Oh little did I know about the SD Trail Running Championships in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A 16K (km) event with ~13,700' elevation change on some amazing trails close to home (only a 6-7 hour drive :)). This distance would not be a full out sprint like a 5K and also not a trotting event like a 50 miler.
Nevermind rehabbing. I’ll go out, run the race and continue rehab the day after. Also, it’s on my birthday. Must be a sign to go and run it.
Due to work keeping me late and other smaller things adding up, Christina and I didn’t get going until about 7pm on Friday night. (Race time was 11am the next morning). Winds have been around 20mph the whole day and now it was pitch black driving across the South Dakotan prairie. I had a good nutritional dinner while driving (KFC!) and I knew I was primed for a great race the next day. We arrived at the Hotel just a shade under 1.30am. I quickly walked the dog, who loves the Black Hills for its awesome trails almost as much as I do.
I woke up early. Giddy for the race I started getting dressed and finally woke my Surf and Christina by playing the “Circle of Life” song from the Lion King. You know…… BAAAA BAABENYAAAAA BABADEEEE BABAWA……. What a great start J
We grabbed a quick breakfast at a local gas station and went to the trail head. It was a very low key event. Maybe 100ish people in total had lined up for the two distances (10km & 16km). After a brief warm up, the gun signaled the start of the race, which began on about 200 yards of downhill road running. I felt the urge to take the overall lead, but knew this would be trouble about 5 minutes later when we begin the uphill section. I settled into 6th place entering the trail head and was carried purely on adrenalin for the next 10 minutes. It was a straight up and I simply tried to stick onto the heels of the runner in front of me. I failed after 10 minutes and let the leading group take off. I looked behind and noticed that I had also separated from the following group. Unfortunately, I didn’t research the route well enough so that I waited a moment for the next people to catch up to guide the way.
This was the time I noticed that my heart rate must’ve been close to 200bpm. The constant uphill was putting more stress on my body that I was used to. I can run fast on the flatlands of Brookings County. But now at incline and a higher overall elevation I learned my lesson. I let about 15 people pass over the next mile while trying to catch my breath. In spite of my pre-race ambitions I clocked an abysmal 12:37min/ 2nd mile of the race. The way I felt, I didn’t feel like going another 8 miles. I trooped on for another mile and was now by myself. Nobody I saw in front and no one behind me. This helped me realize how beautiful today was. My wife agreed to drive out here with me on a 13-14 hour round trip for a brief weekend, so I can run a silly little race. It was a sunny day in the beautiful Black Hills and I was doing what I loved. I am not going to quit. I will walk this baby in if I have to and have fun doing it. After a brief walk (3-5minutes) I reach another summit and saw only downhill in front of me. Awesome.
Jumping from root to root and rock to rock and swiftly went downhill and continued accelerating around the switchbacks holding on to trees at the turnarounds so not to run off trail. I got a runners high, which I usually only get during marathons or ultramarathons. This ended way too soon for my liking but I did catch up with another runner. Together we tackled the next uphill and I simply put one foot in front of the other and followed him as closely as possible. We caught up to two other runners and started a fairly flat section of the trail, which should continue for about 2 miles. We were about half way through the race and I decided to push my luck and go for broke. I put my head down and started pumping my legs on a short uphill and then on the flats. After 5 minutes, I looked back and saw no one. Ok, good. Don’t get complacent. Keep pushing. 5 more minutes go by. Good, I just clocked a 8 minute mile. Good, the road speed I have is helping separating me from the stronger mountain runners.
I see now another runner on the switchbacks on the mountain on the other side of the small valley separating us. I take him as my target and try to reel him in shortly. I forget about the race. The total distance doesn’t matter at this point. I need.to.catch.this.runner.
The next downhill goes by in a blur and I take a spill at the end of it. Laughing at myself I begin the next uphill and catch the guy. He looks strong, but I don’t want to drag this out into a long duel, which he would sure win. I pretend I am Usain Bolt (or Kilian Jornet for mountain runners) and mountain goat the next uphill getting away from him so that he doesn’t realize how hard I am currently breathing and that I should slow down.
The rest of the race is all downhill and I start to accelerate downhill more and more and more. The funny thing is that my heart actually slowed down here and my breathing normalized as well as I was putting in less effort going fast downhill than slow uphills.
The race ended up being about 1 mile longer than advertised, which only added to the fun. The muddy downhill portion of the end of the race guided me over boulders and loose rocks, but I never saw another runner. I had finally gotten into the right rhythm for mountain running and clocked my last mile at under 7min/mile. I finished 8th overall.