Neil Peruski 2009

Lean Horse 100 Ultramarathon
August 22-23, 2009
21 hours, 46 minutes

You can’t take a vacation to South Dakota without visiting Mr. Rushmore, the Badlands, the buffaloes at Custer State Park, or the Black Hills. And that’s just what my family has been doing for the last three days. The fourth day of our trip, however, brought us to South Dakota for a different reason – the Lean Horse Hundred and Half Hundred races. The 100 mile race starts just south of the Black Hills in Hot Springs and takes runners into the heart of the Black Hills 50 miles north, to Hill City, and back again.

The start of the race is a chilly 50 degrees, surprising for a day that is supposed to reach a high temperature of 90 degrees. About 200 runners, over half of them running the full 100 miles instead of the “half hundred” race wander to the starting line outside the Mueller Center in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for the 6am start. My family (wife, Melissa and
our kids Anna, 8 and Ryan, 5) and my father and his wife are here to act as my crew and meet me at a dozen or so points along the course.

The start of an ultramarathon is not the like the start of a traditional road race in which runners jockey for position near the front of the pack. As the gun sounds I casually stroll across the line doing a slight jog, maybe best described as a shuffle, that I will mix with walking for the next 24 or so hours. As the pack of runners makes its way through the small
town I meet up with Larry, a guy I met at the race two years earlier and had been keeping in touch with every few months. I’m glad to see him again as I hoped we would again run many miles together. Larry is a model of patience, mental toughness, and emotional stability that is required in these races. To reveal that Larry is 62 years old is misleading; he is a hard core runner who can run circles around average runners half his age. While my 39-year-old
legs allow me to compete in shorter races, his experience and mental make up allow him to be a much more accomplished ultramarathoner than I will ever be. I am glad to be in his company.

Within two miles we’re out of town. We’re running the same pace and arrive at the first major aid station at 16 miles where we are greeted with cheers from my crew who have been waiting to refill my handheld bottle with a fresh mixture of endurance sports drink. We’re just over three hours into the race having held a five miles per hour pace as we had
hoped. I catch up to Larry a few minutes after he left the aid station table where he grabbed a few snacks, got drinks, and checked in with volunteers who will keep track of each runners’ progress in case someone gets lost or is unable to get to the next aid station. At this point we have left the road and will spend the next 68 miles (34 each way) on the Mickelson Trail, a former railroad bed converted in to a trail topped with crushed rock just the right size for running. While the trail is never steep, it is rarely flat. Total elevation gain and decent will be about 5,000 feet for the day, easy by ultramarathon standards.

We continue our five miles per hour pace through aid stations at 20, 24, and 30 miles. After six hours of running and walking my legs start to hurt a bit and the mental strength I had at the start of the race weakens a bit. Not to worry, though, I’ve done enough long races to know that I usually have my first bout of doubt around this time. We simply continue along, running slowly for a few minutes at a time on the flats and downhills and walking the uphill
stretches. At each aid stations we are greeted with cheers from my crew who are eager to
help with food, drinks, and other needs. Much to my surprise, by mile 30 mile usual energy
drink is not settling well in my stomach and I make the decision to switch to Ensure and
Gatorade. When I ran this race two years ago I didn’t begin throwing up my drink until mile
70. Oh, well, I guess. The idea is to consume about 250 calories per hour in such a way that I
do not get stomach issues. In addition, I need about 20 ounces of water each hour, maybe
more as the day wears on and the heat intensifies.
At this time Larry and I begin wearing our “Badwater bandanas” which is a bandana
wrapped around a handful of ice, which is then tied around the neck to help cool one’s
temperature. It is a pleasant reprieve from the heat which is becoming very noticeable.
The number of runners around us has dropped considerably since the “half hundred” runners
turned around at the 25 mile mark.
To our great surprise before reaching the 30 mile aid station, Anna and Ryan are
waiting for us about 200 yards from the station. They join us in running to the station, laughing
all the way. What a thrill it is to have them and my wife as part of my crew, and now as
running partners. We make quick use of the station and we’re back on our way. The next
couple of hours will bring us to the highest part of the course, near the Crazy Horse
Monument. The monument is being carved out of stone, Mt. Rushmore style, will have a
single face four times the size of Mr. Rushmore’s faces. Work began on the monument
around 1950, and today the face of Crazy Horse is clearly visible as work continues on his
outstretched arm and part of his horse.
Of course, what goes up must come down, and we follow the trail on a long decent
into the town of Custer where we again meet up with my family. I’m glad they are having
fun because I am beginning to fall apart mentally, physically, and emotionally. We’re still on
pace to make the turn around at the ten hour mark, but my legs are starting to rebel against
the combination of time and distance. It’s hard not to sit down at the aid stations, but we
are in and out in under two minutes and on our way through the most beautiful and remote
part of the race. I pin a white towel over the back of my white mesh running hat to block
the sun from my neck and sides of my face.
Instead of staying within sight of Highway 385 as we have done for much of the race,
miles 36 through 40 take us between granite peaks hundreds of feet high. There are no
buildings, cars, or people around, just the heart of the ancient Black Hiils. Our ratio of running
to waking remains fairly even, and while I don’t say anything, I know that once we reach the
turn around at mile 50 I’ll be in no condition to make the return trip in the same ten hours.
Larry, always the model of consistency, keeps pace and determines our run-walk pattern. I
know it’s just a matter of time before I tell him I won’t be able to keep up with him and he’ll
have to go on without me. About a mile before the aid station we come across some
raspberry bushes along the trail. Aside from orange slice candies, they are the best thing
I’ve had to eat all day. I know my wife would like them, too, so I toss a few in my hand and
try to carry them without crushing them. Unfortunately, I soon realize my sweaty hands are
going to gross her out more than she will appreciate the berries so I quickly eat them and
enjoy their sweet taste.
Far too soon, we leave the seclusion of the forest and come to the aid station at mile
40. In the past a team of high school girls cross country runners escorted runners in and out
of the aid station. No such luck this time, but the volunteers are welcoming and eager to
help, just as they are at all of the aid stations. I get my bottle refilled, grab another Ensure, a
few snacks, and head out. With only ten miles to the turn around I finally feel as though
finishing will not be an issue, but the increasing pain and mental fatigue are taking their toll.
For the next ten miles the heat is impossible to escape, even with a bandana of ice
wrapped around my neck. Amazingly, the stomach flu I dealt with for three days hasn’t
been a factor. We trudge on, keeping our pace, and arrive at the turn around almost
exactly ten hours after we started. The turn round is an interesting point in the race because
every step from now on is a step closer to the finish. On the other hand, I feel awful and
have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of repeating the first fifty miles. Larry
tries to lift my spirits by telling me the cooler temperature of the night will make a big
difference for the better. But it’s only 4pm now so relief is a ways off.
After we reverse direction at 50 miles we get to see runners who have not yet reached
the halfway point. The lead runner passed us by hours ago, but there are only a handful of
other runners in front of us. We pass dozens of runners who are behind us. Oddly, most of
them look much better than I feel. The pressure of keeping up with Larry is front and center
in my mind, and it’s here I tell him that I will try to stick with him until we reach Custer again at
mile 64, but after that all bets are off. The granite peaks we passed through a few hours ago
are just as striking as they were the first time, but seeing them from the opposite direction
and in a different light lets me see them again for the first time.
The short reunions with my crew are becoming increasingly hard to bear. While they
are all smiles and full of positive energy, I am crumbling fast. It’s hard to speak without
getting choked up about all that I’m feeling, but I tell myself to get going and just keep
moving forward. Needless to say, Larry just moves on, leading us mile after mile. I wonder if
he’s getting tired of my relative lack of composure. Amazingly, while we’re passing mile 60
we’re still passing runners on their way to the turn around. They are a full 20 miles behind us.
Many of them will need to use the last few hours of the 30 hour time limit to finish the race. To
know they have well over twelve hours to go gives me some perspective for the better. I tell
myself that as long as their is someone behind me I should quit complaining and keep
moving.
Shortly before arriving in Custer I remind Larry that I will likely not be able to continue
with him. And sure enough, as I’m still refueling and taking a two-minute breather he says he
might see me later and leaves the aid station. I know at this point the only way I will see him
again is at the finish.
The pressure of running without Larry is liberating, even if it is something that would
have been hard to handle in the early stages of the race. After a mile of going up and up, I
come to a long stretch of downhill trail. I increase my pace, running for a minute or two at a
time, followed by walking for a minute or so. It feels good to cruise at my own pace, and the
falling temperatures are welcome to say the least. Unknown to me at this point, my crew is
very worried about me. My wife and kids had not seen me during an ultra event so they are
a bit taken aback by my condition. My father and his wife have joined me for many runs so
they are more accostomed to the deteriorating state of my condition. I unpin the shade
from my had and get rid of the bandana around my neck and hand if off to my crew.
At mile 70 I know I can slow my pace, if needed, and walk most of the way to the finish
and still come in under 24 hours. Finishing in less than twenty-four hours is a goal for many
ultramarathon runners because it means you have completed one hundred miles on foot in
a single day. Still, there is a long way to go, much of it in the dark and alone.
My dad decides to join me for a few miles while my pace is a bit slower. We run a bit,
but mostly walk, and soon we need our headlamps to see the trail. He tried to run with Larry
and I two years ago, but our pace was faster at that point, and my dad has just finished
eating prior to joining us. He didn’t last long then, but now he’s feeling better and keeping
up. I relax the pace a bit and enjoy the waning light and cool air. Bolts of lightning interrupt
the sky miles in front of us. For a few minutes I wonder what it would be like if a storm were to
hit, but with no thunder or smell of rain I don’t think about it much. For an hour or so we chat,
occassioally picking up the pace, and eventually he knows he’s had enough and that I will
at least be able to see everyone at the next aid station at mile 80. Before we part ways, my
wife informs me that Larry was not looking as strong when he left the 76 mile aid station only
ten minutes earlier.
My leg muscles and joints fairly scream for me to stop or at least slow down even
more, but the thought of running and walking alone for the last 16 miles up and down hills on
the dirt road into town, and the finish, pushes me to give one attempt to catch up to Larry.
For the next four miles I push the pace in the dark, dodging moths as they fly to the light
perched on my forehead. Green eyes from cattle and deer pierce the dark. I turn off my
head lamp during a walking break and marvel and the scene above me. The lack of
moonlight and city lights makes the sky completely black except for countless stars. To have
my headlamp fail at this point would leave me in a completely dark world. I quickly turn it on
and get moving.
Mile 80 cannot come soon enough. I see the lights of the aid station trailer and hear
voices of the few hearty souls out here even though it is around near midnight. My wife is
quickly at my side and tells me that Larry is at the station. Sure enough, he’s in a chair
refueling and dealing with hitting the wall as best he can. As I did at the previous two aid
stations I have a small cup of chicken broth, more Ensure, Gatorade, and a few snacks. I ask
Larry, half jokingly, if he can manage the last 16 miles in five hours, the time I would need in
order to come in under 24 hours. He confidently says he can and we walk out of the station,
leaving behind a crew that is worried about our ability to safely make our way on a desolate
and dark road in the early hours of the second day of our race. When we were at this point
two years ago, I was able to push Larry a bit when he was forced to slow down. This year,
the roles are reversed.
It quickly becomes apparent that I used nearly all of my remaining energy just to
catch up with Larry at mile 80. I can no longer run or even jog. Instead, my feet shuffle,
skidding on the gravel surface of the road with each step. My walk has slowed as well, and
with mile markers appearing only every five miles on the road it is hard to judge my pace.
A few runners, apparently smarter than me, pass by in the darkness, one or two of
them with enough strength left to run up the hills of the road. It’s a different picture for Larry
and me; he slowly jogs down the hills, begins walking at the bottom, and then continues to
walk to the top of the next hill. I have to shuffle down the hills, past the bottom, and shuffle
part way up the next hill to catch up with him. The process is repeated dozens of times until
the aid station at mile 90. When I stop to see my crew I nearly fall over as my wife offers
assistance. I stagger back and catch myself from landing in a road-side ditch as she grabs
my right arm. I insist that I can go on and I mean it.
We’ve kept our pace strong enough that breaking 24 hours is a given. We sit down for
a few minutes and coax our stiff bodies back onto the road. Again, I tell Larry he is welcome
to leave me behind since I am in worse shape than him. He utters something I don’t quite
understand, but I know what he meant when a few minutes later he waited a moment or
two for me to catch back up to him. It looks like I won’t have to finish on my own after all.
At this point my wife is worried about us so much she insists that my dad keep us in
sight as they drive on the road. Our bobbing headlamps must be a sight to see; Larry’s
going in a straight line, mine bobbing back and forth across the road as I try to go straight
while trying to find the soft gravel along the edges of the road. No one is passing us now. In
fact, we pass by two of the runners who had been running up the hills two hours earlier.
The final aid station, at mile 95, appears at the end of a grassy field shortly after turning
off the gravel road. Two runners are sitting in chairs chatting away as if this is no big deal to
them. Volunteers assist us from behind a table that sits in front of a camper. These volunteers
will likely be here until almost noon, or about 30 hours after they saw the first runners pass by
early in the race. Larry and I sit for a moment or two, but we don’t stay long since the finish is
so close. My crew is waiting at the finish. The five miles we have left would normally take me
less than 40 minutes during a mid-week training run, but tonight it will take well over an hour.
We walk slowly up the hill leading out of the aid station. I keep looking back to see if
any other runners, such as the two who were still sitting down when we left, are close behind
us. Of course, there’s nothing I could do about it at this point; it’s not as if I could go any
faster regardless of the reward or consequence. Fortunately, there is no one behind us and I
don’t have to worry about it. Just lifting my feet off the ground is giving me plenty to think
about.
Three miles later we find ourselves in the outskirts of town. A group of teenagers in a
car say something unkind to us as we pass through a small residential street lined with run
down homes. A woman standing outside her home at nearly 2am says, “God speed to
you,” as we pass by, and then she asks if it’s scary running in the darkness. We tell her thank
you, and no, it’s kind of cool to run in the dark. The rest of the way through town is silent
except for our footsteps. While the previous couple of hours were interrupted by only a few
exchanges between Larry and me, our last mile through town is full of chatter.
We walk the final mile with no worry about what difference a few minutes would make
over the course of almost 22 hours. As we come up the final stretch of sidewalk that leads to
the finish I encourage Larry to take the lead and finish first since I spent much of the day in his
shadow. Not surprisingly, he refuses and makes sure to take the final steps right next to me.
At the last moment I give him a little push and yell out to the race officials to make sure they
record his finish before mine.
In a flash Larry is laying on the grass next to another runner, and I’m crouched on the
sidewalk just past the finish line. My crew is all there, smiles beaming, despite the fact that it’s
3:45am, or almost 22 hours after we started.
……………….
Larry and I finished in 13th and 14th places, respectively. Over 130 runners started the
race, and 41 of them did not finish, or DNF’d. Certainly the heat had something to do with
the high DNF rate as Lean Horse usually has a near 90% finishing rate. Many in the
ultrarunning community call Lean Horse an “easy” 100 mile because most courses have tens
of thousands of feet of elevation gain and decent along with footing that can be less than
predictable. But for me, this is enough. Maybe if I lived in the mountains and had miles of
trails on which to run each day I would think differently. I’m not sure if I’ll run another 100 mile
race or not, but to have done it twice has taught me lessons that I will reflect on for the rest
of my life and share with my children as they get older. And having them and my wife crew
for me is something I will never forget. For now, getting back to three-hour marathons and
competing in local road races will be an exciting challenge as I hit the big 4-0 early next
year.

Jim Newton 2009

Leanhorse is a gem of a race tucked away in the beautiful Black Hills of South
Dakota. You have the choice of a 50K, 50-mile or a 100-mile course. Whether
you are an experienced ultra runner or someone who is ready to take the step to
the next level, one of these races needs to be on your list for 2010.
The 100 and 50 mile course both start and end at the Mueller Center in Hot
Springs SD while participants in the 50K are bused to the their start. This was a
change for 2009 to allow them an opportunity to do the majority of their run on
the Mickelson Trail before running the final miles on the hills of the Argyle Road
and in the city.
For the 50 and 100, the race can be broken into three distinct segments. The
first miles wind through the city of Hot Springs, into a wide meadow before
emptying onto Argyle Road at mile. Argyle is a series of rolling hills on a wide
dirt road with almost no traffic. At mile 16 you exit Argyle and the remainder of
the run is on the Mickelson Trail. The trail is wide and has an extremely good
running surface of very small gravel. The trail is a railroad bed so while there are
some climbs, the grade change if gradual and very runable. You continue out 34
miles and reverse course back to the Mueller Center.
I will repeat myself; Leanhorse should be on your list for 2010. Jerry Dunn does
an extremely good job organizing and directing the race. This is my fourth year
at Leanhorse and I have yet to be aware of any problems with organization, aid
or the course. There is a fully stocked aid station approximately every five miles.
The volunteers at the stations do a wonderful job. The town of Hot Springs is
very supportive. Like last year the prerace dinner is hamburgers, sausage,
beans, chips and cookies prepared by local civic groups. Unlike last year there
were wonderful bowls of homemade salads and other dishes that added a lot to
the meal. There is more food at the finish and also the opportunity to get a
professional massage. Another nice touch is a two-day full service expo that
provides access to lots of hard to find accessories and a place to purchase last
minute or forgotten items. If all that were not enough, Jerry also has the help of
his beautiful wife Elaine who is also a very experienced runner and the race
director of the Leading Ladies Marathon. (Jerry’s other race is the Deadwood-
Mickelson Trail Marathon held in early June and would be a great training run for
Leanhorse.)
My personal experience this year was vastly different from my previous finishes.
This year proved that no matter how experienced you are you can still make
errors in judgment. It was warm this year and although I love the heat, recently it
has begun to bother me. I knew this and was extremely conservative right from
the start. I ran early on in the cool of the morning, but backed off as the
temperature rose. I did well. Drank a lot. Ate enough. Had clear urine.
Stopped at all aid stations to put ice in my cap and soak my shirt. I felt great and
knew that the cool of the evening would let me make up time.
At about mile 40, just as you pass the Crazy Horse Monument, you begin an
almost 10 mile downhill section to the 50 mile turn around. That coincided with
the sun going under the horizon and when the sun left I saw my chance to make
up lost ground. I ran a good pace for most of those 10 miles. Unfortunately,
even though it felt cooler it was still warm. I went by the final aid station at 49.5
miles, made the turn around and back to that station at 50.5 miles. At that point I
should have sat down, cooled, hydrated, eaten and gathered myself for the
night.
I felt great though and saw this as the time to do some steady running and have
a good finish. 13.5 hours down, over half finished and I had 16.5 hours if I
needed them. So off I went. The next aid station is at mile 55 but at mile 54 I
realized that I did not feel so good and as I reached for one of my water bottles, I
realized that both were still full. This was not a good sign about my current fluid
intake. By the time I got to 55 I was not feeling well at all. I sat, put my head in
my hands, saw stars, felt nauseated, fought that, gave in to that, nothing there,
dry heaves, tried to stand and could not walk, shivering.
So looking back I should have regrouped at 50 and even at 55. I could have
taken an hour, hydrated, fueled and had a nice conservative finish. Maybe not
25 hours like two years ago, maybe not 27 like last year, probably 29 and still a
solid finish, but as the saying goes, fatigue makes cowards of us all. The little
voice on one shoulder said you can’t finish, you might die on the trail, you are
sick, you have no fuel, you are severely dehydrated, you can’t do 45 more miles,
just get in the car like a sane person and go to the hotel, take a hot shower and
crawl into bed. The voice on the other shoulder did not say a word. Ken is right.
It haunts you when you quit. When you are weak and give up.
So I learned some things. I learned even with a lot of experience you can still
make big mistakes. You can forget how it feels to walk away and how empty it
feels the next day as you watch those who didn’t quit cross the finish line. I
learned that I am not 25 years old and I need to leave a little of my
competitiveness behind. I need to know that a finish is a win. I need to be
smarter AND I need to take the pledge. IF I AM IN A RACE I WILL QUIT FOR
ONLY TWO REASONS. I WILL QUIT IF I AM FORCED OUT BY NOT MAKING
A CUTOFF AND I WILL POSSIBLY QUIT IF I AM IN NEED OF PARAMEDICS.
Otherwise, I will rest, sleep, eat and generally do what it takes to regroup and
move on.
See you at the finish in 2010.

Cody High Elk 2009

Mitaku Owasin (My Relatives)
My Lakota name is A’tun Wan Pi Win(Looks For Her)/Winyan Waste Win(Pretty Woman)-
English name is Codi M. High Elk, I am an enroll member for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
in central South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
I am a single mother of four sons;
Wambli Gleska-Spotted Eagle (Brady Paul Knife-deceased)
Lakota Hoksila-Indian Boy (Justin Corey Knife)
Inyan Cannumpa Luta-Pipestone Man (Jeffrey Red Tomahawk) and
Toka Hunpa Wi Ca Ki-Takes the Enemy’s Shoes (Jalen Charles Knife) and
my beautiful granddaughter, Wambli Gleska Win/A’Tun Wan Pi Win-Spotted Eagle Woman-
Looks For Her (Jailynn Rose Knife).
This was my first time running an Ultra and I can say I was really looking forward to it. In
February 2008 I was diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes, Hypertension, Asthma. I have been
participating in powwow competitions all over Indian country and ran a little but nothing like the
Half Marathon, FullMarathon and the ULTRA. I danced for 31 years until the death of my oldest
son Brady Paul Knife on November 10, 2006. It is a Lakota way that when you loose a loved on
to death you will mourn for one year. In my case it was 17months when I was diagnosed with
these illnesses. I told the doctor that I will beat this just give me a chance. So I began running, it
took me 40minutes to do 1.5miles, I cried at that point because I went from running 10 miles a
day to nothing and now I was struggling to get back what I have ignored for many months.
So it was then that I decided to train for the Half marathon, I pledge four marathons in the four
directions and the marathon in the Black Hills will be my last for that year. I have fulfilled my
pledge, and wanted to do something more to challenge my spirit and that was when I read about
Trail Marathons. I searched for one close by and LEAN HORSE had one coming up. So I told
my sons I am going to do this one. Everyone that I have told said “You are crazy”. Yep I am in a
way.
But it was my chance to pray. See my Grandfather told me, “Women don’t Sundance or go on a
vision quest” So with that in mind and respect, this running is my sacrifice for my family and
people. After the loss of my son, the sudden death of my Dad on December 27, 2008 and only
brother on April 2, 2009, running brought back hope and life to my heart.
I will continue to run every chance I get. I am not into competition with other runner but myself.
I couldn’t finish for I was in extreme pain from PLANTAR FASCIITIS. I felt bad but I believe
the Creator had told me I have done enough for my prayers. Next year..I will do my WOPILA
(Thank You) runs to the Creator. Thank you for sponsoring this GREAT run. I enjoyed
participating the Deadwood, Leading Ladies and Lean Horse Ultra very much.
Running to defeat Diabetes, Hypertension among my family and people.
See you next year. Pilamaye (Thank you.)

David Holmen 2009

2009 Lean Horse – A Near-DNF Experience
by David Holmen

In 1988, I had a DNF at the St. Louis Marathon. It’s the only DNF I’ve ever had in a marathon,
but it still bugs me. That one DNF has given me the motivation to finish every marathon I’ve
done since then, regardless of the circumstances.
Until recently, I never faced the prospect of a DNF in an ultramarathon. Most of my ultras have
been fixed time races. In a fixed time race, you get credit for whatever distance you complete, so
a DNF is nearly impossible. I’ve also done a couple of ultras where I had the option of switching
to a shorter distance if things didn’t go well.
My first ultra that was truly all-or-nothing was the 2008 Lean Horse 100. The weather was
perfect, and I had a very good race, so finishing was never in doubt. This year I went back to
Lean Horse, but the weather was much hotter, and I was running without a crew. This time,
finishing was very much in doubt.
My first mistake was miscalculating how many electrolyte pills I would need. I forgot to take
into account that I was using a different brand of pills this year. I also didn’t consider that I
would need to take them more often on a hot day. A bigger mistake was only carrying the
number of pills I expected to need. I should have packed extras. When you have a crew, you
can correct for mistakes like this during the race. When you’re carrying your own supplies, you
get punished for this type of mistake.
The temperature at the start was about 50 degrees, but it warmed up quickly. I took off my
gloves after five miles and discarded them at the next aid station. By the time I reached the
Mickelson Trail, I was already noticing how much warmer it was. Around 22 miles, I started to
notice how hot the sun felt on sections that weren’t shaded. Then I saw sweat glistening on my
forearm. The elevation on this part of the trail is about 4900 feet, so the air is fairly dry. The
fact that I could actually see the sweat was somewhat alarming.
When I got to the aid station in Pringle (24 miles), I asked the volunteers to put ice cubes in my
hat. I probably should have started doing this at the previous aid station. As I left Pringle, my
time was about 12 minutes slower than last year. That wouldn’t have bothered me, but I also felt
like I worked harder on the first 24 miles than I did last year.
The Mickelson Trail has a concrete milepost at each mile. As I left Pringle, I planned to walk for
three minutes each time I reached a mile marker and then run the rest of the mile at a pace that
felt easy. By this time, I knew I would be slower than I was in 2008, but I was going to wait
until the halfway mark before deciding what my time goal should be.
The ice in my hat helped keep me cool, but it only took about a mile before it melted. At Carroll
Creek (30 miles), I again asked a volunteer to put ice in my hat. Again, it only helped for about a
mile. I was in the middle of a 12 mile section of trail with absolutely no shade.
The first real sign of trouble came at about 35 miles. I felt some minor muscle spasms in my
calves. It only lasted a moment. It wasn’t serious yet, but I knew it was a warning sign – I
wasn’t getting enough salt. When I reached the Harbach Park aid station in Custer (35.5 miles), I
decided to eat some potato wedges with salt. The only other time I experienced this sort of
muscle spasm, I was able to keep it from getting worse by taking electrolyte pills more
frequently. That wasn’t an option, since I didn’t have extras.
Just before eating the potatoes, I put on my hat. As usual it was filled with ice. The sudden rush
of blood to my head caused me to feel short of breath. I’ve experienced this before, so it didn’t
worry me at first. It’s usually a momentary sensation. This time, I was so short of breath that I
couldn’t eat the potatoes. I sat down at a picnic table in the shade. I managed to force myself to
eat the potatoes and wash them down with some sports drink, but now I was feeling slightly
light-headed as well.
I decided to lie down on the bench of the picnic table while I waited for this feeling to pass. For
the first time in my life I was seriously thinking about dropping out of an ultra. With almost 65
miles to go, I wasn’t very optimistic about finishing. This time, I didn’t have the option of
switching to a shorter race. There were only two alternatives – successful completion of 100
miles or a DNF.
While I was lying down, I had time to think. It occurred to me that I didn’t have to make a quick
decision. If I was going to quit, I didn’t really matter how long I waited before making it
official. The lost time was only relevant if I continued running. The light-headedness and
shortness of breath passed after a few minutes, and I sat up. When I contemplated continuing, I
was afraid of a worst-case scenario in which I would only be able to walk. The next aid station
was five miles away, and that’s a long way to walk. Then I looked at my watch. I realized that it
was only 12:35 in the afternoon, and even if I walked all the way to the next aid station, I would
probably get there well before 3:00. If I still wanted to quit, I could always do it there. My mind
was made up. I told the volunteers I was leaving the aid station, and I was on my way to
Mountain Trailhead.
At the time, I thought I was just postponing my decision to quit. In fact, this was a defining
moment. I didn’t realize it yet, but as I left Harbach Park, I became emotionally invested in
finishing the race no matter what. It was no longer about trying to run faster than last year or
trying to run as fast as I could under the conditions – it was about finishing the race! The longer
I suffered, the more I would want to finish.
The five miles from Harbach Park to Mountain Trailhead is all uphill, but at least there would be
some shady spots. This gave me something to look forward to.
I walked for a few minutes, and then I eased into a slow run. On my way out of Custer, a female
runner caught up to me. She said she was surprised to find out that she was leading the women.
I picked up my pace to keep up with her. I told her she was the champion on the course, and I
wanted to run with a champion for a while. I also told her not to let me slow her down if I had
trouble holding the pace. Then a male runner caught up to us. I remembered seeing him leave
the aid station ahead of me. Apparently, he somehow took a wrong turn, but now he was back
on course.
We weren’t running together for very long before my calf muscles started having brief muscle
spasms again. I had to back off to a walk again, so I told the others to go on without me. When I
told them what I experiencing, the male runner told me I needed more salt and he offered me two
Succeed S-Caps. I took one immediately and saved the other.
They continued running, while I started walking. It was at this point that I realized why I wasn’t
getting enough salt. I used to take S-Caps, but I recently switched to Lava Salts. They’re
smaller pills, so I should have been taking twice as many. I was effectively taking only half as
much salt as last year, even thought the weather was hotter. As soon as I realized this, I took the
S-Cap I was saving. I still had to ration my original supply of Lava Salts, so I wouldn’t run out.
I knew I didn’t have enough, but I would have to worry about that later.
As I was walking, more runners passed me. Each one asked me how I was doing, and I told
them I was working through a bad patch. I told one runner I had a “near-DNF experience” in
Custer, but now I was moving again. With practice, I sounded more and more optimistic, even
though I didn’t have any objective reason to think things would get better.
I had been walking slowly, but after a while, I felt like I might be able to pick up the pace a little
without inducing more muscle spasms. About that same time, I saw a mile marker. I decided to
clock my next mile to see if I could walk it in less than 20 minutes. At 20 minutes per mile, I
could still beat the 30 hour time limit. Unfortunately, if I wanted to get back to Rapid City in
time to catch my flight home, I needed to finish in about 27 hours. Even then, I’d be hard
pressed to get cleaned up, bandage my feet, get dressed, pick up my drop bag, pack, and check
out of the hotel in time to get on the road. I never really thought about this before, because I
finished in 18:09 in 2008. Even in hot weather, I thought I would probably finish in 20 hours. I
had taken a 24-hour finish for granted.
When I reached the next mile marker, my time for the last mile was about 17:30. I beat my 20
minute goal by such a wide margin that I decided to see if I could run. My “run” was more of a
shuffle. It was much slower than my usual running pace, but it also felt noticeably faster than
walking. I was curious to how much faster, so I decided to clock myself on another mile, even
though it meant forcing myself to shuffle-run an entire mile that’s all uphill. I’m an engineer, so
I’ve always felt the first step to solving any problem is to get some data.
I reached another mile marker in about 12:25. That’s a big improvement over 17:30. Now I had
a reason to be optimistic. I decided to resume my original pacing strategy of walking for three
minutes and then running (or shuffle-running) the rest of the mile. I clocked this mile at 13:35.
Incorporating a three minute walking break only slowed me down by a little over a minute. At
this point I figured I must be within a mile of the Mountain Trailhead aid station. I took another
three minute walking break and ran the rest of the way to the aid station.
When I got to Mountain Trailhead (40.5 miles), they refilled my bottle and asked me if I wanted
ice in it. Previously, my water or sports drink was getting warm by the time I reached the next
aid station. This way, it would stay cold. I wish I would have thought of that myself, so I
could’ve started doing it earlier. I again opted to put ice in my hat, but this time I waited until I
was done eating and drinking. I sat down and told the volunteers I had some trouble the last time
I put ice in my hat, so I was going to wait to see if I was OK before leaving the aid station.
While I was waiting, I washed my legs with a wet paper towel and re-applied vaseline. When, I
was done, I still felt OK, so I got on my way.
As I left the aid station, my elapsed time for 40.5 miles was eight hours. I was pleased to see I
was still on pace for a 20-hour finish. I knew that was misleading, because the last five miles
were much slower than the first 35.5, but I felt pretty optimistic about beating 24 hours.
I rounded a corner and started the last slightly uphill mile before reaching the highest elevation
on the course. I remembered exactly where it is. As I reached another mile marker, I looked up
to see a great view of the Crazy Horse monument. I forgot we would get such a nice view.
I’m not sure exactly what triggered it, but I had my second “near-DNF experience” of the race.
Suddenly, both calf muscles went into spasm. This time it wasn’t momentary, and I didn’t know
if the spasms would subside while I was standing. I decided to sit down on the trail, so I could
get my calf muscles into a relaxed position. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the
transition from standing to sitting made things worse. Suddenly, both calves cramped up
violently. The pain was excruciating, but I knew it wouldn’t go away until the cramps subsided.
Even though I was in what looked like an optimal position for relaxing my calves, the cramping
continued for several minutes. As I looked down at my legs, I could see different parts of the
muscle contracting violently at different times. The muscles seemed to be dancing. If it wasn’t
so painful, it would have been fun to watch.
Earlier, I had considered quitting because I was feeling pessimistic. Now, it occurred to me that I
might not be physically capable of finishing the race. In fact, I might not even be able to get
back to the aid station without assistance.
Another runner came around the bend and asked me if I needed help. I asked him if he could try
massaging my calves. He massaged them briefly, but stopped because he didn’t think he was
helping. In fact, he helped a lot. The cramps stopped, and I could even flex the muscles without
them cramping up again. He also offered me two more S-Caps, which I happily accepted. This
time, I took them both immediately. Just as he left, two other runners came by and saw me on
the ground. They asked if I needed any S-Caps. I told them the previous runner already gave me
two. I should have asked for more, but I kept assuming the other runners didn’t really have
enough to spare. I was reluctant to accept any more than I needed at the moment, even though I
knew I didn’t have enough for the remaining 59 miles. They asked me if there was anything else
I needed. I told them the previous runner had massaged my calves and now they were no longer
cramping. Shortly after they left, I realized I should have asked them to help me back up off the
ground.
Standing up was a painful and clumsy experience, but I somehow got back to a standing position
without any more cramps. I knew my calves would be very sore for the rest of the race. I knew
ibuprofen would help with the pain, but I was reluctant to take any, because I didn’t know if I
was also dehydrated. Taking ibuprofen when you’re dehydrated can be hard on your kidneys, so
I decided to hold off for now.
I started walking again. Just like before, I went through a gradual progression from slow
walking to slightly faster walking. For a long time, I was afraid to try running because I didn’t
know if my calves could handle it. When I eventually did try some running, I was so afraid to
work my calves, that I was barely getting my feet off the ground. Instead of doing a shuffle-run,
it was more of a shuffle-drag.
Despite my recent setbacks, I was very patient. I told myself I would need to do more running
eventually, but I could afford to walk all the way to the turnaround, if necessary, as long as I
eventually recovered and could maintain a better pace in the second half.
About a mile before the Oreville aid station, I met a runner named Karen and a member of her
crew. (She had a large crew, and they all wore T-shirts that said “Go Karen.”) They noticed
how bad I looked and asked me how I was doing. I explained about my calves, and they gave
me two Endurolytes. Karen’s crewman told me to chew through the capsules instead of
swallowing them, so the salt would get into my system faster. This made sense, so I did. They
tasted awful, but you do what you have to. Karen asked me if I had enough or if I needed more.
At first I accepted only a few more. After Karen convinced me that she really did have plenty to
spare, I was willing to accept a whole handful.
This is where I made my last really stupid mistake of the race. One of the pills fell on the
ground, and without thinking, I bent down to pick it up. This motion immediately caused a new
round of cramps in my calves. This was my third “near-DNF experience” of the race. Karen’s
crewman grabbed me to keep me from collapsing and held me steady until I was able to stand on
my own. He told Karen to continue running, and he would stay with me. He had me chew two
more Endurolytes. I had already emptied my water bottle, but he gave me some of his to wash
them down. He walked with me until we were within sight of the aid station. Then another
member of Karen’s crew came back to meet me with a 16-oz. water bottle. I drank the whole
thing before we got to the aid station.
At the Oreville aid station, I had my bottle refilled with water and ice, I ate some food, and I got
my hat filled with ice. I also finally took some ibuprofen, since I just finished drinking an extra
pint of water. I asked if there was anyone who could walk with me for a few minutes to make
sure I was OK. They sent two young boys with me. As soon as I felt like I was safe, I told them
they could go back. One said he’d see me again in a few. I knew it would be closer to a few
hours than a few minutes. After they left, I realized there was one thing I wanted to do at that aid
station that I forgot. I wanted to ask if anyone could massage my calf muscles.
I walked all the way from Oreville to the Buckaroo aid station. Once again, several runners
passed me, and I told them I had made it through two bad patches, but I was still moving. One
woman said “you’ll have another.” This was a dose of realism that I didn’t want to
acknowledge. I still believed I could finish in 24 hours, but to do this I would have to reach the
halfway mark in 11 hours and then average about 15:30 per mile for the second half. If I could
get some running back into the mix and maintain that throughout the second half, I would do it.
If I continued to mostly walk, I would run out of time.
The Buckaroo aid station is less than a mile before the turnaround, so you go through it twice in
rapid succession. The first time through, I asked for ice, but they were all out. I sat down and
self-massaged my calves. I figured this would be the best time to try some running, because I
wouldn’t get too far from the aid station before turning around. I was afraid at first, but I finally
started running about three minutes before the turnaround, and it felt OK. My halfway time was
under 11 hours. All I had to do is average 15:30 in the second half. I knew that was possible,
but I couldn’t afford any more bad patches.
I was taking enough salt now, and had a sufficient supply to make it through the rest of the race.
Also, the sun was getting lower in the sky, so most of the areas that were sunny earlier in the day
would be shady for the return trip.
As I returned to Buckaroo from the turnaround, I did about half walking and half running. When
I got to the aid station for the second time, their delivery of ice had just arrived. I left the aid
station with ice in my water bottle and ice in my hat.
All the way from Buckaroo to Mountain Trailhead, I forced myself to walk only three minutes of
each mile and run the rest. On the descent from Mountain Trailhead to the turnaround, I had
averaged 18:30 per mile. On the climb from the turnaround back to Mountain Trailhead, I
averaged 13:30 per mile. I was out of my bad patch, I had enough salt to last the rest of the way,
and I was now on a mission to finish in 24 hours.
From Mountain Trailhead to Harbach Park, it’s all downhill. I ran the entire thing. Now I was
occasionally passing runners. As I left Harbach Park, it was starting to get dark. I had a drop
bag with a head lamp at Pringle. Pringle was still 11 miles away. It was disheartening to know I
would have to run that far in the dark.
My pacing through this stretch was erratic, because I didn’t always see the mile markers. Also, I
couldn’t read my watch without using the built in light, and I didn’t want to use the light because
I was afraid of wearing out the battery.
With about 33 miles to go, I started to notice sporadic lightning in the distance. At times it
seemed to be southwest, but at other times it seemed straight south. I couldn’t tell how far away
it was, but I could tell it was a pretty strong storm. I now feared that after everything else I went
through, I might still have to run through heavy rain as the temperature was dropping during the
night. It was supposed to drop to about 50 in Hot Springs and even cooler at the higher
elevations along the trail. I didn’t have any warmer clothes, and even a few miles in a heavy rain
might be enough to bring on hypothermia if the temperature was in the 50s. After bouncing back
from my heat-related problems I could still have a DNF because of cold rain. The only good
news was that I couldn’t hear the thunder. That probably meant it was a long distance away.
I remembered Jerry Dunn mentioning at the pre-race briefing that they always had grilled cheese
sandwiches and tomato soup at the Carroll Creek aid station (70 miles). When I got there, I
asked if they really had grilled cheese. They did. When they asked me if I wanted tomato soup,
I asked for a small amount in a cup, so I could dip my sandwich in it. It was about 9:30, and the
temperature had dropped enough that warm food felt good now. I also knew the tomato soup
would give me both sodium and potassium. While I sat down to eat, I asked the volunteers if
they knew how far away the thunderstorm was. They didn’t know for sure, but they agreed that
since we couldn’t hear the thunder yet, it was probably pretty far away.
About a mile after I left the aid station, I started to hear the thunder. I saw one flash of lightning,
and started counting while I waited for the thunder. Before I heard it, there were more flashes of
lightning. All I could tell for sure is that it was more than two miles away. I couldn’t correlate
individual flashes of lightning with the corresponding thunder.
I did a lot more walking in the next two or three miles. I knew I would soon approach a section
of trail that’s right next to the highway, and I wasn’t looking forward to the constant distraction
of headlights. By walking more, I gave myself a short tranquility break. While I was away from
the road, there was just enough ambient light that I could see where the trail was. It appeared
lighter than the surrounding grass. When I eventually started running alongside the highway, I
sometimes got blinded by headlights and couldn’t see the trail for several seconds. A few times,
I felt myself starting to run into the grass.
I ran more when I was alongside the highway. Now I wanted to get to Pringle as quickly as I
could, so I could finally get my head lamp. The first time I did Lean Horse, I was using an old
head lamp that wasn’t very bright. I could only see a small spot directly in front of me, so I had
trouble seeing where hills and turns started on Argyle Road. When I was shopping for a new
head lamp for this year’s race, I wanted one that was as bright as possible. I had tested it
indoors, but this would be the first time I could really see how bright it was while running in the
dark.
When I got to the aid station, I told one of the volunteers I had a drop back. While he was
looking for it, I refilled by bottle and ate a gel packet. Before I put the lamp on, I turned it on to
make sure it was working. I wasn’t disappointed. This lamp has two brightness levels. On the
lower setting, it was as bright as the low beams of a car. On the higher setting, it was like the
high beams on a car. I switched it to the lower setting and headed out. About a mile down the
trail, I passed two runners who were walking together. I asked them how they liked my new
head lamp, and said I wanted one that was bright. I didn’t hear any reply. Those would be the
last two runners I saw before the end of the race. I ran the last 23 miles by myself, so I was glad
to be able to see well.
As I approached each remaining aid station, I turned off my head lamp so it wouldn’t be shining
in anyone’s eyes. When I left the Lime Kiln aid station, I did a quick calculation and realized I
could finish in 24 hours by averaging 18 minutes per mile the rest of the way. My last few miles
were 12 – 13 minutes each.
When I got to the Argyle Loop aid station, I asked them if they had tomato soup. I was delighted
to find out they not only had tomato soup, but they also had grilled cheese sandwiches. I sat
down to enjoy my soup and sandwich. As I started Argyle Road, I need to average slightly better
than 20 minutes per mile to beat 24 hours. I also realized that if I could continue running 15
minutes per mile or better, I could break 23 hours.
On Argyle Road, I paced myself by walking the uphills and running the downhills. I also ran a
few sections of uphill that weren’t as steep. Without mile markers, I no longer knew where to
stop and drink, so I took a drink every 15 minutes. With my nice bright head lamp, it was easy
to see where the downhills turned into uphills and where the road started to turn. I started to
notice small yellow reflectors on each side of the road that always seemed to coincide with the
start of a hill. I later noticed that these were used to mark the locations of drainage pipes. These
pipes are generally located at the lowest point of the road, so looking for the yellow reflectors
was an easy way to see where I should switch from running to walking.
The last long downhill before turning to enter the campground seemed to go on forever. Before I
reached the campground, I was noticing lightning in three different directions, and I could hear
thunder again. When I got to the last aid station, I asked if I would be able to finish before it
rained. They thought I probably would, but they weren’t sure. I was hopeful that with just four
mile left, I could endure a cold rain if I had to.
With four miles to go, I still needed to average 15 minute miles to beat 23 hours. The first mile
was mostly uphill, so it was probably a little slow. When I got to the downhill section, I forced
myself to run as much as I could. I was excited to get into town, and I turned off my head lamp
after passing Evans Plunge. A few blocks later there’s a spot where we have to go down two
steps. I had to stop and step down very gingerly. My calves were doing much better, but going
down steps was almost more than they could handle.
As I passed the American Legion, I was mindful of the change in course to follow the road,
instead of the path on the other side of the stream. I knew I had less than a mile to go. I was
afraid to look at my watch. I just poured it on for the rest of the race. When I was almost to the
last turn into the parking lot, I yelled that a runner was approaching. As I crossed the line, I saw
that I beat 23 hours with almost 5 minutes to spare.
Although I was working to beat 24 hours for most of the last 50 miles, I was mostly excited
simply to have finished. I’m not an elite runner, but I’ve had just enough success in other ultras
that I usually try for a fast time or to place as high as I can. This race allowed me to rediscover
the joy of simply finishing. Sixty-five miles after my first of three near-DNF experiences, I
finally finished the race. I even earned a sub-24 hour belt buckle, but that was a bonus.
I regret that I never learned the names of most of the runners I met along the way. After getting
cleaned up, etc., I got back to the Mueller Center at 9:00 AM. I visited with other runners for
three hours before I had to leave for Rapid City. I regret that I wasn’t able to stay for the award
ceremony. I wanted to see every runner who finished.
This story wouldn’t be complete without a list of thank yous:
To the runner who gave me S-Caps as we were leaving Custer: Thank you.
To the runner who massaged my calves and gave me two more S-Caps: Thank you twice over.
To Karen and her crew: You guys rock! You totally saved my ass!
To all the volunteers: You guys also rock! Especially the boys who walked with me at Oreville.
To Jerry: Thanks for a great race, and thanks for telling us about the grilled cheese and soup.

Ben Clark 2009

Hello, this is Ben Clark. I’m the 18-year old who completed the 2009 Lean Horse Hundred.
After the race, you indicated that you were interested in my story, so I decided to write down my
personal account of the hundred mile race Before I begin my story, however, I would like to
thank you for organizing the race. It was one of the best, most memorable experiences of my life,
and I am thrilled to have done it. I would definitely like to continue ultra-running in the future.
Before I begin, a little background…
“WHY I STARTED RUNNING”
I have always committed myself completely to what I do, and until about a year or two
ago, “what I did” was almost entirely academic. I was the class “genius” (as they called me). I
was the kid with the 4.0 GPA. I had straight A’s, seldom dropping below a 98% in any given
class. I took every AP course my high school offered. In one semester in Advanced Algebra, I
had straight 100s across the board, including a 100% in the “toughest semester final I would take
that year.” I did everything to perfection. School was my life.
I think there came a point where I overdid it. I guess wisdom comes with a price, and I
paid that price. We’ll see whether or not I actually gained any “wisdom” in the end. In my Junior
year, I took on way too much, and I burned out toward the end of the year. I was studying all the
time. Often, I would get 3-4 hours of sleep at night. I made it through that year, though, with my
4.0, and I was satisfied. But I had lost something important. I had lost my drive.
I started my senior year, burnt out. In school, I had slowed down to a snail’s pace. I didn’t
care anymore. I didn’t push myself to be fast or sharp. Nothing mattered. Yet for some unknown
reason, I still worked for straight A’s.
It took me longer to learn things- longer to remember things. This meant that I got even
less sleep than before, making me even slower. It was a vicious cycle. I lived like a zombie,
living off two or three hours of sleep at night, but doing almost nothing (except homework at a
very slow pace) during the day.
I remember one time when I got home, sat down at my desk, pulled out my homework,
and I heard a knock on my bedroom door. I looked at the time. Three hours had passed. I had
simply fallen asleep, sitting upright at my desk, eyes open and everything. My mom had been
knocking to see if I was okay.
That was when I decided that I had to do something. I had to change my life around. I
didn’t care how, but I had to do it. So, I started running.
In the winter of my Senior year in high school, I immediately reversed my life. I started
waking up at 4:30 every morning, going to the YMCA, and running for an hour- a full eight
miles. I’m guessing this increased the blood flow to my brain or something, because I became
sharper, faster, and smarter in school. I felt like my old self again.
Never having run much before, eight miles was very difficult for me. But I pushed my
limits. The last three miles every morning were almost impossible. The only thing that got me
through was taking one step at a time. I had to keep going- to buy myself back. A few times I
almost passed out. I would tell myself “never again.” But later, when I was taking a shower and
getting ready for school, I would reflect on the morning run, and I never failed to remind myself
that the pain doesn’t matter. Pain is irrelevant- a sensory experience. It pales in comparison to the
pursuit of a goal.
And so it started. My running “career.”
I joined track the spring of my senior year. I was somewhat disappointed. The training
was much shorter and faster, not at all like my long-but-slow morning runs. It wasn’t as helpful
to me in becoming sharper and more concentrated in school. That was when I realized that my
heart truly lies with distance running. Long, painful miles were the only way I could find myself
again.
When I graduated, I still felt numb to the world. Even though I graduated as best in my
class, I didn’t care. It really didn’t seem like it mattered. It all felt like one big game. I felt like a
part of myself had died. Running had helped bring that spark back in my life, but there was still
something missing. So, on graduation day, when everyone was celebrating and cheering, I was
very solemn.
I told myself that I would run an ultra-marathon by the end of the summer.
The day after graduation, I started running 16 miles a day. No exceptions. Once I even
ran at 3:00-4:30 in the morning because I had been occupied with friends all day. I felt great
during the first week, but then things started to happen. I had taken on too much at once, and I
had been too rigid. Running isn’t something that you force your body into. You let your body
run. You respect your body, and grow and follow along as it grows and progresses. Running is a
very natural, flowing, changing thing.
Not having shown my body the respect it deserved, I got incredible pain in my knee and
ankle. So I had to take some time off. Eventually I got back onto a training schedule, where I
eased up my mileage and took off two days each week. Soon I was running 20 miles a day, at
least three days a week.
I completely changed my diet. I ate about six meals a day. I had absolutely no processed
sugars, and whenever I wanted a snack, I would get a bowl of vegetables. I tried to consume
something every hour, on the hour. On odd-numbered hours, I would have some vegetables, fatfree
milk (I got my fat from nuts, vegetable oils, and baked white meats) or other healthy snacks.
On even-numbered hours I would drink a cup of water to keep hydrated. I was completely
changing my body around, and it felt great. I found that I actually wanted to eat healthily, and I
actually wanted to get out and run.
Then came the planning of the ultra-marathon. Originally I was thinking of running 50
miles independently. This might entail a run to the Canadian border or a run from Minot (my
hometown in North Dakota) to Glenburn and back. Then I looked online for nearby ultramarathons.
That was when I found the Lean Horse ultra-marathon. I decided I would do it.
I printed out the sign-up sheet. I noticed the blank line next to “50 miles” and the other
one next to “100 miles.” I left the sheet on my desk, uncompleted.
A few days later, however, I took out the sheet and filled out the line next to the words
“100 miles.” I simply had to. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t go all the
way. Maybe I was starting to get my motivation and dedication back after all.
So, at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, August 22, I found myself at the starting line of the Lean
Horse Hundred.
“THE RACE”
The beginning of the run was peaceful- relaxing. I heard the creek and the birds. I met
other runners and exchanged pleasantries. I was loving it. Of course it got harder, as time wore
on.
The path suddenly became hilly and rocky as it turned onto Argyle Road. It was still
early enough in the race that I could have run up the hills, but I knew better. Even the more
experienced runners slowed down to a walk up the steepest hills. I followed suit; I didn’t want to
burn myself out prematurely.
I found that I was the youngest person there, as I had expected. Ultra-marathoners are
usually in their forties, fifties, sixties, and even seventies. Many were surprised at my age. I
couldn’t blame them. I was too.
Over time, the runners spread out. I found myself alone, and the sun was rising, making
the air hotter. I later found out that the temperature was in the nineties during much of the day. It
felt hotter. I wasn’t used to running that distance in the heat.
By mile 20, I started feeling queezy. I hadn’t been eating enough. I was surprised by my
condition. I had trained to eat on the run, but this was different. The heat made me want to throw
up, much less eat. Nevertheless, I forced down some granola. After more eating, I started to feel
better. I still felt queezy, but not as weak or shaky as I had felt before. I continued to force-feed
myself. It went like this for another thirty miles.
At mile 47, I was feeling even worse. Apparantly, I didn’t look too good either. Some of
the aid station workers called ahead and told the next station to keep an eye out for me. I had no
idea how I looked at the time. I just picked up a rice krispy bar from the station and kept running.
It was the rice krispy bar that did it. I ate all but the last bite, and as soon as I took that
last bite, I threw up everything in my stomach all over the side of the path.
I was in real trouble because I had just lost a bunch of calories, electrolytes, and fluids, all
of which I needed to perform at peak level. In spite of this, I felt worlds better after throwing up.
I got up and ran at a swift pace to the next aid station.
I didn’t expect it, but Coke saved my life. It was one of the only things I could stomach
without wanting to throw up again. Even powerade made me want to gag. At the aid station I had
two cups of coke, a cup of broth, and some energy gel. Then I tried to hydrate a little more than
normal to cancel out the diuretic effect of the caffeine in the coke.
After the 50-mile turnaround, I got my flashlight and sweater, and began preparing for
the nighttime running. I was feeling great. My parents told me that I had run a record pace when
they met me at the next aid station. This was a little scary to me. I didn’t want to burn myself out,
but I was running on a high.
Soon it was pitch black. I continued running in the dark, my light illuminating the path
about 10 yards ahead. Once, I saw some eyes staring out at me from the woods. I have no idea
what animal it was, but I just kept running anyway.
When I stopped at aid stations, I would start to shiver violently. My clothes were
saturated in sweat, which was perfect as I was running, but when I stopped, I became so cold that
I was practically seizing with shivers. I noticed that rings of salt had formed around my nostrils
where the sweat had evaporated.
I continued that way, running from station to station, stopping to drink coke, broth, and
energy gel. I was always stiff when I resumed running, but I would work back into it within five
minutes or so. As I look back, it probably would have been better not to stop at all.
There came a point when I just wanted it to be over. I wasn’t in extreme pain or anything,
but I had been running for over 20 hours, and it was cold and black outside, and I was all alone. I
think that was when I grew stronger. The situation forced me to be patient. Even though I had 24
miles to go, I simply forgot about all that. It really didn’t matter. All I had to do was run. I
realized that life is full of all kinds of pain- physical and emotional. If we only dwell on the pain,
we forget to live. So I chose to live. I ran.
When I got back to Argyle road at mile 86, it was incredibly hilly. I joined some other
runners, and we walked together up the hills, jogging on the way down. Soon, I was left with a
runner named Lisa. We gave each other support and talked for a while as we continued up and
down the hills. The sense of camaraderie was quite helpful.
My feet were incredibly soar by this point. Each step felt like a sledge hammer was
pounding on them. But the objective remained simple: keep going.
By mile 96, the hills had lessened. I was at the last aid station, and I made up my mind. I
would run as fast as I reasonably could for the last four miles. I was ready to finish. So I got up
and ran. The route lead back into town, and it twisted through the streets, along the creek, past
the Dairy Queen, and finally up to the finish line. I had finished running 100 miles in 28 hours
and 14 minutes, and I felt great.
I went and sat down for a while, then took a shower and changed into some clean clothes.
Some other ultra-marathoners visited with me. Many seemed intrigued by my age. I was visiting
with one man when all-of-a-sudden, my ears started ringing like crazy, my hearing faded so that
all I could hear was a faint muffle, and my vision blurred. I knew I would pass out if I didn’t sit
down soon. I sort of shuffled over to a chair, and I soon found myself being helped into a cot by
an emergency medical technician and my father. I tried to tell them that I felt fine, but they
insisted that I lay down in the cot. The EMT told me that I was dehydrated, and this was causing
a lack of blood flow to my brain. She made me drink what was probably half a gallon of water,
and several cups of chicken broth. The rapid intake of fluids made me feel very cold, but all-inall,
I felt amazing for having just run 100 miles.
My parents drove me to Fargo, ND. I mostly slept in the car. When I arrived in Fargo, I
got to a hotel room and slept about 2-3 hours. Then I got up the next morning, ready to start my
career as a college student at North Dakota State University.
I think I found myself again.

Ulli Kamm 2008

My 10 Top Reasons for Running Lean Horse

Lean Horse 100 –  You should do it if you like …

  1. A big event with a “family atmosphere”
  2. A relatively easy, scenic course (“Mickelson Trail”). Passing “Crazy Horse Monument” http://www.crazyhorse.org/
  3. A fantastic race director (Jerry Dunn) who couldn’t be more dedicated
  4. Lovable volunteers, frequent aid stations
  5. Cut-off times not strictly enforced. As long as you have a chance to finish …
  6. No searching for markers, you can’t miss the course. And it’s out-and-back
  7. Check-In, Briefing, Pre-Race Dinner, Start, Finish, Awards, Buffet, … all in one location, the “Mueller Center”. And the hotel is next door
  8. Easy access for crews to aid stations and many other places where they can meet their runner
  9. Before the race or for non-running family members: Caves, buffaloes, monuments, hot springs, hiking, steam train, mammoth site, wild horses, National Park, Devils Tower
  10. You can meet Ulli the Walker!

My Fourth Ultramarathon
by
Ulli the Walker

The 2007 Lean Horse 100 Mile Ultramarathon was better than expected. The new course section (first and last 16 miles) were an improvement to an already good race. Wonderful aid stations with fantastic volunteers, no course finding problems, good footing, and perfect weather. I liked and enjoyed it!  I didn’t have any problems with my recovery. I took an Epsom salt bath directly after the race, caught up with minerals, etc., and ate a lot (usually I lose 2-3 pounds during the race) for a week or so…

Read the rest of Ulli’s story at YourRun.com

Jim Newton 2008

2008 No Longer the Easiest Hundred Miler

No longer the easiest 100 miler in the country, Leanhorse has evolved into one of the best!  There are no oxygen sucking passes, death defying climbs or roped river crossings, but the 13 miles of rolling hills at the beginning and end of the race provide plenty of challenge.

The race headquarters and start/finish is at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs SD. The first miles wind along the Platte River, through about 5 blocks of residential streets and then open fields, before arriving at the Argyle Road around mile 5.  Argyle is a wide gravel/dirt road with almost no traffic.  After 11 miles on the rolling hills of the Argyle Road, runners arrive on the Mickelson Trail and continue there for another 34 miles (9  for those doing 50 miles) to the turnaround.

The Mickelson Trail provides the perfect venue for the runner looking for a PR or who wants to step up to the 50 or 100-mile distance.  It is a wide, cinder trail that provides perfect footing.  While there are a couple of long climbs, the trail is on an old railroad bed so the grade never exceeds 3% and the entire course is very runable.  This was my third finish at Leanhorse and for the third year I never used my flashlight at night.  Even in the moonless part of the evening, the stars provided plenty of ambient light for running on this superb trail.

The race management provides two days for pre-race check in so there is a relaxed atmosphere that gives plenty of time to visit and rest.  Unlike most ultras, Leanhorse also has a small, but full service expo that provides opportunity to purchase last minute and hard to find running accessories.  Also, in what was a change for 2008, the pre-race dinner was a homemade sausage and buffalo burger feast at the packet pickup area.  The food was excellent and the ticket proceeds went to the local Kiwanis Club who prepared the meal.

Leanhorse is a great event.  The course is scenic, it is a wonderful area to visit and race is superbly organized and managed.  Jerry Dunn and his wife, Elaine Doll-Dunn are both very experienced runners and exceptional race directors.  Their other races are the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon in early June and the Leading Ladies Marathon in mid August.
Put all three of their races on your calendar for 2009 and we will see you in Hot Springs next summer.

Lyle Clugg

The Lean Horse Ultra
Hot Springs, South Dakota
8/26/06

Part of the Hiways and Byways series by Lyle Clugg

It is hard to know where an idea comes from, or when it takes hold to become foremost in your mind. In the last few days, Jo and I have discussed the subject, and neither of us can remember exactly when we started talking about running an ultra-marathon. Maybe it came about from all those years of watching my friend Joe Prusaitis do the Hard Rock
100. One hundred miles of grueling trail running in 48 hours, but somehow, he always seemed to have a smile on his face and he came back year after year to face the ultimate challenge. Neither of us had any interest in trying a one hundred mile race, but the idea was probably planted there.

Maybe the idea came from my almost thirty years of “competitive” running. I started running after competing in several cross country ski races. Skiers referred to them as citizen races. They were fun events where everyone from little kids to grandparents participated. The race was against yourself, and everyone was glad you were out there doing your best. You didn’t have to win to be proud of yourself. My first running race was like that, too. Over six hundred participants, and every one a winner. It was so different than my years of grade school track competitions. There, I competed in many
events, and I always brought home a ribbon. It was always the last place ribbon. I was no good at running. I hated the competition and always being last. By junior high, I stopped running and never did it again until I was 36 years old and had been doing the VJC ski race for several years.

After all those years of running, I had done just about everything I wanted to. There weren’t many challenges left. I’d done a number of marathons. I’d set my best times. All that I had to look forward to was getting older and slower. Now, my major accomplishment in a race is just finishing it.

After I moved to Colorado eight years ago, I was introduced to trail running. It brought a whole new joy to running. Instead of pounding the pavement for miles, you got to run through the woods and onto the plateaus, stopping occasionally to appreciate the scenery. Some of the challenge was not getting lost on the run, but mostly it was the varying terrain that made it so much fun.

Still, until last year there was no thought of doing anything longer than the local running club’s five mile trail races. The one exception was doing the Pikes Peak Ascent five years ago. That was sort of a mixture of a road race and a trail run. One thousand runners climbing Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail after starting in downtown Manitou Springs. It was more of a long hike than a run. In September and October of last year, Jo and I traveled out east to see my grandkids and got in a lot of hiking and biking. By the time we got back, my foot was hurting pretty

The Lean Horse Ultra 2 bad. I checked with my doctor and he referred me to a local podiatrist. My appointment wasn’t until the end of November, so for a month I endured a painful foot. In the meantime, our friends John and Ginny Blaylock started talking to us about going to Texas to do the Bandera Trail Run. Joe Prusaitis, of Hard Rock fame, was the race director, and John thought it would be a good way for Jo and I to enter the world of ultra running. By definition, that is any race longer than the marathon, 26.2 miles. I was interested and knew it might be fun, but the way my foot felt, I couldn’t go ten miles, much less thirty-one.

John’s philosophy of trail running is changing, too. He has been running ultras for years, and has completed two one hundred mile races and a number of fifty’s and shorter. He loves being out on a lonely trail for hours, battling only himself and the elements. But like the rest of us, he is getting older and slower. It just doesn’t stop him from trying.
The important thing he was trying to get across to us was to set a goal and try to meet it.  If you don’t make it, just do the best you can. In all my running years, I have never started a race that I didn’t finish. It takes a different perspective to enter a hundred mile race, run eighty-four miles of it, and call it a success. I didn’t realize how much of an accomplishment that was. Over the years I’ve found that anyone can complete a marathon if they really work at it. I now know that is not true of an ultra-marathon. We were in a whole new ball game.

But John’s talk about the Bandera Trail Run was falling on deaf ears. By mid-November I could hardly walk. I didn’t hold a lot of hope that the podiatrist was going to find anything he could fix. I was fully expecting him to say that that my foot was wearing out, and that all I could do to help it was not to work it so hard. At my appointment, he looked at my foot, X-rayed it, scoped it with ultra-sound and declared that I had a neuroma, an inflamed nerve in my foot. Treatment can consist of staying off of it – not an option, or surgery – also not a option that I wanted to contemplate. He said that a newer option was to get a shot that completely killed the nerve. He recommended this option since he said that the nerve wasn’t really necessary for walking, only for transmitting pain, which it was doing quite well. I had had enough pain, so I opted for the shot.

After a few days of soreness from the shot, I was amazed at how good my foot felt. For the first time in several years, it didn’t hurt. Suddenly, I started training with a vengeance. Jo and I decided to go to Bandera. She said she could do the 25K race, and I would do the 50K. 15.5 miles was longer than anything Jo had run before, and 31 miles added 6 miles onto my longest run. The scary thing was that the race was in five weeks, not nearly long enough to train for a race of any distance.

The thing that tipped the scales for us in selecting that race was that it was a loop course.  They also had a 100K race, which consisted of two loops of the 50K course. The cutoff time for all three races was 24 hours, and all of the aid stations would be available for the entire time. I could practically crawl the course and make it under the cutoff time. In
addition, Joe and Joyce Prusaitis were the race directors, and John, Ginny and Jean-Jacques d’Aquin from Montrose would be there to provide mental and physical support.  The Lean Horse Ultra 3 If I was going to do an ultra, this was the one. Jo was happy to go on the trip and much happier that she didn’t have to run 50K.

So we headed off to Bandera, and we completed the longest races of our lives. I was hurting for a week, but I survived with no permanent damage. Not long after Bandera, John started dropping hints about the Lean Horse. He plans well in advance of races so he can train properly. At the time, I had no interest in doing any more trail running. I had already signed up for the 15th anniversary Motorola (now Freescale) Austin Marathon. I’d be going back to Texas just five weeks after Bandera, so I didn’t need to think of anything else.

John didn’t press the issue. I would be training for the marathon so we could all keep running together. However, he did throw out the idea of running the inaugural Antelope Island Buffalo Run. Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. Participants could run either a 25 or a 50K, and it was in the middle of March. It sounded like a pleasant way to spend a spring day near Salt Lake City. Jo and I both signed up for the 25K before I ran the Austin Marathon.

Austin turned out to be miserable. I did well, considering the amount of training I had had, and the fact that I had planned to walk most of the course with an old running friend of mine, Charlotte Grove, who now lives in New York. The only trouble was the weather. For fourteen years, the Austin marathon has been lucky with the weather. This year it looked like it might even be too warm to run. Two days before the race, it was 83°. It has never rained on the race. This year we started the race in freezing rain and 26°. It never got above 36°. The guys at the front of the pack loved the cool
temperatures, but a lot of us were pretty uncomfortable.

At least the weather at Antelope Island promised to be pleasant, but God has been breaking a lot of weather promises this year. Every time I checked the weather forecast before the race, it seemed to get worse. The evening before the race they were forecasting rain or snow for the next morning. Luckily, the wet weather held off until we
finished our 25K. It was 35° and windy when we started, and it looked pretty dreary. In
four hours, we only saw a few minutes of sunshine, but there wasn’t any rain.
Even with the lousy weather I encountered at my last two races, I was still excited about
running. For the first time in almost ten years, I was running injury free. I hadn’t run a
marathon since 1997 because it seemed like every time I would decide to start training
for a marathon, something would happen to me. I know it is important to build up my
training miles slowly, and I would always do this, but sooner or later, I would pull a
hamstring or something would happen to my back. I was beginning to accept the fact
that I was getting older and that my body may be wearing out. The biggest differences
now are that most of my running is on softer surfaces, and that I am going much slower.
Jeff Galloway, an Olympic runner turned running guru, espouses the philosophy that all
runners should take a walking break occasionally. He preaches the ratio of eight minutes
of running followed by a one minute walk. This is very convenient during a marathon
The Lean Horse Ultra 4
because typically the water stations are placed a mile apart and I used to run at about
eight or nine minutes per mile. Later in life I have highly modified his method to the
point where I seem to walk eight minutes and run one. Actually, I try to keep the ratio at
one to one, but at the longer distances, I don’t succeed. Whatever I’ve been doing seems
to be working. I am very slow, but I can keep going almost forever.
John Blaylock continued to press us to sign up for the Lean Horse Ultra. He wanted Jo to
do the 50K and me to do the 50 mile race, but both of us agreed that was a bit aggressive.
It would double the length of Jo’s previous long race, and almost double mine. I
remembered the pain I was in after the 50K in Bandera, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to add
almost 20 miles to that distance. John kept stressing the fact that Lean Horse was a much
easier course. Bandera had been a true trail run, with lots of rocky climbs and descents.
Lean Horse was a rail trail, with no more than a 3% grade, lots of easy access for plenty
of aid stations, and a nice crushed gravel surface. We knew the trail well, but the
distance still scared us.
We were going on trail runs with John, Ginny, Jean-Jacques and Sandy Nelson several
times a week. Everything was feeling good, and so finally at the end of April, we sent in
a check for $170 with our registration forms.
Now the training began in earnest. I had set a nominal goal of 30 miles of training runs
or the equivalent each week. I knew it should be closer to 40 miles per week or more, but
I wasn’t sure my body could handle it. When I was seriously training for marathons
twenty years ago, I was able to maintain 40 miles a week, but that was twenty years ago,
and I can feel the difference. What surprises me is that between April and August, I
rarely went under 30 miles per week. Even more surprising, I had many 40 mile weeks
and even several 50 and 60 mile training weeks. Even at my best twenty years ago, I had
only done 60 miles a week once in my life. I was feeling pretty good about the way
things were going. It was going to be slow, but I was beginning to think I could make it.
I was worried about over training, because in my recent past, that has always been my
bugaboo. A couple of weeks before the race, when nothing had gone wrong, I was
feeling pretty happy. Then it happened. A twinge in my left hamstring, the one I had
seriously pulled while skiing over five years ago. I eased off on my running altogether,
and just walked. I had gotten in as much training as I was going to. Two weeks of
relative rest was the best. I wouldn’t notice my hamstring again until well into the race.
A week before the race I started checking on the weather forecast. One of our big
concerns the entire summer was that it could be blazing hot during the race on the last
weekend in August. I can remember being in Custer on Labor Day weekend at least
twice before. One time, I was hiking and it was 100° followed the next morning by a low
of 33°. The second time was the Black Hills marathon. It started out at 33° on race
morning, and by the time I finished four hours later it was 83°. However, our upcoming
weekend looked great. They were saying we would have highs in the low 80’s during the
week, but a cool front would pass through and by Saturday the high was supposed to be
70° with clear skies, perfect weather for the race. Just bring the sunscreen.
The Lean Horse Ultra 5
Before we left, we had one new task to do. Ultra runs give you the opportunity to leave
drop bags at some of the aid stations. You can have just about anything in the bag that
you feel will be helpful during the race. For example, in my first drop bag at Pringle,
mile 16, I would have a 5 oz bottle of Hammer gel. Hammer gel is one of many brands
of almost pure carbohydrate that I and many runners take as they run. Over the years I’ve
preferred to run with 1 oz packets of GU, but on longer runs, they are pretty cumbersome.
Hammer gel comes in large bottles that you can transfer to 5 oz squeeze bottles that are
easy to carry and refill. We’ve learned a lot of new tricks from John in the last few
months.
In addition to my gel, the drop bag would contain some Band-Aids, salt tablets, a Clif bar
and Advil, more necessities of the long run. There was also a pair of dry socks. John
recommended that the socks be in a baggie in case of rain. If the drop bags weren’t
covered properly, they could get wet and you don’t want to be changing into wet socks.
With the forecast of clear skies, I thought it unnecessary, but I humored him. He’s done a
bunch of these and knows these little tricks. The last thing you want is to be worrying
about these little things when you are on the trail. The biggest hurdle in a 50 or 100 miler
is mental, not physical. The most important thing for this drop bag would be a place for
me to discard my extra clothes. Since the temperature at the start was forecasted to be in
the low 40’s, I expected that by mile sixteen I would be peeling off some extra layers.
I planned on two other drop bags, one at Custer, mile 28, and the last at Oreville, mile 39.
In addition to the standard supplies Custer would contain a different pair of shoes. I had
purchased a new pair of shoes a month ago, but had some problems with the stitching in
one of them. I had gotten replacement shoes only two weeks before the race, not nearly
far enough in advance to be satisfied that they were going to be comfortable for the entire
race. My three year old shoes were in the bag, just in case. I also had a dry short sleeve
shirt waiting for me. This was also the stop where I put my Petzel headlamp. I knew I
would be running in the dark for a while, so I gave myself plenty of time to spare. My
Oreville bag had the standard supplies plus a long sleeve shirt and a windbreaker.
Temperatures could be back down into the 50’s by the time I finished, so I knew they
could come in handy.
We left for Custer on Wednesday the 23rd and the forecast was still holding. It was going
to be a nice day. When we got to South Dakota, we drove through Edgemont to check
out the very beginning of the Mickelson Trail and see what restaurants were available in
town. John had this crazy idea that after the race we were somehow going to have some
energy left. He wanted to take two days to do a bike ride on the entire length of the trail.
On one day, we would bike the 45 miles from Custer to Edgemont, and then two days
later ride the 64 miles from Deadwood to Custer. Edgemont is a dusty little town without
much to offer except the trailhead, but at least it had one restaurant that looked pretty
decent. From Edgemont, we headed north and stopped at the Minnekahta Trailhead, mile
16.2 of the Mickelson Trail. This is the start and finish of the 100 mile race. My race
would take me past trail mile post 65 where I would turn around and finish at the High
Country Guest Ranch. This was also the furthest aid station for the 100 mile race, and
The Lean Horse Ultra 6
they would be seeing all of the aid stations twice. They turned around another half mile
beyond my turnaround.
We drove north on SD highway 89 and then US 385 so Jo could get an idea of what her
race would be like. The trail roughly parallels these highways from Minnekahta to
Custer. Although it is not a steep grade, the trail rises almost 2000’ in the 28 miles to
Harbach Park in Custer. About 25 miles of Jo’s run would be uphill. The good news is
that it is a beautiful trail, at least after the first few rather blah miles.
We checked into the Chief Motel in Custer on Thursday afternoon and went up to visit
John and Ginny at the Crazy Horse campground on the north side of town. True to form,
John had planned that we would eat dinner with them and then we would go for an
evening walk on the Mickelson Trail, starting about a mile from their campground. He
wanted to be sure exactly when it got dark so he knew which drop bag should have his
lights and spare batteries. John tries to plan everything in advance, leaving nothing to
chance. The sun went behind the hills at 7:24, and by 8:00 it was pitch black. If my run
took me longer than 14 hours, I was going to be doing some night running, too.
We slept in on Friday morning because Friday night was going to afford little sleep.
After a cheap breakfast at the Wrangler Restaurant, thanks to discounts from the motel,
we headed off to Hot Springs to check in for the race and pick up our packets. We took a
leisurely drive through Custer State Park where we saw an unusual number of wild
animals. The buffalo were out in large numbers, as expected, but we saw lots of deer and
antelope during our morning drive. The weather was cool and cloudy that morning, so
maybe they were out and about rather than relaxing in the shade.
We arrived in Hot Springs around noon and drove straight to the Chamber of Commerce
building to get the packets. Jo was number 201, and I was number 118. The numbers
identified which race you were in, with sub-100 numbers being the 100 milers, 100-199
the 50 milers, and 200 and up the 50 kilometer runners. The shorter race entrants got a
race t-shirt in the packet, while the 100 milers got a nice polo shirt emblazoned with the
race logo. Other than that the packet contained the usual flyers, Hammer gel,
supplements and other non-notable items that you get at every race. There were no prerace
instructions, since these had been distributed via the internet. The web has enabled
major improvements for races, handling everything from registration, information
dissemination, communication and results publishing. Races that don’t utilize the
internet are now a rare breed.
We had to be back at race headquarters at 3:00 for the pre-race briefing, so we headed out
for lunch and a prolonged stop at a gold jewelry discount store that Ginny had told Jo
about. She managed to buy some beautiful rings before we headed back for the briefing.
As we turned around to head for the C of C, John and Ginny drove by on their way to
register.
Back at race headquarters, all the participants were milling around waiting for the
meeting. We deposited our drop bags in the appropriate containers and purchased our
The Lean Horse Ultra 7
last minute supplies from one of the few vendors at the expo. Most vendors don’t bother
coming to a race where there are only 160 participants, but one of the busiest booths was
staffed by a guy who was running the 100 the next day. When the meeting started, one of
the first announcements was the fact that the weather forecast for Saturday had changed.
Instead of cool and sunny, it was expected to be cold with considerable periods of rain.
The South Dakotans were eagerly anticipating rain, since they hadn’t had any in months.
The rest of us were a bit dismayed. Most of us hadn’t planned on rain, even if we had
prepared for it. I would carry my rain jacket and see what happened.
Race director Jerry Dunn reiterated the information about the course, mainly stressing
how easy this was going to be. He was very clear that unlike many ultras, we were not
going to get lost on this trail. All we had to do was get on the Mickelson Trail and stay
on it until we came to the respective signs for the turnaround of the race we were running.
Last year he had started the 50K race about three miles down the road so that it would
end exactly at Harbach Park in Custer. The start was separate from the other two races,
but most of the course was the same. The participants didn’t like this because the 50K
runners never got to see the other runners. This year everyone started together and
everyone had a turnaround before they came back to the aid station where they finished.
The 100 milers would come all the way back to the start.
The major item I took away from the briefing was that Jerry was going to be very lenient
with the cutoff times. Most trail runs are very strict about their cutoffs. If you don’t
make it to each aid station by the required time, you are pulled from the race because
there is very little chance that you will make it to the finish by the official cutoff time for
the race. For example, the Lean Horse 100 milers had a 24 hour cutoff time for the race.
More difficult races have cutoffs of 30, 36 or even 48 hours, but if you don’t make it
under the cutoff, you don’t count as a finisher. Since Jerry’s intent of this race was to get
as many people as possible to finish the 100 mile race, he said that if you felt good and
wanted to continue, you could take as long as was necessary. I was very happy to hear
this since my cutoff was 14 hours, and I wasn’t sure I could make it in that time, but I
was pretty sure I could finish somehow. I knew that Jo would have no trouble
whatsoever with her 10 hour cutoff. She wasn’t so sure. These times may sound pretty
liberal, but neither of us had ever done this before and we were really worried about it.
After the short briefing, we all headed over to the Flatiron Restaurant for a feast of
Buffalo Burgers or Brats and all the trimmings. Most shorter races, including 10K’s and
marathons, usually have the traditional pasta dinner so you could load up on carbs. Ultra
runners seem to like their protein, and they like a lot of it. All the Montrose folks were
sitting at the same table, and we were joined by Bill Heldenbrand of St. Joseph, MO who
was camped near Jean-Jacques. Bill was a little guy, 60 years old and a fast runner, and
could he pack away the food. We began to notice when he came back from the buffet
line with his fourth heaping full plate. On Sunday at the post-race brunch, we counted
five plates full by the time we left. He may still be there trying to fill his hollow leg.
We had a somber thirty mile ride back from Hot Springs to our motel in Custer. It had
begun to sink in that we were really doing this. We carefully checked our equipment;
The Lean Horse Ultra 8
laying out socks and shoes; pinning our race numbers to our shorts; deciding once and for
all which shirts we would be wearing; reviewing once again the contents of Jo’s new
shorts pockets and my Camelbak. We knew it would be pretty cool at the start. The big
“IF” was the rain. Would we need to wear our rain jackets, or would it be sporadic
enough that our long sleeved polyester shirts would be enough? Lots of questions with
no good answers. Tomorrow would bring those answers.
Jo still couldn’t believe that I was setting the alarms for 3:30 AM. Notice I said alarms.
I’ve been training for too long to have the day screwed up by oversleeping. I can’t just
wake up, slip into my clothes and go like my step-daughter Mariann. If she is staying
near the race start, she can set her alarm for fifteen minutes before the race. I need time
to wake up and get my head around the day. I dress slowly, eat, stretch and try to once
again plan my day. I’ve gone over it in my head a thousand times, but one more time
isn’t going to hurt. I woke up before the alarms went off, so I got up and turned them off
before they woke Jo. She had said that 4:15 would be early enough for her. The
Blaylock’s were picking us up at 4:50. We had about a 45 minute drive to the starting
line. The buses from Hot Springs were leaving by 5:15 for their 15 minute trip. Jerry
had asked us to be there by 5:30 for the 6:00 AM start so that everyone had a chance to
do a final check in before we started.
Ginny would drop us off at the starting line and then be our “crew” for the entire race.
She would meet us at several aid stations throughout the race and provide physical and
moral support when needed. If John made it back to Custer, mile 71.7, she would then
pace him to the finish. Pacers are another unique feature of ultras. In this race, after
someone running the 100 mile race reached the High Country Ranch at mile 51, they
were allowed to have another runner join them to “pace”, i.e. provide moral support and
guidance. “Muleing” isn’t allowed, meaning that the other runner couldn’t carry any
supplies for the racer. They are just there for you when it is pouring rain in the middle of
the night and you want to quit.
We arrived just before 5:30 and the parking lot at the Minnekahta Trailhead was almost
full. Runners were milling around in the rain, yes rain, getting a last bite to eat or waiting
in line at the pit toilet. Jerry wasn’t there to sign us in yet, but a few minutes later the
three buses from Hot Springs arrived. The runners sitting on the first bus took a long
look at the rain and didn’t budge. They were already signed in, so they saw no reason to
stand around in a cold rain. The thermometer in John’s truck said it was 52°, warmer
than expected, but still pretty miserable. After about ten minutes, the rain stopped and
things began to look up. We could begin to see the first hues of daylight and thought that
the day might not turn out too bad after all. I finally signed us in with Jerry and made my
final pit stop before the race. With only ten minutes to go, I was heading back to the
truck to remove my rain jacket when the showers started up again in earnest. Oh well, I
could deposit it in my first drop bag, even though I disliked the thought of carrying it for
sixteen miles.
Jerry shuffled us across highway 18 and through the gate on the trail. We were still
trying to get everyone through the gate when people just started running. The race had
The Lean Horse Ultra 9
begun. There are many races where you can’t hear what is going on at the front of the
pack, and this one was no exception. I was off on the longest journey of my life. I’ve
gone further, but never in one day on foot. The day held promise of some new
experiences. I could only wait to see what they would be.
Although the sun wouldn’t rise for a few more minutes, it was light enough to see the
miles of trail ahead of us. Near the trailhead, we were on a fairly open plain, gradually
sloping up the hills into the forest. John and I were together at the start, and I could see
Jo’s yellow rain jacket slowly pulling away from us. Jean-Jacques was too far ahead to
see, even though I remembered he was wearing only a short sleeved shirt and shorts. I
was wearing my shorts, but I had a short sleeved shirt, a long sleeved shirt and a water
resistant jacket. Thank God for the new high-tech polyester shirts that wick water away
from your body. If I had been wearing a plain cotton shirt, I would already be freezing.
We had all agreed that we would run our own race. Although we had been training
together at the same pace for the last nine months, it wouldn’t take much to separate us
during the race. If someone stops to take a pee or tie a shoe and the other one has to wait,
it upsets the rhythm of the run. If each of you stops every time the other one stops, you
lose a lot of time, so we agreed not to do it. Both John and I were stopping frequently to
take a pee, and it was never coordinated, so we continued to jockey back and forth. One
of the mantras of distance running is to be well hydrated before the race. The problem
with that is the number of stops you have to make. During training, we can always find a
tree to step behind, but on these wide open plains, there wasn’t even a bush to hide
behind. Everyone has to go, so you learn to adapt.
John and I walked for most of the first mile as we had planned earlier. So had Jo, but she
walks faster and did a bit of running. After we were warmed up, we started our run/walk
routine to pick up the pace. We were doing well, keeping the pace under 15 minutes per
mile, even including pit stops. John had turned on his iPod and was dancing along to the
tunes. After six or seven miles, he was having too much fun and I felt we were pushing
the pace a bit too much for me. He had to go faster than me if he wanted to finish the 100
in 24 hours. I hoped he wasn’t burning too much energy dancing to those tunes.
We were still pretty much together when we reached the George Toal aid station on
Argyle Road at 8.8 miles. It consisted of two RV’s, one parked on each side of the trail
with their canopies stretched out between them. I found out quickly that there was a gap
between the canopies where all the water drained off each canopy. I couldn’t get much
wetter since it had been raining for over two hours by this point. I felt my slimy socks
sliding down into my shoes, so I stopped to quickly pull them up. I told John to go on
since he hates waiting at aid stations. Ginny and I like to take a little time and relax. One
or two minutes of rest can be of great help later.
John was only about 50 yards ahead when I left the aid station, and I slowly closed the
gap. When he decided to run again, I was just ending my short run, so he pulled away
once again. We kept up this dance for the next five miles. He would get a little further
ahead and I would work to catch him. I finally admitted to myself that I had to slow
The Lean Horse Ultra 10
down a bit or I was never going to make it to the finish. He pulled away again, and by
mile 15 I lost sight of him for good. There were still several people behind me on the
trail, but by this point they had dropped back far enough so that I couldn’t see anyone
behind me. From this point on I wouldn’t see another runner going my way. I met a few,
including Jo, when they were coming back from the 50K turnaround. After mile 35 I
began to meet the leading 100 mile runners on their way back to the start. Other than that
and the aid stations, I was alone on the trail for the next eleven hours.
Jo was the first of the three of us to pull into the aid station at Pringle, mile 16.2 Jean-
Jacques was so far ahead that none of us would see him for quite a while. As planned,
Ginny was waiting for us at Pringle. Thank God some things go right. Jo was soaked
and cold, so Ginny got her a dry Gore-Tex jacket out of the truck, which helped her a lot.
Even though she was wearing Gore-Tex, it was soaked from both sides. Just as she was
leaving, John caught her. He breezed on through, since he just likes to grab some food
and keep going if possible. They stayed together for a while, but John was moving along
well, so he finally pulled away. I finally arrived at Pringle, and Ginny said they had left
only about five minutes before, which made me feel good. I didn’t have much in my
drop bag because all I had planned to do was to drop off warm clothing. I kept
everything I had and wished I had something warm and dry, but no such luck. I did have
dry wool socks, so I slipped those on. The pair I was wearing was soggy, and my feet
were wrinkled from being wet for four hours, so a dry pair really felt good. I was in the
aid station for about six minutes, but it was a good break. Ginny headed out for the trail
with her container of chocolate éclairs to tempt me back into action. They tasted
wonderful and I knew I had to get moving before she would give me any.
The next section of trail up to the White Elephant aid station at mile 19.5 was the section
John said he hated. It stays right next to the highway, and when he did it last year it was
hot and dusty and you breathed all the car fumes. Today when it was wet and miserable
and I was all alone, it was nice to see cars occasionally. Several people honked and
waved, and it felt good to see someone who appreciated what you were doing. After
almost an hour along the road I arrived at White Elephant where a shelter was set up in
the parking lot just off the trail. I stopped and grabbed some snacks and talked for a
minute. The woman who was crewing for the two Virginia women behind me was
asking if there was a porta-potty at any of the aid stations. They are few and far between
on the trail. Actually, if you are biking, they are quite adequately spaced, but for runners,
you have to make do when you can. The next one is at Harbach Park in Custer, 12 miles
away. I hope the two ladies could improvise. The good news for me was that there was
still someone behind me.
I kept slogging along, putting in the miles as fast as I could. My pace between Pringle
and White Elephant had been in the low 15 minutes per mile range, but between White
Elephant and Carroll Creek it slowed to 16 minutes per mile. I seemed to be working just
as hard, or harder, but I was starting to feel worn out. After Carroll Creek, I couldn’t get
the pace down to less than 18 minutes per mile. I was starting to worry because to meet
the cutoffs, I had to be at 18 minutes per mile, and aid station stops only slowed the pace.
I crested the hill for the descent into Custer at right around the 25 mile mark, and my
The Lean Horse Ultra 11
pace started to increase again. I had been going up for most of the 25 miles, and I guess
it was just getting to me. One other thing helped. After seven miserable hours, the rain
was finally starting to let up. This, along with the downhill stretch, helped to raise my
spirits.
I passed mile 26 and reveled in the fact that I had just completed a marathon, the 14th
time I had gone that distance. Almost immediately it struck me that I still had almost
another marathon to do today. Elation followed by dejection. Almost the first building
you see as you arrive in Custer is the Purple Pie Place. Boy, would I love to stop in there
and finish off one of their wonderful pies. The next place I saw was the Chief Motel. A
warm shower and a soft, dry bed sound really wonderful. All I have to do is step off the
trail and cut through the back yard of the motel. By the time I got to Harbach Park at
mile 28.3, I was really wiped out, both mentally and physically. I seemed to have very
little energy left. I was depressed and ready to quit. But Ginny was there, all bouncy and
cheerful and urging me on.
At least my drop bag was waiting for me. I flopped down on one of the picnic table
benches in the shelter, slathered my wrinkled feet with Vaseline, and put on another pair
of dry socks. It felt so good to put on a couple of dry shirts. I was still cold; but having
dry shirts raises the spirits. My rain jacket had finally dried and it was no longer getting
wet. I wasn’t willing to leave it behind, since the weather could break again at any
moment. Ginny urged me to finish some of the chicken soup left over from yesterday’s
dinner. You don’t feel like eating anything, but you know you need the nutrition, so you
force it down. The warm soup felt so good on the way down. I was able to have a good
portion, plus a couple of sandwiches that the aid station had ready. I always try to find
the highest calorie food I can eat. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, M&M’s, oranges,
bananas, you just stuff in as much as you can. Plus, I had another bottle of Hammer gel
in my bag. I was almost ready to go, and so Ginny headed for the trail with the éclairs.
That got me on to my feet and somehow headed out once again after only twelve minutes
of R&R.
John had gotten to Harbach first, and here he also went through the ritual of changing
socks and clothes. He doesn’t hang around aid stations very long, but you do what you
have to do. Just as he was leaving, Jo struggled by. She was avoiding the aid station,
because she knew if she stopped, she would never get started again. She waved at Ginny
and kept going. John was just leaving, so he fell in beside her. She said that he was
feeling good, and could have easily pulled away from her, but that he stuck with her for
1.3 miles until she reached her turnaround. She was ready to quit, and may not have
made it without his support. She made it to the flags marking the turnaround and wished
him luck in his quest while she turned and headed for home. Every time she crossed a
street, she knew she was almost to the finish. And then she would see another street. It
didn’t seem nearly this far on the way out. Having someone with you makes the time go
faster and easier. Now time seemed to have stopped. She finally crossed highway 16A
and turned the corner towards Harbach Park, now only three blocks away. That is when
she saw me coming towards her.
The Lean Horse Ultra 12
We were so happy to see each other. I was happy to see that she was still going and
looked pretty good. She was happy for two reasons. First, I was still vertical and
moving. She was afraid I might have had to quit. The other reason was that she wasn’t
going to have to wait around for me to get to Harbach. We had agreed that she would
wait to see how I was doing. The first words out of her mouth were, “I think I’m going to
puke.” She was exhausted, cold, sick to her stomach, and ready to quit. With only a
quarter of a mile left to go, I knew she would make it. If she puked, so what? She had
just completed the longest run of her life in 8 hours, 7 minutes and 5 seconds. Pretty
good for a 64 year old lady.
This 65 year old guy was struggling, mainly with the demons in my head. I had made it
almost 29 miles, but 21 more miles seemed almost impossible. I forced myself to think
that I could make it at least two more miles and call it a 50K. I would go to the
turnaround, and then bag it. By the time I got to the flags, I was feeling a bit better. The
chicken soup must be taking effect. I knew the route ahead of me, since I had biked it
last June. It was a pleasant little loop, well away from the highway. I was seeing deer
coming out to browse, and everything was looking better. I made the decision to make it
to the Mountain Trailhead aid station at mile 33.3. A mile or so later, I came to a bench
alongside the trail. I was so tired; I just sat down to rest. After a few minutes I struggled
to get started again. The demons were really arguing now. John’s mantra kept going
through my mind, “Relentless Forward Motion”. I just had to get going. I kept plugging
along and all at once I saw a tiny patch of blue sky. My hopes shot up. Maybe it
wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I finally arrived at the Mountain Trailhead. They were probably surprised to see me,
since no one had been along in over half an hour. The volunteers were eager to help me.
I had forgotten to fill my Camelbak at Harbach, and it had been bone dry for several
miles. This was the second one I had gone through today. I asked them to fill it one half
to three quarters full, since that should hold me for the rest of the day. I got a turkey
sandwich, PowerAde, and some other snacks. Once again I was buoyed up and ready to
go.
Sometime soon after I left the aid station, I began to notice that my right heel was
beginning to feel hot. This wasn’t a good sign. I sat down on a rock at the side of the
trail and pulled my socks up. They tend to slide down into my shoes as I run. Within a
mile, I was feeling it again. Once again, I sat and pulled off my shoe. This time I saw
the blister that was beginning to form on my heel. I pulled a blister preventing Band-Aid
out of my pack and applied it to my heel. I just hoped it would work. I took off once
again, now getting seriously concerned about my pace. For the first sixteen miles, I had
done well in building up some reserve time, but these stops were seriously eating into my
reserves. I really noticed how little I could relax at aid stations. I had to get in and get
out as fast as I could. This is the first race I’ve ever done where that time pressure always
seemed to be there, and after ten hours, it was really beginning to wear on me.
At about mile 35, I met the first 100 mile runner coming back. I was walking downhill at
this point, and he was comfortably running uphill, 65 miles into his race. I went almost
The Lean Horse Ultra 13
two more miles before I met the second 100 miler, and he looked good, too. From here
into Hill City, the stream of runners was fairly constant. I encountered most of the over
50 runners in that stretch. The last ones I met looked as bad as I did, except they had 45
miles to go and nighttime was falling. I was extremely happy that I was quitting at 50
miles.
My foot felt a little better with the Band-Aid on it, but I noticed that I was favoring that
foot as I walked. I had tightened my laces so the sock wouldn’t slide down as easily, but
it was making the top of my arch sore. I don’t think I can win this battle. I finally made
it into Oreville at mile 38.7. My feet were really hurting now. The heel was hot, but the
bottoms of both feet felt like hamburger. I had one more pair of socks in my final drop
bag at Oreville. I changed socks again, putting lots of Vaseline on both feet. I saw that
the Band-Aid wasn’t sticking to my slick foot, so I gave up on that, hoping dry socks and
Vaseline would get me through to the end. I also had one final long sleeved shirt, so I
changed that, too. I didn’t have a dry short sleeved shirt, which would have been nice. I
had planned to be wearing only a short sleeved shirt at this point, and I would change into
a long sleeved shirt and take along a jacket if I thought I would need it. Little did I know
that I would be wearing two shirts and a rain jacket. I kept the rain jacket with me
because the weather still looked iffy, and it would be getting dark soon.
After almost fifteen minutes in the aid station, I was off again, trying to keep the motion
going. It was getting harder by the minute. The last five miles had been mostly
downhill, so I had clicked off a few 15 and 16 minute miles when I wasn’t stopped to
check my feet, but I had to keep that up and it wasn’t easy. Finally at mile 42 I was
beginning to see the outskirts of Hill City and I thought to myself, “Only eight miles to
go.” Then my brain clicked in and figured out that at my pace I still had two and a half
hours to go, if I was lucky. I was at the point in the race where the mind was really
starting to play games with me, and I was losing. Right about then, I passed Jim Kerse.
Jim is from New Zealand and he has been staying with Jean-Jacques for a while and
doing a number of 100 mile runs with him. It was good to see someone else that I knew.
He said something to me, and I was so unfocused that I wasn’t really sure what he had
said. It sounded like John was waiting for me at Hill City, but that didn’t make any
sense.

A few miles later I cruised into Hill City. Surprisingly, I had been doing sub-18 minute miles since I left Oreville. Maybe dry clothes do make a difference. Or maybe it is the horse approaching the barn thing. When you are nearing the finish line, you speed up to get it over with. In Hill City, the sidewalk on one of the side streets is the Mickelson
Trail. You stay on the sidewalk for about a half mile until you cross the highway and get
to the aid station at mile 44.3. Just as I got to the sidewalk, I met Ginny coming the other
way. She was talking on the cell phone to Jo. After a shower and a good nap, Jo was
feeling great again. She said she was feeling fine and she would drive up to meet me at
High Country Ranch. After we hung up, Ginny explained Jim’s strange message. John
had decided to call it a day at Hill City. He hardly had the energy to go another step, so
he knew he couldn’t finish the 100. It must have been all that dancing to his tunes.
Ginny convinced him to rest at the aid station and then finish with me. That way, it
The Lean Horse Ultra 14
would count as an official 50 mile finish. If you stopped at 45 or 55, it didn’t count as
anything. You had to make the decision at the 50 mile mark. A number of people did
that as a result of the miserable weather. Several others changed to 50K from 50 miles.
As I see it, finishing any of these distances is quite an accomplishment. After today, that
feeling is even stronger.

After waiting for 45 minutes, John was cramping up, so he headed off for the finish and Ginny started walking back down the trail looking for me. We walked the few blocks back down the sidewalk toward the aid station. She commented that I was listing. I was favoring my sore heel so much I was leaning in the other direction. Just as we were ready to cross the street to the aid station, Jean-Jacques appeared. He was over 55 miles into the run and he said his feet were killing him. He didn’t look like he was going to make it, and his mind was telling him to throw in the towel. He chatted for a moment, and then took off down the trail.

I took a quick six minute pit stop in Hill City. I was gobbling up everything in sight. They had M&M’s, cookies and other sweet delights. I couldn’t seem to get enough, but I had to get going. I said goodbye to Ginny and headed off on the final leg of my journey. I had forgotten that the last five miles was uphill again. It was obvious to me that I was struggling, since I could barely maintain a 20 minute per mile pace. Several times, I remember just stopping and standing. It was getting harder to focus on my goal, even though it was getting much closer. But I knew I was going to make it, because there was nowhere else to stop. There were fewer and fewer 100 mile runners. The ones I was now meeting really looked tired. There was no way some of these folks were going to make it, but they were still trying. I grunted words of encouragement as I passed, and they did the same.

With about two miles to go, darkness had fallen. It was about 8:20 in the evening and the sun was long gone, what little we had seen of it today. The trail is white crushed gravel, so I kept going without a light. I could see enough to easily stay on the trail, and there was nothing to trip on or bump into. Or so I thought. Suddenly, three bikes passed me going down the hill. Only the first had a light and the others were trying to stay on his trail. They had ridden from Leadville in this weather and had full panniers on their bikes, long overdue on their schedule.

After several more minutes, I saw another light coming down the trail. It could have been the last of the 100 milers, but it seemed to be moving to slowly. Finally, as the light got closer, I heard Ginny and Jo talking. They were coming to greet me and walk with me to the finish. We walked the final half mile to the ranch, but I wasn’t done yet. I got some PowerAde since my Camelbak was once again dry, grabbed a cookie, and headed off for my final mile. I told the aid station volunteer that I would be back in 20 minutes. Once again I staggered off into the night, with Jo and Ginny leading the way. I was never so happy to see some flags wrapped around a fence post. We turned and headed back for the ranch. Although I was trying as hard as I could, those final two miles took 43 minutes. At the finish, I stopped my watch at 14:57:59. The volunteer was long gone. I was the final person he was waiting for. He assigned me an official finish time of
The Lean Horse Ultra 15 14:50:30 and then left. Amazingly, the two Virginia women behind me finished in 16 hours and 23 minutes. John had finished in 14:02:06, but he would have been much sooner if he hadn’t waited for me. He was still almost an hour ahead of me.

Ginny gave me my reward of a few more chocolate éclairs, and then I collapsed into the front seat of our car. Jo headed me south for my much needed shower and a short night’s sleep. When we got to the motel, the first thing I did was to peel off my socks and have Jo look at my blister. By now, it covered most of my heel and hurt like Hell. I couldn’t put any weight on that foot, once I got the feeling back into it. My tightly tied shoes had turned the tops of my feet black and blue. Anywhere my clothing had rubbed between my legs or on my arms, I was chafed and bleeding. I crawled in the shower and relaxed, and then Jo lanced my blister. I took a Vicodin and crawled into bed and wanted to die.  The next morning I struggled to walk to the restaurant a block away. Jo didn’t want to eat, so I went alone. I was so slow getting back that she was about ready to come looking for me. We had to leave soon to get to the award ceremony and brunch in Hot Springs.
When we got there we were very happy to find that both Jim and Jean-Jacques had finished the 100. Most surprising though was the fact that Jim had faded to finish in 27:23:50 and JJ had come bounding back to life and finished in 26:23:30, gaining about an hour and a half on Jim during another rainy, miserable night.

The award ceremony was both joyful and painful to watch. Every finisher was recognized for his or her accomplishment, with a silver and gold belt buckle for the 100 mile finishers and a key fob for the others. As each name was called off, the runner would limp to the front of the room to receive their award, or in the case of many 100 milers, they would stand patiently by their chair as Jerry walked over to give them the award. One young stud bounded up to the front to get his, accompanied by the catcalls from the rest of us not so fortunate to be able to move.

Three of the folks from Montrose brought home a trophy, thanks to age and perseverance. Jean-Jacques, who is 67, finished in second place in his age group. It is hard to imagine anyone his age going any faster, but another 67 year old beat him by almost two hours. Jo took 1st place in the 55 to 64 year age group, since she was the only woman to attempt
the distance. I took second in my age group behind another 65 year old runner. Luckily, Lou Joline didn’t count. He is 74 years old and finished 35 minutes ahead of me, but since he had signed up for the 100, he wasn’t eligible for an award. The same was true for John, but it in no way diminishes their accomplishment.

On Tuesday, just three days after the race, Jo, John and Ginny started out to bike the entire 108.8 miles of the Mickelson Trail. They did 45 miles the first day, skipped the next day and finished the ride on Thursday. John wisely skipped the last 16 miles of the ride. I was so wiped out that it hurt just for me to sit in the truck and provide aid to them along the trail.

A few weeks have passed now, and the memories of the race are fading. John is already looking for the next race he would like to do. I’ve decided I’ve done enough 50 milers in The Lean Horse Ultra 16 my life. Jo and I made a pact that 25K is a fun distance and the longest we want to do in the future. I finally stopped limping a few days ago, my hip has stopped hurting, my chafing is pretty much healed up, the blister is almost gone, and things are getting back to normal. Well, almost. Today we are watching the clouds scud by as the temperature drops. The four of us, the Blaylocks and the Cluggs have signed up to do the Partners charity bike ride this weekend. The distance is 105 miles and it goes over Owl Creek Pass, which from our house looks like it may be snow covered. Will we ever learn?

John M Bernhisel

2006 Lean Horse Wrap-up
Compiled by John M Bernhisel

Ladies 100 mile Champion Cathy Tibbetts Writes:

“I heard you two were battling it out for first place,” Elaine Doll-Dunn remarked the morning after the 100-miler.
“Well, no,” I replied. “We were actually laughing and having fun.”

It was a wet, drizzly morning when June Gessner pulled up next to me on the Mickelson Trail. As ultrarunners do, we started chatting to pass the time. At mile 50 we were still laughing and carrying on to make the miles go faster. We waited for each other on bathroom and foot maintenance breaks. The sun set over the Black Hills and we were still yakking it up.

At aid stations, June drank protein drinks and waited for me to wolf down Twinkies. At mile 84 her hamstring was sore so I gave her some sports creme from my drop bag and offered her a rain jacket. This was how we “battled it out”.

We laughed so much that my abs felt like I had done about a million crunches. (What is said on the trails stays on the trails!) At mile 89 we sadly parted ways. After that the trail was dark and lonely.

Mens 100 Mile Champion Ryan Loehding Writes:

When I learned about this new run in Hot Springs, SD, I started making plans. I had gone to college in Rapid City, so this would be like a homecoming for me. My parents, who have never seen an ultramarathon, came from Montana. I brought my wife and three kids with me from Texas. I knew everyone would have a good time while I was running, and they did. There is a lot for the family to do in the Black Hills.

If you are familiar with the Black Hills, you will know that a 100 mile race could be as tough as a race director wants to make it. If you look at the course profile, however, you will see that this is a flat and fast course. The course follows a formerly abandon railroad known as George S. Mickelson Trail. It runs straight through historic mining towns of the Black Hills. The steepest climbs are railroad grade. The fine crushed granite is easy on the feet. Much of the course is protected from heavy wind. Everything about this course tells you that you should be able to go faster than ever. I think that is what makes it a tough course. As you can imagine, everyone in the lead pack went out too fast including me. There are mile markers along the way. I was timing my splits. I had planned on 10 minute miles, but I kept hitting splits below 9 minutes. It felt so easy. Of course, that all changed. It got tougher. I watched my splits take more and more time. I slowed coming back through Custer and even more after Pringle.

The aid stations at this race are great. The people working in the aid stations were friendly and helpful. These are not all grumpy ultrarunning burn-outs. The people were mostly just friendly people from around the Black Hills who were there to help everyone have a good race. It reminded me of Heartland in Kansas.

I had prepared for a hot and sunny day. I was pleased to have a cool day with a few sprinkles along the way. I heeded warnings about the sun, but it spent most of the day behind the clouds. I thought the weather was very nice after the rain subsided. The evening was cool and comfortable. When I got up to eat breakfast around 6:00 am, I looked out the hotel window in Hot Springs and stared at a steady rain. I knew there would be a lot of people still on the course after only 24 hours. My heart went out to them.

Congratulations to all finishers and everyone else who had the courage to start.

Mens 50 Mile Champion John Bernhisel Writes:

My idea of a romantic get-away with my wife is to drive 500 miles to Hot Springs, South Dakota and have her stand in the rain for 8 hours while I run through the beautiful Black Hills. I’m not sure why she stays married to me but I couldn’t have finished without Sally’s help. She is the perfect “crew”. A complement every wife dreams to hear I’m sure.

The temperature at the starting line was about 50 degrees with a light rain. Everyone sat in their cars and left them running to keep warm. As I got out my car to get a bit to eat and drink, the combination of exhaust, fear, rain and headlights made me nauseated. Clearly not the best was to begin a 50 mile race.

I started out easy, sometimes forcing myself to slow down. The strategy paid off and didn’t bonk until I had about three miles to go. By then I could force myself to “endure to the end”.

Ultrarunning legend Jerry Dunn knows how to put on a great race. The course was spectacular, the organization was fantastic and the weather was about perfect for the 50k and 50M runners. The 100 mile runners would undoubtedly feel less enthusiastic about the weather.

The course is deceptively difficult. You would think that a railroad grade of three percent or less will make for an easy race, but mile after mile of a gradual climb slowly started to turn my legs into mush. Luckily I finished before they gave out altogether.

Ladies 50 Mile Champion Heather Burcar Writes:

About 4 months ago I decided to run my first 50 mile race, which is a far cry from the distances I used to regularly compete in. As a matter of fact, most of my former collegiate teammates wouldn’t believe me if I told them I ran an ultra-marathon. The truth is I did, and as crazy as it sounds, I enjoyed it! I believe it takes a certain kind of person to claim they enjoy running 50 miles. It takes the kind of person who likes to push the limits of what is known to be physically and mentally comfortable. The challenge of running an ultra-marathon is what brought me to the starting line that day and the desire to complete it, is what got me to the finish.

I am pretty sure most of the runners Saturday morning were ecstatic about the cooler temperatures and lightly falling rain. It wasn’t until I reached the mid-point of the race that my original exuberance on the weather started to dwindle. I wore a sopping wet jacket through most of the race and was thrilled to see the sun break through the clouds by mile 45. Aside from the weather, the scenery was breathtaking. So much so, I didn’t even have to resort to my MP3 player to distract me from the underlying throbbing of my feet.

Along my 50 mile journey to ultra-marathon status, I came across quite a few amazing people, each with a story to tell. It seemed as though every runner I engaged in conversation had an impressive racing resume, yet had such modesty in the way they described their accomplishments. I soon realized that ultra-runners, stereotypically speaking, are pretty incredible people. They have a passion for running, a zest for life, and a willingness to pursue and reach the goals they set for themselves. I suppose I am biased, but I truly enjoyed the company of every person I met on the Lean Horse Ultra course.

In addition to the wonderful people I met along the way, I have to acknowledge one special person who helped me get through the miles, literally. My boyfriend, Thomas Pietrykowski met me at every aid station, always offering words of encouragement. Knowing he would be at the next station down the trail really helped me cover the distance.

By the time I reached the finish I was in a state of delirious excitement, if there is such a feeling. I was so eager to cross the finish line I mustered every ounce of energy I had left. To those waiting for me at the finish I’m sure it looked more like a brisk jog, but to me the last 100 meters of the race felt like an all out sprint. I achieved what I had set out to do, and as a bonus, have some great memories to take away with me. Many thanks go out to everyone involved in the Lean Horse Ultra and for making my first ultra-marathon a wonderful experience.

Women’s 50k Champion Francesca Conte Writes:

The Lean Horse 50K was a real surprise for me. What I loved the most was the scenery. I had never been in the Black Hills, and the view was unlike anything I had ever seen. The most challenging aspect of the course was its gradual uphills, which many times lasted for several miles. Actually, the first 50 miles are pretty much all uphill! I only ran the 50K, but I had a very good time. Seeing my first wild buffalos and prairie dogs made it all worth it… what an amazing sight! Thanks for a great race !!

Ulrich Kamm 2006

Ulli’s story
Lean Horse 100 – The Feasible Challenge
Give it a try next year!

The breakfast buffet looked wonderful and tempting. I had already eaten, but couldn’t resist and took some goodies.

No, that buffet wasn’t at my hotel. It was set up at the start of the “LeanHorse 100”, a few miles away from Hot Springs/SD.

Black, deep hanging clouds covered the early morning sky … it was raining.

Soon we were on our way, running and walking along the Mickelson Trail, built on an old railroad bed, now a wonderful hiking and biking trail through the scenic Black Hills.

About 100 runners started for the 100 miles, 65 or so preferred the 50 k or the 50 mile options. Still being together in groups at the beginning, we didn’t feel wind and rain so much. But that changed … it was not before mile 30, after many hours, when the rain stopped for a while. I had one of these raincoats for 87 cents from this Supercenter, and did wring out my hat every mile or so, and felt ok. Except …

Right after the start my right foot started hurting, which really surprised me. A tendon, I thought and loosened the shoe lace somewhat. But it kept hurting and got worse mile after mile.

At most of the frequent aid stations I met Traudl, my wife. She crewed me in so far 178 ultras and can read me from far away already. At each stop, in a few “seconds of chaos” she supplied me with all I needed … food, drink, dry shirt …

Volunteers at these aid stations were incredible. Day and night, in rain and wind, they provided absolute first class support. Despite the bad weather, always well organized, always friendly, doing their very best to get us to the finish line. Runners can’t thank them enough!

There isn’t much climb in this event; maybe a total of 5000 ft. or so. But I enjoyed that after the turnaround at mile 50, it was more downhill than up.

It was around midnight, drizzle had started again, when “something big” came from the left and ran up the trail away from me. It was pitch-black. Those of you wearing glasses know how much you see when it’s dark and raining. Anyway, then I heard the sound of “something heavy running towards me”. I stepped to the side and waited, with my flashlight trying to find out what it was. And then in front of me stood, frightened, a llama. We looked at each other, and then both of us kept going in opposite directions.

Shortly afterwards I met some runners. I had done the race last year already (I liked it, that’s why I came back), and hadn’t met anybody between aid stations from mile 50 to 85. This year was different, as I had the pleasure to walk with Joe Pringle through many night and early morning hours.

In the meantime my hurting foot changed from bad to worse. And I thought about all the hikes and races I had planned for the next weeks and months … like my 40th anniversary of doing ultras. No, I wouldn’t stop … following my motto “just keep going”.

It was at mile 80, when suddenly it started raining hard again. As I later read, the record rain of 0.47 inches for that day was set in 1977. Till I reached the finish line, we got 0.88 inches …

More and more limping, I started counting down quarter miles – 5 minutes. It kept the mind busy. For the last miles I took an umbrella, despite the heavy wind. It was a nice change for a few miles.

And then the last 2 miles to the finish … Last year I walked in with 80 plus degrees, the sun and I smiling in competition. This time I just wanted to get it over with, didn’t want to step anymore on my foot which was now in really great pain. Traudl came walking towards me, many huge and lovely teddy bears (no hallucinations) were sitting on both sides of the trail, and someone played a drum. There was the finish banner. Jerry, the RD, was waiting … and again a table full of food and drinks.

I stopped. And the rain stopped as well.

A couple of hours later, after a warm and cold buffet, Jerry, Waylen and Elaine presented the awards in a “sportive festive” atmosphere.

Yes, I will be back again. No, it will never again rain this much. It’s an extremely well organized event, supported by wonderful people, on an easy course through the scenic Black Hills. And Jerry already mentioned further improvements. Find out yourself what he is talking about!