Thursday, July 4, 2013

Black Hills 100k- Beware: this does include a mountain lion

photo by Royal Hartwig

Race morning my nerves were high. I was super excited to get to run the Black Hill trails. I have been wanting to try a mountain race with plenty of elevation change. (The 100k has a total elevation change of 21,662 =gain/loss.)  I've run Lean Horse 100 mile twice, it's nothing like Black Hills 100 but it's the same Race Directors, same general area of South Dakota.  It feels familiar/homey & there are plenty of great attractions for the family. So I decided I would make BH100k my first long distance mountain race. 

An injury I suffered in August of 2012 had me worried about my endurance. The injury forced me to take some time off  running but I didn't really manage the recovery well. I was denial...and kept trying to run before my body was fully healed. I would get a few weeks of training in, then I was injured again.  Because of that I had months of inconsistent training and an injury that would not go away. ( please learn from my mistake & don't do that, it wasn't fun). Finally I learned and I took the time needed to get fully healed. Then I built my mileage up slowly. This meant I was going in to Black Hills with only 7 weeks of consistent training & only 2 long runs (hmmm...still maybe not the brightest idea). But I was sure nothing hurt, my body was healthy, all I was lacking was training. I thought mentally I could get myself to the finish line. I didn't care how long it took, I had to finish. I love distance running and it had been way to long.

At the start line I was sick to my stomach from nerves. I felt like it was my first ultra. I was happy to see Joy and Julie (from Chicago area). They were so warm, positive and smiling. Everything they said helped calm me down. ...trail people are awesome!

My families feet before the race (Royal Hartwig, Tasha, and me). My shoes are the pretty turquoise and navy once on the top right. Be sure to look at my after picture

The race starts and finishes at Woodle Track and field. A really beautiful stadium. I took off nice and easy, chatting with everyone around me, my stomach settled quickly once I started running. I got on pace with a man from Texas that had finished Bighorn, Leadville and Western States. I figured he knew how to manage a mountain course and I enjoyed talking with him so I decided to stay at his pace. He was walking the longer climbs and running the downhills really easy. If I was leading I would have ran the downhills faster but I thought it's probably smart to go at this more conservative pace. We ran for quite a few miles together and had a great time.

Eventually my girlfriend Jessica Pendelton caught us. She is running the Gnarly Bandit series. I wanted to run with her so when she passed I stayed at her pace. She is an excellent climber. I had to work hard to keep pace with her on the uphills. Although I was feeling like I could run the downhills quicker. So I decided to go ahead on the downhills. It was no effort for me to run these & I wanted to take advantage of that. Once I would hit another climb Jessica and the group I was running around would start to catch me on the top. I needed to run these downhills quicker to stay the same pace as them. I felt like I was running at even effort on up and downs. I wanted to be sure I didn't wear myself out on the climbs. I had no idea how my endurance would hold up. Usually you can trust your training but I did not have a big base.

There were quite a few mountain stream crossing. They were rocky and the water was cold & crystal clear. They had ropes to hold onto as you crossed. The cool water felt great on my feet. I had extra shoes in case I wanted to change but my shoes dried quickly after the each crossing. I never felt the need to change shoes all day. I was wearing my Roclite 268's

I caught a man that I see at races all the time. He was running with one water bottle and had ran out of water and he was thirsty. With the blazing sun & dry South Dakota heat that was easy to do. It had happened to me earlier in the day and I downed many glasses of liquid once I got to the aid next station.  Since I was carrying 2 water bottles I gave him one of mine and ran with him and his friend for awhile. It was fun hearing their trail stories....did I mention...I love trail runners

Pictures don't capture the amazing views

I got to the Dalton Lake Aid Station and saw my husband. For the last 10 miles I had a headache and was feeling nauseous. I didn't want the nauseous to get out of control. This has been a problem for me at 100 mile races. Basically every race I run I'm trying to learn how to run a 100 mile race well & that means learning how to manage my stomach. So I decided to sit down and let it settle.  I ate some pasta salad, watermelon and a drank an ice cold 7-up.

After the race I realized the nauseous/headache was from being over 5,000 feet. Looking at the elevation chart, every time I was above 5,000 feet was when I was having problems.  I would start dropping back down I would start feeling normal again. 

When you leave Dalton Lake Aid Station your at mile 29 there is a 2 mile out then back. That out and back was tough. It was a uphill the entire way. Steep, loose rocks, hot, plus I was pretty sunburned. I'm not used to that mountain sun. It was challenging but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle, I was feeling positive. I was really happy with how I was doing. It felt really good to be running an ultra again.

I hit the turn around which according to my Garmin was close to 32 miles. Then it was downhill to Dalton Lake again. I was able to run quite a bit of that. A few sections were steep and it was causing a little twinge in my knee so I walked some. There was one point that I saved a runner going the wrong way. He was thankful. I had saved a runner on the way up as well in the same area. The course was marked correctly but it was a little confusing because of an arrow that was on a sign that was not a BH100 course marking.  

Dalton Lake headed back up to over 5,000 feet
I came back to Dalton Lake Aid station. Had some watermelon and 7-up... delicious!. I had watermelon at every aid station. That was the best! Plus ALL the aid stations had ice. AWESOME! I don't know how they lugged all that watermelon and ice out to these remote aid stations but I certainly appreciated that they did. Leaving the aid stations with a couple of bottles of cold ice water was a real treat in the hot mountain sun. Thank you RD's/volunteers for taking such good care of us!

On the climb out of Dalton Lake I felt pretty good but once again when I got above 5,000 feet... Heavy headache, nauseous and moving slow. I was struggling to run areas that were run-able. I was thinking about what Shelley Cook said to me before the race, "Michele, we both know running ultras is more mental than physical".  Okay, I told myself don't mentally let yourself stop running.  I had decided before the race I would never stop giving full effort. But this part was challenging me. My legs were not trashed, I was just exhausted/sluggish. My head was a "squeezing" headache and my stomach was not good. I would try running and not make it very far. I started watching my garmin way to much. I would be moving along for what felt like a very long time and find out I had only went a quarter of a mile. "okay ...don't give up...remember full effort"

I was so happy to get to run these trails. It was a treat of a lifetime

When I got to the next aid station I sat down for quite a long time. I would guess 40 minutes. I wanted my head to stop pounding and my stomach to get back to normal.  For about a second- bad thoughts creeped into my head... It was going to be getting dark soon. I would only see my family at one more aid station. I didn't know if I would start moving so slow that I wouldn't be able to stay warm. Plus- I have to admit I was worried about the mountain lion. They mention them 3 times in the runners packet. Plus I had seen one (close up) while I was running Lean Horse 100 so I knew they were around. At LH100 I was with a pacer. Now I was going to be out during feeding time alone and in the dark... a little creepy

"push those negative thoughts out"-I decided I had sat down way to long. I needed to get moving. This long break now put me about 1 hour behind my goal finish time. I put on a long sleeve shirt and a hoodie and started the climb out of Elk Creek Aid Station. Once I was moving I was feeling much better. I realized I had to many clothes on. I took off the hoodie and tied it around my waist.

I got to an open meadow area with tall grass. I was thinking "this is probably where the mountain lion like to hang out". About that time I heard a soft "meow...meow..."  This was in the middle of the mountain range...It was not an area I would expect to see a stray cat. I don't know what baby mountain lions sound like but full grown ones do sound kind of like a house cat with a much deeper vocal cord. When I saw a mountain lion at Lean Horse I heard it first, it sounded like a purring growl. I doubt this was a baby mountain lion but it didn't help me from trying to stop thinking of them. (note: this is not the part of the story that includes a mountain lion)

We were blessed with a beautiful sunset on race day

I got to Bulldog and aid station captain extraordinaire Anna Ball was there. I knew I could still make it to the finish in my goal time but I was going to have to speed up the next 10 miles. I told Anna I couldn't remember what kind of climbs I'm going to have. I had ran all this earlier but that was a long time ago. Anna said, "There is a big climb out of here then a long undulating down hill to the next aid station. Then you'll have one more small climb after that but I don't quite remember what that ones like"  ...personally I think she chose not to tell me about that last climb because it was a doozy, good call on her part

So I left Bulldog with this great calming description in my head. I climbed without ever giving up. I got to the top and started running, one big long undulating down hill to the next aid station. I could do it. I just kept going. As I clicked off the miles I was starting to get really close to being able to hit my goal finish time again. I was feeling awesome. Once the altitude sickness went away I was running well again. If I felt confident enough to race I could have ran faster, but without having the mileage base I wasn't being aggressive. I was running at a pace that I felt I could keep forever, then taking short walking breaks here and there. Finishing was my goal and I did not want to miss a turn, get sick, or do anything that would jeopardize that.

I got to the Alkali Creek Aid station. I could do it. I could finish in my goal time. I had really made up a lot of time in that last section. I beat my husband to the aid station. Him and my daughter had set the alarm and took a nap, they didn't expect me this early so they were still sleeping. Royal (my husband) says now he should know better. This wasn't the first time I had done this to him at an ultra. He's watched as I've left an aid station looking like "death worn over... then come running through the next at an all time high. I didn't mind missing him, it gave me a little confidence boost to know I had came back so my head I was all cool like "yeah, I beat them here". I can be a little dorky, I know...  Plus it helped me get in an out of the station faster. All day I had been hanging at the stations longer than I normally do because it was fun to talk with my family... Love my crew.... Royal and Tasha

I left the aid station and very quickly got to the last climb. Wowzie...It was a steep. I can't imagine how hard that was on the tender legs of the 100 mile runners. I finally got to the top and the downhill was just as tough.  I tried to run as much as I could but I wasn't managing it very well. The rocks were loose, it was steeper than what I normally run on.  I felt like I was braking every step, this hurt my right knee a little. Plus there were lots of big rocks that were grabbing my toes and trying to trip me and it would have been a long fall. I  wasn't experienced running on this kind of trail. I was doing the best I could. I knew I was going to have to start making up pace soon because I was again falling behind.

I eventually got to more a runnable area. I started running at a steady pace, something I could hold until the finish line. I thought this section was a little confusing. I did not get off course but I had to stop and think a few times to make sure I was going the right direction. There were places you could have made a wrong turn. It was marked correctly but I would have liked to see a few more confidence markers in this area. 

In this section you are running through meadows and woods. Every once in awhile you would be able to see the Sturgis Woodle track/finish line in the distance. That was pretty cool. I wasn't feeling overly anxious to finish. I was enjoying the fact that I could still run. I made it to town and got off the trail onto a paved path.

I was now super close to the finish line. It also looked like I was going to finish in my goal time. So after running through the mountains all day long I'm now running on a concrete city path. I can see the finish line... It was right there... Not even a quarter of a mile... When.....

"YIKES".... off to the left I see two glowing eyes staring at me.  I notice the color of the animal. It was a tawny gold color...oh no...was this a mountain lion? Then the animal laid down...hmmm... I stopped. What the heck am I supposed to do. I wasn't sure if it was a mountain lion but I didn't want to run by it and find out. It didn't seem like a deer would be standing in the grass, spot me and lay down. "let's see...think..." The path went along side a road. Maybe I could run the road to the stadium. I decided to turn around and go back to the road. This was maybe 1/2 mile. I certainly didn't want to just wait and see if in fact it was a mountain lion and it was going to come after me. I got back to the road when a male runner came along. I told him think I saw a mountain lion up ahead. He says, "Cool ! I saw 3 of them today, no worries...they like prey that is knee high or below". He just kept running along. So I followed. I let him get ahead of me. I stayed back to make sure he got by the area that the big cat was- then I went. I just looked straight ahead and prayed. I made it safely by and to the outside of the stadium.

There weren't any markers directing you to the correct entrance.  I saw someone and asked them which entrance to go in. It was the closest entrance, kind of obvious- but I just wanted to make sure I went to the right one. I got on the track and ran to the finish line. I felt really good. I was really happy with how well I ran and how good I felt at the finish line.

I could not have enjoyed that race more. I enjoyed talking with a bunch of awesome people. See amazing views. Travel for miles on the beautiful Black Hills trails. I love running long distance on amazing trails. A short run or hike is not enough for me. I love working my mind to manage my body, then I enjoy the tiredness I feel at the finish. I could not be more thankful to be able to run these races. I am so thankful to the race directors and volunteers for all the work that goes into these events. I'm also thankful for the people that were the pioneers of long distance running. If it wasn't for them I would have never realized this was possible. I feel so good about the day & I can't wait for my next race. That one, I plan to race hard!

Much love & happy trails~ Michele
Finishing was my award but I was happy to take home this buffalo skull for 3rd overall female