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 Bighorn, we do not have any entry requirements or a lottery, it’s first come, first serve. If you feel you are prepared for the challenge, then you are more than welcome to come join us!
We offer a 100M, 50M, 50K and 30K. The 100M race starts at Woodle Field in Sturgis on Friday morning (this is a change from our old Saturday start). 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 single track 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. Drop bags will be available at Elk Creek (mile 17/83), Dalton Lake (mile 29/71) and Silver City (mile 50). 100 milers will have until 8:00 PM Saturday to finish, which is a grand total of 34 hours (2 hours longer than we offered in past years).
The 50M course is point to point (a change as of 2015). We will bus 50 mile runners up to the 100M turnaround in Silver City bright and early (very early) Saturday morning. From there, you’ll run down the course to Sturgis. Theoretically, this route will be somewhat easier than the old out and back route since you’re running a net downhill, but there are still some decent climbs to be tackled along the way. 50 mile runners will have 7 aid stations along the way, with drop bags available at Dalton Lake (mile 21) and Elk Creek (mile 33).
The 50M cutoff will be 8:00 PM, same as the 100M cutoff, which gives 50 milers a total of 14 hours to finish. This is actually less than we’ve offered in the past, but you should consider that the course is (theoretically) “easier” now and, by comparison, the Quad Rock 50 in Colorado also has a 14 hour cutoff and it is on a much tougher course (trust us, we both have QR50 finishes, and DNFs, to our credit).
New for 2017 is the 50K distance, which will start on Saturday morning along Dalton Lake Road, east of the Dalton Lake trailhead. The first half-mile or so will be along the road to give everyone a chance to sort things out amongst themselves before you pass through the Dalton Lake aid station, get on the Centennial trail and head north toward Sturgis. From there you’ll be running the same route as the tail end of the 100M and 50M. Compared to the 30K, the extra 20K you’ll cover is no joke as it includes the stretch of trail from Dalton Lake to Elk Creek that is arguably the toughest section of the course. It is also, arguably, the most scenic. Funny how often those two go hand in hand…
Last but certainly not least is the 30K. Yeah, we know, technically a 30K isn’t an “ultra”, but it is a good starter distance for those runners who want to get out on the trails and are curious as to what the trail distance running thing is all about. Also, it’s a good training distance if you’re targeting a 50K or 50M later in the summer. In any case, the 30K race will start near the Elk Creek trailhead, along Runkle Road. Starting on the road will give everyone a chance to spread out a bit before hitting the trail at the Elk Creek TH. From there, runners will follow the Centennial trail north along the final 17(ish) miles of the 50M/100M course back to Sturgis. You’ll come across two aid stations along the way at Bulldog and Alkali Creek. This course is roughly 30K, give or take a km or two…us ultra runners have never really been that good at math. Overall, you’ll be losing elevation but be prepared for a few significant climbs along the way too.
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!
Disclaimer: Elevation gain/loss was calculated using an online program based on GPS data, which is fairly horrible at calculating elevation gain. Take these numbers with a grain of salt.
The elevation profile shows the first half of the 100M course, from Sturgis to Silver City. 100 milers will run the profile from left to right and then back. 50 milers will run from right to left. 30K runners will run from the Elk Creek aid station left to Sturgis. Take note that at the time the GPS track was recorded, the Nemo aid station was known as Boxelder Creek; they are one and the same.
Gain – 18,556
Loss – 18,556
Gain – 8656
Loss – 9900
Gain – 3381
Loss – 4641
$225 (Early Bird) Nov. 1- Dec. 31
$250 Jan. 1 – March 31
$275 April 1 – June 24
50M (Same dates as 100m)
50K (Same dates as 100m)
30K (Same dates as 100m)
Registration opens on July 4, 2016 and closes on June 22, 2017. You may switch events up until June 22nd by contacting the RDs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be aware that if you do switch, you will not receive a refund for the price difference. If you register and are unable to attend we are unable to refund your registration fee, but we will be happy to roll your fee over to the following year. Participants must be age 18 or older.
For the 2017 event, there will be a cap on the number of entries for each distance. We will accept 150 registrations each for the 100M, 50M, 50k and 30K. Be sure to register early to avoid missing out!