Sunday, June 27, 2010


I have occasionally heard rumblings about my blogs being long – which I have typically ignored. However, if this one turns out to be shorter than normal, thank Dacia. She provided a very nice account of our trip to South Dakota – and, with a few exceptions, very accurate. The only thing she didn’t say much about was the race – so I’ll start there.

When we pick our races we look for good organization and reports, places we haven’t been before, and, most of all – a pretty, scenic course. This might be downtown Chicago along Lake Michigan or, more likely, in a scenic area of mountains, lakes, red rock formations, forests or vistas.

Several stand out, among them Estes Park, Valley of Fire, Canyonlands, Traverse City and the Adirondack (but there are many more). We can now add another to the list: The Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Deadwood Mickelson Trail race immediately appealed to us based on the course comments and the scenery. It did not disappoint. The trail follows an abandoned railroad grade through the heart of the Black Hills.

It has forests, meadows, lakes, mountains and vistas, not to mention that for the half-marathoners, 12 of the 13 miles were downhill (although at 5200’-6200’ in elevation)! The race and trail ended in Deadwood – known in its day as a lawless mining town and where “Wild Bill” Hickok was gunned down and laid to rest – now next to Calamity Jane – also of Deadwood fame.

Now a restored tourist town, it was fun and I had perhaps the best prime rib I have ever tasted at the Buffalo Saloon and Steakhouse. But back to the race, it was well-organized and supported, with a good Expo and pretty good post-race food. It would easily have been another PR for me – probably by 20-30 seconds – if not for a tweaked hamstring in the last mile which stopped me momentarily and definitely slowed me down the rest of the way. But that notwithstanding, it was a great race and setting.

It was also great to have Dacia and Ellie with us. (She indicated she backed out of a previous race; she was right about the Disney World part, but the race was in Mississippi, not Georgia.)

One particularly pleasant surprise from this race was trip planning. I invariably do that (out of necessity) – but in this case I gave Dacia all the literature, asked her to develop a plan and coordinate it with Karen – and she ran with it!

She came up with some great ideas and we did almost all of them.

Jewel Cave, Sylvan Lake, Cathedral Spires and drive, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, the alpine slide, Storybook Island and the Spearfish Canyon drive were all amazing. (I WILL take credit for the Little Devil’s Tower hike which was spectacular.)

Devil’s Tower National Monument was a great way to end – although I don’t know where Dacia came up with everything being flat around it. Not. Beautiful forests, hills and valleys surrounded it on every side – although it still “sticks out like a sore thumb” as she so eloquently put it.

Okay – so maybe this wasn’t any shorter than usual, but South Dakota, as State #41, was definitely one of our premier trips and destinations. Thanks for going with us, Dacia…..even if you didn’t do much for the “daughters’ track record” of not making it to the race until I have already finished! Thanks for the planning and it was fun having you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Running: How FAR Can You GO?

As people accumulate States in their quiver, there are, no doubt, some that are first in. As the quiver fills up I suspect there are also a few that are invariably last in. In addition to the obvious choices of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine and maybe Mississippi – I would have to believe North Dakota is right up there. How many people have you heard telling you about their vacation plans to Bismarck? However, if you are really trying to get to all 50 states, eventually you will be headed to North Dakota. For us it turned out to be State #40. Fargo.

Since we always try to combine some sightseeing with our race trips, we began to inquire about ND and Fargo attractions a month or two before the race. As we perused the literature we got the question remained: what do we do in Fargo? We actually met a man from ND whose wife was from Fargo and thought certainly they would have some suggestions. Nope. In fact, he suggested that northern Minnesota had quite a bit to see.

As it turns out, we enjoyed Fargo. It isn’t a place to spend a week, but a day was fine. The race landed in the “good” category. It wasn’t an overly scenic course, but went through the middle of the city's historic district and visited a number of neighborhoods. It started and ended in the Fargodome, a rather impressive university and city facility for sporting events and conventions. It was fun watching yourself finish on the Jumbotron!

The race was well-supported and even had a fair number of fans out to cheer us on – despite the somewhat inclement weather. (It began raining shortly before the start and didn’t really stop until about 30 minutes into the race – definitely long enough to get us wet. Luckily, it wasn’t cold so the rain wasn’t that bad.) The course also had three other things going for it. The first two: it was very flat and the elevation was low. Those two, combined with the weather, made it a fast course, as well. I managed another “Karen-era” PR, so was quite happy about that – even if I only managed to shave 3 seconds off my previous PR. The third was a special guest - the Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes - whose feats are as bewildering as they are impressive. We've read his book, wondered why he does what he does, but enjoyed meeting and talking to him for awhile. He was personable and even knows Karen's cousin and her husband - who are also part of the "ultra" group.

Since Southwest doesn’t fly within 250 miles of any part of the state, we flew into Minneapolis and were joined there by Karen’s Mom. We enjoyed the better part of a day in the Twin Cities area, to include a visit to the Mall of America – which has a Nickelodeon amusement park in it.

Rachel had a good time there and we also enjoyed some time downtown.

In North Dakota, a highlight was a half-day scenic byway through the Sheyenne River valley – probably a quintessential, rural, Midwest countryside, which was actually quite peaceful and pretty.

After the race we traveled a day and a half in northern Minnesota and were quite impressed.

It was green, hilly, forested and validated the State’s nickname: “Land of 1000 Lakes”. I have never seen so many lakes! For part of the drive you could not drive a full minute without seeing another one. Highlight lakes were Itasca (headwaters of the Mississippi River) and Bemidji, where we spent a night.

It was cool being able to see how a river the size of the Mississippi got its start – and to be able to walk across it on rocks in the stream! We got as far east as Duluth on the western tip of Lake Superior - the greatest of the Great Lakes and had a nice drive along a piece of coastline, but the fog obscured much of what we would have seen.

It was another good race and great trip – and we’ve been to North Dakota! It was also a good visit with Karen's Mom. And if you’re looking for the thoughtful nugget from Fargo – don’t let the rain ruin your day!