Race recap: There’s beauty in them thar hills! No bones about it the first 5k of this race is tough. The combination of three good sized hills, including a category 5 hill (not quite as tough as Vermont but still quite challenging), some tough footing on a ½ mile of super rocky trails, and the effects of running at more than a mile above sea-level (~6,000ft) had us sucking wind pretty early. After exiting the Crazy Horse Memorial we took our first strides on the famous Mickelson Trail. The footing from here on out was great – the path was softer than asphalt but just as flat. By mile 5 we had fully regained our composure and were running along at a great pace. Then at mile 6 it happened. The perfect mile. It’s hard to put into words what the perfect mile feels like, but I’ll do my best to try. We became so immersed by the beauty of the mountains and the fresh pine scented forests that we completely forgot we were in a race and just enjoyed the simple beauty of nature as we smiled at each other and effortlessly glided along the trail together. Sheer running bliss. I want to remember that mile forever. The remainder of the course was very scenic and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, even as the sun grew warmer and our legs grew tired. Despite a challenging course, we still managed to post one of our best times to date! This is an absolutely great race, just pace yourself for the first 5k and soak in your surroundings. Highly recommended.
Highlights: Running the Perfect Mile.
Tip: If your travel permits, park at the Crazy Horse Memorial (free for runners and literally at the start line; normally $10 per person or $27 per carload) and take the post-race shuttle back to your car.
Day 1 (Friday):
Bear Country USA is a three-mile self guided drive through several animal habitats including elk, reindeer, cougars, big horn sheep, buffalo and of course bears! This unique adventure offers a hair raising experience as giant animals, including bears, walk around their independent enclosures, play in the trees and frolic in the pools. It was unbelievable to have a bear literally walk right up to us, look into our eyes and then meander on his way. This is a great chance to get up close and personal with wild animals.
Tip: Save $2 off your trip with this coupon.
While the name may seem a little hokey, the animals/exhibits/staff at the Reptile Gardens are really great. The gardens are host to a number of rare and seldom seen animals including a captive bald eagle, giant tortoises, prairie dogs and a variety of rare snakes and other reptiles. The snake and alligator shows (back to back) were informative and well done. We had a chance to learn about how different varieties of snakes capture their pray and even got to see the alligators being fed. A worthwhile stop!
Tip: Make sure to check out the viewing bubble in the prairie dog exhibit and pet the giant tortoises (yes, it’s allowed and encouraged).
The Firehouse Brewing Company is a fun restaurant/ brewhouse with a vintage firehouse ambiance. The entire restaurant is littered with old fireman related memorabilia from hoses to helmets to patches. The open face hot beef sandwich with a side of homemade mashed potatoes was drenched in rich beef gravy and paired well with the Eagle Pale Ale. Kristin thoroughly enjoyed the Souvlaki – pork kabobs served with grilled veggies and brown rice, with an ice cold India Pale Ale. Good food, decent beer.
Nothing quite like a warm late from a local coffee house (Alternative Fuel) for the night drive to Mt. Rushmore.
After dinner, we drove out to see the last Mt. Rushmore lighting ceremony of 2011. The entire ceremony (~30-45 minutes) was well orchestrated with a short film discussing each of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) followed by a lowering of the flag where all active and retired military personnel were invited on the stage to assist in the ceremony. While the actual lighting didn’t involve a drum-role, it was really neat to see Mt. Rushmore magically appear out of the black night sky.
Tip: As you exit the park make a right, (instead of making a left, which will take you back to Keystone and Rapid City), and head to the profile view parking area to see George Washington’s face glowing in the otherwise perfectly dark night sky.
Day 2 (Saturday):
Breakfast at Stonewall’s Kitchen was decent. The pancakes were huge, fairly airy and pretty good. The fried eggs were underdone. The chilled pint glass the orange juice was served in and the self serve coffee bar were both big pluses. Very nice wait staff.
After filling our bellies, we loaded up the car and headed out to find out what puts the ‘Bad’ in Badlands. The drive to the Badlands was absolutely gorgeous – the rolling prairie hills reminded us a bit of a rustic and cowboy laden Napa Valley (we were even stopped by an unannounced cow-crossing along the way). The mystery and intrigue of the Badlands continued as we noticed that the scenery, rock formations and colorings all changed dramatically in only a matter of miles - from tall jagged cliffs to deep rocky canyons to rainbow colored rolling hills. An incredibly unique attraction not to be missed.
In the late 1930’s the floundering Wall Drug drugstore in the small town of Wall, South Dakota came up with the ingenious idea of putting up small signs along the highway offering free ice water to motorists passing through Wall. This simple and cheap marketing ploy (there is a well on the property) instantly resulted in a huge boom in customer traffic. Today, Wall Drug is a complete tourist trap covering about 3 square blocks and contains everything from a drug-store, to a boot shop, to a chapel, to an animatronic singing monkey, to an enormous jackrabbit sculpture. Expect a stop here to be really hokey, but it is right on the way from the Badlands to Rapid City and will undoubtedly make you smile. The broiled chicken sandwich was decent, but the maple glazed donut was stale.
Our non-traditional pre-race meal was aboard the 1880’s Oktoberfest Train. As the train made it’s way from Hill City to Keystone (near Mt. Rushmore) and back we were treated to German Oktoberfest music, a variety of Oktoberfest beers and a sampling of homemade potato salad, bratwurst with sauerkraut and German chocolate cake. It was cool to ride an old steam train, and the beer and food helped to keep the ride enjoyable (a standard 1880’s train ride may be boring, especially as you average only about 10mph). While this doesn’t fit the bill as a normal pre-race option, the Oktoberfest Train only operates one day a year and we had a great time.
Tip: The 1880’s train depot is literally right across the street from the packet pickup site, so there’s no excuse not to enjoy a train ride after grabbing your bib!
Day 3 (Sunday - Race Day):
The Crazy Horse Memorial carving isn’t expected to be completed for another 50 years, but the statue’s face (completed in 1998) is pretty impressive. What’s mind boggling is that all four president’s heads from Mt. Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse’s head! With the exception of the race, the park doesn’t allow you to walk around the site too much, so make sure to enjoy the view along your run. The museum inside the visitor’s center was interesting and worth a leisurely post-race stroll (free if you park pre-race at the memorial).
Slate Creek Grille is a great place for a post-race lunch celebration. The restaurant is located at mile 26 of the marathon with elevated seating outside to cheer on the long-distance racers. Kristin sampled the classic Reuben and I tried the BillyHill – a ½ pound burger of pork and ground beef, topped with grilled onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. Mmmm..very tasty lunch. May be a bit greasy for a normal lunch, but this was a nice post-race treat.
What’s the best solution for the some sore quads post-race? How about hiking up the tallest mountain East of the Rocky Mountains! The Harney Peak trail (7,242ft), located in Custer State Park, is well maintained and the views are absolutely beautiful. While we didn’t make it to the official top of the mountain, the hike was great and we really enjoyed soaking up some rays.
After leaving Harney Peak, we took a drive through the mountains via the winding and occasionally incredibly narrow Needles Highway. The views throughout the drive were absolutely astounding. Make sure to stop at Needles Pass to get an up close look at the needle shaped rock formation that gave the highway its name.
Tip: take Needles Highway East to West and exit via 753N to Iron Mountain Road for some spectacular views of Mt. Rushmore.
We sampled some local wines at Prairie Berry Winery and were quite impressed, especially with the locally grown wines. The Red Ass Rhubarb (the winery’s #1 selling wine) had a great blend of fruit without being overly sweet and paired well with a bowl of chips and guacamole. Surprisingly good wines across a variety of taste palettes.
Dinner at Botticellin Ristorante left a lot to be desired. The lasagna was nothing special and the veal was undercooked and drenched with a heavy, salty brown gravy. The wait staff was nice, but the food was not very good and way overpriced. Two thumbs down.
As we were still a bit hungry after dinner (or lack their of) we headed to Armadillo’s Ice Cream. This shop specializes in soft serve sherbet, which was very sweet but pretty tasty when paired with a traditional frozen yogurt. The server (very nice) couldn’t figure out how to work the twist machine so he just gave me two cones, one black cherry sherbet and one vanilla frozen yogurt to “twist manually”.
Tip: this little shop doesn’t take credit cards, so make sure to bring some cash.
Day 4 (Monday)
We enjoyed a nice 10 mile cool-down run from Memorial Park in downtown Rapid City (near the Holiday Inn) to Canyon Lake along paved bike trails. The path was pretty nice and has a ton of underpasses, which allow you to avoid crossing too many roads.
After working up our appetites we stopped in to Jerry’s Donuts for a taste of their world famous baked goods. Even though it was 10:30am on a Monday the shop was packed (mostly with retired men drinking coffee). Our feast included a peanut butter donut, the Delmonico (a donut covered in maple icing and cake crumbs) and a strawberry rhubarb flip (i.e. turnover). The Delmonico was awesome – super fresh, great maple flavor and the touch of cake crumbs made it our absolute favorite. Worthy of its reputation for the best donuts in South Dakota.
Our last meal in South Dakota was at the Daily Grind, a coffee shop with a decent menu of sandwiches, Panini’s and wraps. Being a bit overloaded with carbs from the donuts an hour earlier we both opted to try the less bread-heavy wraps. The turkey club and California (turkey, avocado and sprouts) wraps weren’t overly flavorful, but the sandwiches were light and satisfying.
South Dakota Half Marathon Medals
October 2, 2011: Run Crazy Horse Half Marathon