"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Long before I was an ultramarathoner, even as a child, whenever I needed time to think, I searched for the quiet solitude of the wild places. I guess I have always been an ultramarathoner at heart, even if I didn't know it.
However, as I described in my previous post- Greenland 50k 2010, I've slowly and finally come to realize that I shall never be the ultramarathoner I dream I'd like to be.
I've been in denial about it for several years. Then I bargained with myself: "If you only trained harder, you won't be so short of breath when you run fast or go high." Realizing that the medical condition I have is congenital and there is no way to train myself out of it, I was angry, discouraged and sad.
"It's not fair!" I thought.
Nevertheless, I realized I must find a way from such negative thought and move forward towards acceptance.
The five stages of coping are:
Although usually applied to situations of severe grieving and distress, such a death of a loved one, when facing one's own death, a failed personal relationship, the loss of a job, facing a chronic illness and so on- this process can apply to a variety of situations in which any form of loss occurs.
There are many morbidly obese people whom I see in my medical practice every day who say "I can't" when it comes to trying even minimal exercise or controlling their diet.
"You can't or you won't?" I sometimes wonder to myself but would never ever say out loud. I rapidly force such thoughts out of my mind. My job is to coach, advise, help and support- never ever to judge or criticize. .
With time, training, and dedication, I know a number of them could eventually outrun and outperform me, if only they had the initiative to begin and the self-discipline to stick with it.
However, I do need to point out that there is the occasional patient who does begin and succeed at changing their lifestyle- it is extremely inspiring. It makes what I do for a living worth it.
Some of them even thank me. I reply, "No thanks are necessary. You did all the work. All I did was point out what you already knew."
I was overweight once too. Not a lot, only about 35 lbs. Indeed that is one of the reasons I started running 8 years ago, never imagining I'd eventually be running ultramarathons. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard.
It's not fair for someone who truly wants to and enjoys exercise have physical limitations, while there are millions and millions of others who don't bother even trying, but then life is not fair.
Finally at Greenland, I realized that I must eliminate such negative thoughts and accept the situation.
"Get over it!" I told myself over and over. "Stop whining and get over it!".
Facing limitations and overcoming them, that is what ultramarathoning is all about.
Every single one of us have limitations, whatever they may be and no matter whether we admit them to ourselves or not.
To be honest, I cannot say that I've actually lost anything- I've always been dreadfully slow- so technically I never had "it" to lose.
Still, the loss of a dream is still a loss, even if it is a far milder loss than any other possibilities.
So needing both a training run AND time to think, I did what any trail runner does:
I went for a long training run in one of my most favorite local places to run here in western South Dakota: the Black Elk Wilderness.
I initially considered running a circumnavigation of the Black Elk Wilderness, that would have been about 24 or 25+ miles. But we recently had had a heavy snow the week before, making trails muddy and streams filled higher than I'd seen before.
I started out intending to run the full loop around the Wilderness, wth Laurel Highalnds 77 miles only 4 weeks away, it would have made an excellent training run. We were soon to leave on a 12 day trip to Alaska, during which I would do minimal running, so I needed at least one last long training run before that race.
The trails were wet and slippery. I was glad that I wore my INOV-8s instead of my Vibram Five Fingers.
Those VFFs would have been cold!
Most streams you can find a way across without getting your feet wet.
Some of the streams were mid-calf or just below my knees. Expecting wet terrain, I had preventively taped my feet to avoid blisters as I do before every big race or difficult long training run. Despite soaking my feet early- no blisters!
We had had a heavy 6-12 inch snow only a few days before. With rain and warmer temps, most of it had melted.
Gosh that water was cold!
All around me were signs of spring, melting snow, blooming wildflowers, and singing birds.
I saw Bearberries both blooming and with red berries from last year.
It is rare for there to be both edible berries and blooming flowers on the same plant, the exception being some types of domesticated everbearing strawberries.
Bearberries do not taste very good- they're dry, floury and only slightly sweet. But they are the only berry available during cold months of mid-winter and early spring. They will keep you alive if you're lost in the mountains and starving. Smashing them seeds and all against a rock will provide even more nutrition than chewing and swallowing whole.
Another past use was as Kinnick-Kinnick- a non-tobacco, non-nicotine containing dried herb smoked by indigenous peoples.
Another source of Kinnick-Kinnick is the Red Willow or Red Osier Dogwood. It grows along streams in the Mountain West and Far North. We have some of it here but I didn't see any today so I wasn't able to take photos to post here.
I also saw blooming Pasqueflower- the state flower of South Dakota.
Onward I jogged. I wish I could post the sounds of running water and smell of wet ponderosa pine.
You'll have to come out here to experience it yourself someday.
I finally came to a crest where I saw "George and the Boys"in the distance staring back at me through the mist.
It was Mt Rushmore- with past presidents George Washingtion, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt- carved out of solid rock.
Despite the Black Hills being a well-known tourist destination, sometimes I forget and am surprised when I come around corner to see sights such as this.
I was also surprised to see a staircase built out of logs- I was about 10 miles into my run and 5 miles from any road.
I jogged on and came to a trail intersection which I've taken before but not since last year.
I couldn't remember which was the way around the Black Elk Wilderness and which cut back across the middle.
I didn't bring a map because I had run here before and thought I knew the trails.
Oh well. I took the spur I had never run before.
When in doubt, I usually take the trail less traveled by or which I've never taken before…
If it didn't turn out to be the correct one, at least I would get to see some new territory.
As I ran up a hill, I came across some hikers. They didn't have a map either but assured me that I was on the correct trail to get to where I intended.
Soon, however, I realized they were wrong too.
Because I was only a mile from the next trail, I decided to keep going and save the circumnavigation for next time.
It was good that I did.
For soon I would discover how much snow was left in the higher altitudes.
As I climbed, the trail got wetter and snowier. The snow was wet melting slush.
At one point, for every step I took, I slipped back 6 or more inches.
I looked at my GPS: I was walking at a 22 min/mile pace.
Now that is SLOW, even for me!
My feet were soaked- but the rest of me was warm. On days like this, one needs to be prepared. My pack weighed 20 lbs. Not only did I have food and drink but also an entire change of clothing, a warm jacket, wool hat, mittens, and dry pants, as well as firemaking tools and space blankets.
I never forget than I am only a broken ankle or wrong turn away from being forced to spend a night out.
This time of year, hypothermia could set in in only a few hours, especially in a fatigued runner with sweat soaked clothes and ice water drenched shoes.
I've never had to use my survival gear yet, but I'll never be caught out in the wilderness without it. When it comes to the human condition, nature may not care one way or the other- but it can be unforgiving of foolish mistakes.
Then I spotted movement and gray hair in the trees. Despite how tired I was getting from trudging through the now, I was instantly alert and awake.
There are mountain lions here.
I am always more aware than I might be were I slogging on the side of a road or sidewalk. Although no mountain lion has ever killed a human here in the Black Hills, I didn't want to be the first.
It turned out it was two mule deer does. I saw them before they saw me.
After watching them browse for a few minutes, I needed to press on.
I didn't want to scare them so they'd crash off into the trees.
I began speaking to them quietly and calmly.
They looked in my direction, concerned and curious but not frightened.
I began moving slowly, avoiding direct eye contact, looked at the ground and walked diagnally.
I tried to act as if wasn't interested in them and was planning on walking past them as if I had never seen them. This ploy has worked for me with other animals countless times in the past.
They turned, stopped and calmly watched me pass by.
It is amazing the sixth sense animals have regarding your intentions. Had I been out bow hunting instead of trail rnning/hiking, they would've ran off, sensing danger immediately.
Instead, somehow they knew that I meant no harm. For that I was rewarded with some great photos.
As I passed by, I continued to speak to them quietly. I told them what pretty girls they were and reminded the to keep a better eye out for mountain lions.
Had been a large hungry feline instead of a slow tired human, who knows what might have transpired?
Although the deer did not know (or care) what the words I said actually meant, I believe animals are able to sense our intentions by our body language, general demeanor and behavior.
I smiled as I ran the last few miles down hill to my car. I was grateful for this day, for all days in the past and those days yet to come.
Although today was not the easiest run or best weather, I was able to see and experience what most people never do.
Without a little rain and snow every now and then, how are we to appreciate the sunny clear days?
I am speaking this literally in reference to the weather but even more so as a metaphor of our lives. As much as we would like to have control over what happens in our lives, there is much outside of our control. We need work on that which we can and accept that which we cannot.
I've come to accept that I am and I will always be a back-of-the-packer. Still, there is honor and pride in that.
Almost anyone who is able to walk has the potential of finishing a 26.2 mile, 50 mile or maybe even 100 mile race. They might not do it quickly but they could still finish. However, most will never even try because they do not have the discipline, desire or insanity to do so.
"Dead f'n last" is always better than "did not finish."
Of course, even worse than either of those two is: "did not even try."
So I am slow. So what? And who the hell cares other than me? There are worse things to be.
I know I have much to be thankful for: my family and friends, my health, my job and so on. That realization alone has made the process of acceptance easier. I really should not complain- and I know it full well too. As things in life go, being slow is a little minor inconsequential thing.
I'll keep running these crazy ultras as long as I can. Hopefully that will be a long long time. I fully intend to be that 80 year old guy out there shuffling along in dead freakin' last place.
If there ever comes a time where I cannot possibly officially finish any ultra under cut off, well then I start volunteering at aid stations.
I might ever consider running some more shorter races such as 26.2 marathons (God forbid! Can you imagine me doing that!?!). I'll continue to run/hike my own personal ultramarathons on the mountain trails. At least there will never be any cut-off times in those solitary races against myself. I have all the time I need.
Until then, there you'll find me with a smile on my face (most of the time) slogging along somewhere in the back-of-the-pack. My name might be at the very bottom of the list of finishers printed in Ultrarunning Magazine- but there you'll find it all the same.
Take care, enjoy those trails and run on…
I've decided to modify my training somewhat this year. In the past, my greatest challenge has been making the cut offs. Now that I have some experience running ultra-distances, I've decided to work at increasing my cruising speed, and hopefully, increase the cushion I have before cut-offs.
Always running long and slow has taught me…. well,… to always run long and slow.
There are many ultrarunners who believe that you only need two or three extra long runs in the 25-35 mile range to be capable of finishing a 50 mile ultra. In the past, I have usually run many more long runs than that. The thought of running so far intimidated me, I believed that I needed a lot of experience running long so I would be confident that I could finish.
Although I still respect the distance, I am no longer anxious about it. I know that I can run 50 miles because I've done it before. I'd only like to increase my speed, and not by that much.
There are some ultrarunners who run very few ultra-long runs in training. Instead they focus on intervals, fartlek, tempo and other "speed" training. Bruce Fordyce, famous for winning more Comrades Marathons than anyone else, focused on speed/quality rather than distance during training. He did many of his workouts on the track. He is not alone; there are many other ultrarunners who run most or even all of their extra-long runs in the ultra-races themselves. During training, instead they spend a great deal of time doing shorter more intense work outs. The fastest runners at short distances are the fastest at longer distances.
"Race during your races, not during training" is advice I've heard more than once.
I'm no where near having tht skill or ability of these elite. However, I'm going to do one or two fewer extra-long runs during each training cycle and add regular weekly intervals and/or other speed work to see if it helps. Will it work? I suppose I will find out. This is only a single year of running for me; I intend to run for many more years. If it doesn't work out, I can go back to what worked for me in the past.
I must admit it: I HATE intervals. Maybe this is precisely why I need to do more of them?
Speed work for an ultramarathoner, of course, is much different (ie slower) than for those done in training for shorter distances. Our intervals are 1/2 mile or 1 miles with short jogging rest breaks in between. Fartlek can be done on trails. Tempo runs as well as longer runs with faster sections should also be included.
One workout I've had success with in the past are Yasso 800s. These involve running 10x800s with jogging breaks in between that are equal to the time spent running the interval. The average time spent running each interval in minute:seconds is supposed to predict your 26.2 mile marathon time in hours:minutes.
A good predictor of how fast you can run a 50 mile race is how fast you can run a 26.2 m marathon. They say that you can run a 50 mile ultra about 2.2 to 2.3 times your marathon time. Obviously, there are many other factors that will determine the actual time such as weather, training, terrain, altitude and so on.
However, I don't want to have to run a marathon before each ultra just to know what my potential 50 mile time might be. It would be too hard on the body to race that distance so soon before racing an ultra. So I do predictor workouts to get a general idea of how I am doing in my training. How accurate these workouts are in predicting times are less important. I'm looking for a standard to compare to previous workouts, as a gauge of how well or poorly my training is going right now.
Last weekend I did Yasso 800s in Iowa on dirt roads. It was sunny, cool (30-40 degrees) with a 5 – 10 mph cross wind. My average was 4:02, which predicts a potential marathon time of around four hours, if I were racing and seeking a PB. The best Yasso 800 workout I did last fall was 4:17. This is significant impovement.
However, yesterday and only a week later, I ran them again but this time my time now was 3:47! For an ultra-slogger (slow jogger) like me, that is quite a remarkable improvement. It is even more impressive given that these were run on a track in Custer, South Dakota at an altitude of 5400 ft with a 15 – 20 mph crosswind, compared to last week at <1000 ft in Iowa with much less wind.
So why such a marked improvement only a week later and under somewhat more challenging conditions?
My body certainly didn't have time to make any physical adaptation to running faster. The improvement occurred because of several reasons.
One is that I noticed that I tend to pant with short fast breaths when running fast or when I am fatigued… I know that I absolutely must stop this. Thus I focused on relaxing, using my abdominal muscles and not only my chest and breathing deeply. Just by doing this I was able to run faster with much less exertion.
Second, while doing the intervals I focused on stretching out my stride a bit while staying relaxed and not overstriding. I also concentrated on symmetrical efficient arm movement with a relaxed upper body and shoulders. As an ultrarunner, I run my ultradistances with a slow ground-covering shuffle. This is an ultra-specific race tactic and different from shorter events. However, shuffling is not good for shorter distances. It can be bad habit to get into doing on all your runs. Over time it will shorten your stride, even at distances where you do want to go faster and where it is appropriate to run with a longer stride.
Finally, I was able to run faster simply because I knew that I could. Tim Noakes MD in his book "The Lore of Running" spoke about this. We are limited by how fast and far we can run for a number of reasons including physical fitness, VO2, genetics, weather, altitude, hydration, nutrition and other factors. However, synthesizing all of this information is our "central governor" – basically our brains telling us to be careful because of a strong self-preservation instinct.
Under most circumstances, our central governor will not allow our bodies to do something that would be harmful or deadly. It always tries to save a little. This would have been adaptive in the past. Imagine an Ice Age hunter returning exhausted after a long hunt and then encountering a hungry lion. Only those who had a little extra in them would be able to fight or run so they could survive another day.
The central governor usually works subconsciously and without our knowledge. The signals this central governor gives us when it wants us to back off we are all well-familiar with: fatigue, muscle pain/weakness, shortness of breath, difficulty staying focused on the task at hand and a strong desire to quit.
The statement: "When you think you've gone as far as you possibly can, you've probably gone only half as far as you could" is true. By challenging ourselves during races and training, we train this central governor to be more forgiving and less cautious. This permits us to go further and faster in the future before it finally kicks in and tells us to stop or slow down.
Of course, predicting a 26.2 mile marathon of 3:47 and actually doing it are two very different things. Nevertheless, based on this information, it is exciting to think about what I might be able to do at upcoming events. Based on a predicted marathon time of 3:47 hr:min; I might have the potential to do a 50 mile in less than nine hours!!!!
Right now, that sounds completely and utterly impossible. I know that I mustn't think that way because then most definitely it will not be possible. Much of running, and especially ultrarunning, is mental anyway.
If you truly believe you can, then very often you will.
My fastest 50 mile race ever was my first. It was the Chicago Lakefront 50 mile in fall 2007. I ran it in 10:29 hrs:min. Could I beat this?
If I can do 50 miles faster than ten and a half hours.. then by how much? There's only one way to find out….
I just registered for the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 mile coming up in late March. It is a flat trail race on the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah.
I wonder how fast I might be able to run this? My first goal of course will be the goal I always have: finish no matter what. My secondary goal will be to break my previous best 50 mile of 10:29 hrs.
My final goal will be to do it in less than 10 hours. Based on my other runs and how great my training is going now, I should be able to at least do that as long as the trails are dry, the weather is not bad, I have a good day and most important, I don't make any dumb mistakes.
How fast can I run 50 miles? By how much could I beat my previous PB?
There is only one way for me to find out: I need to do it.
"Now and then nature produces a combination of land, water, sky, space, trees, animals, flowers, distances, and weather so perfect it looks like the hatching of a romantic fantasy. Every time we go out into the wilderness, we are looking for that perfect, primitive Eden. This time, we have found it."
– - Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1938)
I am a guest lecturer at a cardiology conference this weekend in Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, California. After arriving yesterday, I ran four miles around the valley to get the lay of the land and find the trailheads. I took a few hours this morning to run a portion of the course where the legendary Western States 100 begins.
The resort where I am staying is actually located about a mile from the WS 100 start at Squaw Valley Village. Fortunately, there was a pleasant wooded trail I was able to take instead of running along the paved road.
I had skied here when I lived in Reno 11 years ago. It was odd to see the resort quiet and empty like a ghost town, without snow and with a lot of dry-rotted wood and peeling paint. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic games but it has lost much of its original glory.
It was unclear to me where exactly the WS100 begins. I did not have any maps with me but the WS100 website was very helpful. Here is a view looking back down the valley. There are some nearby controlled burns going on, which made the sky an uncharacteristic hazy-gray. Here in the high Sierra, we usually expect crystal-blue skies with few clouds and no haze.
Going up the mountain, it was confusing to choose which trail/road to take. There were dozens of maintenence roads and trails. The ski lifts were hanging motionless, only swinging slightly and creaking in the breeze, adding an eerie mood. The snow making equipment is out and ready to go, in a few weeks this mountain will be snow-covered and busy with skiers. Today it is quiet with only me, a few hikers, some maintenence men and the ever-present squawking ravens.
My goal was to go to the Watson Monument and then run a few miles down the other side on the Western States trail before turning around. There were no signs pointing the way. The hikers I passed had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the Watson Monument or Western States Trail.
The above road is not the way to the WS100 trail. It turned out to be a wrong turn, going up Squaw Peak as I would discover later.
The lady at the hotel from whom I asked directions the previous day had not been helpful. She advised me: "Go up to High Camp and turn left." Well, there were many lefts. She should have told me "…and go west."
But I didn't know that at the time. So as advised, I took the most obvious"left" and went south.
It was beautiful here. I soon realized that I had taken a wrong turn. No matter. I was curious where the trail led so I continued. I saw a red tail hawk floating below me. As I approached the pass, the wind picked up, but not cool enough to be uncomfortable, and the scent of woodsmoke was on the air.
As long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the mountains…the Appalachians, the Alps, the Rockies, the Tetons, the Wind Rivers, the Bighorns, the San Juans, the Flat Tops, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada… all mountains everywhere. I cannot explain why. It is something deep in my soul, almost spiritual, and impossible to put into words. Some folks go to church…. I prefer the high lonely places.
Jeanne and I spent six months riding our horses and pack mules on the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Wyoming the summer of 1998 as our honeymoon. Perhaps what draws me to trail and ultra running now is the opportunity to spend some time in my beloved mountains? Jeanne and I might never again be able to take off six months, but I can run 50 (and someday I hope 100) miles in the mountains over a weekend.
On the top, I realized that I had mistakenly climbed Squaw Peak. The Watson Monument and next to it the WS100 trail, was beyond Emigrant Peak a couple of miles or so to the north.
I enjoyed the views, ate an energy bar and took a few photos. In the above photo looking to the southeast, there is Lake Tahoe, hazy and difficult to see, because of the smoke. In the distance, just over the ridge and to the left, you can see one of the fires burning.
I enjoyed running back down the mountain. Down is definitely easier than up.
I saw a inconspicious trail that appeared to go in the correct direction so I took it. The mountain pictured above is Squaw Peak which I had just climbed.
As soon as I reached the pass, I knew that I had found the correct way.
At the top is the Watson Monument, named after Robert Mongomery Watson. Constructed in 1852, the Placer County Emigrant Road served overland emigrants before later becoming a supply route for Virginia City, Silver City and other towns of the Comstock Lode.
In the summer of 1931, the horseman Robert Mongomery Watson along with the "Sons of the Golden West," completed marking the trail from Auburn to Lake Tahoe, which is now known as the Western States Trail.
Since 1955, a 100 mile 24 hour horse race from Truckee to Auburn, called the Tevis Cup, has been run on these trails.
In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh became the father of trail ultramarathon running and a legend in his own time when he became the first human to complete the entire course on foot. He had ridden in the Tevis Cup in 1971 and 1972 but in 1973 his horse was pulled at mile 29 due to lameness. When his horse again came up lame before the 1974 race, Gordy declared he would run the race on foot. He finished incoherent but with a still impressive time of 23:47.
And that is how the Western States 100 Endurance Foot Race, and of all mountain ultramarathoning in the US began. Other runners attempted the same feat in 1975 and 1976. In 1977, the first official WS100 footrace was run. Of the fourteen runners in that first race, eleven dropped out or were pulled by midpoint.
Since then, Western States has become one of the world's best known ultra-running events. It is literally the "Boston Marathon" of 100 mile trail ultramarathons. In 1988, the Granite Chief Wilderness Area was formed, resulting in four miles of the trail being in the wilderness boundary. Because formal races are not permitted in Wilderness Areas, it took much negotiating with the Forest Service and finally an act of congress, before the race was permitted to go on.
The number of runners allowed to run, 369, is set at the number of runners who participated in 1984. The Forest Service allows the 369 to be an average over five years, so some years there may be more or less than this magic number "369."
The event is so well known and so much in demand, that the lottery for last year gave an only 16% chance. Like any other ultrarunner, I dream of running WS100. However, with the odds being so poor and there being so many other ultramarathons out there, chances are slim that I'll ever even bother applying.
This past summer, the WS100 was cancelled for the first time ever, due to smoke and forest fires. The runners for 2008 were automatically offered slots for 2009. With the lottery for 2008 accepting only 16% of applicants and the outlook for future lotteries no better, this run may be the only way I ever get to see these trails
From the photo above, I believe it would be another 95 or so miles to Auburn.
I ran a couple of miles on the trail, but soon had to head back. My total today was just under 18 miles, a little longer than my anticipated 10 or 15 miles, but the extra miles and side trip up Squaw Peak was well worth it.
The Western States Trail and the surrounding mountains are hallowed ground in my opinion. I am glad to have had the opportunity to have seen just this tiny portion of it. The ill-fated Donner Party met their untimely end not far from here. I can only imagine the hardships faced and challenges overcome by the others who have come before.
I might never get a chance to run the WS100 but I can still dream, can't I?
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!
What finer way to relax after an examination but to run a marathon the following day just for fun?
Although I have run countless long 20+ training runs and several ultras, I actually had never run in an official 26.2 race. I wasn't sure how to pace myself for a short race. Since this was for training, I decided 5 hours would be a reasonable easy time.
Marathons are definitely different than ultras. For one, they are much larger. This race was small compared to the larger more popular marathons: 1656 half marathon finishers and 405 for the marathon. In comparision, if I go to an ultra with more than 200 runners, that is a lot. I was even impressed by the number of porta-potties. I would have taken a picture to post here but my camera decided to not work that morning.
OK, so I don't get out much.
We picked up our packets the afternoon before and enjoyed a meal at Sherpas in Boulder. Mmmm…. good food!
We arrived early Sunday morning after a meal of Haliku's secret recipe sour milk pancakes. Delicious! The sun slowly rose and bathed the Front Range in warm golden hues. The marathon began an hour before the half which was great. This minimized us having to deal the the half-marathon pack. Most of the race was run on gravel/dirt back roads passing green hayfields, horse pastures, ranches and hundred-plus year old cottonwoods. Had this race not been on such a soft surface, I probably would not have run it. Pavement sucks.
The pack soon spread out as we each found our pace. Early on, it was difficult to not get caught up in the pack and start out too fast just as later it was difficult to not instinctively fall back to my effortless run-all-day-and-all-night ultra pace. I didn't want to race but on the other hand, I did not want to slog at my 50+ mile pace. That would be wimping out. According to race prediction calculators, a 5 hour marathon finish translates to a just less than 28 hour 100 mile finish, if you did all of the other essential training.
Another difference I noticed between ultras and regular marathons, is that the runners are less conversant. Not because they are unfriendly but simply because they are running at a relatively faster pace. This is a short race after all.
I met several interesting people and ran with them for a while. We leap-frogged back and forth several times. I met a gentleman from Houston who was planning on running his first 50 mile ultramarathon at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Madison, Wisconsin. He ran a 3:15 marathon in Utah the day before and was running a 5 hours Boulder marathon as his recovery run. We discussed ultra race tactics and he asked me many questions about blister prevention, nutrition and other topics. I lost a few minutes talking to him but it was worth it. I am sure he will kick butt at his upcoming ultra and I told him so.
At mile 20, I decided to pick up the pace. I was feeling good and a fast finish long run is good training.
Another difference between ultras and traditional marathons: I get to pass people… lots of them. In ultras, the pack separates out and other runners are few and far between. Often if there is someone running a similar pace as you are, you stick together, especially if it is dark, for safety and support. I am usually not competitive when I run my ultras, my only goal is to finish.
Ultrarunners are proud to say: "we run with others, not against them."
However, I have to confess: on that day, and that morning, I really enjoyed jogging past others who were slowing down. I wasn't going fast at all, they were just slowing down. As the finish approached, I looked ahead eagerly toward the next potential runner I might be able to pass.
I even shouted words of encouragement: "We're almost there!" and "C'mon let's speed up!" and "Lookin' good, it's not far now!"
After reading the back of my shirt which says: "RUN ULTRAS" two other runner remarked, "Hey this is only half a race for you!" I smiled and turned around to reveal the words on the front:
Then a strange thing happened. Only a couple of miles from the finish line, I got a sharp knife-like cramp in my lower gut. It was not the upper abdomen stitches I have gotten before. No, this was different. If I slowed down, it went away but if I tried to run faster than a 10 min/mile, it came back. Odd. I guess that is what I deserve for getting cocky.
This being only a training run and not an important event, I decided to back off. Honestly, I was afraid if I didn't, I might just end up pooping my pants.That was the kind of cramp I was having.
Now I know why there were so many porta-potties!
I finished in 5:07, a few minutes longer than I planned. No problem. It still was faster than my 50 or 100 mile ultra pace. For a couple of days afterwards I had some soreness but only as I would expect after a good workout, nothing signifying an injury or that I had overdid it. But this is what I expected, after all I had only jogged "half" a race!
I have toyed with the idea of running the Crazy Horse Marathon here in the Black Hills next week. However, it will be the weekend right after I finally move my family from Wisconsin to be out here with me in South Dakota. I don't know if it will work out or not, I need to spend time with them. However, if there happen to be open spots and they allow race day registration, maybe I'll decide at the last minute. Otherwise, there is always next year.
Even though I have no interest in racing marathons for time or PRs, I have to admit that they do make great training runs. If I need another training run around this time next year, I will definitely be back to Boulder. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning.
Having just run a 64.5 mile DNF at Lean Horse a few weeks ago, I'm not concerned about my endurance at all. However, my main question is how in the heck am I supposed to pace myself for a short race? It would be easy to just slog (slow-jog) it out at my 50 or 100 mile pace. But that would be completely wimping out.
My greatest challenge will be to not unconsciously fall back to my ultra-slow easy-slogging pace of 12 min/mile or slower after mile 18 or 20 as if I were running 50+ miles instead of 26.2. If you train and practice at a slow pace then you will race at that pace too. Although this marathon will be only for "fun," I'd like to push it a little faster than I might on one of my usual long extra-slow training runs.
Because I have never done a previous road marathon to use as comparison, last week I did a marathon time predictor work out: Yasso 800s. These were popularized a few years ago by a writer for Runner's World magazine. They have always been a difficult workout for me.
I must confess: I absolutely HATE intervals…. half mile…. one mile…it doesn't matter- I HATE 'em all! But l do understand their importance in maximizing cruising speed. Even after only two or three interval workouts, I already note an increased rate of leg turnover. They are effective but I still hate'em.
My average time for these 10 x 800 intervals was 4:17 minutes and I actually sped up on each of the the last three intervals to 3:44 minutes for the last one. Not fast for a speedy short distance runner but it was plenty fast for me. This average time predicts my potential marathon time as 4 hours and 17 minutes. Of course, Yasso 800s are only a predictor to give us a general ball park estimate of what we might be able to accomplish with proper training and good running conditions.
A prediction of possibly doing a marathon in under 4 and a half hours actually surprised me given the usual extremely-slow ultra-slogging pace that I run my 50+ mile races. Because I will be running this marathon for fun and have no interest in a PR, I think that trying to run it under 5 hours should be a very reasonable goal. However, it will be a PR for me no matter how long it takes, given that this will be the first official road marathon I have ever run.
Using other time predictor calculators, doing a 26.2 marathon in under 5 hours translates to a potential 100 mile finish around 28 hours- as long as I did all of the necessary other training, of course. With another ultra coming up in Mid-November, the last thing I want to do is be stupid and injure myself simply because I worried about too much my time and pushed myself too hard.
I got a massage Friday and feel great. There were a lot of tight spots and adhesions that I didn't even know about. Stretching is fine but sometimes manual terapy is just what is needed. This was the first time I tried this massage therapist; however she was absolutely wonderful and I will certainly be back. My ITBs were tighter and more tender than I realized but they are better now. I think that getting a massage at least once a month during the racing season would be a good goal.
She said that my legs were very interesting to work on because I have muscle development that she does not normally see, even in other runners. I wish that such muscle development also translated into faster finishing times for my ultramarathons but that's OK, I am completely fine with simply being able to finish.
I just learned this morning that on October 4th there will be a local marathon, the Crazy Horse Marathon run on some of the trails I frequently train on. There actually will be two marathons: Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore which start at either of the monuments but finish at the same park in Hill City. I wonder why I wasn't aware of this before? I suppose it must be because we ultramarathoners are in a different world than marathoners.
Hmmm… I think I will see how Boulder goes first. This marathon will be only two weeks later. As long as I don't do Boulder too hard, Crazy Horse could be another nice long training run for me.
"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!
"Do not run the entire 24 hours… DO NOT run 24 hours…Remember, this is JUST A TRAINING RUN….Save yourself for Lean Horse!"
I repeated this to myself over and over during the five hour drive down to Laramie and later during the run.
After running 41 miles at Kettle-Moraine 100k before being forced to stop due to severe storms a few weeks ago, I've been considering my options. I decided to register for the Lean Horse Hundred on August 23/24 here in the Black Hills.
Since Kettle-Moraine, I've done some moderate trail runs. However, if I am to succeed in completing the Lean Hose Hundred, I will need some more extra-long training runs. Logistically, running more than 20 or 30 miles is challenging. I can only carry about 18 to 24 miles worth of fluids and food in my Camelback, depending on the weather and other conditions. Hiding drop bags in the bushes is an option, which I have done many times before, but it is a pain to have to pick them up later.
Plus, I wonder what I would say to a bystander who observed me making a drop:
"No, I'm not making a drug deal if that's what you're thinking."
I looked into upcoming races and decided to try the 24 hours Laramie… The Run. This event is organized by Gemini Adventures. They also do other trail running events including 24hrs at Moab and 24 hrs at Boulder. In addition, they put on the six day Desert R.A.T.S. (Race Across the Sand) as well as the 4 day Mountain R.A.T.S. (Race Across the Summits) multi-day adventure runs.
I had never run a 24 hour race before and was not intending to do the entire 24 hours. Rather than doing a self-supported training run, I could make use of the aid stations as well as the support of the volunteers and the other runners. I had no specific expections for how far or how long I would go, my only intent was to have a good training run.
And what might that be?
At the minimum, I wanted to run enough to make it worthwhile for me to spend the time and fuel to drive down here. Anything less than that, and I might as well have stayed in South Dakota and run by myself in the Black Hills.
I tenatively thought that going either 40 or 50 miles or running until at least 1AM would be reasonable goals, subject to change of course depending on how my body responded. I purchased a new Black Diamond Headlight and wanted to test it out and get some experience this year running a night on trails. I hadn't done any recent overnight long training runs since I did the 38 mile all-night fun run in 2007.
The absolute last thing I wanted to do was injure myself or overtrain resulting in a DNS or DNF at Lean Horse.
Success for me today would be feeling "used but not used up" after the run.
The race was to begin at 9AM. I unpacked my gear including clothing, running shoes and foot care box. I had already taped my feet earlier that morning.
The 24 hours at Laramie is done on a 5.8 mile course on the hiking trails of the Medicine Bow National Forest in south east Wyoming at between 8,300 to 8,800 feet. The format is "go as you please." There are no cut-offs, other than 9AM the following morning. You can stop and eat (or simply BS with the aid station volunteers) for as long as you wish. There is no pressure to keep moving forward, you go as however feels best for you.
One nice thing is about a loop course is that with the completion of every loop, you will come back to your car so there is no need for drop bags.
Of course, the greatest challenge is to not drop every time I pass by my vehicle.
Another gentleman parked in front of me with Colorado plates. It turns out he is an acupuncturist/chiropractor who works in New Jersey who lives in Colorado (or visits often? W. if you read this please correct me) . Of course, we had much in common so we talked at length about the health care crisis and other topics during the day.
We agreed that a more accurate term than "health care"crisis would be "health" crisis. So many of the health problems in our society stem directly from humans having a stone-age physiology in a modern sedentary and high caloric intake world. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, certain forms of cancer and many other diseases common to Western civilized world simply do not exist or are extremely rare in hunter-gatherer societies.
The sad and ironic thing is that most "normal" people nowadays consider runners, and most particularly ultrarunners, to be eccentrics on the fringe. Yet, if you look at just about any hunter-gatherer society, the average person is ambulating an average of 5 to 10+ miles a day, at times much much more.
No, we are not the insane people… the sedentary couch potatoes are,…. at least when considering the last 250,000+ years of human evolution.
For more info, see article about humans as long distance runners: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=256348&page=1
Link to original article in the journal "Nature": http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7015/pdf/nature03052.pdf
We were so engrossed in our conversation that we missed getting to the starting line in time. Suddenly, we heard the air horn. The race had begun and everyone was off!
No big deal… we had 24 hours to run, starting a minute or two late did not matter.
One concern I had was about the potential boredom from doing a loop course. After the first loop, the scenery would be repetitive and all would be familiar to us. Would we get bored? I absolutely despised high school track precisely because of this reason.
We ended up missing one of the first turns and took a side track. Before we discovered our mistake, many of us ran around an extra 5 miles total. That was also no concern for me; my purpose today was time on my feet. I wasn't racing so it mattered not where exactly those miles were run.
We missed our turn because some individual had purposely removed the trail markers before the race began and a few times afterwards. He or she was never caught but we agreed that a reasonable punishment would have been making he or she run with us.
Afterwards, I joked with the other runners and the race organizers about us getting turned around.
I told them: "Come to think of it, if I do get bored later from the doing the loop over and over, I think I will purposely go off course and do an extra few miles!"
Once we were back on track, we passed by some beaver ponds and then up a rocky hill. We would walk and eventually trudge up this hill many times during the day and through the night.
I met at least one runner who was in his own words, "a Western States refugee." This year the WS100 was cancelled because of wildfires. It is one of the few times that this race, the original of the 100 mile trail ultramarathons, has been cancelled. That must really suck for entrants, not only because of the months of training, but also because of how difficult WS100 is to get in to. Upon meeting the entry requirements, one must apply by a lottery. Only about 16% get in each year.
The cancellation of WS100 has created a stir of controversy in the ultramarathon world because the organizers have declined to refund the entry fee. This possibility is expressly stated in the contract so it should not be a surprise. I understand the expense of organizing an event, even if it doesn't get run.
But I also understand the frustration and anger expressed by many of the entrants.
There is talk about having all of the 2008 accepted entrants being offered a spot in 2009 without having to go through the lottery. That would be good but the situation still sucks for everyone this year, organizers and runners alike.
Like all other trail ultramarathoners, I would love to some day be able to run and complete the WS100. It is really is the "Boston marathon" of trail ultras. It has an almost mythical reputation. But I have other ultras to run before I could ever think of being prepared for this. With all of the current controversy as well as the low probability of getting in based on the lottery, there are many other races better for me to try first.
The wildflowers were in full bloom. On loops 2 and 3, I took some time to appreciate the scenery and take a few photos.
I was told that even last week, most of these were not flowering.
I took quite a few photos. I needed to pace myself slowly for this run. Rather than only walking, why not spend some time quite literally stopping to "smell the flowers?"
Ultrarunning is about the journey, not the finish line nor how quickly you get there.
I met a gal with a perfect British accent. She had a dark complexion and I was curious as to where she was from. She said that she currently lives in Kuwait.
Knowing how difficult it is for a female to participate in any form of athletics an Islamic country, I asked "How do you train for this?"
She said she does most of her training inside on a treadmill. Although she could go outside,as long as all of her skin is covered, it is obviously too hot to do that and she would still be frowned upon anyway. Plus, there are the daily sandstorms to contend with.
I thought she was absolutely incredible and told her so. To train inside on a treadmill and at sea level for a race in the mountains of Wyoming is amazing. I was impressed, no matter how well she did or how far she went.
Running on rocky trails is a technical skill that can only be mastered by running on trails. She was here to attempt to run 100 miles. Besides the 24 hour run, the organizers had also offered a 100 mile option with a standard 30 hour cut-off for those who were interested.
At around 4.5 miles on the loop, I was surprised to see a wickiup. This shelter was traditionally built out of branches by the Native American tribes of the Great Basin and south-western US. Apparently, someone had been doing some survival training or they simply preferred to experience the outdoors in a more primitive way. I've built and slept in primitive lean-tos and brush shelters in my youth and was intrigued.
I wondered who the builders of this shelter were and what other primitive skills they might practice?
Even though we passed the same scenery every few hours, as the sun past through the sky, each lap was unique. I noticed things that I had not seen before, new flowers opening up, different rock formations and other things.
On a high point, I finally had some cell phone reception so I called Jeanne who is still in Wisconsin.
She asked me: "How far are you going?"
I replied that I had no expectations, I am going to go as far as my legs are willing to carry me but without pushing it too hard.
At that moment, I was feeling very good, though I was pacing myself slowly, especially going up the hills. Even though I felt much better than I did at the Greenland Trail 50 k this spring, the effects of altitude were still present. My heart rate increased much higher than it should have, given how long I was hoping to run.
Not wanting to "bonk," I took it easy going up the hills and spent extra time at the aid stations.
As I said, today was only a training run, not a race.
The temperatures heated up later in the day. Many of the runners who had gone out ahead of me were now walking and I was able to pass several people. I slowed and walked with them for a while to offer support as they would later offer me.
They asked,"Isn't this heat getting to you?"
I said, "Sure, but at least it isn't as bad as it was at Kettle Moraine three weeks ago. At least it isn't so humid. Hey its a 'dry' heat, right?"
Everything depends on your perspective.
By 5 PM, the heat and altitude had finally gotten to me.
My head throbbed in pain. I was almost but not quite nauseated. Not wanting to bonk as I did at Greenland 50k, I walked almost an entire 5.8 mile loop. Coming down off those hills, I really wanted to run and make up some lost time. My legs were willing but my head was not. Whenever I stepped downhill, my brain felt as if it were painfully bouncing back and forth in my skull. It was hard to walk with legs feeling strong but I had no choice. I lost my taste for fluids or food. The idea of consuming any gel made me think of vomiting.
I stopped at the second aid station (at 2.8 miles on the 5.8 mile loop) for about 15 minutes. I forced myself to take a few sips of water as well as an extra SUCCEED! electrolyte cap.
Fortunately, my pee was not too dark or scant, so I was hydrating properly, even despite how awful I felt.
Having been in this predicament before, I knew what I must do. I must slow down, get back to the main aid station and my car, then eat some real food and rest for a bit.
When I got back to the main aid station, instead of the bananas and potato chips they had been serving all day, they finally had something more substantial. They had hot dogs and chili with beans. These weren't exactly my first choices for ulramarathon food. However, I knew I needed to get something in my stomach no matter what. So I violated one of my rules of ultrarunning: never eat anything that would taste worse coming up than it would going down. Beggars cannot be choosers.
I ate two hot dogs with relish and a large bowl of chili. My stomach was still unsettled so I went back to my car and laid down. I took two Naproxen and drank a Red Bull.
I set the alarm timer to go off in 30 minutes.
After a half hour I felt better. I changed my socks and put on a new long sleeve tech shirt. I got out my headlamp and put it on. I would be needing it by the end of the next loop.
The cooler temperatures and food in my belly did wonders. I felt like a new person and took off at a jog with a renewed sense of purpose. About a mile from the aid station, I burped and tasted chili. I swallowed quickly and drank some water. If my gag reflex started now, I might not be able to turn it off. I slowed down for a half hour to make sure my stomach would tolerate running again. When I was sure that it would, I increased my pace.
One thing that I have realized is that I am beginning to develop an aversion for sports drinks and energy gels. I don't know if it is physiological or psychological; the reason probably does not matter. They seem to be OK for moderate runs, such as those out to 30 miles, but anything longer than that and my stomach rebels.
For extra-long runs, I do better by simply consuming water and real food (OK, I admit that hot dogs are definitely NOT real food). I'd rather control my electolytes by taking in electrolyte caps as needed based on the conditions instead of relying on the highly marketed sports beverages with little science behind them. The less-flavored beverages including SUCCEED! Ultra and Hammer HEED are much better than many of the alternatives, but still, there is something to be said for drinking good-old ice-cold water.
From my conversations with others, I am not alone. There are other ultrarunners who prefer to stick with solid food and water instead of the various popular gels and sports drinks. Humans have been involved in extreme endurance activities for generations before these products were available; and they did just fine.
At least one ultrarunner has come up with a creative solution for the aversion towards sugar-filled sweet gel products that so many of us develop over the miles: Endurance Meat Gel: T-bone Flavor…check it out.
Mmmm….my mouth is watering!
Slowly the sun began to set and the light fade away. Finally, we were able to turn on our head lamps.
The crescent moon had not yet risen, the trail was lit only by our headlamps and starlight. On top of one hill, I stopped and asked another runner to put out his headlamp as I shut off mine.
"Is everything OK? What's wrong?"
He obliged and I told him to look up. For a few moments we both stared at the stars and constellations in awe. We were here not only to run. We felt blessed to be one of the privileged few experiencing this specific place and moment in time.
What is the point of working so hard to be here if we ignored our surroundings?
After a few inspiring moments, we ran on.
Soon, I was alone again in the darkness. The forest was quiet and without a sound. All I heard was my footsteps, my deep breathing and my heart beating.
I looked ahead and saw something small spiraling in the air towards me. As it approached, it spiraled faster and faster.
"What in the hell is that?!" I wondered, "It's much too early for me to begin hallucinating! That shouldn't happen for another few hours!"
Then, as I gawked in wonder….WHAP!…..It smacked me hard on the forehead!
It was a large sphinx moth, about three inches across. It's bottom wings were a pastel-purple swirled with delicate black lines. I know this because I had a brief but excellent view the instant before it hit. The impact felt like a small bird.
He tried to fly into me at least two more times but I ducked each time. Several other moths were attracted to my light throughout the night. I soon learned to swerve to the side at the last second to avoid them. This headlamp is much brighter than anything I've used before. It's awesome for lighting up the trail but one consequence seems to be that moths are attracted to it.
Oh well, at least their intermittent dive bombing kept me alert and awake.
Around mile 40, I came upon Steve. I had met him briefly much earlier in the run when we had missed the turn and had gotten sidetracked. He had originally been hoping to do the full 100 miles but now his thighs were cramping and his feet were in pain, presumably from his plantar fascia. He had dropped at the 24 hour Moab Run at 69 miles earlier this year (S. Let me know if this is not correct and I'll fix it) and now was going to drop at this race. I was feeling good but slowed and walked with him. We ultrarunners always watch out for each other.
I told him that there is no shame in DNF'ing… we've all been there. Every run is training for the next run. Sometimes the best training comes from our tougest run experiences. I reminded him of the 5 miles extra that we had done earlier. Even though that might not be listed on the final race results, if he stuck it out to the end of the next loop, he will have gone 46 miles… which is something to be proud of rather than ashamed. His body wouldn't care if those extra miles were published on the race results or not, he had truly run them. They would still count for training.
I started getting chilled and had to pick up the pace. I wished him well and went on my way.
By 2AM, I was alone and started feeling very very sleepy. I looked at a bowl shaped rock and started dreaming of how comfortable it might be to stop for a minute and take a nap. I felt OK, I wasn't pain or discomfort. I just wanted to go to sleep.
And that was the precise moment that I decided that it was time to stop. I had exceeded all of my tenative goals: I had run over 40 miles and past 1AM.
If this was an actual race, I would have simply eaten something, taken some caffiene and pushed on. From previous experience, I know that this sleepiness was only temporary and what I call the middle-of-the-night doldrums that every ultrarunner experiences. In another hour or two, as dawn approached, there would be a positive change in attitude and increase in energy.
There always is.
However, I knew that for tonight I had run far enough. Because I had driven myself down here, I thought it would be wise to go back to my hotel and sleep for a few hours before heading back to Rapid City. I did not want to fall asleep or have an accident on the drive home.
I was slightly sore for two days but nothing like I felt after the Chicago Lakefront 50m or even all-night 38 mile fun run last year. "Used but not used up," that was how I felt. I had been out there for 17 hours 22 minutes and had gone almost 52 miles. That's about two regular marathons back to back- all on the rocky hiking trails of the mountains of Wyoming. An excellent training run.
This week, I forced myself to do no running at all. That was difficult, as I feel great. I am eager to get out on those trails again. Thought I feel good right now, the possibility of overtraining is in the back of my mind. A week off would do wonders at allowing micro-injuries that I am unaware of to heal. When I start running again, I will have a renewed sense of purpose during the final weeks of hard training before Lean Horse.
Regarding 24 hour runs… this will not be the last time I do one. The low key "go as you please" attitude without stringent cutoffs make for a great training experience. Also, for those who must run without a crew, it is nice being able to pass your gear every few miles.
I am now confident that I have the endurance to potentially go 100 miles. The challenge will be to pace myself properly and not bonk during the race. I must also be cautious to avoid injury these next few weeks. A poorly timed overuse injury could ruin everything.
I also realize that I must now focus on increasing my leg turnover and cruising speed. Though I believe 100 miles within the realm of possibility for me, I could still DNF if I go too slow and miss a cut-off, even though I might be able to go the entire 100 mile distance from an endurance perspective.
Between the 41 miles at the Kettle-Moraine 100k three weeks ago and this 52 mile run, I've neglected my "speed training" and need to fix that. I probably only need to do a couple of more 20 or 30 miles long runs between now and race day on August 23/24. Thus, my training plan in the near future will be modified to include tempo runs as well as long intervals of 1 or 2 miles over a total of 10 to 15 miles.
One great thing about endurance… although it may take a long time to develop, it also takes a while to disappear.
Training for and running one hundred miles is new and completely unknown territory for me. I know that this will be a grand adventure and a wonderful learning experience, no matter what happens. I'll be sure to keep y'all posted on how this all goes.
Be safe and enjoy yourselves out there on the trails!
"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.
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.
It was -8 yesterday with a wind chill of -25 or -30. I went X-C skiing for an hour but my fingers ached when I took my gloves off for only a few seconds to start my GPS. I think I will be smarter and stay inside today, despite how fast the snow was and how empty the ski trails were.
That bright sun today sure is deceiving!
Despite how bitterly cold it is outside, it is time for me to start thinking seriously about training for my spring ultras. My main goal for spring 2008 will be to run the Rocky Mountain Double Marathon (52.4 miles) on Memorial Day weekend. At over 8,000 feet, it will be the highest altitude ultra that will have attempted to date.
A few weeks before that, I will do the Greenland Trail 50-k in Colorado as "training." These races still seem like they are a long way off. However, according to my training program, beginning this week I will begin increasing my mileage and become more serious about my running.
After taking a few weeks completely off from running after my fall 50 mile ultra in Chicago, I have been only running 3 or 4 days per week to maintain over the winter. During the off-season, I cut my distances and the length of time by 50% or more compared to what I normally do during the spring, summer and fall. My mid-week runs have only been in the 4 to 6 mile range and my every other week long runs only in the 12 to 14 mile range. I have rarely gone further than 20-25 miles as my weekly mileage for the last several weeks. The off-season is a nice break from the rigors of more hard-core training during the rest of the year.
This winter, I have also been doing quite a bit of cross training by X-C skiing two or three days a week. X-C skiing is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning. Unlike running, it is low impact and thus a good way to maintain fitness while minimizing injury. It also trains a slightly different set of muscles. Perhaps someday I may attempt a X-C ski ultramarathon such as the American Birkebeiner in northern Wisconsin. However, with our upcoming move to South Dakota, this year is not a good time to think about training for a X-C ski race too.
I really like the Santa Clarita Runners Training Program below because it allows you to put in the date and length of your race (50-k or 50-m). Then it calculates an individualized training program for you.
However, one limitation of this program is that it does not specify which day(s) you should do your "speed" training nor what type. That's actually OK because I prefer to individualize that part of my training based on my needs. I find what works best for me is if I do one day per week in the middle of the week of either 1/2 or 1 mile intervals or instead a moderate distance run which also includes 3 to 5 miles of tempo running. That has seemed to be adequate for me without resulting in overtraining.
Another limitation of this training program is that I have found it difficult to do back-to-back long runs every weekend without risking injury. I feel the Sunday semi-long runs are optional. I will not hesitate to cut the distance or to not run at all if I need to. Instead of doing a back-to-back, sometimes I just may do a longer run on Saturday than what is specified per the schedule and take an extra rest day on Sunday.
I also find it better to not go long every single weekend but instead go long for two out of every three or four weekends. It seems to work better for me.
Also, even though this is a mileage-based training program, later in my training I tend to focus on the number of hours on my feet instead of the actual mileage. I try to do as many of my long runs on the trails as I can. Although running on trails is a greater effort, because of the softer surface and the irregularities of the terrain, I do not get overuse injuries as often as I did when I trained entirely on the road.
Of course, you do have to be more careful and pay attention to where your feet are… once I tripped on a log and got a stress fracture! I was looking up admiring the scenery when I should have been paying attention to the trail.
When running long on a trail, I don't exactly follow the mileage as specified for the training program, Instead, I estimate about how long it would take me to go that distance if I did it on the road. Then, I run for at least that time duration on the trails. It doesn't matter to me if I only went 20 instead of 24 miles, as long as I ran for an equivalent amount of time.
I also use my long trail runs as an opportunity to experiment with new gear, energy replacement, hydration, and to perfect my ratio of run to walk breaks that I will use in my race. Never try something new or for the first time in a race is a great piece of advice that I always try to follow.
Besides all of the potential training benefits, running on the trails is more fun and relaxing. I prefer to not breathe in the exhaust of motor vehicles and hear them rushing by at 70 miles an hour. I'd rather enjoy the peaceful quiet and aroma of the forest and listen to the birds sing!
What's the point of running anyway, if you are not going to enjoy yourself?
Besides all of the running, I do some resistance and strength training as well. Earlier in the season, I usually do 2 or 3 sets of 10 reps for strengthening 3 days a week. Then later I change to 3 sets of 15 reps at lower weight once or twice a week to maintain strength endurance. I do vary my exercise program every few weeks. Some might find the early season fewer reps of higher weights to build too much muscle mass but that has never been a problem for me. I tend towards an ectomorphic rather than mesomorphic physique.
I always do single-leg squats, calf raises and some variation of lunges- all while holding dumb bells for extra weight. Anterior toe curls with dorsiflexion using a resistance band have worked well to treat and prevent shin splints. Lateral leg raises with ankle weights help keep away ITB problems. I do a variety of crunches and other core exercises. Strength and stability of the lower extremities and the core is essential if one is going to maintain good running form and continue to run for hour after hour.
Finally, I also do upper body strengthening exercises. When I first started running ultras I was amazed how sore and tired my upper body would become, especially my shoulders after a particularly long run. That should not be a surprise, swinging the arms back and forth and holding water bottles all day is a lot of work. On at least one ultra, I used my arms to pull myself up a slippery trail while holding on to saplings and tree branches. With upper body conditioning, I can run more relaxed and with a better posture, even when tired.
Many of us runners don't much like strength training and I used to be one of them. We would rather just go run. However, running can result in muscle imbalances that later flare up as an injury. Before I added strength training to my schedule, I was plagued by injuries such as ITB. It was not until I religiously added strengthening to my program that I succeed in keeping these under control.
I also try to stretch at least a 2-3 times a week but I admit that I need to be better about this. I am sure that I am not alone in being a runner who needs to stretch more. I do a better job of remembering when I am recovering from an injury. I know that stretching is for injury prevention and not only for treatment. I just have to get more consistent at it.
This is the training program that I do now and what has worked for me in the past. I am sure that I will make changes as I move up in distance or if I develop any injuries or new muscle imbalances. Every one of us is an individual and what works for one may not work for someone else. For that matter, what has worked for any of us in the past may not always work for us in the future.
Best wishes to all and good luck on achieving all of your running and non-running goals for 2008.