In my last post highlighting the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon and Run Crazy Horse events I commented how those courses feature mostly downhill sections for the half marathon races and varying amounts uphill and downhill sections for the marathon races. If you are looking for an almost pure downhill race or training spot then today’s post is made for you. We are discussing one of my favorite training spots (and luckily for me it is just two miles from my front door): Spearfish Canyon.
“The Canyon” empties into the east end of Spearfish and gradually climbs its way about 2,000 vertical feet as you travel south 20-plus miles. This gradual ascent away from town (and descent back towards town) makes for a favorite “out and back” training option. Even better, if you have a ride to your starting point you can run a point to point training run at a mild but definitely noticeable decline. Although varying, many of the miles in the canyon average around 100 feet of gain/loss per mile, depending on which direction you are going.
Two local favorite races are held primarily in Spearfish Canyon each summer. The first is the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, held on the second Saturday morning in July. This race is put on by the CASA of the Northern Black Hills organization as a fundraiser. Runners in the half marathon (there is also a 5K race held in town) meet at the Spearfish City Park to load busses to take the 13-mile journey up towards the starting line on the side of the canyon highway just before the lodge at Savoy (home of the Roughlock Falls trailhead). From there, the race winds its way down the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway – open to traffic during the race so leave the headphones at home! Runners take the bike path through the city campground along Spearfish Creek for the final mile to the finish just as you enter the city park. A word of warning, the final flat mile can feel a little brutal after the initial 12 miles of continuous downhill. Some downhill training, especially on long runs, would be a good idea for this race!
A little over a month after the Spearfish Canyon Half, you will find one of the more unique running events in South Dakota, the female-only Leading Ladies Marathon & Half Marathon. The Leading Ladies races also run down the canyon into the city of Spearfish with a very similar half marathon route and a full marathon option that starts further up the canyon and takes a short detour towards Roughlock Falls at Savoy. The late August start date can be a warm time, even at elevation, but the races start early in the morning so hopefully most of the mileage is out of the way before temperatures rise as the sun peaks above the canyon walls.
For those interested, most information about Spearfish Canyon can be found here. If you want a place to stay, the Spearfish Canyon Lodge in Savoy cannot be beat for its beautiful surroundings and miles of trails just past the parking lot.
Even if these races or a canyon training run don’t make it to your schedule, Spearfish Canyon is still a must-take detour in the Northern Hills and a fantastic place to spend an unstructured afternoon!
Chris Riley is a teacher, cross country coach and lifelong runner in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Watch for periodic guest blog posts from Chris and the west river running experience on Blog 605