile ultras- she should be able to do it!” I am convinced that as long as she keeps trying some day she will.
I jogged the last few miles to the turn-around enjoying the cooler temperatures. At the exact place where I tore my tendon last year, I felt a dull ache. It was in the same place and at the same level as last year.
“What the heck? This can’t be real, I can’t be getting the exact same injury in the exact same location as last year,” I thought, “This has got to all be in my head!”
Sure enough, after a few hundred yards my pain disappeared entirely. It WAS all in my head! Our minds are very strange, aren’t they?
“They say the first half of a hundred is physical and the second half is mental,” I thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to soon find out if that’s true!”
Buckaroo to Carroll Creek- Miles 50 to 70
“In ultrarunning, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
- Al Bogenhuber (from Run 100s website)
At Buckaroo just past mile 50, Chris joined me.
Last year this is where I dropped out. In 2008, I made it to Harbach Park at mile 64.I really did not want to let Chris down this year, nor did I want the efforts of my crew to again “be wasted.” I know they didn’t see it this way. They didn’t think that when I DNF’d in the past, their time was “wasted.” However, when you have such a great support team as I do, you want to succeed- for them as much for you.
“I WILL do it this year!”
Before we started to head back up that 3 plus mile slow hill to Crazy Horse Monument, I joked with the aid station volunteers: “I’m in the home stretch now! Hot Springs is a-calling me! I’m going to make it this year!”
Instead of pacing me all night, Nathan spent the night with friends. Before he left, he gave me a big hug and said, “Dad! I know you can do it Dad! I know you can! I love you!” His words gave me strength through the night and into the next morning.
It was only after the race that I found out after he had left Nathan confided with Jeanne: “Mom, I don’t know if Dad’s going to do it this year, I just don’t know, Mom.”
Just before we got back to Oreville Aid Station, I saw Alan Rickel. He was obviously struggling. I said, “Don’t give up!” I don’t remember what he said but it was obvious he was going to drop. I was sad to see that. That morning I was sure he was going to do it. I know, I just know in my heart that someday he will make it!
I didn’t have much time to think about what everyone else was doing for long. Soon I would have my own issues to face.
The sun set; the trail became dark. I was grateful to have Chris pacing me. It made the miles seem shorter and the night seem less dark.
Along the way I had some unusual GI symptoms. I started having some abdominal bloating. I felt slightly nauseated. The only thing that relieved my symptoms was releasing this gas build-up. I belched and burped for over 20 miles before it stopped. I have no idea what caused it. Was it the watermelon I ate earlier? That was several hours previous, so I didn’t think so. Odd.
At Harbach Park in Custer at mile 64, the aid station asked me how was I doing to which I replied: “My feet hurt, I’m tired and I really stink- but other than that I’m feeling great!”
We sat down, ate and drank a little. There were some other runners who had been doing well earlier and had been ahead of me in the pack. I was surprised to now see them at the aid station ready to DNF.
Some had blisters. Well, so did I. In fact, I was afraid to look at my feet for fear that what I saw might convince me to stop too. Although I am not superstitious, there was so much negative energy and dejected attitudes amongst the other runners, I was worried that some of it might rub off on me.
I told Chris, “We need to go….”
As we left, the aid station volunteers asked me one more time: “How are you doing?”
I replied, “Slow and determined, that’s how I’m doing. I’m gonna make it no matter what!”
”Your toughness is made up of equal parts persistence and experience. You don’t so much outrun your opponents as outlast and outsmart them, and the toughest opponent of all is the one inside your head.” – Joe Henderson
As we headed south out of Custer, we saw the sign marking the 65 mile point. I touched the top of it with my fingers as we passed.
The farthest I have ever gone before was 65 miles.”I’ve now entered territory where I have never been before,” I thought to myself. “No matter how bad I feel, I shall not stop until I make it to Hot Springs.”
I knew full well that it would be all too easy to convince myself to stop for whatever reason by rationalizing, “Well, maybe I DNF’d but at least I went farther than I ever have before.” I’ve dropped in past races thinking such thoughts before.
“No! This time you will go the full hundred miles!”
There had been rainstorms earlier which had soaked the trail and some of the other runners. The rain had missed us, I suppose it’s not always a disadvantage to be slow, is it?
A large tiger salamander scurried across the trail.
Along the way to the next aid station, Chris mentioned that he was having problems with his quads cramping. Earlier I had half-jokingly mentioned that instead of running with walk breaks, I was walking with jogging breaks.
Actually it was true.
Chris is a fast runner; he usually finishes strong in the front-of-the-mid-pack (or should I say in the back-of-the-front-pack?). Unlike me, he doesn’t spend much time in training or racing at an extended fast-race-walk pace. Walking uses different muscles than does running. That is why taking walk breaks during an ultramarathon is a tactic which is considered a sign of being intelligent rather than a sign of weakness as it might be viewed in shorter distances.
Chris decided it would be better to drop at the next aid station and join Jeanne in crewing me to the finish. This, I think, was really eye-opening for both of us.
I am slow…. really really slow. Certainly I’m much slower than Chris. Had I been able to go faster and actually run, he would have paced me the entire second half. However, I knew that my only hope of finishing would be to take it easy and pace myself for a 29 to 30 hour finish. I had trained for exactly what I was doing: fast-walk pace with jogging/slow running breaks when the terrain permitted and I felt able.
It still amazes me that I was able to “out-walk” my pacer whom I could never have kept up with had we been running. The human body, and it’s ability to respond to training is amazing.
Before we arrived at Carroll Creek, I starting thinking and even saying out loud, “Gosh, I am tired. I am SO tired.”
I started to worry about my chances of finishing considering how completely and totally exhausted I was beginning to feel.
My legs felt like dead weights; my feet were beginning to hurt.
Onward into the darkness we pressed.
Carroll Creek to Argyle Road- Miles 70 to 84
“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
We arrived at Carroll Creek as the aid station volunteers were packing up. Several other runners who’d decided to drop were sitting quietly with blankets wrapped around them.
I tried some chicken noodle soup. Mmmm… it was good! Then they offered me a grilled cheese sandwich. I wasn’t sure how well my stomach would tolerate it. I took a few bites…. it tasted good. I ate an entire sandwich. Sometimes the simple things, such as a grilled cheese sandwich can really hit the spot.
As I prepared to head on, the aid station volunteers warned me that the Pringle aid station would close and pack up at 3AM. I looked at my watch; there was no chance I would make it there in time.
“Thanks but no problem!” I told them, “I have my own personal aid station, my crew will drive up ahead to meet me…thank you! I’m gonna make it! You’ll have to throw a rope on me to make me stop!”
Before I left, they mentioned that there were a few other runners behind me. Some were planning on dropping, but one they said, #101 looked strong. “Hmmm, I wonder who that is? Could it be Jim Newton?”
No one knew who #101 was, only that he was looking strong and was about 15 minutes behind me.
I shuffled southward. The temperatures grew colder and patches of fog fell upon the land. The grilled cheese gave me new-found energy but the effect was short-lived. I began to feel tired… very very tired. I looked over and saw a bench on the side of the trail. On a sunny warm day, it might have been a nice place to take a break.
I thought, “Maybe I should lay down, just for a few minutes, it would feel so good to take a nap and get off of my feet, only for a few minutes…”
Rapidly, I pushed such thoughts out of my head. I’d be cold, stiff and hypothermic in no time.
“You have many more miles to go. You won’t get there unless you keep moving forward.”
My feet hurt. I had blisters on both of my heels. I thought the pain was unbearable but then my plantar fascia started to burn. It was excrutiating. It was like someone was scraping the bottom of my feet with a pocket knife. It was as if the soles of my feet were punctured by a hundred needles with every step. The pain from my blisters still was there but my plantar fascial pain was so severe- it made my blister pain seem minor in comparison.
I started crying from the pain. “How can I possibly go on while I’m suffering in so much pain?”
I hurt so bad, at one point I was no longer crying… I was sobbing. A stream of tears fell to the ground. I felt small and vulnerable and weak and helpless.
“Why did you choose to do something like this?” I thought out loud, “Who you think you are? Why the hell are you out here in the middle of the night trying to go one hundred miles? I’m so stupid! I’m an idiot!”
Now I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person. I’m not one of those folks who go to church every Sunday. When it comes to what my personal beliefs are, I usually hold those cards very close to my chest. I don’t readily share my personal beliefs with others. I have many friends of a variety of religious beliefs (some with none at all). I respect all of them.
Who am I to judge someone else when I don’t know the answer’s to life’s mysteries myself?
On the other hand, having cared for people dying at the end of their life, I believe that there is more to our lives and to the universe that we fully understand. I have seen things for which there is no logical explanation. I guess rather than calling me religious a better word would be spiritual. I feel more humbled and awe-inspired when I’m amongst creation out in the natural world than I do in a man-made building. For me, going up into the mountains or the desert or the forest is the greatest and most beautiful cathedral there is.
Nevertheless, I also believe that if there is a higher power, it doesn’t typically intervene in the petty small lives of us mortals. I don’t often pray but when I do, it is usually out of thanks and gratititude rather than any kind of special request.
If there is a benevolent power who might just possibly answer our prayers, I’m not about to waste my prayers asking for things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of the universe.
And when it comes down to it, most of what us humans stress and worry about is pretty unimportant.
At this point I was in so much agony, however, I didn’t know what else to do.
I started praying to God or to whatever creator or higher being there might be. It was not a request to send help. Rather I prayed, “Please enable me to see hope where there is futility, to be strong when I feel weak, to keep going and not give up when all appears lost.”
I thanked whatever or whomever might be listening for all the good things in my life, of which I knew there are many.
I asked to never forget these good things and to never ever take them for granted.
I prayed to myself and I prayed out loud.
Slowly, I started feeling better. The pain was still there and it was still excrutiating. I finally realized that no matter how bad I felt, how miserable the blisters and plantar fascial pain made me feel- the pain from them was not lethal.
“The pain from blisters and plantar fasciitis never killed anyone,” I reminded myself, “even if it makes them feel like they’re going to die.”
“You told everyone before the race that you wanted to go 100 miles so bad, you would do anything to finish. Anything!?” I asked, “Is that true? Would you do anything? If your answer is ‘yes’ then you’d better keep going.”
“Stop feeling so sorry for yourself!”
Overhead the stars sparkled. They were beautiful and ignored my misery.
I saw several well-known constellations including Ursa Major (Big Dipper) and Cassiopea. To the south west I saw a lesser known constellation: Ophiuchus. Translated from Greek, it means “serpent bearer.” Ophiuchus is a large but relatively dim constellation. Only in the dark skies of western South Dakota and other places far way from the light pollution of large cities can Ophiuchus be easily seen.
According to legend, this constellation represents the healer Asclepius. He learned to heal the sick and the secret of immortality after observing one snake bringing another healing herbs. To prevent the entire human race from becoming immortal under Asclepius’ care, Zeus killed him with a bolt of lightning but later placed his image in the heavens to honor his good works.
Asclepius is the Greek God of medicine, healing and physicians. His rod interwined with a snake subsequently became the symbol of medicine. Although Ophiuchus is not the brightest or most dramatic constellation, as a healer myself, I have always liked this group of stars.
“It would be nice if you could heal some of this foot pain for me,” I hoped, “but could you please tell Zeus to keep any stray lightning bolts to himself tonight.”
Jeanne and Chris were waiting for me at the White Elephant parking lot. Not an official aid station, it is a great place for crew to stop and wait for their runner. I pounded on the car window. Finally I opened the door and they woke up. Once they did, they moved quickly to get me everything I needed and sent me on my way.
Along the trail towards Pringle, I saw another runner sitting by the side of the road. I asked if he was OK. He said he was and assured me his ride was on their way.
A little bit further, one of the volunteers stopped in their car to check on me, “Is everything was alright?”
I told him I was OK.
That was a lie.
In truth I was suffering in extreme pain and exhausted. However, I was as “OK” as I could have possibly been at that time of night.
At Pringle Mile 76 I sat down, ate some, and changed shoes and socks. Despite being told that Pringle would officially be closed after 3AM, there were two volunteers there recording our numbers and asking if there was anything we needed. Aid station volunteers are heroes in my opinion. They certainly didn’t have to wait around for slowpokes like us to come shuffling by, but there they were.
While I sat down, I saw another runner come through. It was number 101! Before I could get up and find out who it was, he was gone.
I asked, “Was it Jim? Was it Jim from Texas?” No one knew- they only knew it was number 101- looking strong. I hoped that it was Jim. We had run together for a time last year and both of us had DNf’d. It would have made me happy to know he was plugging along in the darkness ahead of me.
I thought about trying to catch up just to find out who it was and wish him my best. However, my severe foot pain soon put an end to that.
I thought about trying to catch up just to find out who it was and wish him my best. However, my severe foot pain soon put an end to that.
I slowed back down to my fast-walk with shuffle-breaks.
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you.
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”
-TS Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’
I was alone in the darkness.
The shuffling of my feet and my breaths were the only sounds. There were only a few crickets chirping in the distance. The temperature dropped to where even they went to sleep.
Suddenly, I realized I was no longer alone. Someone…or should I say… SOMETHING had joined me. I turned around to look at it, but nothing was there.
“You’re tired, your mind is playing tricks on you…” I thought.
Out of the corner of my eye.. I thought I saw something. It was more of a shadow than anything real. I turned to look at it again but instantly, it disappeared. After a few dozen yards, I swear, there it was again.
If I didn’t look directly at it, I could almost see it… almost…but not quite.
My mind was clear; I wasn’t delerious. I felt completely “with it.” I knew that logically what I was experiencing could not really be happening. Normally I am a rational, logical person. In my line of work as a physician and clinical researcher, I have been trained to be skeptical. I’m not someone who believes in ghosts or other entitities. I don’t usually think there is a spirit world trying to contact us. I’m not one of those “new-agey” types.
However, as impossible and illogical as it was- all my senses told me that I was not alone.
The closest I can describe what I felt: Have you ever walked into a dark room with the lights off and knew there was someone else there?
Maybe when you were a child playing hide-and-seek?
And then you discovered that there actually was someone was there?
I cannot tell you what it was. It is difficult to put into words. I sensed the presence of some kind of entity that I could not actually see. It felt as real to me as if another person or being was walking next to me. It seemed to prefer being located either next to me, just off my right shoulder, or immediately behind me. I stopped walking and heard extra footsteps that were not my own.
I jogged again and then I stopped again, just to prove to myself I wasn’t imagining it. The extra footsteps were really there. I couldn’t believe it!
”Tom! Now hold it together! This can’t be real! It’s got to be a hallucination!”
I’ve seen things at other races that weren’t there. Logs that look like bears but which turned out to be only logs. The light of fireflies playing tricks on my mind… making me feel as if I was going “warp-speed” as on Star-trek when I most definitely was not. However, every time I realized these were hallucinations which couldn’t be real, they always disappeared.
Not so with this.
Try as I might- it just wouldn’t go away. Every time I tried to get a better look at it, it would move rapidly out of my field of vision. Even more than footsteps that were not my own or shadows out of the corner of my vision, I sensed a presence. I could not tell you if it was man or woman… or even if it was human. It had two legs, that I knew. Whatever it was, it was bipedal based on the occasional sound of its footsteps.
I know, I know, all of this sounds crazy. That’s exactly what I thought at this point.
Finally, more annoyed at myself for not being able to force this thing out of my mind, I spun around. The entity again moved out of my vision. It refused to allow me to get a good look at it. It moved far out into the darkness, just outside of the beam of light from my headlamp.
I knew it was still there, but I just couldn’t see it.
“OK, hallucination, fatigue-induced creation, entity, spirit, ghost, guardian angel or whatever the hell you are… I don’t have time to argue with you, I have over 20 miles to go. You can come along with me if you can keep up. I only ask that you stay next to me where I can keep track of you and won’t be distracted by looking around to see where you are.”
I turned and started jog-walking south again. Within a few moments, it returned to it’s place right next to me.
It said not a word.
“You’re not much for conversation, are you?” I observed, “Well, then I guess I’ll do the talking for both of us.” I spoke with it about many things but it was a one-sided conversation.
“If you’re going to be with me and not say anything, could you at least do me a favor and watch my back for mountain lions?”
It felt very old to me. Not old as in frail and weak- but old as in possessing deep wisdom, knowledge and power. I felt that it was there to help me. I wasn’t scared. I never felt that it had any malicious intent or ever meant to harm me. Instead of being afraid, I felt safe. Very safe and very strong.
How could I not feel safe and strong? How often does one have their own personal guardian spirit pacing them?
An “ancient benevolent presence” would be the best way for me to describe it. Once I realized it was there to offer support and encouragement, I appreciated its presence. I enjoyed it’s company.
The stars continued to twinkle overhead. In addition to the other constellations, I saw a frequent friend on night-time winter runs, Orion, the hunter, rising in the east. Tonight I had two friends with me, Orion in the sky and my spirit pacer by my side. ”Soon winter will be here, Orion,” I thought, ” I’ll get to see you every time I run.”
In a couple of hours, the eastern skies brightened and dawn came. The stars slowly disappeared one by one. As mysteriously as it had arrived, the presence also vanished.
I was glad and relieved to see the sun rise. I thought to myself, “You’ve made it through the night! You’re gonna make it!” However, I was sad to see the presence go.
“Now I’m all alone again…” I missed having it accompany me.
I arrived at Lime Kiln mile 80 to find everyone asleep. I woke up Jeanne and Chris again and sat down in the chair. All of the aid station volunteers were asleep in their tent. They must’ve had a long night. Not wanting to disturb them, we signed my in time and my out time ourselves.
Chris and Jeanne asked how was I doing, “Just fine” I replied. Although my spirit pacer had already left me by the time the sun rose, I didn’t mention it to them. I was tired and my feet hurt but otherwise I felt OK.
I didn’t want them to worry.
After the race I told them about my experience. They said that when they saw me at mile 80, I seemed completely lucid and coherent. That is how I felt, tired but clear and lucid, not delerious or hallucinating as one should be when they’re seeing things that cannot be there.
“It’s not far now,” I reassured myself, “I only have twenty more miles to go. I can do that!”
Rather than counting up every mile I went and thinking, “My gosh, I’ve gone 80 miles I’m getting really tired,” I starting counting down the miles. Instead of thinking about how much farther I had to go, I thought about how few miles I had left. Instead of going uphill, I tried to imagine myself going downhill.
It was purely a mind game I was playing, but it’s what got me through.
Argyle Road to Finish- Miles 84 to 100
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”
- Tim Noakes MD
I arrived at Argyle Road aid station as the volunteers were packing up. They offered me food and drink; I refilled my Camelback.
I slurped down a cup of tomato soup… it was delicious!
They remembered me from yesterday promising that I would see them again no matter what.
I told them, “I was joking about the ‘being in dead last’ part but I guess that’s how it turned! But DFL is always better than DNF!”
Chris and Jeanne arrived, I dropped off my fanny pack, water bottle and some unneeded gear with them. Soon I was on my way. I was planning on seeing them again somewhere along Argyle Road.
I did some quick mental calculation. I had only 16 or so miles to go. If I could somehow dig deep and do a 15 min/mile, I would be able to make it to the finish just squeaking by the 30 hour final cut off. I started running 11 – 12 min/mile downhill and 15 – 16 min/mile up hill.
In all my pain and misery, I previously had given up on the possibility of making to the finish in under 30 hours but now there seemed to be hope. “I might be able to get a buckle after all,” I thought.
I maintained this pace for the first several miles… then before I made it to the Morph aid station, I was surprised to find myself completely out of water. I had thought aid would be sooner and trying to go light, I did not fill up as much as I could have.
The sun was steadily rising with every hour. I had no choice but to slow down.
I made it Morph aid station mile 90 and sat in a chair. I started eating and drinking and soon felt better.
One of the gals asked about my flute. Last year and at some other events, I bring a small 5-hole Native American Flute to play at night and keep me company. She remembered me from last year (a few other runners did also) It’s as if I have my own personal I-pod that doesn’t require batteries. However, this year I was so focused on finishing, I decided to not waste even one breathe on anything other than moving forward.
I ate, drank and put ice under my hat. I found out that Chris and Jeanne had driven home to get Nathan so he would be able to witness my first 100 mile finish. They would come to meet me up ahead as soon as they returned.
Hydrated and feeling better… I started running again more quickly. In only a few miles, however, I started getting blisters between and on the tips of my toes. As tiny as they were, they hurt worse than any of the other much larger blisters on my heels and other locations.
My second pair of shoes I had switched into were not as large as I should have had for this late in the race with my feet swelling. I also realized that when I changed my socks earlier, I only switched my outer cushion sock but not my inner layer Injinjis. After hours and hours of running, the perspiration had soaked the sock, resulting in blisters in places I’ve never had them before.
I had to slow way down to a slow shuffle by the side of the road. There was no way I could move faster, my blisters hurt so much. I usually carry a small blister kit but left it out of my fanny pack this race, assuming that I’d have access to my foot care kit, every time I saw my crew. I regretted that decision but there was nothing I could do about it. I’m not sure it would have made a difference at this point anway.
Tears filled my eyes again, once I realized there was no chance of me finishing under the final cut off of 30 hours. They were as much tears of frustration as they were tears of pain.
“One hundred miles is still one hundred miles,” I reassured myself, “No matter how long it takes you.”
“You wanted a buckle, you wanted it really bad you did. But really, what is a buckle? It’s just a piece of metal, it’s only a token to represent your accomplishment. Other than that, a buckle is nothing,” I tried to console myself, “No you don’t need buckle to mark what you did… you will know it in your heart. That’s what counts…”
Still, I was sad and frustrated that because of blisters and foot pain, I’d finish past cut off. “Just keep moving forward, you’re going to make it no matter what.”
I turned off of Arygle Road just past mile 95. I saw a Subaru driving up. It was Jeanne, Chris and Nathan.
I was overjoyed to see them!
I pulled off my shoes and switched socks, however, when I tried to put my shoes on again, I found that me feet hurt so much, I just couldn’t get them back on my feet. Finally, I decided to put on my crocs for the last few miles of shuffling.
Chris joined me for the last few miles. As we came through Coldbrook Campground mile 96 the aid station volunteers offered words of encouragement.
I told them, “I’m last but not least! The few, the proud, the DFL! Someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me!”
“Yes, but you’re last in a ONE HUNDRED MILE RACE!!! You inspire us!” they responded, “Good luck! It’s not far now!”
As we headed south, I told Chris, “You know, after you left last night, I found another pacer for a while…” Before he could ask me, “You did? Who was it?” I explained that my pacer wasn’t exactly a ”who?” but rather a “what?”
I described to him what I’d experienced. Only somewhat to my surprise, he recognized exactly what it was. “It’s called third man syndrome.”
Apparently ”third man syndrome” or “third man factor” is a phenomenom of an unseen benevolent presence that some people experience during survival situations or times of extreme endurance activities such as mountaineering or running ultramarathons.
“Third man syndrome? Really?” I’d never heard of it before.
Nathan decided to join us the last couple of miles. I really appreciated that. As we slowly made our way through town, I couldn’t believe that I’d made it.
It was surreal, almost like a dream. “I’ve tried so many times before and failed… now here I am. This can’t be happening…can it?”
Slowly we approached the finish line. I saw Dave Elsbernd, who walked out to greet us. He had succeeded in his goal of running 100 miles in under 24 hours.
As I approached the finish line, tears filled my eyes yet again.
Tears of pain. Tears of relief. And more than anything, tears of joy.
I was determined to do it… no matter what, and I did.
I hugged Jeanne, Nathan and Chris- without them I don’t know if I could have made it.
My finish time was 30 hours, 36 minutes. During that entire time, I didn’t stop more than ten minutes. Apparently word had gotten back before I did that I was extremely determined to finish. Yes, I was. I was willing to do whatever it took. That included enduring blisters and severe foot pain.
Of the 159 runners who started, 94 finished. I’m proud to say that I was 94th. Last but not least.
I was glad to later find out that runner #101 who finished ahead of me was indeed Jim Newton.
Great job Jim!
Jerry Dunn race director walked up to congratulate me. Then to my surprise, he offered me a finisher’s buckle.
I started crying again and tried to turn it down: “I can’t take it… I don’t deserve it! It took me more than 30 hours to finish!”
To which Jerry replied, “Well, I think you do… you just went one hundred miles!”
He didn’t have to ask me twice. I took the buckle and gave him a big hug (I must’ve smelled pretty bad at that point!) I gave hugs to everyone else who would let me. I didn’t expect a buckle but was overjoyed beyond words to be given one.
“Last is just the slowest winner.”
- C. Hunter Boyd (from Run 100s website)
I still could not believe that I actually did it.
I went 100 miles.
On my own two feet.
This was the single most physically, mentally and emotionally difficult thing I have ever accomplished. It is hard to put into words how gratifying and rewarding of an achievement this has been for me, especially after having tried and failed two times before.
It would have been difficult for me to succeed in this accomplishment without my crew. Without the support and encouragement of Jeanne, Chris and Nathan, there was a strong chance that I might not have made it this year too.
I am SO thankful to have had them along.
I’d also like to express my deepest gratitude for what race director Jerry Dunn has done for me. I’m not only talking about him deciding to give me a buckle even though I finished well past final cut off time. That was generous and kind. He absolutely didn’t have to do that but he did.
However, what I’m even more grateful for than my buckle is that Jerry gave me the chance to do it at all.
At around mile 64, I started falling behind cut-off times. Had cut-off times been strict as they are at many other races, I would have been told, “Sorry, you’re too slow, you missed a cut-off, you need to stop.” I would have been pulled as I have at many other races. I would have never had the opportunity to discover if I could actually make it one hundred miles or not.
Allowing me the chance to see how far I could go, even despite my slowness, was the most tremendous gift I could ever have been given. I can’t think of many other events where I would have been allowed to go on.
Although us back-of-the-packers run a different race and run for different reasons than faster runners, achieving our personal goal is just as important to us as it is for anyone else.
Jerry gets us. He’s a runner. He understands runners and how important each of our individual journeys are to all of us, even those of us who run in the back-of-the-pack, including those of us who finish in dead last place.
Then, even though I finished well past final cut-off and I know that I technically shouldn’t have, I was given a finisher’s buckle too. I can’t believe it. Most other races would not have given me a buckle. Many wouldn’t have even given me a posted finish time. I’d have been told: “We’re really sorry, event though you went the whole way you’re still technically a DNF….”
Jerry is awesome as a race director; as a result Lean Horse is awesome as an event.
I will wear my finisher’s buckle proudly. It’s the buckle I never expected to get.
“A presence, to some an ‘angel’, a Third Man, joined them during their extreme struggles, a being who, in the words of the legendary Italian climber Reinhold Messner, ‘leads you out of the impossible.’”
-John Geiger, “Third Man Factor”
As for my experience with the “presence” or guardian spirit, I still don’t know what it was nor do I completely understand it.
Perhaps I never will.
Perhaps I’m not supposed to.
After the race, I looked up “third man syndrome.” Incredible. I’d never heard of it before but this is exactly what I experienced.
The first documented written account of this phenomenom was by Sir Ernest Shackleton after his ship, the Endurance, was trapped and crushed in the Antarctic ice in 1916. During their difficult and harrowing escape, Shackleton and two other men sensed the presence of an unseen being, someone or something which they could not see but which offered them hope and encouragement. Shackleton described it as such: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”
Later, TS Eliot used Shackleton’s account of a presence on a polar expedition in his poem, The Waste Land, which I quoted above. TS Eliot changed the fourth man to third man and the phrase stuck. Hence the name “Third man” even though in my case, it was actually a second man or a second whatever.
Since then, there have been hundreds of reported cases, all strikingly similar. The phenomenom has been reported in ship-wreck survivors, alpine mountaineers, pilots, astronauts, extreme endurance athletes and even a survivor of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
John Geiger wrote a book about this phenomenom ”The Third Man Factor.” It is a good read, balancing the spiritual and the scientific explanations, while being respectful of each. An excerpt of this book is available here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3120/is_8_81/ai_n35631723/ I highly recommend it.
It is incredible how similar, how identical my experience was to that of others. Even the little things, such as typically being located just behind me or off of my right shoulder, I could not have made up had I tried. Had this not been such a positive experience, the similarity would have been eerie.
When I tell others about my experience, they usually either nod politely but incredulously- or they tell me, “Well, you must have been very tired. It must’ve been a hallucination.”
I try to explain to other that it was more real than any hallucination. “I know what hallucinations are like, I’ve had them before.” Hallucinations are disorienting and disconcerting- this was not like that. It was the opposite.
Others tell me, “Gosh, that sounds really creepy…”
We all occasionally experience the unpleasant sensation of something watching us. That is a scary, unnerving sensation. However, my experience was completely unlike that. Besides feeling more vivid and more “real,” the presence of this entity, whatever it was, was reassuring and empowering.
I wasn’t afraid. I was comforted.
Most Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have some sort of vision quest ceremony. One goes out away from others into the solitude of nature for days without water or food. By doing so, one might find greater understanding of the oneness of all things and gain knowledge of the Spirit-That-Moves-In-All-Things. Those who are deemed worthy experience a vision. A messenger may come to them in the form of an animal, a dream or a guiding spirit. The Lakota call the vision quest, hanbleceya or ”Crying for a Vision.” Black Elk described his vision quest as “lamenting.”
As I was out there suffering in the middle of the night, I didn’t realize that while I was crying out in pain I was also quite literally crying out in prayer. I never expected to receive any kind of vision or assistance but somehow I did.
I cannot prove that what I experienced truly happened. I completely admit that it could have been created by my mind as a way to reassure me and to get me through a particularly tough part of the night. I concede that just because I believe in something does not make it true.
On the other hand, just because I cannot prove something does not mean it doesn’t exist.
What if there really are spirits out there ready to help us, if only we were willing to let down the veil of reality?
What if they’re always there, it’s just that we can’t see them normally because our conscious brain doesn’t let us or they don’t let us see them unless we need them?
Whether it was my imagination or it was real, I do not know. What I do know is that it was the closest to a revelation, an epiphany, that I’ve ever had. I needed help from 3AM to dawn and that’s what I got.
Even if it was a creation of an exhausted mind for which there is a rational neurocognitive explanation, however, that doesn’t make it any less miraculous or beautiful. Scientists have identified which part of our brain creates the emotion of love which we feel for others. Just because there is a neurophysiological explanation for the love I feel for my family and friends- it doesn’t make that emotion any less real, any less beautiful, or any less wonderful. And so it is the same with this guardian spirit, entity, third man or whatever it was.
I wonder: if I am ever again in a time of need, will I again be able to summon this benevolent presence? I hope so.
My experience reassures me that whatever hardships I may face in the future, there is hope that I might not have to overcome them alone.
This knowledge and reassurance is the greatest gift I could have received.
Some people get tattoos to commemorate an important event. I decided to shave. Before the race, I promised Nathan that if I succeeded, I would shave off my beard and trim my hair short. As you can see, it took twenty years off my age. Jeanne had never seen me without some sort of facial hair.
The responses I got at work were interesting:
“So did you get new glasses?”
“Did you get a haircut?”
There were several other comments that made me chuckle…
Of course I kind of like wearing a beard so I started growing it back immediately. Since growing my beard a few years ago, I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to shaving every day. I’d rather trim my beard once a week than shave it every morning.
Frankly, it’s also just plain dangerous for me to have a sharp instrument in my hands at 4AM before I’ve had any caffeine. I’m not a surgeon, don’t you know?
Some have asked me, “Will you ever do 100 miles again?”
That is the same as asking a woman immediately after an especially painful and difficult birth, “So.. are you ready to have another child?”
My answer is: “Of course I’ll do it again; after all, I’m an ultramarathoner! But please don’t ask me right now because I really don’t want to think about it….”
Indeed, I’ll try to run 100 miles again and next time I’ll try to do it in under 30 hours. I realize that it may be physically impossible to finish some of the more difficult mountain 100 mile races in under 30 hours. I will always have that congenital condition that keeps me from going fast, no matter how hard I train, or how bad I want to do it. There is no way around it and I can’t do anything about it. It’s just how I am.
I can, however, control my attitude, my mind and my sense of determination.
Even if I’ll never be a fast ultrarunner and I’ll always battle to make the cut-offs, there are many other events for me to attempt: timed 24 hour races without any cut-off times beyond the final one, loop events and/or multi-day adventure races. Even though I’m slow, there will certainly be many opportunities for me to challenge myself in the future.
Plus, there is nothing wrong with running 50k’s and 50m’s, now is there?
I’ve experienced what it is like to run ultras, maybe I should start giving back to the sport by volunteering at a race?
Maybe it’s now time for me to experience an ultramarathon from the other side of the aid station table?
As I think about my experience and what it means to me, I cannot forget all of the others who’ve tried- and thus far- who have not yet succeeded. I know exactly how they feel because I used to be in their shoes. If I was able to do it, then they can too. I know they can. It would give me great joy to pace and/or crew others so they too could experience what it is like to run 100 miles.
Do you dream of running 100 miles? Are you unsure if you’re up to it? If you believe you can, then you can and you will. Come out to run with us.
Have you tried and failed before? I’m sure next time you’ll do it. Yes, you WILL. I look forward to witnessing your success.
Run on and run well.
May you have no difficulty finding your own “third man” in your time of need…
See you next year!
This week has been a tough one. One of my patients died of terminal cancer. She was only in her mid-thirties and left a husband and four sons behind.
Although most of the cancers I manage (well-differentiated thyroid cancer) have an excellent prognosis, this young woman had metastatic adrenal cancer, which has a 5 year survival rate of less than 1%. I rarely have patients die from cancer. The fact that she was so young and a kind and genuine and good person, made it even harder.
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for this family's loss.
Although I know that everything that could have possibly been done, had been done- I cannot help but wonder:
Why did this have to happen?!?!
Why do some people abuse their bodies and get away with it while others have horrible tragic things happen to them through no fault of their own? It is sad, unfair, and makes no sense, but then again too often life is sad and unfair and makes no sense.
Needing some time to think, clear my head and ponder the meaning of life and death- I decided to go for a long run.
Last weekend, Haliku came up for a visit. We ran 20 miles from home, over Peter Norbeck Highway to Keystone where Jeanne and Nathan came and got us. Then we had had an Arctic blast mid-week with temps down to -18 F. Now the following warm spell with temps in the 40s' F felt like a heat wave.
I hadn't run all week and was itching for a long run.
I decided to run over Norbeck Highway again and if I felt good, continue on from Keystone to home.
Only two miles from home, I spotted tracks in the snow. They were the tracks of a cougar!
Also known as mountain lions, pumas, panthers or their formal scientific name Felis concolor, there are estimated to be between 200 and 300 cougars in the Black Hills. Despite this, they are secretive animals and rarely observed. Many who have lived here their entire lives, have never seen one.
Nevertheless, many friends, neighbors and acquaintances have stories of mountain lions they've seen. I've lived here for over a year and despite being in the outdoors for may hours and miles, I have never seen a mountain lion or it's tracks. We did hear one screaming in our canyon around this time last year.
As a runner, mountain lions make me nervous. Most of the time lions ignore humans, but there are occasional runner taken by cougars every year. Even though I carry protection, if a cougar really wanted to get me, I know that I probably wouldn't know until it was too late.
Of course, the reality is that I am much more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident on my way to work or even be run over by an irate dog owner in their mini-van than I am to be attacked by a cougar.
Look closely at the tracks and note the lack of toenail imprints.
Felines rarely reveal their toenails in their footprints which helps to distinguish their tracks from canines such as dogs or coyotes.
Cougars are very territorial. Adult males will kill any juvenile males they find in their territory. All potential territories in western South Dakota are thought to be occupied. Because of this, mountain lions with DNA linking them to the Black Hills have been found as far away as Iowa and Illinois.
Amazing animals… they have been reported to travel 100 or more miles in a day.
Hopefully, some day I will be able to do that myself.
If not in 24 hours then at least 100 miles in 30 hours or any time before cut-off!
One of the reasons I enjoy ultra and trail running so much is that it allows me to experience nature up close and often on more intense terms than I would otherwise.
- If you want to run for speed, a PB or to qualify for Boston or any other road race: then stay on the roads.
- If you want to experience something and learn more about yourself: go run a trail ultramarathon.
Unfortunately, with the onset of winter, I'm forced to run on the roads until the trails open up just like everyone else.
It was turning out to be a beautiful sunny cloudless warm day.
I saw a red tail hawk flying overhead but it was too fast for me to get a photo.
After seeing the mountain lion tracks, I decided to take a picture of every other set of tracks I saw today.
Besides being much smaller than the mountain lion, note the toenail imprints in the fox track, confirming he (or she) is a member of the dog family and not a cat. I also saw a set of rabbit and mouse tracks but they were older and not as clear as these.
After an hour, I took in some Sport Jelly Beans….. with caffeine.
For some reason, after about 30 or 35 miles I just cannot stomach energy gels. Even before that, they make me want to gag. I have heard that if you take energy gels with more water that should not happen. When I tried that, however, it didn't seem to matter.
Sport Jelly Beans and Clif energy blocks do not seem to cause me the same stomach issues. I do not know why I can tolerate them and why I have such an aversion to energy gels.
What works for me may not work for others and vice versa. Since I've found a hydration and nutrition system that now seems to work, I've no reason to change it.
I run by this rock often and wonder about it each time. It is as tall as a two story house.
Native Americans believed that rocks had spirits just as did the plants and animals. Often unusual or unique rock formations were attributed with special powers or had stories behind them.
I wonder: was there any such story told about this rock?
Onward I ran, taking rest breaks as I walked up each hill. Short distance runners think walking is a sign of failure or weakness.
How foolish they are!
Ultrarunners look at walk breaks as being smart. Even the elite include occasional walk breaks as part of their race strategy. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line. Walking uses slightly different muscles, allowing running muscles to get a break. Alternating running with walking enables even ordinary runners can go extraordinary distances.
It was around here I had good cell phone reception and called my Mom and Dad who live in Tennessee. Surprisingly, their high temperatures were actually lower than ours was today.
I tried to rub it in and again reminded them that the Black Hills are considered by many to be the "Banana Belt of the Midwest."
They pointed out the frigid sub-zero Arctic temps we had only a day ago.
I was forced to admit, "Well, OK, I guess it is a frozen banana!"
Last year there was no road maintenance and this road was closed.
For some reason, this year the gates are still open and the road is continuing to be plowed. I enjoyed the solace of running on a closed snow covered road last year. However, running on a plowed road this year is certainly easier than in the snow.
Even though the road was open, I only saw a total of 3 vehicles between here and the intersection towards Keystone; two from Iowa and one from Wisconsin.
I suppose they were trying to get away from the cold!
I felt a small ache in my stomach and thought: "I'd better eat something."
In the past, I have misread such a signal as my stomach being upset instead of being hungry. Now I understand my body better. Such self- understanding can come only with experience.
One nutritional supplement I consume while going long is Boost. One bottle is 240 calories and contains 41 gm carbohydrates along with 10 gm protein and 4 gm fat. More mixed nutritional intake during ultra-endurance activities including a small amount of protein and fat seems to be easier on the stomach than pure carbohydrate. For short distance events, 26.2 mile and 50-kilometers or less, carbohydrate alone is fine.
The Chocolate-flavored Boost is my favorite. When it is partially frozen into a slush, it actually isn't too bad. Unfortunately, today it wasn't partially frozen.
After a trudge up hill that seemed to last forever (3.1 miles to be exact), I finally made it to the top.
This section of Hwy 16A is called the Peter Norbeck Memorial Highway. It is known for its multiple switchbacks, tunnels, pigtail bridges and scenic views of Mt. Rushmore.
If any of you ever take a trip to see Mt. Rushmore, I highly recommend taking this side trip.
The split in the road above reminded me of the words from Robert Frost:
"Two road diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by… and that has made all the difference."
This phrase continues to be a metaphor for my trail running and to some extent, for the choices I have made in my life in general.
I took the the left fork, the one that says "Do Not Enter" primarily because last week Haliku and I took the other one.
I saw a large old Ponderosa pine growing up along a cliff face. Her bark was split by two previous lightning strikes.
The Ponderosa in the Black Hills and the rest of North America are being attacked by an infestation of mountain pine beetle.
I some areas, 90 – 100% of trees have been killed. There are many theories as to why this is happening: global warming combined with extended drought, wildfire suppression, too many thick stands of trees all the same age, part of the natural life cycle of pine forests of the west and/or all of the above.
Whatever the cause, it is sad to see so many trees dead and dying. What will happen to this weathered old tree, survivor of who knows how many years and at least two lightning strikes?
There is no way to know, just as there is no way for any of us to know what lies ahead for any of us. We're all mortal, starting the day we're born, whether we'd like to remember that or not.
An engineering marvel, and at the time, a feat thought to be impossible, the pigtail bridges are worth seeing.
Two of the tunnels were built so that Mt. Rushmore would be framed in the distance as you passes through them.
There are many views of Mt. Rushmore from the Peter Norbeck Highway.
As the sun approached the horizon, temperatures fell. It was time to change my hat to something warmer. My son no longer wears his Sponge Bob Square Pants hat, so I snagged it for my own use.
It matches perfectly with the bright yellow flourescent colors I usually wear when running in the winter.
I faced the hat backwards so passing drivers could see Sponge Bob smiling at them as they passed by.
Soon I was on the main road heading the couple of miles into Keystone. A couple of passing cars honked, waved and smiled.
I guess they were Sponge Bob fans too!
As I entered town, I looked for an open gas station or convenience store. Almost everything was closed for the season. I find it interesting how busy such towns can be during the tourist season and how dead they are in the off-season.
Finally, at the eastern edge of town, there was a small convenience/general store that was open.
The lady in the store said: "Nice day for a ride!"
She was curious when I told that I actually wasn't riding a bike but had just come almost 20 miles over Norbeck Highway on foot. Unlike many people, she didn't tell me I was crazy, even if she thought it.
I bought a few bottles of Gatorade to refill my Camelback. Gatorade is not my favorite sports beverage to consume while ultrarunning. It contains too much fructose which can cause GI upset in some individuals. But beggars cannot be choosers. I was happy to get what I could.
I also bought a turkey sandwich on white bread which tastes- oh so good- when I'm out running but which I would almost never eat when I'm not.
I accidentally spilled some of the contents of my Camelback on the floor. I apologized profusely and helped her clean it up. "After 20 miles in the cold I get kind of clumsy!" and I apologized again.
She was very kind and said "no problem, don't worry about it."
She was interested in starting to run again with her dog and wondered how she might best get back into it. I gave her some tips such as not doing too much too soon and trying alternating walking with running until she is sure she is able to run longer without injury.
It is advice that I should have followed myself when I started running again 7 years ago but which I did not. If I had, I might have avoided some of the overuse injuries I experienced back then. Unfortunately, sometimes the best way for us to learn something is to make the mistake ourselves.
It was nice and warm in that store and I enjoyed sharing running stories with her. However, if I was going to make it home tonight, I needed to get going. I had 14 more miles ahead of me, and most of it would be in the dark.
I thanked her and headed on.
I passed the place where Jeanne and Nathan picked up Haliku and I last week. Could I make it all the way home on my two feet?
I actually felt good and was pretty sure I could, even though I knew it would be a cold, lonely and dark night. I had my cell phone with me, just in case I needed Jeanne and Nathan to come rescue me, as they have in the past and am sure will do again in the future.
Just at the edge of town, a dog barked at me from the other side of the road. It was brown and looked like either a pitbull or a boxer cross. It started coming towards me. Another white and brown dog was in the road with that dog and barked and ran towards me too.
I was on the sidewalk. A SUV backed out of the driveway across the road and blocked me from seeing the brown dog. I could still hear him barking at me. I did not hear them reprimand or call off that dog but it remained on the other side of the vehicle.
However, the white and brown dog continued to approach barking and growling. A car pulled into the driveway right beside it. The driver opened their door, left the door open but they did not get out and said nothing.
Was it not their dog?
Or was it their dog and were they sitting in there, laughing at me, and waiting to see what would happen?
Owners sitting and watching me have to deal with their mean dog while they laughed has happened to me before, more than once. I couldn't tell. I was preoccupied with the dog and it was too dark to see anyway.
I shouted firmly back to the dog: "NO! Go home!!!" several times but he refused to back off.
The snow between the sidewalk and the road was two feet deep. It was much too deep for me to risk getting bogged down in if I had to take evasive action. I was right where the sidewalk met the driveway.
"Just a couple of steps and I'll be out in the street with a little more room to maneuver," I thought.
As I attempted to do this, however, the dog ran to the street side, cut me off, blocking my escape, and keeping me cornered on the the sidewalk. He was still growling and showing his teeth only a few feet from me.
"Wrong move, dog," I thought, "well if the owner or whomever is in that car is not going to do anything, then I guess it's up to me to get myself out of this."
I pulled my pepper spray out of its holster and unclipped the lock. One little quick squirt in his face and immediately he stopped barking. He ran off to the porch of the single wide trailer that was his home.
I started running again but was careful to keep my backside in view, just in case that pit/boxer or whatever kind of mix it was had also decided to come after me. If necessary, I would have no problem giving him some education in proper dog behavior too.
The next two miles went by quickly. It's amazing what a burst of adrenaline can do, even after twenty plus miles.
As I ran down Highway 40 towards home, a mini-van approached and slowed down. A woman yelled at me, "What did you spray my dog with!?!?!"
"Oh just some pepper spray, it'll wear off soon," I responded.
"Why you %^&^*&!, it got all over my kids, you #$^$ (&*!"
I jumped right back at her, "What the hell am I supposed to do, let your dog bite me! It's against the law to let your dog roam and terrorize the neighborhood!"
She started shouting profanities at me: "You're a $%^^*^&^%! you F&%^%^*!"
Then, the minivan door shoved open. A teenage kid with his shirt off started yelling obscenities at me. He made motions as if he was going to jump out of the minivan. He tried to look as if he was going to lunge towards me.
"Don't do it, kid, for your own good, just don't do it, " I thought to myself.
Another thought also came into my head, "You know, if you're trying to look tough kid, you should probably put your shirt back on." He was thin and scrawny. Had he and his mother not been threatening me with obscenities, the picture he made would've been funny. He probably would not have liked it much if I'd started laughing at him at that moment.
However, I must not have been very intimidating myself, considering I was in tights and wearing a Sponge Bob hat. Nonetheless, I would have defended myself if I had to, even after running twenty-two-and-a-half miles. Of course, I probably would not have had to get physical, one squirt of pepper spray would've changed his attititude too- just as it did for his dog.
Lucky for him, he stayed in the minivan.
The woman drove ahead, pulled into another road and then turned to come back at me. As bad luck would have it, when they had caught me I had just run onto a bridge. I didn't have enough time to get off of it as they turned around and came back. The woman sped up as she came towards me. She moved her vehicle onto the shoulder on my side of the road.
Was she trying to run me over? Or just trying to scare me?
If she was trying to run me over, would I need to jump over the edge and off the bridge?
I might break a leg or hip and that water would be deep and cold, but it still would be better than getting run over.
Without any more hesitation or thought, instantly I lunged across the road to the other side. I was ready to jump off the bridge. To my relief, they stayed on their side of the road and yelled more obscenities as they passed me speeding up.
I thought long and hard about phoning this episode in to local law enforcement.
I'd done nothing wrong by pepper spraying the dog and was within my rights to defend myself. I was on public road/sidewalk. The owner was breaking the law by letting an aggressive dog run free.
Instead of doing the right thing and taking responsibility for the situation, this wonderful citizen and role model of a mother teaches her children how to act another way: do not take responsibility, blame others for the consequences of your own poor decisions (letting your aggressive dog run free) as well as how to interact with other people (run them down with your minivan and shout obscenities at them).
Incidentally, for other local runners who must deal with mean dogs, this morning I looked up the state statutes for South Dakota and found:
40-34-14. Vicious dog defined. (1) Any dog which, when unprovoked, in a vicious or terrorizing manner approaches in apparent attitude of attack, or bites, inflicts injury, assaults, or otherwise attacks a human being upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds or places;
20-9-8. Right to use force in defense of persons or property. Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of one's self, or of a wife, husband, child, parent, or other relative, or member of one's family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest.
Several weeks ago, I was attacked by another dog who jumped on me with teeth bared. I had to knee him in self defense; there wasn't time for pepper spray. Even so, that owner also yelled obscenities and berated me. If these owners are so dang fighting mad about me pepper spraying or kneeing their aggressive dogs, what would they say/do if I did something a little more permanent? I would be within my rights of self defense from a vicious dog.
No thanks, pepper spray does exactly what I need it to do.
I cannot remember how many times I've been chased or attacked by dog or dogs. I refuse to run scared. Now, with a large canister of pepper spray, I don't have to be afraid. If the dog refuses to back down with words, then pepper spray is the next step. Pepper spray hurts, but the effects it has are temporary with no long term harm. As for the woman's kids, that's too bad they touched the dog and maybe gotten some on themselves. However, it all could've been avoided had the woman not allowed her aggressive dog to run free in the first place.
The problem is not dogs but the people who own them. The owners don't properly restrain or teach their dogs any manners. Too often, they sit back and laugh as their dog bullies you. When you are forced to defend yourself because you have no other choice- now they suddenly become fighting mad. In their eyes, it's always your fault, not theirs. Of course, in the eyes of the law, they would be liable for any damages incurred. The dog could potentially be euthanized. But as I said, it isn't the dog's fault, it's the owner's.
Pepper spray works and it works well. I've never had a dog threaten me a second time, although a few bark like crazy from their front porch as I jog by.
"Bark all you want dog- just don't you ever chase me down this road again!" I think.
Now if only I only I could find away to keep the dog owners from chasing me down the road cussing me out in their minivans!
In hindsight, I suspect the person sitting in the car saying nothing while the dog threatened me was probably her teenage son. He probably enjoyed seeing his dog stop me in my tracks. I did not get a good look at the driver of that car so there is no way to know. I wonder, did he tell his mom that part of the story? Even if he had, would it have mattered? What a tough scrawny young punk his mom is raising him to be.
Anyway, it took more than a few minutes for me to calm down after this and quite a while longer as I debated calling local law enforcement, just to let them know of the situation and perhaps issue a warning to the owner.
Of course, if I did call them what would I tell them? That she tried to run me over? But could I really sure that she tried to run me over? Was she instead only trying to scare me by driving fast right next to me? There was and is no way to know, unless I foolishly instead had chosen to face her down on my side of the road to see what would happen.
I'm glad that I'm smarter than that.
Darkness fell quickly, as it always seems to do in mid-winter. I ran along Highway 40 by the light of my headlamp. There was no moon and the stars shined bright. I felt very much alone. Only an occasional car passed. Most of the surrounding terrain was Forest Service land for at least 5 miles. There were few houses in sight.
In my mind, the episode was over. The dog had learned his lesson; the owners probably not- but it was over. However, the more I thought about it, I more I thought that I had better let someone know. What if that woman had called her boyfriend and he and some friends were coming to find me right now? There were no back or side roads for me to get off the main highway. I would be an easy target. They could leave me by the side of the road bruised and bleeding or even worse. No one would ever know what had happened.
I called and left an extended voice message documenting the entire incident on Jeanne's cell, just in case something happened to me and law enforcement needed to know where to begin looking.
The last twelve miles of my run were cold and dark. Deer occasionally ran off into the trees. One snorted nervously at me several times.
I saw a set of tracks that looked different from the others. I stopped to look at them more closely. I couldn't believe it!
I've lived here almost two years and have never seen a cougar track.
Now I see two different sets of tracks in the very same day!
Part of the explanation, I think, is that we had bitterly cold weather for a few days. Now with the warmer temperatures the lions are out and hunting.
"As long as they're not out hunting me!!" I thought.
Between my previous episode earlier and thinking about mountain lions now, my mind started playing tricks on me. Every motion in the trees I thought was a mountain lion, every pickup truck that approached from behind I worried would be the woman's boyfriend and his buddies.
It is interesting what happens to your mind after 30 or so miles, especially after dark. In longer runs, it only gets worse.
Soon I turned off onto the gravel. "Only 3.5 miles to go! I'm almost home!" I thought. I called Jeanne and told her to put the sweet potatoes in the oven and get the ribeye steaks out of the 'fridge. "We're eatin' red meat tonight!"
I was relieved to be off the asphalt and away from imaginary angry boyfriends hunting me down in their pickups.
Soon, I became apprehensive about imaginary lurking feline predators.
I looked skyward and saw the dark night sky filled with stars. We have very little light pollution here in western South Dakota. To my left, in the south, I saw Orion, the Hunter, my favorite of all constellations. Orion has been my running partner on countless early morning and late night winter runs. With him looking over me, I finally felt strong and safe.
Yes, one distance and fatigue-induced delusion replaced previous ones.
As I dug deep and found my last bit of energy to finish up the last few miles of my run, I saw a set of eyes reflecting in my headlamp. Suddenly, whatever it was dropped to it's belly in the middle of the road.
What was it?
I looked more closely and was greatly relieved to see a golden retriever lying in the middle of the road wagging her (or his) tail nervously.
"Puppy! You need to go home! You can't lie in the road where someone will run over you!" I said.
She (or he) ran off 50 yards but then came back and lie down again. It wagged its tail nervously on the other side of the road as I passed. "Oh puppy, you need to go home!"
Now this is the kind of canine interaction I don't mind!
Despite all of the numerous photos in the first half of this run, I have none for the latter half.
The reason is that most of that second half was run in the dark. Although there would have been beautiful scenic vistas to be photographed during the day, there is not much to see at night by the light of a head lamp.
The photo above I took in our driveway to give you an example of what the last 14 miles in the dark looked like.
As I went the last mile up our road to our home, tears began to fill my eyes and fall into the snow.
I had tears of sadness for the patient whom I had lost earlier this week. I had even more tears of sorrow for her family who must now go on without her. I still don't understand why unfair horrible things happen to some people. I expect I never will.
And then I also had tears of joy, humility and gratitude for my family, my friends, my health, my profession and for all the good things in my life, of which there are many.
Life is such a blessing. It is a gift, really it is. Most ultrarunners are spiritual and introspective people but you do not need to be an ultrarunner or to be religious to believe life is a gift.
We must always make sure our loved ones know how we feel about them. We must live every day to the fullest and as if it will be our last. We don't know when the gift of life will end and we will never get another chance.
As I walked up to the front door of our cabin, I shut off my headlamp. I looked at my GPS to see what it said.
34 miles. Wow. I was tired but not that tired.
Wanji inyanka waste. One good run.
Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related.
Yesterday, I went for a long run. Before I set off, I wasn't sure how far I'd go, I hoped for at least 20 miles.
That day was overcast with no wind and the high temperature would be 43. We haven't had temps that high for almost two weeks so it felt like a heat wave.
Only a mile from our house a neighbor parked her pickup on the road. She opened her truck door and her black lab promptly charged me.
He didn't stop, despite my yell. He kept coming, barking and growling. As he jumped on me with mouth open and teeth bared, I kneed him HARD. He grunted as my knee connected with his soft underbelly. Then, he fell back about six feet with the wind knocked out of him.
Lucky for him, he was smart enough to jump up, turn and run back to his owner. Had he decided to continue, I might have had no other choice but to take it up to a level 4 response. (level 1 = strong words or yelling, level 2 = throwing rocks or spraying pepper spray, level 3 = physically defending oneself, level 4 = well, l'll just say that after a level 4 response, no dog ever repeats their behavior again).
The owner then proceeded to yell and berate me for "beating up her dog."
I yelled right back and told her "What the #$%#% was I supposed to do?! Wait until he bit me?!?!?!"
She then apologized. She admitted her dog is kind of a bully (no kidding!) and said he can tell when people are afraid of him (Well, he certainly didn't read me correctly, I wasn't afraid of him).
What kind of stupid dog runs towards a person growling with teeth bared and jumps on them ?
A bully who hasn't had anyone teach them that running full speed towards someone growling and then jumping up with teeth bared is never acceptable. I have no problem with a dog standing at the end of his driveway letting me know that it is his territory and I should not enter. I also don't have a problem with a dog coming up to politely smell me. But I do have a problem with unprovoked attacks.
I've been chased, nipped, bit, attacked and treed by many dogs in my life. Long ago, I promised myself to never allow myself to be bullied or attacked by any dog or pack of dogs ever again. Of course, I now also run prepared, in the event that I have no other choice but to defend myself.
Anyway, after she apologized, I apologized too (though I think she didn't deserve my apology) and we introduced ourselves. There are better ways to meet the neighbors than after kneeing their dog when it charges you.
I continued my run. At Ghost Canyon, instead of turning left and heading on my usual route towards Mt. Rushmore, I turned right towards the town of Keystone. Playhouse Road is rolling through the Black Hills National Forest with many switchbacks, much altitude gain/loss and practically no shoulder. Fortunately, there were few vehicles.
I saw a HUGE female golden eagle swoop low over the trees. I stopped running and watched her glide silently. The wingspan of golden eagles average over 7 feet in width.
What a powerful, beautiful majestic bird!
Seeing this eagle, I was both inspired and humbled. I thought to myself: "No matter what else I see or experience today, being out here and seeing her has made my run worth it."
As the eagle disappeared over a ridge, I said quietly under my breath: "Mitakuye oyasin" and continued my run.
At highway 40, I turned east and headed home. A few miles from home, I called Jeanne and Nathan to tell them I was on my way.
Finally, as the sun set low on the horizon, I walked the last half mile up our snow covered drive. I looked at my GPS: 24.3 miles. One good run!
This morning, I have only a few areas of trace muscle soreness, but nothing that will keep me from our day's chores: cutting firewood.
It is amazing what the human body can accomplish with training, time and dedication. Only 6 years ago, I would have been extremely sore and had trouble walking after only 10 or 12 mile run. 24 miles is now a nice relaxed weekend jog for me. I could do it again today.
Run on and run well!
Last week it was 4 degrees above and snowing. I decided to go for a long run.
After taking several weeks off due to my tendon injury at Lean Horse Hundred in August, I have been relieved to finally be able to run distances greater than 10 miles.
We humans are strange creatures, aren't we?
We worry about that which hasn't yet happened and which may never happen- all while at the same time forgetting to be grateful for that which we do have. We never appreciate what we have until it is lost.
I started out in a snow at four degrees above- but the temps rapidly dropped to below zero.
I meet many fair weather runners who tell me they never go out when it is cold. Now, I admit that I would much prefer a warm sunny spring or autumn day to a below-zero frigid winter run.
However, with running, just as with life in general, we cannot expect to have an endless season of perfect weather. Storms and bad weather are part of life. I think of the less pleasant days as allowing me to more appreciate the beautiful days when the they do come.
Plus, I've found that I'm as much of a procrastinator as anyone. Humans are naturally lazy- it's in our genes. I'm no different.
It is always easy to find an excuse to not run:
- "It's too cold!"
- "It's too hot!"
- "It's too early!"
- "It's too late!"
- "It's snowing!"
- "It's raining!"
- "I'm too tired!"
- "I'm too busy!"
- "I don't have time!"
And so on and so forth….
If began making excuses to not run, well quite honestly then I'd never run. So I run in all kinds of weather, no excuses! The sole exception being during an active thunderstorm when I may be in danger of being struck by lightning.
I may be insane but Im not stupid!
Some kinds of weather I definitely prefer over others. However, I am not going to let less that perfect conditions keep me inside.
Ultrarunning is all about perserverance.
By perserverance, I'm not only talking about keeping going and not giving up mile after mile during an actual race. I'm also talking about getting out and doing a training in a December blizzard at 4AM before going in to work- even when it would be easier to turn off the alarm and stay in bed a few more hours snuggled warm next to your spouse.
I love where we live.
The Black Hills of South Dakota are a well kept secret. We live on gravel roads south of Rapid City, a couple of miles east of Custer State Park.
I have miles and miles of gravel/dirt roads and trails to run on literally right off my doorstep.
Although I have enjoyed running anywhere, it is much nicer to run where there is beautiful scenery.
It makes the miles float on by. Every training run to becomes an adventure to look forward to instead of a chore to complete.
I decided to keep going after my usual mile 5 turnaround.
Instead I went out 9 miles. I stopped for a moment to eat some gel blocks and put on an extra layer.
In the distance, one could usually see Mt. Rushmore. On a clear day, the views from this overlook are exceptional. Today, however, Mt. Rushmore has completely disappeared in the clouds and snow.
I hadn't stopped for too long before I started to feel chilled.
"Get moving along!" I thought, "you need to warm up!"
For safety during winter runs, I carry a backpack filled with extra clothing, two space blackets, firemaking gear, and extra food. On today's run I was on the road and help was only a cell phone call away. However, when running trails in the mountains in the winter you need to be prepared to stay out overnight, in case of a broken bone or twisted ankle. Even less than an hour outside in cold weather without being adequately prepared could be fatal from hypothermia.
We ultrarunners may be tough, but we're not invincible.
Running in the snow with a 20 lb pack is not the most fun thing to do. However, once spring returns and I'm able to run with just a light fanny pack, it makes those runs seem all that much easier.
On the return trip I saw several whitetail and mule deer, a few wild turkeys, melanistic phase red tail hawk (much darker coloration than normal) and a great horned owl.
A fox barked at me.What blood curdling little critters they can be! I saw he (or she) scurrying off in the meadow.
Then I heard what was a cross between a "Snort!" and a "Wuff!"
It was a donkey.
He (or she) was none-too-thrilled to see me out running on the road through the trees. Those long-ears are very observant. Many times while out packing in the mountains, our mules would be the first to sense other humans or wildlife, much sooner than we did. They were always aware of others even before our horses or dogs.
Donkey, more curious than afraid, walked over towards me. Two more"snort-wuff's!" and I was past. The horses in the same pasture with donkey, appeared bored. They stared at me blankly.
Silly long ears!
Darkness fell across the land. I put my headlamp on.
During my entire run, I was passed by only three vehicles. Two of them actually turned out to be the same one, a rancher going on an out and back trip in his pickup truck to water and check on his stock.
I felt a hunger pang and opened my bottle of Chocolate Boost. Now Boost is not what I would usually consider very appetizing. However, when you're at mile 15 and feel hungry it provides needed calories to keep you going.
Indeed, when Boost has frozen thick from the cold, like some kind of milkshake, I'd even call it "delicious," in its own sort of way.
The temperatures dropped further and icicles formed on my beard.
I first grew my beard when back in Wisconsin. I do not think it is my imagination or in my head: facial hair really does take the bite out of the cold winter wind.
I felt something bouncing back and forth on my chin. It was a frozen snot-dangler!
When running in cold weather, your nose runs. A quick wipe on the sleeve or a "turn-and-blow" usually does the trick.
This little guy, however, decide to freeze just as he came out of my nose and stayed around to hang on for a ride. I tried to run all the way home with him still attached so I could proudly show him to my 9 year old son.
However, ice quickly built up on him from my breath. He finally fell off after about three miles.
Oh well, at least I have this photo to remember him by. I know this is disgusting. It's more than any of you want to know; nevertheless, I've documented it so I'll never ever forget it- that little frozen snot-dangler of mine.
Finally, I made it home!
After running the last several miles in the dark, our log cabin seemed bright and warm and cozy. I caught the scent of wood smoke from our woodstove. Much of our heat is from trees that we harvest on our own land. There is nothing like the scent of wood smoke to let you know the hearth is warm and all is well in your little log cabin in the pines.
I looked at my GPS: 18.2 miles! What a great run!
I went inside. Jeanne and Nathan remarked at the icicles in frozen beard as it quickly melted in the warmth.
Yes, winter is here!
This-coming weekend it will be sunny and in the mid-40s. I can't wait to do another long run! How far will I go? It all depends how I feel.
Good luck and run well through the New Year!
“Don’t give up… no matter what happens…
DO NOT give up!
You can do it and you WILL do it!”
I repeated this phrase to myself over and over, the entire week before Lean Horse.
This time, my third time, would be the charm. As long as I didn’t make any stupid race-ending mistakes, this year I would finish. I have run more training runs and ultramarathons over 50 miles than I can easily recall. There are only a handful of races in the 50 mile to 100 mile distance. The next step is to do a full one hundred.
“I’m ready. I will do this,” I thought, fully convinced that I would.
The Day before Race Day
Jeanne, Nathan and I headed down to Hot Springs on Friday. At registration, we were told I was the runner who lived closest to the race. There were a handful of other South Dakotans, but we live on the eastern side of Custer State Park, only an hour away.
I hoped that might give me some sort of advantage on race day. I was realistic and knew that any advantage would be minor. If anything, knowing every foot of the trail would make it easier for me to give up and stop, when I realized exactly how much farther I had to go.
At the pre-race meeting, race director Jerry Dunn made a point of telling us that cut-offs were "soft." What he meant that if we got to an aid station 15 or even 30 minutes past cut off time, we would be permitted to go on, the exception of course if we had to stop because of safety or medical reasons.
For a back-of-the packer like me, that was very reassuring. Making cut offs causes additional anxiety for those of us bringing up the rear. The only cut off that would count would be the final 30 hour cut off in Hot Springs noon Sunday. If we finished after that time, we would technically be given a DNF and would not recieve a buckle but our time would still be posted as an "unofficial" finish.
I promised myself that no matter what happened, I would keep going. I would not start to play the negative mind game in my head: "There's no hope of you making it by cut off anyway, you might as well quit."
Even if I could not make it to Hot Springs by noon Sunday, I fully intended to go 100 miles, even if it took me 31 or 32 hours. My family was crewing for me, they could follow along and bring me food and fluids, even after the race officially shut down.
Jeanne joked and told me that the car was in Hot Springs and it was up to me to get there. I was off of work Monday so I could take as long as I needed to.
We stayed at a house that had been converted to lodging by the owner. It was nice to not have someone the floor above you pounding heavily after they came back to their room intoxicated late at night or noisy kids running up and down the hall.
Chris "Haliku" drove up from Denver. Just like last year, the plan was for him to pace me from the 50 mile cut off on. He'd had some ankle and knee tweaks and wasn't sure he'd be able to go the entire 50 miles. However, by the time he would pace me, my running would be his walking.
All I needed was for him to not let me give up during the night. If I made to dawn, I knew I would finish.
The Fall River ran behind the house. Jeanne and Nathan enjoyed tubing down some of the rapids while Haliku and I arranged our gear. I preventively taped my feet as I now do before every big race. Since learning how to do that, my experiences with blisters have been minor.
The Fall River ran behind the house. Jeanne and Nathan enjoyed tubing down some of the rapids while Haliku and I arranged our gear. I preventively taped my feet as I now do before every big race. Since learning how to do that, my experiences with blisters have been minor.
I highly recommend the book "Fixing Your Feet," by John Vonhof as required reading for every ultramarathoner, adventure racer, fast-packer and long distance hiker.
Saturday- Race Day!
I awoke refreshed at 4AM. I had slept well not tossing and turning through out the night as I had before many big races in the past. I slept peacefully because I knew I in my mind and my heart that barring any unforeseen circumsances: I could do it.
If for some reason I did not, oh well, DNFing is not the end of the world, I've done it before, there would always be other chances.
I'm not planning on stopping ultramarathon running any time soon. I plan to be that 80-something year old guy winning my age group because there is no one else left in my age group (or at least placing second in my age group after Haliku).
After eating my usual pre-race breakfast of whole wheat waffles with lots of syrupm Haliku and I headed down to the race start at Mueller Civic Center.
Slowly the other runners gathered. I saw many other runners from previous ultramarathons. Teresa Verburg from Rapid City who had run her first hundred miler at Lean Horse last year. She is still the one and only woman from South Dakota to have finished Lean Horse. She was back for more this year.
We ultramarathoners are a tight-knit small community. It's always nice to catch up before, during and after the race.
The announcement was made and we all gathered outside. The weather was predicted to be hot, the mid-90s.
There's no reason to worry about that which is out of my control, I thought.
Elise from Montana was nervous. She had run only three 26.2 mile marathons before. This was her first 50 miler. I told her not to worry, she would do it.
"Just take it easy in the heat, hydrate and don't forget to eat- you'll do it! We all can do it!!!"
Suddenly, the race was on! We were off!!! One of the most difficult challenges of running and completing an ultra is holding back for the first half of the race… in a 100 miler, that constitutes concentrating on running as slowly and easily as possible for 10, 12 or even 15 hours. "Hold back so you'll have something to draw from later in the race when you really need it." I tell myself over and over as the pack drifts away. It is a lesson that I continue to focus on and re-learn. I took it easy, walking for the first five miles even before I ran a single step. I started out walking with a couple from New Jersey hiking the 50 mile race, Ned and Laura Gardner. They were long distance hikers, not runners. Unlike many shorter races where walkers are sneered down upon by runners, we ultra-thoners welcome walkers with open arms. After all, every ultra-runner includes walking breaks as part of their race tactic. Many times we are grateful when we are even able to walk. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line we believe. Going 50 or 100 miles on your own two feet is still 50 or 100 miles, no matter how you got there. On Argyle Road I left them behind and caught up with a few other runners. I jogged with Holley Lange from Colorado whom I had met at Greenland 50-k and the 24 hours at Laramie, last year. We stayed together for quite a while. Then I met and ran with Mike Haviland from California. I met him last year at the Kettle Moraine 100-k. He is a past Badwater finisher but made an impression on me at Kettle Moraine when he passed out right as I was talking to him. I remember thinking to myself, "If a Badwater finisher is passing out during this race because of heat and humidity, what the heck am I doing here?" It turned out it was due to a medication he was on, one notorious for causing low blood pressure after standing, and in some people, fainting. After the medication was stopped, no more problems. I was very relieved that he passed out because of a medication and not because of something I said. I have been accused of boring people to….well you know… The day began to warm up. I was surprised how fast the pack had headed out. Many runners who usually run at a similar pace as I do, took off. Starting out too fast was a mistake I made last year which I promised myself I would not repeat. "They're going to pay for it later, " I thought. As long as I stuck with my average 15 – 16 min/mile as long as I could, I would be able to finish and still have enough of a cushion later if I needed it. Finally we were on the Mickelson Trail. I began to see the fifty milers on their return trip. I saw to Keith Happel, an internist from Bismarck, ND that I know. I told him "Lookin' good!" He looked strong!! Then I saw Chris Stores, one of us local ultrarunners-bloggers from Bell Fourche, SD. He looked strong too and I wished him success. Right before the 24 mile aid station at Pringle, I saw Elise who also was looking good, with a smile on her face, well on her way to her first 50 mile finish. I wished every one of those fifty milers well and continued to head north. "Lookin' good" "Run on!" "Nice work!" "Good luck!" "Keep on going… you can do it… just one step in front of the other!!!" That is one of the best things about ultrarunning, we run with instead of run against each other. We're very supportive of other runners, no matter if they're the elite or the very last place finisher. It's all about getting out there and doing your best. It was then that I started passing some of the other hundred milers. I passed Bob Wray, another back-of-the packer like me. He works for Fed-Ex and is from Rapid City. He always stands out in a crowd because of the patriotic American Flag colors he wears. I met him last year at the 50 mile turnaround and again this year at the Mystic Mountain trail race. Bob didn't look too good. I think he mumbled something about starting out too fast. I encouraged him to not give up, take some time to rest and rehyrate at the next aid station if necessary but don't give up. I didn't see him again after that. At every aid station I put ice under my hat. At one aid station, they had no extra ice so one of the aid station volunteers pulled out some red ice from the sports drink for me to put under my hat. Beggars cannot be choosers, at least my sweat tasted sweet after that! I started out drinking only about one bottle of sports drink (HEED or SUCCEED Amino) between aid station, or about one per hour. I took one SUCCEED! salt cap per hour. Then, in the heat of the afternoon I switched to plain water only- two water bottles per hour, with some additional water from my Camelback if I emptied my water bottles before the next aid station. Even though I lost my appetite from the heat, I forced myself to eat. I was not about to repeat the same mistake I made last year. For some reason, I cannot tolerate energy gels after about mile 30 or 35, they make me want to gag. I've found that "real" food I tolerate better. I settled into a pattern of taking a half a turkey sandwich and/or banana at each aid station. If I couldn't eat it rght there, I would nibble on it so that it was gone before the next aid station. Sports Jelly Beans and Clif Blocks eaten a few at a time, after eating some real solid food, I did fine with. I met Jim Newton from Texas. We flip-flopped all afternoon, alternating between who was in front and who was behind. At one point between aid stations, his crew offered me some ice to put under my hat. A simple deed like that is appreciated more than any words can express. Despite being from down south, Jim was struggling with the heat as we all were. I stuck with my conservative pace. I convinced myself that if I could focus on fast-walking as fast as I could slow-run, then why bother running? I maintained my 15 min/mile average pace through the day, relaxed in knowing that I only needed an 18 min/mile overall average to finish before final cut off. Last year at this point, I was averaging a 12 or 13 min/mile, much much too fast and part of the reason I bonked so hard later in the night. My crew, Jeanne, Nathan and Chris "Haliku" met me at each aid station. A chair was set out for me. Jeanne gave me a towel soaked in ice water to wipe the salt and sweat from my face. What a treat! They filled my water bottles, put ice under my hat and replaced my food supply. They asked what I needed but didn't allow me to dawdle. I past many other runners simply because I was in and out of the aid stations faster than they were. Some of the volunteers remarked how fast and efficient they were: "like a NASCAR crew!" I had the best crew EVER! With support and a crew like this how could I possibly fail? Now if only I could be as fast at running as my crew is at crewing! At Carroll Creek Aid Station, I felt a little dizzy and trace of nausea. "I must be getting dehydrated," I thought to myself. As soon as I arrived, I drank an extra water bottle and took two salt caps which seemed to settle the problem. I believe that during this race and the training leading up to it, I've finally learned how to eat/drink while not upseting my stomach over long periods, incuding the afternoon heat. Nathan decided to join me. The next aid station would be Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36 or so. Since I was mostly walking or jogging slowly at that time, I encouraged him to come along. Even though the temperatures was now 93-94, he stayed with me the entire way. Jeanne stopped with the car every time the trail came near the road to ask if Nathan wanted to stop. She was worried he would hold me back. Each time he paused before answered, "No, I'd like to go with Daddy. I can do it!" He fast walked the entire 5.5 miles into Harbach Park without whining or complaining. I'm so proud! Someday, perhaps sooner than I will be ready for, it may very well be me who is the pacer and crew while Nathan runs his first ultra. We've talked with him trying a 5-k or a children's fun run sometime. I refuse to push him into doing something he is not interested in or not ready for. He has his entire life to decide what it is he likes to do and what he is good at. Too many parents push their children into too many activities too soon. It results in the opposite from what is desired- a strong dislike rather than passion for that activity. Holley came in to Harbach looking tired and dizzy as I was getting ready to leave. I told her to not give up yet, drink and rest before she made up her mind. As I headed out of Custer, I saw the front runner, Akos Konya, jogging effortlessly on the return trip. Amazing! I love out and back races because we get to glimpse the winners and front runners as the pass by us on the return. On the way up the hill to Mountain Trailhead (mile 40 or so), I met a gentleman I had met at the Javelina Jundred last fall. Ultrarunning really is a small world. We talked about creation, the universe, science, religion, God and medicine- some pretty heavy stuff. Conserving my energy, I actually let him do most of the talking, which anyone who has ever run with me will be sure to tell you, is usually not my style. The next mile and a half to the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument is relatively flat. I went for a short time with a young man from Minot, ND: Ben Clark. At age 18, he was an anomaly. The average age of ultrarunners is around 55. On Monday he would be starting in college, with plans to study mechanical engineering. If he is able to run a 100 mile ultra at age 18, who knows what he will be able to accomplish if he sets his mind to it? I wished him well as he jogged on. Soon we were going downhill and I was able to pick up speed. The three or so miles past Crazy Horse Monument are all downhill on the way out….and all uphill on the way back. I had already promised myself that I would walk every single step up that hill on the return trip. What's three miles out of a hundred? As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. I felt good. I began to see more runners on the way back. One woman asked, "Are you Chris's brother?" "Yes, I am!" I answered. It was Joyce, a mutual friend of two of other running friends of mine, Jarom Thurston and Lisa Nicholls. Chris had met Jarom, Lisa and Joyce last year when they were running 24 hours at Boulder. Joyce ran strong and fast. She was well on her way to a sub-24 hour finish. As I ran down the hill, I man on a bike caught up with me, Raj. He had seen the Native American Flute I was carrying and was curious. I had played it earlier in the day. However now that the wind had picked up, I held off until night fell because the wind would steal away my notes. Raj's wife, Anu Singh was running her first hundred miler being paced by their friend Rajeev Patel. Rajeev had given me a hug of encouragement at the race registration the day before. They had been conservative during the heat of the day and now passed me making up for lost time. Raj and I spoke about the Wakan Paha Sapa or sacred Black Hills and how running, at least for me, is as much of a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. I explained how this place is sacred to the Lakota and many other nations. As they went on their way, I told him to not forget: Mitakuye Oyasin- We are all related. Others told me how strong I looked. I thanked them and agreed. I felt strong; but pushed such thoughts out of my head. Ultras are run one mile, one foot step at a time. It is risky to get overconfident and count your buckles before you've finished. Just before Oreville, I started to feel a dull ache in the front part of my lower leg. It didn't hurt that bad, only a minor annoyance I thought. No big deal. I kept running and ignored the slight discomfort. As I approached Buckaroo aid station I told everyone "I see you again in a few minutes!" It was only a half mile out to the 50 mile turnaround and back. Suddenly, only two hundred yards from Buckaroo, I felt a severe excrutiating pain inside my leg, as if it was ripping open on the inside. I could not bear weight and almost fell flat on my face. I limped back to Buckaroo, frustrated and upset. I tried running and again I almost fell flat on my face due to the pain. What was it? I had no superficial pain or swelling. It was all deep inside. The pain came on so suddenly and without warning, I was deeply concerned that it might be a stress fracture. Whatever it was, there was no way for me go on. I know a woman who ran 40 miles on a stress fracture to finish a 100 mile race, I wasn't about to let that be me. It was hard for me to stop, since I felt so good otherwise. My stomach had held up, I was still able to eat and drink. My legs felt strong, other than the pain inside my right lower leg.It was as if I had run only 20 miles instead of 50 miles. I knew I had at least another 20 or 30 miles in me before it would have started to get really hard. What would have happened then? There is no way for me to know. I was upset about stopping so early but trying to go on but the only option that made sense was to stop- so I did. We drove back to Custer and Harbach Park. Chris was itching to run- last year I DNF'd on him just before Harbach Park. Now the year he wasn't going to be able to run or walk a single step! We thought that perhap we could catch Joyce or some other runner who needed a pacer and Chris could run with them. Joyce came in running strong and Chris went with her. For a moment, he was unsure if he'd be able to keep up with her. Holley was still there. She had dropped in the afternoon after I had seen her but had not yet found a ride back to the race start. We gave her and another runner, Don Gibson from Georgia, a ride back to Hot Springs. It turns out that Don had passed me with another runner the final two miles of Strolling Jim 40 mile this spring. Ultramarathoning is such a small community! Sunday- The Day After After a good night's sleep, we had a good breakfast and went down to the Mueller Civic Center to see the last of the runners come in. Many of the runners I had been running with were now finishing in 28 -29 hours. "I could have been one of them," I thought sadly, "Oh well. There will always be next year." I have no idea who this lady was, but she had her foot out for all of us to see and others were taking pictures, so I did too. It hurt me just to look at it! I looked at the race results and saw how the others did: Unfortunately, I was not alone in DNFing; many of my friends and new found aquaintances ended up DNFing as well. No one from South Dakota finished the 100 mile race this year: As we drove home, I thought about the race and my reason for DNFing. Making it to mile 50 feeling strong and having survived the heat is not something I should be ashamed of. Many much stronger and faster runners also dropped., I was certainly not alone. Still I felt sad. I knew I had it in me to make it the full hundred. I knew I did. And yet after all of my hard work and training, something sudden and completely unexpected happened which forced me to stop. Post Race Week The pain in my leg was tolerable with walking but I was still anxious that it would be a stress fracture. Stress fractures can be deceiving. As the pain goes away, one may be tempted to begin running again when that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Where a stress fracture in the foot might take only 6 weeks to heal, one in the tibia could take 8 to 12 weeks or more and a pelvic stress fracture as long as 6 months. If it were a stress fracture, and I could not run for three months, I'd be a basket case. I went to an orthopedic surgeon/sport med doc Tuesday. Dr. Papendick was very nice and did not tell me I was crazy for running as far as I do (even if he may have thought it). An x-ray may not show any abnormality for 3 weeks, until bone remodeling begins. We decided to get an MRI. It proved to me why I had the feeling of something literally ripping apart inside my leg. I was relieved to learn I don't have a stress fracture. I have a tear or partial tear of one of the tendons on the antero-lateral portion of my lower tibia. It won't take as long as a stress fracture to heal. Its only a minor tendon, not an essential one such as the Achilles. So what did I do wrong? Nothing that I can tell. Sometimes things like this just happen. If running ultramarathons were easy and finishing was guaranteed, then everyone would be doing them. In hindsight, I did feel some minor point tenderness at exactly the same location where the tear is after my last long run, the 42 miler I did a month ago. I am sure that was the beginning of it. The pain went away in a couple of days so there was no warning how serious of an injury I would experience later. I'm glad that it happened at the beginning of the off-season instead of in the spring. Hopefully with time and rest, I'll be back as strong as ever. Some Final Thoughts Even though I was and still am upset about not finishing or even going farther in distance than I ever have before, I have much to be grateful for. I seem to have finally discovered the secret to staying hydrated and being able to eat during the heat of the day. I may still battle stomach problems in the future. However, with this run I have proven to myself beyond a doubt that it is possible for me to go far under difficult conditions while staying hydrated and well-fed. I also did well in pacing myself conservatively but perfectly for the conditions. Not too fast and not too slow. I don't know what would've happened at mile 70 or 80 but I do know I did a good job pacing myself so I could get there. In my heart and mind, I now truly believe, more than ever, that 100 miles is within my grasp. Yes, it is. Next time- and there will definitely be a next time- might be the time I succeed. If not, then as long as I learn and grow from each experience, it will be worth it. I know I will finish 100 miles someday…I CAN and I WILL. At the post-race ceremony, I looked around and realized, I was among friends. If anything, this race has proven to me that there is much more to ultrarunning than running. We all start every race intending to finish. Ultrarunning, however, is more than buckles, place or even finishing- quite simply it is about the people. We may all run for different reasons and at different speeds but we are all in this together. These are my friends, this is my tribe. In this group of people, I include not only other ultrarunners but also my family, friends, crew, volunteers and everyone who makes what we do possible. Any of you who read this- runner, walker or a little of both…. don't be afraid to come run, jog, shuffle, hike or walk with us. What you do for a living, how fast or slow you are, your age, your gender or your ethnicity, how many races you've run, how many you've finished and how many you've DNF'd- none of that matters. With open arms, we welcome you all to join our family of ultrarunning. Mitakuye Oyasin….
Suddenly, the race was on! We were off!!!
One of the most difficult challenges of running and completing an ultra is holding back for the first half of
the race… in a 100 miler, that constitutes concentrating on running as slowly and easily as possible for 10, 12 or even 15 hours.
"Hold back so you'll have something to draw from later in the race when you really need it." I tell myself over and over as the pack drifts away.
It is a lesson that I continue to focus on and re-learn.
I took it easy, walking for the first five miles even before I ran a single step.
I started out walking with a couple from New Jersey hiking the 50 mile race, Ned and Laura Gardner. They were long distance hikers, not runners.
Unlike many shorter races where walkers are sneered down upon by runners, we ultra-thoners welcome walkers with open arms. After all, every ultra-runner includes walking breaks as part of their race tactic. Many times we are grateful when we are even able to walk. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line we believe.
Going 50 or 100 miles on your own two feet is still 50 or 100 miles, no matter how you got there.
On Argyle Road I left them behind and caught up with a few other runners. I jogged with Holley Lange from Colorado whom I had met at Greenland 50-k and the 24 hours at Laramie, last year. We stayed together for quite a while.
Then I met and ran with Mike Haviland from California. I met him last year at the Kettle Moraine 100-k. He is a past Badwater finisher but made an impression on me at Kettle Moraine when he passed out right as I was talking to him.
I remember thinking to myself, "If a Badwater finisher is passing out during this race because of heat and humidity, what the heck am I doing here?"
It turned out it was due to a medication he was on, one notorious for causing low blood pressure after standing, and in some people, fainting. After the medication was stopped, no more problems.
I was very relieved that he passed out because of a medication and not because of something I said. I have been accused of boring people to….well you know…
The day began to warm up. I was surprised how fast the pack had headed out. Many runners who usually run at a similar pace as I do, took off. Starting out too fast was a mistake I made last year which I promised myself I would not repeat.
"They're going to pay for it later, " I thought. As long as I stuck with my average 15 – 16 min/mile as long as I could, I would be able to finish and still have enough of a cushion later if I needed it.
Finally we were on the Mickelson Trail. I began to see the fifty milers on their return trip.
I saw to Keith Happel, an internist from Bismarck, ND that I know. I told him "Lookin' good!"
He looked strong!!
Then I saw Chris Stores, one of us local ultrarunners-bloggers from Bell Fourche, SD. He looked strong too and I wished him success.
Right before the 24 mile aid station at Pringle, I saw Elise who also was looking good, with a smile on her face, well on her way to her first 50 mile finish.
I wished every one of those fifty milers well and continued to head north.
"Keep on going… you can do it… just one step in front of the other!!!"
That is one of the best things about ultrarunning, we run with instead of run against each other. We're very supportive of other runners, no matter if they're the elite or the very last place finisher.
It's all about getting out there and doing your best.
It was then that I started passing some of the other hundred milers.
I passed Bob Wray, another back-of-the packer like me. He works for Fed-Ex and is from Rapid City. He always stands out in a crowd because of the patriotic American Flag colors he wears. I met him last year at the 50 mile turnaround and again this year at the Mystic Mountain trail race.
Bob didn't look too good. I think he mumbled something about starting out too fast. I encouraged him to not give up, take some time to rest and rehyrate at the next aid station if necessary but don't give up.
I didn't see him again after that.
At every aid station I put ice under my hat. At one aid station, they had no extra ice so one of the aid station volunteers pulled out some red ice from the sports drink for me to put under my hat. Beggars cannot be choosers, at least my sweat tasted sweet after that!
I started out drinking only about one bottle of sports drink (HEED or SUCCEED Amino) between aid station, or about one per hour. I took one SUCCEED! salt cap per hour.
Then, in the heat of the afternoon I switched to plain water only- two water bottles per hour, with some additional water from my Camelback if I emptied my water bottles before the next aid station.
Even though I lost my appetite from the heat, I forced myself to eat. I was not about to repeat the same mistake I made last year. For some reason, I cannot tolerate energy gels after about mile 30 or 35, they make me want to gag. I've found that "real" food I tolerate better.
I settled into a pattern of taking a half a turkey sandwich and/or banana at each aid station. If I couldn't eat it rght there, I would nibble on it so that it was gone before the next aid station. Sports Jelly Beans and Clif Blocks eaten a few at a time, after eating some real solid food, I did fine with.
I met Jim Newton from Texas. We flip-flopped all afternoon, alternating between who was in front and who was behind. At one point between aid stations, his crew offered me some ice to put under my hat.
A simple deed like that is appreciated more than any words can express.
Despite being from down south, Jim was struggling with the heat as we all were. I stuck with my conservative pace. I convinced myself that if I could focus on fast-walking as fast as I could slow-run, then why bother running?
I maintained my 15 min/mile average pace through the day, relaxed in knowing that I only needed an 18 min/mile overall average to finish before final cut off.
Last year at this point, I was averaging a 12 or 13 min/mile, much much too fast and part of the reason I bonked so hard later in the night.
My crew, Jeanne, Nathan and Chris "Haliku" met me at each aid station. A chair was set out for me. Jeanne gave me a towel soaked in ice water to wipe the salt and sweat from my face.
What a treat!
They filled my water bottles, put ice under my hat and replaced my food supply. They asked what I needed but didn't allow me to dawdle. I past many other runners simply because I was in and out of the aid stations faster than they were.
Some of the volunteers remarked how fast and efficient they were: "like a NASCAR crew!"
I had the best crew EVER! With support and a crew like this how could I possibly fail? Now if only I could be as fast at running as my crew is at crewing!
At Carroll Creek Aid Station, I felt a little dizzy and trace of nausea. "I must be getting dehydrated," I thought to myself. As soon as I arrived, I drank an extra water bottle and took two salt caps which seemed to settle the problem.
I believe that during this race and the training leading up to it, I've finally learned how to eat/drink while not upseting my stomach over long periods, incuding the afternoon heat.
Nathan decided to join me. The next aid station would be Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36 or so. Since I was mostly walking or jogging slowly at that time, I encouraged him to come along. Even though the temperatures was now 93-94, he stayed with me the entire way.
Jeanne stopped with the car every time the trail came near the road to ask if Nathan wanted to stop. She was worried he would hold me back.
Each time he paused before answered, "No, I'd like to go with Daddy. I can do it!"
He fast walked the entire 5.5 miles into Harbach Park without whining or complaining.
I'm so proud!
Someday, perhaps sooner than I will be ready for, it may very well be me who is the pacer and crew while Nathan runs his first ultra.
We've talked with him trying a 5-k or a children's fun run sometime. I refuse to push him into doing something he is not interested in or not ready for. He has his entire life to decide what it is he likes to do and what he is good at.
Too many parents push their children into too many activities too soon. It results in the opposite from what is desired- a strong dislike rather than passion for that activity.
Holley came in to Harbach looking tired and dizzy as I was getting ready to leave. I told her to not give up yet, drink and rest before she made up her mind.
As I headed out of Custer, I saw the front runner, Akos Konya, jogging effortlessly on the return trip. Amazing! I love out and back races because we get to glimpse the winners and front runners as the pass by us on the return.
On the way up the hill to Mountain Trailhead (mile 40 or so), I met a gentleman I had met at the Javelina Jundred last fall. Ultrarunning really is a small world. We talked about creation, the universe, science, religion, God and medicine- some pretty heavy stuff.
Conserving my energy, I actually let him do most of the talking, which anyone who has ever run with me will be sure to tell you, is usually not my style.
The next mile and a half to the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument is relatively flat. I went for a short time with a young man from Minot, ND: Ben Clark. At age 18, he was an anomaly. The average age of ultrarunners is around 55. On Monday he would be starting in college, with plans to study mechanical engineering.
If he is able to run a 100 mile ultra at age 18, who knows what he will be able to accomplish if he sets his mind to it? I wished him well as he jogged on.
Soon we were going downhill and I was able to pick up speed. The three or so miles past Crazy Horse Monument are all downhill on the way out….and all uphill on the way back. I had already promised myself that I would walk every single step up that hill on the return trip.
What's three miles out of a hundred?
As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. I felt good. I began to see more runners on the way back.
One woman asked, "Are you Chris's brother?"
"Yes, I am!" I answered.
It was Joyce, a mutual friend of two of other running friends of mine, Jarom Thurston and Lisa Nicholls. Chris had met Jarom, Lisa and Joyce last year when they were running 24 hours at Boulder.
Joyce ran strong and fast. She was well on her way to a sub-24 hour finish.
As I ran down the hill, I man on a bike caught up with me, Raj. He had seen the Native American Flute I was carrying and was curious. I had played it earlier in the day. However now that the wind had picked up, I held off until night fell because the wind would steal away my notes.
Raj's wife, Anu Singh was running her first hundred miler being paced by their friend Rajeev Patel. Rajeev had given me a hug of encouragement at the race registration the day before. They had been conservative during the heat of the day and now passed me making up for lost time.
Raj and I spoke about the Wakan Paha Sapa or sacred Black Hills and how running, at least for me, is as much of a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. I explained how this place is sacred to the Lakota and many other nations.
As they went on their way, I told him to not forget: Mitakuye Oyasin- We are all related.
Others told me how strong I looked. I thanked them and agreed. I felt strong; but pushed such thoughts out of my head. Ultras are run one mile, one foot step at a time. It is risky to get overconfident and count your buckles before you've finished.
Just before Oreville, I started to feel a dull ache in the front part of my lower leg. It didn't hurt that bad, only a minor annoyance I thought. No big deal. I kept running and ignored the slight discomfort.
As I approached Buckaroo aid station I told everyone "I see you again in a few minutes!" It was only a half mile out to the 50 mile turnaround and back.
Suddenly, only two hundred yards from Buckaroo, I felt a severe excrutiating pain inside my leg, as if it was ripping open on the inside. I could not bear weight and almost fell flat on my face. I limped back to Buckaroo, frustrated and upset. I tried running and again I almost fell flat on my face due to the pain.
What was it?
I had no superficial pain or swelling. It was all deep inside. The pain came on so suddenly and without warning, I was deeply concerned that it might be a stress fracture. Whatever it was, there was no way for me go on. I know a woman who ran 40 miles on a stress fracture to finish a 100 mile race, I wasn't about to let that be me.
It was hard for me to stop, since I felt so good otherwise. My stomach had held up, I was still able to eat and drink. My legs felt strong, other than the pain inside my right lower leg.It was as if I had run only 20 miles instead of 50 miles.
I knew I had at least another 20 or 30 miles in me before it would have started to get really hard. What would have happened then? There is no way for me to know.
I was upset about stopping so early but trying to go on but the only option that made sense was to stop- so I did.
We drove back to Custer and Harbach Park. Chris was itching to run- last year I DNF'd on him just before Harbach Park.
Now the year he wasn't going to be able to run or walk a single step!
We thought that perhap we could catch Joyce or some other runner who needed a pacer and Chris could run with them. Joyce came in running strong and Chris went with her. For a moment, he was unsure if he'd be able to keep up with her.
Holley was still there. She had dropped in the afternoon after I had seen her but had not yet found a ride back to the race start. We gave her and another runner, Don Gibson from Georgia, a ride back to Hot Springs. It turns out that Don had passed me with another runner the final two miles of Strolling Jim 40 mile this spring.
Ultramarathoning is such a small community!
Sunday- The Day After
After a good night's sleep, we had a good breakfast and went down to the Mueller Civic Center to see the last of the runners come in. Many of the runners I had been running with were now finishing in 28 -29 hours.
"I could have been one of them," I thought sadly, "Oh well. There will always be next year."
I have no idea who this lady was, but she had her foot out for all of us to see and others were taking pictures, so I did too. It hurt me just to look at it!
I looked at the race results and saw how the others did:
Unfortunately, I was not alone in DNFing; many of my friends and new found aquaintances ended up DNFing as well. No one from South Dakota finished the 100 mile race this year:
As we drove home, I thought about the race and my reason for DNFing. Making it to mile 50 feeling strong and having survived the heat is not something I should be ashamed of. Many much stronger and faster runners also dropped., I was certainly not alone.
Still I felt sad. I knew I had it in me to make it the full hundred. I knew I did. And yet after all of my hard work and training, something sudden and completely unexpected happened which forced me to stop.
Post Race Week
The pain in my leg was tolerable with walking but I was still anxious that it would be a stress fracture. Stress fractures can be deceiving. As the pain goes away, one may be tempted to begin running again when that is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Where a stress fracture in the foot might take only 6 weeks to heal, one in the tibia could take 8 to 12 weeks or more and a pelvic stress fracture as long as 6 months.
If it were a stress fracture, and I could not run for three months, I'd be a basket case.
I went to an orthopedic surgeon/sport med doc Tuesday. Dr. Papendick was very nice and did not tell me I was crazy for running as far as I do (even if he may have thought it).
An x-ray may not show any abnormality for 3 weeks, until bone remodeling begins. We decided to get an MRI. It proved to me why I had the feeling of something literally ripping apart inside my leg.
I was relieved to learn I don't have a stress fracture. I have a tear or partial tear of one of the tendons on the antero-lateral portion of my lower tibia. It won't take as long as a stress fracture to heal. Its only a minor tendon, not an essential one such as the Achilles.
So what did I do wrong?
Nothing that I can tell. Sometimes things like this just happen. If running ultramarathons were easy and finishing was guaranteed, then everyone would be doing them.
In hindsight, I did feel some minor point tenderness at exactly the same location where the tear is after my last long run, the 42 miler I did a month ago. I am sure that was the beginning of it. The pain went away in a couple of days so there was no warning how serious of an injury I would experience later.
I'm glad that it happened at the beginning of the off-season instead of in the spring. Hopefully with time and rest, I'll be back as strong as ever.
Some Final Thoughts
Even though I was and still am upset about not finishing or even going farther in distance than I ever have before, I have much to be grateful for.
I seem to have finally discovered the secret to staying hydrated and being able to eat during the heat of the day. I may still battle stomach problems in the future. However, with this run I have proven to myself beyond a doubt that it is possible for me to go far under difficult conditions while staying hydrated and well-fed.
I also did well in pacing myself conservatively but perfectly for the conditions. Not too fast and not too slow. I don't know what would've happened at mile 70 or 80 but I do know I did a good job pacing myself so I could get there.
In my heart and mind, I now truly believe, more than ever, that 100 miles is within my grasp.
Yes, it is.
Next time- and there will definitely be a next time- might be the time I succeed. If not, then as long as I learn and grow from each experience, it will be worth it.
I know I will finish 100 miles someday…I CAN and I WILL.
At the post-race ceremony, I looked around and realized, I was among friends. If anything, this race has proven to me that there is much more to ultrarunning than running.
We all start every race intending to finish. Ultrarunning, however, is more than buckles, place or even finishing- quite simply it is about the people.
We may all run for different reasons and at different speeds but we are all in this together. These are my friends, this is my tribe. In this group of people, I include not only other ultrarunners but also my family, friends, crew, volunteers and everyone who makes what we do possible.
Any of you who read this- runner, walker or a little of both…. don't be afraid to come run, jog, shuffle, hike or walk with us. What you do for a living, how fast or slow you are, your age, your gender or your ethnicity, how many races you've run, how many you've finished and how many you've DNF'd- none of that matters.
With open arms, we welcome you all to join our family of ultrarunning.
The last week before a big race, I am a bundle of eager anticipation. Part of it is that I am looking forward to all that I have worked so hard to prepare for; part of it is that during taper, I’ve cut back my mileage so much that I have a lot of extra energy.
It’s difficult to find something to do during taper. My body and mind miss running. While I crave doing something, anything, I also need avoid doing activities that would be counter-productive or put me at risk for injury, such as try to cut an entire winter’s firewood in one weekend (been there, done that).
So Nathan and I decided to go fly fishing this afternoon.
Last week, he used a spin-casting reel and rod at Legion Lake and caught nothing, just like everyone else at the lake using bait or lures. At the same time, I caught a small mouth bass after bass, using dry flies.
Nathan has never been fly fishing before; this was his first time. It took a little bit of time for him to get used to fly casting. He still needs to practice casting delicately instead of whipping the rod back and forth (I know many adults who haven’t mastered this technique yet, even after years).
We went into the Grace Coolidge Walk-in Fishing Area of nearby Custer State Park. On small mountain streams, placing the fly involves more of a flick of the wrist than classic fly casting anyway.
One of the best aspects of fishing small streams is that if fish are present, you are guaranteed to see them. Catching them is another matter, but at least you know they’re there. Plus, even if the fish aren’t biting, you always are rewarded with seeing other things of interest.
Today we saw a small mink. Nathan was mesmerized. We watched it alternate between swimming and crawling out of the water. It was like an energetic tiny brown otter. As it finally disappeared into the weeds, we could smell its musky odor. Nathan will never ever forget what a mink looks, acts or smells like.
We had many strikes, but most spit out the fly. Setting the hook is another technique he needs to practice. It takes a light, quick but firm touch. Too hard and the hook is pulled away; too light or too late and the fish is gone.
Finally, one stayed on the line- it was a small rainbow trout!
After taking the photo, I taught Nathan how to gently revive he fish before releasing him back into the stream.
It was a great time. Before I know it, Nathan will be out-fishing me. He’ll be the expert teaching his Dad how to fly fish instead of the other way around.
Isn’t that the way it should be?
After finishing 2nd overall place at the PATOOT 10-k race a few weeks ago, I decided to do another short race.
The Runner's Shop, our local running store sponsors the Mystic Mountain 8 mile trail race (actually closer to 7.5 miles).
I decided to try it in my Five Finger KSOs. I admit that I am hooked to them. I can't run as fast in rocks because I must pick and choose my way carefully but I love how I can feel the earth beneath my feet.
For someone who is already slow, what's the problem with being a few minutes slower?
As usual, many noticed my unusual footwear and some asked me about them.
Maybe I'll start a trend?
I saw two colleagues, a nephrologist and a cardiologist, whom I know. It was nice to see people that I know from outside the running community. Now if only we could get more of our patients out and exercising, walking even.
The first few miles were on gravel road to the town-site of Mystic. As usual, the speed goats sprinted off. I'm used to more sedate starts. At ultras, even the elite begin at an easy relaxed jog. Of course a relaxed jog for them is speed training for me.
Along the way, I saw a guy who I had met at Lean Horse Hundred last year. He works for Fed-Ex. He was wearing the US Flag colors again, that is the only way I recognized him. He DNF'd at Lean Horse Hundred at mile 55 (I dropped at mile 65). He is planning on trying for 100 miles again this year so I'll see him at the race.
Hopefully we will both be able to do it!
The race soon left the gravel and headed up a single track, the Bright Angel Trail. Many took it fast, but I caught a few later as the tired.
My kind of running!
Parts of the trail were rocky and I had to slow down to pick my way. It hurts to kick a rock in shoes, in the KSOs you might break a toe. Ow! I don't want to do that.
One of the fun things about KSOs is that you can run right through mud puddles and streams. In shoes, you try to avoid water to keep from getting blisters. In KSOs, there is nothing to rub on and they are so light and minimal that they dry out in 50 yards or so.
As I came up one hill, suddenly I felt severe pain in my calf. I'd pulled a calf muscle!
I had never had anything like this before. I stopped and tried rubbing the pain out and stretching but to no avail. I was reduced to walking up the last big hill before the finish.
At the top, the aid station remarked how impressed he was that I was doing the race in KSOs. He would've been more impressed had I been actually running at that time.
He told me there were only two miles left and they were all downhill.
Running downhill did not hurt as much because it did not put as much stress on my calves and achilles.
Hmmmm…. I started jogging and then running. Even though it hurt, I was able to ignore it. All pain ends- eventually.
I decided to blast down that hill to the finish. I ended up passing five people (or was it six?) on the way down. I never get to do that in ultras. If someone is close enough for me to see, chances are we'll end up running and finishing together. Ultras are about running with and not against others.
My calves were tight and sore all week. Soaking in the hot tub, a few acupuncture needles, using the foam roller and taking naproxen helped.
So what happened?
I know exactly the cause: running down the rocky trail forced me up on my toes. Although that protected my heels, it stressed my calves and achilles in ways they had not been before. That overstressed them and eventually led to a pulled muscle.
As soon as I'm done with this post, I'll be out the door to do a 30+ mile long run. I can barely feel as if I did anything to my calves last weekend. I'll be wearing shoes today, my feet need a break. I love the KSOs, I might even try a 26.2m or a 50k in them someday. But as with anything new or different, I need to be careful to not be too overzealous and injure myself.
Fortunately, this seems to only be a minor acute injury. I can handle those- it's those nagging chronic overuse injuries that worry me the most. I'd be stir-crazy if I had to take weeks or months off from running entirely.
One of my peeves is when I am introduced as "Tom…the marathoner." Usually this is by non-runners who do not understand why anyone would run 26.2 miles- much less 50 or more. They are just trying to be friendly and sociable, they have no intent of irritating me.
Now, I have absolutely nothing at all against marathoners or running 26.2m marathons. I have run a few marathons myself; they're fun and they make great training runs. Getting out there and running is what counts, no matter if your chosen event is 5-k, 13.1m, 26.2m or beyond. I respect and appreciate everyone's ability and reasons for running, it is not about the distance or the races.
And yet, I'm annoyed when I am called a marathoner..
"I'm an ultramarathoner-not a marathoner!" I correct them.
This usually draws a blank stare and the question: "What's an ultramarathon?" There are more bank stares as I explain the difference.
"You're insane!" they finally tell me. I nod my head and smile, "Darn right I am!"
How is it possible to explain why I run to people who don't exercise? To explain to people whose primary physical activity is walking from the couch to the refrigerator? If I can't explain why I run, how could I ever explain why I run as far as I do? It's impossible, so I don't even bother trying.
I don't like being called a marathoner for a variety of reasons; it is not only because of the difference in distance. Marathons were once "on the fringe" and people who ran them were considered "crazy" (they still are by most non-runners). However, the last few decades, marathons have gone mainstream. The events have become heavily commercialized. It seems that now everyone is running a marathon. That's great. However, in all of this new-found popularity, many have lost sight of why we run in the first place.
Many marathoners are focused on time and achieving a PB. I respect that. Perhaps if I wasn't such a slow runner, I might focus on that also. A marathoner once told me that he is amazed by what I do. The fact is, I am amazed by folks who are able to go 26.2m at a pace that me the slow ultra-tortoise would consider a sprint.
For me and many other ultramarathoners, going long is not about the time or pace, or for that matter, even the distance. It is about learning about ourselves, overcoming adversity, realizing how small and insignificant we humans really are, enjoying and being a part of nature, and re-learning what the important things in life are.
I just can't get that feeling running through the paved streets of a distant city with thousands of strangers, despite how much fun a 26.2 mile party can be.
Of course, there are many many people who run 26.2m marathons and shorter races or who don't even run any races at all, but who run for the same reasons ultrrarunners do. I consider such runners to be ultramarathoners in attitude and spirit, if not in distance.
This weekend I ran my best long run since my 100-kilometers at the Javelina Jundred in November. I'm training for the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 mile in March to be followed by the Bighorn 50 mile in June. My plan was to go at least 22 or 24 miles.
A storm system is blowing through the Black Hills the past few days. It was cold, about -1 F (-18.3 C). I'm sorry that I don't have any photos because the batteries in my camera didn't work in the cold.
A light snow fell all day but there was only an inch or two on the ground. I ran along snow covered gravel dirt roads and saw only one pick-up truck on my way out. Some parts were slick and icy but my Yak Trax Pros kept me from sliding too much.
The snow-covered forest was magical. Except for occasional flocks of chickadees and nuthatches in the distance, the forest was silent. I turned onto Highway 16A or the Norbeck Scenic Byway. I soon reached a locked gate with a sign: "ROAD CLOSED No vehicles beyond this point."
I pressed on and was surprised to see how quickly nature was trying to take back the road, even though it had been closed only for a few months. There were branches and even a tree lying across it. Before the road opens again in the spring, road maintanence has a lot of work to do.
The Norbeck Scenic Byway is a favorite of tourists coming to the Black Hills. It is known for its tunnels, pigtail bridges and views of Mt Rushmore. In the summer, there are plenty of cars and RVs traveling on this road.
Now in the off season, I had it entirely to myself.
I looked at my GPS… 12 miles, I felt really good, no need to turn back now, I thought. Plus, I was curious about what lay ahead of me. I decided to keep going at least until I made it to the top of the mountain.
I took plenty of walk breaks and finished the last of my Boost. It tasted much better now that ice crystals had formed in it. As the altitude increased, the temperatures grew colder. My fingers started to ache so I put wool mittens over my gloves.
I passed through a small tunnel and noticed an opening in the pines. Off in the distance, the clouds cleared just enough for me to glimpse the faces of Mt Rushmore.
A minute later… snow started falling again and they disappeared.
At the top, was the Peter Norbeck Monument. When the road is open in tourist season, the parking lot is full of cars, RVs and motorcycles. But today, there was only me, the pines and the falling snow. I didn't stay long, as soon as I stopped running I felt the chill penetrating my clothing.
I looked at my GPS: 13.5 miles.
The best part about going up is the going down afterwards. I moved quickly down the mountain and felt warmer. I stopped briefly in the tunnel to change my gloves and hats which were now frozen with ice.
I passed back through the closed gate. The sun began to set and I put on my headlamp. I saw another pick up truck and we smiled and waved at each other.
I wonder what they thought of me running in the snow in the middle of nowhere?
I didn't want Jeanne to worry about me so I tried calling her on the cell phone. "LOW BATTERY" it said and promptly turned itself off.
How annoying! What if I was injured and needed to call for help?
I put my cell phone under my shirt to try to warm it up but that didn't seem to do the trick. So I stuck it in the wamest place I could think of… my undershorts. Brrrr! It was as if I put a chunk of ice down there! After a half hour or so, it finally warmed up enough that I could jog more normally and not as if I had a block of ice next to my privates.
When I reached another high point with cell phone coverage, I tried calling again. I had only a few seconds to tell her that I was OK, don't worry (she had been), you don't need to come get me, and I'm only three miles from home- before it shut itself off again.
As I ran those last couple of miles towards home, I saw several pairs of eyes staring at me in the dark trees, glowing in the light of my headlamp. They were deer and I was glad to see them.
There are mountain lions here in the Black Hills. If there was one prowling about you can bet the deer would know. They would be nervous, excited and probably would have moved out of the area. I was relieved to see only the glowing eyes of deer calmly looking back at me and not those of a large cat.
As I walked the last 1/4 mile up our drive, my stomach growled in hunger and the snow began to fall more heavily. Perfect timing, I thought. I certainly earned my dinner tonight.
27 miles in the snow alone….. this is my favorite kind of marathon.
Moving is stressful and driving from Wisconsin with the last of our belongings this past week has been no exception. It is a relief to finally have my family here with me permanently in South Dakota. However, I haven't slept all that well and felt tired all week.
Since running the Boulder Backroads marathon 10 days previous, I had only done one short recovery run. I was overdue for another run.
Only two days before the event, I decided "what the heck" and registered for a local marathon held this weekend in the Black Hills. A long training run would be just what I needed to burn the stress and mental fatigue out… or so I hoped. Not having run much since Boulder, I wasn't sure how well my legs had recovered. I thought if I took it slow and at my ultramarathon pace, it should be no problem. My only goal was to at least not get beat by any of the walkers.
The Crazy Horse Marathon is one of two marathons this weekend, one begun at the Crazy Horse Monument and the other at Mt. Rushmore. They both started at the same time and met at about the half way mark with the final half run together. I chose Crazy Horse because except for a few miles near Hill City, most of the race was run on the George Mickelson Trail, the gravel Deerfield Road and a double track forest service four wheel drive road.
Nathan and Jeanne drove me down for the race. As you can see, they were at the edge of their seats in apprehension before the start.
I was amused by the pre-race jitters that many had. This was only a training run so I had no jitters at all. In fact, I was yawning and sleepy. I regretted not having an extra cup of coffee that morning to help wake me up.
Many were pacing around, stretching and warming up. For those planning on starting out fast, I suppose that makes sense. Myself, I prefer to warm up during the race itself. After five or ten miles, I am warmed up well enough. I had contemplated parking at a trail head a couple of miles away and running in along the George Mickeson Trail just to get a couple of extra training miles in but thought the better of it.
Had I not run a marathon only two weeks before, I just might have done it.
Maybe I will next year?
The race started at 7AM. The sun was rising and cast a golden hue upon the autumn hills.
We ran about 3 miles along a dirt road towards the base of Crazy Horse Monument before turning around. I took a few photos of Crazy Horse glowing in the morning sun but they all were out of focus. Two dads were running with their little ones in a baby carriage.
We connected onto the George Mickelson Trail. The next ten or so miles would be downhill into Hill City. I blasted down that hill. Memories of the slow trudge up this hill right before my DNF during the Lean Horse Hundred were still vivid. I relished the fact that during this race, I would not have to go back up it.
Along the way, I came upon Lisa, whom I had met and talked with during the fist 25 miles of Lean Horse and who had finished immediately after me at the Greenland 50k this spring. It was great to see her. We ran together for almost the entire first half before seperating just before Hill City.
From Hill City to Deerfield Road, we ran a few miles along the pavement. That sucked. I am a trail runner to the core. I despise even the few yards it takes to cross a paved road.
They had one lane of the road closed but I ran along the shoulder as much as possible until we finally left the pavement and went onto a gravel road.
We soon left the gravel road and turned onto a four-wheel drive forest service double-track. The aspens are in their fall glory. In a week, all the leaves will be down. The Autumn beauty of aspen is beautiful but fleeting.
"Aaaah! Off the road and on the trail!" I thought, "this is what I love and why I run!"
Other runners, not used to running off the pavement- complained about the loose rock and tire ruts. As I passed by, I heard them make comments to each other about the fresh cow pies in the meadow and about possibly twisting an ankle.
Those road runners don't get out much, do they? To bad for them, they have no idea what they are missing.
I smiled to myself and used the irregular terrain to my advantage. Never fast, I am always at a disadvantage on the flat wide-open road. However, after years of running on trails, I have developed quick and light footwork. The ability to see without having to look down at where I place each step, except under the most difficult conditions, is a skill that can only be learned while out on the trail under every kind of condition.
Pictured is one of the aid stations. The water and Ultima sports drink was brought in by four-wheeler. It reminded me of an ultramarathon aid station except that there was no real food, only fluids and gel.
I met a gentleman: Tom from Cincinatti. We ran together for a while. He admitted to worrying about twsting or breaking an ankle. We had a nice conversation, he is a social worker who works as an advocate for people with epilepsy. One good thing about running slow, you get to meet all kinds of interesting people whom you might not have met otherwise and you also have the breath to talk to them.
Then we came across several signs that made me laugh out loud. I thought these were funny but the other runners didn't think so.
I stopped and took a few photos. Each sign was posted by a tire rut or dip in the trail. I guess the race organizers thought it best to warn the road runners in this event not used to rugged terrain. Perhaps they did so out of liablilty concerns or maybe they were simply being nice?
I can only imagine how many dozens and dozens of signs would be required in an average trail ultramarathon!
Soon we were back on the Mickelson Trail. Although the few miles out from Hill City were on the road, the entire return trip, other than the half mile through town were on this gravel trail.
It's all down hill from here!
Feeling good and having run at my slow-ultra pace for most of the race, I decided to kick it in the last miles. As everyone else was struggling in, I floated lightly past them. It was the same way at Boulder Backroads two weeks earlier, only I didn't get a gut-ache this time.
I think I will continue to include occasional marathons as part of my training plan, as long as they fit into my schedule and are not on the road. Getting to pass people while still fresh is one reason. I rarely get to do that at ultras. In fact, if I am close enough to see someone else , more than likely it is because I have been running with them the last few hours and we'll end up finishing together by choice.
The other reason why I'll continue to do marathons is that as much as I enjoy the solitude of my long solitary training runs, sometimes it is fun to be around other runners and make new friends and acquaintances.
The finish was at the 1880s train station in Hill City. You can buy a ticket and take an old time steam engine complete with whistles and passenger cars from Hill City to Keystone… and back again. This looks like one tourist attraction we will need to experience some day. Friends and family, you have been warned, you may be dragged along on this trip if you come visit.
Jeanne and Nathan were not at the finish when I arrived so I went to eat my post-race meal. Unfortunately, all they had left was some vegetable soup. Yes, it is pretty slim-pickin's at marathons compared to ultramarathons.
"So are you trying to tell me that next time I need to run faster?" I joked with them.
Above is Lisa's finish. She is planning on running the upcoming 24 hours at Boulder in a few weeks. I would have been running that event along with Haliku, if I did not already have a committment to give a presentation at a cardiology conference in California the same weekend.
I had hoped that Lisa would have had a chance to meet my family but they still hadn't showed up. No matter. I am sure our paths will cross again. Jeanne had expected a 6 to 7 hour finish, not realizing that this was only a marathon and not a 50k. I still think that my family is the world's best crew, even if they don't always meet me at my finishes.
Lisa introduced me to Larry who is from Houston and a member of the Marathon Maniacs. He ran 93 marathons last year. He was planning on running a marathon in Portland the following day. He also runs ultras and it turns out we have run in several of the same events of the past couple of years. We reminsced about our good and not so good ultra experiences.
Us ultramarathoners are a small and tight-knit group of people. After a while we all get to know each other. We are often misunderstood by non-runners and sometimes even by other runners, but we kinda like it that way. I suppose the world can take only so many insane people like us.
Jeanne and Nathan arrived and we went to a local Mexican restaurant. The enchilada and tamale tasted good but not as good as that ice-cold Cerveza Pacifico!
Afterwards, we took a not-so-short "short cut" back to our cabin. We took Hwy 244 south of Hill City and passed Mt. Rushmore Monument. Then we took Hwy 16A or the Iron Mountain Road and enjoyed the one lane tunnels as well as the famous pig tail bridges. We stopped and scrambled up some granite outcroppings before heading home.
I am so glad that my family is finally here with me!
"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man…whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, …… who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt- "Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
I have heard many explanations for why us ultrarunners do what we do.
Some of us have moved up in distance because we seek a challenge beyond PBs, pace and time. Others, like me, were never fast to begin with but we are too stubborn (or too dumb?) to mind going all day and into the night.
For many, if not most of us, ultrarunning is not just about the running. It is not about the buckles or the finish times. No, it is about the spirit and the community, it is about being amongst other like-minded individuals striving for the same goal. It is about running with and not against others. It is not only about answering questions such as "what was our time?" but also about discovering "what kind of time did we have?"
Ultrarunning has become a spiritual endeavor and an all-consuming passion for a lot of us. Going long puts all things into perspective… everything that is superficial and unimportant falls away… Our family, friends and other loved ones, our happiness and our health: these are the things that truly matter in life. We retain this mindset even when we are not actually running.
And yes, one side benefit of so much running is that it also allows us to eat whatever we want whenever we want!
And I LOVE to eat!
When asked by non-running friends and family or even some other runners why do we do what we do, many of us reply with the mountain climbers adage and variations: "Because it is there" and "Because we can." But I read a recent article in Ultrarunning magazine taking this one step further, "We do it because we can…. and also because we can fail."
Most ultrarunners are successful people in their personal and professional lives. So why do we choose an activity with such a high chance of failure? Why don't we choose golf or something else easier and more socially acceptable?
We chose ultrarunning precisely because it is so difficult. Precisely because the odds for success seem unlikely… humanly impossible even…. and because the odds of failure are so high. The outcome of any race is never a given… until you finally run, walk, shuffle or crawl across that finish line. Even the elite sometimes stumble, make mistakes and DNF. They too are mortals, just like all the rest of us. Amazing and unbelievable mortals they are, but still human.
With great effort comes great rewards, but also risk of failure. No one ever said that ultrarunning is easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.
The taper week before the race I did almost no running at all. Just swimming and a couple of 2 and 3 mile jogs. I was a bundle of energy and both nervous and excited.
As I told some of my co-workers: "I already know how much it hurts to do 50 miles… I can't imagine how much it will hurt to do 100!"
A gentleman with bronchitis coughed right in my face in clinic on Monday and caused me some anxiety afterwards. I still remember DNFing at Glacial Trail 50m last year because I woke with a fever and an upper respiratory infection the morning of the race. I have heard of some ultrarunners sequestering themselves in solitary confinement the last few days or week before a big race to avoid exposure to ultra-destroying germs.
"Just leave the food by the door and go away!"
Though such eccentric obsessive behavior won't win any points among colleagues and family members, I can understand. I had trained long and hard for this race. I sure did not want to be sidelined another time because of a stupid cold again. Fortunately my handwashing and wearing a face mask did the trick. I was lucky.
The weather prediction was for the weekend to be sunny and warm- 70-80s during the day and 40-50s at night. After running long runs in the 90-100 degree afternoons over the previous weeks, I was as ready for heat as I could be but I was very grateful that I would not have to test out my heat acclimation.
The pre-race meeting was at the race headquarters located in the Mueller Center of Hot Springs, South Dakota on Friday afternoon. Other than first and last 16.6 miles on a dirt road, the entire run would be along the George Mickelson Trail to just south of Hill City… and back. The final cut off would be 30 hours. There would be other cut offs at each of the aid stations along the way back.
However, we were told during the pre race meeting that these times were soft and not hard cut offs. As long as we looked strong and there was any hope that we might make it, no one would be cut from the race only because of missing a cut off. If we finished after the 30 hour formal cut off, we would still get a posted time, we just wouldn't get a finisher's buckle.
The race director told us: "You're here to run 100 miles and we're here to help you succeed." The audience responded with loud applause.
The president of the local chamber of commerce welcomed us. He told an inspiring story of pioneers settling this part of the country, his grandmother raising her children in a log cabin we would pass by and how her spirit of overcoming against all odds is alive and well within us. He hoped it was OK with us that the town of Hot Springs had officially named the weekend: "Ultra Crazy Days" because so many of the local townsfolk think what we do is crazy.
Afterwards, I quietly introduced myself. I told him that I thought the name of the weekend was just fine. Many of us ultrarunners think we are crazy too.
Haliku drove up from Denver Friday night. My best friend… he is a brother to me. The plan would be for him to pace me after the 50 mile mark. Of course by that time, I expected that my "running" would not even be a fast hike for him. The main reason to have a pacer is to provide mental support so that you do not drop simply because you are feeling sorry for yourself but also on the other hand, to keep you from doing do anything stupid or dangerous, such as continuing to press on after you should have stopped.
At the pre-race dinner, I met a couple of other runners… Will from the UP of Michigan and Dave from Oregon. It was Will's first hundred just as it was mine; Dave had run in two other hundreds, one a DNF and another successful.
We chatted about what to expect. The weather conditions would be ideal and the course straight forward, making getting lost unlikely. That meant that if we DNF'ed this race we would not be able to use two of our favorite excuses: bad weather and getting lost. We joked that before any race it is a good idea to have a few possible excuses in your back pocket to use for DNFing, just in case the need arose. (See my other post about Ultrarunners' Favorite DNF excuses).
Little did I know that later I would learn a new, previously unthought of, reason to DNF.
After going back to the hotel room I preventively taped my feet as has become my routine before all major races and long training runs. Since starting to do so, and also wearing Injinji toe socks, blisters have no longer been much of an issue.
That night I slept restlessly. It didn't help that the person in the hotel room above us walked around loudly late into the night and then finally woke up for good at 3AM.
I was not alone in my nervous anticipation.
The race was to begin at 6AM. At the starting line, I introduced myself to the legendary ultramarathon-walker Uli Kamm. At 61 years of age, he has walked hundreds of ultramarathons, finishing even before some of the runners. Originally from München, Germany, he has lived in Colorado for 12 years. My mother's family still live in Nürnberg. UIi told me that to put it into perspective for my European family, what we are about to attempt is go approximately the distance between München and Nürnberg.
His advice was to take it easy: do the first half in 14 hours and then the second half in sixteen. Having completed numerous hundred milers including three previous Lean Horse Hundreds, this being his fourth, he seemed to know what he was talking about.
The first part of the race headed north out of town. Then it rambled through dusty and rolling dirt roads until it met with the George Mickelson Trail at Argyle Road at mile 16.6.
The weather report was turning out to be accurate. The day was warm with those clear blue western skies I love so much.
Along the way, I saw another runner, Holley, whom I met at 24 hours at Laramie. She remembered me: "You were so positive at Laramie!" Later in the race, she told she was sure I would finish, because I looked strong. We ran together for a few miles before I fell into with another group.
Along the way, I met up with Dave who was running with Lisa. Lisa and I recognized each other from this spring at the Greenland 50k. We were the very last two to finish…. but finish we sure as heck did!
The three of us ran together for quite a few miles. Along the way, we had a great conversation about all kinds of important things, more that I will recount here.
Lisa tried to convince me to agree with her about the question: "Are ALL humans basically good?" I agreed with her for the vast majority but only to a point. My opinion was that, yes, most people are basically good, and of the others, most of them would also be good but have chosen to do stupid, thoughtless things or they simply don't know any better. However, I held out from sharing her opinion completely because as much as I wished it were not true, I think there are a few out there who are inherently evil. I know because I have met them.
Dave was very entertained listening to us go back and forth. Lisa never did convince me completely. However, rather than focusing on the 0.1% (or maybe is it 0.01%?) that we did not agree upon, I'd much prefer to say that we agreed 99.99% of the time!
Good conversation is one of the most enjoyable aspects of running ultramarathons. We look at the races not as an ordeal to be overcome, though they are, but rather as a social event to enjoy, an all day and all night party with buffet tables every 5 or 6 miles! Ultra races are the reward for all the months of training, not the end unto themselves. Simply making it to the starting line without injury and not chickening out beforehand is success in and of itself.
Of course other races are not like this…. when I tried to talk with some of the other runners during my first and only 5k fun run this spring,…. most of them looked at me between breaths like I was crazy.
Well, of course I am CRAZY!
I'm an insane, tenacious-as-hell-but-slow-as-heck, ultrarunning-turtle— don't ya know?!
In one short section along the trail we found black currants, white currants, red currants and gooseberries. We spent a a minute picking some of them. Their tartness tasted good and was a nice contrast to sports drink and energy gel.
I found and tried some choke cherries later but their astringency was not as pleasing. There is a reason they are called "choke" cherries.
There were also wild plums but they would not be ripe for several more weeks.
At mile 20, the Lime Kiln Aid station we stopped for food/fluids.
One of the most important aspects of ultrarunning is proper hydration and caloric intake. I had practiced what types of foods I do best with during my previous races and training runs. The aid stations had my favorites: turkey and cheese sandwiches on wheat, bananas. boiled red baby potatoes rolled in salt and potato chips.
I still retain my aversion to energy gels that I developed for unknown reasons this spring… so I avoided them.
At Pringle (mile 24) we stopped at the aid station and resupplied. Above is a picture of Dave smiling with raisins. It was one of the four places where we could have drop bags. Because my family was not here to be crew for me this time, my drop bags were stocked with anything and everything I could possibly need.
Very soon after, we would hit the 25 mile mark and had to say our goodbyes to Lisa. We tried to convince her to do the full one hundred with us but she was registered for the half-hundred. We were not ready to end our deep conversation.
But there will always be next year!
After mile 25, Dave and I ran together for a short time before he headed off.
I felt strong. To finish in under 30 hours, our average pace had to by 18:00 minute/mile or less. Of course, we all try to run faster than that. This pace is an average of aid station stops, walk breaks, shoe changes, potty breaks, stops to pick berries and the actual running. An 18:00 min/mile does not sound hard but try to do it for 30 hours!
I had written up and laminated a pace chart with expected times for every aid station. One column was 15 min/mile which would have been too fast if I exceeded , and a latest column which was an 18:00 min/mile pace behind which I must not fall. All through the afternoon my average was around 15-16 min/mile and my heart rate was at goal. I felt strong and was hydrating properly, not over or underhydrating. My pee was clear and every hour or two.
"I am going to do this," I thought to myself, "today just might be my day. This will be the day I run 100 milles."
I don't normally run with music. Part of it is for safety… there are four wheelers and mountain lions in these hills! And the other reason is that I happen to enjoy the sound of the wind through the trees and being alone with my thoughts.
However, for this race, I made an exception and decided to bring an MP3 player. I loaded it with Native American Pow-wow music. When I was running alone, the rhythmic drumming and chants helped me maintain my rhythm and take my mind off the pain and fatigue. I thought the music would be particularly appropriate given that we were running in the Black Hills or Paha Sapa, sacred to the Lakota and other Native peoples. As I ran, I thought about the sacred Sun Dance Ceremony.
Is the ordeal that we put ourselves through as ultrarunners much different?
As I ran, I looked down at my shadow on the ground before me. There suddenly appeared another shadow over my left shoulder that floated with me for 30 seconds before it drifted off. I looked up and was inspired to see that it was a red tail hawk. She was quite literally watching over me. I considered it a good omen.
I was relieved that it wasn't a vulture circling overhead!
At the Carroll Creek aid station, mile 30, I was very hungry. I ate TWO turkey sandwiches, a half-banana and several potatoes. Almost immediately, I realized the mistake I had made. If I was so hungry, I should have carried the food with me and nibbled on it until the next aid station.
My stomach was unsettled and so I did not eat again until Oreville aid station at mile 45.2, but that was only chicken soup. Haliku offered me some mushroom/cheese pizza which I turned down… also a big mistake I would later learn.
As I headed towards the 50 mile turnaround, I saw Will, Dave and Holley on the return trip in quick succession. I was not far behind them. They all told me as we passed I looked strong and that they were sure I would make it. I told them that I thought I would too, unless something happened.
Unfortunately, something did happen…
Haliku joined me at just before the 50 mile turnaround. The photo above is kind of fuzzy, as I would be mentally only a short time later.
From the 50 mile turnaround at Hill City almost to the Mountain View aid station mile 59.5 there is a long hill. We walked/shuffled up it but I had not choice but to slow down my pace considerably. My body just wouldn't go any faster. Within only a few miles, I was far behind an 18:00 min/mile pace and slowing down.
I had hoped that after Mountain View trailhead, I could make up some time on the downhill, but for some reason I couldn't. My running…. er, shuffling… had deteriorated to where it was even slower than my walking. Not a good sign. I thought that I was simply tired from the almost 18 hours of running.
Another runner, Ronda, came up from behind us. She offered words of encouragement and paraphrased the commonly repeated ultramarathoner aphorism: "One hundred miles demands much, but the rewards it bestows are great."
But then, only a couple of miles out of Harback Park aid station (mile 64.5) in Custer, my legs became unsteady. I felt as if I were going to fall down. I was not dizzy in the lightheaded sense, not how I feel when out in the hot sun too long or when dehydrated. No, this was different, I had dysequilibrium, was shaky and could not focus. I had great difficulty finding my words.
I asked for energy gel and am grateful that Haliku was there. If I were alone, I am not sure how well I could have opened it by myself. I might have had to bite into the gel pack like some kind of wild animal. What if I had to sit down on the side of the trail? I could have gotten chilled or even hypothermic. Scary.
Within ten or fifteen minutes, I felt much better. My mind was functioning again. We walked into Harbach Park mile 64.5. When we arrived Ronda was still there with some GI issues but she eventually headed out.
I decided to drop. We were only about ten minutes past the midnight cut off. If we had had more time, I would have stopped for a half hour, and gotten some food in my belly. From past experience, I know that no matter how bad you feel at one moment, you could be a totally different person a half hour later.
But I had slowed down so much, we did not have that option. Although the cut offs were "soft," neither Haliku or I relished the idea of a 36 mile all-night death march with a 32, 34 or even more hour 100 mile finish, that is, if it were even possible. I wasn't sure I would have even been able to make it to the next aid station. It was hard but an intelligent decision. And it is really difficult to be intelligent during an ultra.
So what happened?
I believe I experienced a hypoglycemic event. Low blood sugars of 30 – 50 mg/dl has been reported in endurance athletes. Normal is 70 to 100 mg/dl. I am not a diabetic and so I do not carry a glucometer and could not test. However, the signs and symptoms were classic.
What happened is that after eating too much at mile 30, I misread my body's signs later that I should start to eat again. The chicken soup at mile 50 and mile 54.8 tasted great but it didn't have any calories. Once the body uses up all of it's glycogen stores there are only two choices: slow WAY down so you can make new glucose from protein (ie muscle breakdown) as well as burn more fat (which I did and which lost me a lot of time but still wasn't enough) – or – stop completely and eat a real meal containing carbohydrate, preferably complex and simple, along with a little protein and a bit of fat…. plus give it all some time for it all to digest.
Although energy gels will treat the hypoglycemia, after depleting glycogen stores, they are only a quick and temporary fix. Without replacing glycogen, I would have needed gel every 15 – 20 minutes to keep from crashing again. You might be able to tough it out the last few miles of a marathon but taking gel constantly for the last 36 miles of an ultra would make for a very long night. Especially with my aversion to gel.
If only I had an IV of dextrose packed in each of my drop bags…
Despite being one of less than 300 physicians in the US board certified in nutrition, I completely forgot my own advice. I ignored all that I already knew. After mile 40 or so, it is difficult to think very rationally. Of course, there is absolutely nothing rational at all about trying to run 100 miles anyway. It was ironic for an endocrinologist to be sidelined by hypoglycemia,… but it was completely my own mistake. I was on my way to my first 100 mile finish- had I not stopped eating.
I learned a valuble lesson the hard way: no matter how hard you train, what kind of physical shape you are in, how well you hydrate or how close you stick to your goal pace… if you don't eat- you will crash- sooner or later. Prevention is much better than trying to deal with it after the fact.
No fuel = no go.
One good note: I have a new understanding for what so many of my diabetic patients must go through when their blood sugar is low. Also, I was able to post about this on the professional blog which I write twice a week for the medical journal: Endocrine Today. (I apologize… the editors only allow comments from physicians and other medical professionals at that site). I love when my personal and professional interests intersect but much prefer they not be in the form of DNFs.
Of the 112 starters, 83 finished and 29 DNF'd including me. That is a 74% finish rate, fairly high compared to most 100 mile ultras. The race director was correct when he said that he and the others were there to do everything possible to ensure our success.
After a few hours of sleep, a big breakfast, and taking Haliku back to his car parked at the 50 mile turnaround, I was able to get back to the finish line and welcome the other runners in. Will finished in 24:33 (awesome!), Dave finished 24:46 (also awesome!) and even Ronda made it in at 29:34.
Lisa also had already finished the 50 mile in 17:02. She was in last place but I told her… last place is still helluva lot better than a DNF!!! I would have LOVED to have finished dead last in the hundred instead of dropping at mile 64.5!
Lisa even won an age group award, she was second out of two females age 30-39. Based on my calculations, in order for me to ever have any hope of ever winning age group awards, I will have to out-live the entire rest of the field. I'd basically have to keep doing these at least until no one else my age is left.
Hmmm… 100 miles for my 100th birthday….
The following week, I was sore for only a couple of days, but surprisingly much less sore than after any of the 50 mile races I have completed. Perhaps it was because, as Haliku pointed out, this was the first 50 miler after which I also included a 14.5 mile walk/shuffle cool down.
Already I am dreaming of future ultras….there is the Javelina Jundred in Arizona in mid-November. Hmmmm?
Haliku has tempted me with the possibility of running the Boulder Marathon just for "fun" on September 21st. He will be using it as training for his upcoming 24 hours at Boulder in October. I think I will take him up on it. I will already be in Denver that weekend taking the general vascular medicine board certification exams.
A dedicated trail ultramarathoner, I have actually never run in an organized traditional-length 26.2 mile event. I've run countless 20 – 30 mile solitary long training runs plus my eight ultramarathon races; but I've never actually run a formal 26.2 mile marathon race.
When I decided to start running ultras, I completely skipped the marathon and began with 50-k's. The marathon distance does not scare me just as the 50 miles no longer scares me. But don't get me wrong, I am not overconfident… I respect the distance….any and all long distances. However, I know, that at least for this time, I won't need to worry about my endurance.
Heck, Lean Horse turned out to be just a 64.5 mile training run, right?
My main challenge will be: how in the heck do I pace myself for a such a short race? Running 26.2 miles at my usual 50 or 100 mile pace would be simply wimping out. This run will just be for "fun" so my time is not important. Of course, on the other hand, I'd like to push myself to be a little bit faster than I normally might. I have a few weeks before race day, I think I will see how well I recover before I decide on pace etc. My body will tell me what I will or will not be able to do.
In my heart and mind I know I can run 100 miles… I just know it.
Some day I will.
The next time I only need to avoid making any stupid race-ending mistakes. Even though I didn't get as far as I had hoped, I did run farther than I ever had before. In June, I had wanted to run 100-k but dropped at mile 41 because of severe lightning storms. Well, now I have a 100-k plus run under my belt, even if I don't have an official 100-k "finish."
In any case, to me the Lean Horse Hundred 2008 was a success… not a failure… even though it didn't go exactly the way I had planned. I did learn a valuable lesson about nutrition during a race.
Next year, I will be back. I hope that I won't repeat the same mistake or discover any new ones to make. Some ultrarunners require three, four, or even more attempts before they finally succeed in completing 100 miles. I sure as heck hope it won't take that many times for me.
Teddy Roosevelt was certainly no runner but he gave us words to live by:
If we fail, at least we fail while daring greatly, so that our place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
I am enjoying my rest and recovery but I cannot wait until next time!
"Try nothing new on race day."
I have always tried to follow this advice religiously, whether it be the shoes/socks I wear, the fluid I rehydrate with, or my chosen ratio of running to walking.
If something goes wrong in a short event, such as a 26.2 mile marathon, at worst you might have a few miles of misery to suffer. However, in longer events, you might have to endure for hours or even an entire day. A miscalculation of race tactics or an error in gear during an ultra could easily result in a DNF.
It has been very hot here for the last several weeks. Up to the 90 to 100 range almost every afternoon. I am expecting the weather in three weeks to be similar.
But hey, at least it is a dry heat, right?
I decided to get myself some new gear from REI to assist me with overcoming the heat.
Despite using high SPF sunscreen, the sun has been hard on the back of my ears and neck these last few weeks. My skin has been constantly peeling. So I purchased a Headsweats Pro-tech hat. They are on sale at REI right now for $19.83 (from $26.00).
OK… not quite.
I also got a Kafka-Kool Tie. I have seen other ultrarunners with them and was intrigued. It contains little crystals that soak up water and remain hydrated for long periods of time. I got the Navy instead of the Red that is pictured.
Evaporative cooling won't work in humid places such as Wisconsin. However, here in the arid west, it can be very effective. I remember living in the sagebrush desert outside of Reno, Nevada some years ago. We used an evaporative "swamp cooler" intead of a regular air conditioner to cool our house. It worked great and humidified the dry desert air at the same time.
Finally, I also got a Power Monkey charger with Solar Slave to keep my Garmin GPS charged. The GPS battery only lasts 13 hours but I might need it out to 30 hours. The Power Monkey has a battery that can be charged beforehand along with a solar panel to provide extra charge if needed during the day. I will strap it to the back of my backpack.
You know you definitely have a running problem when you routinely outrun the 13 hour battery charge on your GPS!
Both of these have been tested and well broken in over the past few weeks. There is nothing more annoying than a pebble in your shoe at mile 40.
To see my way at night, I will use my recently acquired Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. I like how they have a rechargeable NRG battery. I already tested them at the 24 hours at Laramie. They worked great and lit up the trail like a floodlight. However, the brightness did seem to attract moths.
They are on-sale right now at Zombierunner for $53.95.
I put together my pace and time chart with the cut off times for the race in red. To do 100 miles within the 30 hour final cut off, I will only have to do an 18:00 min/mile. That sounds like nothing but believe me, after those miles and miles, I will be fortunate to be able to do just that. Of course, this pace includes all time spent at aid stations, sock changes, rest breaks etc.
The "early" column will tell me if I am starting out too fast and the "latest" will let me know if I am falling off my pace too much and am at risk of being pulled. I hope to run somewhere between these two.
In ultrarunning, taking planned walk breaks are a race tactic, not a failure as it might be in a short race. My plan is to run 10 minutes and walk 4 minutes. I can walk at an under 15 minute pace without pushing it too hard if I focus on my technique and form. I have read that it takes at least four minutes to recover from aerobic activity which is why I chose that time for walking. Thus far, it has seemed to work pretty well for me.
Others use different ratios and I have tested out all the various recommended combinations in the past. A 20-25 minute run with 5 minute walks works acceptably well but after 30 or so miles, my heart rate seems to go up too much if I run for that long. On the other hand, I have also tried running 5 minutes and walking 2 minutes ratio which was OK in the 50 mile races I tried it in. However, I just don't think that 2 minutes will be a long enough walk break in a longer race.
Of course, the run/walk ratio will be subject to change based on how I am feeling, my heart rate, the weather, hills, etc. Most ultrarunners walk up all hills, even the smallest ones, and run the downhills. This race will be on an old railroad bed. Even though it will go up and down hills, the grade will be relatively flat so I will set a timer to remind me of when to run/walk. From 70 miles on, I hear that many runners spend a great deal of their time walking. I expect to be no different.
Yesterday, I assembled my gear and went for my last long run before Lean Horse. I purposely ran during the hottest part of the day. After my negative experience with heat and dehydration last weekend, I wanted to make sure I would be able to overcome such conditions during the 100 mile race. Finding out that I cannot during the actual race could be disastrous.
I ran on a section of the George Mickelson Trail where I did not have to go more than 5 or 6 miles without coming across a water spigot or pump. At each water spigot, I washed the salt off my face, soaked my hair, wet my hat and kool-tie and refilled my Camelback.
It was a much hotter run than I have done all year, the high temperature was 96 degrees (36 degrees C). Nevertheless, I did fine and maintained my pace. I went a total of 32 miles.
Today, I have just a trace amount of soreness. Indeed, if this was a back-to-back long run weekend, I could do another 15 or 20 miles today no problem. But I won't. The last thing I need to do is get overconfident this close to the race and injure myself.
My taper starts today. The longer a race, the longer the taper. Now I will do only short quick runs of less than 5 miles as well as swimming for cross training. The week of the race, I will do almost no running at all.
In the last two months, I have done a 40+ mile, a 50+ mile and finally yesterday in the afternoon heat, a 30+ mile run. I feel ready to attempt 100 miles. But feeling ready and being ready are two completely different things. Much can go wrong at these ultra-long distances, even for people who are prepared.
I have no idea how it will go on race day, but I feel as prepared and as trained as I could be.
Wish me luck!!!
The Lean Horse Hundred is only 26 days away!
I admit that I have been having second thoughts.
- Am I fit enough to do this?
- Will I be too slow and miss a cut-off?
- Will my stomach give out?
- Am I completely crazy for attempting to run one hundred miles?
Well, of course, "yes" is the answer for that last question but then all of us ultramarathoner are.
After running the 52 miles a few weeks ago at 24 hours at Laramie…The Run, my legs seem to have lost their "spring." I have not felt tired or apathetic. My muscles have not been sore. I still look forward to my daily runs so I doubt that I am overtrained. It's just that my legs simply have not wanted to move as quickly as normal. They've lost their bounce. Coming down rocky trails, instead of my usual fast footwork, I have had to step slowly and cautiously to avoid stumbling. Now this sluggishness is normal for a week or two after a long race but my legs just have not wanted to come back for longer than usual.
All of this has worried me greatly.
SATURDAY JULY 26th
This weekend was to be my last back-to-back long run weekend before the race. I had hoped to do 20 or 30 miles on Saturday and 10 or 15 miles on Sunday. However, as I would discover, the weather had other plans for me
I started on the George Mickelson Trail at the Harback Park Trailhead in Custer, South Dakota. The Lean Horse Hundred Ultramarathon would pass through here. I wanted to familiarize myself with this section of the trail before race day.
People were gathering and many of the side streets were closed off. I asked a bystander what was going on. Apparently, Custer was celebrating their Gold Rush Days this weekend. They were getting ready for a parade, car show, bands and other entertainment. I was glad that I would be out of town and on the trail by the time all of the loud festivities had commenced.
It was going to be a hot day. Instead of running 15 miles out and 15 miles back, I decided to play it safe and run 10 miles out and back. At mile 20, I would be back at my car and could eat my lunch packed in my cooler. If I felt good, I could run an extra 5 or 10 miles. Going out only part way turned out to be a very wise decision, I would later realize.
I had a gallon of frozen-solid Gatorade in the car which would be melted by the time I got back. I wore my Camelback on my back. From past experience I have learned that the 100 oz bladder gets me anywhere from 18 to 24 miles before it runs out, depending on the weather. There is a faucet at Harbach Park from which I could refill my bladder on my return.
As I passed the concrete factory pictured above, I spotted a skunk peering at me from the tall grass. He was gone before I could get my camera focused. It would have been a great photo but I was not about to follow him to see if I could get another chance. I may be insane for being an ultrarunner but I am not stupid. I don't follow skunks into tall grass.
As I headed south, the temperatures steadily climbed. There was a slight breeze which was refreshing but it was still hot.. up to 90 degrees by that afternoon.
There were only a few places with shade, otherwise the entire trail was sun exposed.
Then, I saw what at first thought was a stem of grass laying on the trail.
It was a tiny little green grass snake!
He was so frightened that he froze completely. I had to touch him before he would move.
What an adorable lil' guy!
I don't blame him for not moving. I am sure that any bird that spotted him would snatch him up like any other worm… not realizing… or caring… that he was a snake and not a worm.
A few miles down the trail, suddenly I heard a loud SNORT!
It was a mother bison snorting a warning.
I thought: "Don't worry momma bison, I'm not about to climb that fence and mess with your calf!"
As I approached the ten mile turnaround, I was in trouble. My Camelback was very light, much lighter than it should have been by this distance. I realized would not be able to make it back to the car without running empty. There were no faucets or water pumps along this part of the trail.
I started limiting my sips of water to make it last as long as possible. I began to feel thirsty and my mouth became dry. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already far behind hydration-wise.
At mile 16.2, I took the last sip. "Now," I thought to myself, "just under 4 miles to go. That's not far. Just pace yourself and you'll make it."
My thirst grew every hundred yards. I noticed that the volume of my sweat had decreased considerably. A very ominous sign.
My pulse was over 170 and I started feeling very dizzy. I found some shade under a pine tree and sat down. Ants crawled over me but I didn't care. We don't have the stinging kind of ants here. Within five minutes, I was still extremely thirsty but my heart rate was under 100.
I started a slow jog but within a half mile felt worse than before. I started looking at the muddy water where the cattle had been bathing and pooping and thought it looked very good. At least it looked wet. I didn't care what it would have tasted like. If my dogs had been with me, they would have immersed themselves belly-deep and drank heartily from each of those wallows.
At that moment, I sincerely wished that I was a dog and could have done exactly that.
I stopped and rested in the shade a few more times. Each time it took longer to recover and my dizziness returned more quickly when I started again. Only a mile from town, I was slowed to a walk. As I passed some houses, I looked desperately for a faucet, hose or outdoor spigot. At that point, I would not have cared what the homeowner would have said to me if they had seen me helping myself. Heck, I would have paid them $20 just to take one clear cold deep gulp.
As I walked the last few hundred yards, I heard the band playing and weaved through the crowds of people at the festival. I wondered what they would think if I passed out now. "Just another drunk," probably.
I opened my car, pulled out that gallon of Gatorade and started drinking. It was almost completely melted but still ice cold.
That tastes GOOD!
I found some shade under a tree and laid down with my feet up hill. I took a SUCCEED! electrolyte cap and drank half of the gallon.
After 15 minutes, I felt much better but was not about to cover anymore miles that day. On the way home, I finished the rest of that gallon and still did not have to pee until I had gotten home and drank even more water.
You know, before I ran out of fluids, I was doing OK. I felt hot but was still moving along. It was nothing intolerable. Then, after I ran out everything changed and within only a couple of miles. It is amazing how rapidly a body will shut down in the heat without fluids. Scary.
I learned a valuable lesson: Drink!
And don't ever run out of fluids!
Besides not going too slow to avoid getting pulled at a cut-off, I realized that my other challenge during Lean Horse will be maintaining adequate fluid intake and not getting dehydrated.
SUNDAY JULY 27th
The following morning, I was a little bit stiff but not bad. After my experience the day before, I admit to not looking forward to getting out today. So I stayed inside during the morning, ate the last two slices of pizza from the previous night (I ate an almost entire large pizza for dinner last night) and caught up on work.
By the afternoon, I felt well so I decided to go for another run, this time just north of Custer and south of Hill City. I parked near the Oreville shelter and headed south.
Today was even hotter than yesterday, it was a high of 93 degrees. The dry breeze was a little more than yesterday. Even though it felt good, it also meant that I would dehydrate more easily.
Within a few hundred yards I looked down and narrowly missed stepping on a "stem" of grass. Another grass snake! The impact of my foot only two inches from his head made him quickly slither to the cover of the weeds. Only a fraction of a stride shorter and he would have been squished!
My plan was to make it to the Mountain Trailhead six miles away. There was supposed to be a water pump there. Gosh, I hoped that it was working.
Despite feeling a bit stiff, I moved along fairly well. The "spring" in my step seemed to have come back. Now, if only the heat didn't get to me, and I didn't run out of water, I should have a good run today.
The wildflowers were blooming. I noticed several that were not blooming even two weeks ago. One of the aspects of trail running that I love, is how in touch it puts you with nature and the cycle of the seasons.
These flowers announced that mid-summer was here, as if I didn't already know that by the heat.
Bergamot, or Oswego Tea, is an aromatic member of the mint family. It can be made into a tea like all mints but I much prefer the flavor of mountain mint, peppermint or spearmint.
As I approached the 6 mile turnaround, I looked back to see the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was begun in 1947 by Korzak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) self-taught sculptor to honor Crazy Horse, hero and war chief of the Lakota. After his death by heart attack while working on the memorial, the work on the monument has been continued by Korzak's wife Ruth and their family. All construction has been without federal and other government funding.
I understand and appreciate the effort and hard work that has gone into this. I also understand the reasoning that if a mountain can be carved with the faces of American Presidents, why should there not be monument to the hero of the Lakota?
Still, I find carving up a mountian to honor a Native American warrior to be ironic. Are these mountains not the Paha Sapa, sacred to the Lakota and others?
Korzak was originally invited to construct this memorial by Chief Henry Standing Bear and several other chiefs. Nevertheless, I would have preferred to see this and other mountains left alone in their natural state and not blown to pieces.
Not all Native Americans support this monument. Lakota medicine man, Lame Deer in his autobiography in 1972 said: "The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse."
I arrived at the Mountain Trailhead and was very relieved to find the pump in working order. The water felt good over my head and tasted even better. In six miles, I had almost completely emptied the 100 oz bladder. I filled it completely and continued to drink heavily on the return trip.
As I headed back to my car, I felt very good. I felt much better than yesterday, even though it was hotter be a few degrees. It was a slight downhill so I pushed it.
My legs were back!!!
I ended up running the last few miles 2 minute per mile faster than any of my miles yesterday (specifically any of those miles before I bonked).
When I finally got back to the car, I enjoyed the cool ice-cold water waiting for me. Today was a good day, the opposite of yesterday. Even though I was tired and slightly stiff from the day before, I ran faster and felt much better. This only difference is that in 12 miles I drank two full 100 oz bladders of water where yesterday I had only one for 20 miles.
Yes, I learned a valuble lesson that I will apply to Lean Horse in a few weeks: Drink much and drink often.
And don't get dehydrated!
Once any soreness from this weekend goes away, this week I will do a short fast runs. Yes, my legs are back. But I do need to do some faster running to optimize my cruising speed. I will need all I can get to keep from missing a cut-off.
After next weekend, it will be taper time!
Well, I did it.
I officially registered for the Lean Horse Hundred. After having a "good" DNF at Kettle Moraine 100k, I felt ready to tackle something longer, tougher, and harder. I have always wanted to try 100 miles.
Why not this year?
The Lean Hundred and Half-Hundred are run literally in my backyard. The race starts in Hot Springs and goes 11 miles to the George Mickelson Trail. From there, it goes up the trail to just south of Hill City before the runners turn around and head back to the start.
I am hoping that my best friend Haliku will be able to make it up here to pace me in the latter half of the race.
Will I be able to do it? I guess I shall find out on August 23/24th.
It's too late to back out now!
"I was standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. "
-Black Elk, describing his Great Vision on Okawita Paha (Harney Peak).
After not doing any long trail runs all week because of the severe afternoon and evening thunderstorms we've had every single day, I have been eager to get out on the trails again. Running on the side of the road in the morning before work is just not the same.
The weather forecast predicted only a 20% chance of afternoon thunderstorms for Saturday so I decided to go for it. I ran a 14.2 mile loop through the Black Elk Wilderness.
I started at the Willow Creek Trailhead and ran south on the Lost Cabin Trail. The trail soon became rocky and began a steady uphill climb.
As I climbed, I was rewarded with vistas of the northwest Black Hills. Named Paha Sapa or "Hills that are Black" by the Lakota, they get their name from the dark green hue from the pine trees that cover their slopes. From a distance, and especially when out on the tan-gray prairie, these hills really do appear to be black.
I entered an area where there was significant pine beetle damage. This infestation has been a problem in many Western states, causing the loss of many thousands of acres of trees. The loss of such timber has had serious financial as well as scenic implications, and also increases the risk of fire.
However, as with most things in nature, some positive comes with the negative. As I passed through, I noticed the presence of a larger than usual number of hole nesting, insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches.
There was also an increase in wildflowers and other plant life that normally would not flourish under the shaded canopy of a non-beetle damaged forest.
Soon, I left the beetle-decimated forest and came to the Black Elk Wilderness boundary at the top of the ridge.
I stopped for a few minutes to catch my breath and ate a CLIF bar before heading on my way. The slight downhill was a pleasant relief after the previous few miles up hill.
At mile 6 (approximately), I took the Lost Cabin Trail Spur towards the Harney Peak Trail.
As I followed Lost Cabin creek, I was greeted by meadows as well as glimpses of granite outcroppings.
I met two groups of horse riders coming the other way. I stepped aside to let them pass.
Our three horses are still back in Wisconsin with my family. I am looking forward to eventually getting them out on these trails. However, with all the ultra training I am doing, more than likely I will continue to run, with my mare behind me. She will follow without any lead rope.
Then, Jeanne and Nathan can follow riding their horses. Or they can ride on ahead if I'm too slow.
I turned onto Harney Peak Trail and headed north. This trail is one of the most popular in the wilderness and is the main trail from which tourists climb Harney Peak.
After the solitude on the single-track of Lost Cabin Trail, I admit that I was just a little bit annoyed at having so many people to pass on this thoroughfare. Of course, they had every right to be there as I did. It was good to see so many families out and enjoying themselves on such a beautiful day instead of going to the more popular tourist attractions. Too many only see the Black Hills through the window of their car.
My original plan was to run up the entire mountain, then rest at the top and eat my lunch before moving on. However, I only made it about two-thirds of the way up, when I was completely out of breath. I had no choice but to slow to a fast hike.
Harney Peak is 7242 ft- the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees. Atop the peak, there is a stone structure which was formerly a forest fire lookout.
Harney Peak is the site where Lakota Holy man, Black Elk recieved his "Great Vision" when only nine years old in 1872. Later, he returned as an old man with John Neihardt, to whom he told his autobiography: Black Elk Speaks in 1932.
Just below the tower, attached to one of the few pine trees on the peak, are colorful prayer flags and other offerings. The Lakota still come here for religious ceremonies.
From the peak, you can see four states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.
I spent a few minutes on the peak, then I headed down a few hundred yards to find a more secluded location in the shade. I sat down and ate my lunch.
Afterwards, I headed back down the trail at a quick jog, very happy to not have any more mountains to climb for at least a few miles.
When I turned to take the left turn to continue my loop back to Willow Creek, a hiker told me I was going the wrong way….
He pointed, "The parking lot is this way!"
I thanked him for his concern but explained, "I know where I'm going….. I'm not lost… I came in from the other side. I'm running 11 or 12 miles today and making a loop."
He looked at me with disbelief, but soon he was out of sight.
On the way down the other side of the mountain, I stopped to enjoy the views of Harney Peak where I had been only a short time ago.
The trail entered the trees and I appreciated the shade. I was relieved to have made it over the highest part of the run today without there being any thunderstorms to contend with.
I met a couple of hikers with a camera, I offered to take their photo for them. In return they took mine. That was much easier than trying to balance my camera on a rock and setting the timer as I usually do.
Elkhorn Mountain is a ridge consisting of solid granite outcroppings. I found a large natural ampitheater with great natural acoustics. I think I will bring my Native American Flute with me the next time I am here. It would be great to hear the flute music echo off these rock walls.
Maybe if I ever learn how to play my didgeridoo, I can bring it up here too? I can make plenty of noise with my didge. However, the single word that bests describes the sounds I make right now is "disturbing."
I had miscalculated the amount fluids to carry in my Camelback. Usually the 100 oz bladder will get me anywhere from 18 to 24 miles, depending on how hot the conditions are. I had only filled it 3/4 full because I was not going for that long of a run.
Now at mile 9, I was almost out and very thirsty.
I came upon a tiny 12 inch wide trickling stream that I did not remember crossing over the trail a half mile further up. The water looked cool and inviting.
However, the streams of the Black Hills are full of Giardia, an intestinal protozoal parasite that gives grief to many a thirsty hiker who is not cautious about where he or she takes a gulp of water.
I followed the stream up to its source, a small spring that came out of a crack in a large boulder. The water was clear with a slight milky color from the dissolved minerals.
I washed my face, the salt from the dried perspiration was beginning to burn my eyes. Then, I took a taste and drank heartily.
Gosh, there is simply nothing like the sweet, cold-crisp taste of mountain spring water enjoyed right at the source!
During our 6 month honeymoon trip riding our horses and pack mules on the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Wyoming about ten years ago, Jeanne and I drank often from mountain springs and spring fed creeks and we never got sick. But we were always very very careful to know the source.
Giardia can be transmitted to a water source by humans, livestock and wildlife. It can also survive in the water on its own for a long time. The risk is real but also somewhat overblown. You just have to be aware. If there is a lot of human or animal sign and you cannot go directly to the spring, then you should not drink.
The incubation period is about 10 to 14 days- so for any of you skeptics out there, I'll certainly let you know if I develop any symptoms.
After three more miles of downhill, I was finally back at my car.
I had been thinking of doing another hilly 10 or 12 mile run Sunday but I had more soreness than I expected. So instead I only did a 5 mile run on more flat terrain.
There is a race that I am considering for next weekend: 24 hours of Laramie…The Run I am not at all considering doing the entire 24 hours. I think that it might be a nice training run to go at least 40 or 50 miles. I find that training runs over 30 miles are difficult to do self-supported. Although I have hidden food and Camelback bladders of fluids in the bushes many times before, it is much easier to make use of aid stations that are part of an organized event.
Unlike the tradtional out and back courses of most ultra events, this race is run on a 5.8 mile loop in the Medicine Bow National Forest. We are free to run as many loops as we would like over a 24 hour period.
If I choose to do this, the hardest part will probably be avoiding the temptation of dropping every time I pass my car.
I think I will wait to see how I am feeling later this week before I decide.
This week I have been feeling great. The soreness from Kettle Moraine went away quickly, within only a couple of days. Then again all I did was only a 41 mile training run instead of a complete 100 kilometer race.
I decided to do some trail running last weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. My legs felt good. The only sign that I had done something out of the ordinary the previous week was a little sluggishness going up the hills but that is it.
Otherwise, I feel surprisingly well.
Friday June 13th Samelius Trailhead South
I started at the Samelius Trailhead of the Centennial Trail and headed south to the Big Pine trailhead before turning around and running back.
We have been in an 8 year drought. But then this May has been the wettest since 1905.
The ponds and streams are full. Our drought is almost over…as long as we continue to get rain and don't have a summer that is too dry.
The spring wildflowers are in full bloom. It is absolutely beautiful here; I wish that I could bottle up the fresh scent of the flowers, green grass and pine trees and post that here for y'all to enjoy as well.
Many of these ponds were dry only a few weeks ago.
Saturday June 14th Samelius Trailhead North
I parked at the Samelius Trailhead again. Today I went in the opposite direction from yesterday, I went north up the Centennial Trail.
The weather was hot- in the 80s – but at least it was dry unlike last week in Wisconsin.
This section of the trail was rocky.
I wanted to look at the view but had to pay attention to where I placed my feet to keep from biting it. I've learned the hard way to not gawk at the scenery when trail running over rough ground.
These peaks are located in the Black Elk Wilderness. I decided to run them Sunday so I could see them up close.
The Black Elk Wilderness area was named after Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk (c.1863-1950). He fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn at the age of 12 and was injured at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In 1932 wrote the book: Black Elk Speaks, with John Neihardt, an account of his experiences and sacred Lakota rituals.
This curious lil' guy let me mess around with my camera and snap a few photos before he had enough and ran up the tree out of sight.
Sunday June 15th Big Pine Trailhead South
I parked at the Big Pine Trailhead where I had turned around on my run Friday.
It was cooler than yesterday, a pleasant change. I headed south into the Black Elk Wilderness and towards the granite peaks I had glimpsed yesterday.
Most of the first half of the run was uphill.
Someone must've spent a lot of time making these trail blazes. The Centennial Trail is known as Trail #89 because it was completed during the year of South Dakota's centennial in 1989.
I ran up the Centennial Trail until it connected with the Horsethief Trail. Then I turned right and ran towards the top of the ridge.
Along the way, I met some horse and mule riders who asked me for directions. This was my first time in this area and I told them so. Still, they were completely mixed up and all turned around. They had no idea where they were. They showed me their map and I pointed out the way for them.
Apparently, my map reading skills were much better than theirs. They should be: in 1998 my wife and I spent 6 months riding our two horses along with our two pack mules up the Continental Divide Trail from the Mexican border through New Mexico and Colorado towards Wyoming. It was just the two of us, along with our two dogs. That was an amazing journey- I consider it my greatest "ultramarathon" adventure to date.
Perhaps the seeds of my love of ultrarunning were sown on that trip without me even realizing it?
I rested for a few minutes at the top of the ridge before turning around and heading back.
The next 30 minutes were all downhill… a pleasant change after the slow going up hill to get here. But I couldn't go as fast as I would've liked because of all the loose round rocks.
You can see a few of the rock outcroppings I had seen yesterday. I was not able to get as clear a picture as I would have liked because of the trees and vegetation.
Instead of taking Trail #89, I decided to take the Horsethief trail on the return trip. My plan was to run to the Horsethief trailhead from which I could loop back to my car parked at the Big Pine trailhead.
On the way down, I was surprised to catch up with the horseriders again. It was good that I did… they had missed the turn off that I had told them to take. They were lost yet again.
I got them turned around and finally on the right trail.
I wonder what would have happened to them had I not been here?
Here is a sturdy foot bridge. I have never seen one constructed like this.
Was it built this way or is it made out of an old flume or water chute?
After getting to the Horsethief trailhead, I ran less than half a mile on the side of the road before I returned to the Big Pine trailhead and my car.
This week, I have felt good. Of course, these were only short pleasant recovery runs- nothing long or arduous. In a few weeks I should be ready again to try some longer training runs or even another race. I need to be careful now and allow my body some more time to recover, otherwise I could end up with an injury.
There are endless miles of trails here, I am looking forward to exploring more of them in the future.
These last two weeks after my near DNF at the Greenland Trail 50-k, I have been considering my options.
I was hoping to attempt the Wyoming Double Marathon on Memorial Day weekend. But now I am worried about whether or not I will be acclimated to altitude by then. If I could spend some time living and training at altitude, it would probably be no problem; however I don't have enough vacation time to spend a week or two hanging out in the mountains. Like everyone else, I have a job and other commitments.
Also, on that very same weekend, my wife's Mom and Dad will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Iowa. Everyone really would like for me to attend- and so would I. But I do not want all of my training over the past few months to go to waste either.
So after considering my options, I looked into other races at lower elevation around the same date. I discovered that the Kettle-Moraine 100-k will be run in Wisconsin on June 7th, a week after the Wyoming Double. Although it will be a longer race, I am less intimidated about running 62+ miles at 900 ft compared to running 52.4 miles at 8,000+ ft.
Even so, 100-k will be farther than I have ever attempted to go before.
One advantage of doing this race is that the trails will be very familiar to me. The Kettle-Moraine 100-k is run in the same location as the Ice Age Trail 50-k and the 38 mile all-night "fun" run, both of which I completed last year.
So without thinking too much about it, I signed up for the 100-k and ordered my plane tickets before I could change my mind.
It's too late for me to chicken out now!
For 100-k training, they do recommend at least one long run in the 40 – 50 mile range about four or five weeks before the ultra. The Greenland Trail 50-k was excellent training but I needed to do at least one extra-long run further than that.
As an alternative to going 40 or 50 miles in one day, one can do two back-to-back long runs on a weekend amounting to the same distance. This is much easier on the body but counts the same as a training stimulus so that is what I decided to do.
I hoped to do a 20 – 30 mile run on Saturday and a 10- 20 mile run on Sunday.
DAY #1 SATURDAY
My plan was to run two different segments of the George Mickelson Trail over the weekend. I very much looked forward to getting out, spending time in nature, exploring new trails and enjoying the scenery.
After a week of 70 – 80 degree temperatures, on Thursday we suddenly had a freak late spring blizzard which dumped over two feet of snow in some places.
I was grateful for the moisture. We are in a seven year drought here and need all of the precipitation we can get.
But I was annoyed that I had to wait all day for the snow to melt before I could begin (as you can see from my expression in the photo above).
Fortunately, the temperatures increased and the snow began melting, allowing me to get a late, if slushy, start on Saturday afternoon.
To keep from getting blisters in the wet conditions, I taped my feet with Elastikon and Micropore as specified in Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof. If it was successful, I intended to do the same for the Kettle-Moraine 100-k. One rule of running is never try something new in a race that you have never tried in training. Those Wisconsin trails can get pretty slick and muddy in early June. Learning how to tape feet properly could be useful.
I parked at the Minnekahata trailhead just west of Hot Springs. Minnekahata was originally a water stop and the junction of the Hot Springs branch of the railroad. The water in this area is so hard that water had to be brought in by tank cars, and pumped into the water tower to have it available for the steam locomotives. In the early 1890s, tourists came by train to enjoy the warm water spas of Hot Springs.
The George Mickelson Trail, is a rails-to-trails scenic biking and hiking path that runs 114 miles from Edgemont to Deadwood, South Dakota. An annual trail pass is only $15. It is well worth the price. The surface was packed coarse sand, limestone and fine gravel. It is firm enough to ride a bike on but soft enough to be easy on the body when running. I could feel the slight give in the surface with every step.
I love getting off of the pavement!
The first several miles were through the prairie before increasing in elevation and entering the trees. The day warmed and the snow disappeared. It was amazing how green the grass had become after being covered for two days by snow.
At the Lien Quarry Shelter (about mile 7), there was a working pump. The cold water on my face and head felt good! I shed my jacket, long sleeve tech shirt and finally my tights.
I left the open meadows and the trail started to climb a hill. The elevation gradually increased from 4,100 ft up to 4,900+ ft. The prairie grasses gave way to pine trees and junipers. A group of mule deer ran off, startled by my presence.
Along the side of the trail, I noticed old telegraph poles, some still with their original glass insulators. I kept an eye on the ground for ones that had fallen but the few that I found were broken. I guess I am not the only one intrigued by the beauty of the thick blue-green glass.
Above are momma cows enjoying the green spring grass. The baby calves are just out of the picture frolicking in a large group. Apparently they are not used to humans running because they stared at me intently as I passed by.
The all-black ones are Angus. The black cows with a white face are a hybrid of Hereford and Angus. Those are called "Black Baldies." In such a cross, the black coloration of the Angus is dominant, with the exception of the persistent genetics of the Hereford whiteface.
A bit further down the trail, I passed buildings, tailings and mine wagons. This is all that is left of the Black Hills Lime Company. Trains stopped here for water and to load up with minerals for transport elsewhere.
The turnaround was at the Pringle Trailhead which is about 16 miles. Pringle is a a small lumbering and mining town that was once known as Point of Rocks. There were a lot of vehicles parked in front of the VFW hall. I wondered what event was going on. A wedding? A family reunion? A birthday? Something else?
I walked around a few hundred yards to explore the town before sitting down to eat my sandwich. I craved a turkey and cheese sandwich at the Greenland 50-k so that is what I packed for my late afternoon snack today.
The afternoon became hot. A dry breeze picked up from the south.
It was amazing to think there was two feet or more of snow here only 24 hours ago. I found one of the few remaining drifts in the shadows of the trees and put some snow in my hat. That felt good.
What am I going to do in the summer when it is hot and there is no snow?
By mile 24 on the way back, I was out of fluids. I was glad to have the water pump at the Lien Quarry to replenish my Camelback.
I ran on. Then, I spotted a bright white "tree branch" that seemed out of place. It turned out to be a deer antler. It was under a barbed wire fence where the ground dipped low. The buck must have ducked under the fence and his already loose antler caught and popped off. I did not find a glass insulator today but at least I found something else.
I entered the prairie again and had only a few more miles to go before I got back to the car.
At mile 28, suddenly I heard a large animal rushing through the brush towards me. I didn't have time to think; I stopped, jumped around and charged back towards whatever it was that was chasing me. At the same moment, I pulled my pepper spray from it's holster.
My "fight or flight" reflex kicked in. After running all afternoon, I was not in the mood to run away. My instincts took control and decided: "Fight it is!"
I didn't know what to expect… An angry momma cow? A mountain lion? That buck deer looking for his lost antler?
It turned out to be two ranch dogs, a shepard-cross and a heeler-mix, out hunting rabbits and other wildlife on the prairie. As soon as they saw that I was not going to be an easy target they stopped in their tracks. They started growling and barking at me.
I responded myself with a deep guttural growl; I continued to run towards them.
When they saw this, they turned tail and raced back to their home ranch over a half mile away. I yelled a few obscenities in their direction, and they ran even faster.
After catching my breath, I admit that I felt a bit bummed that I didn't get a chance to try out my new jumbo size pepper spray. It is the extra large kind designed for grizzly bears. I hate all bullies… canine and otherwise. Those dogs should not be out chasing wildlife…. or runners.
In the back of my mind I had always wondered if I was ever ambushed, would I be able to pull the pepper spray canister out, cock it, and be ready to use it in within a second or two? At least now I know. There won't be any problem at all. It is amazing what adrenaline and fear can do, even after running 28 miles.
As I headed south, the sun sank towards the horizon and disappeared.
There was no moon and few stars. Almost no houselights were visible in this large open valley. A mother cow mooed mournfully for her calf. There was no response so she kept mooing and mooing.
A couple of miles in the distance, I saw the headlights of semi-trucks glow as they zipped past. The effect was surreal but my camera was unable to capture it. Slowly, I got closer and closer.
I heard a coyote yapping only a half mile off. I am not nervous about coyotes compared to ranch dogs. Unlike those dog bullies, at least they know better. In a place like South Dakota, where many pickups have rifles behind their seats, coyotes know that most of the time it would be suicide to chase a human.
It is too cold for rattlesnakes so I didn't bothering putting on my headlamp; I ran quietly and unseen in the dark. As I approached the road, I waited until there were no vehicles and then shuffled across.
I made it back to my car at 9:30 PM and gosh was I hungry. I couldn't believe my GPS, I had hoped to run 31 or 32 miles but it said 33.3 miles! I suppose those extra few yards looking for glass insulators and exploring the town of Pringle added up.
That night, I ate an entire cheese pizza- 1800 calories- and woke up the next morning famished. My foot taping was a success- no blisters or hot spots- despite the early moisture from the slush and mud.
The next day I was a little bit sore but nothing that I couldn't run through. By running long again the day following an extra long run, you teach your body to keep going when tired, an extremely useful skill when running ultras. The key is to not overdo either day… to load up on calories between those two runs… and treat each run as an easy recovery run.
For Sunday's run, I headed to the northern Black Hills to do another segment of the George Mickelson Trail. I parked about 1/2 mile away from the ghost town of Mystic.
Originally named Sitting Bull, the busy mining town was settled by gold miners on Castle Creek. Later, it was renamed Mystic in 1889 after the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad came through the town. Mystic persisted much longer than many neighboring towns because of its importance as a trade, tourist and transportation center. The trains were used to haul lumber, ores, coal, freight, passengers and mail. The George Frink Sawmill operated here from 1919 to 1952. The closure of the sawmill was the end of the town as a flourishing community.
Mystic is now the location of a trail shelter and one of the access points of the George Mickelson Trail.
Above is a photo of the McCahan Memorial Chapel. It was built before the mid-1940s with money donated by Mrs. McCahan.
The mile markers on the trail are sturdy concrete posts. This 75 mile marker is about another 1/2 mile beyond Mystic. This section of the trail follows Castle Creek. The elevation is over 5,000 ft. The pines and junipers I ran though yesterday have now changed to spruces and other trees that prefer the moister higher altitudes.
Around a bend I heard a loud "SQUAWK!" It was a Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, too quick for me to get a photo before he flew off. He was hunting for frogs and other critters in this bog. Standing over 4 ft tall and with an almost 6 ft wingspan, he was magnificent to see.
I also heard the chatter overheard of Belted Kingfishers all afternoon. These iridescent birds hunt for fish and aquatic insects. They are very territorial, protecting fishing territory on the creek and nesting sites.
They, too, were much too fast for me to get a photo.
The day was turning out to be beautiful. The snow had melted and the trail had dried out. I was about 1,000 ft higher than yesterday so the temperatures were cooler.
I tried to keep close to my projected race pace for my upcoming ultra. The Kettle-Moraine 100-k has the same cut-offs as the 100 mile race which will be run concurrently. The races start at 6AM and the 100-k'ers have until 12 Midnight to make the cut off at 62 miles.
The 18 hours allotted are very fair and doable. That is a maximum pace to finish of just over 17 min/mi. Of course, this is not your actual running pace, it is the average of everything you do, including walking up hills, potty breaks, stops at aid stations, stops to eat or change shoes etc.
I have completed 50 miles with an average of between 12 – 13 min/mi so my goal for the 100-k will be an average of a 15 min/mile.
When running shorter distances, the temptation is to go much faster is difficult to resist, even for me the slow ultra-turtle.
I ended up running faster today than my goal race pace. To counter that, I took extra long breaks to take photos or explore the scenery. By the end of the day, my pace averaged around 14 min/mile. That is close but still faster than I plan on racing.
Of course, I am sure that by those last few miles of the 100-k, I will be forcing myself to take each step instead of holding myself back.
Above is a photo of "Tunnel C." There are a total of four tunnels on the George Mickelson Trail. They are big… large enough for a locomotive to go through. I haven't seen the other tunnels yet but am looking forward to it.
My seven year old son would think this is SO totally cool. I cannot wait to get he and my wife out here on their bikes.
The terrain in this area is very rugged with steep hillsides. Because of this, many wildlife prefer to walk on the easiest path which happens to be the running trail. Tracks were common. Besides dogs and humans, I also saw prints of deer, turkey, raccoon, mink and squirrel.
This is the largest waterfall on the trail.
I enjoyed the solitude but was surprised to only see one other group of people using this trail on such a beautiful day. It was a couple who were out fishing.
I asked them if they had had any luck, they said "No, but we have no idea what we are doing."
I replied, "I don't either but that doesn't stop me. I keep going."
They gave me a puzzled look and wondered what in the hell I was talking about.
As I approached the turnaround point at Rochford, I passed by numerous beaver ponds. The dams were terraced into multiple different levels of ponds.
In the background, you can see the tailings of the old Standby Mill. Today only the foundation can be seen from the trail. The Standby claim was founded in 1877, and in the following years a stamp mill and water plume was constructed to extract gold ore. In the mid- 1980s it was torn down due to safety concerns.
Most of the beavers here are "bank beavers," that is they don't build a classic beaver lodge but instead make their home in burrows they dig into the bank of the creek.
Above is the one beaver lodge I did see.
The Rochford trailhead is located next to the volunteer firestation. I stopped to eat a snack before embarking on my return trip.
Around 1878, the town of Rochford had 500 residents, 100 log cabins, two doctors, three saloons, six stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a butcher shop and a barber shop. Later a post office was built along with a school house where Annie Tallent, allegedly the first white woman in the Black Hills, once taught. She also served as postmistress.
By 1881, there were only three people living in Rochford. The miners had moved on to other locations to find their gold.
Rochford is also the place near where the last free-living wild black bear in the Black Hills was killed in 1968. This is great bear habitat but if you want to see bears when you come here on vacation, you will need to visit the tourist destination, Bear Country, south of Rapid City.
Here is one of the few remaining "W" signs. It was a signal to the conductor to blow the whistle to warn animals and people of the approaching train.
As I headed back on the return trip, I noticed that my pace had picked up. There was an imperceptible grade that I had climbed all afternoon but which I did not notice until now.
On my run out, I noticed several unusual posts stuck in the ground in various locations on both sides of the trail. Some were plain and falling down, others were colorfully painted and with letters.
The second time I came by, I took a closer look at this one, then I understood what they were.
These are mine "stakes" marking the location of a mining claim. When a miner speaks of his mining "stake," he is usually talking about his physical mining claim. However, quite literally, a "mining stake" is also a pole stuck into the ground to mark the location of someone's claim.
Although most of the large-scale mechanized mining operations have moved on to more lucrative ventures in other places, small part-time prospectors still manually work some of the claims. With the recent increase in gold prices, the hobby has become more popular.
It sounds like this guy has had some problems with claim jumpers and means business.
I hope he won't mind me taking a photo.
The sun began sinking towards the horizon, casting long shadows. I was only a few miles from the car, so I wasn't worried about having to run in the dark tonight.
I entered a meadow and a loud whistle pierced the silence.
It was the alarm call of a yellow-bellied marmot, Marmota flaviventris. Six who had been feeding on the spring grass scattered in all directions as they scurried towards their burrows. A close relative to the Eastern Woodchuck, another name for Marmots are "Rock Chucks."
This was the lone remaining marmot who decided to stop just above his burrow. He kept a suspicious eye on me but permitted me to take a few photos.
I passed back through Tunnel C and knew I was getting close.
When I got back to the car, I was surprised by how good I felt. That morning, I had awoken with a trace of soreness from the 33+ miles I ran yesterday. That soreness was now completely gone and I felt the warm glow of a "runner's high."
My GPS told me that Sunday I had run an even 17.0 miles. That means that I ran a total of 50 miles in two days. It was more than I had anticipated. I would have been satisfied with only 40.
The days following, I felt a little bit sore but nothing as I expected. Two of my toenails seem to be turning black, the second on the right and the third on the left. That's a surprise to me, as I never noticed any pain. I usually don't lose nails unless I run at least 50 miles. I guess those back-to-back long runs really do count the same as doing one very long run- just as they say they do.
Well, at least these toenails will be one less thing that I will need to worry about at my race in a few weeks. Of course, there are still 8 others that could cause problems.
I feel as ready for the Kettle-Moraine 100-k as I could be. These next few weeks I will devote to short recovery runs with a few faster tempo runs and long-intervals just to optimize my leg speed.
I don't know if I will get a chance to post anything more to my blog over the next few weeks. If not, then I hope my next post will report success at the 100-k June 7th.
No matter how it goes, I am sure it will be an adventure- it always is.
If any of you ever decide to vacation here in the Black Hills, definitely bring your running shoes and get out of the car… we have miles and miles of trails for you to run and explore.
I decided to go for a moderate-easy run today- only ten miles. I am now tapering for my 50-k in about two weeks.
We only had a couple of inches of snow yesterday down in Rapid City. I hoped that the snow was not much deeper at the higher elevations. However, as I drove up out of the plains towards Deadwood and beyond, I could see that I was wrong.
I parked at the Englewood Trailhead of the George Mickelson Trail, a gravel rails-to-tails biking and hiking path. But the snow on the trail was so deep, over 8 inches, that I was forced to run on the dirt road instead. The George Mickelson Trail would have to wait. It was a quiet day with few vehicles, which was nice, but the road was slipperly and very muddy in places.
The day started out cool, in the 20s but the bright sun warmed it up very quickly to the upper 30s lower 40s.
One of my favorite reasons for living in the West is the weather. You might have a blizzard one day but you can count on seeing the sun the next. This is good for one's attitude and mood during the winter. I do not miss the weeks of bleak grayness during the winter in Wisconsin and the rest of the Upper Midwest. Even in sunny weather, most other places in the US do not have the bright clear blue skies that we do in the Western half of the country.
I saw a couple of wild turkeys and some deer tracks on the road. Nearby, but out of sight, I heard a nuthatch and several chickadees calling. Crows flew overhead and announced their presence with loud CAW-CAW's.
A gentle breeze picked up and whispered through the pines, dusting the snow off the needles. Occasionally a large clump fell to the ground; once, one landed my shoulders.
Because my upcoming 50-k will be run at 7,000+ feet elevation and the 52.4 mile ultra I'll do in May will be as high as 8,700 feet, I decided to head to the higher elevations today to get a little bit of altitude training. Despite the name: "Black Hills" these mountains are actually the highest points between the Alps and the Rocky Mountains- they are only called "hills" because they happen to be in the shadow of the much higher Rockies to the West.
The trailhead where I started was at about 5,800 ft elevation; I topped out on a ridge at just over 6,100 feet. This is not very high by western standards but certainly higher than Wisconsin. If I ever choose to run any of the higher altitude Western US ultras, I think I will need to spend some training time out of the area and in higher places for proper preparation.
But for my next two upcoming races, this should do just fine.
The wind picked up and I felt chilled, so I put my coat on. At mile 5, I turned around and started heading back. After all of my long runs these past few weeks of hard training, it seemed much too soon to already be at the half-way mark.
It is funny how one's perception changes with time and experience. Only several years ago, five miles seemed like a long distance to me. Now, I barely feel warmed up at five miles. It hardly feels worthwhile to assemble my gear and put my shoes on if I am running any less. I don't consider a run to really be long unless it is at least 20 miles; a ten mile run like today is "moderate."
Yes, it's very strange how my perception has changed.
It was a very nice easy run today. One problem, though, was the layers of mud building up on my shoes. There was no way of keeping it off. There was no point scraping it off because it reaccumulated in only a few hundred yards. The mud added at least another half pound or more to the weight of my shoes. That made for tougher going.
"Oh well," I thought to myself, " it'll just make for a better workout today."
It was still easier than trying to run on the trail through the snow. At least there wasn't a headwind both ways like last week.
On a beautiful day like today, it didn't make sense for me to complain.
After I made it back to the car, I changed into clean clothes. I then headed back to town, but on the way, stopped for a few minutes to play my new Native American Flute. I usually try to limit my posts on this blog to running-related only, but I decided to make an exception this time and include the above video.
I got my new flute from Native Flute maker and player: Odell Borg of High Spirits Flutes in Patagonia, Arizona. It is a Double Flute in Key of F#, made out of Walnut. One side has fingerholes like any other Native Flute; the other is a drone flute. The audio of this recording does not do the sounds made by this flute justice. I have played many Native Flutes but never one like this.
I played for a while and listened to the flute music along with the wind and the birds. In the background, you can hear crows calling as well as a curious nuthatch, who stopped by to investigate this strange music he had never heard before.
Afterwards, I got in my car and headed back out of the hills. I stopped at a restaurant in Deadwood for a late lunch/early dinner. The food was great but the town of Deadwood is like every other tourist-gambling town I have seen. There were only a few people around, this being a quiet Sunday in the off-season.
I wonder how many thousands and thousands of visitors come here every year and never get out of town to see and experience the natural beauty only a few miles away?
Perhaps that is just as well… if every single one decided to get out there to "experience" the outdoors, then it wouldn't be very beautiful for long, now would it?
It has been a while since I have posted anything to my blog. As noted on previous posts, I moved to Rapid City, South Dakota from Wisconsin about a month ago. These past few weeks, I have been busy settling in to my new job, looking for a new home and running. My family is still in Wisconsin so I have been able to focus on my training. However, I would much rather have the "distraction" of my family here with me instead of having all of my free time open for running.
I am right on track for my training for the Greenland Trail 50-k on April 19th so I registered for the race last week. I feel strong without any "twinges" suggesting an oncoming overuse injury or other problems. Having been sidelined in the past more than once by ITB, stress fracture and other injuries, injuries are always at the back of my mind. Now that I am older (and I hope, wiser), I pay close attention to the warning signals my body gives me. I make sure to back off of my training whenever needed.
We had snow on Friday followed by warm sunny day on Saturday with highs around 65 degrees F. Most of it was melted by Saturday morning so I decided to run on the Centennial Trail. I chose a section just east of Sturgis, South Dakota. I would run from the parking area at the base of Bear Butte through Ft. Meade Recreation Area to the top of the first ridge of the Black Hills and back.
This would be my last long run before starting my taper.
Part of the enjoyment of running ultramarathons is the training. I don't consider a run to really be "long" until it is at least 20 or more miles. I love getting out on the trails and experiencing nature. To hike a 20+ mile long trail would take me an entire day or even a weekend, but when I run it, I get to see all the sights in only a few hours.
I love those few weeks when I am at my peak. I can get out to run for a few hours or even half a day. The miles just float on by. I consider these slow long runs to be my reward for being disciplined and getting up at 4 AM to do all those less-than-fun mid-week runs during the cold, dark winter.
If it were up to me, all of my runs would be long. Of course, my schedule and my body could not tolerate that. So I religiously do my mid-week runs of more sane distances as I know I should, even if I don't enjoy them as much.
The day started out chilly, around 37 degrees with a 10 to 15mph headwind. I brought a change of clothes with me to change into as the day warmed up. On my back, I wore my Camelback backpack with 100oz of sports drink, a turkey sandwhich for lunch, energy bars/gel, emergency gear, first aid kit and extra clothing. It weighed almost 20 lbs.
I wa surprised to find so much snow on the ground. In Rapid City, there wasn't any snow at all. Only 30 miles to the north, there was still a few inches.
I hoped the trails wouldn't be too muddy.
Bear Butte is a South Dakota State Park. It rises about 1253 ft above the surrounding plains and is 4426 ft above sea level. Bear Butte is what geologists call a "laccolith," which is the result of the forcible intrusion of magma into cooler rock. A similar formation is Devil's Tower in Wyoming.
To the Native peoples, Bear Butte has important religious and historical significance. Evidence of a human presence dates back ten-thousand years. To the Lakota, Bear Butte is called Mato Paha or Bear Mountain, because of how it resembles a bear resting on its side asleep. To the Cheyenne, it is Noahvose, the place where the creator imparted to Sweet Medicine sacred knowledge. Many make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and bundles tied to the branches of the trees on the mountain.
I did not climb Bear Butte on this trip but am looking forward to returning and doing so in the future.
A sage grouse flew up and startled me. I looked at my heart rate monitor and saw that heart rate immediately jumped about ten bpm.
As I headed south, I entered Ft. Meade Recreation Area, public land managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). It was named for Ft. Meade, which was established in 1878 as a cavalry fort to protect the new settlements in the northern Black Hills, especially the nearby gold mining area around Deadwood. Now, a VA Medical Center is located on the grounds.
With the steadily warming temperatures, the quickly melting snow was making the trail soggy. Fortunately, there was enough dry ground around the wet patches for me to slowly make my way.
Above is a trail marker for the Centennial Trail.
It is known as the Centennial Trail or "Trail No. 89" because it was completed in the year of South Dakota's state centennial: 1989. The trail goes 111 miles from the base of Bear Butte through the Black Hills to Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs.
In the distance, I heard a coyote yip and howl. I tried my best to answer back but all I got in response was silence.
Maybe I had better practice my coyote howl some more?
Or, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut?
In the distance, you can see the ridge of the Black Hills that I am aiming for.
First, I will need to head east (to the left) and go around the side of that closest hill. As the hawk flies, the distance would be much shorter, but my goal is to get to mile 13 before turning around.
The temperatures warmed steadily. I stopped to take off my running tights and take off my outer long sleeve shirt.
It felt much better to feel the warm spring breeze on my skin!
Above is a photo of yucca. The tips of the leaves are needle-sharp and can surprise you if you are not paying attention to where your ankles are. With the proper preparation, the fiber in yucca leaves can be turned into string or rope. Another name of yucca is the "Soap Plant" from the fact that the saponins in the roots, if pounded with a rock, will make soapy-suds, useful in the past for cleansing in the days before grocery stores.
In the foreground, you can see a few small orange-red berries which are rose-hips. If crushed and steeped in hot water, they will make a mildly-tart brilliant red tea which is delicious as well as high in vitamin C.
To the uninitiated, the prairie may have a barren appearance, but it actually is a diverse and rich area… ecologically, geologically and historically.
Now at mile 4.8, I had a stream to cross.
Because the Black Hills have been in a drought for 7 years, many normally flowing creeks are bone-dry.
Not this one!
Fortunately, there were boulders that allowed me to cross without wetting my feet more than they already were.
Note the pale Wisconsin-white of my legs…
I crossed highway 34.
As I headed south I decided to stay on Old Stone Road, a dirt road that was still muddy, but less so than the hiking trail which it paralleled. I was going long today so I didn't feel guilty for opting for the more easy route.
We ultra-trail runners may be insane but we are not stupid, we try to use the land to its advantage to save energy and time whenever we can.
Besides being a cavalry outpost in the 19th century, Ft. Meade served other purposes in the past as well, including a Civilian Conservation Corp camp, Army National Guard officer's training site and WWII camp for German POWs.
Here, around mile 5.5, we see the Long Stone Building built in 1940 to replace an older wooden structure. It served as a storage building for targets for the 1000-inch (25 meter) shooting range. Firing from close range at smaller targets allowed soldiers to train without going to a full-size range. The terraces (off to the right and just out of sight) are where the targets were placed.
Just another 1/2 mile down the road, I came across the Ft. Meade National Cemetery, used from 1878 to 1943.
The first soldier was Sgt. Charles Hess who died in the construction of Ft. Meade. About 200 soldiers and others are buried here, including a Medal of Honor recipient, military family members and civilian fort employees.
I was surprised by how many children were buried there. In our time of modern health care, vaccinations and antibiotics, we forget how high childhood mortality was only a few generations ago.
Off in the distance is Bear Butte; the buildings in the foreground are old Ft. Meade, the VA Medical Center and Sturgis High School.
It was 12:30 PM. I was feeling hungry so I ate half of my turkey sandwhich for lunch before heading on.
Despite the snow, the day was quite warm. In the trees out to the wind, I felt hot. By the time I came back this way on my return trip, most of this snow would already be gone.
I came out to an opening and felt the wind blowing in my face. It was more difficult running into the wind but I looked forward to having a tailwind on my return trip back to the car.
At Alkali Creek, located at the end of this road (mile 9.6), there was a sign marker for the 1906-07 campgound of the Utes.
Several hundred Ute indians left their Utah reservation in hopes of finding land on the Sioux or Cheyenne lands. They peacefully made their way through the West and the Army was sent to bring them back. They were finally captured in southeastern Montana and brought to Ft. Meade. Not exactly prisoners but not free either, they waited for a location on a nearby reservation while camped on this creek.
When that did not work out, they returned to Utah.
You might wonder why I took this photo of these leafless gray shrubs.
This is a wild plum patch, one of the many that I ran past. Seeing this brought back memories of the time my family and I lived in Wyoming. We had a thicket of wild plums growing on our ranch. One year we had such a bumper crop that we harvested them by the 5 gallon bucketful. Some we made into jam. The rest were juiced and fermented into a delicious sparkling pink plum wine with a trace of sweetness.
It was like soda-pop for grown-ups!
I will certainly be back here late next summer to check on these patches.
These ruts are from a former stagecoach trail. Several Stage trails passed through Ft. Meade on the way to the Gold fields of the Black Hills. This one came from Sidney, Nebraska to Deadwood, South Dakota. The stage carried supplies, prospectors and settlers to the last gold rush in the lower 48 states.
I continued on.
Instead of my usual ultra-run-walk strategy, I was proceeding in a more of a run-and-then-stop-to-take-a-photo manner. That was fine with me, as the headwind, muddy road and trails made the going slow and tiresome. The stop-and-go did well at keeping my heart rate down.
Us ultrarunners care more about the total distance traveled and duration of time spent than our pace anyway.
At mile 10.1, here is the gravemarker for Curley Grimes, a local outlaw and suspect in stagecoach robbery. It reads:
… buried with his head down, just as he fell, the whispering pines will never tell….
In December 1879, federal law officers shot and killed Curley Grimes in a supposed escape attempt. The two were arrested and held at the fort while the matter was investigated. An Army detail buried Grimes "facedown as he fell." The two law officers were tried and eventually acquitted. They were also tried and acquitted in another trial in Pierre, South Dakota of the death of another prisoner under similar suspicious circumstances.
Now at about mile 10.6, I could see my final destination, the top of the first ridge of the Black Hills. This is a tunnel built under Interstate Highway 90.
As I left the open prairie, I started heading upwards. Just as I entered the trees, a herd of deer was startled and ran off.
I was glad to be out of the wind but I was not happy that the snow deepened as I entered the trees. Looking back down the trail, you can see how short my stride had become.
I kept slipping and sliding in the slush. My feet were soaked. My last 2 miles until the turnaround were soon slowed to a hike instead of a run.
Oh well, it won't be far now, I thought.
I came out into an open area on top of the first ridge of the hills. My GPS said that I was at 4152 ft and my mileage was 13.2 miles. You can see the dark top of Bear Butte peeking over the horizon.
I stopped and ate the other half of my sandwich and a CLIF energy bar.
Earlier, a couple of horse riders warned me that this ridge was where a mountain lion and her two kittens had spent the winter. I didn't pay too much attention until I came across a set of melted tracks. They were either a very large dog or a mountain lion. Because there were no claw marks, I must assume they were feline rather than canine.
Though the risk is slim, every year a few runners are taken my cougars. My pepper spray seemed to be pretty meager protection compared to any hungry mountain lions that might be wandering around out there. I wished that I had my dogs with me but they are back with family in Wisconsin.
Time to be moving on, I thought!
Although I have run similar distances frequently in the past, it is difficult to get a real understanding of what the distances truly are like in the flat Midwest where there are no open vistas or high points to climb and gaze from.
Here in the West, I can see exactly what thirteen miles looks like. It is a really long way, especially when I have just traveled that far and must go back.
The run downhill was a joy. I looked forward to getting out of the slush and snow and trees and back onto the prairie.
However, I had only run 50 yards out of the snow pack when I felt a sharp pain on my ankle.
Instinctivelly, I reached down but then I stopped myself. It was good that I did or I might have had some prickly pear cactus spines in my fingers as well as my ankle. I looked around for a stick to use in plucking this cactus pad out. Instead I found a pine cone that worked as well.
I rolled down my gaiter and sock. Luckily, there were only a few superficially-embedded spines that I pulled out before I went on my way.
On my return trip, I passed by all of the sights I had seen earlier in the day. I was looking forward to finally having a tail wind on the way back.
But luck was not with me.
The 15 mph southernly headwind soon changed into a 30+ mph headwind out of the northwest by afternoon. With the wind in my face on both the out and the return runs, it literally felt as if I had to run uphill both ways!
At mile 16.3, my feet began to bother me. I felt hot spots on the soles of both feet. Although the road was much drier than it was earlier, the moisture from earlier in the day were beginning to take effect. I was worried. Even though I had a small blister treatment kit with me, I did not have enough supplies to cover the soles of both feet.
I stopped in a sunny sheltered spot in the trees and took off my shoes and socks to take a look. My feet were wet but I had stopped in time. I ate another energy bar and some gel. I heard a turkey gobbling in the distance. The dry wind was helpful in this case because in only 15 minutes my socks were mostly dry. Although they would soon be wet again from my shoes, at least they dried out enough to allow me to make it back to the car. I was wearing outer INOV-8 gaiter socks and an inner Injinji liner socks.
I had purchased a few pairs of the Injinji socks earlier in the year. Initially, I was skeptical. Like a glove for your feet, each toe has it's own separate finger. Although I had worn them on on other long runs, I had not really put them to the test. Other ultrarunners swear by them for blister prevention.
After seeing how wet my feet were, I am convinced too. Had I not been wearing them, I am sure I would have already had blisters before I stopped.
At mile 19.1, some prairie dogs "barked" at me as I passed by. Large communally-living ground squirrels, they bark out a warning, whenever danger threatens.
As slowly as I was slogging into the head wind, I couldn't imagine how they could see me as much of a threat.
I stopped and tried to get some photos but everytime I turned to see a head poking out of its hole, it ducked back in. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and another little head peaking at me. But it also ducked back in too as soon as I tried to get the camera focused.
After a few minutes, I soon tired of that game and pressed on.
The above is photo (not mine) of what they look like when not hiding in their burrows.
I finally made it back to the car. My GPS said 25.8 miles but with those last miles of headwind, it felt much longer. I had consumed all of my sports drink by mile 20 and was thirsty. I enjoyed the cool beverage waiting for me. After changing into some clean and dry clothes and fresh socks and shoes, I headed home.
That night, I was so hungry, I ate an entire large pizza. This morning I awoke famished and had a big breakfast. According to my running calculator, I burned an estimated 4400 calories. The other extremely enjoyable aspect of ultra-trail running is replacing the caloric deficit afterwards.
Feed the engine!
Today, I am only a little sore in my calves. I know I will be ready for the Greenland Trail 50-k in a few weeks. Now I will begin a few weeks of taper. Of course, the 50-k is really only a "training" run hopefully to be followed by succes at the Wyoming Double Marathon on Memorial Day Weekend.
I talked my best friend Haliku into running the 50-k with me; we are very much looking forward to sharing this experience. We had hoped to have his younger brother run with us too, but it sounds like he will be sidelined due to a previous injury. I will need to make sure to run it slow so I don't hurt myself before my 52.4 mile adventure in May.
If I successfully complete the Wyoming Double Marathon… who knows what will be next? 100-k? 100-m?
We shall see, first things first. I think that it's time for me to eat again.
"I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere."
— Frank Lloyd Wright
As I have mentioned, I recently accepted a new position in Rapid City in the Black Hills in South Dakota. My family and I will soon be packing our things and relocating from Wisconsin where we've lived for the past four years.
Last week, I drove out there to look for a new place for us to live. We may need to rent for awhile until we find the place that we are looking for. However, with two dogs and three horses, finding another place to buy or rent will be challenging.
On my trip out there, I was fortunate to be able to stay overnight at my wife's sister and her husband's cabin located on a lake in southwestern Minnesota. I awoke early at 4AM as I usually do, intending to get an early start for the day. But try as I might, I just could not get my car started. How odd.That has never happened before. After about ten minutes, it finally turned over weakly, choked a few times and stayed running.
Whew! That was a relief!
I was not looking forward to the possibilty of finding someone to help me with jump starting my car early in the morning in the middle of the Minnesota prairie.
Then I took a look at the thermometer and understood immeditately why I had so much difficulty getting my car started. It was -21 degrees F (-29 C)!
Needless to say, I did NOT go for a run that morning!
As I drove westward on Interstate 90 through the open expanses of the Great Plains of central South Dakota, I was reminded of an experience a few years earlier when we still lived in Wyoming. Some friends from the Midwest were visiting and we were traveling through the desolate plains just east of Shoshoni, WY.
One of them looked into the distance and commented: "You know, there just ain't nothin' out here!"
To which I replied and without a second thought: "Yes, and isn't it GREAT!"
No one said anything but they all looked at me as if I was crazy. It didn't bother me. I am used to getting such looks and of being thought of as a bit odd.
The wide open is certainly not a place for everyone. Some people are uncomfortable, while others genuinely feel agorophobic. And yet there are others, like me, who appreciate nature's beauty and who take great comfort in the broad expanse of nothingness. I can almost envision the herds of bison that darkened these plains from horizon to horizon for tens of thousands of years until they were decimated in the late 1800s.
Although I might not want to live on the unprotected wind-blown prairie without a tree or landmark in sight (been there, done that), I am glad that there are still places in the lower 48 which are not paved over with asphalt or developed into subdivisions and strip malls.
While in Rapid City, I did a few early morning runs during the week but most of my days were filled with getting my office ready and looking at properties.
On Saturday, I headed back home to help with the packing and get more of our stuff. But I wanted to enjoy the balmy +40 degree weather before I returned to frigid snow-covered Wisconsin. So I took a side trip and got off I-90 at exit #131 and drove south to Badlands National Park.
The Badlands, or Maka Sica, as this region is called in Lakota, are located in southwestern South Dakota. The National Park is comprised of about 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires along with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.
It was a sunny, beautiful, cloudless and windless day. The sky was that brilliant pure deep-blue that one infrequently experiences outside the arid West. I looked forward to doing some trail running before I got back to Wisconsin. We have had an especially cold and snowy winter. For months, I have been eager to get off the roads and do some trail running again.
At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center I purchased an annual park pass. At $30, it was a bargain. I am sure that I will return here many times to explore the trails and extensive wilderness this park has to offer.
As I left the visitor center, I was greeted by a friendly black billed magpie. Such a curious bold bird! Their cheerful inquisitive calls always lift my spirits. In Native American mythology, magpies along with coyotes and others animals often appear as trickster figures. Well, this little guy (or gal?) sure had fun tricking and taunting me. Despite how unfraid he appeared, he simply would not allow me to get a clear picture. He would land in the open only a few feet away. Then, just as I lifted my camera to take a photo, he flew back into the thick branches of a nearby cedar!
To him, it was some sort of game. When I appeared bored, ignored him and started walking away, he would land right in front of me again. Probably all that he wanted was a hand out. After a few rounds of this, I decided to get in the car and go do what I came here to do.
The trail head was located only a few miles north of the visitor center back towards the interstate. The Castle Trail itself runs in an east-west direction and is a total of 5 miles one way. I intended to run just a few miles of it as an out and back before returning to my car and driving on.
Much of the trail surface was covered with ice or snow. Some places were wet and muddy from the recent thaw due to warmer temperatures. However, it was dry enough in most places that I was able to find a reasonably good surface to run on. At least this time of year I did not have to worry about rattlesnakes. The prickly pear cactus on the other hand was everywhere.
I'd better be careful and not slip on the ice, I thought to myself. Accidentally landing with my hands or face onto a patch of cactus would hurt!
As I ran, I found myself humming a tune over and over again in my mind. I am sure that all of you have had this happen to you at least one time or another. When it is a good tune, it is tolerable and maybe even helps you focus on your running. It's like having my own personal i-pod in your brain but an i-pod that plays only one song.
At other times, the music may be a catchy but not all that pleasant jingle such as something from a TV commercial. If that happens to be the song which is playing involuntarily in your head, it gets annoying real fast. But try as you might, it just keeps coming back almost as soon as you stop concentrating on keeping it out.
There are people that are paid big money to come up with such commercial jingles. They should be locked in rooms with the same annoying jingle they have created playing over and over and over until they lose their minds.
While driving around Rapid City and the Black Hills last week, I was fortunate to have tuned my car radio to KILI radio 90.1 FM, the Voice of the Lakota Nation. It is broadcast from Porcupine Butte on the Pine Ridge Res. I was told that "kili" means "super" in Lakota. During my life, I have lived in many places. Wherever I have resided, I have done my best to immerse myself in the local culture and to appreciate and respect the local traditions and history.
Well, there was one song they played several times. I couldn't help but be moved by it and begin humming it to myself. The song was "Southern Man" from the album "Harmony Nights" by Alex E Smith, Cheevers Toppah & Nitanis Landry. I don't think that there could be any other song better for me to be listening to as I ran through the Badlands. The music is hauntingly beautiful and it won a Grammy last year. I cannot believe that I hadn't heard of it until now. I am looking forward to getting the whole album.
As I left the open prairie, the terrain became rough and irregular, with sinkholes, eroded gullies and deep arroyos. I stepped cautiously to avoid turning an ankle.
At one point I followed the trail over what I thought was a shallow snow drift. One set of human tracks from last week went over it without difficulty. However, the week of 40 to 50 degree daytime high temperatures had softened the snow considerably.
Suddenly I sank up to my waist. My feet were soaked from the cold melt water beneath.
I had better be more careful and pay attention, I chided myself. An injury here and now would not be a good idea. I had signed in at the trailhead and let the park ranger know of my general whereabouts. However, if I was injured or stuck out here, it would have been many hours or even the next day before someone came to look for me. Hypothermia would be possible.
At first glance and to the uninitiated, the landscape appears desolate, barren, otherworldly and even devoid of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides my welcome from the magpie, I spotted a hawk overhead and saw many other signs of life. On the ground I noted tracks of deer, fox and coyotes and other four leggeds.
In one grassy area, a small bunch of fluff jumped up literally from under my feet It bounded towards a nearby sinkhole. He stopped at the hole in the bottom and watched to see what I would do. It was a cottontail rabbit. He never entered the hole but observed me quietly. I took a few photos and then ran on.
After a few miles, I turned around and headed back to the car. The temperatures had warmed in the short time I was out but my feet were still cold from being soaked.
I am glad that my family and I will soon be living back in the the American West that we love so much. Though we will miss Wisconsin and our friends, we are looking forward to beginning the next chapter of our lives. Between the Badlands and the Black Hills to the west, I am sure that we will have many new running trails to explore and outdoor adventures for my family and I to share.
Until next time…inyanka yo!