Tatanka Marathon (NUE) – Sturgis, South Dakota

Karen Jarchow and Alex Pond Prevail at the Tatanka Marathon

By Ryan O’Dell

On Saturday, July 9, The Kenda NUE Series headed to Sturgis, South Dakota, home of the world’s largest motorcycle rally. Tatanka, the Lakota word for Buffalo, is the only point to point race in the NUE Series. At 6am, racers began gathering beneath the shadow of USA National Landmark Mount Rushmore.

Beneath the magnificence of mammoth rock sculptures representing four of our nation’s greatest presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, NUE Marathon racer’s rolled out at High Noon, down a short section of pavement connecting them to the Centennial Trail along an 50k course that includes gnarly single track and fast, smooth cruising trail winding all the way to Sturgis. The town of Sturgis is nestled at the base of the northern Black Hills in extreme western South Dakota.

Temperatures this year reached an unseasonable high of 97 degrees, tempered by low humidity and, at times and in places, strong breezes throughout the day. This was the first year Tatanka included the 50k Marathon as a stop on the new NUE Marathon Race Series. There was also an 85 mile race that is stop #6 in the NUE Century Race Series and a 15 mile Sprint distance for first timers that included many kids. Racers must complete at least four NUE races to qualify for series awards that includes cash, prizes and a mid-season travel award to Costa Rica for the Volcano 100 in September.

Quarq, a division of SRAM, located locally in Spearfish, offered race fans live online tracking for the first time this year and Strider Bikes, located in nearby Rapid City, set up a skills park, offering kids as young as 2-3 years old an opportunity to test their bike skills. In addition to crafts and a variety of food and beverage stands, racers were treated to local craft brews courtesy of Crow Peak Brewing and The Knuckle Brewpub.

Women’s Open

Jarchow gets her third straight NUE Win!

Following up on her wins at both True Grit and Bailey Hundito, Karen Jarchow, Team Topeak-Ergon, made it three straight winning the Tatanka Marathon distance in 3:30:57 and getting fifth overall as well. “Going into this race, I told myself that I would take zero risks.

From the start, the top ten or so had instant separation and I found myself exactly where I told myself not to be – second wheel to Alex Pond. That’s when I backed off a little, and let a handful of guys pass up the road that lead us into a creek side trail before the open road to Aid 1. By staying steady and picking my way around the random rock gardens, I was able to work myself back around a few of those guys before Aid 1, and then I stayed pretty settled into in the women’s lead and 5th overall from there on out.

Once on the trail, I focused on just staying smooth, consistent, hydrated, and enjoyed the spectacular Centennial Trail. I really enjoyed everything about this trail, from the steep, punchy climbs, the rocks, and especially the long swoopy descent through the trees before dumping back out by I-90. Next up, Jeff and I will head to Pierre’s Hole – another new location to me that I’m so excited to go check out!”

Ten minutes later, Becky Edmiston, Steamboat Velo, claimed second at 3:40:26. “HOT!  It was around 95 degrees at the Marathon start, though people’s Garmin’s were registering over 110!  The climb was HOT! I focused on Karen Jarchow’s advice (from her coach) “start slow to finish fast” and tried to keep it under control until the Aid Station at 18 miles.

Even though it was roasting I was getting chills, which seemed like a good reason not to push any harder.  After a cold towel on my neck (thank you volunteers!) and a refill at the aid station, I let myself push a little harder until the end. The trails were so fun! Nothing technical, good flow in parts, some rocky sections to navigate and some good, punchy climbs too. Going through lots of different ecosystems, (creek bottom, pine forest, grassland) kept it interesting. Sturgis was a great host town. I camped at the race camping, “Hog Heaven”, and a bunch of racers got burgers at “The Knuckle Saloon and Craft Brewery” (a biker bar), rode the day before and the day after on some really nice singletrack.

That was my fourth and final NUE race of the year! It’s been a blast. The series got me to travel to four races that I wouldn’t have otherwise done, and I’m glad, it was a really fun experience! Barb Fetters took third in 4:03:55.

Men’s Open

Pond goes sub three!

Following a seventh place finish at the season opening True Grit and his first win at the Bailey Hundito in Colorado, Alex Pond, Sonoran Cycles, took the Tatanka Men’s Open and posted the only sub three hour time at 2:58:33. “This year I made the choice to venture out and race some new venues and, with the addition of NUE’s new Marathon series, I was intrigued by the locations and the possibility of an overall title. The latest race brought me to the Black hills of South Dakota, a place I had only passed through once and only knew it for heat and crazy storms.

I arrived on Friday to ride the Victoria trail loop and got a nice taste of what the conditions of the area would be like. The heat was already pretty intense and the 15 mile loop had me out riding much more then I would have liked to before a race. After grabbing packets and food to cook dinner, my friend Becky and I made to our sweet private camp site at the Hog Heaven Campground, a site picked by the race organizer for racers to post up at. The site offered showers and ample choices in sites, seeing that it was only open during the Sturgis Bike Week, the place was empty.

The race for the Marathon division did not start until High Noon but Saturday morning I was up with the sun, already baking in the heat that would prove to make many worried for the race. I had my usual breakfast and then tried to find things to do without getting to excited about racing, checking over my bike multiple times and laying down in the shade, trying to stay cool and out of the sun. Thankfully a fellow Coloradan racer was staying at a hotel with AC who invited us to chill out for a bit before the start.

We opted for the Shuttle to the start point, since this race is a point to point, which made for a fun ride, and a chance to meet some of the other races and find out how far others had traveled to partake in the event. We all stepped off the bus, quickly running for a bathroom and shade. I think everyone had been downing the fluids, knowing the thermometer was reading above 95 which had a lot of folks nervous about the cramps that could come.

Joking around with a couple friends, I vowed not to lead out the race, and to see who was going to get out and be a serious contender for the race. As soon as the police escort drove off I found myself exactly where I said I would not be, leading everyone up the paved road and to the singletrack. I felt good, not paying too much attention to my heart rate that was already through the roof, but feeling that my legs were comfortable and my mind was ready to race.

About five racers and I hit the dirt which led us up the singletrack that would eventually lead us to the Centennial trail. We hit some creek crossings right off the bat that caused some bobbling and had me worried about the handling for the day. We made it onto some smoother terrain and up a two track road were I found my rhythm and was able to get in a groove. About three miles in I looked back to see no one was holding pace with me, so I kept it steady to the first aid station, which was only five miles in, and stopped to top off my bottle, knowing I didn’t want to get behind on fluids this day.

After the first aid we hit the main “Centennial Trail” and started to encounter the Epic racers. I was concerned before the race, not knowing how many of them we would be working to get around throughout the day, but after the end, it was not many and it was fun to see them out there knowing they were suffering much more than me. This was weekend number five of hitting the race scene and I am looking forward to a couple weeks of enjoying some Colorado High Country trail riding before getting ready to head up to Alta WY for the Pierres Hole 100k and then heading back to my stomping grounds in the North East for the Hampshire 100k.”

The trail had a fairly decent 2000′ vertical off the start, lots of little punchy hits, and some good rocks and roots thrown in to boot. My biggest limiting factor for the day was my rear brake that was howling and not giving my much braking power, and as soon as we started to descend, there were many hard corners that became tricky and had me worried about others catching me with better handling. Making it to Aid 2 was great, the staff was super energetic and the cold towel on my back was the best thing I’ve had done to me in a race ever!

From there I kept my pace steady and focused my efforts on making it a sub three hour race. Once we left the centennial and had only 5+ miles of trail left, we hit some great new trails just outside Sturgis before putting us onto the bike path to the finish. All in all, the course offered plenty of chunky rock, smooth pine needle covered singletrack and open prairie meadows that, if you could take a moment to enjoy, really made for an epic day on the bike.

This was weekend number five of hitting the race scene and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks enjoying some Colorado High Country trail riding before getting ready to head up to Alta WY for the Pierres Hole 100k and then heading back to my stomping grounds in the North East for the Hampshire 100k. The NUE has been a super fun series and all the races have offered awesome terrain, great venues, and parties that always bring out the best in the Mountain bike Community.”

Brian Stampe was next to claim second in 3:18:04. Jake Aisenbrey, Larson’s Cyclery, was next placing third at 3:31:08. “I felt the Tatanka Marathon distance was the perfect length for the first MTB race of the year. Coming out of a long gravel season, my legs were pretty shot and fast, explosive efforts were lacking.

During the pavement rollout and onto the gravel road, I was sitting somewhere in the top 12 when gaps started to open and I lost contact with the lead group. When we hit the rock sections going up Elk Creek, there was some unwanted hike-a-bike due to the close proximity with other riders. It was pretty hot due to the mid-day start but all systems were in check and I started to gain time back when we hit the singletrack at Dalton Lake.

I struggled with the climbs, having what felt like zero strength in my legs, but my cardio fitness made up for what my legs lacked. The course was incredibly dry, so coupled with the pine needles, the corners were pretty slick. I opened up on the descents and told myself to lay off the brakes. I checked off a couple more riders on the final descents towards the interstate crossing, but continued to keep the pace up until the finish. I really had no idea where I sat when crossing the finish; needless to say I was pretty surprised to see a 3rd Place finish in the Men’s Open!

Having raced the ‘Epic’ length of the Tatanka last year, it was nice to come back and enjoy the part of the course I barely remember. The Black Hills always offers a fun atmosphere and good people; there is no question why I’m down there for so many races. I don’t have any NUE races on the horizon, but if my schedule allows, I may enter into Pierre’s Hole.”

Six seconds later, Bryce Thorman, took fourth at 3:31:14. Four minutes behind Thorman, local Spearfish racer, Jonathan Reth, Spearfish Family Dentistry, claimed the fifth spot at 3:35:48.



Litzinger now leads the NUE Marathon Series with three straight wins!

Following wins at the Big Frog 65 and Mohican 100k, James Litzinger, Napleton Elite Cycling pwrd by Dirty Harry’s, now leads the NUE Marathon Race Series arriving first at 3:23:06. “My wife, three sons, and I drove from PA so that I could take on the Tatanka 50 K.  The views in South Dakota are exceptional!

On race day, while teammate Anthony Grinnell got an early start, my other teammate Scott Williams and I tried to pass the time before our Noon start.  I have never started a race that late and was a little unsure about how it would go considering the heat would be increasing to 95 degrees.

The race started in Piedmont with a police escort out of town on a paved road. Then the race truly began for me on Little Elk Creek Road where the pace began to pick up. I was able to sit in behind some fast-geared riders until we got to the single track. Once on the single track, I was able to get by some geared riders and ride my pace through the technical canyon trail.  After popping out onto the dirt road before Aid Station 1, I noticed that my teammate, Scott, was not far behind me on the road. I stopped at Aid Station 1 for a top off of my liquids due to an extremely hot day then continued the long opening climb, enjoying the beautiful rock and pine forests. Once at the top, Scott and I rode together, enjoying the flowing and rewarding downhill.   I refueled with an apple cinnamon Hammer Bar once!

We started to climb up into Aid Station 2, where I was greeted with a freezing, soaking wet towel, draped around my neck. It was so great! Thank you to the amazing workers at Aid Station 2! I left the Aid Station riding by myself but when I got to the top of the climb, I noticed that Scott was right behind me. He was having a great race! We rode together on the ridge of the mountain, before making one of the final climbs where we were rewarded with an awesome long descent where we were able to fly with our Pivot Les bikes along the ridges flowing single track!  It seemed like this decent went on for an hour!  It was so much fun!

After the single track, we shoot out onto a long fast descent through a prairie before crossing under route 90. I knew that there were only a few miles left so I put the hammer down for the final stretch through the fast prairie, although I was held up for about thirty seconds as I was running a herd of cattle down the trail that would not get off the trail. I was a little nervous with the large group of cattle and small calves mixed into the herd; I didn’t know how they would respond to a rider. The cattle proved to be my final obstacle in taking the win at Tatanka SS 50k!  It was smooth sailing to the finish only passing a few other riders before the finish in down town Sturgis! Congratulations to my teammate Scott Williams on a great ride!  Thank you to all of our great sponsors, Dirty Harry’s, Napleton Auto, Hammer, Bontrager, Maxxis!”

Litzinger’s team mate, Scott Williams, Napleton Elite Cycling p/b Dirty Harry’s, was next just two minutes back to finish 3:25:54. “Three of us came out West from Pittsburgh to take on the bull and the rugged terrain that Tatanka has to offer. I was nervous leading up to race day with it being a terrain I was not familiar with but thought it would be an awesome adventure. Tatanka did not disappoint one bit.

Shortly before reaching Aid #1, which is roughly at mile six of our nine mile climb, I was eagerly surprised to catch Litzinger’s wheel, I quickly rolled in and with the help of a local Boy Scout who topped off my bottles with some cold water and was able to roll out keeping Jim in sight.

Tatanka throws some tough climbs that keep you working for miles but you once you top out, the descents are well worth all the work. There was no shortage of gnarly, fast, long twisty descents and you earn every bit of them. The heat was really starting to get me and Aid #2 was an absolute blessing with ice cold rags that the volunteers wrapped around our necks as we rolled in. In addition to the ice towel, I was greeted with my drop bag, Coke and ice water; it was about as good as it gets with how hot it was on a race day and kept me moving strong.

Jim and I yo-yo’d most the race, I would close the gap on climbs and he would open it back up on descents. By the end of the day, Jim held a two minute lead on me taking the single speed win and we rolled in 3rd/4th overall for the Tatanka Marathon; a solid day for us both. I had an absolute blast on my Pivot Les single speed and would love to be able to come back out here again next year. This trip would never have been possible without the support from my team, Napleton Elite Cycling and local shop, Dirty Harry’s. As of right now, I am signed up for Shenandoah which will be my first 100 miler, very excited to head down there for such an iconic race.”

Robert Herrman, Ridge Riders of the Black Hills, took third at 3:52:31.


Master’s 50+

Dickenson Crushes the field, going sub four to get his first NUE win!

Robert Dickenson, Mtn Mania, was the only Master’s racer to go sub four hours in route to the win in 3:59:18. Jerry Hoff was next at 4:59:42 with Mike Dailey getting third just five minutes behind Hoff at 5:04:50

NEXT RACE: The KENDA NUE Marathon Race Series heads due west to the Big Bear Grizzly in Big Bear, California on Saturday, July 30. http://nuemtb.com/series/big-bear-grizzly-100-ultra-endurance-mountainbike-race for more information and stay tuned here for the latest news, results, and photos.