Last March, Jen Cosco contacted me to discuss running a 100 mile endurance run and asked for ideas about which one might be fun to do together. Jen is about as old as my sons, and likes to tease by referring to me as her Running Dad, and often asks my advice on ultra-running.
I suggested Lean Horse, since the temps are usually in low 80’s, elevation barely exceeds 5000 feet and the climbs are very mild, compared to ultras held in the mountains. I also wanted Melanie, my wonderful wife, to enjoy a nice vacation and since we both like South Dakota, running in the Black Hills seemed perfect!
Our run would be on Saturday, August 24. Jen would arrive from Southern California on Friday. Melanie and I would arrive a few days earlier to begin exploring South Dakota, including the Badlands, Spearfish Canyon, DC Boon Fish Hatchery, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, and even more.
Melanie and I arrived in Hot Springs on Thursday and registered for the run and met the two race directors, Jerry Dunn and Royce Wuertzer.
On Friday morning, we met Jennifer Cline and her crew/pacer, Pam, at breakfast. Melanie and I told them we were taking a quick drive around the course, to familiarize ourselves to where the aid stations were located. Jennifer asked if they could follow us and so we began our little caravan and quickly had made two new friends. This was also going to be Jennifer Cline’s first 100 miler!!!
Jen Cosco arrived in town around 10:00AM and after she had picked up her race number, we rushed her off to Mount Rushmore, and then showed her sections of the course. This was all done before 4:00 PM, when we attended a pre-race briefing and pasta dinner. Ultra runners know how to get a lot done very quickly!!!
At the briefing, we met up with friends from Idaho, Kim Davidson and her husband Bill VanAntwerp. Kim ran the 50K and came in first in her age division, while Bill was out biking sections of the Mickelson Rail Trail.
At dinner, we met two more runners. Dave Koeck, from Carmichael California, was trying to get a qualifying race for Western States. And he did it!!! We also met Susan Lynch, who was running the 50 miler. Susan is from Gaithersburg, Maryland and is planning to run a 100 soon. As it worked out, Jen and I had a chance to run with both of these nice people during our adventure.
South Dakota is experiencing an unusually hot summer and the temperatures for race day were scary, with the southern sections of the trail expecting temps well into the 90’s.The start of this ultra is a lot kinder than some. It does not begin until 6:00AM! But temps were following the predictions and seemed warm at starting time.
The starting line was at the Minnekahta Trail Head for the Mickelson Trail. This is about 12 miles from Hot Springs. The trail is beautiful, and starts off flat, but the trail does have inclines over the next 50 miles.
Jen and I started off deliberately slow. Within a few miles, Dave Koeck and Jen were running and talking and Kim Davidson ran passed me.
I was feeling a little boxed in, not being able to run my own gait, so I started running with Kim, and then was overtaken by Susan Lynch. Susan and I ran for a few miles, before I stopped to wait for Jen. Jen and I had an agreement that we would stay together, at least until her boyfriend joined us as a pacer. Oh yes, Jen’s boyfriend, Jim Jansen, flew in from New Jersey Saturday morning to pace Jen during her first 100 mile run!
As we ran through the prairie land, we could see hills in front of us. I kept wondering how this trail would wind its self through those mountains like passes and across those Black Hills. At times I could tell we were going up, by the elevation in my heart rate. As we passed the Argyle loop Aid Station, (8.9 miles) the sun was warming the morning air, fast. I was feeling sweated, and my shorts were wet. I noticed numerous people sticking body glide down their shorts and under their tops to protect sensitive body parts from the chaffing that was surely to follow!
Jen and I found ourselves running alone by 16 miles. We were alternating running, walking, with walking becoming more frequent because of the slight climb and the warm temperatures. Melanie was meeting us at the aid stations. She was at Pringle, Harbach Park, Mountain, which is very close to Crazy Horse. The climb to mountain was on a beautiful section of trail, and most important, shaded! With an elevation of over 5000 feet, us flat landers could feel the climb, but it was not steep, just very long.
Anyone that knows me, knows I enjoy wildlife and this race had some interesting creatures. I saw numerous snakes, but this was the first green snake I had ever seen in the wild.
At the Mountain aid station, you begin a very long decent that I estimate to be 10 miles. Jen wanted to take walk breaks on the downhill, to protect her hips. She recently had an injury and was afraid she would aggravate it. I kept teasing her that she needed to hurry because her boyfriend was waiting. That helped! J
By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, we were at Hill City, were Jim Jansen met his girl, and then just a little 1.9 mile out and back, and we were on our way home. (Oh, but we did not get started before Jen ran around trying to find a private place to puke…first she ran to the back of the pavilion, ops, a wedding was taking place, then beside it, ops, people sitting there on the lawn watching the wedding, then back to the pavilion, to have her first mid race, hair in hand, head in trash can puke! And her boyfriend still did not bolt away right then!!!)
Jen, Jim and I left Hill City, (mile 47.9) together.
At the Oreville aid station, mile 52, Melanie dressed all three of us with glow in the dark necklaces, so she could identify us as we approached her during the night. We stayed together until just past mile 53. Jen was walking the long uphill and not feeling very well. And then she ordered me to go on. I have often said that runners of both sexes often exhibit the stages of labor during their long runs…Jen was definitely in the transitional phase (Men, that’s when the lady tells you she will hurt you bad if you ever touch her again..) And I knew it was a good time for me to leave.
At first I walked the uphill and then started running. It had become dark. I passed the entrance to Crazy Horse sculpture and saw it was illuminated by massive flood lights. It was amazing to see at night.
I arrived at Mountain Aid Station again and met Melanie. It was very dark. I was concerned that I was pulling too far away from Jen for Melanie to crew for both of us. I told her not to worry about me and gave her a kiss and ran off into the night, to the town of Custer.
At mile 63, in Custer, I saw Melanie again. I was surprised. She said Jen and Jim had picked up their pace and Jen was feeling better. I ran out of the Harbach Park and aimed for a blinking red light. It turned out that the light was on a runner, Tracy Harrison.
I asked Tracy if she would like some company and she quickly said yes, and somewhat unexpectedly, I was traveling through the night with this very nice lady who wanted to finish her first 100 mile run. As the miles passed by, we told each other about our running adventures and some of our accomplishments, and some of our failures. I think maybe for a while anyway, she may have wanted a younger, healthier running companion. It turns out she is a doctor and when I mentioned my heart attack and open heart surgery, I thought I heard her holding her breath! J
Melanie met us at Carroll Creek (mile 69) and Pringle(76). Melanie told me Jen was struggling at Carroll Creek, mile 69. Melanie gave her a little pep talk and asked Jen if she needed anything else from her supply bag. Jen said no. At that point Melanie told her she would not see her at any more aid stations and that she was going back to the finish to wait for us. My wife believes in “tough love”!!! (Remove the ride and the runner must rely on their own feet!) J
At Pringle, my stomach rebelled against something and I too lost my lunch, super and anything else I had eaten for a few hours. As the aid station volunteers and a few other runners watched, I balanced myself leaning over a rail fence, holding a freshly made grilled cheese sandwich far out to my right. After making room for more food, I stood up, took a bite of the sandwich, and asked the volunteers for some instant oatmeal and remarked…”Wow, feeling lighter on my feet already!” And everyone laughed! Melanie stared at me with her big brown eyes as if to ask herself, “Is he totally crazy?” But she could tell I was feeling good and I was going to finish this 100 mile odyssey, regardless of how my body rebelled or my stomach misbehaved.
After some food, Tracy and I moved on, running and walking. I taught Tracy my 20 step program. I use it if I am feeling tired and want to trick myself to run again. I start with just 20 steps then walk. And then do it again. Sometimes you stop at 20, but soon you may find that you ran 30, or 50, or even more! Soon, instead of me asking Tracy if she was ready to run, she was asking me!
Before long, we arrived at the Argyle Road and the last 16 miles was before us. And this is the worse part of this course, by far. It is traveled in the dark, and the road is a rolling stone paved road. But these stones seemed trained to strike any bruise or blister that had developed in the first 84 miles! My feet were bruised badly and I could not run this road section in road shoes. I wished that I had trail shoes on, for a ROAD!
Tracy seemed to be tiring and we both remarked that were looking forward to getting this run done!
As we traveled along, the sky was showing signs of twilight and we knew that the morning sun was going to feel warm, extremely warm. We came into the Morph aid station and I felt bad for the couple that manned it from their camper. They looked so tired and I think we may have woken them up. And the sun was up too, and that was not good for us runners.
Tracy was not talking much anymore and I kept dropping back, not realizing how badly bruised my feet really were. She was walking well, but neither of us seemed to have any interest in trying to run. We had stripped off all our overnight gear and were in short sleeves again, and still feeling warm.
We arrived at Coldbrook aid station and knew we were almost there. Only four miles to go, and most of that was on a bike path and in town. Tracy and I had spent over 30 miles together and concluded our grand adventure with a tour through town, as we followed the bike paths through the historic community of Hot Springs. We finished the Lean Horse 100 together.
And Melanie was there to photograph the finish and cheer for us!
Jen Cosco finished seconds behind Dave Koeck.
Jim Jansen did not propose at the finish line to Jen.
Jen Cline finished the 100 miles, but after the time limit. Royce still awarded her a belt buckle for her valiant efforts!
It was a very special honor to be asked to run with Jen Cosco and to be a part of her team as she completed in her first 100 mile run. I was honored and very grateful to be a part of Tracy Harrison’s first 100 mile run.
I want to thank everyone at Hot Springs and Lean horse 100 for all your kindness and I am so thankful to have the chance to meet so many wonderful people in this chapter of Don Halke’s Running Adventures.