Sunday, November 10, 2013

Race Recap: Center of the Nation Series - 5 Races/5 Days/5 States

Race Series: Center of the Nation Series
Dates: Monday, September 16, 2013 - Friday, September 20, 2013
Locations:   Day 1 - Bowman, North Dakota (Half Marathon)
                    Day 2 - Belle Fourche, South Dakota (Full Marathon)
                    Day 3 - Colony, Wyoming (Half Marathon)
                    Day 4 - Albion, Montana (Half Marathon)
                    Day 5 - Chadron, Nebraska (Full Marathon)

Sunday, September 15, 2013 - Travel Day

Today would be the day of the long drive. I ended up taking off from Colorado at 4am to make the the drive to Rapid City, South Dakota to pick up one of my room mates (Denise) at the airport before making the final leg of the trip to Bowman, North Dakota.

This happened to be around the time that the floods in Colorado were happening. I had been watching the Department of Transportation website to see if I-25 would be open for my trip. It had actually been closed off and on for the 2 days prior but luckily they opened it back up the night before I left for Colorado Springs. The drive through the Denver area was a bit alarming because it was still raining, fairly heavy at times. There were areas of standing water on the freeway and I remember I did do some slight hydroplaning while going through there. After I finally made it into Wyoming the weather went to a gloomy, overcast and by the time I had gotten to the eastern side and into South Dakota the skies were clear.

The drive was roughly 9 hours (including gas and food stops) to get to Rapid City. I got to the airport just before Denise's flight disembarked. Now, this was one of those instances where I had never met my room mates before but luckily everyone would fit together well. After I picked up Denise we headed north to Bowman, North Dakota. The drive was about 3 hours and as we went through Rapid City Denise mentioned wanting to stop somewhere to pick up some groceries and such. What we didn't know is that there were no decent sized towns on the route we were taking to Bowman. Not a WalMart or Target in sight once we left the limits of Rapid City.

We arrived in Bowman around 3:30pm and checked into our hotel. At about this time we found out that our room mates, Michelle and Sherry, had had their flight cancelled and were making alternative plans to get to Bowman. They eventually got in an hour into the race the next day! We found out from the clerk that there was only one grocery store open in town and they closed at 5:30, so we headed over there and luckily they had everything that Denise had wanted to get. From the store we decided that we'd head over to packet pickup. We ended up going down this rutted dirt road to get to the golf course where pickup and dinner was being held and later found out that there was a paved road coming from the west. We got our stuff and decided to have dinner while we were there. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to get our gear ready and turned in early, the sun was still out, so that we'd be rested for the race the next day.

Monday, September 16, 2013 - Race #1 - Bowman, ND

We woke up early to head over to the start which was 30 minutes away. It was cold, dark and the wind was blowing at a decent clip. To break up the wind I put on a plastic trash fashionable. lol!

Photo courtesy of Denise Mueller, my roomie.
Clint Burelson, race director giving instructions for the first day.
The race was at Bowman-Haley Lake Recreation Area, the course itself was on a worn asphalt road with just the tiniest bit of dirt/gravel trail at the turnaround. This series is timed, but non-competitive. It's just about getting all the states that you need in for something like the 50 states clubs where you do either a marathon or half marathon in each state. Since it was non-competitive (not that I'm a competitive runner) I figured I start out slow then go slower just to keep the wear and tear on my body to a minimum.

Clint, the race director, gave instructions on how this short course out and back would work. We'd go out and back on an approximately 2 mile course, each time we completed a lap we would need to take a rubberband which would be used to count laps: half marathoners had to do 6 laps, full marathoners 12 laps. With that we all lined up and took off at the start. I've never done a short loop course like this and didn't think I'd enjoy it, but in reality it was great. You saw the same people over and over and got to know them. By the time I finished it really didn't feel like I had just completed a half marathon.

The other 2 room mates, plus a third (Marissa) had arrived at the race about and hour or so in. So while they were still running Denise and I headed back to the room to shower and get ready to leave. As soon as the others finished their races they headed over to shower then we all got in the car to travel to Belle Fourche, SD...the geographical center of the United States (including Alaska and Hawai'i).

The drive back to South Dakota took about 2 hours. I did the driving while everyone else napped. The "new" girls had barely slept on their drive from Philadelphia to Bowman, they had driven through the night to make it to the race. We arrived in Belle Fourch in mid afternoon and had just enough time to drop off all our stuff before heading back to Rapid City so the other girls could drop off their rental car. After we dropped off the car we decided to stop at Target then eat at Longhorn Steakhouse since we didn't know what kind of food would be in Belle Fourche. We found out later that the pre-race dinner at the restaurant for our hotel was pretty lame so eating in Rapid City was a good choice. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to get our gear ready and head to bed.

Finishing Time: 3:19:00

Tuesday, September 17, 2013: Race #2 - Belle Fourche, SD

This was the day that I chose to do the first of two full marathons during this series. The start was close enough that we walked to it rather than driving. The course on this day was primarily on a river side concrete (ouch!) path with a short portion on city street. It was once again and out and back course. Clint again gave instructions that ended up much like the ones the previous day: 6 laps for the half marathoners and 12 (gasp!) laps for the marathoners. The start was quite crowded because there were nearly 200 runners on a rather narrow concrete path. After we started the path stayed quite packed until the first lap was nearly complete, at that point things began to thin out. 

I started out fairly well with run/walk/run intervals until about mile 15 or 16 at which point I was doing more walking than running. I managed to trudge on and got a boost of energy when Shirtless Sam was doing some cheerleading on the back end of the course. The next time I saw Sam I had three more laps to go and knew that I would be too tired to walk back to the hotel so I asked him for a lift back since he was at the same hotel. I tried to finish up as fast as possible, but fast was not in my vocabulary at that time. By the time I finished my feet were somewhat tender and I hobbled to Sam's car for the short ride to the hotel. 

Sam and I.
The roomies and others at the Center of the Nation monument.
The real spot is on farmland outside of town but nobody would
go out there so they made this one in town.
Photo courtesy of  Denise Mueller.
My roomies had finished hours prior and had done their bit as cheerleaders. You must note that my room mates were all younger than me by at least 5 years, had these flat bellys and abs...then there was me and my plump self! Anyway, they ran in running skirts and sports bras so they were the talk of the race while doing their cheerleader duties. When I finally got to the hotel they were all showered and using Denise's compression pants and TENS unit. While I was taking an ice bath, yeah I love those, the girls were kind enough to go get me a Blizzard which I counted as my post race protein (I have no idea if that's real ice cream at DQ). After my shower I joined in on the partaking of the compression pants and TENS unit.

For dinner, we ate at the hotel restaurant which was highly disappointing. Thank goodness we wouldn't be in town long enough to have to eat there again! It was then time to get gear ready for the next day and hit the sack.

Finishing Time: 7:19:24

Wednesday, September 18, 2013: Race #3 - Colony, WY

Yet another early morning...Off we went for the 25 minute drive to the next venue. We had heard that finding this particular venue was a little difficult so we just followed the line of cars. Funnily enough we still ended up getting lost and a guy from the mine whose property we were on kindly showed us the way (he actually led us there in his truck). I hadn't read the updated courses on the website and when I found out that this and tomorrow's races were going to be on gravel I was not a happy camper. For one, my ankles can't really deal with uneven surfaces. Secondly, I knew that I'd be getting rocks in my shoes which meant either stopping often to empty them out or suffering through the discomfort. I really wish I had brought my gaiters and trail shoes with me. Luckily the gravel on this road wasn't too bad and as long as I stuck to the packed dirt along the tire tracks I'd do pretty well. 

The majority of us were dressed in Boston Marathon colors of blue and yellow because this particular day was designated "Boston Strong Day" as a remembrance of the bombing just a few months prior. Roger Wright was doing some fundraising for the Boston One Fund and was able to raise $700. Roger gave a speech talking about his struggle for health and why he was running races, very inspirational. Clint then made his now familiar speech and then we were off. I tried to stay on the packed gravel as much as possible, and of course there was a hill right at the turnaround...thank goodness I only had to do it six times! This was a slow one because I didn't want to risk injury to my ankles (I have very weak ankles from spraining them so much as a kid) so that I could finish the last 2 races of the week. Eventually I finished and we headed back to the room to change and head out to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Boston Strong Day Start - video by Roger Wright.
I'm at around 4:38 on the left side walking and wearing 
a blue skirt and black shrug (short jacket).

Photo courtesy of Denise Mueller.

At the gate at the Crazy Horse Monument.
Photo courtesy of Denise Mueller.

Room mates +1 at Mt. Rushmore.
Photo courtesy of Denise Mueller.
Mt. Rushmore selfie.
Crazy Horse Monument selfie.
On the way back we stopped in Hill City to eat a Desperados Cowboy Restaurant. This place was great with western furnishings and the owner, Dan, came by and talked to every table. He spent some extra time with us telling us about the restaurant, the parts of the original 1800's building and a ghost story about the place. I had planned on ordering a bison rib eye that we had read about on yelp! but they didn't have any so a couple of us went with the bison pot roast and it was really good.

Bison pot roast.
Somehow on the drive home the GPS on my phone sent us through the dark, windy roads of the Black Hills National Forest instead of through Rapid City. During this drive two deer, one right after another, decided that it would be a good idea to cross the road right in front of us. Luckily I was able to smoothly swerve around them although Denise did let out a girly scream. lol! We finally made it through Deadwood and Spearfish before getting on the right route to Belle Fourche. We made it back to the hotel at around 10pm, just enough time to get our gear ready, pack for the next day because we were heading to Chadron, NE right after the race and jump into bed.

Finishing Time: 3:42

Thursday, September 19, 2014: Race #4 - Albion, MT

Last minute packing going on in our room! We finally got everyone out and the car packed up right around 5am. We were glad to get away from this particular hotel, it was probably the worst experience out of the whole trip. My ankles were hurting just a little bit from the previous day, but not enough to worry about them. My big worry was the fact that the gravel on this course was extremely coarse and rough, no real tire ruts to follow. It was also cold. I mean in the 30's cold and wind blasting anywhere from 30-50 mph. This was going to be painful, in the sense that it would not be fun at all. There was also a big hill at the turnaround. What was it with the hills??

Moonset at Albion, MT
Clint gave his speech and we all lined up for the start. For me, this was a torturous race. I walked all of it trying to be careful not to turn my ankles. I did end up doing it several times, but I didn't think it was too bad. Between the cold, wind and gravel this was the most miserable I had been up to this point. I think it took me 4, if not more hours to finish this race. The other girls finished in around 2 hours and had been sitting in the car warming up until I finished. Once I did finish I was a human popsicle. I managed to put some pants on and my sweatshirt and headed out with the next stop Devil's Tower since we were going right by it anyways. 

We arrived at Devil's Tower in the early afternoon. We did the obligatory tourist thing and spent some time talking to another runner who asked which race we were doing. After giving her the lowdown, we headed up the hill in front of the rock and considered taking the hike around it but we were just too tired. We did see some climbers on the Tower but we ended up not staying long at all.

Devil's Tower selfie.
We ended up in Chadron, NE in the late afternoon and just ordered a pizza for dinner. A couple of us did some laundry, the room mates started packing their stuff because they would leave right after the next days race, we all got our gear for the next day ready and went to be fairly early.

Finishing Time: 3:59

Friday, September 20, 2013: Race #5 - Chadron, NE

All these early mornings all in a row were tiring. Gotta admit I think we were all happy that this was the last day of the series. My ankles were hurting this morning and I even considered not running this race, but because I wanted to qualify for Marathon Maniacs I decided that I had to do it. We took off about 45 minutes early to get to the venue, Chadron State Park. This was easily the most scenic of all the venues thus far. The course followed a trail through the woods for a short time, then on paved road up and around the campsites, up a hill, through some trees and back to the start. What was nice was that since it was a loop, during his morning speech Clint told us we could go in the reverse direction for a change of pace if we wanted to. 

There was a sense of joy that we had completed this journey (or the part of it that you chose to do, not everyone did every race) and sadness that, even as tired as we were, it was almost over. After the customary speech by Clint we all lined up and were off. Early on my ankles didn't give me much trouble, but at about the halfway point they began hurting like the dickens and I began a full on walk just to finish the race. The further I got into the race the more my ankles hurt and I just contemplated quitting but the draw of making it into the Maniacs was too much to give up. I struggled on and finally at the finish of the last lap (of 12) I staggered...ok not so much staggering...into the finish turned in my rubberbands and got my Nebraska and Series Finishers medals.

Amy and I on the last day.

Denise and I on the last day.

Me, Denise, Michelle and Sherry...the room mates together one last time.
The other girls in the room had done the half and finished long before I did. By the time I had gotten to the room and I was alone again. My ankles were aching and a tad swollen and my body was sore so I had stopped on the way to the room and gotten two 20 pound bags of ice for an ice bath. After soaking in the ice bath for about 20 minutes or so I showered and got some Chinese food to go before just chilling out in the room for a while. After some rest I started packing up and brought everything I could out to the car so I wouldn't have to deal with it in the morning. Then I slept. I slept well, and thank goodness I did because it would be a long drive home in the morning.

Finishing Time: 7:40

Saturday, September 21, 2013: Travel Day

I was packed up and out of the hotel by 4pm...yes, another early morning but this time it was to head home so it was different somehow. The drive would take me through the south of Nebraska, into Kansas, the east side of Colorado, into the Texas panhandle and finally home. I had planned to be driving for 12-13 hours including gas and food stops. 

 The drive was mostly uneventful although I did drive through areas of Colorado that had been ravaged by the storms and flooding and where there was still flood water standing on the roads. As I got closer to Texas my left ankle was quite painful and when I looked and compared the two it was swollen to about twice the size of the right ankle. I made a decision to detour to Amarillo to stop at the VA hospital ER to have it checked. I was figuring that it was a stress fracture vs severe sprain. I ended up leaving with a walking boot and the promise of a bone scan sometime during the week.  Preliminary xrays came up negative, as is the norm for stress fractures. So, aside from my medals I came home with a little extra something.

My "little extra something."

Medal haul for the week. Six races in 7 days.

What did I like about this race series?

Well organized, great snacks and hydration all the time, the camaraderie felt from seeing everyone over and over each day, friendly people.

What did I not like about this race series?

Not much, maybe just the difficulty in finding one of the venues.

Would I do this series again?

Maybe just the states that I need a full marathon in but I don't see myself being that much of a Maniac. However, I am planning on doing the Riverboat Series in April so yes, I'll be a repeat customer for this company (

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