We’re still catching up from 2020 and everything that COVID cancelled. Thankfully, races that were not able to be run last year and returning in 2021. The tenth running of the Black Hills 100 (along with 50-mile, 50k, and 30k distances) finally took place on June 25 & 26, and I’m so glad I was able to be there. For the second time, I tackled the 50-mile distance and while it was a tough run, there were smiles of exhaustion at the finish line.
Getting to the Black Hills
The Black Hills 100 takes place in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. Based in Sturgis (yes, that motorcycle rally town), the race is surrounded by some beautiful green scenery, flowing trails, and plenty of elevation change. The closest airport is Rapid City (RAP), but since it was only a 6 hour drive from the house in Colorado, I chose to drive.
The Rapid City region has seen a boom in tourism and traffic since the pandemic began as people are looking for remote and outdoor adventures. The area is home to Mount Rushmore national memorial and a slew of local attractions that since popped up. As a result, flying into Rapid City from across the US has become much easier.
My fiancé would be joining me for the race as a support crew, so he flew direct from Charlotte (CLT) to RAP and I picked him up at the airport. We then got a quick burger and brew at the Firehouse Brewing Company in downtown Rapid City. It was ok. To be honest, it was cool to visit, but has that tourist vibe to it and isn’t the cleanest restaurant.
We then headed for a quick stop to pick up my race bib and to check-in at the race HQ in Sturgis, before making our way to the night’s destination. We made a quick stop for a walk around Deadwood. In short, it’s an old gambling and mining town, stuck in the days of the old west. Tours and gaudy tourist shops thrive on the legends of the gunslingers that once paraded through saloons of the town. Today you see more Trump-themed t-shirts and zero masks than much of anything else. Cool to see, but not somewhere that represents the beauty of the Black Hills well.
We decided to tent camp near the start line at the Pactola Reservoir. This landmark has an impressive history and role in taming water and irrigation projects in the Black Hills region. The visitors center is worth a stop to learn more about the project that created the largest lake in the area.
Black Hills 100 Race Day
The Black Hills 100 consists of four different distances for varying levels of fun for trail runners – 50 miles, 50 km, and 30km. I first ran the 50-mile distance in 2019. It was an incredibly hot and sweaty experience that had me crawling to the finish. I was pushing my limits on distance that summer. So I have definitely been looking forward to the return to improve upon my performance last time.
Most of the Black Hills 100 race takes place on the Centennial #89 Trail traverses over 100 miles across the Black Hills and was established on the centennial of South Dakota. The 100-mile distance runs up from Sturgis to Silver City and back. The 50-mile distance joins them on the route back. The first 7 miles of the course is single-track winding up and through pine forest. Then, for the remainder of the first half, the course is primarily rough and rocky ATV two-track roads. This makes for good running, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is what it’ll look like all day.
There are several access points along the way, which makes for consistent aid station opportunities every 7 miles along the course. This makes for easy planning on fuel and hydration. My fiancé was a huge help in providing a chair to rest for a few minutes and already having my Tailwind Nutrition mixed and ready to refill my hydration pack.
The Black Hills Trails Climb
The Black Hills course turns to single track for the second half and that’s when the real climbing begins. I went into the race knowing that I was undertrained, so my focus on these climbs was to keep my heartrate at a manageable level and to avoid getting overheated and dehydrated like I did on my last go of the course.
The beauty of the course really starts to take hold in these sections as you reach high overlooks above the Black Hills, flowing terrain, and rushing creek beds (no water crossings in this dry year). Some of the aid stations in this section are very remote and only accessible by ATV, so no crew support was allowed at two of them.
When all is said and done, the 50-mile (actually 52 miles) course covers more than 6,800 feet of elevation climb. The last 8 miles have you running through cow pastures back into the town of Sturgis. It’s such a long run when you can see town and hear the finish line those last miles of the day.
Black Hills 100 Finish
The finish line of the Black Hills 100 is a welcomed sight after a day on the trails. As you round the corner of the bike trail and see the crowds gathered, you’re welcomed by a lush grassy area begging you to collapsed and take the load off your feet.
It’s very cool to see a set up with so many family and friends cheering on each and every finisher. To satisfy your growling stomach, there was a chili bar set up nearby and a tapped keg of cold beer. I had to sit there for a few minutes to savor and enjoy both. Delicious!
While the Black Hill 50 mile run left me exhausted, tired, and thirsty, I had a big grin on my face after a long day on winding, flowing, and challenging trails. I’d do it again year after year.