Another weekend, another 100. In case you're wondering, running a 100 mile race one weekend and then directing a 100 the following weekend probably isn't the wisest thing in the world to do. But, I've never been accused of being all that wise, so that's what I did. It's one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time ("the time" being sometime in the winter when not much is going on, I was feeling invincible and I had all the free time in the world). In the end, it all worked out. My own run at Bighorn went about as well as it possibly could have and the Black Hills 100 went off without any major hitches (there are ALWAYS a few minor ones along the way). Mentally, I don't know if I'd put myself through that kind of stress on back to back weeks again, though.
I took the entire week between Bighorn and Black Hills off from my "real" job so that I could focus on recovering from Bighorn and preparing for Black Hills. The addition of the Tatanka 100 mountain bike race to Black Hills festivities actually helped Ryan and I immensely in the course marking department since the bike race organizers did 90% of our course marking for us, and did a great job of it, freeing us up to take care of other matters. Not to mention sparing me from having to go out and mark course all week after running 100 miles in the Bighorns. So, I spent much of the week driving around to pick up supplies and pay off bills and get the venues for packet pickup and the start/finish set up. I did get in one solid day of course marking on Friday. Up to that point, I hadn't run a single time since Bighorn, but on Friday I ended up running three separate times for a total of almost 15 miles to get the first/last 6 miles of the course and the 50M and 100K turnarounds marked. Overall, my legs felt pretty good, but by the time I headed down the hill after marking the 100K turn, I was feeling pretty beat.
The race itself went about as smoothly as a 100 mile race in the mountains can. No matter how much planning you do, something unexpected always comes up. This year the list included wildfires, locked gates and course markings that were possibly tampered with. Everyone rolled with the punches well, though, and I think we were able to alleviate the big problems that arose fairly quickly. Of course, there are always a few things that you wish you would've thought of earlier and I'm sure Ryan and I will have a list of improvements for next year.
The feedback we got from runners was almost all positive. Of course, most people are reluctant to tell you that you suck to your face, but the overall vibe we got was very good and the suggestions for improvements were valid ones that we'll take into serious consideration. Course marking and communications continue to be issues we will look to improve upon in the future.
The one thing about this event that has surprised me both years is our finish rate. Ryan and I knew when we started this race that we had a tough course....we run sections of it regularly and know from first hand experience that the Centennial will hand you your ass on a platter if you're not ready for it. But I don't think we were expecting our finish rate for the 100 mile race to be as low as it has been. To be fair, we've had significant weather challenges both years. Last year, it was a severe thunderstorm in the middle of the night. This year, we avoided any storms but instead had 90+ degree heat throughout the afternoon. Both weather events took their toll on the finish rate (35% in 2011, around 40% this year). One of these years, we'll get good weather conditions and then maybe we'll see just how fast someone can run this thing. We think sub-20 is definitely possible given the right conditions (this year's winner ran 21:50).
Of course, the lynch pin of any ultramarathon operation is the volunteers. We had a great response from the local communities and the runners were unanimous in their praise for the folks that were out there working at the aid stations. Volunteers are vital to any running event like this, but even more so on a hot day like Saturday when runners are really in need of support. THANK YOU to everyone who was out their helping at an aid station, roaming the course, delivering supplies or helping us out at the finish line in town. On the scale of importance to the success of an ultra event, the volunteers definitely rank several notches above the race directors (we're just the pretty faces of the operation :) ). And both Ryan and I would like to specially thank our wives, moms, dads, children and other assorted family members who not only put up with us when we're stressing out about every tiny detail but also put in some incredibly long hours at the event.
I said it after last year's inaugural event and I'll say it again: running a 100 mile race is FAR easier than directing one. And I'll add this nugget of wisdom for this year: for the love of God, don't go and do both in back to back weeks.