I’ve now sat down on roughly a dozen occasions to crank out some thoughts about my first foray into the real world of ultra running at the Black Hills 100 in Sturgis, but it’s amazing how quickly time passes when you’re busy as all hell getting ready for your wedding. That being the case, I thought I’d at least dive into an incoherent retrospective and rambling stream of thoughts…..
solo, but not alone
I made the trip out to Sturgis from Denver on Friday the 28th, the same day Melissa was flying back to Denver for her bridal shower/bachelorette party and, ultimately, our wedding. So I was heading up all alone, and was going to be running sans crew, pacer or cheering section. This didn’t bother me as I made the trip; my training was done entirely solo, and I know there are more enjoyable things for friends and family to do than drive around, get hot and dirty and lose sleep while following me around as I run 100 miles. But I knew I was in the thoughts (and maybe even prayers) of those I cared most about: Melissa, my mom, Kevin and Daniel, and even a handful of co-workers and customers at the coffee shop. Knowing the excitement they all felt as I was making my way to finally tackle this long-time goal was a very good feeling.
It also became totally apparent to me as I arrived at the Sturgis Community Center Friday evening that I was far from alone as I mingled with a large crowd of like-minded folks. Training for and attempting to run 100 miles is - as it turns out - a less than normal endeavor. When you gather in a location with a hundred our so other runners and their support crews that have had the same goal in mind, you feel as if you are among kindred spirits and there’s a very family-reunion type feeling to the check-in, pre-race meeting and meal. The camaraderie among ultra runners is oft spoken of, but it’s so much more than I could have known and I felt at home right away.
The greatest taste of this camaraderie that I felt al weekend was from my fellow racer Bryan and his pacers. I ran with Bryan for many of the first 50 miles of the race… or was at least crossing paths with him in the aid stations. We chatted while spending time on the trails together, and gave words of encouragement when going in/out of the aid stations at separate times. He had a pair of friends acting as pacers/crew that gave assistance at each aid station while I relied solely on the (awesome, amazing, spectacular) assistance of the aid station volunteers (really… they were terrific). As Bryan arrived at mile 35ish aid station among the top 4 runners, one of Bryan’s crew - Kieran - came up to help me fill my bottles at the aid station, ask me my name and I how as feeling. From that point on, both Kieran and Bryan’s other crew member checked in on me each time we crossed paths. To have a pair of strangers offer that kind of support - mentally and physically - was so much more than I ever expected from anyone and so radically above-and-beyond their duties as crew members for another runner. Bryan began struggling a bit earlier in the race than I did, and sadly the mile 50 turnaround at Silver City would be my last time seeing Kieran at an aid station during the day. But it was huge mental lift, and lifted me at least a little bit physically while I was struggling mightily at mile 94, to hear Kieran shout my name as he and a rallying Bryan whizzed past me as we headed into the final aid station before the finish. As beat was I was feeling, the last thing I expected was an excited shout from another runner and his pacer at 2 a.m. on a trail outside of Sturgis. Meeting up Bryan and crew - Coloradoans, too :) - was one of the great joys of the weekend.
I also headed out to the race with a bit of extra support from a couple of great guys I’ve only met via e-mail and with my taste buds: Caleb and Chris Simpson, co-founders of Bearded Brothers. An awesome couple of guys who do things the right way and make an incredibly delicious energy bar, they responded to an inquiry of mine in June and brought me on board as a brand ambassador. That led to me heading out to Sturgis with a couple cases of energy bars that made a big difference in my day. More on that now….
Racing/running at any long distance requiring a good amount of re-fueling has always been tricky for me. As much as my iron gut pretty much allows me to eat anything I want and not have stomach issues later when I go running, mid-run nutrition has always upset my gut a bit. Back when I did the Devil Mountain 50k in 2010 I relied solely on H20 and energy gels, and I found my stomach in enough distress that I had to walk the final 5 miles despite the fact that my legs felt great… that was one of the most frustrating athletic experiences I’ve ever had.
I’ve experimented over the last few years in my training with some other nutrition plans, and had found better results by mixing Honey Stinger gels, Nuun and H20 and just drinking all my calories on the run, but that was far from a perfect plan, too. What I felt I really needed was an easy to eat/digest solid food source, but so many of them are just too damn sugary.
Enter Bearded Brothers. Raw, natural, delicious and, as it turns out, perfect for my stomach. I depended heavily upon the Bearded Brothers for my nutrition on the move throughout all 100 miles, and that also made their variety of flavors an excellent bonus. I still ate some gels and some PB&J, turkey sandwiches, etc., at the aid stations, but my day also included over a dozen Bearded Brothers bars.
My nutrition for the day began with a Fabulous Ginger Peach bar (my fave of the four flavors) at 5 a.m., one hour before race start, and some leftover trail mix from the night before, and of course some water. I downed a bottle of water between the start and the first aid station, where I refilled one of my bottles with clean H20 and the other electrolyte drink mix. From that point the general flow my digestion for the day centered around downing an energy gel and my electrolyte drink as quickly as possible without upsetting my stomach as I left each aid station, and then nibbling on a Bearded Brothers bar and sipping my water until reaching the next aid station and refilling my bottles to do it all again. I started eating some of the aid station fare after the turnaround, but still kept up this on-the-run regimen. As far as aid station food goes, I absolutely fell in love with combination of boiled potatoes dipped in salt once the sun went down…ohmygoditwassodelicious.
Like I said, to have made it 100 miles and 22h20m of running without my stomach turning on me was amazing and a huge change from having to walk in the final 5 miles of a 50k because of such struggles. So thank you, immensely, to Caleb and Chris :)
Other than heavy breathing and thanking the volunteers at every possible chance, this was the most common sound emitted from my person during the race. Yes, this was the sound, which later on would be followed by a loud expletive, that I made each and every time I bit the dust during the race. Me falling became pretty common during the race, beginning at about mile 17 and continuing on fairly regularly. I looked the part, too, and it was commented on at the aid stations each time. Clearly, my lack of training on trails with any sort of debris ended up being a large issue in regards to my ability to stay upright. I still don’t think that fatigue hindered my pace and ability to run during the second half of the race as much as my sore hips/quads from falling so much did. Lesson learned: really need to get out and work on running on something similar to the terrain I’m going to be racing on for future outings.
a bit masochistic, yes
I’ve known this about myself since high school. I love pushing myself, willingly entering into physically uncomfortable and tough situations. I loved 2-a-days for football during HS and college, always looked forward to conditioning in practice and any other chance to put myself through the wringer. Naturally, this has been a big part of my growing enthusiasm for endurance sports and, more specifically, for ultra running. Clearly, no one was making me run 100 miles in the hills of South Dakota; this was entirely and in every way an endeavor of my own interests, so there was no point in not enjoying every moment - whether pleasant or extremely unpleasant. With that mindset, it was easy to enjoy every step of the course. While I was confident in my ability to find pleasure and joy for the entirety of the race, I wasn’t so sure what doubts may creep into my mind… I think that’s probably the one thing that can’t really be accounted for in the training for this type of race at all. I found, though, that doubt never crept into my mind. Maybe it’s just more indication of how sick of an individual I am, or maybe it’s a testament to the fact that I’ve been gunning for this experience for three years….?
so… yea :)
Well that’s about the extent of it. I finished the race in 22 hours 20 minutes and change. I didn’t hit my 20 hour goal, but I did leave Sturgis feeling that I have a much better plan for how to better accomplish my goals in the future: more training on trails, take better care of the body during training (and not miss training time), and get in more work on the hills. Considering my the very poor grades I’d give myself in each of these categories, I can’t say I’m upset with how things unfolded.
Among the field, I finished in 9th place overall (7th man) and was the top finisher among men 20-29. I made it to the turnaround feeling pretty strong in 2nd place behind only repeat winner and CR holder Jeremy Bradford. The most impressive performance of the day had to be that of Kaci Licktieg (sic?) from near Omaha. After she passed me somewhere in the 65ish mile point of the race, she continued to hunt and finished close on the heels of Jeremy for 2nd place overall and a 7-or-so-hour female CR. Damn! I was also pleased to cross the finish line and find out that Dan Rose, with whom I had a wonderful headlamp-lit conversation about donuts and beer during the night, had moved his way up to a 3rd place finish in a hair under 20 hours. Dan showed me a textbook example of sticking to a race plan. Coming from Virginia he’d made the decision to run the flats and downs and hike the hills; this tactic of his had me thinking he’d gone out at a far-too-fast pace and was dying when I ran by him uphill around mile 25ish. But he’d stick to his plan and run exceptionally well, and provided me some greatly appreciated company and conversation late in the race. He was also spot-on in recommending the Pile-O-Dirt Porter from Crow Peak Brewing… mmm mmm mmm :)