Depending on how closely one pays attention, the awareness of ultramarathoning in the sporting community ranges from misunderstood at best to totally off the radar at worst.
Not too long ago, the idea of running one ultramarathon race in the Black Hills would have seemed a bit of stretch. After this weekend, however, the Lean Horse Hundred won’t be alone.
The Black Hills 100 will be contested Saturday and Sunday, with the race starting and finishing at Woodle Field in Sturgis. The course, which can be run in 50-mile, 100K or 100-mile divisions, largely follows the Centennial Trail.
Race co-directors Ryan Phillips and Chris Stores have teamed up with area event guru Jerry Dunn to put together the inaugural ultra, which has attracted upward of 160 runners from 30 states and multiple foreign countries. Whereas the Lean Horse is seen as a race for beginners — in the sense of being new to the ultra length, anyway — Phillips and Stores have pitched this weekend’s event as a more challenging test of an ultramarathoner’s moxie.
“Almost the entire Lean Horse course is on the Mickelson Trail — it’s wide, a smooth path with fairly gentle hills. People generally run it at a quick pace for 100 miles,” Stores said. “The Black Hills 100 is something different — it’s rugged, with sharper elevation gains and a tougher trail. It will take people a lot longer.
“We’ve got a blog on our website (blackhills100.com) and one of the first posts made that statement (about difficulty). This is not Lean Horse; it’s Lean Horse’s evil twin sister.”
At first blush, it may not make much sense to run two niche races in a similar geographical area within a couple months of each other. The Lean Horse Hundred is typically run in late August and covers the Southern Hills, with Hot Springs as the epicenter.
But Stores and Phillips are already thinking long-term with their race, and they’re specifically marketing the Sturgis event as an alternative to the Western States 100, an event in California that Phillips called the “grandfather of 100-mile races.”
Philips said the Western States race takes entrants via lottery and that it has garnered interest from as many as 1,300 runners in the past. Although he and Stores aren’t trying to compete against the California event, he said he hopes the Black Hills 100 can become the place to go for runners not fortunate enough to be selected for a spot.
There are even a couple nods to the Western States race that Phillips hopes seasoned ultramarathoners will appreciate.
“They finish on a track out there. We wanted to finish on the track in Sturgis,” Phillips said. “They’ll finish under the stadium lights at the arch, and we’re hoping people make that connection. It might become an alternate early-summer race for runners across the country.”
Teaming with Dunn has helped provide immediate organization and trust in the running community, Stores said. Phillips said now is the time to take advantage of a nationally booming interest in trail running.
“Getting off the road and pavement into nature is easier on the body,” Phillips said. “The training usually goes well, there aren’t as many injuries and you’re getting a real connection with nature.”