It’s been over a week since I finished the Run Crazy Horse Half Marathon. I still can’t stop thinking about what an awesome experience it was. In fact, I have so many good things to say about this race that I’m not even sure where to start.
How about with a quick history lesson:
Crazy Horse was a Native American Chief of the Oglala Lakota. He led battles against the United States government for encroaching on the territories and way of life of his people. Among his most famous victories is the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Unfortunately, after that battle, a rough cold winter weakened his army. Crazy Horse decided to surrender in 1877 to protect his people. He turned himself over to US troops and lived in local village for about four months. There, he was stabbed in the back and killed by a US Soldier.
Crazy Horse is commemorated by the Crazy Horse Memorial. This large mountain carving is located about 10 miles Southwest of Hill City, SD in Black Hills National Forest. Construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial began in 1948. A Lakota Elder named Henry Standing Bear asked a sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski to build a sculpture to commemorate Native American heroes the way that Mt. Rushmore commemorates white American heroes. The Memorial is still a work in progress, with no definite end date. However, it’s funded entirely through private donations, and when complete, it will be the largest sculpture in the world.
The half marathon consists of a point to point course, which starts on the Crazy Horse Memorial grounds and finishes in downtown Hill City. Between the elevation and rolling hills during the first three miles, I thought I was going to be in for a rough morning. If you run this race, you’ll likely feel the same. The beginning of the course is challenging. That said though, the hills really aren’t as bad as they seem. The elevation gain between the start line and the highest point is only 171 feet. Being 6000 feet above sea level is what makes them feel a lot tougher than they really are. But there are two excellent reasons to ignore them and keep pushing forward:
First, this part of the course loops through the memorial grounds. Just past the first mile marker, you’ll get an up close view of the memorial. In fact, the you’ll get even closer than the paid tours go. Look up and take in the natural beauty of the area and you’ll forget about the hills.
Next, starting just after mile 3, the rest of the course is downhill. End to end, the course has a net elevation loss of almost 1000 feet. Even better, the decline happens gradually over the entire remaining 10 miles. So if we do the math, that’s only an average of about a 100 foot drop per mile. This means that instead of the knee pounding ultra steep downhills I’ve seen on other courses, this is a nice slow gradual decline. I felt like I could keep on running forever.
The net downhill isn’t the only good thing about this course. After leaving the memorial grounds, most of the remainder of the race on the George S. Mickelson Trail. The Mickelson Trail is a 108 mile long converted rail trail that runs from Edgemont to Deadwood, SD. The section the race covers is a nice wide packed dirt trail with plenty of shade. It also offers beautiful views of spruce and aspen trees (which are bright yellow this time of year). Runners also get to see streams, horses, farms, bridges and a variety of other beautiful sights.
At the end of the course there’s a finish line festival with beer and refreshments in downtown Hill City. Weather in South Dakota can be hit or miss in October but this year it was perfect for running. This was the first time I’d ever finished a half marathon wishing I had registered for the full. I could have easily run another 13 miles surrounded by that scenery.
In addition to the beautiful course, the race is also well organized. Packet pickup is a straightforward process at the Boys & Girls Club of Hill City. On race day, runners have plenty of options as far as logistics go:
- Park at the finish line early and take a shuttle bus to the start line.
- Park at the start line and take a bus to the finish line after the race.
- Shuttle service is also available from some of the hotels and campgrounds in the area.
I parked at the finish line. The only downside was that I had to wait about 10 minutes for the bus to bring me back after the race. The upside was that after I got back to my car, I was able to take some pics with my medal in front of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Getting There / Where to Stay
If you don’t live in the area, the easiest way to get there is to fly into Rapid City. Hill City is about a 45 minute drive from the Rapid City Regional Airport.
When it comes to hotels, there are a few nearby towns in the area that you can stay in:
- Hill City
- You can also stay in Rapid City, which is the biggest city in the area, but if you do, you’ll have a long drive to get to the start line on race morning.
For as small as the towns in the area are, they have a surprisingly large number of hotels. This is mainly because of their proximity to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore and some of the other local attractions. It’s also because the area is close to Sturgis. Hotels for miles around sell out during Bike Week.
Things to do on Race Weekend
You won’t have a hard time finding things to do in the area during race weekend. I was there for four days and easily could have stayed another week. Here are a few options:
The Crazy Horse Memorial. Something important to note is that there’s much more here than just the monument itself. There’s also a Native American History museum, a restaurant and other attractions.
Mt. Rushmore is less than 20 miles away from the Crazy Horse memorial. The drive between the two is also beautiful and has plenty of places to stop and hike, take pictures or go rock climbing.
Custer State Park offers plenty of opportunities to see the wildlife that the Western United States is known for. During an hour drive through the park’s Wildlife Loop, I saw Wild Turkeys, Mule Deer, White Tail Deer, Buffalo, Antelope and Donkeys.
Iron Mountain Road runs between Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park. It climbs 17 miles through stacked loops of wooden bridges and one lane tunnels. It also offers amazing scenic views.
Wind Cave National Park is just South of Custer State Park and is known for its 140+ mile underground wind cave and impressive calcite formations.
Badlands National Park is a little bit further out but well worth the trip as it contains amazing canyons, spires and towering rock formations.
The Run Crazy Horse Half was my 55th Half Marathon. I’ve traveled all over the world for races and seen some amazing areas. There are a number of places I’d like to run in again, but since I still have so many more places to run, I’m pretty selective about where I go back to. This is definitely one that I’ll be running again though. In fact, I think next time I’ll be running the full marathon so I can spend more time enjoying this beautiful course.