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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Finally a race Report - Run Crazy Horse Half Marathon

Last Sunday, we got up at the crack of dawn - on vacation no less - and joined about 900 other folks headed up toward Crazy Horse Memorial outside of Custer, South Dakota for the second edition of Run Crazy Horse, a full and half marathon event.  We were on schedule to meet up with Kathleen's dad and his wife in the Black Hills for a little family time, sight seeing and R&R - surprisingly this area is almost exactly the same distance from their place in Iowa as it is from our place in Colorado - cool.  There was a twist, however, a couple weeks out we were searching (as always) for trail beta and info on the Hill City area where we would be staying.  Wouldn't you know it, up pops an ad for Run Crazy Horse - 2 days left until registration closes.  And, the finish line is a quarter mile from our hotel....  And, I might add as she might leave it out, Kathleen was really starting to feel almost herself again - good time to race, right???  So we inquired with the folks as to whether there were any objections with a short interruption to the vacation time for a little race action.  None.  So we threw our names in the hat, so to speak.  We didn't realize it until we got there, but they were actually a bit excited to see some of the race and hang out at the finish line to watch for us, so that got us more excited about racing.  Now that we're home and free of an old laptop trying to get wifi in the hotel, it is time for the full write up!!

We were a little sketchy on details for the start area of the race, but knew the majority was to be run on the Mickelson Trail, which we have run and ridden parts of when we were there in 2007.  This is a sweet multi-use DIRT (this was the key to signing up!!) trail that runs 109 miles from Edgemont, SD to Deadwood, SD, and features spectacular scenery, such as the photos below which we took on our walk the following morning:
Stream and pasture along Mickelson
Changing colors
Race action photo from the website

We knew also from the photo above that we were starting on the entrance road into the memorial and that there would be some climb at the start, which is always good for us when competing against road runners :)  As for the rest of the puzzle to the course, we were in the dark until the Lakota Indians started the drums and singing to get us off and running.  This may get long, so skip down if you are bored, but you'll get the race from both our perspectives - grab a coffee and cinnamon roll ;-)

Steve's Race:  As I had noted a couple posts back, in August I realized that a summer of long trail runs had possibly left a gap in the fitness and we started logging some "tempo" miles on one run weekly.  While this in no way qualified as "training" for a half marathon, I was quietly hopeful that some of the work would pay dividends in the race.  Because of that, I was a wee bit nervous pre-race as I had some goal tiers I had been sorting through in my mind, based upon last year's results, some of my recent runs, ... and some smoke and mirrors calculations.  Now, if you regularly look at this blog, you know I am not a huge racer.  Tim harasses me about this, but I live with it :)  This is not necessarily a lack of competitive drive as much as it is aversion to pain.  If I enter a race, it is to race.  It is okay if that is not the case for everyone, but for me it is for pushing myself hard.  So in the past, I have often raced over my head (and fitness level) and suffered badly post race.  I guess everyone does, so deal with it, right?  So we're off....

Miles 1-4 Setting myself up  The start ended up being straight downhill on pavement, not my cup of tea.  There were about 50 to 60 people ahead of me belting out sub 6 minute pace - too rich for my blood.  So I held back a bit and as we topped the first hill on the road, we made a sharp right onto a nasty dirt road.  Up hill, big loose rocks.  I passed 30 or so people in a 3/4 mile stretch - nice - level the playing field a bit.  We then got back on the paved road for a half mile to the visitor center, and made a left again onto the dirt road toward the base of Crazy Horse.  I was pegging a guy that looked exactly like George, who I had eavesdropped at the start area talking to his friends about wanting to run right around 7's - ambitious, but it seemed comfortable for those first miles.  We made a figure eight out to a turn point, then doubled back to the start area.  There were about 4 significant hills and they enabled me to stake out my position for most of the race - weird how that works so early.  At the turn, I was counting bibs - just watching for the maroon half marathoners.  Eight bibs.  What?  Am I in too deep already???  We had to go down the paved exit road out to the highway, make a left into the dirt parking area, and then switchback down onto Mickelson.  I passed "George" and  I was in the clear.  After a brief ways in on Mickelson, we pass the 4 mile marker.  My numerical position would not change from there - but I had no way of knowing that this early.  I glanced at the Garmin for the first time - I was averaging 7:10 pace.

Miles 5 - 10 Long stretches and concentration  During the next 6 miles, mental and physical met and the long steady churning that is not common to a lot of our running came into play.  There was a shirtless guy in front of me about a quarter mile along with the lead woman, and Larry (the George look-alike) had dropped behind me a ways, but I could hear him occasionally talking to another runner.  I never once looked behind me the entire race, which is odd.  Around mile 7.5, Larry and his pal Eric came up along side me and chatted for a while.  They were taking the bit pretty hard, so I decided to hold my pace.  Two spots down.  These miles had many long stretches where you could easily see half mile or more ahead and so I watched as they passed shirtless man, and then Larry gradually pulled away from Eric.  But for miles, I could now see three guys ahead.  At mile 9, I checked the dashboard on the Enterprise for an update - 7:04 average.  It dawned on me that I had now been running for quite a stretch at near and/or sub-7 pace and had not had a leg fall off or any major red lights.  I was nervous and pumped at the same time.  Almost in La-La land, until I fumbled my last S-cap and watched it drop in the dirt, then I snapped back to reality rather quickly...

Miles 11 - 13.1 Smelling the barn and running on fumes  Right after mile 10.5 or so, I noticed a change in the demeanor of shirtless man.  I was in pretty deep on pace, but I decided to throw in a bit of a surge and see if I could dent his lead.  At mile 11, I was 10 steps from him and realized he appeared to be of my "vintage" so to speak.  I got a little jello-legged and knew I had to try to separate from him.  I don't know much about race etiquette, but I felt sort of bad when I pulled up along his right side and tossed a casual "How's it going?" his way.  He was in a bad patch so I pulled through.  For the next mile and a half, I made a concerted effort to push it down around mid 6:40's to see if I could create a gap but I never totally lost the sound of his steps.  At 12 we passed a guy who had been out front in the first 4 spots last I saw him - he blew up in a bad way and was walking it in - poor guy.  So I was back on par with my placing with a little over a mile.  At mile 12.5 I was starting to burn fumes and the trail had leveled, then started a slight rise toward town.  I figured I was over 80 minutes in and had not much left to run, so I just buried my head and held it down as long as I could.  There were tons of folk out cheering people in which was really awesome but it was all going by as a blur at this point.  I made the hard left turn up the embankment to the road, then the right turn onto Main street and I could see the finish line - it was downhill, which was a relief.  I did not want to look back, so I spent what I had left to the finish line.  1:31:58 official time, I held a 7:01 average for 13.1 miles - holy cow!  Jarrett (shirtless man) finished only 17 seconds behind me - very close.  And he's 47, so also in the Masters.  Sorry pal, but I had to do it!!! :)  The pass at 11.5 earned me the Masters win, which I will take any day of the week, especially since it may never happen again!  I had secretly hoped for a 1:35:xx - and far exceeded that, which made my head spin for a bit.  I had a blast, it hurt, I was spent, but it was worth every one of those 91.8 minutes!  The time on the clock made my day.  What I saw six minutes later made my year....

And now Kathleen's commentary:
To sum it all up - it was a GREAT day!  Not only was I in awesome company with Steve and Dad and J, we had comfortably cool and sunny 8:00 am start, and best of all, I was/am feeling like I am finally on the comeback trail, healthwise.  My doc has continued to reassure me over these past 7 or 8 months that I indeed would return to a semblance of normalcy.  About 5 or 6 weeks ago, finally, the "switch flipped".  We had started to do some tempo work on the Santa Fe Trail, a smooth gravel, slightly rolling path, a few months ago.  Well, for Steve it was tempo.  For me, it was a place to just find a more steady running effort rather than the constant up and downs of our local singletrack trail runs which seemed to take more out of me physically.  There were many a weekend where I struggled to put one foot in front of the other on those trail runs.  Steve asked me quite a number of times, "Why do you keep torturing yourself?".  My answer always was, "I have to give it a go because this could be the day where things turn around and the switch finally flips."  And so it went, weekend after weekend, month after month - maybe this would be the one day where the switch finally flipped.  Sure, I had some decent, ok days but no truly normal, fully good days.  No one other than Steve got to see me in all my non-glorious 'miserableness'. There were quite a few boo-hoo moments, mourning what had been lost and wondering if there was a genuine chance of regaining at least some of it.

  So back to the tempo-ish runs on Santa Fe.  At first, I was struggling to average 9 minute miles over an eight mile run, which ironically, felt like I was flying compared to the 10's, 11's, and 12's I was doing per mile around my initial Graves diagnosis. Then, out of the blue one weekend, I hit an 8:40 average.  Hmmm, is this an anomaly?  Then, the next weekend, I hit an 8:14 average.  Really?  No way.  Can it be true?  I hadn't been able to even sniff 8's with all I was worth but here it was, almost within reach.  I was hardly allowing myself to hope.....  but maybe the switch had finally flipped???  Long story short, the runs turned into tempos.  I was actually able to push my body instead of my body pushing me around.  I hit 8:04 the next week and then!!!  a 7:54 the next week!  Really???  I've held steady at 7:45's the last few weeks, which I'm good with, but admittedly am a bit greedy - I want 7:35.  Back to Run Crazy Horse.......

This race was to serve as a celebration of life and health.  My "goal time" was 1:45 based on nothing other than pulling it out of thin air.  My secret finish time, in my heart of hearts, was 1:39:xx, again, based on nothing other than it sounded better than 1:45.  It was fun milling around in the Crazy Horse Memorial Visitor Center beforehand, checking out all of the intriguing history as well as listening to all the pre-race chatter.  We heard, quite a few times, folks dreading the "hilly" starter loop.  Ahem.  We also heard people lamenting how "slow" the gravel trail was to run on and how the gravel was hard on the feet.  We just smiled to ourselves - it sounded perfect!  :-)

The native American drums sent us off at the start, again, a glorious bluebird, perfect temperature morning.  The herd set off in one big amoeba but then quickly started to string out over the immediate rolling hills.  We did an approximate 3 mile figure eight loop around the base of Crazy Horse on a mix of paved and gravel roads before connecting over to the gravel and wonderful Mickelson Trail.  I settled into a nice steady pace and timed it right to run alongside the eventual 2nd place woman, Nicki.  Nicki ended up being a lovely young woman - we did a fair amount of chatting those first miles.  Lots of fun and a funny moment, too.  We were running stride for stride and got reports from the various bystanders that we were the 3rd and 4th women. Part of our conversation went something like this:

She asked:  So how old are you?
Me:  44.  How old are you?
Nicki:  24.  Holy Cow!  Are you really 44?
Me:  Yep but only for another month or so.
Nicki:  Wow.  I hope when I am 44, I look as good and am as strong as you!

LOL!  She was paying me a very lovely compliment but a realization hit me - I am now one of "those" - one of the OLD girls - on the verge of needing to be put out to pasture - how did this happen???!!!  I am old enough to be her mother!!!  :-)  Wasn't I just 24 and young looking, um, yesterday???  I'll have to ask Steve... how and when did this happen?  It made me smile.

We did a girly knuckle knock, happy we wouldn't be competing against each other in terms of age categories.  At just over 4 miles, she started to gain a half step on me, then it was a full step, then two.  Dang those 24 year old legs and lungs.  I told her to have a great race and that I hoped to see her at the finish.  She smiled and slowly started to pull away.  I was completely content and comfortable and was just trying to concentrate on keeping a steady, sustainable up-tempo run.  As you are aware, the  Happy Trails duo aren't exactly the racing veterans, so some focused  effort was definitely on tap.

At just over 5 miles, I was passed by another gal who had been lurking behind Nicki and I since the start.  Again, I was completely ok with that, happy as a lark figuratively skipping merrily down the trail, and just settled into running my own pace and race.  There weren't many people around me at this point - I think I was hovering in the neighborhood of 4 or 5 men but that's it.  The course was beautiful and peaceful.  Most of the first 8 miles or so were almost completely shaded by yellow and orange aspen trees and pine trees.  It was a glorious setting and I just settled in with the guys and enjoyed the moment.  I fully expected to be passed by more women as I was running as 5th woman at this point and the trail was fairly flat to slightly downhill with a few rollers thrown in until the finish.  The miles ticked by and I never lost complete sight of the 4th woman.  At mile 9, I was starting to feel minor effects of the faster than normal Mrs. Happy Trails pace but it was still all good.  My mantra was, "just stay steady" and "do what you can with what you have".  The last few miles, I started to VERY SLOWLY pull back a bit of time on the 4th woman.  I began to wonder whether I could really pull her back and was astonished, too, that no other women had passed me. I was waiting but they never came. Is this for real???  I didn't have a clue who was behind other than a couple of the men I had managed to ease past. 

The last half mile or so was down the middle of Main Street into Hill City.  Lots of smiling and cheering people lined the street.  I couldn't quite motivate the legs to move fast enough to catch 4th woman although I came close - she ended up 4 seconds in front of me.  I didn't care.  I was ecstatic.  1:37:52 - 7:29 pace.  A time like that was beyond my wildest dreams in mid-August.  It just wasn't possible.  Not only did I end up feeling fantastic physically, I was excited and elated to know that Steve had run so well, too.  I had watched him run near the front on the starter loop and based upon my good time, was assured he had a good time, as well.  Ecstatic all the way around.

A happy Happy Trails duo
For me, this race signaled a return to health, at least for awhile.  From here, I may or may not be able to improve upon my overall fitness - time will tell.  Because my thyroid levels have been fairly steady these past 2 months, my body is starting the process of repairing the damage and rebuilding everything that was lost with the Graves -  the muscle tone, strength and endurance, among other things.  If this race is any indication, the switch has flipped and the body is finally getting back on track.  I have to admit a bit of trepidation, though.  A fear that the "on" switch will turn "off" again lurks beneath the surface.  If the thyroid suppressant dosage doesn't keep the levels steady, then going backwards is a reality, again.  But, focus on the present positive, right?  Run Crazy Horse was a true celebration in many ways.  It is so easy to take life and health for granted - make sure to savor every moment.....

We would highly recommend Run Crazy Horse Half or full marathon.  The races are run on a beautifully scenic trail at the peak of the fall color season. The setting - from the start at the Crazy Horse Memorial to the trail - is hard to beat.  It seems to be a well organized and well run event (results were up immediately) that has a friendly vibe - from the organizers, to the volunteers, to the participants.  If you are looking to head to the Black Hills in the fall, don't pass up this fun race!

We will post lots more photos from our trip to the Black Hills but promise few words.  Thanks for hanging in for what has to be THE LONGEST half-marathon race report EVER!  Sheesh.........

Happy Trails to everyone!
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