Race Report: Black Hills 100 and DNF

Hey ATRC folks,

At mile 37 of the Black Hills 100 miler, I was standing on the side of the trail, quietly crying. I had just left the mile 36 aid station, unable to run downhill and “hobble-running” on the flats. The emotions of frustration and just overwhelmed me. All these late nights of training, the times I cancelled on friends because of workouts, the times I showed up sore into work or struggled with injury – it all seemed to be futile in that moment, because I knew I would probably not finish my first 100 miler.

Now that it’s been a few days, I realize I was acting a little melodramatic. I’d made it quite a few miles, and most people don’t get a chance to run through the beautiful black hills of South Dakota. I was really lucky that I’d gotten the opportunity, and that I had such a supportive network of family, friends, boss, and coach, all of whom had made this trip possible in the first place. I just felt like I had let them all down.

The race had started at 10am. For those of you who know me, such a late start time was ideal. I had time to get up and wake myself up before the start time. The day was predicting rain, but for the moment the sun was shining and the temps were in the 70s. I started a little too fast, but for the first few miles I felt ok. Then the storm rolled in.

It started raining, lightly at first, then it started pouring. It thundered and rained, and the trail, which before had been very runnable single track, turned into clay mud mush. I was thankful for my trekking poles, but my shoes were inadequate for the trail. Every time I tried to push speed, I slipped and fell, covering myself in mud. When I tried to run downhill, it was all I could do to keep from face-planting. I bent one of my trekking poles trying to catch myself on a particular downhill. My phone went dead from humidity and the rain. I started losing my mental focus, my frustration and annoyance slowing me down, and making me lose track of my nutrition. By mile 24 I had a splitting headache and nausea. I fixed it shortly after with some ginger chews and downing water, but by the time I reached the 29 mile aid station, I was already 17 places from DFL.

(image: You can see the humidity buildup on my camera. Did I mention there were 5 creek crossings?)

In between mile 29 and 36, there was some of the most beautiful stretch of the course. The only problem was that it followed a well used ATV track. The rain had stopped at that point, but the trail was so muddy that I tripped, fell, and twisted my knee. From that point to mile 36, I couldn’t run the downhills. By mile 43, I couldn’t run at all. I eventually missed the 50 mile cutoff.

I’m glad I ran the race. I’m glad that I didn’t quit and kept pushing to the 50. The course was beautiful, the volunteers were helpful, and the fellow runners were supportive. This doesn’t end my chase for the 100 mile mark, this is just a bump in the road.

A few things I did well during the race:

  • I had my nutrition mostly dialed in. Apart from a rough stretch in miles 20 to 24, I kept myself hydrated and filled with enough glycogen to keep going.
  • The trekking poles were a godsend in the mud.
  • I felt my fitness was up to snuff mostly, though I felt slow.
  • My choice of the Patagonia Houdini for rain protection and warmth. It was my favorite piece of gear for the race, being both breathable enough to run in, but also warm enough for when the temperature dropped during the storm and at night.

Things I need to improve:

  • Shoe choice: I chose a shoe that would have worked excellently in dry conditions, but struggled in the wet. For this kind of mud, a shoe like the La Sportiva Mutant would have been ideal.
  • Mental Toughness: I let the rain and the resulting issues slow me down mentally as well as physically. I need to run the race as it is, rather than grouse over what I think the race should be.
  • Climbing: This race had 18,500 feet of gain and loss over the 100 miler. I felt ok, but I could have been quicker on the uphills.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had a less than stellar race. Have y’all had one that was particularly frustrating? I look forward to your emails and comments!

Thanks for reading,

Philip