The race directors had tried. Really, they did.
Chris Stores and Ryan Phillips were warning the 160 or so runners at last year’s inaugural Black Hills 100 ultramarathon that the course from Sturgis southward along the Centennial Trail was hard enough on its own.
Add in a severe thunderstorm during the middle of the race, and conditions became downright nasty.
“We tried hard to tell people that this wasn’t (the Lean Horse Hundred),” said Stores, who, along with Phillips, is geared up for the race’s second iteration this Saturday and Sunday. “It’s a much more difficult course. A lot of people came in not believing, and they saw they were up against … That big thunderstorm, with people taking shelter in the aid stations or elsewhere, if you’re faced with heading back out there into lightning and a downpour, you also might call it quits.”
The drastic elevation changes all along the route also helped lead to just a 35 percent finish rate among the 100-mile racers at the event, a “ridiculously low” total, according to Stores. If the weather holds out — the forecast currently calls for only a slight chance of storms — finish rates should be higher this year at the longest race level. The Black Hills 100 also contains a 50-mile category and a 100K contingent.
The number of entrants this year has increased by nearly 25 percent, as more than 200 people are signed up for the weekend. Runners from 32 states, three Canadian provinces, Japan, Italy, Germany and Great Britain are scheduled to compete.
As was the case last year, the start and finish line will be at Woodle Field in Sturgis. Fifty-mile runners have 16 hours to complete the course. Those running the 100K have 20 hours to finish, and 100-milers must break the 32-hour barrier.
The main course change comes after consistent feedback from 100-mile runners that the big course was actually even longer than the advertised triple-digit length. So, instead of turning around at the Rapid Creek Trailhead below Pactola Dam, this year’s race veers onto the Deerfield Trail near Silver City before beginning the route back.
“Estimates actually were from 102 to 105 miles, we found,” Stores said. “A lot of runners wear GPS wristwatches and told us this last year. So with Silver City as the turnaround, we’re as close as we’re ever going to get to 100 miles.”
A grass-roots effort began in April to quickly establish a 100-mile mountain bike race, the Tatanka, to coincide with the running events. Stores said he was pleasantly surprised that 37 bikers signed up for the race, which will begin an hour before the runners start on Saturday.
At its halfway point, the bike course will veer along the Mickelson Trail back toward Sturgis to avoid congestion with the running group.
Between 40 and 50 volunteers will man eight aid stations along the course, Stores said, and he said he’s grateful for the support of the Black Hills’ running community. He and Phillips aren’t sure just how big they’ll want the Black Hills 100 to get, but there are lofty quality goals for the race’s future.
“We want to be in the same league as Big Horn (Wyoming), Leadville (Colorado) and Western States (California). You know, a place on that must-do list,” Stores said. “… And we’ve got great support from Sturgis and the other local communities involved, and people are excited about it.”