Monday, July 3, 2017

Black Hills 100: Tethering the Beast

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In my world of logic completing a 100 mile run in every state doesn't seem impossible, just highly idealistic. What this goal also means is picking up races and plane tickets to places most people most likely don't think about going. In this case that meant the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota. With this being the 10th undertaking of a 100 miler in my 10th state, I am still shocked that I knew people who lived in the area of the race and who could help out. I had graduated with Tori (then Zody) and ran track with her husband, Morgan Haudenschield. Being seven years since we've last connected I thought that I'd reach out to them. Not too surprising, they were more than emphatic to host and assist in my endeavor in tackling this beastly 100. Amazing. Now the logistics of getting to and from the airport were set, all while be in great company.

The Black Hills 100 was in its 7th annual running of the event. It isn't abnormal for this race to be over 90 degrees during the day. Hence, the finisher rate at this exposed, hot race typically ranges in just over 30% completion. The heat isn't even taking into consideration the rocky and technical terrain of the Centennial Trail that we would be on for the entire duration. This is an out and back race of 50 miles. This excited me as I have never done an out and back before. I was approaching this race from the angle that the first 50 miles would be strictly exploratory and the second half would be all business.The rest of the runners can thank me this year for bringing the Seattle weather with me. Conditions this year brought a high of 66 during the day and a low of 42 during the night. In full disclosure I wasn't too sad when I learned what the conditions were going to be like. Certainly I wasn't prepared to take on a 100 in that type of heat when I've had 0 heat training for the past 9 months. 

What was also unique with this race is that there were several other Orange Mud ambassadors running the race with me. I met Chad Hause who is part of OM's Dirt Unit and his family. Also at the start were Jeff, Sarah (who would be pacing), and Michael. Of course we had a group photo. At the start the nerves weren't necessarily going but with the 10 AM start, I knew that an all nighter was automatically going to happen. Thankfully the race directors had a sense of humor with the mascot of the race and had a goat all prepared and ready for the photo shoot. I was secretly hoping that finishers would get goat milk or meat (not milk in this case as it clearly was a male).

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After we all gathered and were ready at the start, the race directors let us go! Off we were! I started running with a group of five or six in the front. The first mile and a half was on pavement and allowed for the field to decide how they were going to run. Naturally I spoke with those in the pack with me. I came to find out that the only one who has run this was my fellow OM ambassador, Jeff. He made the recommendation that the first half is harder than the second half. Most of the climbing is done in the first half and the second half is more downhill. I continued to pick his brain and found out that he was certainly in shape and ready to take on this race. He had qualified for the Boston Marathon just 3 weeks ago by winning a marathon in Nebraska. His goals for this race were very lofty, 20 hours. However, given the conditions of the weather and his experience, I had no questions that he could get there. My goal going into this was of course to compete well, but most importantly, to finish. 

Jeff and I left the other 4 that were with us and made up our own ground. He and I were first and second, respectively.Of course, being mile 5 of the race, I wasn't too concerned with where I was currently at. One thing I've learned and learned well is that most 100 mile races don't start until the second half. It wasn't much later that he had to pull over and use the restroom. At this point I just left him. I didn't realize that I was going to be running solo for the next 95 miles. I came cruising into the first aid station at mile seven and felt really good. I refilled my bottles and quickly left before the rest of the field could get in.

Next step was to Bulldog. I remember it was this section that we cross I-90 and then ran what seemed like infinite pastures. It seemed odd to me that the Centennial Trail is going through pastures and cattle. I guess that is unique to South Dakota. Thankfully I never encountered any full charging bison on the journey. Something tells me this would have ended differently...I soon got to Bulldog and could see how this course was challenging. It was a technical, rocky trail. However the real kicker was the terrain in some sections. It was incredibly rocky and I could see the night section being problematic as I was likely going to be stumbling and tripping on the rocks from exhaustion from the earlier miles.

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After Bulldog it was on to Eagle Creek. It was in this transition that I decided to reapply cortizone cream for chaffing. As stupid and funny as this sounds, I was most nervous about the shorts that I was wearing. Prior to this, I had run 8/9 100's in a single pair of Adidas shorts that were arguably worn out long ago. However, they were perfect for chaffing. This was only the 2nd 100 miler that I was running outside of that pair of shorts. Consequently, I made sure to pack the cream and apply at the first hint of chaffing. The first 100 I ran had such extreme chaffing that I wanted to scream in the shower (not to get too graphic). Up to this point, my morale was pretty good. Mechanically everything felt tremendous. There were 0 issues. I quickly got into the aid station and there were quite a few people there, cheering. I definitely don't think that I'm a smiley runner, so hopefully the audience wasn't too offended when I kept my head down and kept going. It was at this aid station also that I picked up Hammer Gel. This is arguably an early indication of what was going to happen in the later miles. 

The flavor was Apple Cinnamon. It sounds amazing, right? Wrong. I knew traditionally that my stomach and Hammer do not get along. At Oil Creek 2 years ago I had the tropical flavor and dry heaved. This was a similar experience. I opened the delightfully sounding apple cinnamon and the journey down the esophagus was the equivalent of how I envision someone eating raw intestines from Fear Factor. I gagged, but someone kept it down. I guess if I was on Fear Factor I would have made it to the final round with the tarantulas on my face. As far as sugar contents, my body can only handle Gu and Pro Bars. Outside of this I don't have much success. With that said, I continued onward and got to the next aid station. My recollection of Crooked Tree was two older guys who took a huge liking to me (not in a creepy way). As soon as I got in, they were quickly coming to my aid and wanting pictures. I was hugely flattered but also confused why they wanted to be beside a sweating, gross smelling person. However, you can't always stop the paparazzi, so I let them go on. 

After Crooked Tree was arguably the most scenic part of the course. I left and started to climb more technical terrain. I remember more climbing here than any other section. Thankfully my suicidal training runs at Mailbox Peak in Washington have prepared me for any degree of climb. It was here that I looked over and saw the Black Hills in all their splendor. Cliffs for miles and miles. They are termed the Black Hills for the numerous Ponderosa Pines that cover the hillsides (so I read on a historic marker, not from my doctorate degree in Geography). They are exposed and from afar give off a black color. Hence, the name of Black Hills. It's always nice to have these vistas while taking on an endeavor, especially since I was solo. 

I then reached Dalton Aid Station. Again, there were lots of people and it was another mental boost to hear many compliments. They said I looked strong (and for once I felt that way). I quickly left and started towards Nemo. This was not my favorite part. I had to cross ATV trails. I met a few of them on the way. Thankfully they saw me and stopped. They were probably more confused than anything, but I suppose most people are when you talk to them about running 100 miles through the wilderness.

After going through this section I found Nemo! Nemo to my surprise and most likely to others was not a fish. It was a small little town with a couple of aid station workers. I quickly got more bananas and potatoes with salt and headed out. The next section was more gnarly ATV trail as I headed towards Pilot Knob. All I remember about this section was hitting a bajillion rocks, but thankfully never falling.As soon as I came into Pilot, everyone was shocked to see me so early. They quickly catered to my needs and got what I needed.Next step was the halfway point to Silvery City.

I think this session was my favorite. It started very gradual through pasture grass. I remember crossing a couple of cattleguards and seeing a few bikers who were very respectful. They either pitied me or were just ultra gracious and got out of the way. Hopefully it was the latter. I then started to get to the steepest hill of the section. I then transitioned onto the Deerfield trail. There was one steep climb that I distinctly remember. However, I then went down, down, down. This reconnected with the pastures and the next thing I saw was what looked like a lighthouse. It was a fantastic sign. I came into the halfway point in 8:41, far ahead of course record pace. I felt tremendous for being halfway. However, I knew that this was when things would slow down as the second half always does.The best news is that I got here in the daylight and still had quite a bit of sun left. 

I then started towards Pilot Knob again. I was about halfway through this section where I passed Jeremy, who has won this twice and was third once. He looked strong. I then passed Gia (the women's champion). The next events that unfolded weren't great.  By mile 55, I experienced some major stomach issues. I tried eating my strawberry flavored pro bar and my stomach was PISSED. It quickly punished me for making such a sinful decision. That bite came up with the partial quesadilla and banana that I was able to get down just before it. This was all done in front of the eventual men's 3rd place finisher. I'm not sure he wanted to watch that show, but he wasn't going to get an option. He stopped and asked if I was ok. I said I was great and advised he go on. Not good. This basically meant that my entire died of sugar was over. Of all the 100's I've done, this was no doubt the soonest that my stomach had quit on me. Just as a dog returns to its vomit, I thought I'd try to down a couple of more probars. I dry heaved these up too. Yup, this was 100% confirmation that all sugar intake was absolutely out of the picture for the rest of the race.

I remember passing Chad and then I was back at the aid station. Everyone was surprised to see that I was already there. I informed them I had bad stomach issues and went straight for the coke and broth. I downed two cups of broth and was on my way. The energy I derived was fantastic. I felt like superman for three miles and then the bonking came. Because I couldn't supplement the broth calories with sugar, I was strictly dependent on broth calories for 45 miles...considering everything mechanically was working flawlessly, I was very nervous that Jeremy was going to catch up as I literally wouldn't be able to produce any energy from food. I then got back to Nemo and turned the headlamp on. I ate two more cups of broth and was on my way. Again, the same story. I was good for three miles and then bonked terribly the next three. The beast of the Black Hills was tethering me in the most aggressive way, watching me fade step by step as my calories drained and I had nothing to sustain energy levels moving forward. My mind said yes, but my body said no with the caloric deficit.

I again passed more ATV's. At this point it was quite dark. They again stopped for me, but were probably more confused than the first go around. They were probably wondering what this person with a headlamp was doing in the early part of the night. I continued onward and noticed that the temperature was dropping substantially. By the time I got to Dalton Lake, it was an elderly couple manning it by themselves. They said that they were hoping to sleep but heard that I was likely coming in and didn't want to risk missing me. The mindset and willingness to help out from the volunteers will always impress me as long as I do this hobby. They sacrifice sleep to assist those who voluntarily punish themselves. They quickly got me my broth and I picked my OM long sleeve up. I took my broth and similar story, I was fine for the first 3 miles and then the bonking came back. The bad part is the bonking got worst and worst as I got to each aid station. Not surprising, as more miles were beginning to ad up. I sluggishly made my way to Crooked Tree.

The paparazzi never ceased to amazed me at this aid station. Despite being just 2 guys in the middle of the wilderness, they had a way to pick me up. They were taking bets on when I would come in. Unfortunately I disappointed both. One guessed I would arrive 30 minutes earlier than I did and the other was off by 15 minutes. I apologized that I failed them and then we all laughed. By this point it was midnight and I needed far more calories. I ate 3 cups this time and took one to go. It was the next section that was THE WORST. Getting to Eagle Creek was awful. The last half was all bonking and it was all uphill to the next aid station. All I could think of is how close the other racers must be coming. I felt like a hare all day but the wise tortoises were bound to catch me at any point as the tortoise typically wins.

I was drinking like a fish, but I was failing hardcore at eating like a horse. This is the general strategy to effectively get through an ultra (or so I hear). I guess I would make a good fish but a terrible horse. The bonking getting here was horrendous. Every step uphill felt like 75 pound weights on each leg as there was literally 0 energy propelling me upward. I desperately wished the first half was uphill when I had energy and the second half was downhill. I wasn't so lucky. I FINALLY made it to Eagle Creek and lost a ton of time to the course record. At this point I just wanted to sustain and get as close to it as I could.

Next step was Bulldog. This was mostly downhill, which was nice, but that didn't stop the bonking. I got around the bend and the aid station was there with no lights. I was two hours ahead of schedule so the lone worker was taking a nap on the truck bed. She shot straight up and made me broth. I ate 3 more cups and off I went. Next stop was to the first aid station. I remember that this is when the sun started to come up. I got there and she and her daughter got me more broth and encouraged me that it was only 7 more miles to the end. 

The sun coming up was a huge pick me up. It's amazing how sunlight pumps new energy into you despite pulling an all nighter. I remember regularly looking back to make sure I wasn't being chased. I kept the standard pace and was again bonking hardcore for the second half. It didn't matter much to me as I knew that I was so close to the end. I hit the pavement and continued that section for what seemed like forever. However, I could see the stadium with the Sturgis Mascot of a "Scooper" and couldn't be happier to have gotten there. Conveniently for me, they could scoop my energy deprived body off the ground as soon as I got to the end.

It was 5:20 am and the race directors were there to welcome me in. Ryan congratulated me and informed me that I ran the 3rd fastest time on the course in 19:20, just 22 minutes off the course record of 18:58. I later would find out that the 2nd place finisher would be the women's champion, Gia, who ran 22:16. The phantom telling me that I was closely being pursued isn't always a bad thing, it just isn't pleasant to live in a state of fear of being passed, especially late in the race. I won arguably the coolest award ever. It was a local bison head pained by local artists with a story talking about the tatanka (bison).

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This was alongside an awesome belt buckle.

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Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome. It was my 3rd best time on a 100 mile course. However, this course was more challenging than the other 2 100's where I ran faster. I need to learn the right sugars to eat during the day and figure out how to handle the stomach issues. If I can figure this out I think that I will perform even far better. 

A major THANK YOU to Morgan and Tori for taking care of all the logistics and providing fantastic company as I explored South Dakota. I'd rank this race as the 4th most difficult 100 I've done. It was an easier version of IMTUF in Idaho, but it had the technical terrain of HURT in some sections which made it challenging. Thank you to the race directors for putting on an amazing event and for having such memorable winner's awards. Lastly, thanks to OM and others that take the time to read this. Hopefully this was entertaining to some degree.


Nick Kopp


  1. Congratulations on a fantastic race report. Makes me feel like I was out there running the race. The details are great, just need more description of the materials left on the trail after stomach rejections. Thankfully I never had these stomach issues to the degree you have them. Just remember to crank out as many of these hundreds while you are young. They get more painful when you get older.

  2. Thanks, Don! They are all painful in their own right. I'll be sure to be more descriptive on the contents of vomit next time