Mount Rushmore Half Marathon – An Emotional Race and Run

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Why was Mount Rushmore half marathon race was so meaningful?

I was emotional. More emotional than I have ever been for a race and this was before I even signed up. This was no ordinary race, not by a long shot. I was finally going to make good on one (of many) promises to Papa by running at Mount Rushmore. Visiting this iconic landmark was a life long dream of his, but unfortunately, due to the aggressive nature of his dementia, we were unable to travel to this location while he was alive.

Fast forward exactly six years later to the day since his passing, I made good on that promise! The stars aligned for this moment in time and the theme of #21 literally pushed me toward Mount Rushmore because:

  1. Papa passed away on September 21, 2013
  2. This was my 21st half marathon
  3. This was my 21st different state
  4. The race was on September 21, 2019

The #21 was a symbol of both this race and anniversary of Papa’s passing.

13.1 miles of running through forests, tunnels, elevation, and of course, views of Mount Rushmore

I barely slept three hours. My mind was juggling all sorts of emotions this morning. I always miss my Papa, but today it seemed to sting more than I anticipated. While I had my wife and parents along for support, I couldn’t help but wish my Papa was around to see this historic site with his own eyes. Yes, I was fulfilling a promise to him, but geez, it hurt inside…and this hurt wouldn’t go away. Maybe that is the way life should work…

We arrived at the start line around 5:30 am. I hadn’t run a race or trained in a full year. I wish I was lying, but that is the truth. Yes, I got married, but that was no excuse. While I needed time off the race course, today was my time to shine on it.

Papa’s anniversary is always unusually hard on me, but  as soon as that race gun went off, it was game on!

A magnificent sunrise to kick-off the race.

Miles 1-3: The race begins at Ghost Canyon Dude Ranch on a well-packed dirt road for about 3 miles before turning into pavement. This stretch would normally not be that memorable; however, the night before the race, the Vacation Races team sent an email to all the runners about my Run4Papa story and the reason behind today’s run. To say I was overwhelmed does not do justice to what happened along these three miles. I was stopped probably 20+ times (and roughly 50 times total throughout the race) for selfies with other runners. I heard everything from “Thank you for bringing your mission to our state,” to “My family has a loved one with Alzheimer’s and we are inspired by your passion.” A few runners even asked if they could film a part of my race video. Of course, I happily obliged!

What never ceases to amaze me is the impact Run4Papa continues to have on so many people and their families around the world. This is why I run. I am fully cognizant how people pay it forward in life and every conversation, email, phone call and now race selfie seems to have a proactive compound effect.

I may have crossed mile 3 around the 45 minute mark, but there was no chance I was going to turn anyone away.

Miles 4-11: Let’s be clear. This race is a challenging course with lots of gorgeous views of Mount Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills! If you are a fan of hills, you will love this course (especially during this 7-mile stretch). If you are not a fan of hills, at least know that you will be  rewarded with amazing views of the forest, several carved out tunnels on the mountain, and of course, stunning views of Mount Rushmore.

Winding through the beautiful scenery that is the Black Hills Forrest.

As I continued to climb through the winding roads of Rushmore, my mind was at peace. I have never run a half marathon race where nature was so prevalent. My brain and body felt calm and relaxed. Upon reaching Mile 5, I ran through the first of three tunnels which in itself was a treat.

Carved right out of the mountain, this tunnel was fascinating to run through with a view for the ages ahead.

While that was exciting and different, nothing could compare to the view that followed. When I say Mount Rushmore is directly in front of you, I am not exaggerating.

A direct line of sight to this historically iconic landmark of Mount Rushmore.

Miles 11-13.1: Thankfully, the last few miles is downhill before finishing in the town of Keystone, SD (South Dakota). Yes, it was a relief to run down versus up,  but honestly, I wish I could have kept running in the forest because I had zero desire to leave at this point in time. The scenery was so magnificent  that I took my wife and parents through it all the following day in our rental car.

Mile 12 – running on the downhill stretch out of the forest.

As I quickly made my way down the main road and toward the finish line, my mind succumbed to all the built-up emotions that had been swirling around in my brain. I saw my parents and wife standing near the finish line, I grabbed the Run4Papa flag from my father’s hands and waved it proudly as I completed my 21st half marathon in my 21st different state!

I wasn’t exhausted. I was ecstatic, heartbroken, and relieved all at once. I was appreciative of having my parents and wife be part of this important experience. To my fellow runners and supporters, thank you for always providing that additional motivation along the way; it makes a massive difference over the course of 13.1 miles.

Since the course was not set-up for spectators throughout the race (just at the start and finish line), the four of us hopped in a car and headed to see the Mount Rushmore landmark together.

My wife, parents and I standing in the spot my Papa never got to see with his own eyes.

I will never forget this moment in time as long as air continues to fill my lungs. I believe that Papa pushes me every day to be better and run further for this cause until a cure is found, and mark my words, we will find a cure for this disease!

Today, I hope he was able to see what I saw along these 13.1 miles because it was worth the wait, even if I didn’t have him physically by my side.

I will continue to carry this flag to every race moving forward and leave a snapshot of Papa’s legacy in each location.

To view pictures from this race click: Mount Rushmore Photo Album

What should you know about the Mount Rushmore Half marathon race?

  • Flying to this destination: depending on where you fly from, I recommend booking flights in advance as the cost can be pricey
  • Vacation Races Expo: Set-up is at the Ghost Canyon Dude Ranch the day before the race and runs from 12:00-6:00 pm with bib pickup as late as 7:00 pm. At the expo you can pick up your bib, race shirt, and other gear. Plan to stay awhile, and cook some s’mores by their makeshift campfire.

    You can even get a selfie with their mascot Odie!

  • Staff: From the expo to race day, the staff was so personable, friendly, and beyond pro-environment. In fact, there are NO CUPS OR TRASH ALLOWED on race day. At first, I was skeptical because I have never heard of this before, but it made complete sense. We are running through nature and why provide any opportunity for excess trash. I wish I would’ve kept mine for future races.

    These eco-friendly pouches were provided to each runner at the expo.

  • Race options:
    • Half Marathon Race start: 6:30 am., 4 hour maximum time limit
    • TBD: A 5K run in being contemplated for the future
  • Temperature: Started at 37°F and finished at 55°F (historically it is a low 41°F and a high of 68°F). I wouldn’t get caught up in the temperature because had it been  -5°F,  I would have loved every moment. Bottom line: the scenery is breathtaking!
  • Elevation:
  • Mount Rushmore Facts: The entire project took only 14 years to craft  beginning in 1927 and completed in 1941. The President’s faces are six stories tall (62 feet to be exact).
  • The Bling: I find this is always something people want to see so here you go folks!



Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Mount Rushmore Half Marathon – Fulfilling my Promise to Papa”

  1. Thanks for sharing such a heart felt story! I ran this half today (18th Sep.) I’m so thankful that I did.
    Best regards,


    1. Hi David,
      Thanks so much for writing and congrats on your run this past weekend! It is truly a magnificent and beautiful spot to run and glad you had the opportunity to add that memory to your running accolades. Thanks for taking the time to read my story!


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