Crazy Horse Marathon

Moving is stressful and driving from Wisconsin with the last of our belongings this past week has been no exception. It is a relief to finally have my family here with me permanently in South Dakota.  However, I haven't slept all that well and felt tired all week.

Since running the Boulder Backroads marathon 10 days previous, I had only done one short recovery run. I was overdue for another run.

Only two days before the event, I decided "what the heck" and  registered for a local marathon held this weekend in the Black Hills. A long training run would be just what I needed to burn the stress and mental fatigue out… or so I hoped. Not having run much since Boulder, I wasn't sure how well my legs had recovered. I thought if I took it slow and at my ultramarathon pace, it should be no problem. My only goal was to at least not get beat by any of the walkers.

The Crazy Horse Marathon is one of two marathons this weekend, one begun at the Crazy Horse Monument and the other at Mt. Rushmore. They both started at the same time and met at about the half way mark with the final half run together. I chose Crazy Horse because except for a few miles near Hill City, most of the race was run on the George  Mickelson Trail, the gravel Deerfield Road and a double track forest service four wheel drive road.

Nathan and Jeanne drove me down for the race.  As you can see, they were at the edge of their seats in apprehension before the start.

I was amused by the pre-race jitters that many had. This was only a training run so I had no jitters at all. In fact, I was yawning and sleepy.  I regretted not having an extra cup of coffee that morning to help wake me up.

Many were pacing around, stretching and warming up. For those planning on starting out fast, I suppose that makes sense. Myself, I prefer to warm up during the race itself. After five or ten miles, I am warmed up well enough. I had contemplated parking at a trail head a couple of miles away and running in along the George Mickeson Trail just to get a couple of extra training miles in but thought the better of it.

Had I not run a marathon only two weeks before, I just might have done it.

Maybe I will next year?

The race started at 7AM. The sun was rising and cast a golden hue upon the autumn hills.

We ran about 3 miles along a dirt road towards the base of Crazy Horse Monument before turning around. I took a few photos of Crazy Horse glowing in the morning sun but they all were out of focus. Two dads were running with their little ones in a baby carriage. 

We connected onto the George Mickelson Trail. The next ten or so miles would be downhill into Hill City. I blasted down that hill. Memories of the slow trudge up this hill right before my DNF during the Lean Horse Hundred were still vivid. I relished the fact that during this race,  I would not have to go back up it.  

Along the way, I came upon Lisa, whom I had met and talked with during the fist 25 miles of Lean Horse and who had finished immediately after me at the Greenland 50k this spring. It was great to see her. We ran together for almost the entire first half before seperating just before Hill City.

From Hill City to Deerfield Road, we ran a few miles along the pavement. That sucked. I am a trail runner to the core. I despise even the few yards it takes to cross a paved road.

They had one lane of the road closed but I ran along the shoulder as much as possible until we finally left the pavement and went onto a gravel road.

We soon left the gravel road and turned onto a four-wheel drive forest service double-track. The aspens are in their fall glory. In a week, all the leaves will be down. The Autumn beauty of aspen is beautiful but fleeting.

"Aaaah!  Off the road and on the trail!" I thought, "this is what I love and why I run!"

Other runners, not used to running off the pavement- complained about the loose rock and tire ruts. As I passed by, I heard them make comments to each other about the fresh cow pies in the meadow and about possibly twisting an ankle.

Those road runners don't get out much, do they?  To bad for them, they have no idea what they are missing.

I smiled to myself and used the irregular terrain to my advantage.  Never fast, I am always at a disadvantage on the flat wide-open road. However, after years of running on trails, I have developed quick and light footwork. The ability to see without having to look down at where I place each step,  except under the most difficult conditions, is a skill that can only be learned while out on the trail under every kind of condition.  

Pictured is one of the aid stations. The water and Ultima sports drink was brought in by four-wheeler. It reminded me of an ultramarathon aid station except that there was no real food, only fluids and gel.

I met a gentleman: Tom from Cincinatti. We ran together for a while. He admitted to worrying about twsting or breaking an ankle. We had a nice conversation, he is a social worker who works as an advocate for people with epilepsy. One good thing about running slow, you get to meet all kinds of interesting people whom you might not have met otherwise and you also have the breath to talk to them.  

Then we came across several signs that made me laugh out loud.  I thought these were funny but the other runners didn't think so.

I stopped and took a few photos. Each sign was posted by a tire rut or dip in the trail. I guess the race organizers thought it best to warn the road runners in this event not used to rugged terrain. Perhaps they did so out of liablilty concerns or maybe they were simply being nice?

I can only imagine how many dozens and dozens of signs would be required in an average trail ultramarathon!

Soon we were back on the Mickelson Trail. Although the few miles out from Hill City were on the road, the entire return trip, other than the half mile through town were on this gravel trail.

It's all down hill from here!

Feeling good and having run at my slow-ultra pace for most of the race, I decided to kick it in the last miles. As everyone else was struggling in, I floated lightly past them.  It was the same way at Boulder Backroads two weeks earlier, only I didn't get a gut-ache this time.

I think I will continue to include occasional marathons as part of my training plan, as long as they fit into my schedule and are not on the road. Getting to pass people while still fresh is one reason. I rarely get to do that at ultras. In fact, if I am close enough to see someone else , more than likely it is because I have been running with them the last few hours and we'll end up finishing together by choice.

The other reason why I'll continue to do marathons is that as much as I enjoy the solitude of my long solitary training runs, sometimes it is fun to be around other runners and make new friends and acquaintances.

The finish was at the 1880s train station in Hill City. You can buy a ticket and take an old time steam engine complete with whistles and passenger cars from Hill City to Keystone… and back again. This looks like one tourist attraction we will need to experience some day. Friends and family, you have been warned, you may be dragged along on this trip if you come visit.   

Jeanne and Nathan were not at the finish when I arrived so I went to eat my post-race meal. Unfortunately, all they had left was some vegetable soup. Yes, it is pretty slim-pickin's at marathons compared to ultramarathons.  

"So are you trying to tell me that next time I need to run faster?" I joked with them. 

Above is Lisa's finish. She is planning on running the upcoming 24 hours at Boulder in a few weeks. I would have been running that event along with Haliku, if I did not already have a committment to give a presentation at a cardiology conference in California the same weekend.

I had hoped that Lisa would have had a chance to meet my family but they still hadn't showed up. No matter. I am sure our paths will cross again. Jeanne had expected a 6 to 7 hour finish, not realizing that this was only a marathon and not a 50k. I still think that my family is the world's best crew, even if they don't always meet me at my finishes. 

Lisa introduced me to Larry who is from Houston and a member of the Marathon Maniacs. He ran 93 marathons last year. He was planning on running a marathon in Portland the following day.  He also runs ultras and it turns out we have run in several of the same events of the past couple of years. We reminsced about our good and not so good ultra experiences.

Us ultramarathoners are a small and tight-knit group of people. After a while we all get to know each other. We are often misunderstood by non-runners and sometimes even by other runners, but we kinda like it that way. I suppose the world can take only so many insane people like us. 

Jeanne and Nathan arrived and we went to a local Mexican restaurant. The enchilada and tamale tasted good but not as good as that ice-cold Cerveza Pacifico

Afterwards, we took a not-so-short "short cut" back to our cabin. We took Hwy 244 south of Hill City and passed Mt. Rushmore Monument. Then we took Hwy 16A or the Iron Mountain Road and enjoyed the one lane tunnels as well as the famous pig tail bridges. We stopped and scrambled up some granite outcroppings before heading home.

I am so glad that my family is finally here with me!   

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2 responses

  1. Congratulatons!!!
    Yes, regular road running is very ifferent from trail running. I think if you ar going to sign up for a trail type race,you owe it to yourself to do some running on trails. I hae all those ankle twisting fears myself!

    October 6, 2008 at 5:39 am

  2. Thanks! I agree with preparing for the race you are planning to run. I am sure that a large road race I would be lost in the crowd and not sure how to avoid stepping on and tripping over other runners, even though I can run on mountain trails with a head lamp or the light of a full moon no problem.

    October 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm

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