As the clock counted down the minutes before the inaugural Black Hills 100 Ultramarathon Set began, runners and their supporters began to cheer, a sight that will undoubtedly take place again this morning when the participants of the 100-mile race are expected to return.

“It’s really a friendly competition and everyone tries to support one another,” said Adam Schwartz of Minneapolis, Minn., who is running the 100-mile race. “It’s more you against the course than against anyone else.”

Three races began Saturday on the Centennial Trail in Sturgis, including a 50-mile, 100-km and 100-mile race. The race set, organized by Lean Horse Productions, concludes today at Woodle Field with an award ceremony at 8 a.m.

When the small idea struck Ryan Phillips, one of the co-directors for the event, to organize the ultramarathon, it quickly grew into an international event. Competitors came from 29 states and countries including Canada, Great Britain and Italy.

Because it is the first year for the event, Phillips said he didn’t foresee such a high level of interest surrounding the race.

“We never expected so many participants from so many different places,” Phillips said. “But when you’re online, everyone is so connected. It’s funny how that happens.”

Along with participants, spectators and volunteers, a television crew from the Sky Network came all the way from Italy to film professional endurance runner Paolo Venturini as he competes in the event. A story about his race experience and his time spent in the Black Hills will also be featured in Runner’s World Italia magazine.

“I was shocked when I heard about this. It was really out of the blue,” Phillips said. “There’s a large readership and viewership for both outlets, so we may have even more European participants next time.”

Venturini said he is enjoying his time in the Black Hills and was happy to take part in the ultramarathon. In Italy, there are not many courses designed like the Centennial Trail, so this would be a new experience for him, he said.

“This is my first time in the Black Hills and it’s a beautiful area,” Venturini said. “I have seen Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and some other places. Then after the race today we will go to Devil’s Tower. I would love to come back again.”

Tiffany Reed of Casper, Wyo., is also running the 100-mile race. She said when she hits the 50-mile mark is the time when the race starts becoming more of a mental game.

“I just always tell myself to just keep moving,” said Reed, who has run a few ultramarathons before. “It’s a race against yourself, but having a pacer there for support is also encouraging if you ever need it.”

Reed’s mother, Kaye, said she plans to be at every aid station to make sure Tiffany has everything she needs.

“We’ll be there making sure she’s staying hydrated, and also for moral support to pump her up,” said Kaye. “You try to support your children in any way you can -- no matter how old they get.”

Hours of training and time in the gym occur when runners are preparing for an ultramarathon, said Andy Pele of Columbia, Mo.

“I’ve ran half a dozen 50-milers and did the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Run. My wife says if I win, then I can do another one or else this is my last one,” said Pele, laughing.

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Ultramarathons are a rare occurrence in the Black Hills area, which is possibly why many jumped on the opportunity, Phillips said.

“There’s a handful of us in the Black Hills that are starting to run ultramarathons and much of us do training on the Centennial Trail. It just shows it’s a growing sport and people are becoming interested in it,” Phillips said.

Some runners decided to tackle the 100-mile race as a team. Seven men from Minneapolis and Chicago ran in support of Admission Possible, an organization that helps underprivileged teens apply and get into college.

“The race is sort of a metaphor for the hardships that these kids go through,” said Todd Firebaugh, an Admission Possible board member. “We committed to this to prove to the kids that even if things are tough you can push through.”

Phillips said Lean Horse Productions plans to make the race an annual event.

“We’re coming back next year and you never know, maybe we’ll have even more local and global participation than we did this year,” he said.

Contact Hannah Baker at 394-8419 or



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