First and foremost, be aware that this course is probably harder than you think it is. Being located at relatively low elevation in South Dakota tends to create the impression that the course can’t be that difficult. The most common quote heard at the finish line of the inaugural race was “that was way harder than I thought it would be”. The finish rates for the 100 mile race in our first two years were 35% and 40%. Granted, many DNFs can be attributed to weather conditions (a severe thunderstorm in 2011, high temps in 2012), but the course took its toll too. Several runners described it as harder than Leadville. We won’t make that claim ourselves, but we do know that the Black Hills 100 is not easy. On paper, Black Hills actually has slightly more elevation gain than Leadville, although Leadville takes place at about double the altitude. Whereas much of the elevation gain at other difficult 100s such as Leadville and Bighorn occurs in a few big climbs, the gain at Black Hills is accumulated in a bunch of small chunks that eventually take their toll. To make a boxing analogy, it’s like taking a few big uppercuts to the chin versus a bunch of body shots. Both will eventually put you on the mat if you’re not prepared. Overall, we think that Black Hills falls somewhere in the middle challenge-wise as far as western 100s go. It's certainly more difficult than entry-level races such as Lean Horse or Rocky Raccoon and is certainly less difficult than a graduate level race such as Hardrock. Of course, direct comparisons are difficult because so many factors come into play for any one race, but based on feedback and personal experience, we would rate the difficulty of the Black Hills 100 course as similar to races such as Leadville, Western States or Bighorn. Like Leadville and Bighorn, we do not have any entry requirements. If you feel you are prepared for the challenge, then you are more than welcome to come join us!
The 100 mile begins and ends at the City Park in Sturgis. The first mile follows the paved city bike path east to the Fort Meade trailhead. From there, the course takes to the Centennial Trail, which is mostly singletrack trail with a few sections that follow old logging routes (and one short section that follows brand new logging roads). In total the course is approximately 98% trail with only the first and last mile following the paved bike path.
The 100 mile course will take runners to Silver City before turning around and heading back to Sturgis. For the 100M race, there are 8 aid stations along the way, 7 of which are visited twice. Runners may leave drop bags at three trailheads: Elk Creek, Dalton Lake and Silver City.
A word of warning, don’t be deceived by the relatively gentle, rolling terrain of the Black Hills. While this course does not feature the lung searing elevations and jagged mountain peaks of some other western ultras, it is by no means an “easy” course. The best way to describe the Centennial Trail is “relentless”. The trail is almost constantly moving up or down. All of those climbs add up eventually, resulting in more elevation gain than you might expect from an ultra in South Dakota. It’s a challenging route, but also a very beautiful one. Make sure to take a look around while you’re huffing up one of the climbs!
The 50 mile race follows a point to point route that will allow 50 milers to see the entire course. Runners will be bused up to Silver City bright and early Saturday morning and will then run back down the Deerfield and Centennial trails to Sturgis.
The 30K race is a great way to introduce yourself to the world of trail/ultra running without having to tackle 50+ miles. Buses will transport 30Kers from Sturgis to the start line on Saturday morning. The 30K will start along Runkle Road, about 1/2 mile above the Elk Creek trailhead. Runners will follow Runkle Road to the trailhead, where they will head north on the Centennial trail and follow it to the finish in Sturgis.
The 100 mile course has a cumulative vertical gain of 16,231 feet of climb and 16,231 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 32,462 feet, and takes place at an average elevation of about 4,627 feet. The 100 mile cutoff time is 32 hrs.
Local time: 3:29 PM
Stay tuned for updates on the elevation gain/loss for the redesigned 50M course and the brand new 30K!