by Deborah Sexton
Hot Springs, SD
Saturday, August 20, 2005
It’s a straight shot from the Rapid City, South Dakota airport to Hot Springs, South Dakota where the first Lean Horse 100 and 50 Miler (and 50K) race was held. I turned left onto the highway and drove straight there in roughly about an hour. If I don’t get lost going somewhere, you know it’s impossible to get lost.
I felt that this was a perfect “beginner” race for those who wanted to attempt their first 50 or 100 miler. It was billed as an “easy” course and a PR course and frankly, in my opinion, it completely lived up to that. All day long I heard comments that it wasn’t an easy course and how hard the hills were. I think that by billing this race as easy, it set up a perception in people’s minds that they were going to do this with no pain. As we all know, 100 miles is a 100 miles no matter what course you are on.
After having paced at Western States and Hard Rock this summer, to me this course seemed flat as a pancake. There were a few inclines, but there were no hills by my standards. To a first-timer, I guess those inclines might have felt like hills especially once they were tired. But believe me, go to just about any other ultra and you’ll have a new definition of a “hill.” One big advantage was the inclines were greater going out so coming back, if you were doing the 100 miler, you had a lot of nice sloping downhill. Not quad destroying downhill, but just enough gravity to pull you forward.
It’s an out and back course. The 50 milers run out and catch a ride back to the headquarters. The trail itself was fairly wide. It would fit three people across in all spots and it was mostly dirt and fine gravel. The only changes in this surface were wooden bridges and a few spots where you cross asphalt road. It was a super consistent surface to run on and I really liked it. Virtually no terrain at all. You did not have to pick up your feet and I “heard” a lot of shuffling going on.
The trail is actually an old railroad line. The tracks had been pulled up. Much of it followed along the highway. It also was extremely straight. You take a slight turnoff in Hill City where you cross a major road, but otherwise, the trail was extremely obvious, well marked, and many 100 milers told me with the full moon during the night they didn’t even need a flashlight. There were permanent mile markers all along the trail so it made it easy to see what kind of times you were doing. It also allowed you to count down the miles as you went. I loved this. Every 5 miles there was a big yellow Lean Horse Trail Marker. The official race markers were 2/10th of a mile off of the permanent ones, which Jerry the race director told us at the start.
The only downside to this trail was you were in open space the whole race. Practically no shade at all. I was not prepared for this. I applied sunscreen but didn’t put any in my drop bags, which I highly recommend to anyone who does this next year. My neck, back, face, and the back of my legs are sun burnt. I also did not wear my hat or bring my sunglasses because I thought I’d be running part of the time through woods. Bring a hat and wear it.
I love the heat, but I do not like running in direct sun and this definitely slowed me down. The starting temp was about 50 degrees and it might have reached around 80 during the day. Not super hot, but in that sun, it got pretty miserable at times. Most of the aid stations had ice, but some were pretty low by the time I got there.
The aid stations were very well stocked with a lot of food choices, water, PowerAde, and Accerade. The volunteers were very attentive and helpful. I did find that I should have carried two bottles, not one. Several times I ran out of water before I hit the aid station. Keep in mind I was running a 12-14 minute pace. Faster people may make it on one bottle.
The scenery was awesome. Beautiful green rolling hills. Mustangs running in the fields. Deer, rabbits, streams, and rock formations were enjoyable to look at and made the race interesting. We ran right by the Crazy Horse monument. It was very pretty. We also ran by the historic 1800 train.
The race headquarters was at the civic center, and there was good signage to help you find it. There were at least 5 hotels within minutes of the civic center. Buses drove the runners to the trail head start, it was about 10-15 minute ride. The downside to this was you didn’t have access to your car at the start/finish. I had a jacket on that I would have left in my car at the start, but I had to bring with me since I didn’t have anywhere to put it. Also, the start/finish was not an aid station. So the 100 milers finished and had to wait to catch a ride to their car to get food and drink. For the runners who finished after midnight, there were no places open to get food. So if you will finish a 100 miler before 9 or 10 a.m., plan on having food for yourself if you need it.
You also had to wait to catch a ride. When I finished the 50 miler around 5:30 p.m., I waited until 6:30 before Jerry loaded us up on a bus to take us back. It’s about a 45 minute drive back plus Jerry had to stop at aid stations along the way to check in if they needed anything. So it was about 8: 15 before I got back to my car and 8:30 before I got to my room. I didn’t mind this as I loved seeing people coming into the 50 mile mark and I talked with other runners on the bus, but keep in mind it may take about two hours from finishing the 50 miler to get to your room.
For the 100 milers, there were people who would give you a ride back to your hotel. I had two 100 milers with me. I was expecting them to call so I could come get them at the civic center. In both cases, they were dropped off at the hotel. Another girl I met, they dropped her off at the house of the friend she was staying at. So they were wonderful about dropping you off wherever you needed to go.
Since most of the trail follows the highway, crew access couldn’t have been easier. It was easy to get to the aid stations and you parked along the side street closest to the aid station. Several of the aid stations were actually permanent wood pavilions with picnic tables and bathrooms.
The pre-race dinner was held at the Flat Iron Grill, a hip restaurant that had a big outdoor courtyard where a grill was going cooking buffalo burgers, bratwurst, corn on the cob, baked beans, potato salad, and cookies, and fruit. It was a nice switch from overcooked spaghetti with canned sauce. Plus a very nice atmosphere. There were plenty of tables and chairs and later a guitarist sang to us.
The post-race breakfast at the civic center was a sumptuous array of muffins, breads, fruit salads, pancakes, quiches, etc. A very nice selection and there was coffee, juices, and milk. Plenty of seating for everyone too, which was another big plus. I hate to get my food and have no place to sit.
Jerry had first, second, and third places in age groups for the 50K, 50 miler, and 100 miler. He had made them himself out of horseshoes and leather and I thought they were very nice. I much preferred that to a medallion or another trophy. Lots of people got awards with the age group divisions (including me) so that also was really nice. The only downside was because Jerry and his right-hand man Waylon were out on the course all night; there wasn’t time to figure out the age group awards for the 100 milers. I was disappointed that they didn’t get recognized the same way the 50K and 50 milers did. Couldn’t be helped, I understand, but it was a shame. Only the top 100 miler winners were announced.
I think Jerry could have used some more volunteers, which of course is a common problem. Overall the race was very well organized, however, some of the aid stations did get a little clogged up at times with too few volunteers trying to record people coming in and out, filling water bottles, and making sandwiches. Jerry repeated asking for feedback so he could make changes for next time. He really cared about the runners and was very concerned that everybody had everything they needed and had a good time. I talked to him several times and he was super nice and I want to thank him for all the time and sacrifices he made to put on this race. He did a fantastic job as did all his volunteers. His wife, Elaine, also was very visibly helping out. I saw her everywhere and she had just finished directing her own First Ladies Marathon, an all women race. She was so nice and she looked like a former Miss America. A very beautiful lady. I really enjoyed the several times I talked to her as well.
I personally enjoyed meeting more first timers than I ever had before at a race. It was kind of strange for me to be the “expert” for a change. I talked with several runners about electrolytes, the importance of eating and drinking, all the usual advice you give a newcomer. It was great to see so many people making their first attempt.
I loved this race. I will be back. Plan on doing a lot of running and dealing with the problems that are associated with that. Your feet really take a pounding. But if you’re going for a PR, this would be the place to do it. Umstead has always been billed as the “easiest” hundred, I’m sure some people will disagree, but I think this is easier. Umstead has a section of three hills that you have to go over eight times. By my definition, there are no true hills at Lean Horse, just some gradual inclines. Also be prepared for being out in the sun all day.
Personal Race Report
Starting here is how my race went so if you don’t care, stop reading now.
I had about a 45-minute wait for friends Lori Donhue and Shane Sampson who were flying in from Ohio. I had paced Lori at Umstead when my other two friends I had gone to pace dropped. When I found out Shane and Lori were coming to Lean Horse also, we agreed to share a rental car. Shane was fresh from the Ben Jones Classic, the alternative solo Badwater race held this past July, which he had won.
While I was waiting at baggage claim, I noticed that I was definitely not the only person there who had come for the race. I recognized Steve Boone, there with his wife Pat. I didn’t know his name until I asked him, but with his flowing white hair, I know I had seen him on the Huntsville trail many times. He is part of the marathon in every state club and along with his wife, runs 52 marathons or 50Ks a year.
He introduced me to Pat Fick, who was from Burney, Texas and had come to do her first 100 miler. Pat and I sat there and talked for more than an hour waiting for Lori and Shane and became fast friends. We decided she would ride with us to Hot Springs so she wouldn’t have to rent a car.
Lori and Shane arrived, but Shane’s luggage didn’t so we spent the next three or so hours waiting to see if it would come in. In the meantime, other flights landed and we continued to meet and talk with other runners in for the race. It was fun.
With the pre-race meeting at 3 p.m., we gave up on the luggage around 1:30 p.m. and drove to Hot Springs. We arrived about 15 minutes late for the pre-race meeting, which was held in the town’s civic center. I saw Lori Lundell (a fellow member of the North Texas Trail Runners) there and lots of other familiar faces. After the meeting, I brought in my drop bags and we checked into our hotel. Then we headed off to Flat Iron Grill for the pre-race dinner.
Shane and Lori are good friends with Nonie and Eric Clifton so I got to meet them for the first time, which was exciting for me as Eric is well known not only for his speed and many ultra wins but for his side business designing wild and crazy tights and running apparel.
I get up at 3 a.m. and make my final preparations. The bus to take runners to the trail head leaves at 5:15 a.m. and the Super 8 had a continental breakfast available at 4 a.m. just for the runners. That was really nice. I ate and waited for Shane and Lori who were running late because Shane didn’t get his suitcase until the middle of the night. We pull into the civic center around 5:10 and just make the bus. It’s chilly but not too bad, around 50 degrees. On the bus I sit and chat with Mike, who is attempting his first 100.
At 6 a.m. we line up by this cattle gate at the head of the trail and we start. Ulrich Kamm, very well known to many for his ability to walk almost any race under the cutoff including Hard Rock 10 times, was back with me and we chatted for a while. I also was running with Lori, who was doing the 100, knowing I probably could not keep up with her.
My race strategy was to try and do 12-minute miles for the first 25-30 miles and then I knew I would drop to 13-14 minutes miles for the second half. Lori and I held that pace for 20 miles. A nice feature of this trail is that it has mile markers so you could easily track your pace.
At the White Elephant aid station (19 miles) I didn’t get out as fast as Lori (I had to get my bottle filled with ice) and she was moving really well. She got a big head start on me and I didn’t have enough “juice” at that point to catch up. So I watched her run out of sight.
I ran about 10 miles by myself until Harbach Aid Station (28.3) which also was the 50K finish line. The 50K runners started the appropriate amount of mileage earlier on the trail to give them their total mileage. I have found in 50 milers, this time in the race is usually a low point for me. I am tired and I still have 20 miles to go. Not having Lori to talk to, I was not able to distract myself from what I still had to accomplish to finish. I was having the usual thoughts: Why do I do this? This really sucks.
It also was pretty hot now and I had to have ice. I do not do well drinking warm water or Gatorade and when I initially got to Harbach, they were out of ice. I also was reaching the point in the race where cookies, candy, and crackers did not look appetizing and this is why I always pack Boost in my drop bags. But I didn’t want to drink a warm Boost. I was about to leave, feeling a little suicidal when more ice arrived. Hurray! I ran back to my drop back for the second time, grabbed a Boost and poured it over a cup of ice.
I was really happy about having the ice and the Boost, but I spent too much time in that aid station getting it and then I had to walk while I drank it because the cup was small so I had to drink up and pour more in. I walked as fast as I could but it put more distance between me and Lori.
Somewhere between mile 30 and 35, I am shuffling along and I hear my name called despite listening to my MP3 player. Yes, I was wearing headphones. When I am discouraged, having music keeps me in the race. I know some people think these are really evil and you suck if you use them, but they make the difference between hanging in there and dropping out for me. This trail was wide enough for a car to drive on so there were no issues of holding up another runner behind me who wanted to pass so I’m sure I didn’t block anyone. Plus I always only have the headphone on one ear.
Lori had bad news. She had felt something “snap” in her ankle and it was hurting to run on it. She was still moving but concerned about what she had injured in her ankle. I was happy, however, to have caught up to her and we ran together for several more miles. But despite her injury, she had more to give than me and I lost her again at the next aid station. Boo Hoo. I missed her.
Then I caught up to Anita Bagley. Anita is from Sacramento, Calif., and got sucked into doing ultras by her running husband. She was attempting her first 50 miler and at this point was really struggling. She was keeping up a brisk walk but didn’t feel able to run. I caught up to her and started walking with her. We walked and talked and I was feeling much happier to have some company but I really wasn’t feeling all that great. One factor I had not counted on was this entire race was in direct sun. Almost no shade. I had put on sun screen, but I didn’t not bring a cap or sunglasses because I did not realize it didn’t go through and wooded areas. Much of the trail goes along the highway as train tracks would do. So I was sick of being in direct sun. It wasn’t actually that hot, under 80 degrees but in direct sun it was pretty brutal, even for me who loves the heat. The heat also made it harder to make myself eat.
No one had told Anita about electrolytes and I was trying to encourage her to run a little and she would but then she started getting cramping in her legs. So we’d walk again. I had to make a decision. Did I want to go for a PR and run by myself? Or did I want to enjoy the race more and settle for a slower time? I opted for the second. I gave her some of my S caps and we walked and talked. I would guess at 14-15 minute pace.
As we pulled into Oerville (38.7 miles), Anita got herself a handful of salt. I debated on the Boost again, but decided I could manage a turkey sandwich instead. So with a cup of ice and Coke in one hand and a floppy turkey sandwich in the other, we started off for the mile 40 marker. Man, I was ready to get out of that sun and finish this thing.
Anita and I continued to walk and talk and she was able to start running a little more. We continued on until mile 43. Seven miles to go. I looked at my watch. I knew I couldn’t make a PR, which would have been 11:19 but I wanted to at least try to go for 11:30. After doing some math in my head, I decided I would leave Anita and run in the last seven miles. I determined at the pace we were walking, we would make the cutoff with a time of about 11:45 but I wanted to try for better. So I told her I’d see her at the finish.
I was able to do a pretty steady 13 mile pace for the rest of the race. I had finally gotten my second wind and was feeling pretty good. I only stopped to walk when I needed to drink. At the 49 mile aid station, you run another ½ mile turn around and come back. I passed two guys on my way out and I had one more guy ahead of me. I thought “I can catch him.” I cranked it up to my top speed and passed him about 10 yards from the finish. Wahoo! I couldn’t sit my butt down in that camp chair fast enough. I immediately had four lovely young women waiting on me hand and foot bringing me a sandwich and refilling my cup with soda. I loved this.
My time was 11:33, which was good enough for first place in my age group. On my way back from the turnaround I passed Anita, who finished as I had predicted around 11:45. I also passed Pat Fink who was coming back as I was going out and she ended finishing in an awesome 25:55 time with no crew or pacer. What a woman! I was so happy for her when I saw her the next morning at the breakfast.
I had a really wonderful time the whole weekend. Unfortunately, my training peaked at Western States. After the end of June, I went to Hard Rock and paced a little bit there and then stayed in Dillon, Colo. for another week with my family, then home a week, then in New Jersey on vacation for a week. During this time, I was not able to maintain my training and I lost ground. I feel like if I had maintained my fitness at where it was at Western, I would have done a PR. This is a PR course. I don’t think it will ever get any easier. Really, it was exactly like running on a road, except the road was dirt. I want to go back again and probably do the 100 if I can get my training to peak right before the race.