Thirty-Three Plus Seventeen Makes Fifty
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.