By Mari Radtke
(Barely) seventeen-year-old Molly Hicks of Ashton, Iowa took to running the hills of southeast O’Brien County when she was around 10 years old. Her interest in running started even earlier, at around 6. “It’s always been a passion. It is something that seemed really neat to me,” Molly responded about how it all started. Molly is home-schooled.
Distance running on hilly terrain is becoming her specialty. The “Bison Stampede” was an annual 5k run/walk held annually at Prairie Heritage Center, O’Brien County until 2020. Molly began watching the race in 2010. Her first entry in the “Bison Stampede,” was also her first run competition. She was twelve and ran it in a 30 minute range. She has entered every year since then that is was held. The future of the run is uncertain at this time.
Molly is very fond of the “Bison Stampede event. Each year entrants are awarded small handmade souvenirs. Caroline Letzring has been the primary handyperson over the years making the award/souvenir for the year. Molly’s first year, it was a small stuffed bison with the year sewn onto it. Letzring is the mother of Charlene Elyea, former Naturalist and “Bison Stampede” organizer.
This past spring the Hicks family traveled to Wyoming where Molly entered the “Big Horn Trail Run. Several distances are offered at this national event that draws thousands for the weekend. On June 19, 2021 Molly, then 16, started the 18-mile run at an elevation of 7480 feet above sea level. She explained, “It’s harder to run when you are higher up. My lungs were burning when I started, but I got used to it pretty quickly.” She ran with a friend for most of it but says she was slow and fell behind. She ran the 18 miles in 5 hours and 58 minutes. There were 357 entrants in her 10-19 year age group. Twenty of those runners completed the course. She described the conditions as very hot and noted that many runners suffered heat stroke. Molly noted that the hat she wore helped keep her body cool.
Molly plans on entering the Big Horn Trail run again in 2022. She is unsure of the distance she will run right now. She first entered this event in 2019 at age 14. She entered the 32-mile run, claiming the title of being the youngest ever at that time to run the 32 miles. She ran it in 9 hours and 37 minutes. “I trained really hard for it. It was a long day for me.”
Mary Hicks, Molly’s mother recalls some circumstances that we take for granted. Out there in the mountains, there is no cell service. There is no signal, no way to call for help or track her. Molly was supposed to have an adult with her or her mother’s permission, which was given. Molly ran with adult family members. “But,” Molly says, “they passed me.” She placed first in her age group.
When she follows her actual training it includes q1 or 2 actual rest days. Back-to-back runs are also very important. Distance and the order the distances are run are also important.
Since 2019 Molly has been an avid runner at Prairie Heritage Center on the perimeter paths. She says, “Prairie Heritage Center is special to me. I’ve been coming here probably 10 years. It’s not too far away from home. It’s a nice loop to run. It’s very pretty. Mom likes that it’s not on pavement or on roads.” The 5k trails at PHC equal 3.1 miles and is a good training route. The trails are not mowed right now as they had been. It is unclear if the paths will be cleared after hatching season ends on July 15.
So far only a rolled-ankle injury because of a stick in the road has slowed her down. She acknowledges that road running is so hard on you.
She also runs at Newton Hills, a state park near Canton, SD. There are lots of big hills at Newton Hills. She trains there for the mountains and at Martin’s Access in Cherokee County, Iowa. “I’ve gone to Newton Hills since I was little, picnicking and stuff,” she said.
Her goal is to enter one long run per month. A winter run that she is considering is the “Snow Scamper” at Plymouth County, Iowa in winter.
Molly was selected for the position of receptionist at the Prairie Heritage Center after the mass walkout of the former rangers. Her mom, Mary, took on some big volunteer hours cleaning at PHC, Dog Creek and Mill Creek Park along with Lynn Burmakow. It was the volunteers that were instrumental in the campgrounds of O’Brien County remaining open and maintaining their excellence until positions are refilled.
By Mari Radtke