May 2020-Brian Harms

Q: Tell me a little about yourself (where you’re from what you’re doing now…etc)

My name is Brian Harms, AKA Dad, Harmsy and Papa. I do like to talk and write so if you don’t enjoy reading I recommend you exit now, and just click “Like” to appease me. My wife Jean and I have been married for 36 years. We have three boys which have produced eight grandchildren. Where I am from is almost a trick question for a Navy Brat. I was born in Florida, and from there I’ve lived in Georgia, California, Maryland, California, Florida, California, Indiana, Minnesota and currently now in Belle Fourche. When my dad would be deployed I would spend part of the summers in George Iowa. My grandparents lived there and my mom and dad were from there. Jean is also from George and is where we met. I graduated High School from Osseo Minnesota in 1977. I attended Black Hills State University for three years running Cross Country and Track. I really wanted to Coach but I really didn’t want to become a teacher so I left and have been in the Bentonite business for the past 39 years.

Q: How long have you been running and how did you get started?

I officially started running at the beginning of eighth grade in Indiana. I was the new kid in a new school again and sitting alone in our classroom. This was a half day of school and not much was happening for school work. Everyone was visiting with their friends but me. Once again I was in a new school and knew no one. An announcement came over the intercom asking that anyone interested in cross country please report to the gym. I had no idea what cross country was but I knew it couldn’t be any worse than my current situation so I got up and found the gym. The next day we had our first practice and discovered I was the fastest. Running from that point has brought me lifelong friendships which have paved the way for who I am today. I am no longer very fast but have been doing this sport we all love for nearly 50 years.

Q: Would you rather run with a group or alone?

When I was younger I preferred more solo or a running buddy of relatively equal ability to train with. Those runs were more of a purpose preparing for the next race or season. I ran competitively in High School and College so group runs were most often defined as either warm up with teammates for a hard workout or those days which were considered easy rest days.  As I have gotten older I prefer group runs by far. I have met so many people through the Black Hills Running Community(BHRC) and cherish those relationships. What I enjoy is all the age groups that show up for the group runs. Running really brings generations together. We have a common bond that only runners can understand.

Q: Do you prefer roads or trails?

I prefer the trails but I am a much better runner on the roads. I am not very good going uphill on the trails and even worse going downhill. I know that gravity works and I hate to fall. I am very careful and tedious working my way down. I have always said you are not truly a trail runner until you have fallen. My first fall with the group was a few years back. Fortunately I had Erika Winchester witness the event. She actually didn’t laugh and asked me right away if I was okay? All my former teammates would have laughed first and then checked to see if I was okay. The truth be told I would have done the exact same thing to them if the roles had been reversed. Anyone else out there notice that gravity speeds up as we get older?

I have lived in the Black Hills area since 1977. Until I started trail running I thought I knew this place we all call home. I have re-discovered the Black Hills through trail running. I would never attempt some of the trails we have run on my own; getting lost for me is a real possibility. The beauty that is so close to us is absolutely amazing. Yes, there is a price to pay to get to some of those views, but with friends the journey is so much easier. The group or someone in the group will wait at intersections to make sure no one gets lost. We also seem to pose for plenty of pictures along the way.

Q: What is your favorite distance or race?

My favorite distance is a hard one. If I’m in good shape I love a 20 mile run. If I am not in good shape any distance can be a struggle. So I guess my favorite distance is what my fitness level dictates at the time; the longer the better.

I love the Freedom Run 5K Race which takes place on the 4th of July in George Iowa. The starting line is really close to our home and it is a pretty flat course (isn’t most of Iowa flat)? The money raised goes 100% back into the bike trail. I liked both Crazy Horse half and Deadwood half marathons. Both are well run races. I liked both Lean Horse 30K and Black Hills 30K when I ran them. Old Baldy is also a fun one. I think it’s hard to not like a race around the Hills. Experienced people run them and the Aid Stations are second to none.

Q: How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run?

Unfortunately I have had my share of injuries over the years. When I feel a little unmotivated I just have to think back to my last injury that kept me sidelined and how much I missed running. I missed the majority of 2019 with an injury and it was terrible. I basically went off the grid and ignored what BHRC was posting and I wouldn’t look at Strava to see what my friends were doing. I also start wondering at my age have I already ran my last group run? Then I try to think positive thoughts of fellow runners who are older and faster than me and I realize I can still do this. I have those group members and friends like Dan Bjerke, Rick Reeves, Roger Heacock and Wayne Drealan to name a few who inspire me to get back in the game after an injury.

The other thing runners need is a great Physical Therapist in our corners. We are pretty prone to overuse injuries and improper muscle balance. A good PT can be very motivating. I went for my first visit almost nine years ago when I basically couldn’t run anymore. In fact, I was down to walking with a limp. I remember Julie Wingen telling me, if you are willing to do your part when it comes to the exercises you will run again. That was so uplifting. I had others who would tell me, “You know Brian, at your age you might want to think about slowing down a little”.

Q: What do you find to be the most rewarding/inspiring thing about running?

My most rewarding solo runs are the summertime sunrise runs.  Birds are singing, I am in tune with my breathing, everything is wet from the dew, the wind is usually calm, noises travel further, the sunrise says a new day is beginning  and yes Jessie Fahlgren , these are the best times to run “unplugged” from the world and give Strava a break . My pace doesn’t matter, and I truly enjoy looking at God’s wonder that surrounds us everywhere. When I go with a group the rewards come not just from the run, but the conversations which occur on that given day. One never knows where the conversation will lead and friendships are built upon.

Other runners also inspire me greatly.  I find the stories of how other runners got their start truly inspirational. I love reading and hearing how all the local runners decided to put on a pair of shoes and find this sport. I love watching the passion of younger runners and the dedication/obsession that overtakes them. I love seeing running groups forming around the Hills. Candace Gustafson has been instrumental in getting the Northern Hills group going. I have been in Belle Fourche since 1984 and watching what Chris Riley and Jeremy Elsom have done with the Cross Country program has been truly amazing.

Last year a group of BHRC members who I run with including Tom Horan, Jessie Fahlgren, Dustin Hoffman, Laren Roderick, Chris Riley, and Jeremy Elsom all signed up and competed in the Black Hills 100. Just signing up in itself is motivational to me. Compared to these local athletes I feel like an underachiever. The weather last year was extremely detrimental for training and then the week of the race it decided to get hot. Five of the six completed this monumental feat. Amazing!

I have a co-worker, Dirk VanZee who is an avid outdoors person. He likes to hike, backpack, fly fish, rock climb, and do a little running so I have someone at work I can talk to about running. When runners aren’t running, what do we do, we talk about running. On the first day of summer last year Dirk and I ran/jogged/hiked our way to the top of Crow peak to greet the summer solstice. This year we plan on greeting the summer solstice on top of Black Elk Peak. It’s rewarding to have a coworker who doesn’t seem to get bored with all my running gibberish.

Q: Tell us a little trivia about your running?

I was part of a 10 person 24 hour relay team in 1979 in which our team ran 270.5 miles in 24 hours. We set the State record at that time and I believe it still stands today. I ran one marathon in 1981 and finished in 2:31:04. I had the privilege of running for three great coaches in my lifetime. Richard Conway when I started High School in Indiana, James Deane as I finished High School in Minnesota and Dave Little at Black Hills. I helped Forry Flaagan when he was in Spearfish coaching cross country one year. I did a lot of running with his senior runner named Mike Bendt. Mike and I ran a ton of miles together. Mike and I talked strategies, philosophies, life in general and I had the privilege to watch Mike improve that whole season. He went from “Mike who” to that’s Mike Bendt after his 5th place finish at State that year. One of my teammates and friend Jim Glazer started an Alumni Mile at Black Hills 28 years ago. I have attended every one of these. Why I bring this up is the fact we get to run a Mile during the College Meet and we raise money for a scholarship fund. Our son Marcus competed for Black Hills one year. This is an indoor Track meet so I had the opportunity to participate in the same College Meet Marcus was competing in.

Q: What is your favorite running memory?

I have three that quickly come to mind. Remember, I warned you this was long.

The first one was while on a training run in College with my teammate Al Finch. We were on Christensen Drive in Spearfish for a five or six mile workout. The pace was fast; in fact I am not sure I ever ran a faster workout. Neither Al nor I were ever All Americans while attending Black Hills. I know if we could have somehow magically transferred that workout to our Nationals Cross Country performances we both would have been an NAIA All American. Timing is everything!

Second running memory was my Marathon in 1981. This is a painful memory. As the race unfolded I could finally see the leader of the race at mile 18. As I moved into third place I absolutely knew I was going to win this race. When I got to mile 20 my body started to shut down. Not only did I know I wouldn’t win, I wasn’t really sure I could even finish. I never again want to feel that pain I suffered through during that last 10 kilometers. Both mentally and physically it was brutal.

And last but not least back on January 1st, 1985 I made a New Year’s Resolution to run a minimum of three miles every day. Boy was that stupid, but I was young and dumb. I ran in some really cold crappy winter weather and while spring wasn’t much better my streak was intact. I didn’t own a treadmill and the Rec Center in Belle was not yet built. We were expecting our first child in June. We had done the classes and I felt like I could handle the delivery room. During these classes the only thing I remembered hearing was labor for the first child could last up to 48 hours. I thought to myself this could be a problem for a running streak. Anyways the morning of June 1, Jean (who is a RN) wakes me and says it’s time. The first words out of my mouth are “I have to go run”. So I throw my running clothes on, leave my wife who has started labor and haul ass for a three miler. I mean, she could be in labor for a day or two right? Anyways, we did make it to the hospital in time, labor for Jean was intense, but not all day and I kept my New Year’s resolution.

Q: If I didn’t run I’d….

I can’t imagine where I would be today without running. To start with, I would have a totally different set of friends. This in turn leads to the rabbit hole of Pandora’s Box. Would I still be married to Jean and have eight grandchildren? Where would my life have taken me? I mean, the scenarios would be never ending.

Anyone who knows me knows that my life has evolved around running. I don’t know if it’s what I was meant to do but it is what I do. Whenever anything tragic, sad or unexpected has happened in my life, what do I do, I go for a run. I talk with God and try to figure out what has happened and try to make sense of it all. Sometimes I see more clearly, other times it takes longer. Right or wrong this is how I deal with life at times. I also believe God had a hand in this one, he got me up out of my desk to report to the gym back in eighth grade, I truly believe that.

Q: Do you have a pre-race ritual?

I hardly run any races anymore but when I do I get everything ready the night before. I’ll sleep a little better knowing all is prepared for the next morning. I eat a light breakfast of my doctored oatmeal concoction which I consume daily. Then from that point because I start getting nervous about racing the bathroom tends to be a good hangout. Depending on how long the race is determines how much warm-up is required. The two 30K races I did at Black Hills 100 the warm-up consisted of  sitting on my butt until it was time to go. The 5K I talked about earlier in George, Iowa I actually will do warm-up which is determined on my fitness level. The better shape I am in the longer the warm-up. Back in College days I would have a sweat going before the race would start.

Q: What are your future running goals?

My biggest goal is to continue to run as long as my body will let me. I spend almost as much time doing PT exercises as I do actual running.  I do not have an official Ultra on my resume and I had planned on attempting the Black Hills 50K at the end of June. I don’t even really consider this a race. I look at it as Brian versus Mother Nature and the Centennial Trail event. My fitness level today makes this even questionable if I can accomplish this goal. Time will tell.

Q: Tell us something about yourself we might not know?

I love to be papa, golf, garden, swim and bowl. I have taken a temporary break from golf because of time constraints. We bought our retirement acreage in George Iowa a couple of years ago and until I retire from work, golf is on hold. I do seem to find enough time to play a couple tournaments a year. For the same reason I have downsized my garden. Not enough time. League bowling is done when I do have more time and have enjoyed this for 35 years.

I was taking flying lessons and I was able to successfully solo a Cessna 172 twenty one years ago. We had a small flying club here in Belle Fourche. Before I could finish out my private pilot’s license the Cessna needed a major engine overhaul. We didn’t have enough members to feasibly afford this overhaul so I never did finish. If you think running shoes are spendy, get involved with aircraft.

I love Hallmark Christmas movies. They need to script one with a running theme at some point.

Q: What advice do you have for new runners?

Don’t be afraid or intimidated to go to a group run. Somebody there will probably be at your pace. Just be warned though, a group run that may start at 8:30AM could get you back home around 3PM in the afternoon. We like to eat, visit and have a cold one afterwards. Maybe we should have a support group for spouses and significant others?  And lastly when something hurts, get expert advice. Don’t run in pain and end up hating this sport. You have the opportunity to make not just good friends but create lifelong friendships.