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Trail Running in the Badlands

Edward Burke  | Published on 10/26/2020

So, you ran Crazy Horse? Tell us why you picked that race. 

Well the word ‘crazy’ is right in the name of the event so it seemed like this marathon would be a natural fit for me. Actually, I’m working to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states – 11 down, 39 to go – and after some research the Crazy Horse Marathon seemed likely to be held this year, so I added it to my lineup. With the COVID-19 situation such as it is, it seems reasonable (to me) to expect that all large marathons are off the table until 2022. Working on that assumption I’ve focused on trail marathons which typically have a smaller field to begin with, as you have to be a little crazy to want to run a trail marathon.


Did you bring anyone else on your trip?
Yes, I brought my daughter Helen with me as I wanted her to see some of the wonderful natural sights in South Dakota and Wyoming.


Do you listen to music when running? If you, what's on your playlist ? 
Yes, I typically listen to music when I run. While I try to forget most of the 1980s there is a good amount of 80’s and 90’s rock on my playlist. The tunes on my playlist range from Aerosmith & Guns ‘n Roses to Depeche Mode. Also, pretty much the entire soundtrack from the Rocky movies are on there as well. To keep things interesting, I sometimes throw in obscure music that I know will make me laugh. I’m occasionally forgetful and don’t remember that I’ve added odd tracks to my playlist to make me laugh after mile 21. This time I gave myself a stitch in my side laughing when “The Hamster Dance” came across my AfterShockz headset around mile 24.


Did you run into Rocky Raccoon while running in the Black Hills of Dakota?
Nope, there were no raccoon sightings in South Dakota, however there are quite a lot of Prairie Dogs, Cows, Deer, Rabbits and (seriously huge) Bison to be seen. (Editor's Note: The opening line to The Beatles song Rocky Raccoon : "Now somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota, There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon.")


What precautions do you take traveling and running during this COVID-19 pandemic?
In short, I follow the same approach while travelling that I follow here at home. Specifically, when I’m indoors at a store I always wear a mask, frequently wash my hands, try not to touch my face and generally avoid large groups of people. My experience travelling by air has been very good in that I feel safe in the airports since they are largely empty and very clean. Also, the airplanes themselves are very clean as well, they give you hand sanitizer when you board and – for the moment – the seat assignments are spaced out to promote social distancing. However, I do take the extra steps of using a cleaning wipe to wash the armrests, seatbelt, tray-table and fan nozzle at my seat on a plane, and I also give the dashboard and steering wheel in my rental cars a good cleaning as well. It should be noted that as I make my travel decisions I recognize that I’m not in an ‘at risk’ age group, and anyone considering travelling by air or visiting a state with a higher rate of COVID-19 infection than Massachusetts (such as South Dakota) should consider the facts of their travel plans closely.

Did you incorporate some sight-seeing in the Black Hills before or after your marathon? 

Yes, sightseeing was one of the key considerations I had in mind when selecting the Crazy Horse Marathon. The marathon course is within a few hours drive of some spectacular countryside, including Badlands National Park. Upon arriving at Badlands you pay a small fee to drive along the scenic highway 240 loop. While waiting at the gate to gain entry to the park I noticed a family of Prairie Dogs on the left-hand side of the car and several large free roaming Bison on the right - did I mention that they are really huge? Needless to say, I was very careful while driving along highway 240. Badlands National Park should be on everyone’s “bucket list”, this natural wonder is very accessible amazing to behold.


On the second day we travelled to Devils Tower in Wyoming which you might remember as the setting for the alien mothership landing in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While I didn’t see any aliens during our visit (bummer) we did see hike around the perimeter of the mountain which was surreal, it felt like I was in the movie. After seeing Devil’s tower we briefly drove through the historic portion of Deadwood on our drive to Custer State Park in South Dakota. The park is home to about 1,400 bison and you really have to watch where you are driving and even where you are walking as they have free reign throughout the park. Our hotel, State Game Lodge is within the boundary of Custer State Park and there were Bison within eyeshot of where I parked my car.


The day before the marathon we took the scenic Highway 16 North towards Mount Rushmore. You have to navigate some of the most treacherous switchback roads that I’ve ever driven. You pass through several tunnels that were dug so that you see Mount Rushmore as you exit the tunnel which was really cool. I highly recommend this drive but its not for the faint of heart – driver and passengers alike. We took the rest of that morning to explore the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Since packet pickup was in the afternoon that day we drove the long way around to Hill City via the “Needles Highway”, SD87. This drive is a ‘must see’ for any visit to the region. The switchbacks of 16 North were like a warmup act for the Needles Highway, however the white knuckle drive is very much worth the effort as the mountains rise up in clusters of thin columns which is how they got their name Needles.


What has been your most favorite race, any distance, and why?
This is really hard to answer, each marathon I’ve run has had its own unique blend of awesome. Crazy Horse is certainly a marathon that I would recommend to anyone as the trail is crushed gravel and relatively easy as trail runs go, assuming you don’t mind hills and the entire course being at 5,100 feet of elevation. However, I would have to say my favorite event was the combination of the Boston and Big Sur Marathons.


What was your favorite place to eat in South Dakota and what was it? 
Hands down, the restaurant at the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park. While New England is famous for its seafood, South Dakota is famous for its steak. My post-marathon dinner included a medium rare bison tenderloin with mashed potatoes and asparagus with the ‘rabbit & rattlesnake’ sausage with a honey mustard dipping sauce as an appetizer. It took about 5 minutes for my eyes to roll forward from the back of my skull the food was so good.


Anything particular go through your mind during the Crazy Horse marathon?  Where were you at that point in the race?
I’m a ‘back of the pack’ runner so I usually have lots of time to think during a marathon. It was amazing to run around the Crazy Horse Memorial itself at the start of the marathon, the mountain is huge and like so much of the regions landscape it makes you feel very small. Around mile 7 I was amazed that in a countryside so big that the world is still very small as I had the pleasure to meet another New Englander, Hank Lopez. We had a good talk on our way down to the turn around point in Custer. Hank is faster than I’m so he pulled ahead for the long slog uphill from mile 10 to 17. At around the 13 mile mark my heart sank a bit as I saw another runner sitting on a bench. She was fine and trying to keep her spirts up but it was clear that the course (which was challenging) was probably more than she could handle. It’s always a bummer to see someone hurting so I shouted out some words of support for her, but she was done. After I finally got to the top of the very long hill at the mile 17 mark it was all downhill to the finish. The strange thing that I could not get my head around at the time was why I could not make my legs move faster than they were going. I felt strong and had energy, I just could not move faster than I wanted. It was only after the event was over that I realized I spent so much time studying the course that I hadn’t realized the entire region was at elevation. Note to self, next time look at the elevation of the course as well!


Do you have any pre-marathon routines or superstitions?
Well I’m the guy that gets to the airport 3 hours before his flight even though I have a TSA-Pre number so I like to get up early the day of a marathon, usually around 3am. Because I get up early on race-day I usually head off to sleep by 7:30pm the night before but in order to actually be able to sleep I usually take some ZzzQuill to help me fall asleep.


What is your next goal? 
My last long run for 2020 is in three weeks, that being the Valley of Fire Backcountry in Valley of Fire State Park Nevada, which is about an hours drive northeast of Las Vegas.


What advice would you give someone who is interested in taking on longer distance events or being a "Marathon Maniac"? 
The best advice I think I could offer for someone considering long distance events would be to talk to as many runners as you can. I have made just about every mistake you can possibly conceive and had listened closer to the experiences more seasoned runners shared with me early on I would have been better off when I started.