I arrived in Bismarck at about midnight and started driving to Dickinson where my buddy Andy had a room already. Due to a time change between Bismarck and Dickinson I arrived at about 1am, good news for me, an extra hour of sleep. We woke at 4, and started to get ready for the race. Shuttle pickup in Medora was at 5:30 at the finish. When we arrived I saw Bill, a friend I’d first met at the Sandhills Marathon in Nebraska. Bill is from Nebraska and signed up for this race apparently based on my “check this out” picture I posted to Facebook. I promptly fell asleep on a bumpy dirt road ride to the start waking only for a few seconds when we bounced on cattle grates.
Once there we had about an hour to get situated so there was chatting and peeing so on before the RD began his pre-race meeting. There would be water stations at 10 and 18, and 24 roughly speaking. The course would be well marked, but look out for the arrows, and if your trail isn’t mowed, you’re probably on the wrong trail. Andy and I lined up near what we thought was the back, but would find after a few miles was apparently not far enough back as folks passed us on the narrow single-track.
After 3 or 4 miles Bill and Andy and I all settled into the same groove and spent most of the race together chatting about health issues, cocktails, travel, or as Bill said “nothing is off-topic for trail.” I think it would make a nice title of a book.
Anyway it was clear that the heat and the sun would be as strong a features of this race as the badlands themselves. Unfortunately I’d already burned my calves in the race the previous weekend so by the first aid station (which was closer to 11) they were blistering due to me having once again forgotten to put sunscreen on. The aid station volunteer felt so bad for me she offered me her own sunscreen. Can I just say that the people of the Dakotas are by and large the kindest people I’ve ever met?
By 11 miles I’d wiped out the content of my 100 oz Camelbak bladder, and needed a refill. I had no idea how Bill was doing it with just one handheld bottle. The scenery was so beautiful and we needed regular breaks so stopping to take photos was a common occurrence.
The most interesting part of the race from my perspective was about at the half way point where we waded through a water crossing that was about waist deep. As we approached a group of much more prudent guys had taken off their socks and shoes and waded through, and were now trying to wipe off the mud from their feet with grasses. To me it was so hot and the air so dry that I felt marching through in socks and shoes was no more ridiculous an idea, but since I planned on waiting for Andy and Bill I suppose I didn’t save myself much time.
On the other side of the water feature we continued the winding up and down course to the next aid station at about 18 where I got myself some coke, pickles, and an ice-cold towel, which was like heaven. I was finding my jam so it’s about at this point that I left the others and wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible.
The last 8 miles was something of a beautiful blur, but I snapped photos along the way and when I ultimately finished it was well and truly one of my worst finish times ever however I still felt proud. This was a legitimately hard trail marathon. I probably could have done it faster, but I didn’t mentally check out and give up, probably because I was able to spend most of my time with friends who kept me hopeful. Perhaps this will be a strategy in the future, but for now I’m looking forward to a marathon I won’t finish in the 6+ hour territory. Next week Beat the Blerch in Washington should be quite a bit faster, and this race puts me at 40/50 for the 3rd time through the states.