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Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon: There's just one hill!!

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:04am
The Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon is a race that I’ve been looking forward to running for a couple of years now but didn’t really have any major goals for, if that makes any sense. I first learned of this race just over two years ago when I moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota for work. I heard nothing but good things about it and was looking forward to running it but, alas, life got in the way not once, but twice. In 2006, my first year living in South Dakota, I was moving my family from northern California to South Dakota the weekend of DMTM. In 2007, a trip to Montana for my sister-in-law’s high school graduation prevented me from running DMTM. This is the closest thing I have to a hometown marathon, Deadwood being about 25 miles from my house, so it was a personal mission of mine to run this race in 2008, even though I knew it would be wedged in between a BQ attempt at Colorado on May 4th and the Missoula Marathon on July 13th. If nothing else, I would qualify to be an official Marathon Maniac when it was all said and done.

DMTM is really a “trail” marathon in name only. Indeed, all but about a mile of the race is held on the Mickelson Trail, which is a rails to trails project covering about 110 miles of the Black Hills from Edgemont in the south to Deadwood in the north. But, this isn’t your grandfather’s single-track, rock and stump laden trail that goes uphill in both directions. It’s basically a well-maintained crushed gravel bike path with no grade greater than 4% (and the average grade on the course is much less, I’m sure) thanks to railroad restrictions at the time the original tracks were laid. The grades are also long; once you start going either up or down, you generally go that direction for awhile. Check out the elevation profile:



DMTM isn’t what you would consider a fast course (okay, maybe you would, but I don’t). Although the grades are gentle, there are still about 12 miles of virtually non-stop uphill to contend with in the first half followed by a virtually non-stop gentle downhill for the entire second half. In any case, I didn’t have any grand plans for a PR or BQ at the race anyhow. After a failed BQ attempt at Colorado and in preparation for a hopefully decent (i.e., 3:20ish) effort at Missoula, I was just running DMTM as a long, fully supported training run on my way, eventually, to another BQ shot somewhere this fall. Looking at the past results, it appeared that a 3:30 would put me in contention for an AG award (something I’ve never won in a marathon….I have finished 4th in my AG four times). However, this year the cards would probably be stacked against me thanks to DMTM being the official USATF Trail Marathon Championship for 2008. In other words, I knew there were going to be more fast runners than usual this year (I think last year’s winner won by like 20 minutes and was the only one to go sub-3; probably not the case this year). And, a lot of these fast runners would probably end up in my new AG (I turned 30 on May 23rd). So, with no BQ or PR to chase and an AG award unlikely, what the heck should I shoot for here? Well, a couple of months before the race, I found out that Runango regular OreSka (Juan) would be running the race too and was planning on running around 3:30 pace. Juan and I met at mile 15 of Missoula last July and proceeded to crash and burn together over the last 8 miles. I was looking forward to running with him again, although hopefully with better results (no cramping for me and no dry heaving with the finish line in sight for Juan). For some reason, right around 3:30 has proven to be a popular finishing time for me (out of eight total marathons, I’ve got a 3:28, a 3:29, a 3:30, and a 3:32 to my credit). So, 3:30 it was.

Training-wise, I basically took Pfitz’s 10 weeks between marathons plan and did some tweaking based on how I felt and my plan to run both DMTM and Missoula. There were actually only 5 weeks between Colorado and DMTM, but in the spirit of using it as a training run, I based my schedule off of the 11 weeks I had available between Colorado and Missoula and wedged DMTM in as a long run with a mini-taper before and a mini-recovery period after. I also decided to shake things up a little and try a couple of new things. First, I finally bought a Garmin Forerunner 305 and used the heart rate monitor function to base my workout paces off of a target heart rate rather than a target speed. Second, I decided to experiment with the carb deplete/load strategy that several other forumites have implemented (and that I witnessed at work first hand when shellaran ran a 43 minute PR and BQ at Colorado). I went with 4 days deplete ( <30g of carbs/day) followed by 3 days of load (as many grams of carbs as I could comfortably consume). Those 4 days weren’t pure hell, but they weren’t great either. I guess I never realized just how many foods have carbs in them and how many carbs are in foods. Basically, if you don’t mind a diet of meat, cheese and eggs, then carb depletion is great. If, on the other hand, you live off of bread, cereal, peanut butter, pasta, oatmeal and pancakes, like I typically do, then it sucks. I had a low grade headache for the first two days of deplete and felt pretty deprived of energy the whole 4 days, but I did lose a whopping 9 pounds in those 4 days. I also felt kind of crappy the first day that I started loading and actually had to cut my 6 mile run short (at 5 miles) that afternoon because I was feeling woozy and light-headed. But, I felt normal again by race day and my last couple of pre-race runs went well.

One thing that has been shamefully lacking during my running career is my involvement in volunteering for races. Okay, so I’ve never volunteered to help out at a race. My excuse is that I just can’t resist actually running in the race, especially considering that there are so few of them around here. Well, this time I had the opportunity to do both and happily agreed to work at packet pick-up on Friday afternoon and evening. I hoped the running gods would smile on me sometime in the future for doing my good deed. It was a good experience and I got to meet a fair number of the people I would be running with on Sunday. I also got to say hi to Juan briefly when he arrived to pick up his packet.

This would prove to be an action-packed weekend. On Saturday, it was back to Deadwood for the kids’ 1K, which my 4 year old son was running. The kids ran an out and back on the Mickelson Trail in town. I have discovered that my son is a natural-born fartlek runner. At one point I was cruising along with him, just barely running myself and suddenly he went flying past me, forcing me to actually run to keep up (whoa there, Turbo, I’ve got a marathon to run tomorrow!). Then he’d slow down for awhile and repeat the whole process again. He did well and it warmed my heart when, with about 20 yards to go, an older girl started to catch up to him, he looked over his shoulder at her and then laid down the finishing kick to beat her across the line. After the 1K, we met up with Juan, who had managed to get lost in Deadwood, and forced him into our car (he resisted my assurances that I didn’t mind giving him a ride back to Deadwood afterwards, but as soon as my wife told him to get in he obeyed like a man who’s been married for 20+ years) and hauled him off to our place in Belle Fourche for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party/pasta feast. In addition to the obligatory pack of bouncing-off-the-walls, sugar-hyped, screaming kids, we also invited over a few friends who were running the half-marathon and cooked up a selection of pastas and sauces. Dinner was topped off with, of course, a princess castle birthday cake and ice cream. Nothing quite gets you fueled up to run 26.2 miles like a pretty pink princess cake. After the party, it was back to Deadwood to drop Juan off and then back to Belle to get some sleep. Honestly, it didn’t really dawn on me that I was actually running a marathon until approximately 2:00 on Sunday morning when I got up to go to the bathroom and realized that I would have to run 26.2 miles in a mere 6 hours.

DMTM is a point-to-point marathon, which means my wife (who was running the half) and I had to be up extra early to first make the 30 mile drive to Deadwood and then catch the bus from there to the start line in Rochford (population 5, give or take 5). I looked for Juan at the bus loading area not realizing that he had gotten there ahead of me and then decided I’d better just jump on a bus when I saw them beginning to roll out. I quickly found Juan once I reached Rochford and we casually chatted about our race strategy. Juan was totally unsure of how this race would go. He would be trying out some new-fangled taper technique that involves riding 3600 miles on a motorcycle all over the western US for three weeks and running approximately 3 days/week. He figured to finish somewhere between 3:30 and 5:00. I knew that my legs felt alright after running Colorado a month before but that I still didn’t have my speed back. I figured somewhere in the 3:30 range was realistic. So, we decided to start out together and see how things shook out. I had one other dumb goal for the race: not to finish behind to the only other full marathoner from Belle Fourche, a 13 year old kid who had taken 6th at the state high school cross country meet as an 8th grader last fall.

After an hour of waiting around in the cold (it was probably upper 30s in Rochford since the sun hadn’t cleared the mountains yet), we were finally lined up and off at 8:00.

Like I said, this was my first marathon running with my Garmin. I decided to mark the miles manually at each mile marker, rather than let the Garmin do it at every recorded mile. Consequently, most of the splits are a little over or a little under 1 mile exactly. Most of the time, I could contribute this to satellite accuracy, but mile marker 2 was definitely off, as my Garmin read only 1.88 miles when we hit it. Also, I forgot to turn the Auto Pause feature off, so on the two occasions that I stopped at the porta potties (more on that later), the Garmin paused so my final time on there, and my mile splits, don’t reflect that time lost in the blue room. In any case, here’s how it went down:

Miles 1-5
We started in Rochford and went downhill on the highway for awhile and then did a short out and back which took us back to the Mickelson trail, which we would stay on for the rest of the race. The first mile was too fast, and both me and Juan said “oops” when we saw the split. The second mile split was also too fast, but like I said, the marker had to be short. This was confirmed when the fourth mile split was way too slow. Somewhere around 3 miles we got passed by the aforementioned 8th grader who I didn’t want to lose to. Dammit! But, I figured I might reel him in later on. Around mile 4, Juan told me to go on if I wanted and it was becoming obvious that we would be running different paces. So, off I went. I was trying to be conservative, not wanting to run the 12 mile uphill too hard and then have nothing left for the 13 mile downhill to follow.

1 – 7:44
2 – 7:23 (marker too short)
3 – 8:21
4 – 8:59 (marker too long)
5 – 8:10

Miles 6-10
By now we were well into the long uphill grind. The thing about this uphill, which both Juan and I had commented on earlier, was that it’s so gradual that it’s easy to see why people burn themselves out on it and then suffer in the second half. It’s just enough of a rise to make you work harder, but not so much of a rise that forces you to back off because you know you absolutely have to. It would be very easy to just plow ahead and ruin your race in the first half (as many did).

6 – 9:27 (Garmin marked that mile as 1.11 miles)
7 – 8:31
8 – 8:39
9 – 8:25
10 – 8:30


Miles 11-15
By mile 10, it was becoming clear that my recurring digestive problems were going to strike again. Out of a total of nine marathons (including DMTM), I have avoided porta potty stops in four of them. I have no idea what causes my GI problems, but I would very much like to figure it out, because it’s getting quite annoying (and costing me a lot of time, as you will see). Anyhow, somewhere around mile 11, I caught up to and passed the 8th grader. It was pretty obvious even then that he wouldn’t be passing me again (and he would end up finishing in 4:08). Just before the half-marathon start, I jumped into the blue room for the first of my two stops of the day. Just after the bathroom break, I hit a long straightaway and all I could see ahead was a tunnel of trees with nothing but blue sky over the horizon. I knew that was where the course topped out and that it was virtually all downhill from there. Hallelujah!!

11 – 8:04 (Garmin said 0.93 miles….one negative thing I’ve heard about this race is that the mile markers are off and my Garmin seems to agree with that complaint)
12 – 8:13
13 – 8:32 (this split should be bigger thanks to the porta potty stop)
14 – 8:03 (starting to head downhill)
15 – 7:51

I forgot to take a halfway split, but I remember looking at my total time as I crossed the half start and seeing 1:50:xx, knowing that my actual split was a couple minutes slower thanks to #2.

Miles 16-20
I went through some rough spells here. I had been looking so forward to reaching the downhill and then after I got there it dawned on me that I still had a long ways to run. Plus, even after the first portajohn stop, my digestive system was not feeling good….I could actually feel/here stuff sloshing around in there. Gross, I know. I stopped again somewhere in the 18th mile and felt marginally better afterwards. The course took another uphill jaunt in miles 19 and 20. I actually spaced out somewhere in there and hit mile 20 thinking it was only mile 19. Bonus!

16 – 7:51
17 – 7:51
18 – 7:54 (second visit to the blue room, again; split should be bigger)
19 – 8:00
20 – 8:24

Miles 21-26.2
Right after the mile 20 marker the course went down a sharp decline….so sharp to be unhelpful at this point in the race. After that the course leveled out a little, but was still downhill. Somewhere around mile 21, the sun suddenly blinked out and I looked up to see some rather ominous looking grey clouds. Just as I thought “we might get rained on”, the rain started. Over the next couple of miles, it rained pretty good and we got some sleet thrown in briefly for good measure. I commented to one guy I passed that if you didn’t like the weather in South Dakota, just wait around 15 minutes and it’ll change. Sure enough, the sun was back out within a couple of miles. Somewhere around mile 22, I suddenly realized that I felt pretty damn good and was having some fun. I could see a girl in a pink tank top up ahead who I had been following for several miles and made it my mission to catch her by the finish. I kept plugging away and passed several other marathoners and a bunch of half marathon walkers in the next couple of miles, but pink shirt girl wasn’t getting much closer. Finally, during mile 24 she slowed at the aid station to get a drink and I picked up the pace. I passed her just before the mile 25 marker and was cruising pretty good by that point. We were also back in Deadwood by then, running on the same stretch of trail that the kids 1K had been run on the day before. I decided I was going to finish this thing strong and, honestly, I was feeling great at this point. As I came down the final stretch I caught a glimpse of the finish line clock and saw 3:36:43. I turned on the finishing kick at that point to get in under 3:37 and surged across the line at 3:36:55.

21 – 8:32 (steep downhill, plus Garmin said 1.07 miles)
22 – 7:20
23 – 8:24 (another 1.07 miles)
24 – 7:53
25 – 7:58
26 – 7:14
26.2 – 0:23 (you think that’s off?? Garmin said 0.06 miles)

Miscellaneous Data
Garmin “moving” time: 3:33:04
Chip time: 3:36:55
Time lost in the blue room: 3:54
Approximate Negative Split: 7:00

Overall Place: 43/294
AG Place: 12/19 (if I hadn’t turned 30 a few weeks ago, I would have gotten 2nd in the 25-29 AG! It appears that nearly all of the USATF Championship runners were in their early 30s.)

Average Heart Rate: 153
Max Heart Rate: 167
Start Elevation: 5411
Finish Elevation: 4602
Max Elevation: 6307
Total Elevation Gain: 4259
Total Elevation Loss: 5068

I immediately located my wife, kids, and sister in law afterwards and learned that my wife had run a 2:16:21 in the half marathon, a whopping 13 minute PR! After some pictures, I went over to the finish line to look for Juan. I didn’t have to wait long, as he came cruising in with a 3:46. He commented afterwards that it was one of the toughest races he’s run in awhile. For myself, it’s actually the third slowest time I’ve posted out of nine marathons, but given that it was supposed to be a fun training run, I’ll take that. The plus side of running a relatively slow marathon on a nice, soft dirt trail is that a day later my legs feel great; I honestly don’t feel like I ran a marathon yesterday. I did have one uncomfortable stretch yesterday afternoon as I was laying in the recliner sleeping through the Prefontaine Classic and my calves were twitching like crazy and cramping up every once in awhile, but as soon as I got off my butt and walked around a little, all of the discomfort went away.

I’m actually pretty encouraged by how well the second half of this race went. I purposefully held back in the first half and it paid off. I ended up feeling great in the second half and for only the second time ever (Fargo last year being the first), I got faster after mile 20, didn’t feel totally destroyed the final 10K, and posted a big negative split. I don’t know if it was the downhill second half, the conservative first half, the carb deplete/load, or a combination of all of those, but I hope I can capture that feeling again the next time I go for a BQ. If not for my GI issues, I could have run this thing significantly faster. Another encouraging thing was that I don’t remember getting passed by anyone for the last, oh, 15 miles or so (except when I was in the portajohn). I did pass a lot of marathoners (and a ton of half marathon walkers) in the last 10K, which is always fun.

So, where from here? Well, I desperately need to figure out what in the heck is causing my GI distress during marathons. I very, very rarely experience GI distress during training runs, so I have no idea why it suddenly strikes me during marathons. I’ve tried different gels, sport beans, different pre-race meals, everything I can think of and I can’t for the life of me pinpoint any one factor. Next up for me marathon-wise is Missoula on July 13. Given that I feel pretty good right now, I’m hoping to jump right back into training and give it a strong effort there. Hopefully, Mother Nature cooperates with those plans…

Well, I think I’ve rambled on for long enough. I know there are some things I meant yo say that I left out (believe it or not), but I’ll have to call it good for now. Thanks for reading!!
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