In this episode we tell you all about our summer ultramarathon sufferfest in the mountains of South Dakota and Montana. Plus Coach Angie will explain how to effectively go from marathon to 50k.
Angie and Trevor’s 50k Sufferfest Extravaganza!
The Black Hills 50k
I choose the Black Hills 50k in Sturgis as my South Dakota race in my quest to finish a marathon or beyond in all 50 states. There were a couple of other options in the state that I’d been eying but this race was too convenient to pass up. It also landed exactly one week after my Michigan marathon.
The 50k was part of multiple other distances that they offered including a 30k, 50 mile, and 100 miler. We arrived in town Thursday before the race and stayed at the Sturgis RV Park & Campground where packet pickup was taking place.
The race offered busing out to the start line from the city park and the 50k bus left at 6 a.m.. It was already completely light by this time and the amount of heat for that early in the morning worried me a bit. It was a 45 minute bus ride to the start line. When we got to the 50k starting area near the aid station at Dalton Lake there were a few port-a-pots, a couple camper trailers for the volunteers, the drop bag area for the 50 and 100 milers, and the food table. The sun was feeling very hot and we had over an hour wait until the 8am start. As we waited there were several 100 milers coming through the aid station and we were able to cheer them on.
The 50k distance was a point to point course with over 95% on single track following the Centennial Trail. Marking the 100th anniversary of statehood, 1889 to 1989, the 111-mile Centennial Trail represents the diversity of South Dakota. The Trail crosses the prairie grasslands near Bear Butte State Park and climbs into the Black Hills high country, skirting lakes and streams until it reaches Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs.
The starting elevation was 4,455 ft and there was a total of 3,891 ft of climbing.
There were five creek crossings, one which came over my knees. I always find the first creek crossing (or the first time you get your feet wet) to be a bit daunting. They had ropes strung across the crossings to hang onto since the creek bottom was a bit slippery and the water flowing fairly strong. But after that first crossing the coId water felt very refreshing to my overheated body.
Thankfully the trail shoes I was wearing, On Cloudventures, dried quickly and provided good traction and stability. I found the course to be very clearly marked and it was beautiful with views of mountains, valleys, trees, and a few cattle.
The aid stations were located approximately every 7 miles. They were well stocked with fueling supplies and the usual great ultra food offerings. They handed out collapsible cups at packet pick up to cut down on the number of disposable cups. The race email said,
“In reality, if you’re running an event like this you should probably have a liquid carrying vessel of some sort on your person. We really don’t care if it’s a collapsible cup or an empty beer can that you scavenged from the bed of your truck, but we would strongly encourage you to carry something reusable to drink out of. Just doing our part to save the planet, one cup (or beer can) at a time!”
My strategy was to stay very conservative the first half which meant that I didn’t really pass people unless they were hiking uphill more slowly than me. I remember looking down at my watch about midway (25k) and thinking that I’d already been out there longer than my last marathon. But overall I enjoyed being out on the trail and was able to keep my headspace very positive. I kept rolling my right ankle several times which really hurt but it didn’t seem to interfere with my ability to run. I also caught my foot several times on the trail but managed to catch myself before falling. Gracefulness on the trails is apparently not my strong suit.
For gear I was using compression socks (for support and protection of the legs in tall grass/weeds), ON Cloud Ventures, Trail Toes ointment, Nathan Vapor Airess Pack, and Generation UCAN bars. Trevor and the boys met me at the final large aid station at Alkali Creek (around mile 24) and gave me a Mountain Dew which hit the spot with the jolt of caffeine and sugar.
My conservative pacing strategy paid off and I didn’t get passed by anyone in the last 8 miles and was able to make up some ground. For the final mile the course came off the trail back into town to the finish area in the City Park. I was able to pass several people and my final mile was my fastest with a 9:45 pace. My finish time was 7:41:44 for my 3rd 50k (and slowest to date). They gave out a nice finisher’s mug (and the race shirt was great as well). I was 34th out of 96 50k runners.
The finish cut off for all the distances was 8 p.m. on Saturday June 29th, 2019 (the 100 milers had started the previous day).
- The 100 miler had 41 finishers. The men’s winner was Andrew Pavek with a time of 21:47:58. The women’s winner was Lisa Walbridge with a time of 27:01:04.
- The 50 miler had 62 finishers. The men’s winner was Devon Olson with a time of 7:50:40. The women’s winner was Christine O’Gorman with a time of 11:14:34.
- The 50k had 96 finishers. The men’s winner was Mark Marzen with a time of 4:36:25. The women’s winner was Denise Kaelberer with a time of 6:16:44.
- The 30k had 93 finishers. The men’s winner was Tim Fryer with a time of 2:50:38. The women’s winner was Alicia Porsch with a time of 3:18:03.
- Shout out to MTA listener Yoko Hartland who finished in 3:36:19 and placed first in her AG.
After finishing I felt pretty tired from all those hours in the heat. We had a nice dinner to celebrate and then hit the road the next day to continue our travels. I was pretty stiff and sore, especially through the quads, for the next three days and came away with a couple bruised toenails. I’m guessing that my body wasn’t completely recovered from the marathon a week before. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the race and would recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy some great trails in South Dakota.
The Divide 50k in Butte, Montana
The Divide 50k took place on July 13, 2019. My build up to the race wasn’t stellar but I had good mental training after reading the book Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.
The race started in Thompson Park- a large land area south of Butte that connects to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT runs from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide for a total of 3,100 miles.
The course was mostly single track and kinda congested the first mile until everyone spread out. There were tiny orange flags along the course for directions and every runner received a sheet with turn-by-turn directions. I still managed to miss a turn!
We ran for a couple miles and came upon an old railroad tunnel. I knew there would be tunnels- the race recommended bringing a headlamp.
The runners ahead of me ran into the tunnel so, naturally, I followed them. We emerged from the other side and continued running . . . then I saw a group of runners backtracking toward me and I realized that something was wrong. Apparently we had all missed a turn and were not supposed to run through the tunnel but it had been like a vortex pulling us all in.
Sure enough, before the tunnel, the course went off to the left. It was marked with flags but we all missed it. It cost us about a mile of backtracking. As we were running back to find the turn we missed we kept intercepting runners and telling them the bad news. I pulled out my sheet of instructions and sure enough! It said, “Do not go through the tunnel- turn left before the tunnel”.
This illustrates how easy it is to get into a rhythm, especially on a hot day, and forget to pay attention to the course.
We eventually came to the correct tunnel which was nice and cool (temperature wise) to run through . . . and very dark, so dark you couldn’t see your feet. Another highlight of the course was a rail to trail bridge spanning a massive canyon.
We came to the first aid station at the 16k point (Pipestone Pass) where I grabbed a bag of potato chips and filled up my hydration pack. Once we got back on the trail it eventually connected to the CDT (the first time we ran on it). I was pretty much by myself for the next couple of hours. The higher I climbed the more spectacular the views.
Slogging Up the Mountain
I knew that the next aid station was at the 25k (halfway) point and ending for the 25k runners but I didn’t know at any given point what kilometer I was in. I chose to run according to feel rather than pace. On the way up and down the mountain it was endless switchbacks but the trail was smooth and very runnable. No sounds of civilization, no people, just a lone trek through the mountains. My strategy was to run the downhill sections and walk the uphill sections.
Half Way Point
When I arrived at the 25k aid station there were 4 or 5 runners hanging out (some had just finished the 25k and they were going to get a ride back to the start). It was stocked with lots of goodies -chips, candy, granola bars, drinks. I grabbed another bag of chips and filled my water up. They did have some lawn chairs and I sat down and got the rocks out of my shoes (it felt great to sit down).
The clouds started to get very dark and a thunderstorms blew in. Around that time Angie texted me and said “Are you getting any of this rain?”
After leaving the aid station I had a long slow slog back up the mountain from whence I came. It started to rain and I got out my poncho but it was superfluous and actually trapped in too much body heat.
I continued the uphill death march for another hour on very tired legs. Angie texted me again to find out how many miles I’d gone. All I knew was that I’d passed the 25k point plus 5 more miles. She texted back,
Only 18k (11 miles) to go 👏
My right ear plugged up which happens to me when I’m out trail running. I was worried about my water situation and sucking it down like a camel. Since I couldn’t breathe through my nose I had to catch my breath after getting a drink.
I ate a frosted strawberry Pop Tart around 25 miles (don’t judge). It tasted magical. I hadn’t had one in decades.
There was a tiny stream crossing and I bent down to splash some water on my face. I could see little gold specks in the stream and it reminded me of gold panning in Juneau, Alaska. When I bent down I laid down on the ground and it felt so good. Then I thought to myself, “Angie would never allow herself to do this.”
After I got going again it seemed like every rock and tree stump looked like an inviting chair. There was one point where a tree had fallen across the trail and I had to crawl under it. Gravity felt heavy and I lingered under the tree . . . just laying back for a minute. I thought, “if this wasn’t a race I’d probably take a longer break here.”
As I was laying there a runner came up to me and said, “How’s the lactic acid treating you?” And I felt like a doofus to be laying on the ground. I hadn’t seen another runner for hours. Her name was Anna from Bozeman and she was very friendly. We ran together for a mile and then she surged ahead.
As the day warmed up I have visions of jumping into a cold lake. It was hard to make myself keep going and it was still mostly uphill. I was starting to get cramps on the inside of my thighs which I’d never felt before.
I got to the very last water stop but all that was left were five empty jugs.
This 50k hurt in the usual places that a marathon does and additionally my neck was sore from the combination of looking down and carrying my pack. With 2 miles to go a runner came upon me and he said that this was his 3rd ultra in 14 days. I asked him “why?”. He said, “Just to see if I have what it takes.”
I surged ahead and finished before him crossing the line at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The website says my time was 8:13:17:42. Plenty of room for a PR next time!
The race director congratulated me, I found a lawn chair, and dug into the nice post race snacks on offer -Pringles and a beer. I put my recovery sandals on and waited for my ride. It very satisfying feeling to have finished a 50k especially after very minimal training.
Once you get up to marathon shape it’s not that hard to maintain your endurance and jump into a 50k if you don’t care about your finishing time. If I can finish a 50k I have no doubt that you guys can too.
Also Mentioned in This Episode
MTA Beginner 50k Training Plan -designed by Coach Angie Spencer to get the beginner ready to run a 50k ultramarathon. This is a 20 week long plan that will have you running 4 days per week with interspersed cross-training. (Includes: Downloadable/Printable Training Plan, Detailed Explanation, Core Workout 1.0 & Core Workout 2.0 documents and Metric Version).
CEP Compression -Check out the latest tall compression sock from CEP! The 3.0 has an updated look, upgraded fit and feel thanks to a blend of 16 yarns. But it has the same best in class graduated compression, now just a little easier to put on. Use the code “Marathon” for 15% off from now till August 31st.
Generation Ucan -the revolutionary new way for runners to fuel. UCAN keeps your blood sugar stable, is gentle on your stomach, and allows your body to burn fat. Use the promo code “MTA50k” to save 15% off your order. Or if you’re new to UCAN, save 25% on your first order with code MTA25”.
DripDrop O.R.S. An electrolyte powder developed by a doctor to treat dehydration. Go to dripdrop.com/mta to get 20% off any purchase.