First off, how about getting upgraded to First Class for the flight out?
"Another mimosa before take-off, sir?"
|I don't always fly First Class, but when I do, I wear my Drymax.|
|My Tatanka Burger. Always have to sample the local cuisine. So very very tasty!|
|Mt. Rushmore, and...|
|The Crazy Horse Memorial.|
From Crazy Horse we headed north through the Black Hills up to our hotel in Sturgis. If anyone is considering this great race in the future, I highly recommend staying at the Best Western in town. It's the nicest hotel in Sturgis, an easy 2 mile ride to the race start/finish, and has a fantastic restaurant ("Caddy's") attached to it.
Once in Sturgis you notice one major theme: Harleys. Obviously the annual week-long Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a huge part of this tiny 6,000 person town (400,000+ bikers attend each year!), and all the t-shirt shops and bars that line the main drag in town promote their goods accordingly to the riders passing through. Jeff and I saddled up at the Knuckle Saloon to sample a couple local brews shortly after arriving in town. My favorite was this tasty treat from the Crow Peak Brewery one exit up the road in Spearfish:
|"Pile-o-Dirt" Porter = Yum!|
With Team Rose all present and accounted for, we headed back into the Hills to visit the historic mining/casino town Deadwood. If you haven't seen the eponymous HBO mini-series, you're really missing out on something special. I loved the show, and it was a HUGE treat for me to tour all of the historic sites in town that have existed since the boom of the 1800's gold rush. Here's Jeff and Paul in front of Sheriff Seth Bullock's Hotel (played by Timothy Olyphant in the show):
|Sheriff Bullock would definitely respect the Sheriff and Deputy of Team Rose!|
|Another highlight from Deadwood: Just above the city on a steep cliff sit the gravesites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane (played brilliantly in the show by Robin Weigert)|
Race day came as sunny and pleasant as any runner could hope for. I met up with my fellow VHTRC teammates (about 12 of us made the trip from the east coast) at the start for our group picture:
|The "Blue Train" is ready to roll (Photo: Kimba)|
I should also mention that, even though he can't run a 6 minute mile yet, baby Sammy is one heck of a great training partner for me. Pushing him in the stroller is a fantastic resistance workout, and even though our regular "Sammy Loop" is only 6.2 miles long, it is an absolutely lung-busting affair with some serious hills (and lots of headwind) mixed in. Yes, we usually stop about 4 miles in so he can play at a sweet playground by the river for 20 minutes, but the mile long climb back up out of the riverbed more than makes up for the break I get while playing on the slides with him!
I guess what the paragraphs above should convince most ultra runners is that running 100 miles successfully is truly equal parts mental and physical. You really don't need long runs, just regular, quality workouts, and the confidence that you can get yourself to the finish no matter what. If you truthfully assess the physical shape you're bringing to the starting line, and you adjust your race pace plan accordingly right from the gun, you will succeed if you really want to. It's not magic, it's just managing pain for 15-20 hours or so.
So, given the light training I mentioned above, I knew I needed to keep my pace nice and relaxed during the day in this race. Once the Sun Beast started to retreat in the 2nd half, my plan was to empty whatever was left in the tanks on the way back to the finish. My mantra for the race was "Survive the day to enjoy the night". I repeated this to myself about 2,000 times in the first half of the race whenever I noticed I was pushing too hard. As the course profile shows below, it was nothing but ups and downs all day long on the semi-technical mountain trails:
|It was a common pattern the whole way: Up, Down, Aid Station...Lather, Rinse, Repeat...for 100 miles.|
|See? No mouth breathing!|
After the initial 5+ mile stretch over a steep but short foothill on the way to the first Aid Station, we passed under a highway and into the Black Hills proper. Recalling the stories I'd been told of the native people who originally lived in these mountains, I took a moment to ask the Lakota spirits to grant me safe passage through their land over the course of the day. In exchange I promised to leave the Hills in better condition than I entered them. I found holding up my end of the bargain all day to be easy as I stopped to pick up any runner trash I saw while running the course. By the end I picked up 6 or 7 gel wrappers. That's not cool, runners! My silly "Deal with the Lakota" story aside here, 100 milers in the woods aren't road marathons with street sweepers. Don't throw your crap on the ground!
Somewhere on the first big climb heading to the Bulldog Aid Station (Mile 10), I hooked up with Anthony Parillo as we settled somewhere around 6th or 7th place in the field. Anthony was a fun guy to run with who also happened to be fresh off a sweet 100 mile victory four weeks earlier in the heat at Old Dominion! We ended up running a funny yo-yo effort together just about all the way to the 50 mile turn around. The pattern would be him pulling away from me pretty effortlessly on all the climbs, and me catching up on the downs. In the middle we'd chat about this or that before one of us would naturally start pulling away
|Doing my best to keep up with Anthony early on.|
On the way to 50 mile turn at Silver City, we passed through hot (but not too hot) and rugged (but not too rugged) terrain. I enjoyed the beautiful vistas from the ridges, and the delightful shade in the more thickly grown areas of ponderosa pines. With basically no humidity out there, all I needed was a little shade to feel 100 times better after a longer stretch in the sun. When the sun was beating me up a bit, Jeff and Paul were always more than ready for me with ice and a cold towel at all the aid stations. My crew was awesome.
|You can find these guys in a file labeled: "Crew, Awesome".|
In 100+ mile races, one big thing I've learned is you need to be 100% honest with yourself and your abilities as a runner. It's super cool to win these things, but that's also obviously really really really hard. For me, when running in the mountains I know my limitations. Shoot, I live at an elevation of 100ft. and train 99% of my miles on roads. I don't have easy access to train in the mountains on long climbs, so I don't pretend on race day that I can hang with the dudes (and dudettes!) who are great climbers. One natural ability I do have regardless of my regular training routes, however, is a freakishly strong ability to run fast down technical mountain terrain. Maybe that can be attributed to my build, foolish confidence, luck, or some combination of the three. Whatever the reason, in the second half of this race, I felt confident I could rest on the climbs and use my fresh legs aggressively on the descents to reel in the field ahead of me.
|Guess who's ready to fire up the legs on the downhills? Bombs away! ...also, mouth still closed!|
...and so it began. After a big grunt out of Silver City, I passed the #7 runner at the end of the long downhill leading into the mile 58 aid station. We entered the AS at basically the same time, but my crew saw the look in my eye and quickly handed me my fresh pack as I bolted back onto the trail in about 30 seconds alone in 7th. The next section's shorter climb and much longer descent worked brilliantly into my favor as I bombed the long downhill into the Nemo aid station at mile 64 absolutely on fire. My crew let me know the gaps to close with the next 4 runners ahead of me (all within 20 minutes), and I was quickly off to catch them.
I saw the #6 runner toward the end of the big climb out of the aid station and stayed back a bit saving my legs and biding my time for the pass on the downhill. Everything played out as planned in the next two miles as I passed him with legs spinning like the Road Runner on the descent. My crew was psyched to see me striding out of the woods ahead of another runner at Dalton Lake (mile 70.8), and I started to really feed off their excitement as well. I grabbed my headlamp and readied for the next 12ish mile section before seeing my crew again. They told me I was 13 minutes behind the next runner, and off I went to reel him in.
It was a long climb out of Dalton Lake, and about 1/2 up I started to see the headlamp of #5 (the speedy Scott Kretzmann from Denver). I hadn't turned my light on yet, preferring to run stealthily while catching up to him from behind. I pulled up behind Scott just before the top, and chose to run behind him for a few minutes to chat and rest my legs a bit for the downhill pass. I enjoyed chatting with him and easily could have enjoyed his company for much longer, but my engine was purring and my sights were set on the guys ahead of him. I asked to slip by on the downhill and quickly shot down the mountain, blowing through the Crooked Tree aid station at mile 77.5 on my way to my crew at the mile 83 Elk Creek aid stop.
When I pulled into Elk Creek, I was again boosted by my crew's excitement from how fast I was moving up the field. I was entering another 12ish mile section without my crew, and I knew my goal was to catch and pass the two runners who were 10-12 minutes ahead of me in this next stretch. Again, no time was spent at the aid station, and just as in the previous sections, I saw the headlamps I was chasing shortly after I started the long uphill out of the aid station. Recalling this section's terrain extremely well from earlier in the day when I ran it with Anthony (we both commented on how great it would be to run the long downhill into the final aid station at mile 95), I was steady and patient on the climb up, very slowly pulling closer to the two headlamps ahead of me. Giving a little extra effort to finally pull up behind them at the top, I took a few moments to chat and realized one of the guys was a pacer for the other. This meant I had caught #4, but had no clue how far ahead #3 was. Time to get to work! #4 let me slip by and I quickly took off running like my pack was on fire down the dark and rocky trail. After about a mile of downhill screaming, I saw #3 slowly walking down the trail, clearly dealing with some blown quads. I gave him an encouraging pat on the back and let him know the Bulldog aid station was just a mile further up.
Happy to not only be running in 3rd place, but also with tons of fire left in my legs, I just needed to know one thing: How far ahead were Jeremy and Kaci? Thankfully, the good folks at the Bulldog aid station (mile 90) had the answer for me while I ran through without pause. I was half-disappointed to hear the insurmountable 40 minutes for Kaci and 50 for Jeremy, but the other half of me was happy I wouldn't need to sprint this thing all the way to the end. I always enjoy being able to cruise in the last few miles of a satisfying race when I can appreciate the stars and peaceful silence of nature in the wee hours. ...but before that, I wanted to make sure I had a big enough gap behind me from the guys I just passed!
After the short climb out of Bulldog, I hit the gas on the last long downhill into town. To say I smoked this section would be an understatement. When I pulled up to my crew at the last stop, I had gone from 10-12 minutes behind the 4th and 3rd place runners to 20 minutes ahead of the closest one behind me. Not bad for 12+ miles work!
No time wasted at the final stop had me grunting up the short but stupid-steep climb out of Alkali Creek with happy thoughts that I wasn't going to be caught from behind. In other words, I went into Cadillac mode and took plenty of time to cruise comfortably over the top of the open foothill while gazing at the sparkling stars and brilliant pink-orange half moon. I truly enjoyed the calm and cool miles of this section as a reward for working so hard in the second half. All was well in my happy nighttime running world.
As I passed through the tunnel under the road and onto the bike path back to the finish line, I recalled the RD saying it was almost exactly 1 mile from there to the finish. I thought this was good news for sure...
...but then I looked at my watch.
It read 19:52:30. Crap! Now I had to beat myself up over the last mile for the pointless, yet un-ignorable goal of breaking 20 hours. We're stupid like this, we runners. So off I went, in trail shoes on a concrete path and with 99 mountain miles on my legs...off to run a 7:15 mile for absolutely no sound reason whatsoever.
Half way there, I was surprised to see a lady coming back in my direction. She was a 100k runner who turned around because she said she saw a mountain lion on the path ahead of us. Hoping she didn't confuse my lack of slowing down for heartless non-concern, I just said, "Follow me, I'll scare the s#!t out of it so we can get by!". I'm no mountain lion expert, but I figured if I just told the cat I was sprinting out a 7:15 mile for no good reason, it would think I was rabid and/or simply insane and just leave me alone. I think that's just solid Darwinism on the mountain lion's behalf.
About 100 yards down the path I saw the eyes of a deer off to the side of the trail and yelled back "It's just Bambi, he won't hurt you!", and was off on my final sprint toward the finish line. As I entered the lights of the stadium, I saw the official clock ahead read 19:59:30, and I knew I had done the work to break 20 hours with only 100 yards left to go. I cruised in with 15 or so seconds to spare and gave Jeff and Paul triumphant hugs after their brilliant support in helping me execute my race plan perfectly.
|Coming in for a 19:59 landing...|
|Sure, it's blurry and I'm looking off to the side, but you can still see my big smile, right?!|
|The mouth was certainly open here...to smile with pride! Talk about a banner day for Team Rose, a.k.a. The Deadwood Three!|
The next morning we returned for what I had been psyched about (and blogging about) since I signed up for this race last December: I was awarded my 2nd place Tatanka Skull!
|Of all the skulls I saw at the pre-race meeting, I liked the 2nd place red-white-and-blue one the best. Perhaps the Lakota did reward me in the end!|
|Close up of the skull (you can see Kaci with her First Place skull off to the left)|
|For those of you who know Gary, you are well aware it's not just Coke mixed in that cup! (Photo: Keith Knipling)|
|Paul's dad brought him here as a kid, and he in turn brought his own kids here years later. You can bet I'll be passing on privilege of seeing this magical site to Sammy when he gets a little older as well!|
Of course, none of the fun I just wrote about would have been possible without the support and energy of many many people. Time to give some much-deserved THANKS:
Obviously Jeff and Paul deserve the biggest high-five of all time for flying all the way out to South Dakota for the joy of spending 19 hours and 59 minutes waiting for me to emerge from the woods, mumble a couple things for 30 seconds, and take off again...about a dozen times. All crews are selfless, but these guys are amazing to boot.
Huge thanks also go out to the RDs and all the volunteers who put in the hundreds of hours it takes to organize such a smooth and seamless 100 mile race. For such a new run, it sure operates like it's been going on for decades.
Giant THANKS, of course, to my lovely wife for giving me the green light to chase down a dream in the Black Hills while she took on solo baby duties back home. I'll owe you a looooong time for that, baby! YSC!!!
...and, once again, I'll put the ol' record on repeat: If you're not wearing Drymax socks in your 100 milers, you're making it too hard on yourself! The stats, yet again, from race day: ONE pair of Drymax Max Pros worn = ZERO blisters or hot spots. Thanks, Drymax!
...and finally, to help anyone reading this understand why I have absolutely no problems cutting back my running and racing now that I'm a daddy: Here's the scene captured on a blurry phone, well past a certain baby's bedtime when I arrived home from the airport. Sammy was so excited to have me back home, he used all of his little 17 month-old strength to help push my luggage back into the house so I wouldn't leave again!
|Daddy loves you, Sammy!!|