The Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon is the closest thing I have to a hometown marathon. I live about 25 miles north of Deadwood, so this is the one and only marathon where I can sleep in my own bed the night before and be home in time for lunch afterward. That alone would probably motivate me to run this race. The fact that it’s a really well organized event on an absolutely spectacular course is just frosting on the cake.
Unfortunately, I missed out on DMTM the first two years I lived here because I had to go back to Montana that same weekend, first to move the rest of my family out here and then for a sister-in-law’s graduation. So, although this is my fifth June in South Dakota, it was only my third year running one of the DMTM events. Two years ago, I ran the full marathon as a training run before my BQ effort in Missoula five weeks later. That training run ended up being a 3:36:55. Last year, I ran the half marathon instead in the hopes of breaking my extremely stale, nearly two-year old PR and going sub-1:30 in the process. That mission was accomplished as I ran a 1:28:17. This year it was back to the full, which would again serve as a training run but this time for the Bighorn 50 coming up in two weeks and, ultimately, for the Lean Horse 100 at the end of August.
My short history of using the full for training runs and the half for a PR effort makes total sense if you’re familiar with the DMTM course. Almost the entire route, save for a little over a mile at the start of the marathon, is on the Mickelson Trail, which is a rails-to-trails project spanning the Black Hills for 109 miles from north to south. This is really a “trail marathon” in name only. The Mickelson is really more of a glorified dirt road with very gentle, but long, grades. There are no single-track, rocks, roots, stream crossings, or near vertical slopes to speak of. It’s a great running venue, but lends itself to faster times than a typical trail marathon might. Having said that, though, the full marathon course isn’t necessarily a fast one. From mile one through about 13.5, it’s an almost constant, albeit gradual, uphill. At times, you can barely even tell you’re going up and at others it’s more noticeable. It’s not enough to grind you into the ground, but it does slow you down some. After topping out, the route heads downhill for the majority of the second half, save for a mile stretch of very gradual uphill from about 19-20. It’s definitely a course begging to be negative split as long as you don’t go too crazy in the first half. The half marathon course, on the other hand, is lightning fast. It starts at the halfway point of the marathon, so after a brief, gentle uphill you drop down for most of the rest of the way.
This was my lucky 13th marathon overall and would be my first since Missoula in July of last year, so I was kind of itching to lace em up and go. Consequently, I was worried about letting the excitement of the moment get the best of me and pushing too hard. Based on my experience at DMTM two years ago, I figured a finish time in the 3:30-3:45 range would be reasonable and would likely allow me to continue on with my ultra training just as I would after any other long run. In the spirit of ultra training, I decided to try and make sure I wouldn’t run too fast at DMTM by logging a solid 10 miler the day before. I then drove down to Deadwood and worked at the marathon expo handing out bibs for 5 hours before going to run the last 2K of the Kids Marathon with my son and then heading back home for my daughter’s 5th birthday party. Exactly the kind of day you would want to avoid at all costs if you were running a goal marathon the next day, but I tried my hardest to think of DMTM as a long run and not a race.
My wife, who ran the half marathon, and I were up bright and early to drive to Deadwood and hop on the buses to our respective start lines. I felt pretty relaxed and my legs felt surprisingly good considering the long day they’d endured on Saturday. We arrived at the start line in Rochford (population 5, give or take) with plenty of time to spare and thankfully, unlike the last two years, it wasn’t totally freezing ass cold outside, so it was actually kind of pleasant hanging out and talking with a few other people I knew who were running the marathon. Just before 8:00 we were herded onto the road and in short time were off for Deadwood.
Since I’m such a totally awesome and thoughtful husband, I gave my Garmin to my wife for the day since she had a more tangible goal in mind. Ironically, the first marathon I ever ran with the Garmin was DMTM two years ago and this would be the first time I had run any race without it since then. To be honest, I felt a little naked and vulnerable not knowing what my pace was at any given time. I mean, I did have my Timex Ironman watch on so I could see where I was at each mile marker, but it didn’t help that the mile markers were almost certainly off in a few places. I’ve been running long enough to know the difference between 7:29 and 9:05 pace, and I can guarantee that I was alternating between the two on consecutive miles. So, take these splits with a grain of salt.
1 – 7:53 Don’t know if this was off or not, but much faster than I want to be going.
2 – 7:29 Almost certainly too short.
3 – 9:05 Yup, it was. Ran briefly with a guy I know, Phil, who was running his first marathon and hoping to
break 4 hours. He ended up with a 3:55. Nice job, Phil!
4 – 8:54 Stopped here to take a leak.
5 – 8:32
6 –9:27 Uh….what? Had to be long, which means the last one must’ve been short.
7 – 8:49 More reasonable. Started running and talking with two other guys. One of them is also
running his first marathon, hoping for sub-4.
8 – 8:48
9 – 8:37
10 – 8:38 Left the two guys behind. The first timer ended up with a 3:49.
11 – 8:10 Seems a little too fast for an uphill mile.
12 – 8:20
13 – 8:31
14 – 8:32
15 – 8:16 On the downhill now and actually expected a faster split.
16 – 8:15
17 – 8:28 Went through a little rough patch for the next few miles.
18 – 8:26
19 – 8:27
20 – 8:39 This mile was mostly uphill again.
21 – 8:08 The uphill is followed by a fairly steep, but short downhill.
22 – 7:51 A more gradual downhill now and I’m starting to feel pretty good.
23 – 8:35 Inexplicably slow.
24 – 7:51 Feeling REALLY good now. Guess I might as well push a little.
25 – 7:25 Effortless. And I’m passing a lot of people.
26 – 7:17 Starting to feel some strain, but my legs feel pretty good, I’m passing people and I’m almost
26.2 – 1:23 (6:55 pace)
Chip time – 3:38:58
1st half split – 1:52:17
2nd half split – 1:46:41
38th out of 326 overall
8th out of 34 in my AG
So, basically, just how I planned it. I really didn’t think I’d have that much energy at the end after all the time I spent on my feet the day before, but it was there so I decided to take advantage of it. It’s not every day you can run the last three miles of a marathon the fastest and still feel good at the finish. A look through the results shows that I passed 20 marathoners in the 2nd half and got passed once, by a guy who blew by me in the final mile, so he must’ve been doing sub-7 pace. And, more importantly, as I sit here the next morning my legs don’t feel any worse off than they typically do after a long run. Mission accomplished. Next up, the Bighorn 50 in 12 short days…