This report starts back in May when I finished the Lincoln Marathon. The entirety of my spring was dedicated to training for my first marathon. I was very active with social media, blogging, and pictures depicting my experiences. Since that time I’ve deliberately taken a step back from racing and being so out there with my training. Yes, as the manager of the running store this has been a step back. My summer was full of great adventures with Chelsea including riding our bikes the length of the Mickelson Trail, exploring new places, celebrating old friendships, and quality family time. Lastly, I had the opportunity to manage the 605 Summer Race Series and simply run at the group run, without any real training emphasis.
As the weeks wore on and my race schedule continued to be empty something Logan had said to me at the half way point of the Lincoln Marathon kept creeping into my mind.
“1:53:52 that is a new half marathon PR Greg!”
During my training for the marathon I knew my fitness was improving by leaps-and-bounds. There was something to this statement though that had me perplexed to say the least. From that simple jovial statement from Logan my next running goal had already begun to form in my head.
1:53:52. My next journey would be to match a race time that fit with where I felt I was going physically. The people that are closest to me know that I am very competitive. In fact I make the Watley trio look like choir boys. My journey to running was similar to a lot of runners out there. I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle and needed an activity to help me stay motivated. Over time, I’ve become a numbers guy and I think my running friends will understand.
When I said this report starts in May, I lied. The report really starts with my first half marathon as a 605 Running Company staff member in Sioux Falls, 2014. My time was 2:40:59. From that point on running has become my life: group running events, local races, specialized gear, running clubs, running friendships, and converting non-runners to runners and race spectators.
Using my first race as a staff member here at the store my half marathon journey goes something like this.
September, 2015: Sioux Falls Half 1:55:51
November, 2015: Good Life Halfsy, Lincoln NE 1:54:56
May, 2016: Lincoln Marathon (half split time) 1:53:52
The goal was simple. Set a new half marathon personal best sub 1:50. Given my marathon conditioning and running lifestyle I felt that this goal was in-the-bag before I got started. When choosing what course to crush my PR; I took a few things into consideration. Location, beer, and family ties. That led me to choosing the Amana Colonies Backroad Half Marathon. After all I was born in Iowa, Amana is the home of Mill Stream Brewery, and my sister-in-law lives minutes away in North Liberty. As I have come to learn, nothing is simply in-the-bag in running. You need a multitude of things to line-up just right in order to have that perfect race. In the case of the Amana Colonies Backroad Half Marathon my training took a serious turn for the worse when I got the stomach flu and threw my back out prior to the race. That combined with a grueling backroad course was a death sentence to my goal.
August, 2016: Amana Colonies Backroad Half Marathon 1:51:51
Yes it was a personal best, but no I was not satisfied at all. That is when I made the decision to seek professional help. Enter Coach Grant Watley and a goal of 1:48.
Almost immediately after Amana I signed up for the Run Crazy Horse Half Marathon. Several of my friends were already committed to running the race and countless people had told me it was an amazing course. More friends still told me that it was the perfect course to PR on because of the downhill nature of the event. I wasn’t taking any chances though. Coach Watley had me doing fartleks, strides, intervals, threshold training, and the list goes on-and-on. I worked harder during this training plan than my marathon race prep. Including setting PR’s in the 5k and 10k while actually meeting my stated goal in multiple training runs.
Chelsea and I packed up our car and headed for the hills on Friday. Our drive was perfect and it felt like we covered the state in no time. We would be staying at her uncles’ cabin just 5 miles from the Crazy Horse monument. We stopped in Hill City to take advantage of the perfect weather and did some light window shopping. From there we went to the cabin to get settled in – followed by a dinner date at the Black Hills Burger and Bun Company in Custer (AMAZING). The cabin is tucked away in a valley and fairly rustic – our evening entertainment included books and downloaded movies on my cellphone.
Saturday we woke up early with plans to enjoy everything the hills has to offer. We certainly got started off on the right foot as we opened the cabin door to three elk passing bye peacefully. From there we grabbed some coffee and decided to continue the close encounters by doing the wildlife loop through Custer State Park. We met up with some friends for a beverage at Miner Brewing Company and lunch in Hill City. Finally, Chelsea and I set-out to stretch our legs by hiking Little Devil’s Tower. We ate a light dinner at the cabin, read our books for a while and went to sleep in our private hideaway.
We both got great sleep which is rare prior to a race. The weather was perfect and we made our brief trip to the monument at 6:52am. Parking was plentiful and everything was very well organized. Chelsea and I had both been battling a cold and it felt as though the altitude was not helping. We took care of our pre-race rituals and I tried not to drive her nuts with my stir craziness. We jumped into a few pre-race photos with friends wished each other good luck and parted ways.
My plan was to start conservative and work up to a more strenuous pace as I approached Hill City. The race starts downhill and fast, 30 seconds in and my plan was shot. At the bottom of the hill I looked at my watch and saw 6:40 pace – not the plan! The first 4 miles continue around the monument site and are very up-and-down and all sorts of strenuous. I survived the section and while I wasn’t feeling great, I did feel like things were going to get better. Once we jumped onto the Mickelson Trail my pace started to settle into a more consistent tempo. Through six miles I was confident that I could maintain where I was at and maybe even get stronger based off of my training.
At mile eight I started to feel a twinge just under my rib cage and around eight-and-a-half it was a full on side stich that would not pass. I went from a strong seven-thirty pace to walking just like that and I was in full on panic mode. This hadn’t happened in almost a year and I was seriously contemplating dropping out of the race because it hurt so badly. That is when I started to focus my breathing; I slowed everything down and took in the breathtaking beauty that was surrounding me on the Mickelson Trail. Somehow I started running again. Miles 9-11 continued on at a slightly slower pace, but still faster than my stated goal pace.
The finish was great! Main Street Hill City and full of people. I crossed the line at 1:45:46 – I was in a lot of pain and not as happy as I probably should have been. It is a weird feeling to accomplish a goal, but to not at all be satisfied with the way I did it. I’m sure as time goes on I will have a better perspective of all of the beauty that this course had. What it didn’t have due to logistics was a lot of crowd support – given the scenic nature of the Mickelson Trail you cannot expect to have wall-to-wall people cheering you on as you pass bye. Given that information I still felt like I should have a proverbial one-up on the competition because I recently rode my bike on this section of the trail. I wonder if in a different setting I could have pulled some sort of adrenaline boost and handled my side stich better?
I would recommend this race to anybody that has a true love of the wilderness. The majority of it is run on crushed gravel and is downhill. A beautiful course that was well marked. Even though by the numbers it is a smaller event the organizers do everything to give it a big race feel. Tech. tee shirts, unique finisher medals, plenty of water stops, variety of food at the finish, and accurate timing. It would be nice to see pacers in the future to help manage the extreme slop changes and maybe more cheer groups along the route when possible. Overall it was a wonderful weekend and I did accomplish my goal. However, I will be running again soon with new goals and bigger race plans. For now my next race will be the Bob Bartling Hobo Day 5k in Brookings.
Greg “PEPSI” Koch