As I worked my way through the states, I kept a “wish list” for states / marathons I wanted to run on my way to a marathon in each state. Many of these were races that friends had run and enjoyed or were in locations that I wanted to visit. The Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon checked both of those items so I put in on the schedule for 2018. Our plan was to travel to South Dakota for the race and then do our sightseeing in the Black Hills after the race, but my MIL invited my wife to join her on a trip the weekend after the race so we needed to get her home for that so we had to do our sightseeing before the race. I knew this would negatively impact my race performance, but I was ok with that and really just set my goals to complete the race and check off South Dakota.
My wife & I flew to Rapid City and used that as our base for a few days and then we moved to Hill City for a couple days. I was able to run on the Mickelson Trail while in Hill City. It was a nice, crushed gravel surface but I could definitely feel the 5,000 ft elevation. We also spent a night in Spearfish (and had an FE with Chris Stores at Crow Peak Brewing) before finally getting into Deadwood which was the home base for the race, We stayed at the host hotel which was a bit outside of the busy downtown area which was fine as we were not interested in all of the gambling establishments. I cruised through the very small expo and got my race stuff. We headed to a small pasta restaurant downtown but they had a really long wait and it didn’t look like it was worth it. We put our names on the wait list at the restaurant at the hotel and went back to our room and worked on details for the race. We got an alert sooner than we expected and had a really nice dinner.
The race offered a dedicated bus from the hotel to the race start and I went down and got on that at 6:30. It was a nice cool morning (mid-40’s) but the sun was going to warm things up to the mid-70’s by the time we were going to finish. Met some nice people on the bus ride and we eventually made it to the start which was a small building in the middle of nowhere. I immediately got into the porta-john line which was already pretty long. Many people had scrambled high up onto the hilltop behind the porta-johns to sit in the warm sun as the rest of the area was in the shade. The race director made a few announcements and I dropped my gear bag into the back of a pick-up manned by the race director’s kids. (Love these small races)
The race started on a road and we screamed downhill for the first mile and then did a short out and back before we hopped onto the Mickelson Trail around mile 2. The trail has mile markers all along the 106 miles and we hopped on before mile 82 so the trail markers fell about ¼ mile into the race mile so it was handy to have those to track the miles. The first 14 miles of the race climb up to the highest point on the trail (6,250 ft) before it drops down to about 4,500 ft at the finish. I knew that I had to stay conservative for the climb and hope that I had something for the downhill portion.
I was wearing the latest Harbison Trail Runner’s shirt which is bright yellow with an Egyptian theme and a number of the runners commented on it as they went by. The trail runs through the middle of nowhere so there were very few spectators so when we saw a guy in a chair in his backyard, we all waved to thank him for being out there. I don’t know if it was the altitude, being tired from driving around South Dakota sightseeing the week before, or if I hadn’t really recovered from the Fargo Marathon two weeks ago, but I just didn’t have it and settled in for a long day.
The scenery was beautiful and the sun was bright in the sky so I just enjoyed the miles as they went by. We ran through a tunnel around mile 5 and passed the first relay exchange point at mile 8. There were about 70 relay teams and those exchange points were about the only time we saw any spectators. One guy had a shirt that said “I don’t do marathons, I do a marathon runner.”
Aid stations were at odd intervals since access to the trail is limited. They were stocked like a trail race / ultra with fruit, pretzels, and M&M’s. Finally got to mile 13 and started seeing the banners so the half marathon runners could line up properly. There were about 1500 half marathoners compared to 225 doing the full. We finally hit the highest point on the course and I was ready to hit some downhill.
I was able to ride the downhill for a few miles but the sun was starting to take a toll and the temperatures were in the 70’s. My wife met me at mile 18 and I gave her a sweaty kiss and told her a would see her at the finish. I joined up with some women who were running together and we kept moving forward as best we could. There was a long hill up to mile 20 where there was an aid station. The women asked the volunteers where the next aid station was and the volunteer told them that this was the last one. (which I knew couldn’t be true and told them that there had to be more) The downhill from 20 to 21 was very steep so I let gravity carry me on down and I got a bit ahead of the two ladies. I came up to a guy who was walking and tried to get him going again, but when he tried running his calves started cramping and he had to stop.
The ladies I had been running with kept debating about whether they should wait on their other friend who they started with and they finally decided to wait and see if she was close enough so they could all run in together. I was just about to hit mile 25 when the guy with the calf cramps caught up and urged me to join him for the last mile. He pulled me along and I finally let him go at mile 26 so we could each get our own announcement. The race founder was at the finish dressed in a tux and congratulating each runner as they finished. My wife was right there and had scored an excellent parking spot and we headed back to the hotel after a few pictures.
The Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon is a well-organized race in a beautiful area of the country. It’s not any easy race (the male winner came in at 3:11
) but it was a great choice for South Dakota. This was marathon / ultra #66 and state #41 so now I’m down to single digits!!
Bonus Travel section:
The Black Hills of South Dakota are amazing and we saw so many interesting things. Some were fairly well known, but we hit a few lesser known sights and those were pretty interesting too.
We were surprised at how much we enjoyed our time in Rapid City. The downtown is filled with statues of US presidents and it was fun trying to identify them without reading the signs. We went to a wooden Norwegian church (similar to one I had seen in Fargo 2 weeks ago) but one of the most interesting things we saw while there was two pieces of the Berlin Wall that they have installed in a Memorial Park downtown.
One of the more disturbing stops on our trip was to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. This was just one of hundreds of facilities throughout the mid-west where these were installed.
We went to the Badlands towards the end of the day to try and catch some sunset light on the rocks. Thunderstorms were rolling in so my wife was staring at the rock wall across from us waiting for some light to come through when I turned around and saw the full moon rising behind us. It was a cool reminder that sometimes you get something different than what you were looking for.
We did two scenic drives going to and leaving Custer State Park and those were better than the park as we didn’t see many bison. The drives were Iron Mountain Road with cool views of Mt. Rushmore through tunnels along the way, and Needles Highway.
When we were in Hill City, we went to the lighting of Mt. Rushmore which was a nice ceremony where they had any active or retired military come up to the stage as they lowered the flag. We went back to Mt. Rushmore the next day to see it in full light.
We drove to Spearfish through the scenic drive in that canyon and stopped at 3 waterfalls. I was able to twist former forumite Chris Stores’ arm and he met us at one of his favorite breweries and we enjoyed a few pints and got caught up. From Spearfish, we went into Wyoming to see Devils Tower since it was only an hour away.
Just a few miles from Deadwood is Lead (pronounced Leed) and we toured their abandoned gold / silver mine and learned that they are using the underground space (5,000 ft deep) to study neutrinos which are subatomic particles that have no charge and are hard to isolate. It was interesting to learn how they are using the abandoned space.
We stopped at 5 different breweries along the way. The best beer I had was from one of the breweries we didn't visit in Rapid City (Lost Cabin Brewing) and our favorite was Spearfish Brewing. I bought a 32 oz crowler of their White IPA to enjoy after the race.