I've run certain sections of the northern Centennial trail (i.e., the Black Hills 100 course) many, many times. But the trail in its entirety is approximately 111 miles long. The Black Hills 100 course only covers about 49 miles of that, which leaves a good chunk of trail to be explored. With spring weather settling in, I decided Friday was the perfect day to do some of that exploring.
The original plan was for myself, BH100 co-director Ryan and trail running friends Nathan and Bob to all meet up for a run starting at Wind Cave National Park, which is the southern terminus of the Centennial. However, Ryan was diagnosed with pneumonia the day before the planned run, so he had to bail. So, Nathan, Bob and I met up and set out to do some exploring.
Bob had been on some of the trails we were to run before, but this was totally virgin territory for Nathan and I. Even with one of us being somewhat experienced with the terrain, we managed to fall victim to the "head down, charging forward" trail runner blunder and just a couple of miles into the run ended up taking about a six mile detour off of the Centennial on one of the park's other loop trails (actually, we aren't entirely sure it was even an official trail, but buffalo tend to blaze a path that looks remarkably like legitimate single-track trail). Eventually, we decided we should probably backtrack and sure enough, when we got back to the intersection where we'd left the Centennial, it was painfully obvious which way we were supposed to go.
So, go that way we did. By that time, on our detour, we'd already run through a prairie dog town and spotted a few coyotes trying to snare a morning meal. We'd also seen a few buffalo and some deer. Not long after getting back on the Centennial, we came upon a burn area from one of last summer's wildfires and up ahead on the trail spotted a very large bull buffalo eyeballing us. He didn't seem too interested in yielding the trail to a few scrawny humans, so we gave him a wide berth, detouring around through the burn area before finding the trail again on the other side of the buffalo. Not long after that, just as Bob was commenting that he hadn't seen any elk during his last few visits to Wind Cave, we spotted a small group of them up ahead. Deer, elk, prairie dogs, coyotes, elk, various species of birds...it was like a genuine South Dakota safari.
We continued on the Centennial for several miles with no more navigational errors, although there was one section where the trail was totally just not there, but luckily there were marker posts guiding us across the open meadow. Eventually, we left Wind Cave and crossed over into adjacent Custer State Park. Through there, the trail was actually a jeep road, which always seem less interesting to run on for some reason, although they are essentially just parallel single-tracks. With the miles and time accumulating, we didn't delve too deep into Custer before turning back for the trailhead.
Lucky for me that we turned around when we did. Although we only covered about 24.2 miles all told, I experienced a minor bonk in the last few miles. It's been awhile since that has happened and I've run longer runs in the past couple months with no problems, but I think the "heat" (60 degrees was feeling pretty warm after most of my long runs have been in the 20s-40s) combined with not taking in nearly enough calories took its toll. The last couple miles were pretty slow as I felt hazy and just had no energy whatsoever. Ended up walking most of the last mile, even though the trail was virtually flat, which is a shame because I had felt pretty good all day right up until that point. Still, a good run on some good trails in some new country, so can't complain about that.