It was a fine, cool morning when 10 participants began the Extreme North Dakota Sandhills Ultra Run Experience. This year the event expanded to include a 100k run and a 50k relay option, as well as the signature 50k solo event. Unlike the -10 degree starting tempurature in 2013, the 100k started at +25 degrees, bright sunshine, and a slight breeze. It was a grand way to begin a long day in the beauty of the Sheyenne National Grasslands.
The first 16 miles meander through the hills, open pastures, oak savannahs, and sandy terrain of the region. Its beauty is diverse and massive. It’s difficult to believe that the table top flat land of the Red River Valley is only miles away. There were patches of snow, ice covered low spots, and large pools of water still solid by the nighttime temperatures. I was able to spend some time with Laura (1st time 100k runner- pictured above), as well as a friend who is skilled in biking (Dave Simmons) who was also on his inaugural 100k adventure.
After the first check point it was into the open grasslands from where this area gets its name. By this time the temperatures were rising, as well as the wind speed. Into the unprotected, flat and wide expanses of grass the wind was a constant 25mph with gusts well into the low 30mph. There was little reprieve from the constant effort of facing the wind.
As Dave and I kept moving toward the turn around point we were greeted by the 50k runners. They had the wind to their backs and were moving well. I thought to myself how nice it would feel to be going their direction. Only 11 more miles and that would be a reality.
Reaching the 31 mile point was a relief, both from the wind and for the spirit. I was on my feet for more than 7 hours and my feet knew it. The sand had filled my shoes numerous times. Even though I knocked out the sand on many occasions, the sand, the moisture, and the friction was beginning to take its toll. Hot spots were evident and it was time to patrch them. Patching doesn’t stop the process, but it should lessen the progression and some of the pain.
Dave and I stayed about 30 minutes changing clothing, patching up blisters, getting new socks and shoes, and supplying ourselves with what we needed for the return. With drop bags placed back in the support vehicle, we headed back. The wind on our backs made for a nice beginning. There were times of run/walk that made the legs feel more energized, as well as the attitude. After some miles this faded as the reality of what was ahead became evident once again. The wind was stronger and mainly to our backs.
15 miles to go, refreshed with giant cookies (Dakota Harvest Bakers), bananas, and Coke, Dave and I were on the home stretch.I knew my hot spots had become blisters. Now not only on my right foot, but on my left. We both were a bit hesitant, but then I remembered a scene from the original Dirty Harry movie when Scorpio (criminal) paid a thug to beat him in order to frame Harry. Scorpio was bruised and bloody. The thug asked if he had enough. Scorpio responded, “I want my money’s worth.” The thug hit him a couple more times and walked away. With that image in my head I boldly stated, “I paid for 62 miles and I’m going to get everyone of them.”
About 1 mile into the final 15, Dave had muscle issues behind his right knee that brought him to a stop. He decided to drop. I offered to go back with him to the check point. He reminded me that I wanted to finish all 62 miles. With that slap of reality, I moved forward. Soon the coyotes were barking in the distance. 14 hours into this and I’m worrying about being attacked by a pack of hungry coyotes. Distraction can be a good thing and a motivator! Then came the perception of movement ahead of me. Aiming my flashlight up the trail, I saw a slow moving, waddling black behind with white accents enjoying the trail. I yelled and clapped my hands, as I slowed my pace. Finally the skunk moved into the taller grass and trees. As I passed the white tail lifted and I picked up the pace. The skunk was another motivator. As I became more tired physically and mentally, both feet with the constant dull pain of blisters, an occasional wet feeling as a blister broke open, I made my own trail without awareness. I finally realized my error. Backtracking with some dire thoughts of being lost in the Grasslands, I found the marker that I had missed and got back on trail. I estimated that I added about .75 mile to my journey. With both frustration and exhilaration I moved toward the 5 mile mark. Again I perceived something moving. I was tired and I thought I was seeing things. But, I pointed the flashlight up the trail. To my surprise there was a waddling, black behind with white accents. Skunk #2 wasn’t impressed with clapping and yelling and continued the journey up the trail. With an outburst of laughter I realized the magnitude of my situation. Grateful to have the strength to go this far, marveling at the awesome beauty of my surroundings (including skunks), and knowing that soon this adventure would be over, I patiently waited for the skunk to go on its way. I realized that I was the stranger in its domain.
Soon the lights of a vehicle were up ahead. The last mile was going to be endured and the finish line was at hand. 100k, 17.5 hours, blisters and experiences. I got what I paid for!
The next pictures may be disgusting, but here are my blisters 24 hours post event. I had commitments on Sunday morning, so up to this point all I had done was showered and taken some pain relievers.
My wife is an RN, but has little mercy for my pain. That is fine with me, as I do this for myself. However, I have been soaking the feet in Epson Salt and elevating them as much as possible. There are some other blisters and bruises near the heels, but I didn’t add those to the pictures. I am also in the midst of figuring out what to do differently for the next event. With Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof in hand I will learn. Or if anyone wants to share what works for them, I would be appreciative of your comments.
Next up: April 12, beginning at 12:01am, 50 miles at the Zumbro 100.