Ultra runner wins race in South Dakota

Perry Bergson
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Perry Bergson

Daily Herald

You might beat Joanna Richardson in a short sprint in a running race.

But the smart money would be on her when the race gets long.

The Prince Albert runner recently won the 50-mile race at the Black Hills 100, finishing in 11 hours, 27 minutes and 12 seconds.

She says the experience — which was a first at that distance for her — was all about testing her mind and body.

“It’s pushing yourself to a new limit; it’s something different,” she says of her self-admitted obsession. “And I like the fact that not many people have ran 50 miles. That’s a huge attraction to me, doing something that’s beyond the norm …

“Pushing your body to another limit is perhaps not something that everybody can do.”

Richardson initially agreed to do the race as a pacer for a friend doing the 100-mile event. But as she read about the race — which is based in the Black Hills at Sturgis — she got excited about the 50-miler herself.

She has history in the sport.

Richardson, 35, ran on and off through university but stopped when she did some travelling. After gaining some weight and feeling unhealthy, she began to run again several months later.

Richardson emigrated from the United Kingdom to Prince Albert nearly eight years ago and her training became more consistent.

She has now completed several marathons, with a personal best of three hours, 23 minutes. Her previous long run was a 50-km run for charity but she has also trained up to a peak of 70 or 80 km a week in the past.

Richardson, who works at Summit Physiotherapy and Fitness as an exercise therapist, injured her right hamstring in 2010 and it cost her nearly a year of running.

It didn’t take long after she healed for the big goals to return.

She ran the Regina Marathon in the spring as a tune-up for the Black Hills 100. To prepare for the rugged terrain, she essentially stuck to her marathon training, with a long training run of 43 km.

“I would have liked to do have done more hill training,” she says. “I think I wasn’t as prepared … Little Red is beautiful but it doesn’t prepare you for the Black Hills.”

She also faced an elevation gain of 2,000 feet in travelling from Prince Albert to Sturgis and a race with 9,000 feet in elevation changes.

The course was an out-and-back design with aid stations every six or seven miles. And while there were lots of trees, the sun was overhead and there was no shade relief from the 32 C heat.

The day started well for her.

“The first half I felt great. When I turned around and realized there were no other women ahead of me, I got a real boost. Probably the next 10 km was pretty fast and I felt really good.”

Cue the suffering.

“It was about 33, 34 miles in I started to feel fatigued,” she recalls. “I think the main thing was between aid stations I ran out of water and didn’t drink enough at the station. I was totally dehydrated and thinking the aid station has to be at the bottom of the next hill. And it wasn’t …

“At that point I thought that I was going to puke or pass out.”

She was on her own with no runners around her. It was a pattern that repeated itself as she struggled from aid station to aid station.

She kept her mind busy thinking about the next waterstop but also mindful that nobody could get to her quickly in the bush if she did give up.

“I’m determined to finish, regardless of the pain. I think a lot of endurance athletes will push through that,” she said. “I’m not sure what the motivation is other than a self-preservation of getting to the next spot to drink or I’m going to pass out.”

Physically, the old hamstring injury flared up for the first three hours but it quieted. Her quads were burning from running down the hills and she stubbed toes over and over on the trails.

She encountered a huge hill a few miles from the finish line and could only run a few metres at a time before walking.

The race finishes with a half-lap run of a track.

“Normally when you see the finish you get that second wind and you can go; it wasn’t really like that,” she said with a laugh, calling the actual finish “totally amazing.”

Richardson actually finished fourth overall among the 50 male and female runners who started the race.

She was really sore for a couple of days after, and even though she did a short run the next Friday, it took nearly three weeks for her legs to feel better. She’s still losing toenails.

Was one ultra distance run enough?

“I’m totally inspired after meeting some of these guys that do normalize these things,” she says of the other runners she met on the course. “I want to do 100 miles now.”

Organizations: Black Hills, Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: South Dakota, United Kingdom, Little Red

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