Lean Horse 100 Report

Lean Horse 100 Mile
August 28-29, 2010
Since Lean Horse was on my list of 100-milers to try, I thought I would try it this year after my fifth Vermont DNF.
Lean Horse 50 and 100 mile course starts at the front of Mueller Center in the town of Hot Springs, SD, about an hour south of the airport in Rapid City. I arrived on Friday, and a fellow ultrarunner Alex Morton picked me up at the airport and we went on a quick trip to Mt. Rushmore, looking at it from the highway leading up to it. After a leisure lunch in downtown Rapid City, we headed south to the race site.
The race morning came and I was trying to put on my best face and attitude. My training had faltered greatly since MMT, and Vermont. I was wondering why I had signed up for this race this year and not another year. The best reason I can come up with is that I am too proud to accept five failures in Vermont, and I was trying to wipe the slate clean and finish 2010 with two, 100 mile finishes.
The morning was cool, but not cold. I was comfortable in my sleeveless shirt and compression shorts. I wore my two-bottle waist pack that I had tried earlier this year, and that was enough for my hydration needs. I enjoyed the scenery with my fellow runners (Fred Davis, III; Yen Nguyen; Louise Mason . . .) as we meandered through the small town for about 3 miles before heading out to the rolling hills that lead to the George Mickelson Trail. Mickelson Trail is fairly straight and flat. Since I was fresh, I enjoyed it during the early miles. I did not like the very long section that parallel the highway. It reminded me of that long, road-across-the-sky at the Highlands Sky 40 mile. So I told myself to focus on getting to that tree, that spot on the ground, and take it a chunk at a time. I think I was fairly successful, for negative thoughts didn’t dominate every second of my time at that point.
The fifty and hundred milers started together. I saw a woman rushing back shortly after I saw the twenty-five mile sign. She looked upset and told me that she had missed the sign. I felt bad for her. Then I saw another sign that read 25-miles. I thought, what the heck?!
Run, walk, run, walk. Shuffle along. I was thinking of Vicki. Remembering what she had told me years ago at JFK as she was with me for a short time on the towpath. Mickelson Trail is similar to C&O towpath. I remember reading that this course is not at all shady; but the sun was not beating down on us for the first half, so I felt fortunate. I met a young woman named Maggie who was going for her first 100-mile finish there. A young woman from Moorehead, MN, she spoke with that very familiar, Midwestern accent. I expressed how impressed I was that at her young age, she would go for such a distance. Then I became irritated with my waist pack. It was getting too bouncy, and bulky. Everytime I refilled the two bottles at an aid station, it was too heavy, so I drank just to reduce the weight. Then I was drinking so much that I began to urinate too often. The color was good each and every time, and I had no physical symptoms of anything bad. So I was glad to have packed my backpack at the half-way point. I took a good 15 to 20 minutes at the turnaround. It had cooled off; so I also changed from my sleeveless to my long sleeves. I also grabbed my lights. It was sprinkling also, so not taking any chances, I grabbed my light-weight rain shell.
I was approaching 64.5 mile aid station. I felt hungry, and asked for some solid food. A woman gave me a huge burger. I asked her to cut it in half and give me only half. She did it graciously. I decided to walk and eat. The burger had something so spicy on it that I had to eventually throw it away after taking only five small bites. But I didn’t feel totally empty, and I had picked up the pace, passing Yen who told me that she always struggles at night. Another woman named Crystal was with me. She seemed to want to talk and pass the time. I tried to not complain, but I’m sure a little negativity came out. She also told me that this was her first 100-mile, and that she really wanted an official finish. She looked really good, as she has a typical, thin body of a distance runner. Crystal is a sub-four hour marathoner also, having done several already at her young age. I finally told her that we both had better stop talking and focus if we are to finish under 30-hours, as we still had a long way to go. She graciously accepted my comment and told me that it was nice meeting me.
It’s a blur what happened between 64.5 mile aid station and 76-mile aid station. I just remember at one point that there was a string strung across the path, and that if any of us were not paying attention, that it would be easy to wipe out there. I sat too long at the Pringle aid station at mile 76. I started to whine again, and one of the aid station people was not in the mood to listen to my whining. So I left.
I knew the sun would be back up in a few hours. I was looking forward to the sunrise, as most of us do when we go through the night. I finally arrived Argyle at mile 83. Very nice aid station man offered me some soup. I accepted and refilled my hydration pack. My mood was slightly better, and declared, “Bib 156, out again!” The same man guided me across the street and told me where I needed to go. I left several runners there, but I knew that they would be passing me soon. They did.
A nice group. A couple from New Zealand. Yen Nguyen and her husband. Crystal and another runner. Everyone who passed me was in a group of two or more. I was the only one alone. I didn’t mind that, but started to miss Walker who got me into distance running 10+ years ago. I couldn’t tell Walker that I was coming out to this race. I didn’t want him to spend the money again to support me only to have me fail.  I didn’t tell but a few people for I feared that if I had another non-finish, I would have to pass on the bad news again. I was content to be alone with my thoughts. They were not all negative thoughts.
But the sun was brutal, and right in your face. The course is out and back, so the sun we had on our backs on Saturday morning was now right in our faces Sunday morning. I forgot to grab my sunglasses and my visor hat. I also forgot to switch from my long sleeves to sleeveless. But I was beyond 84 miles—beyond the point where I was asked to drop at my first time in Vermont. So I just had to keep going. Only two more aid stations, I told myself. Two more before the finish. The miles went slower and slower, as I was walking more and more. I felt a blister on my left, pinky toe; but didn’t hurt so bad that I had to treat it. I arrived Morph aid station at mile 89.9. Two wonderful young women helped me as made up my mind earlier to just grab a few things without refilling my hydration pack. They encouraged me to quickly leave, and I was happy to oblige. Then I became slow again. So painful to go so slow. But I came upon another runner who was moving even slower than I was. It was Maggie again! I offered some help, but she could barely talk. Her friend, Rachel was there walking with her, so I felt comfortable leaving them alone. 
I was finally at the very last aid station. I asked them if that was really 4 miles to the finish. They said yes. They graciously offered me some semi-frozen grapes; and I accepted. I was on the final stretch. I saw Maggie and Rachel again, and Maggie yelled out, “Come finish with us, Caroline. You’ve been such a huge help to me!” I said that I was hurting too much and that I would just coast it in. I came upon Maggie again, as she was reduced to a very slow crawl, almost leaning on her friend. I felt so bad for her. But I was equally amazed that a young woman in her twenties could endure such highs and lows of a 100-miler. The four miles seemed forever. I finally saw the waterfall that we had passed early Saturday morning. I sat on a bench for a few minutes near the man-made waterfall. A short while later I saw a runner behind me. I recognized him from earlier, and I yelled out, “Let’s finish together!” We locked hands and crossed the finish line. Maggie and her friend Rachel crossed shortly after. She was in tears as the RD gave her the buckle and an award for winning her age group. Later, she was lying in a cot with IVs. That reminded me so much of my own situation after I finished Bull Run Run in 2002 when Walker took me to ER when I couldn’t stop vomiting and shaking.
Lean Horse is definitely a run for someone who likes good footing, fast time, and easy logistics. It’s not my favorite. I did enjoy some of the scenery. I would have had a better experience if I went into the run more optimistic, and more physically and mentally prepared. I merely signed up for this run this year because I failed Vermont five times. That’s not a very good reason to sign up right away for another 100-miler. The pre-race meal was also not very good as they didn’t have a wide variety of items. There were no post-race meals offered either; but someone did hand me a protein drink after crossing the finish line. Some runners went to Pizza Hut and another family-owned restaurant in town. The small town of Hot Springs doesn’t offer a wide variety of restaurants or stores. However, there is a mineral bath house with therapeutic massage near the start/finish.
I’m glad to have it finished. I don’t have to go back, and I never will. I’m most certain of that. Not because I hate the race. Hate is a strong word. I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t return to any 100-mile event that I finish, and so far, I have stuck to that. I’ve tried six 100-milers (Umstead, Vermont, Kettle, MMT, Ozark, and Lean Horse). I’ve only finished three out of six. I’m not promising to myself or anyone that I will return to the ones I have not finished—not even Vermont. But I will see what the next year holds. I am just glad to have a relaxed schedule from now until 2011.
Post script.
A man named Bob took me back to the airport on Sunday afternoon. He is a friend of Jerry Dunn (the RD), and lives north of Rapid City. He was one of the volunteers. It was a pleasant drive, and he was proud of his area. I managed to stay awake almost the entire time, although I did nod from time to time. I arrived the small airport to find several other people hobbling around. One young man who had done several triathlons finished Lean Horse as his first 100-mile event. He seemed to be in that first-timer, blissful state. I was happy for him. Then some familiar faces came and I chatted with Yen and Louise again. The tough part came in Chicago where I had an overnight layover. I called Walker for the first time at the airport in Rapid City to tell him what I had done, and he was stunned. He tried to get me to the gate in Chicago where I could go and get on a stand by list. I was moving too slow to get to the gate. The flight had already left. So I found a hidden spot near the gate where I was to catch my connecting flight the next morning. I used my purse as my pillow, and my heavy but small duffle bag as something to prop my feet on and tried to sleep on that carpeted floor. That was a good choice as even going to a hotel nearby would have meant that I would have had to hobble back through the security gate to catch my flight at 6:45 the next morning.