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Black Hills Ultramarathon an Exercise in Endurance


 Participants in the ultramarathon.

A variety of skill levels was evident at the Black Hills 100 Marathon held June 25-26 in South Dakota. The course followed the Centennial Trail which spanned BLM lands in the Fort Meade area. Runners persevered in spite of stormy weather.

On June 25-26, 152 runners from 30 states and three countries got to experience the BLM and surrounding lands in an up close and personal manner as they competed in the inaugural Black Hills 100 ultramarathon.

The race was run almost exclusively on the Centennial Trail, a portion of which runs through the South Dakota Field Office’s Fort Meade Recreation Area (the first and last 5 miles of the event).

The Black Hills 100 is the second ultramarathon in the Black Hills, joining its sister race, the Lean Horse 100. Race organizers and participants didn’t know what to expect. Race directing team members Jerry Dunn, Ryan Phillips, and Chris Stores recognized the potential of the Centennial Trail -- a 111 mile ribbon of single track-- as a more difficult counterpart to the Lean Horse, which is held on the relatively gentle, smooth and wide Mickelson Trail.

The group soon found out that the Black Hills are deceiving. The fact that they are located in South Dakota, which many people consider flat and featureless, and that they are called “hills” and not “mountains,” did not make for an easy course.

Included in the festivities for the Black Hills 100 were 50-mile and 100K races. All three events began and ended on the Woodle Field track in Sturgis. All races followed the city bike path for just over a mile --the only paved portion of the course-- before reaching the Centennial Trail at the Fort Meade trailhead. From there, the event was purely on the Centennial, which runs south from the edge of the prairie to the heart of the Black Hills.

In true South Dakota form, the June weather provided some surprises of its own. On the night of June 25, the Black Hills 100 was hammered by an August-like storm which blew through the northern Black Hills over the course of a few hours, drenching the course with torrential rains, marble-sized hail, and heavy lightning. The temperature dropped as much as 45 degrees in less than 15 minutes, making an already difficult course even more challenging.

The combination of the challenging course and severe weather took a toll on the 100-mile race runners with a finish rate of only 30 percent (91 starters, 30 finishers). The national average for this type of race is 70-80 percent. Both the male and female champions of the 100-mile were presented with authentic hand-painted buffalo skulls to commemorate their achievement.

The most common comment heard from competitors was “...that was way tougher than I thought it would be.” Many compared it to other 100-mile ultra marathons, some of which are famous in the running community for their challenges.

Only time will tell how much of the challenge can be attributed to the weather, but the course certainly played a large role. One thing is for certain -- many came away with an appreciation for the unique beauty of the region and a well-developed sense of the challenges the Black Hills terrain can pose.

BLM Natural Resource Specialist Bill Monahan watched the race at the Alkali Creek trailhead. His assessment was brief and to the point.

“I guess the event is fun for the participants,” he said. “But it’s more comfortable to just watch.”

story and photo by
Ryan Phillips and Kim (Phillips) Hamil
South Dakota Field Office

Last updated: 06-28-2012