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 (hot years tend to drive the finish rate down significantly), but the course takes its toll too. Several runners have 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 smaller chunks that eventually take their toll. The thing about our course that gets folks is in trouble is that it’s basically all runable, under normal conditions. There are very few climbs where you’re like, damn, I better hike this. But all that running when you should probably be hiking eventually adds up and by mile 40-50 you realize you done screwed up. 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. If you feel you are prepared for the challenge, then you are more than welcome to come join us!
We will straight up tell you now that our 100 mile and 50 mile courses are actually a bit longer than that. You’ll probably end up with right around 105 or 52.5 miles, give or take. Count those bonus miles as a special gift: “Buy 100 miles, get 5 free!!!” Our basic course hasn’t changed much since the second year when we moved the turnaround point from Rapid Creek to Silver City. What has changed is that the Centennial trail itself has been rerouted in several locations. While these reroutes theoretically make the trail easier by adding switchbacks to some climbs, those switchbacks also add length, hence the extra distance. The reality is that our course works out very nicely, running from the Sturgis City Park to Silver City. We aren’t gonna take something logistically simple and change it just to adhere to some arbitrary number. So, 105 miles it is. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.
We offer a 100M, 50M, 50K and 30K. The 100M race starts at the Sturgis City Park, right next to Woodle Field, on Friday morning . The first mile follows the paved city bike path east to the Fort Meade trailhead. From there, the course takes to the Centennial trail (Trail #89). In total the course is approximately 98% trail with only the first and last mile following the paved bike path and a short stretch of highway leading into Nemo. The trail is mostly single-track, but there is a 14ish mile stretch between the Dalton Lake and Pilot Knob trailheads that is open to ATVs, so expect to see some motorized traffic in that stretch (we’ve had generally good luck with the ATVers being courteous to runners). About three miles before the turnaround in Silver City, you will divert from the Centennial trail onto the Deerfield trail (Trail #40). This will take you up and over the a hill and then drop you down to the turnaround at the Silver City Community Hall. Get yourself situated and go back the way you came. Easy, right? 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 17.5/87.5), Dalton Lake (mile 31/74) and Silver City (mile 52.5). 100 milers will have until 8:00 PM Saturday to finish, which is a grand total of 34 hours.
The 50M course is point to point. 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 the back half of the 100M course to Sturgis. This route is 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 21.5) and Elk Creek (mile 35). The 50M cutoff is 8:00 PM, same as the 100M cutoff, which gives 50 milers 14 hours to finish. We’ve heard from a fair number of people that that time limit is too tight, and what we always tell them is that it’s the same as the Quad Rock 50 in Colorado, which is on a much tougher course (trust us, we both have QR50 finishes, and DNFs, to our credit). If Quad Rock ever changes their’s, then I guess we’ll have to reconsider our argument. Also, our finish rate for the 50M in 2018 was 71%, so 14 hours is definitely doable.
The 50K debuted in 2017 and starts on Saturday morning along Dalton Lake Road, east of the Dalton Lake trailhead. The first stretch 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 long distance trail running is all about. Also, it’s a good training distance if you’re targeting a 50K or 50M race later in the summer. 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 50K/50M/100M course back to Sturgis. You’ll come across two aid stations along the way at Bulldog and Alkali Creek (technically you’ll also go through the Elk Creek aid station just over a mile in, but if you already need aid at that point, something has gone awry). This course is roughly 30K, give or take a km or two…if you can’t tell by now, we don’t get too bent out of shape about exact distances around here. Overall, you’ll be losing elevation but be prepared for a few significant climbs along the way too.
One last 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 is from a GPX track of the full 100 (105) mile course recorded during the 2018 event (Thanks, Phil Lowry!). The aid station tags are a bit wonky on the profile in that not every aid station is shown on both halves of the course. Rest assured, the aid stations will be there on both the out and back (see our Aid Station page for more detail on aid station locations).
Gain – 22,370
Loss – 22,370
Gain – 8,656
Loss – 9,900
Gain – 3,800
Loss – 5,100
Gain – 3,381
Loss – 4,641
*The 50K elevation data comes from the 2017 event, which was the inaugural race for this distance and was rerouted at the last minute due to a timber sale. The 2019 race will follow the original intended course. Elevation data will be similar, but could vary a bit.
$225 (Early Bird) Sep. 1- Dec. 31
$250 Jan. 1 – March 31
$275 April 1 – June 22
50M (Same dates as 100m)
50K (Same dates as 100m)
30K (Same dates as 100m)
Registration closes on June 22, 2019. 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 email us during that last week begging to change distances (this happens a lot as the reality of what you’ve gotten yourself into begins to take hold), take note that it may not be possible if the distance you’re wishing to switch to has filled up. 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. If you REALLY think you deserve a refund, you’re gonna have to make a pretty compelling argument…we’ve issued exactly one in 8 years, to a military member who was being deployed. Participants in the 100M must be age 18 or older.
For the 2019 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!