The Leading Ladies Marathon & Half Marathon is an all women's event hosted in Spearfish, SD. It features a downhill course in the beautiful Spearfish Canyon there. The race director, Elaine Doll-Dunn lives and runs in the area and wanted to share her beautiful country with other women. She is an accomplished runner and cancer survivor. Not to mention very fashionable. I caught a glimpse of her at 4:30 am at the second bus stop and she was all decked out in rhinestone cowgirl attire. She totally rocks!
|Pre-race photo in the dark at the drop off point on the canyon.|
I left the hotel around 4 am to walk across the street to the host hotel where buses were loading to bring runners to the start of their respective races. Marathoners started atop Spearfish Canyon, while half-marathoners started 13 or so miles downhill from there. It was dark when we boarded the buses. I sat near the front in a seat by myself trying to prepare my mind for the race. I spied Fiona getting on the bus and called her name. She ended up sitting with me, and we had a great chat on the ride out. We couldn't believe how early this race started (the earliest one to date for both of us). Since the course was on a main road and was remaining open to traffic, we figured that the race directors wanted us on the road (and off of it) before the busiest traffic hours started up. We exited the bus at a small pull off on the side of the canyon road. About a dozen porta-potties greeted us, and maybe a couple of hundred runners, all women. It was a small but hearty group.
Fiona and I fell in to conversation with some other women. One was from South Dakota where the largest corn palace was located; the other was from Nebraska. We all traded stories about our racing travels. It was interesting to find out that in the Dakota area, very few races are available. I guess they are just hard to come by because of the lack of larger cities and towns and running organizations. I was really surprised by this, as in this region there are large numbers of walking/hiking/biking trails and outdoor activities. In fact, my husband and I noticed the lack of overweight people around. Most of those who were overweight were clearly tourists.
|View from the starting line with the first light of day on the canyon.|
As we all chatted away, the sun began to appear and awaken the canyon with a gorgeous glow. It reminded me of my canyon race in Utah. Stunningly beautiful. The race stepped off on time, and the downhill nature of it was lovely. The hill wasn't so steeply angled as to make for difficult footfalls, but rather it made for a nice lively pace. The views were gorgeous, and after the first few miles, I began to count the (presumably) Indian caves in the canyons. It was like playing I-Spy all along the way.
Cars courteously gave us shoulder space, and some cars spent time following their runners. One large black pick-up truck was among that group, and unfortunately it belched out nauseating exhaust all along the route as it passed by and sat idling at various pull-off spots along the way. Yuck! But really, that was the worst of my troubles. I was keeping a nice steady pace, but I wasn't killing myself. After all, I had another half marathon to run in 6 days!
This was the first all women's half marathon I'd run, and it really was lovely. Although the participant stream was sparse along the way, everyone who either passed me or who I passed gave each other words of encouragement. As I neared the end of the canyon and began the last couple of flat miles, I had counted 11 caves, and carried a big smile in my heart as I approached the end where my family would be waiting for me.
|Just past the bridge and on to the finish!|
|Waving to my peeps!|
The last little bit of the race entered a public park and campground. We approached the finish line along a paved walking path that wound through the camping area, over a bridge and on to the finish line. I saw my husband and girls from a distance and started waving to them as I got closer. Some fine young fellows staffed the finish line area where I received my medal, a red rose and a lovely chilled, lemon scented damp facecloth. How fancy! After crossing through the finish area and catching my breath a bit, I learned that I finished 4th in my age group and 23rd overall, just missing a trophy by one place. But that was ok, as my official time was 1:47:19, my fifth-fastest time ever for me. Not bad for not killing myself.
|Finisher's spoils: red rose, cool face cloth and blinking medal. Say what??!!|
My stomach was giving me some grief post race which is never a good sign. As one of my running friends once told me, the GU makes you poo. Sometimes that is true, and this seemed like one of those times. My patient husband made some pit stops along our way for me to take care of business, but it was looking like our idea of hiking the badlands might not work out too well.
We arrived at the Badlands National Park and couldn't believe how amazingly beautiful it was. I always thought the badlands were some kind of big desert; really they are like mini-Grand Canyons all around, with more muted colors. It was otherworldly to look out on the scenery. It felt like we were looking out on the landscape of the moon or something. Its beauty is incredible. We stopped at the first overlook and took some photos and then continued along the road that winds through the park.
|The first views of the badlands we encountered.|
Next we stopped at the visitor's center, where I spent some quality time in the loo. My husband and girls did some exploring and rock climbing in my absence. I was sad to miss out, but I had to take care of my stomach which took awhile. When I finally got to a better place physically, we hopped back in the car to continue our drive through the expansive park. It was just spectacular everywhere we looked. The landscape changes from moment to moment in the badlands. It is hard to explain. We spied pronghorn, prairie dogs and bison along the way. We sure were a LONG way from home! We were all just so enthralled with the landscape in South Dakota. It was far beyond our expectations.
|Off to rock climb!|
|Another gorgeous view.|
|Views along the drive.|
We took our time winding along the roads in the national park, enjoying moment after moment of the extreme beauty all around us and getting out from time to time to get a closer look at things and take photos. We concluded our drive through Badlands National Park and headed back to our hotel so the kids could swim for a little while in the pool which featured a curvy waterslide. That was fun! That night for dinner we found a great local pizza shop called Dough Trader in Spearfish. My stomach was finally back to normal by then, and the pizza tasted wonderful. It was a great end to a great day.