My alarm went off at my typical 5:00 AM on Sunday morning, one of the perks of an 8:00 AM race start and staying less than an hour from Crazy Horse Memorial for the weekend. My dad had offered to drive me to the start line, so I had the added luxury of hanging out, taking my time eating a Clif Bar and banana, and even seeing Kate and the kids for a few minutes. While I hadn’t exactly dreamed of running a marathon at the time, spectating my dad’s marathon finishes as a kid was always a blast. His presence throughout the day was a huge morale boost.
As often happens here in western South Dakota, the weather changed abruptly from mild and sunny Saturday to chilly with a chance of snow Sunday. As we pulled up to the 6000′ of elevation starting line, just a wisp of snow began to fall. Crazy Horse Memorial’s scope and cultural mission are definitely awe inspiring. Checking out the mountain a bit was a welcome distraction from my pre-race nerves. It’s also an important reminder of the history of injustice here in the Black Hills and all of the work that needs to be done to make amends.
After pacing around the visitors center and hitting the port-o-potties twice, it was time to line up. There were about 160 marathoners and just over 600 half marathon runners. In a testament to simple but effective race organization, the crowd felt small and manageable. I readily found my place a few rows back from the front of the pack.
I was definitely cold at the start, making getting down the business a relief. As we spent the first 3 miles winding around the memorial grounds, the feeling started coming back to my feet. I fell into a rhythm that would hold through 21 miles: watch my heart rate, let go on the downhills, and humbly trudge my way up the inclines. So while my pace was erratic, my effort level was even and conservative. I had a pleasant conversation with a runner from Kansas before she settled into her own pace, which was the vast majority of company I had for the day. As we exited the memorial and the race courses split off from each other, I jokingly asked the event staff if it was too late to change my mind and run the half. But I didn’t mean it. I was happy to be out there for the long haul.
Miles 3 to 10 followed the Mickelson trail gently downhill to Custer. I settled into a moderate pace, clocking these miles around 6:50-7 and keeping my heart rate in the low 80% range. I hadn’t anticipated that the elevation would affect me much, but either the extra 2500′ or race-day nerves had me running a little hotter than usual. One of the successes of this race was managing my thinking. During this stretch I kept reminding myself about my gratitude to be running in the Hills, to let go of my preconceived ideas, and to keep hold of my more convoluted beliefs about the impermanence of the self. I also made a point to be cheerful, thankful, and jocular with the aid station folks. What a great group of people to be out on this chilly fall day!
After the turn around at mile 10, I started to give back my downhill pace. It was humbling to be running 8 minute miles, but I kept reminding myself to be patient and stick to my plan. The scenery was beautiful and teasing the aid station people about not telling me about the hill had these miles clicking by reasonably pleasantly.
My plan was to really begin the race at mile 16 as we passed Crazy Horse again. After the aid station I pulled up next to a guy from Utah whom I’d been seeing from a distance on an off for the first 2 hours. We also confronted an icy headwind that tempered my relief at running downhill again. He seemed to be suffering quite a bit and said “this is a grind” but not much more. I went on my merry way, rolling on at close to 7:00/mile pace. By this point, I wasn’t anticipating running a BQ anymore: the uphill had taken too much out of my pace. But I was still feeling satisfied and hopeful about the outcome.
The next few miles were uneventful. Losing about 150′ per mile, I ran a 6:55 for mile 20, all the while taking a toll on my quads. Somewhere during this stretch I got to see Kate and the kids for the first time, which was a huge boost. I also got passed by the eventual women’s winner who was gunning for the course record. Her determination was inspiring! I have to accept that I don’t have much of a killer instinct, and I got more out of cheering for her than trying to run her down.
The last few miles turned into a bit of a suffer fest. My quads hurt like hell and I didn’t have the energy to push my mangled legs to turnover faster. My stomach had held up pretty well, but I was slightly undernourished after 2 Honey Stinger waffles and 2 Clif gels. Negative thinking crept in too, though I was reasonably able to stay in the moment and redirect things a bit. That being stated, I was damn glad to be nearing the finish and kept calculating fractions of miles left.
Rounding into Hill City’s paved main street, I was relieved to see the finish line. I resisted my urge to check my shoulder for that guy from Utah, trying to stay focused on my own experience. My legs wouldn’t quite let me pick up the pace for the final stretch, though I did hit my “B” goal of going under 3:15 with room to spare. I also managed to finish 4th overall and 3rd male. I’ll take it!
My in-laws were waiting at the finish, and I was grateful to see them and guzzle a few waters. Kate, the boys, and my dad showed up soon after. I can’t adequately express my gratitude for the support, not only on the day itself but also in the months of training. The Run Crazy Horse folks also put on a great race. The aid stations were well-placed and staffed with some of the nicest people I’ve run into at any race. Everything was smooth as could be in terms of race management, allowing me as a runner to focus on the task at hand. Well done! I’d recommend this race to anyone with the proviso that it’s a tougher course that I thought it would be. My legs definitely paid the price, and I didn’t have an easy time getting back up after a few minutes in a chair.
Overall, I’m pleased and satisfied with the experience. I knocked out a big PR but more importantly felt connected and engaged throughout. My legs are definitely sore today! So now begins a reasonably well-earned off season with plenty of time to plan what’s next.
Link to strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/1221331686/embed/c465cfd8ee660b776bc8088ea46ff96f3bc20187