I have been looking forward to this race since I registered back in January, and it most definitely did not disappoint. The Leading Ladies Marathon is a female- only event that begins in Lead, South Dakota and follows a downhill course into Spearfish. It’s small, with roughly 120 marathoners and about twice as many women running the half. This was exactly how it was advertised, however, so it wasn’t a surprise to be running a predominately solitary 26.2 miles.
What sets this marathon apart is the incredible beauty of the course. For the most part, it follows Hannah Road and local highway 14A, which is a two lane road that winds and meanders through the Black Hills State Park. The scenery is breathtaking throughout: towering evergreen trees, enormous rock facades, and babbling streams make up the vast majority of the run. It made it quite easy to forget that we were running on a highway. (It also helped that the race began at 6:00 AM on a Sunday and traffic was very light.)
The other noteworthy element of this race was the elevation. It begins at 6,000 feet and drops approximately 2,600 feet from start to finish. The lack of oxygen was definitely noticeable and would have been a huge hindrance to my overall performance if it wasn’t for the fact that we ran almost entirely downhill. There was a small (but difficult because of the altitude) half mile long incline at the start of the race and another hill at mile 11 where we turned into Roughneck Falls. That hill was a beast. The mile- long incline was fairly steep (or at least felt that way), and while it contained perhaps the most beautiful views of the course, I was too busy suffering in silence to really take them all in.
Since the race was small, I brought a hand- held water bottle which was very helpful. Aid stations were every 2-3 miles apart and were well stocked– but did not have any gels or GU. A 6:00 AM start time and a large elevation drop also means that there is a fairly large shift in the weather from beginning to end. It was (pleasantly) chilly at the start line and warmed up considerably during the last few miles. My only real criticism of this race was the bus ride to the start line: we boarded the busses from our hotel at 4:00 AM only to sit at the starting area for over an hour. I really, really would have appreciated the extra hour of sleep.
The best part of my race weekend was just getting out to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This area had never really been on my radar prior to signing up for the race, but it is such a gorgeous part of our country, and I am so grateful that I had an opportunity to visit. I loved driving into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower and also enjoyed the exhibits at Crazy Horse. (I wasn’t really into Mt. Rushmore, so I just took a picture from the highway.) I would absolutely recommend this marathon to any female runner—50 stater or not. I don’t think that there are many quite like this in the country. Since my words can’t do this area justice, I’ll just post lots of pictures…
** Race Highlights: This is a marvelously beautiful course.
** The Downside: 26.2 miles of downhill running. It made for a fast course, but I am still hurting four weeks out.
Sub 4:00 State #8, BQ State #6
Finish Time: 3:30:58
Overall Place: 5th/ 121
Favorite Race Day Song: “Joking” by the Indigo Girls
Total Training Miles: 2350
Shoe Total: 8