Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mickelson Trail Half Marathon

After running the Hippie Chick Half together last year, and having such a good time, my sister and I decided we needed to join forces again to run another race.  Since I failed at getting Susan into this year's Hippie Chick, she and I began scoping out other race possibilities.  The solution - the Mickelson Trail Half Marathon in the Black Hills of SD.  Right in her own backyard, and a good excuse for me to come home and visit my family!

My race "swag!"

This race features both a marathon and a half marathon.  It takes place on the George S. Mickelson Trail, which runs through the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  This trail was originally the Burlington Northern railroad line that took trains from Edgemont, SD to the northern Black Hills and the gold mines of Deadwood.  The line was abandoned in 1983. A group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trails potential, and with support of the then Governor Mickelson, it became the states' first rails to trails project.  The trail's total lengh is 109 miles (but we only ran 13.1 miles of it!) and contains more than 100 converted railroad bridges and 4 rock tunnels.  The race finishes in the town of Deadwood, which is a cool historic mining town.

Susan and her running buddies, ready to go!

However, early this spring, my sis had some bad luck.  While running with her friends one morning, she tripped on the sidewalk, fell, and broke her arm.  The break was bad enough that she had to have her bones surgically repaired.  Even though the cast was scheduled to come off about three weeks before the race, Susan  wasn't sure if she'd be in shape to run.

The starting line crowd

But I had bought my plane ticket, and paid my entry fee, so I was planning to run the race with or without her.  About a week before the race, Susan decided she would try and run it.  But she asked our parents to drive along the route and park at the trailheads along the way, just in case she needed to bail out.  Susan warned me that with her limited training, she would probably run slow and might need to walk once and awhile.  I told her I was totally fine with that, and actually looked forward running at a leisurely pace.  I'd heard the trail was beautiful, and this way I'd be able to fully appreciate the scenery.

Hangin' out with Susan's friends before the start of the race

June 6th dawned, cloudy and cool.  It felt like I'd brought the weather from Portland with me.  Perfect running weather!  My folks dropped Susan, myself, and three of her friends at the starting area.  Susan's friend and co-worker Stacey decided to run with us. She was newly pregnant and needed to take things easy.  Susan's other two friends were trying to beat a 2 hour half, so we knew they'd be ahead of us.

Sister power!

We started the race in the middle of nowhere. But with 1600 runners signed up for the half, there was quite a large mass of people gathered. I was afraid the narrow trail would be crowded at the start, but the race organizers had the pace starting groups lined up and well signed. I thought we'd start in the 10 minute mile group, but, to my surprise, Susan moved us up until we were in between the 8 and 9 minute-mile groups.  Not as leisurely a pace as I'd expected! 

Before I knew it, the crowd was moving. We were off!

Susan mugs for the camera.

Susan took off fast!  The first couple of miles were quite crowded, but we were able to pass the slower people (and the faster people were able to get around us!).   Susan and I resurrected our tradition of doing "the wave" at each mile marker.  We cheered and woo-hooed, but didn't get too many other runners joining in our celebrations.  (I guess my spinning instructor was right, runners are a somber bunch - not much woo-hooing at all!)

Views of the trail

I have to say the scenery along the trail was amazingly beautiful!  We passed flowing creeks, pine forests, rock cuts, and lush green meadows. We ran over some really cool wooden bridges.  This was definitely the most scenic race I've ever run.  I'd forgotten how wonderful the Black Hills really are.

The flag runner

At one point this man passed us waving an American flag.  We cheered him as he ran by.  I saw the man after the race at the finish line, still holding his flag.  He'd ran the entire race carrying this flag!

The scenery was great!

Susan kept on running fast.  It seemed she had rockets under her feet!  After many weeks of being out of action, it probably felt good to be running again.  But we didn't hurry things along otherwise.  We walked through every aid station.  I had to make a potty stop at mile 4.  Susan and Stacey stopped at the mile 6 aid station to suck down some gel (I partook in the wonderful orange slices they offered! The aid stations were the best!)  At one point, Stacey spotted her husband and son in the crowd, and we stopped to say hi.

Runners winding through the canyon

With the good company, the miles seemed to go by fast.  We chatted and waved, and before I knew it, we were coming up on the outskirts of the town of Lead.  Just a couple more miles and we'd be done!  By this point, Susan and Stacey were getting tired, and my left calf was starting to bother me.  We all agreed that when the 12 mile marker came, there would be a loud cheer and big wave!

Susan with her friends Joy and Michelle after the race

We started to wind through the town of Deadwood.  The 12 mile marker came and went.  The crowds along the trail began to get larger.  And then, up ahead, we spied the 13 mile marker.  Almost done!  Woo-hoo!  Susan and I held hands as we crossed the finish line.

Another half in the record books!

When I clicked off my watch, I was surprised to see our time.  We'd run the race in 2:12:54, which was an average of about a 10-minute mile pace.  Much faster than I'd anticipated, especially since we'd made a couple of stops.  For being out of commission and not running for a couple of months, Susan did great!

It was great to run another race with my sister.  I didn't have my best time, but I sure had the most fun!  And it was nice to run for fun, and not worry about meeting a certain time.  This course was so beautiful - and the race very well organized.  I'd love to come back next year and do it again.  And I just might!

P.S.  Check out this youtube link for more on the Mickelson Trail marathon/half marathon:

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