Thursday, September 27, 2018

Mount Rushmore Half Marathon

Hours after arriving in South Dakota, we wandered around Rapid City.

Rapid City streets showcased the presidents tour.

After a full night's rest, we hit Mount Rushmore.

Custer State Park, a few miles from Mount Rushmore, offered spectacular views.

......and wildlife spotting!

We prepped for the race with a hike around Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore Half Marathon proved to be my most difficult race to date.

The hills were relentless.  Yet, the views were breathtaking!

I snagged 1st place in my age group.  Claudia earned 2nd overall female!  Jim won 1st place in his age group.

Post-race, we celebrated with a trek around Badlands National Park.

On our last day in South Dakota, a bison welcomed us to Wind Cave National Park.

Last Saturday, my friend Claudia, Jim and I stood among a crowd of nervous runners in Keystone, South Dakota.  At 6:30 a.m., daylight peeked over the horizon illuminating the modest downtown.  I scanned the few city blocks with Wild West era taverns and drinking holes.  I imagined gun-slingers and outlaws meandering the same streets where runners now stretched and jogged in place.

My stomach churned as I waited for the starter gun to the Mount Rushmore Half Marathon.  Hours earlier, I scanned the race's elevation map and course.  Within the first five miles, runners would climb 1,400 feet in elevation (starting at 4,500 feet).  For this Midwest runner, trained on pancake-flat trails, this course would provide a major challenge.

The race official fired off the starter gun and the runners surged forward.  As promised, we ran uphill.  I huffed and wheezed while shifting my gaze forward.  Hills, hills, and more hills stretched out before me.  My inner voice screamed "bail," while another voice whispered "just keep moving forward."  From my first step, I made one goal for the race: not to walk.  As I continued to rack up miles, I refused to walk (even if my pace was more of a slog).  

While the course was brutal, it was beautiful too.  The race course offered spectacular panoramic views of the Black Hills filled with switchbacks and tunnels.  At mile four, I caught a glimpse of Mount Rushmore in the distance.  While slogging, I tried to snap a photo.  But my mobile photography skills proved to be less than stellar; I captured a nice photo of the cement ground and my running shoes.

At a little over five miles, we reached the top of the hill.  Claudia later recounted the breathtaking views at the top of the hill.  I was in no mood to sightsee at that point.  My calves and hamstrings burned and salty words hovered on my tongue.

From the top of the mountain, we surged downhill.  In theory, running downhill sounds fun.  In reality, racing downhill kills one's legs.  My legs begged for rest, while my mind commanded "just a little more."

At mile nine, the terrain leveled (minus a few rolls).  I fell into a comfortable pace.  With an even route, I relaxed and savored the views.  Log cabins dotted the road and nestled into the woods.  Horses grazed behind split-rail fences.  Pines, aspens, and birches lined the road.  It was a feast for the eyes, and I gorged on the views.  

At mile 13, I spotted the finish line situated on a horse farm.  My friend Claudia, who finished minutes earlier, cheered me forward.

Within feet from the finish line, I yelled "I hate you" to Claudia, my friend who signed me up for my hilliest race to date.  In retrospect, those words didn't seem very uplifting.  And, I really didn't mean to utter such bitter words.  

I didn't hate Claudia.  

I didn't hate the race.  

The course was like a pair of stilettos, painful and beautiful at the same time.

With a few days recovery under my belt, I reflect back on the race fondly.  Racing through the Black Hills of South Dakota was an extraordinary experience that provided more majestic views than misery.  In fact, the hills almost seem charming.  Funny how our memories can change.

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