I think it’s safe to say that winter is here in Duluth, MN and there is no turning back until the very beginning of spring. So, mid- to late-April. There are a few overnight backpacking trips that stick out to me as some of the most enjoyable times spent in the woods, period. It’s so hard, uncomfortable, cold (duh), but also relaxing, rewarding, and fun!

 

My first time winter camping was pretty tame. That’s how it should be, though. Almost four years ago to the day, I hiked out to the Fox Farm Campsite with Diamond. Click here for the whole story.

The next time I went out, it was with Diamond and Nick. This was a really short trip and more about cooking brats over an open fire and enjoying a couple beers. Click here for the Quickie Overnighter story.

In 2016, I started hitting it hard with aspirations of thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail. I also got serious about documenting gear and conditions. This trip was pretty difficult with deep snow and somewhat challenging conditions. In between Duluth and Two Harbors on the SHT can seem pretty remote and rugged. Click here for the next adventure and be sure to check my winter gear list!

It took my a while to make it up to a two-night excursion. There is a little more to lose in that scenario. This was a real backpack trip with hefty mileage and yes, two nights! Check out my Cross River adventure here.

 

Well, that’s a lot of reading but it’s a long and cold winter by the fireplace. Maybe you’ll become inspired to ditch the fireplace and hit the Superior Hiking Trail.

04 Nov 2018

Fault Line

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Hike Date: October 27-29, 2018

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: Backpack in to Fault Line Creek campsite, set up for two nights. Then trail run/hike 45 miles at 4 miles per hour.

Day 1 – Backpack in ~4 miles from County Road 4/Beaver Bay trailhead to Fault Line Creek campsite. Set up my tent, and run south for 16 miles/2 hours out and back.

Day 2 – Run north for 3 hours out and back, 6 hours total for hopefully 24 miles.

Day 3 – Backpack back out to the trailhead.

Backpack miles: 7.5 miles, Running miles: 38.5 miles

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, October 27, 2018:

Garmin Data (hike in):

I started the day a bit late due to a race timing gig earlier in the day. Emily and I went for breakfast and I loaded up on calories, but didn’t make it onto Highway 61 until well after noon. I parked at Lax Lake Road right outside of Beaver Bay, solo and in a cloud of mist. It looked like it could rain at any moment. I heaved the huge backpack onto my shoulders, grabbed a bag of beer in one hand and a gallon of water in my other hand.

Oof, my shoulders were instantly pained. I was used to walking between 15 and 20 minutes per mile with the dogs in training and the first mile was a struggle and over 20 minutes. I was anxious to get to camp quickly because I knew I wanted to get as close to 20 miles in as possible with the fast pack right after setting up my tent. I did some quick math–I could do two hours out and back and if I stick 4 miles per hour that makes 16 miles. Then I can do 24 miles tomorrow, plus the 4 miles that I was hiking at the moment almost adds up to my goal mileage of 45. It was around 2:30pm at this point, if I could get the fast pack on and get out to the trail by 3:30pm, I’d be back to camp for the night by 7:30pm. It started getting dark at around 6pm… I’d be running in the dark for sure.

The trail was slick, a lot of rocks were exposed in this section and it made for even slower walking. I thought about biffing it with the huge pack on… it must have weighed at least 50 pounds as I was planning on setting up camp for two nights and camping nicely. Luckily I did not go down. My hips hurt from the waist belt, my shoulders only got more pained and I started to feel like a wuss. Sheesh, I should practice backpacking more, I thought! That makes you real rugged and tough. Mentally, too. But today, I was practicing fast and light at 4mph on the dot.

The Fault Line Creek campsite was right around the corner, and I knew because of the ridiculously rocky section right alongside the beaver pond upon which my campsite was situated. I finally got there and was very relieved to take the pack off. I quickly set up camp and got everything organized in a way that would make my life in the dark easier. I pre-packed the fast pack and hit it as soon as possible.

Garmin data (run):

With trekking poles in hand, hydration pack on my back, I was ready to roll. I set out southbound from Fault Line Creek campsite towards the Split Rock River. I didn’t know exactly how far I’d make it, but knew there were several spur trails and loops and such in the Split Rock River section and could probably tack on some segments to get to two hours, then turn around. I found it hard to run right out of the gate. It was a bit muddy, really rocky, and all of the rocks were really slippery.

I’d purchased a new pack and was excited to try it out. It’s the Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT vest, aptly named for my purposes. I was excited to test a pack with front holders for water. My “old” fast pack/hydration pack has no pockets or anything on the front, which means everything is the back. I don’t mind having a hydration bladder in the back, but nixed that today in lieu of the two front water bottles that came with the vest. The first few miles with it felt awesome. I was cruising, right on pace despite the challenging conditions. But that is just the Superior Hiking Trail… it’s not easy no matter what. The weather was holding–no rain but definitely cloudy. I expected rain, especially overnight and early Sunday morning. Given the recent wet weather, the trail was in pretty dang good shape, actually. I had a bit of a time buffer and decided to power hike along the Merrill Grade to see if I could haul ass near 15 minutes per mile on a flat, non-rocky section.

Miles were clicking off but time seemed to be moving a little bit slow as I could sense dusk settling in. I was not looking forward to running in the dark. I climbed to a ridgeline with a great view of Split Rock Lighthouse and some cool rock formations near the mouth of the Split Rock River and figured I’d get pretty close to the Split Rock River itself. I decided I’d just take the regular SHT route to the bridge crossing, which was out at the moment. Maybe I could scope out the former bridge location… maybe I could cross it my rock-hopping, I thought. To try as hard as possible to get to exactly 8 miles at exactly 2 hours, I was cruising and running pretty hard once I entered the State Park. I got to exactly 2 hours in between the two East Split Rock River campsites, somewhere around 7.95 miles. Perfect.

My goal for the return trip was to perfectly even-split the trek and feel good. At this point, I was running up out of the river valley as darkness was beginning to wash over the entire landscape. I hadn’t seen anyone all afternoon at all. My body was holding up really well with a healthy combination of hiking and running. I was definitely frustrated about the slippery conditions but in reality there was really not too much to be frustrated about. I was out here in the woods, three days to explore and spend time on the trails, feeling good.

I ran Merrill Grade on the way back. Midway through, I ate some food and put my waist light and headlamp on. Darkness seems to come so quick… all the sudden BOOM! You can’t see a thing! In that time between dusk and total darkness, albeit a brief time, it seems like you need a headlamp but it almost does more bad than good for actually seeing the ground. 5 more minutes and it was dark.

I felt myself slow down in the dark but tried to keep moving. I didn’t want to slip on the steep downhill rock faces, that would really mess up my whole trip! It was kind of creepy in the dark. Halloween weekend, dreary and misty and cloudy, and the section leading into Fault Line Creek campsite was full of small black spruce and other coniferous trees and thousands of birch. Some of those birch trees can play tricks on your eyes and mind in the dark. They look like faces, like people, like monsters.

The trail became notably more technical and challenging with one mile to go left to camp. I didn’t necessarily feel tired or hungry so gave up on my quest for an even 4 hour/16 mile trip and started looking for good firewood. I collected some birch bark and found a few sticks. After carrying those around a bit, I realized that it was kind of stupid… I might as well get back to camp and search from there. I’d left a trail of brittle birch bark along the trail just because I couldn’t carry it all and said to myself “forget it”, hurled it all into the woods along with my stick. I got to camp, stopped my watch, took off the pack and began to multitask.

I got my water boiling, gathered some fresh birch bark (which was everywhere) and some damp sticks. I was lucky enough to find some premium firewood, but everything was damp. I cooked my dinner, got a fire going, gathered some more wood, and soon enough was eating next to a roaring fire with a beer in hand. Nice.

Day 2:

Garmin Data:

I wanted to hit the trail at 8am sharp. Without setting an alarm, I was shocked to check my phone and see 7:35am. After a restless night of sleep and rain, I felt like I finally fell into a deep sleep in the dawn hours. I jolted up and started to prepare for a 6 hour day on the trail. I began to multitask–boil water, cordon off my breakfast of coffee and oatmeal from the rest of the junk strewn about my tent, wipe off the excess moisture seeping in from everywhere, put on my running shorts, shove essential items into my running pack, pour boiling water into my camp french press, begin cooking the oatmeal. I made a trip to the latrine, ate quickly and was off on the trail right after 8am. I was impressed by my efficiency, but felt rushed all the same. It had rained for hours the night before, seemed to have mostly stopped, yet was very misty. It seemed like regular raindrops had split into 1,000 tiny raindrops and didn’t have enough weight to completely fall to the ground and so were suspended in the air. Heading north today, I made it around the beaver pond and spotted my tent from a couple hundred feet away. I warned the beavers to not mess with my shit while I was away.

I got to the top of the fault line ridge and was glad I brought my camera along for pictures. Before long, I was back to my car. There was one other vehicle in the parking lot on this overcast, crummy day. I wondered if anyone else was on the trail… It was the last weekend before rifle hunting season for deer began, so perhaps there were others like me trying to get one last backpack trip in before the deep winter set in. That didn’t look like the case, though.

Along Beaver River, it was just me and the roaring river. There was a huge yellow plastic divider thing pinned against some rocks and trees that caught my eye. No people at the sites, no people on the trail. Mud was at a minimum and I made it into the Silver Bay area without incident. I was munching on a caffeine Clif Bar and noted how the time seemed to be flying by today in contrast to yesterday’s tough hike into the night. I discovered a nice trick with my new pack to put my arm in the opposite shoulder strap and swing it around to my front to access the back compartments that were full of food.

I was making good time though Silver Bay, although this section seemed especially difficult. With last night’s rain, it was even more slippery on certain rocks with a light layer of moss on top. And in the cliffs above Silver Bay, there is a lot of slick rocks with a light layer of moss on top. But that also means no mud… so when I got to a section of non-muddy dirt trail, it felt so awesome. My feet seemed to slip out from under me with each foot strike.

Across Penn Boulevard, I checked my watch, checked the trail sign with upcoming landmarks and mileage, and I figured I could make it really close to Bean and Bear Lake… perhaps to the far trail register. I was hoping to get 12 miles in before the turnaround but knew a couple hours in that that wouldn’t happen. I was falling behind in the tough, wet conditions. I was running when I could, but it was really hard to find runnable sections! It seems like there were so many rocks… much more than I remembered. It’s always rockier and rootier than one can recall. However, the trail heading up to Bean and Bear is one of the most popular of the entire 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail and just as I’d hoped, it was well worn and seemed like a superhighway compared to the tight, technical, and obscenely rocky pieces of trail south of Beaver Bay. On the flip side, there were a few really serious mud pits. Knowing that I only had one pair of shoes for the whole weekend, I tried my best to avoid the mud, which slowed me down a lot. The worst part is that you can’t avoid it and my feet got drenched, my socks inundated with mud and water, and mud splashed continually onto my calves and shins.

Bean Lake was stunning as always, even in the dreary and cloudy conditions. I ran hard along the ridge, not taking a moment to dilly-dally to get as close to 12 miles as possible within my allotted 3 hours to head north before turning around. With one eye on my watch, I turned around a few paces before the far northern edge of Bear Lake right at 3:00:00. That was just over 11 miles. Not terrible…

On the way back, it was my goal to crush a few miles. Might as well push it, I thought. I really cruised through Bean Lake and down to Penn Creek and its campsite. I had seen a few people in this section, which wasn’t super surprising given its popularity. We were all lamenting over the mud, I’m sure. Time was moving quickly and before long I had made up some really good time back up along Silver Bay.

The rest of the trip was pretty low-key. I made good time and was focused. In a flash, I was back to my car. I stopped there, filled up my water bottles with water and picked up a banana. I made a plan to eat the banana at the “Fault Line Overlook”, which is a made up overlook with a distant view of Lake Superior and the end of the long beaver pond that my campsite was on.

It was slow going back to the overlook. I think the 11.3 mile section with Split Rock to the south and Beaver Bay to the north is perhaps overlooked as one of the toughest on the Superior Hiking Trail. It is just so rugged. The elevation isn’t super extreme but the rocks are. Soon enough, I made it to the overlook, less than a half mile back to camp. I’d lost some time on the last hour, but paused my watch and enjoyed the view of flat white. It’d really gotten foggy and I almost expected a downpour. You could feel the moisture in the air.

I ate my banana and started to get vertigo with the deep fog and haze. It was almost like a sensory deprivation or something… I didn’t spend a ton of time at the soggy and dank overlook and left right after my last bite of banana.

After getting back to camp, I tooled around a bit. I had recently adopted the campsite I was at, the Fault Line Creek campsite, and so wanted to do some maintenance. Well, there really wasn’t much to do and everything was wet anyways. My body felt great from the 20+ mile trek, which was very positive. I put on my rain gear and kept on the endless task of gathering firewood. Everything was damp, and I didn’t even need to lay a finger on a tree to know, I could see the drops of dew on every branch, leaf, and stick. Ugh.

Eventually, I gathered a bunch of quality firewood and stood it up next to the fire ring. I started looking for birch bark and was able to find some really good pieces deep in the woods. That stuff burns so well. After a few close calls of the fire burning out completely, I did get a good rager going. I enjoyed it for a while, and as I began preparing for dinner, a beautiful beam of sunshine hit the opposite side of the fault line’s bluff, illuminating a towering stand of bare birch trees. I looked up and was greeted to a small, small, tiny section of blue sky. It seemed that the soggy day was moving on.

The clouds washed away. When the sun sank below the horizon and the blue turned to indigo and then to black, I was treated with a stunning panoramic view of the Milky Way. It was a great end to a tough day of dealing with the moisture.

Day 3 – Monday, October 29, 2018:

Garmin Data:

I woke up late to bright sunshine. It was great and very refreshing to see the sun. Also, it made cleaning up camp much easier. I dug out the fire pit, destroyed an “illegal” pit on a different part of the campsite, and took my time to make breakfast and pack up my campsite. Also, I did my strength workout on my camp pad in the open air, and that was really nice. Nice, and nice to get it out of the way… I definitely don’t think I would have done it at home!

The hike out was really nice. I had a chance to reflect on the weekend. Monday brought perfect weather, and I took the other part of the Cove Point Loop trail that I hadn’t been on this trip, including a half mile that I had never been on. It was a nice section of trail, and mentally easier since I had gone on the ~4 mile regular SHT section from my car to the campsite 3 times already on the weekend. My back and shoulders didn’t hurt nearly as much on the way out, but I had eaten and drunken quite a bit of weight! I certainly took my time hiking out, with no regrets whatsoever. Success on my first long trip of this training cycle leading up to a thru-hike in May 2019.

Race Day: Saturday, June 9, 2018 – 10am

At the start line, nobody seemed to know exactly what they were getting into from here on out. The Last Runner Standing in Duluth was a new race just launched in early 2018 and on June 9, 66 runners set out on lap one.

I heard about the race and figured it’d be a good event to set my sights on. After Superior, I had no premonitions, no huge drive and nothing on the radar in terms of racing. That’s a freaky feeling… maybe I’m getting old? Maybe I’m becoming domesticated? Either way, it’s kind of funny not knowing how long, time or distance- wise, you should train for. I think my training suffered knowing that I only had to go 4.1 miles to finish.

Here is some background on the Last Runner Standing event in the best way that I can describe it. It took place at Spirit Mountain in Duluth and the race course is a 4.1666667 mile loop. That loop’s first mile is decently flat on a gravel road, essentially. The next two miles are on Superior Hiking Trail singletrack, with a decent climb, a brutal stair downhill section, but pretty runable overall, with several stretches that are perfect singletrack trail running–slightly downhill or flat. That stuff is the best. The final mile is mostly on ATV/ski hill access roads. In that final mile, the first quarter mile is downhill. The second quarter mile is flat, and the last half mile of the loop is downhill. That whole mile is about 500 feet of descent, and the last half mile is about 400 feet of pure drop. I think that translates to about a 15% grade, and don’t have a great comparison, but the downhill got to be brutal after a while. So given that loop, the Last Runner Standing race is over once everyone quits besides one last runner who can complete the loop solo. The first race started at 10am, the second at 11am, and every other race at the top of the hour, every hour, until the winner is determined. The overall pace is dictated at 14:24 minutes per mile, but the faster you run, the longer you get in the chair (or at the aid station, whatever you need to recover before the next top of the hour).

I trained for this race hoping to feel like I was in shape for 100 miles, and with that number in my mind. 100 miles would translate to 24 loops, 24 hours, or running one last loop at 9am on Sunday morning. Training went OK but I didn’t feel like I was in shape I was for Superior 9 months prior.

I packed up a ton of food: gels, gummies, fruit snacks, a lot of chips, ice cream, a few turkey wraps, cookies, fruit, gatorade, pop, and water. I brought a myriad of gear like handhelds, a waist belt, water bladders, hydration pack, hats, clothes, shoes and socks, rain gear, tents and chairs. There were serious doubts in my mind after my next door neighbor Pete and I ran the muddy course on Monday before the race and got a lay of the land. I figured it’d be very mentally strenuous to really make it far.

Pete was signed up and ready to rock as well, and he requested to share a big pop-up 10×10 tent that I procured. I showed up to the race before 9am to set up and was happy to get a great spot. I started setting up and organizing and putzing and pacing around nervously. By 9, the parking lot at the bottom of Spirit was filling up and Pete arrived. With plenty of time to spare, I sat around and the pre-race meeting began around 9:50am. No surprises here, it was just an explanation of the course and rules. If you don’t make it back before the hour is up, you are eliminated. If you don’t start the race at the top of the hour, you are eliminated. Simple.

We lined up at the start and finish line, and I was impressed by the amount of people. It was a hoard! Will this make it challenging?? Oh well, I figured that if I could make it a few laps with no mishaps people would start dropping out soon enough. I had my trekking poles right away at lap one, and didn’t know what else to bring so kept my water and food and toilet paper and supplies at the home base.

The race started with much excitement and at exactly 10am, we were off. I snuck my way to the front and wanted to bank a little bit of time right at the beginning, knowing that it was runable and not wanting to get caught behind anybody. Everyone was talking to each other and sharing strategies and thoughts. I hit the first mile in 7:30.

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

When we got to the singletrack, up it goes, and I walked. People clumped up behind me but nobody wanted to go around. Why would they?? The pace is dictated for us. I walked most of the singletrack, ran when I should, and walked the entire last downhill mile to get in around 46 minutes. It felt so easy and really no impact on the body.

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Dan LaPlante

At the finish line, I went straight to my chair and ate anything that struck me as tasty, just trying to get a couple calories in, and chugged some water. There were ample announcements when it was 5 minutes, then 4, 3 minutes, 2 minutes and one minute until the next race was to begin. I moseyed out of my chair with a minute to go, an 8 second walk from the chair to the start line, and was ready for race two.

My plan, which had been festering in my mind, was to rock 52-minute loops until 12 hours in, 50 miles, and hope to feel good. From there, let ‘er rip. See who’s left, get strategic and try to be the Last Runner Standing. I was a little fast on the first lap and wanted to slow down on the second loop. My first mile was slower, and tried to repeat my walking and running strategy. Walk the uphills, run when I should.

Photo Credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

I rejoined my neighbor Pete at mile 3.5 and we descended the first hill together back to the finish line, talking strategy. Walking down the big hill is probably smart, we thought. I mentioned I was unfortunately going to have to stop at the bathrooms between laps. Er, I said I was actually going to have to stop immediately. So I ran off in the woods with an upset stomach. The vegetation was high and coated in dew. How unpleasant on lap two, to have to squat in the woods. As well, why does this keep happening to me?? Maybe it was the gel I ate that lap. I got a bit frustrated because I didn’t have TP on me. Leaves it is. I got up and ran the catwalk a quarter of a mile to the final downhill bomb, and into the finish line at around 11:50am. 50 minutes wan’t too bad given the emergency dump (e-dump). I kept running straight through the finish line to the porto-potties to clean up. I got back to my chair, ate a bit, drank and was ready to go for loop three.

Photo credit: Eve Stein

Photo credit: Dan Laplante

The next seven loops were straightforward. I became very familiar with the trail and was able to complete loops 4-9 in 52 minutes or very close to that minute-mark. Every hill or flat section, technical or runable stretch, was marked as either hike or run, and it almost seemed like I was taking the same footstep on every loop to get me exactly 52 minutes.

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

Photo credit: Dan LaPlante

What was also consistent was an upset stomach. I was having major issues. I could eat just fine, but my stomach was not sitting right and I made frequent stops. That caused some irritation in certain parts of my body, which was compounded by the friction of running. I was locked on my pace and strategy, but suffering. My legs were fine, fatigue was in check. Just as soon as I thought my stomach was settled, I’d nearly poop my pants the next loop. Terrible. Emily offered me an Imodium tablet, which is an anti-diarrheal pill. I reluctantly took one. She told me to take two. I told her I didn’t want to. I was scared it’d mess me up worse or make me uncomfortable. She told me to take the other one. I took it.

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

Given the struggles of my digestive system, it wasn’t all bad. The conversation was great. It was so fun to run with the same people, or different people, chatting away, talking strategy, and hearing about people’s stories. I ran with Ryan Wold, an ultra guy from Spicer. I did loops with my running buddy Dave Schuneman, who signed up on race week. I did laps with a local runner Marcus, and ran for hours and hours with my friend, next door neighbor, and tent-sharer Pete, totally unplanned and by chance. Funny how that works.

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Eve Graves

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

I was chatting with a guy Mark from Iowa who has run an obscene amount of days in a row, and runs 11 miles a day, unquestionably. He was there to win, he said. He has what it takes because he runs 11 miles a day every day, and also said he’d rather die than lose. Umm, what. I was a little taken aback at that comment. I said out loud that the race will get gritty once it’s dark out. I kept telling people my prediction that past 10pm, people will start dropping quick. Would Mark be there? My other friends running with me?? On two consecutive laps, I found two pretty big agates. I was eating whatever food I wanted, fueling smartly and drinking plenty at the aid station. Then again, I barely carried water with me, and didn’t feel thirsty. I ran with poles for at least the first nine loops.

Agate photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

After lap nine, going onto my 50 mile benchmark, I told Emily that I wasn’t going to continue after this lap. I could do one more, but it was too hard, my loins were in pain, sick of my digestive system. I couldn’t even pee because I was too afraid that it would come out the back, too! The 40 miles were starting to get to me, I was tired. Yet I started and made the loop in 50 minutes or so… and could do another loop. Just one more loop, I could do just one more. The race director Andy said that at 9pm, loop 10, runners could have a “companion” during the night loops. I started pointing at my crew in the tent, Kyle jumped at the chance. He stripped off his hoodie and I changed my mind, telling him that he could come next loop.

I started loop 10 with no poles, just to try. I ran the first few steps and chatted with Michael Borst, who was running every loop fast and looking really fresh still. He said this was just a training run and he was going to drop out at the first sign of fatigue, maybe after this loop or by 100k. There were maybe 20 or 25 runners still left going onto 50 miles. Definitely not a soft field. I ran fast with Mike, and kept going fast for some reason. It just felt good, and was so happy to stop and take a pee on the course. While doing that, I spotted one more agate, the best one of the bunch. That jacked me up.

I came in around 46 minutes to complete 50 miles and picked up Kyle to run with me. At that point, I had my headlamp and it was officially dark. I didn’t really feel like talking so had Kyle tell me story. He didn’t really have any stories to tell, but we chatted away and the loop went quick. I told Kyle I didn’t need a pacer and I’m still not sure if he wanted to run more or not. He said he’d run 7 miles earlier that day… When we got back from loop 11, I was feeling good. I ate another slice of Pizza Luce pizza and was just grazing. Fizzy water was delicious and Emily was such a good crew person always making me drink. I wouldn’t have made it that far without her, no doubt.

In the night, people started noticeable dropping off every lap. The field shrunk, and I could really start to see who I was up against. There were some hearty looking runners, Ryan was still in, Seth looked like a machine, and the Iowan Mark was looking really, really bad. When he finished, even though he was very consistent at 51 minutes or so, he’d collapse into his crew’s arms and they’d ferry him to his tent. With a minute to go, they’d ferry him back out, one person on each side and blankets draped, and he’d start. That got some interesting looks from the race directors and medical staff. But he kept going.

I was feeling really good, and started finishing each loop first. At the next milestone, 100k after loop 15, a couple more dropped out. It was down to me, Mark (who looked in really rough shape), and two other guys I hadn’t met or talked to. I didn’t know how anyone was running except they were all coming in consistently in the 50’s and I was still running for some reason, and coming in at 45 or 47 minutes. I was running uphill and running downhill. There were only a few sections where I was hiking. The last downhill plunge (dubbed “The Plunge”), was becoming more and more dreadful.

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

The next loop, Mark came in with only one minute to spare. Emily and a few fans from Duluth Running Co. (Ian, Dayeton and Kyle) helped move the chair and food items to the fire because it was getting pretty cold in the early Sunday morning hours. We all four went out. Another fast loop. When I got back, I learned that Mark turned back. Down to three. I met Brandon one of the other runners still in the mix, and he and his dad Bruce had essentially set up camp around the campfire as well. Brandon was from Barnum. He’d requested fries from McDonalds and Bruce asked if I wanted anything. I told him that a double cheeseburger would be awesome. After the next loop, he had it. I ran that loop really fast, just feeling good. Perhaps it was the prospect of the burger. It tasted so good.

We all three lined up for loop 18 and when four 0’s showed, 18:00:00, we went off. I had my trekking poles and didn’t run out of the gate. I was too tired. A few more steps and Brandon and the other runner Nick escaped into the night. I thought it may be my time. I stopped. I looked down at my feet and balanced on my poles. All the sudden, done. It was a weird feeling, but my legs just felt shot. Well, how much more shot are they now then when they felt shot 8 hours ago? I realized it was totally a mind game. I didn’t have it in me to continue. Or did I? I sat down, then laid down. I looked at the stars. I was looking for an excuse to turn back, and my excuse is that I’d sat down and laid down and looked at the stars and burned too much time. I couldn’t get up to run the rest of the loop within the hour! In hindsight, that would have been a better option. Instead, I turned around and walked back two minutes to the finish line.

Andy ran up and asked if I was injured. I told him no, no, just too tired. The fire was so warm and welcoming, and I think Emily was a little relieved that I was done and she was done. I was relieved But I also know she was proud of my work, and I thought it was pretty cool that I made it 17 hours, over 70 miles, and to be one of the last three standing. Still, “third place” is the same as dropping after one loop, on paper, and it’s really nothing. Winning–to be the Last Runner Standing–is the one and only glory in this race.

I rested for a bit, thanked Bruce for the burger. He joked that the laxatives that he put in the burger must have worked. I told him I didn’t even need that, based on how the day had gone. Me and Emily embarked on the grueling task of tearing down our home base at 3:20am and after a long, long day. It was nice once everything was packed back up, and we sat by the fire, admired the far away glint of the sky starting to turn the purple hue that is morning. We had to at least see how this 18th loop would pan out.

Nick came in first, at about 3:51am. I told him it was down to two. He asked where Mike was. I said I was Mike. Brandon came in and looked as relieved as Emily and I, and I wished him luck as the local dude. It turned out that Brandon ran a couple minutes over an hour on loop 21. Nick started and finished loop 22 to become Last Runner Standing, clocking over 91 miles. They ran well into the sunlight of Sunday.

It was a crazy race. I think everyone except Nick thought about how if they did this or did that, they would have run further. Everyone had a reason why they couldn’t run one more loop. My reason was bad, I just couldn’t do it. Brandon is a true beast for running until he was too slow to complete the loop in an hour. That is a good reason. I think this is true for any distance and amount of time, but I found Last Runner Standing to be hard physically, but very much harder mentally.

Garmin Data

Place: 3/66
Number of laps: 17
Miles: 70.83

Shoes: Brooks Cascadia size 11.5

Gear: Too much to list. Mostly just trekking poles

Food and drink: Too much to list. Mostly Pizza Luce and fizzy water.

09 Jul 2018

New Strength Routine

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I’ve devised a strength routine to keep one healthy during hiking and running, which can be damaging to one’s body.

EDIT – Strength Routine dec 18 (click to download), with some glute-focused exercises. This is a great 30-minute workout that I do 5 days a week.

New Strength Routine (click to download), which is a watered down version of the regular version Strength Routine. The first and second rounds only require a stretchy band, and the third round only an exercise ball or couch or mattress, etc…

First Round

Ankle band: 25 reps, 4 ways (left, right, gas pedal, upwards)

Planks: forwards :60, side :60 each, back :60

Superman planks: 10 reps each side

Side plank hip-ups: 10 reps each side

Bicycle: 0:60

Mason Twist: 50 reps

Scissors: 10 reps (:10 each)

Clamshell: 25 reps each side, reverse: 25 reps each side

Jane Fonda: 20 reps each side

Donkey kick: 20 reps each side

Single leg hip lifts: 20 reps each side

Second Round

Kicking toe touches: 2x 20 reps

Side leg swings: 20 reps each side

Standing knee raises: 40 reps each side

Balance and reach: 15 reps each side

Single leg squats: 20 reps each side

Split jump squats: 20 reps

+ jumps: 10 reps each side

Single calf raises: 12 reps each side

Third Round

Mountain climbers: 25 reps

Reverse bridges: 20 reps each side

09 Jul 2018

Strength Routine

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I’ve devised a strength routine to keep one healthy during hiking and running, which can be damaging to one’s body.

strength routine print (click to download) is the full strength routine with four different workouts for four days. Each workout is about 15 minutes long. Or string it together for a one-hour strength session.

Ankle/Foot: Elastic Band

2×12 calf drop each left

2×25 ankle bands each way: up, down, left, right

Balance and Reach: Knee slightly bent, lift arch off the ground and keep big toe planted, balance, and reach forward at the waist. 2×15 reps per leg.

Core: Bosu/foam roller

Plank: 60 seconds

Superman plank: 2x 10 seconds each side

Hold the plank position and fully extend your left arm and right leg (like Superman flying). After 10 seconds, switch to your right arm and left leg.

Side Plank: 60 seconds each side

Side Plank hip-ups with underhand: 10 reps each side

Lie on your side, resting on your elbow with your hips on the ground, push your hips up into a side plank. As you push your hips up, extend your non-weight-bearing arm up towards the ceiling. Twist your torso and bring this hand under your body between your hips and elbow as far as you can reach. Engage your obliques as you twist, then return your hand to the extended position. Bring your hips down and repeat 10 times on each side.

Reverse Plank: 60 seconds

Reverse Plank leg lifts: 10 reps

In the reverse plank position, alternate lifting each leg as high as you can. Keep your legs straight and your hips and core tight.

Bicycle: 60 seconds

Mason Twist: 50 reps

Balance on your butt with your legs in the air, clasp fist and go side to side.

Prone Stabilizer: 2x 15 seconds each side

In the pushup position, lift one leg off of the ground and hold for 15 seconds. Switch legs.

Supine Stabilizer: 2x 15 seconds each side

In a reverse pushup position, supporting your body with your hands and heels, lift one leg off of the ground and hold that position for 15 seconds. Switch legs.

Scissors: 2×10 reps (10 seconds each)

Lie on your back. Lift one leg as high up as you can while keeping the other leg a few inches off the ground. Hold for 10 seconds and scissor your legs so the other leg is high up and the other near the ground.

Side Plank Knee To Chest: 20 reps each side

In a side plank, let your shins rest on a BOSU ball or foam roller. Keeping your body level to the ground, drive your top knee toward your chest while moving your upper arm back in a running motion. Move your opposite leg up to a high knee position and the same arm will swing behind, parallel to the ground.

Clamshell: 20 reps each side

Reverse Clamshell: 20 reps each side

Hips/Hamstrings

Kicking Toe Touches: 2×20 reps

Stand upright and kick your leg straight out, keeping your knee rigid. Touch your toe with the opposite hand. Alternate leg kicks.

Side Leg Swings: 20 reps each leg

Stand on one foot and sweep the other leg from left to right. Work your hips and try to keep your balance as much as possible. After 20 reps, switch legs.

Standing Knee Raises 40 reps

Bring your knee up as high as possible while balancing on your other foot. Alternate.

Hot Salsa: 2×20 reps (pic)

Step into a wide lunge and reach a weighted ball as far out in front of you as possible. Shift your weight forward on your front foot. While keeping the ball forward, lift your back leg off the ground and rise up to a perfect running position.

Runner Touch: 20 reps each side (pic)

Strike a pose in perfect running position with one leg in high knee position. Balancing on the one leg, bend at the hip and touch the toe that’s on the ground with the opposite hand while the leg in the air rotates under and back. Make sure the standing leg remains stable and as straight as possible while enabling you to touch the ground. Be sure to prevent the moving knee from crossing the midline while that leg straightens out behind you. Come back up to running position quickly without losing balance, pause for a second or two, and repeat. Switch legs and repeat.

Mountain Climbers: 2×20 reps (pic)

Drop to a plank position with your forearms on a medium-sized stability ball. Keeping your core tight, bring a knee to the ball. Try to keep the ball and torso as steady as possible. Alternate knees to the ball throughout the exercise.

Jane Fonda: 20 reps each leg (pic)

Lie on your side and place your bottom hand behind your head. Put your top hand on your upper up, pressing your pelvis forward to make sure it does not rotate back during the exercise. Use your core muscles to stay steady. Keeping the top leg straight, lift it up and then back using your glutes to lift the leg. By keeping the outside of your foot level to the ground, you should feel the fatigue in your gluteus medius.

Reverse Bridges on Stability Ball: 20 reps each leg

Lie on your back, your hands at your sides, with your legs totally extended and ankles resting on a stability ball. Lift one foot off the ball, bring your hips up to align your whole torso, and use your hamstrings to “roll” the stability ball up to your butt. Keeping your hips strong, roll the ball back to the extended position. Complete 20 reps and switch legs.

Single Leg Hip Lifts on Back: 2×20 reps each leg

Lie on your back, your hands at your sides, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift one foot up and thrust your hips towards the ceiling to align your whole torso. Bring your hips back down to the ground, complete 20 reps, and switch legs.

Donkey Kick: 20 reps each leg

Plyo

Split Jump Squats: 2×20 reps

Step into a deep lunge position. In one swift jump motion, scissor your legs and land in a deep lunge position with the opposite leg forward. Continue alternating lunges for 20 reps

Single Leg Squats: 20 reps each leg

Balance on one foot. In a perfect running form, drop down into a squat stance as low as you can, spring up to the original upright position and try to keep your balance as much as possible. Similar to running form, swing your arms as you squat down and spring back up.

Single Calf Raise: 2×10 reps each leg

Stand on a step or ledge on one leg. Let your heel hang off below the ledge and raise your calf up as much as possible. Slowly lower. Repeat 10 reps and switch leg.

Weighted Step Up: 40 reps each leg

Use a chair or large leg and step up with one leg, focusing on using your quads as much as possible to initiate the step up. Do not push off with the back leg! Bring your back leg up behind your lead leg. Step down with your lead leg and then again with your back leg. Complete 40 reps and switch lead legs.

+ Jumps: 2×10 reps each leg

Balance on one leg. In a series of small hops, make a + sign on the ground. To clarify, jump forward, backward, and side-to-side to create the + or t. Complete 10 reps and switch feet.

Arms/Shoulders

Rotator Cuff-Internal Rotation: 15 reps each side

Tie a resisitance band to a solid object. Keep your elbow at your torso at a 90-degree angle. Make sure the band is tense as your shoulder is rotated all the way out (hand away from your body). Keeping your elbow stationary, bring your fist toward the opposite side of your torso while keeping your forearm parallel to the ground.

Rotator Cuff- External Rotation: 15 reps each side

Tie a resistance band to a solid object. Keep your elbow at your torso at a 90-degree angle. Make sure the band is tense as your fist is touching the opposite torso without pulling your elbow. Keeping your elbow stationary, bring your fist all the way out as far from your body as possible while keeping your forearm parallel to the ground.

Push Ups: 10 reps

Wide Push Ups: 15 reps      

Pull Ups: 2x 5 reps

Reverse Pull Ups: 2x 5 reps

Race Day: Friday, September 8, 2017 – 8am

I feel like I had been building up to this race for 3 years. I remember hearing about Superior as a lowly triathlete and being kind of mystified by the thought of a 100 miler, learning about Western States and other ultramarathons and thinking I’d never do anything like that. After my first marathon, I signed up for a 50k. Trail running is fun. Fast forward a year or two and I’m in a 50 miler, hike the Superior Hiking Trail, and I’d be hard pressed not to step up to the big boy. The main reason I wanted to register for the Superior Fall Trail Race aka Superior 100, also known as Sawtooth, was my intense passion for the Superior Hiking Trail. Having hiked the whole trail, it seemed so fun to try a different challenge in a different format. Plus, what runner doesn’t want to have a 100 mile finish on their resume?

The background and history of Sawtooth is incredible. I don’t need to regurgitate, visit www.superiorfalltrailrace.com for all the information you need. One of the oldest 100 mile races is the country… founded in 1991 when there were around 10- 100 mile races… almost all singletrack trail and 100% on the Superior Hiking Trail. In my opinion, it is the most challenging 100 mile section of the SHT.

Registration is on January 1st for the race. I figured I’d make it through the lottery, but this year the 100 mile race did actually fill and people were allegedly turned away! (The Moose Mountain Marathon regularly fills and the 50-mile race filled as well). So I had 9 months of pondering, worrying, training, planning.

A 100 mile race is a bit different than any other race I’ve participated in. First off, the longest race I’d done was Ironman Wisconsin, which took over 10 hours. It’s be the longest distance-wise, too, at 140.6 miles. However, my target finish time was 24 hours. Even in January, that is what I thought I could maybe pull off. Months go by, and on race morning I still wanted to get under 24 hours as an outer goal. 24 hours is a lot different than 10 hours. Per the race rules, 100 mile runners can have a crew and pacers. There are 13 aid stations every 5-10 miles along the course. Crew can meet you at 11 of the aid stations with any gear, food, clothes, items, care and moral support they can offer. Pacers are able to run with the athletes essentially from the half way point on. The job of the pacer is less to actually keep pace but again offer moral support. Pacers cannot “mule” or carry items for the racer, though. Of course, every one of the 13 aid stations offer standard aid station fare like water, electrolyte drinks, food of various types.

The planning was pretty intense. My first objective was to get my crew together. Emily, my girlfriend, was selected as General Manager. I figured she’d be the best one to oversee everything. She’s good at planning, very detail oriented, and would inevitably be listening to me talk about the race endlessly for weeks and weeks and months. My dad was a natural choice for Chief Transportation Engineer. He’s followed me around for so many races and has an innate sense of where to be and when to catch me. I got my brother Matt on board as a “floater” and Numbers Guy/Equations Guy. I wanted him to be able to take my split times and spit out my pace, MPH average, expected time to next aid station, and to keep tabs on where I’m at in the race. Next were pacers. I got my training buddy and racing buddy Nick Nygaard on board. We’ve run together so many times over the years and he seemed like a natural fit given he’d done the race himself a couple years back. A last minute addition was Skeeter and Kris, who both had proclaimed that they hadn’t been running all summer and were out of shape. Well, on race week they started running again and assured me they would make an effort to do a section apiece through the night and if I drop them, I drop them. Oh well.

Training began promptly in January. I had a great, incredible, awesome, perfect build up to Zumbro in April. Looking back at this point, I’d never had a more consistent training block and have never been that fit before. A few months of relatively shaky running and I didn’t feel super confident going into the summer, but still set PRs in 5k, 5 mile, half marathon, and 50 mile. My volume was OK, but it was a couple of big weekend runs into August that made me a little more confident and allowed me to dial in my pace and expectations for the real race. 14 minutes per mile seemed like a pace that I could do a lot of walking and really hold consistently for a long time without becoming too fatigued. So I practiced 14 minute pace for hours and hours and started formulating.

The planning started two weeks before. Emily got a binder and printed all sorts of information, and scheduled a meeting with me to go over her questions and concerns. She’s very detailed. Perfect. She gave me a checklist after our meeting. I evenutally got together my lights, batteries, clothes, gear, water holders, food, drinks, and organized it all in bags, boxes, and a big cooler. Finally, race was week was upon us and I couldn’t sleep well. My mind was racing every night. I was so excited for Thursday morning. I was so happy to finally pack up and head to Two Harbors.

The pre-race meeting in Two Harbors was fun. I saw some familiar faces, chatted with a few strangers, had a few last-minute concerns to go over with Emily and Dad, and we listened to race director John Storkamp talk about the race. I looked longingly at the first place overall metal trophy. Boy, that would be cool. What would it take? I sat down for the pre race portrait and smiled in excitement. I’m not the type of person to take a hard-ass non-smiling portrait. This is all for fun, anyways. I’m no different than anyone else out there. Running 100 miles in one shot doesn’t make you a hard ass. A weirdo, maybe…

Photo credit: Ian Corless

After the spaghetti dinner, we went back to my dad’s campsite at Gooseberry State Park, which is conveniently where the race starts 12 hours later. We unloaded Emily’s car and started sorting things into Dad’s SUV. We talked about last minute timeframes and plans, then tucked in to bed. I didn’t seem too restless, but had to pee in the middle of the night so woke up for that. When I went outside, it hurt my eyes to look at the nearly full moon because it was so bright. So much for the aurora forecast…

I woke up feeling rested and excited to embark on a long, long day in the woods. It was a chilly, sunny morning. I had my pre-race cereal, took my pre-race dump, all systems go. Em and Dad were stirring and they were preparing for THEIR long day and night in the woods as well. I started to get anxious as it got close to 7:30 and they were still putzing around. I still have to check in!! We hopped in the car and drove to the visitor’s center and sure enough had plenty of time to check in and nervously pace around. I saw some other friends but didn’t really dilly dally around. I wanted to be at the front of the pack at the narrow start line so made my way away from the crowd at the coffee pot pretty early. Eventually John made an announcement and the rest of the 100 mile participants lined up. John followed as well, carrying a large speaker on his back. He and his staff and volunteers had a long day in the woods ahead, too.

There were a few announcements, I don’t remember what was said, but I know I didn’t want to be at the front of the pack anymore. Why am I in the absolute front row? Oh well, might as well build a big buffer in mile one, I thought to myself. It’s a daunting, scary race, but that doesn’t mean I can’t joke with myself.

Next thing I know, “GO!” and we’re off. I started my watch with no intention to stop it until I get to Lutsen, and took off. The jostling of my pack was funny… better get used to that quickly! There were a ton of spectators in the park, and we had to run on paved path for about 5 miles before hitting the singletrack for 98 more miles. Once we go out of the Gooseberry State Park Trails and paralleled Highway 61 on the Gitchi Gummi Trail, I pulled away with Neal Collick. He’d won Voyageur a month and half back, I had a great race in 6th place, and he definitely had a target on his back. I looked around my shoulder and there was nobody in sight. Hmm, we took off pretty quick then! He asked if we were being stupid. Eh, no. Well, I don’t know. We kept jogging, and chatted a little bit. He rode up with Mattias, another guy who had some ultramarathon accolades and was projected to be a potential race champion. I asked Neal what sort of time he’d like to do and he said under 24 hours would be great. Hmm, me too! He had to adjust his gaiters, even said he regretted wearing them, and I took the lead. Sweet, maybe I can hold this placement for the rest of the race.

Photo credit: Fresh Tracks Media

Photo credit: John Stewart

There were a few more spectators and a ton of cars, at the Split Rock River Wayside where the paved trail goes under the highway and up into the singletrack trail of the SHT. Neal had caught back up to me and sprinted up the hill from the parking lot. I chose to walk, and I’d never see him again. All trail from here…

My race plan was to hold 12 minute pace through mile 25, then drop to 14 minute pace through mile 85, then run it in with Nick pacing me. If I could average 10 minute miles from 85-100, I’d go under 22 hours, which is stellar and good enough to win. So that was my goal. But how would I feel at 85?? 10 minute pace is really, really cruising on that trail. So, mile 6 and I chose to walk, wanting to stick 12 minutes per mile early instead of letting adrenaline and excitement dictate my pace. Mattias caught up to me pretty quickly and commented on the mud. It was very, very muddy along the Split Rock River. He wondered how crazy it’d be if the whole trail was like this. I had to laugh in my mind, and said that actually, the whole trail WAS going to be like this. I’d done enough recon to know that no section was void of extreme mud at some point. He then asked about the trail up north, as he’d done some sections in Duluth, which was rugged. He asked if Duluth was the hardest part of the trail or what. I told him no. At the next hill, he ran up it and I walked. I had to shake my head… if his expectation was that this course was somehow easier than in Duluth and not muddy, he’d be in for a rude awakening. Not that the Duluth sections are easy, because they are not. But definitely not of the rugged nature out here. And the mud… The mud was almost laughable in Split Rock. How???

It was no time that I got to the infamous Split Rock River crossing. The bridge had recently gone out so it was a raw river crossing. There were photographers and volunteers leading the way and it was really pretty easy to rock hop the shallow crossing. I took my time, a bit too much tip-toeing, and noticed a huge pack of guys behind me before I reached the other side.

Photo credit: Cole Peyton

Photo credit: Cole Peyton

Photo credit: Cole Peyton

I was in third at this point and by the time I reached the other side of the river, I was leading a pack of 5 or 6 guys, by my premonition. I couldn’t afford the glance back as the mud and roots were extreme. I tried to hop around some mud spots and even got a comment from in back, along the lines of “just go through it man, you won’t be able to avoid the mud today”. I felt pressured and didn’t really like being in front! I gotta go slow! I noticed Adam Schwartz-Lowe directly behind me and he asked if it was muddy like this last year while thru-hiking. I told him no. Then I let him go in front of me, but the remainder of the pack did not change position. I could tell we were running fast. Too fast for my liking but I felt pressured. Soon enough, we were at the first aid station at mile 10. The volunteers said it was another 10 miles to the next aid station and to fill up on water. I did not, but did drink some Heed and browsed the food table. I took two cookies and grabbed some gummi worms and was off. I looked up the steps and noticed that that big pack had left me in the dust. How many guys was that?? In my mind, I’d gone from first place to third, and how to perhaps 10th place. Oh, well, at least I’m not pressured to run, I thought. That aid station was out-and-back on a small spur so I got a glimpse of who was behind me. I saw Dave Hyopponen and high-fived him. There wasn’t really anyone right on me and so at the top of the hill I got into my own groove. It was a beautiful day, and the views are incredible coming out of the Split Rock valley.

Photo credit: Ian Corless

Photo credit: Fresh Tracks Media

12 minute pace. Keep the running up but don’t hesitate to walk. Don’t burn any matches here. The race is early. I had plenty of pre-race mantras. Eventually another guy caught up to me and stuck on my back. I asked if he wanted to pass. Nope. Ok. His name was Tommy and I recognized his name from the pre-race speculative articles. He’d won a few hundreds and was a contender. He asked if I’d done this race before. Nope, first hundred, I said. He told me immediately to keep eating. “Keep eating, man.” Tommy had a southern accent and I learned he was from St. Louis, MO. He ran the Ozark Trail predominantly and had won the Ozarks 100 several times. In fact, he was going for his 19th 100 mile finish. So we ran together. He was right on my butt and I didn’t feel pressured to run or anything because he said he preferred to pace off me and have someone to talk to. He was reminding me to keep eating a bunch, and harked on me early about the importance of eating. If you don’t eat, you pay for it later. It’s impossible to catch up once you’re behind on calories. Always be eating. “You gotta keep eating, man. Are you eating? You should be eating some food right now, man. Don’t forget to drink your water.” It was funny… Ok, Ok, I’ll eat!! Cripes!

We got into some really runnable sections and it was nice to chat with Tommy for a while. We ran for perhaps an hour. We talked about our respective races and stuff, I talked about thru-hiking the trail. He gave me plenty of tips and what to expect with a hundred mile. Eating. Yeah, got the eating part!! Tommy said that if I’m running good at mile 60 I’d start picking people off. That stuck with me for the whole race. Looking back, Tommy was an instrumental part of the race for me. We walked up a small hill and were passed twice. He told me to keep eating and asked if I’d drank any water recently. To appease him I drank water. I ate more food. I told him about my food plan, looking for reassurance. I said I was going to eat lunch around lunch time, and pizza around dinnertime, and a lot of potato chips and trail mix and backpacker food. He said it sounded good… whatever works. I asked what his nutrition plan was. “Gels”, he said. I kind of laughed… gels and…?? Nope, just gels. That’s what works for Tommy. I asked how many gels he’d eat today and he said 30. WHAT?? No, 30 or more! Probably more, he said. Yeah, running 100 miles is a feat, but I personally think it’s more impressive or hard or difficult or strenuous to eat 30 gels in the course of 24 hours! Funny. Chatting helped the time go by.

After a few downhills where I could feel Tommy right on my heels, I asked once again if he wanted to pop in front of me and he accepted my offer. He ran off and out of sight. Alone again, probably in 13th place or so. I anxiously felt that I was falling off early. No, I thought, stick to the plan and if I’m running good at mile 60 I’d start picking off these fools.

Photo credit: Zach Pierce

I got to the beaver pond that John Storkamp warned us about the night before and waded through it, waist deep in water. I ate a Clif Bar as I walked through and hoped no beavers would nibble my ankles. It felt good to be knee deep in water but strange to run in soaking wet shoes and socks. It was just a few miles to the next aid station where I’d hope to see my crew and change my shoes and socks. I ran solo into Beaver Bay.

It was a funny feeling nearing the aid station. You could feel it. You could hear it. Or is that the wind? Then a volunteer banging a cowbell, then the road, then a huge mob of people. I looked around in a stupor. Holy crap, there was a lot of people since it was the first aid station that allowed crews. I spotted my dad and he pointed me towards Emily, who had a tiny foldable chair ready to go. AH! What do I need? First thing, socks. I realized I forgot to pack a towel in my gear bag. How do I forget that?? My feet were soaked. Luckily, there were plenty of people around and the lady behind us had all of these shop towels. I dried my feet and then a volunteer came back with paper towels and started cleaning my feet for me. I said “this is better service than the spa!” New socks, damp shoes back on, I took my handheld water bottle, ran back to get some food from the aid station and took off. The new socks felt awesome, though.

Photo credit: Fresh Tracks Media

Running down to the Beaver River, I could feel the adrenaline from the aid station. 20 miles in, 1/5 of the way done, and 5 miles to Silver Bay where I would pick up my hiking poles and lock into my 14 minute pace. At this point, I was over an hour ahead of my planned pace. Wow. 20 miles just zipped by. I was still alone and couldn’t determine if I’d passed anyone in the hoopla of the last aid station. I ran good along the Beaver River, but had to walk a bit climbing away from it. I started to feel the first signs of getting a little tired. I was happy that no part of my body seemed sore, yet a little concerned about my urge to walk. The sun was getting higher in the sky, it was about noon by now, and it was hot on the exposed cliffs overlooking Silver Bay. I remembered Tommy’s advice to keep eating and followed it. By now, I’d had a pack of energy gummis, a gel or two, a couple bags of chips, a Clif bar, a few handfuls of trail mix and candy. Plus a bit of something at the first two aid stations. I had requested Emily have my lunch ready at Silver Bay–a wrap and Mountain Dew.

Atop a cliff with less than a mile until the Silver Bay aid station, I wondered where everyone else was. Had Tommy run away to go for the win? Where was Adam and that pack of guys up front? They probably are running together and have hours on me. Where is Dave Hypo? Gaining ground so we can run together through the night? I heard the aid station and it wasn’t much longer until I arrived.

There were a lot less people at Silver Bay but it was still busy and kind of crazy to find my crew. Emily had the chair set up and everything out. My wrap was the first thing in my hands. I tried to eat it fast and my dad gave me five minutes instead of the regular two since it was lunch time. The Dew was great. I grabbed my trekking poles, set them nearby and ate a handful of chips. It was hard to chew fast. I saw Tina Nelson, Dave’s crew captain, and she said he was in 16th place and feeling really good. Dad and Emily were saying I was in 11th place or so. I saw Tommy, too, and he took off as I was eating. My five minutes were up so I took one last bite of wrap, almost finished it, a slug of Mountain Dew and took my chips and trekking poles with me. Now, to lock in.

I started up out of Silver Bay with the intention to walk a ways and digest the relatively big meal in my stomach. Eating a wrap is a bit different than a gel. I forgot about that intention a few times and the jogging felt fine. No jostling, no side ache, no extreme urge to poop (aka The Clench). But the terrain dictated my pace and I was back walking soon enough. It is rugged for many continuous miles, a lot of up and down from Silver Bay to Section 13 perhaps 20 miles down the trail, and this is why I planned to grab the trekking poles and lock in at a 14 minute per mile pace. I saw a few hikers before Bean and Bear Lakes and wondered if there was anyone behind me since I seemed to be going so slow. The overlooks on exposed rock faces were warm. I stopped to take a leak at one of them and took in the view. It was a perfect day. Perhaps a little hot but I remembered my old friend Tommy, somewhere ahead of me probably running strong, telling me to drink lots of water and so I kept sipping. I was doing good on food. The wrap was settling in as I got a few miles into the longer 10 mile section. I had plenty of food on me and nibbled on my bag of chips that I couldn’t finish at the last aid station.

It was exciting to crest the hill to Bean Lake. That has to be one of the most dramatic and gorgeous views on the Superior Hiking Trail, and today didn’t disappoint. The sun was shining and I saw a photographer with a ladder (a ladder??) taking pictures for the race. I think he missed me, unfortunately, as I look back to the camera reel. I was running pretty good and felt confident with the new pace that I was to hit for 60 miles in the meat of the race. Down and up to Bear Lake, I looked back to see if there was indeed anyone hunting me down. I saw a red shirt bobbing up and down at the top of Bean Lake and thought it may be Ryan Braun, who I’ve raced many times in the past. It kind of looked like him but too far away to tell. Whatever.

Photo credit: Zach Pierce

I walked on some of the flats below Bean and Bear Lake and had to remind myself to run when I could. This section has plenty of elevation gain that has to be walked and it takes a fair amount of running to hit 14 minutes per mile on average for the section. So I ran. I kept eating even though I wasn’t really hungry. This is the time to catch up on food even though it was right after lunch time. I was drinking a lot of water, which was good, but because it was hot out and I was sweating. Up to Mount Trudee was another grind, but I felt good in my movement. I could power hike really well up the hill and run at the top. That is the key, I thought, to just keep it consistent and take what the trail gives me. There was another photographer with an English accent at the top, instructing me to run around the edge of an overlook for a better shot and I obliged. I thought it was probably Ian Corless. What a great day for a great shot. All I could think of is how there really could not be much better conditions. Well, maybe 10 degrees cooler…

Photo credit: Ian Corless

It was easiest to break up the race in sections of sections of sections… I know the trail well enough to know what’s coming next, (or at least think I know what’s coming next), and that’s how I raced it. I thought to myself, it’s runnable down here, a little uphill, then the drainpipe, then easy running to the aid station. And so I’d break up each section to that small of scale, and take it as it came. Walk the uphills and really technical sections, walk when I felt like it, but mostly running. And by mostly, I meant 51% or more. I didn’t want to overdo it but felt calm and confident when walking that I wasn’t wasting time. A few speedy, runnable patches of trail and I was at the Drainpipe. It was nice to finally get to these landmarks that I knew, and the Drainpipe is kind of fun. To my surprise, there was a photographer at the bottom of the steep descent and I made my way down carefully but quickly, probing with my trekking poles. It was just a mile or less to the aid station, and I was out of water. It was hot and I was thirsty. I didn’t eat anything else because it would be too hard to wash it down.

Photo credit: Kelly Doyle

Photo credit: Kelly Doyle

Photo credit: Kelly Doyle

In a flash, I could hear bells rattling and the narrow and congested Tettegouche aid station was before me. I saw my mom first, then Dad and Emily, right in the front with the chair set up and gear bag laid out and organized for quick grabbing. My first utterance was “water, water, water” and my mom grabbed my pack off my back, which was perfect. I mentioned my toe, which was bothering me a little bit. My one black fourth toenail had bruised at Voyageur. Healed but black nonetheless, and it was rubbing and jamming again. Also, I kept hitting it on rocks and roots and was afraid that the toenail was hanging loose or something. I didn’t take action, however, just mentioned it. I did grab some extra food, emptied my waist pouch, and my mom came back with the pack, bladder mostly full of water, and she asked if she should add more water and went to fill it. In my haste, I told her it was a short section and swung the pack on my back. It was good to see her out of the blue, though, and I felt good running towards the Baptism River and High Falls. I noticed my old friend Tommy as I ran from the aid station, and so had just passed him! He saw his chance to hop on my back and set off right behind me, chugging down the smooth and wide State Park trails down to the river and onwards.

At this point, we were at 35 miles and 6:30 into the race. It was about 2:30pm in the afternoon and definitely warm. I looked down to see what my watch said and to my extreme frustration I had paused my watch putting on my pack. Shit! Oh well, time is off but whatever. I had my watch on the battery-efficient Ultratrac mode, which connects to the GPS satellites less often than regular GPS mode, but it was pretty useless because the pace and distance was definitely way off. I switched to the regular clock screen and did calculations off of that. I figured we’d want to be into County Road 6 aid station around 4:30pm. My dad, filling in as numbers guy, said I was right on track for my 14 minute pace on the last section to Tettegouche. With a big buffer already in place, that was perfect. It felt perfect and I was prepared to lock in on the next section. However, I hadn’t done Tettegouche to County Road 6 in a long time. I remembered it was very rugged. I mentioned this to Tommy as we ran across the bridge to High Falls. He was in front of me and I told him a fun fact, that High Falls was the largest waterfall completely in Minnesota. He stopped to take a glance at it or snap a picture or something.

Out of the Baptism River, Tommy latched on to my back and we chatted a bit. He said he was doing a little rough… he was excited for the night since it was getting hot for him during the day. I mentioned how I’d run out of water and he gave me some good encouragement and said that whatever I was doing, to keep doing that and I’m doing awesome. A very positive dude, this Tommy. I asked him how many gels he’d eaten and he said with a laugh, too many. He seemed like he was dragging ass a little bit but he stuck with me. I commented on how this section upcoming was pretty tough. A lot of uphills… one right away with steps. He didn’t seem to be fond of the uphills. Meanwhile, I had my trekking poles and could just jet right up with a strong power hike. Up a steep grade right by the spur trail to the County Road 1 parking lot and I lost him. Across the road, I saw Jarrow directing traffic and he made a joke about how I was still alive, and Tommy caught back up to me. It was definitely getting hot now, and I was slurping water down. I felt like I needed to actually conserve. I took out my cheat sheet of miles to aid stations and felt like an idiot. My mom didn’t get the bladder filled all the way, I thought it was a shorter section, but it was still 8.6 miles! That’s not much shorter at all!! If I ran out on the last bit I definitely will now, and got a little bit worried about that. Oh well, I can conserve now and camel some fluids at the next aid station. Boy, a Gatorade sounds good.. and I have a bunch with the crew.

Up, down, across a river, up, down, run on a boardwalk, up, up, way down. This section was relentless. On some uphill, I lost Tommy once again. Where were those stairs I remembered?? I didn’t see them. I thought Tommy was caught back up to me but it was actually Ryan Braun. Wow! He’s having a good race. We ran a little bit together at Zumbro earlier in the year. He stuck on my back for a while. At first, we were silent, but we eventually started chatting. He was being crewed by his father and seemed to be banking time up for the night. He looked good and seemed to be running really well. We flip-flopped positions a few times but stayed close.

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

After Wolf Ridge, we climbed up the stairs I remembered, there was one great overlook and I thought I saw Amy Broadmoore taking pictures (it was her), then back into the woods. Then, all the sudden, it seemed to get dark like the evening was upon us. Braun ran away from me and I was alone again, running my own race at my own pace. It was funny how quickly the heat of the day seemed to transition to the late afternoon and evening–in a flash. However, I was in the deep woods and the sun was no longer high above the trees so it just seemed darker. I was running good along the ridge, passed Sawmill Dome and ran out of water again. I knew I would, but felt pretty good. It was cooling off. It took forever to get to the aid station and I was especially excited to get there after a really challenging section. Finally, down some really steep and rocky descents, and you can just feel the aid station getting close. The trail widens out, then a clearing ahead, the road and volunteers. There it is. I ran it in to the aid station and saw Emily from afar. The groups of spectators and crews at the aid station had thinned dramatically compared to past stations, which made things less stressful. 50 feet away, I flagged Emily towards me so I could give instructions. When she ran over, I didn’t really have much to say, except “water, water, water”.

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

I stopped running and Emily directed me to the folding tripod chair. I noticed now that it was a little more of a grunt to sit down. My bothersome toe had had enough and I requested to change shoes and socks. I also grabbed my night gear–two headlamps and batteries. I chugged nearly a full bottle of Gatorade, which was great. When I took off my shoes, my mom started untying my peculiar knots and I swatted her hand away. “No!” I noticed I couldn’t make my words out very well and would just mutter different foods: “chips… gummis over there… gah… feeling good though… snacks, trail mix….”. I probably sounded like a crazy person. Not too far off I guess. I got another bag of chips, restocked a gel and small baggie of trail mix and set off without further ado. My dad told me me I was right on track for 14 minute pace. I felt right on. The next section has a lot of good running and I was excited to get up and over Section 13, so I set off.

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

I left the County Road 6 aid station in front of Ryan Braun. I was feeling pretty good. The next aid station, Finland about 8 miles away, was the half way point and I was surprised how the body was holding up. I was hiking good and feeling good. That last section was brutal but I knew that it would be pretty good, runnable terrain for almost 20 miles. By the time I hit the uphill grind to Section 13 campsite just a mile in, Braun had caught me and stuck on my back. I started chatting with him, much more so than the previous section where we were pretty silent towards each other and moreso slingshotting back and forth. We went up and down Section 13 together and I was happy to have my poles to propel me uphill and aid in braking downhill. I went a bit in front of Braun and was alone across the boardwalk along Sawmill Bog. I passed the place where I’d broken my pinkie a year before on my thru-hike adventure, and it still gives me shudders. Those boardwalks are deadly. Today, though, I made it through without incident. Braun caught up with me and I invited the company. We jogged really well mile after mile and started talking about the impending darkness. His father would pace him through the night. He said he wanted to bank time now because he knew he’d slow down at night, and probably just walk. Just walk?? Hey, it is a valid strategy though. I initially scoffed but wondered if Ryan was more realistic than I, and I’d be reduced to walking anyhow. Then again, I was feeling good. I remembered my old friend Tommy, running somewhere behind us, hopefully intact after what seemed to be a tough go through Tettegouche to County Road 6, saying that if I was running good through mile 60 I’d start picking people off. I believed it to be true. I ate some chips and thought about my pizza waiting for me at Finland aid station. It did not sound appetizing at all, but would be important to eat it. We were running good, but at the slightest uphill, I’d slow to a power hike, using my poles requisitely. Walking up a hill, Ryan was stuck behind me but didn’t seem very apt to jump ahead.

The miles seemed to click off leading up to Finland. We heard a rustle and were passed quickly and forcefully by a girl who was just cruising. Braun and I both commented “nice job” or something along those lines, and she barely acknowledged us. She was running hard, out of sight into the woods in a flash. We knew we were getting close to the Finland aid station and it was still light out, about 5:30pm by now, 50 miles in and a race time of 9:30.

Evening was definitely upon us, but when I took the spur to the Finland Rec Center trailhead and left the woods to the open field, there was clearly a lot of daylight left. I felt food in my stomach after the whole day of eating potato chips and other junk food and thought about stopping at the toilet. I saw Emily waiting for me all alone, ready to run across the field with me to the aid station. She was very chipper and excited and I wasn’t feeling entirely great, but happy to get to the halfway point for a little mental checkpoint and see my crew. I told Em that I’d eat pizza now. It was harder and slower yet to lumber down to the little stool and sit down. It felt really good, though, once I was down! My feet were feeling really good with the new socks and shoes from the County Road 6 aid station. I got a refill on my water bladder as I ate leftover pizza and Mountain Dew. I saw Tommy run in to the aid station and grab a drop bag. I yelled at him, asked him where he came from. He must have been right behind me! Ryan was taking his time at the aid station. I ate as much soggy, cold pizza as I could, nibbled on a quesadilla, and felt like I was wasting time… going slow. It was hard to consider standing up but soon enough popped up and started off. I looked at the toilets and decided to skip for now. I don’t know if I could go anyways! Oh well.

I used my trekking poles to aid me in forward propulsion out of the spur trail and back to the main Superior Hiking Trail, onwards to Sonju Lake Road, an aid station with no crew access. The next time I’d see my crew was over 10 miles away, and would surely be in the night. This is the crux of the race… at Crosby Manitou, it was mile 63 and I remembered Tommy’s words once again, like a mantra in my mind, that if I was still running strong at mile 60, I’d start picking people off. On the gravel road, then onto the singletrack into dusk, Tommy and I reconnected. I’d left Braun at the aid station. Tommy commented how good I was doing and that was nice to hear. I started to feel pretty good running with him, and we stayed together. He made sure I was eating and I said I just had pizza for dinner. I joked about his gels again, saying he’s had too many today. I chuckled but he was dead serious and seemed to be angry at gels. Tommy said his race was going good now, and he felt much better that it was getting cooler, and that he went through some rough patches through Country Road 6 in the heat and big, steep climbs. I said I was doing good and he was so positive, telling me that whatever I’m doing, keep doing that.

A mile or two went by and I started to fully regret not stopping at the relatively comfortable porta-potty at Finland. The pizza was jostling in my stomach. I walked a bit in hopes I’d digest, and Tommy ran ahead. Walking felt arduous. It was harder than running… my legs hurt, feet hurt, back hurt, felt fatigued while walking. However, I didn’t need to stop. I could walk forever, endlessly, with the aid of poles. I drank more water and was starting to feel a little distraught. The trail became runnable moving towards Egge Lake and I had to jog. I caught up to Tommy again but it wasn’t long as I had to stop to poop. It was non-negotiable. I knew an Egge Lake campsite was upcoming very shortly and I wondered if I’d be able to make it to the latrine. I told Tommy I had to go to the bathroom and forewarned him of the campsite up ahead. He was in front of me, and told him to let me know if he sees the sign for the campsite and the latrine. I, out loud, hoped and wished that the latrine was on the opposite side of the trail and I wouldn’t have to go down the slope and into the campsite to poop. Not a minute later, he said he saw the sign, and I stopped at the latrine, so happy it was on the right side of the trail, and wished him good luck. It was a very short jaunt to the hole in the ground and was an essential stop. As I sat there, trying to be hasty, I wondered if I’d see Tommy again. He’s done this before, and figured HE’D start picking people off if his mantra holds true. It was getting close to mile 60 and he sure was running good. Meanwhile, Braun ran past the john, his red shirt distinguishable through the trees. I started to look for suitable trees with broad leaves, stood up, foraged for my toilet paper, and was off and running quickly. A little more… well, quite a bit more unpleasant than the porta-potty but the deed is done.

I caught up to Braun pretty quickly and we were running together once again. I told him that I had to stop to poop, explaining why I was all the sudden behind him. I thought I’d be feeling good, but I was feeling bad. My stomach felt unsettled, but really I had the feeling that I might yak. It was a very mild feeling, but not what I want at this point in the race. It was definitely getting darker, towards dusk, but we were moving pretty well and my legs and feet felt great. I let Braun run ahead a little bit and thought that walking the hills would make me feel better. It was a runnable section between Egge and Sonju Lakes, so the hills were scarce. I kept running. The pit in my gut did not subside. I drank water, and was pretty silent with Braun right ahead of me. At this point, what to do? I thought that perhaps my old standby of the day so far, potato chips, may do the trick. I reached into my pack and grabbed the bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips, and shoveled a few handfuls into my mouth. They went down easily, it was tasty actually. How could this be, I wondered, but felt immediately better. I passed Braun, bombed the hill down to the Sonju Lake campsite, and left him in the dust. Er, left him in the dusk.

I invited my eyes to adjust, and wondered if I would be able to get to Sonju before whipping out the headlamp. Well, there are a lot of roots in this section and that may be a disaster! I kept trucking through the cedar roots and thought that I was close. Strangely, I saw a headlamp shine through the woods and one turn later, my old friend Tommy running towards me! What? Tommy! I was in disbelief and so was he. I told him he’s going the wrong way, passed him in his confused state, and he started swearing. Shit! He said he thought he was on the right track. He accidentally took a deer trail or something along those lines, quickly realized he was not on the main trail, turned around but went the wrong way. It was getting really dark really fast, and perhaps his eyes played tricks on him in the new darkness upon us. I assured him that we were going the right way and he was a little skeptical. Wait, were we going the right way, I thought? How could I have been turned around? We passed the spot where Tommy got turned around. I told him of one of my mantras on the Superior Hiking Trail: when in doubt, go straight. There is no reason to take a random unmarked left hand turn, but definitely an honest mistake and one I’ve made a hundred times. I had to grab my headlamp, despite being almost certain that the Sonju Lake aid station was right up there. So close. I told Tommy that we were so close. With every footstep and no implication that the aid station was near, he became more distressed. It stressed me out a bit, but I tried to stay positive and assured he and myself that we were still on the right track. Soon enough, the lights appeared. Great Christmas rope lights of all colors, adorning the railings of a bridge that took us across a creek and towards the Sonju Lake trailhead. Tommy was so happy, and we jogged in. He went right, I stayed straight. I quickly considered the amount of water I had, and figured I’d be good as long as if I drank some fluids. I took Heed and a few snacks. I didn’t know what to eat… a few swedish fish and some pretzels seemed like a good bet. Not a minute later, I was gone.

Back on the main trail, just a few short miles to Crosby Manitou, and I was feeling really good. My legs were in decent shape, my stomach felt so much better and I was energized. Tommy was nowhere in sight, I hadn’t seen Ryan in some time, and it was officially dark. I was running good, and happy to report (to myself) that the new headlamp, never tested before today, felt really comfortable and was bright. I remembered the packaging, ripped apart just days ago, saying that the high beam setting was good for three hours of light. Hmmm, I had about 12 hours of use left so would have to plan that out a little bit. I saw a headlamp bobbing in front of me and got hungry. Not physically hungry, but wanted to start passing people. I can run at night. Tommy was right, I’ll start picking people off. I figured I was around 10th place at this point. I was running good, and sped up to make a pass on an athlete and pacer. My speed didn’t last long, however, as a hill presented itself soon after the pass. I stopped and poled myself up the hill while the racer behind me caught back up, right on my back. I didn’t want to slingshot back and forth with these two so took off hard, pushing a little bit too hard for a few minutes. I was breathing heavy the next hill I saw, stopped to power hike up and looked back, happy to see only darkness. There were no headlamps and I knew I officially made the pass. The roots were no problem through this section, and although there were a few small elevation rises, I seemed to make it through really quickly. I was super happy to be running at night, and had to stop and pee, flicked my headlamp off and looked up towards the night sky. Beautiful. The temperatures dropped and I was in my zone. Hell yeah, this is what I live for, I muttered to myself. Time to crank…

I thought I heard the aid station from a long ways out, but it was several minutes before I finally got to the long gravel entrance to Crosby Manitou State Park, where a Superior Hiking Trail trailhead and race aid station was. My crew was to meet me there, and this is really where the race starts. I was so excited to take the next section on because in my opinion, it’s the hardest on the whole course. The descent and following ascent in and out of the Manitou River is brutal. Horseshoe Ridge is a beast, and the trail gets pretty narrow, overgrown, rooty and muddy through here. On a training run a few weeks prior, I came across a mud pit waist deep below Horseshoe Ridge. If I can get through this section in a decent time, and feeling good, I’ll be so much better mentally. After Crosby Manitou, I have pacers set up for the whole rest of the race. Nearly to the aid station, but it was a lonely run down the pitch dark entry to the state park. I knew it was over a half mile, but it seemed so long. My light didn’t have as much to reflect off of so it felt darker. It was great to see and hear the activity ahead. Besides the volunteers, there were not many other crews or spectators. What a stark different to the circus at Beaver Bay about 12 hours earlier.

The lights came from nowhere and I easily spotted the crew. I saw my brother Matt had joined the crew, which was nice. I told him it was nice to see him. Daisy the dog was wrapped like a burrito in a blanket and everyone was pretty snuggled up. I was pretty warm, still in my jersey. My crew was happy to tell me that they found coffee and they were all in good spirits. I emptied out my garbage, packed away some new rations, and requested that Matt change my headlamp batteries. Perhaps premature, but better than being caught in the scary, long (9.4 miles) and hard section. It took a little bit of time to get going at this juncture, again slower to sit down and stand up, but before long I had my pack full of water, full of food, batteries charged, and off I go. Emily walked me out, and I stopped at the bathroom once again. I felt the need to go, and figured I should take my chance to use actual toilet paper. The clock was ticking but it was worth the time. Emily stayed outside of the door for moral support and I told her I was actually feeling really good. I gave her a kiss as I left into the deep, dark wilderness, and it was a giant boost to feel her soft lips against my dirty, sweaty self.

Alone, I hiked down the technical singletrack towards the bridge over the Manitou River. I was freezing right away, and considered running back the few hundred feet to grab my long sleeve shirt. Nah, I was so hot coming in… the chill would subside. I could see a huge light in the distance and wondered if it was the moon. Deep orange, reddish and I figured it was some outpost or lighthouse or something. My attention was becoming diverted, I looked up at a myriad of criss-crossing trails around me, and got a little scared. It was so dark in here… there were trails everywhere and no signs. I arched my neck up to shine light on the trees, looking for the solace of the blue blaze. None to be seen. I kept walking, using the poles as if my legs were broken and it was the only way to move forward, and scanned for a race marker, which have been plentiful in addition to the standard blue blazes to mark the SHT. But in here, nothing. Crap, crap, I should turn around, I thought. No, that is a waste. As long as I make it to the bridge, I’ll be good. It’s straightforward out of the Manitou River, and I recall this section being windy and full of other State Park Trails. In fact, I had been lost through here before. It was very steep as I descended towards the roaring river, but couldn’t see any proof of the river because of the darkness. I saw a reflective marker and was relieved. I saw a blue blaze and was relieved. I finally crossed the Manitou River and was relieved, but a little nervous about the huge climb out. I grasped my trekking poles and prepared to power hike. I got into a zone, almost like a steam engine, chugging uphill to a predictable cadence. It was no problem to make it to the top, and I ran as the elevation tapered off. Boom. I had to pee and stopped atop a huge outlook nearing Horseshoe Ridge, flicked my light off, and observed a massive moon towards Lake Superior. Just stunning. I felt so comfortable, still in my tanktop, cool air surrounding me, and was right on track. Yes, my pace was very slow but given the terrain, I was moving good. I took a sip of water, ate a caffeine gel, and kept on my way.

The technical trail on the outskirts of Crosby Manitou State Park went by in a flash. I’ve had problems with this section in the past, having ran and hiked through here several times. I think it’s harder going southbound, I thought out loud. I jetted past the Horseshoe Ridge campsite, then up a large hill to the sweeping overlook known as Horseshoe Ridge. I saw a headlamp ahead, which made me giddy. I had a sudden jolt of energy and power hiked up past the girl, whose name is Gretchen according to Emily, as she gave me encouragement. It was a different tone than the last time I saw her! I kept strong past her and her pacer as I wanted to make a statement. Was it acknowledged? Probably not, but I ran at the top of the hill and eventually looked back to confirm that there was no headlamp trailing me. I knew the big decent down from Horseshoe should go relatively fast, because it’s all downhill. It was too steep to run, though, and I had to stop and admire the stunning reflection of the moon over the Big Lake. So awesome. I felt confident running at night, and navigated the very rooty trail, littered with logs and crumbling boardwalks. My poles were crucial here, especially when I identified the large mud pit and was able to swing across it. I knew I was slow going, but fast enough to feel good through the truly tough parts of not only this section, but the whole race. I was super happy to make it down to the buffed out trails near the Caribou River, leaving the overgrown, narrow, and technical trails of Horseshoe Ridge behind me for good. Across the bridge, along the noisy Caribou, and up out of the River gorge. Luckily, the climb out of Caribou is relatively tame and easy. I was able to run on the wide trails, and on a straight section saw another headlamp in the distance.

Running felt so good. Walking was much more arduous. My body felt weird… I knew that I could keep running and walking, which was a great feeling. There was no soreness. Or only soreness. So much soreness. I couldn’t tell. When I got close enough to the next runner and pacer to pass, I picked it up big time and blasted past them in full on running form. They gave me words of encouragement and I responded the same. I wondered if I was in the minority for running alone through Crosby Manitou since I’d passed three people since Sonju Lake, all of which had pacers.

My energy boost from passing another runner carried me through one of my favorite sections of the whole Superior Hiking Trail, along a birch forest with panoramic vistas of Lake Superior. This trail is carved right into a gentle hillside, and features rolling hills that were actually well received for me. Just enough variation to switch it up, not too much up and down to break my rhythm. Across Crystal Creek, up the stairs and nearly to the big powerline cut, and I saw yet another headlamp. As I ran past, strongly to make him feel my presence, I noticed that his guy had his hood on his jacket up and was walking slowly. He was hunched over. I said something, “nice work” or whatever, to no response. Not having a good time, I guess! Ouch. I couldn’t have been happier about passing three people now on the hardest section, past 100k in the race, and nearing mile 72. At his point, it was about 11pm and I was 15 hours into the race. I was able to run it in to the Sugarloaf aid station, feeling really good. I heard the commotion before I saw the lights, and was very excited to meet my pacers.

When I got to the aid station, there was a huge group for me. It was awesome. Emily and Dad, following me from the first step, had been joined by Matt and also now by Skeeter and Kris, my next two pacers. Skeeter and Kris were both relatively late additions to the crew and nobody was really sure about their abilities to run in the night, on tough trails, for a few hours. They both said their training was very lacking, but I knew I’d be going pretty slow. The fastest I wanted to go was 14 minutes per mile. At the aid station, my dad said I was pretty well on track, actually. Perfect. I got more water, drank some Red Bull and took a half of a hamburger with me. We were very brief at the Sugarloaf aid station, and Skeeter was nearly jumping up and down in excitement to get going. So we were off. I requested to walk across the boardwalk and bridge from the aid station so I could eat my hamburger. It was so dry and I was chewing and chewing and chewing without being able to actually swallow the burger! It’s just a half of a burger!! Cmon… but it went down eventually. Skeeter was talking up a storm, asking how it was going, I said good, that I felt good. He commented how excited Emily was and how she was the best General Manager and she was so into this whole thing and taking the role on full force and so energetic. Awesome… the last thing I’d want would be a frustrated crew. How do you not get a little frustrated staying up all night? Mostly a waiting game, it has GOT to wear on them being together for 20+ hours straight.

Skeeter was awesome. He told me about one of his old hockey coaches who had them stand against the wall and breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. Deeeeeep inhale through the nose. He said that we all tend to have short, sharp breaths and instructed me to take a deep, controlled breath through my nose. It felt great. I smiled. We were running, and it was pretty nice to have Skeeter behind me pointing a light in front of me. I had to stop and pee, he went ahead, and I shut my light off to whiz. We kept going, and I slowed to hike to make it over a hill. Skeeter prodded me to keep running, to keep the pace up, but I told him that I have got to walk the uphills. Perhaps it didn’t look steep enough to Skeeter to warrant hiking…

It was a little muddy in parts, and Skeeter seemed surprised by my poling technique, with the ability to jump across and over stumps, over muddy sections and rocks and roots. That is the product of a lot of practice, I thought to myself. We were running good, running fast, and it felt awesome. There was no pain, no soreness. I asked Skeeter to grab my chips out of my bag and I munched. He was breathing really heavy but kept right on my back. This section breezed by and in a blink we were at the extreme downhill right by Dyer’s Creek, along the creek and to Dyer’s Lake Road. I knew we were close and we ran it in to Cramer Road in seemingly no time. When we got to the rest of the crew, Skeeter seemed relieved that his shift was over, but I could tell that Kris had a different temperament as she was quiet and appeared super nervous to enter the woods. Meanwhile, Skeeter was yelping. I plopped down on my chair, feeling energized and ready to rock. I knew that this section was really runnable and excited to get to Nick. I had told him over and over that it was his job to run me in. One last section at 14 minute pace and then we’d crush it from there. Skeeter took me a bit faster than that 14 minute pace, but hey, I’m on track and feeling really good. Matt changed my batteries, I traded wrappers for food, and set off with Kris. It was a little bit of a struggle to stand up, but we were off and running in no time.

Kris told me I was doing really good. Good. I knew it, but it doesn’t hurt to hear positive comments. She asked how Skeeter did and I said that he was breathing super heavy the whole time, but kept up with ease and was a major positive mental booster. Kris said that she was very impressed with Emily and that she was doing so good and just so engaged and into the whole thing. Yeah yeah, I told here that was exactly what Skeeter said! The bike light that Skeeter had been shining in front of me, now in Kris’s hand, was flickering on and off. It must have run out batteries, Kris commented, but was in disbelief a little bit. She wondered aloud how it could be out of batteries already. We made it down and up through the forest, across the Tower Overlook where in the light, you can see a cell phone tower or something in the distance. We were doing good, Kris seemed to be in great shape for running in the dark. We cruised to Fredenberg Creek campsite and Kris asked if I wanted to play the alphabet game where we say what we’re thankful for. Kris and Skeeter had played that game years ago when they finished the Ice Age 50 mile trail run together. So I started. Kris said “A” and I replied “ummmm…. apples?” Ok, B. Wait, am I really thankful for apples or is that just the first item that came to mind that starts with A? Well, I like apples and I’m thankful that they exist. Yeah, this game would prove to be a fantastic time waster. We played the game until I reached Z and was thankful for zen. I told her I didn’t even really know what zen was but I was thankful for it. Then I told her what letter we were on and she replied. Her responses were much more personal. For instance, she said brother for B, and people’s names for their respective letter. Like Skeeter for S. She had scoffed at me for not being thankful for my mom when she called out M… “oh yeah, mom. That’s right”. Sometimes, the response would illicit a long conversation and we’d forget what letter was next. We were doing pretty well, but I could tell that this distraction had an effect on my pace. Skeeter was a motivator, Kris was going for the diversion tactic. For better or worse, I noticed we were slowing. It became tough when we made it to the Cross River, one of my favorite sections along the energetic flowing water. Running became slower, walking became more frequent and labored, and I told her so. It helped to pass yet another runner and pacer right before the Cross River bridge, who I identified as Doug Kleemeier. He was walking, and we were able to run past him, across the Cross River bridge, and I peed before the huge steps right past the bridge and Kris went on. I scrambled up the steps and ran to catch up to Kris further up the trail past the spur trail entrance. It was just a mile or so, then down and down and down to the Temperance River aid station to pick up Nick and run ‘er in. This little piece of trail took forever, though, and I was unable to run it. I ate food, drank some water, and decided that I’d drop my hiking poles, change my shoes and socks and get amped up enough to run with Nick. Kris and I made good time down to Temperance. We were getting close, and I was getting tired. I finally was feeling some fatigue that I could tell was permanent, impossible to overcome, and was slowing me down. We were at mile 85, 2:30am and 18:30 into the race. I wanted to do the last 15 miles of the race in 3 hours. That is a blistering pace, though, faster than 10 minutes per mile. That is tough. That would take some sort of superhuman power.

It was a relief to get to Temperance, to see the lights, and my growing crew consisting of Emily and Dad, Matt, Skeeter, Nick and his fiancé Elizabeth. It was difficult to sit down, but I made it to the tripod bench. I wanted to change my shoes and socks one last time and held my lamp towards my feet to make the change. Then Matt changed my headlamp batteries once again and I somehow had a plate of pancakes and bacon in my hands. I spilled syrup all over my leg. I tried to wipe up the syrup but in reality, I was a big mess. Sweat over dried sweat, food bits, mud, forest vegetation and whatever else was on me… what is a little syrup? I shoved the food in my mouth and took off hurriedly. It was go time.

Nick and I sprinted across Temperance River Road away from the aid station and away from my cheering crew. They all seemed amped up for me, and it was a big boost to feel the energy in the middle of the night. Once we got back into the singletrack trail alongside the Temperance River, headed downstream, Nick commented how surprised he was. He said repeatedly that I was doing well. I did some quick math and realized that we were still about an hour ahead of my goal pace. We could do 22 hours, I told him! That is fast, though, and he said I was doing well, almost in disbelief. Well, here we were, 85 miles into the race and I felt good! I dropped my poles and we were running. Running strong. I felt empowered to run fast and push it a bit. In my mind, I wanted to blurt out to Nick how I was still running. Check that out! I eventually chewed and swallowed my breakfast food and my stomach felt great. I needed to still eat and had picked up some caffeine chews and some other goodies. We cruised down Temperance, across the bridge and back up. Nick asked me about the race, low points, high points, and I filled him in on the day. My biggest comment was how the weather had been perfect. He didn’t think there was anyone really up ahead, but I was in sixth place and moved up a bunch since nightfall.

We made it to Carlton Peak in no time, and my hands were on my knees climbing up the steep ascent. Things were looking good. I had a sense of urgency. Push, push, push up the hill. Up and over was nothing. We made it downhill pretty well, too, and the section flew by in no time. On the boardwalk planks toward Sawbill, we saw another headlamp up ahead. We passed a guy by himself, which was a huge motivator. He was walking, we were running, and we sprinted past him.

Across Sawbill Trail and we came into the empty aid station. It was such a big parking log and the tent and tables seemed so small with just my crew there. I didn’t see this other guy’s crew, but Emily said that they had been talking to some Mick guy’s parents from Utah and so I must have passed Mick. Sweet, but we gotta go! I wanted to get out of the aid station before Mick came in. It hurt to sit down in the little camp chair. I requested my poles again, but they were in the car. Matt sprinted to the car to get them. I think I had a bit of soup (my memory isn’t very sharp from this time of night), a slug of Red Bull and switched my handheld for my backpack. I had some sore spots on my back and shoulders but the long sleeve helped. Standing up was really rough, and it was impossible to take off running into the night. We started slow, but picked it up enough when we saw Mick’s headlamp bobbing in the distance. Nick and I took into the woods, me poling once again and feeling pretty rough. All the sudden, the excitement of having Nick take me home was overshadowed by fatigue. My legs didn’t hurt, feet didn’t hurt, back didn’t hurt, nothing was really bugging me but there was a general fatigue that made it hard to get running. I’d pole off to get some momentum and it seemed to work, but soon enough, we’d hit a slight, slight uphill or mud spot or something to halt the progress. I grunted “Argh. I can’t…” and would have to stop to walk. Nick was still behind me and we would go a few minutes without talking as the struggle ensued. We started chatting about random stuff… he was getting married in a month so we talked about that, I asked him some questions, and it took the focus off of running. It was not a lot of running through the second to last section of the race. Almost all walking. I had to pee over and over for some reason, the water was going right through me. I wasn’t hungry but could still eat and munched on some potato chips, the old standby. My earlier race mantras were gone… I’d forgotten about Tommy, Ryan was long gone, nobody out here but Nick and I. Perhaps there were some people making up time behind me. Maybe Mick would make a surge. But there was definitely nobody in front of me. They were way up. I was in fifth place. The only thing on my mind, given the circumstances, was to keep walking. I tried running, would get going slowly, like a steam engine that needs to get the coal burning hot before the pistons get up to speed, but would be halted, in defeat, so quickly when another tiny hill would present itself. It was muddy through here, and technical, and hillier than I remember. The hills were tiny, but enough to stop any momentum or rhythm. This section was shorter, less than 6 miles, but it was taking forever. I looked around to see if it was getting light yet. My clock read 5am and I became frustrated as the minutes clicked by and the hope to finish under 22 hours slipped away. I can’t. I….. can’t. Can’t what, I couldn’t say aloud. Can’t run? I was getting frustrated but probably not showing it outwardly. Nick and I just kept walking slowly, poling away over the mud and roots and tiny hills. No relief. I thought we were close as we crossed the Onion River bridge and onto a confusing section on really soft dirt. Perhaps this was a reroute. But we weren’t close. Another 15 minutes passed, and the grind continued. I was tired, my eyes were tired. My brain was awake. I wasn’t sleepy, but very tired. My body was giving up.

We came into the final aid station at Oberg around 5:20am, 96 miles and 21:20 into the race. The crew was all there. They huddled around me as I plopped into the chair and didn’t move. I didn’t and couldn’t talk. Emily took charge once again and started to get me water, asked me if I wanted this or that, and I think had some chicken noodle soup. Nick and Elizabeth ran off to get Nick his items. He’d been running (and walking) for a few hours and 10 miles or so, so we both prepared for the final 7.5 miles as not to crash too hard on the final stretch. Nick could push through with ease, but I was not doing well. I just sat there, my legs refusing to get up and go. Matt changed my batteries one last time and my dad told me to go. 3 minutes are up, he pleaded. 3 minutes?? I asked myself, why?? But decided to get up and go, with Nick at my side. It was dark out, and everyone was pretty quiet but still encouraging. I felt like I was a spectacle. A dirty, tired museum exhibit, my crew observing my every move in fascination. I felt like, “don’t look at me!”

It was a major struggle to get up and get going. I tried to run and actually thought to myself it’d be funny to my crew to see the pace that we’d been moving the last 6 miles , and jokingly set off with this half-run, half-hobble across the parking lot and gravel road to the singletrack trail towards the formidable Moose Mountain. I don’t think anyone laughed. I didn’t laugh. Nick didn’t laugh. We just kept trucking. Unfortunately, trucking meant stopping running to walk. No, I had to go. This is do or die, and should be runnable besides up Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain. Running at mile 95 is not expected for anyone, though.

Besides the extreme urge to not run, and nearly the inability to do so, I was feeling good. My feet were a bit sore… almost numb or tingly. I could feel my big toe getting a sore tendon where it flexes, but any pain I felt was pretty easy to ignore. Nick and I kept it up at the regular pace—run when we can, and walk when we need to. I had no mantra and don’t really recall what we were talking about besides time. 22 hours was impossible, obviously, but what about 23 hours? We made it to the base of Moose Mountain relatively quickly, actually. I felt like my legs were getting the idea…. we weren’t stopping yet. With the help of the hiking poles, we hit it hard up the extremely steep climb. You can’t even see the top… just up and up and then a turn then up and up. Then stairs, then the top. Wait, no, that’s not the top, climb and climb and then the top. Once we got to the top, Nick congratulated me and said we crushed it. He started getting really motivating… saying it’s gonna happen and we’re going to run it and I’m going to finish and we’re bringing it in. We ran. I looked at my watch and asked if we’d go under 23. We have to go under 23. He didn’t seem super apt on that, but was doing math for me. We were still over two miles out. At the top of Moose Mountain, all the sudden it seemed to be light out. I wondered if I needed my lamp still, as it was definitely getting brighter in the forest. It happened so quickly, from darkness to dusk to an incredible red glow straight ahead. We were on the ridge of Moose Mountain and Nick commented on the incredible sunrise. I couldn’t look up with fear of falling. It was still rocky and rooty and in the light I didn’t feel very confident with my eyesight and coordination after staying up all night. I finally flicked my headlamp off.

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

We were running, and running pretty hard. I could surge. Nick was still behind me and I felt a few times that I was ahead of him quite a bit. Nope, he could catch up and pass me and outrun me at the drop of a hat. I was on the brink of completely crumbling but somehow holding on to this 23 hour benchmark. Perhaps the terrain was more runnable, but we were definitely moving. My legs felt OK on the descent from Moose Mountain… I relied on my poles and we made it down pretty smoothly. At the bottom, we ran. There was the winding trail in the valley, and I knew the rest of the course thanks to hours of visualizing the final miles. I peeked at my watch. It was getting close to 7am. Nick said if I run two consecutive 10-minute miles, we’d get under 23 hours.

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

I was still poling very strategically, gracefully, and hopping over logs and mud spots and roots in stride with running. The magnificent red glow of the sunrise was washed out by the full sun and it was officially light out. Nick and I were charging ahead, and my eyes were fuzzy. They didn’t seem to adjust to the light and the change from the complete lack of peripheral vision besides darkness and the narrow spotlight from my head to a full spectrum of vision was overwhelming or something. I couldn’t focus my eyes but could see well enough to tell what was ahead and avoid twisting my ankle or falling. I recall my vision being kind of pixilated… definitely fuzzy. I mean, I’d had by eyes open and focusing pretty intently for nearly 24 straight hours.

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

I had a major boost of adrenaline with the light and in the final miles of the very long race. The adrenaline gave me enough energy to run up Mystery Mountain. I recall having to walk up the twisty switchbacks 18 months earlier at the Superior Spring 50k, and this time, with 70 more miles in legs, I was running up! It wasn’t any speed records, and I was using my poles, but we were running uphill and going to get in less than 23 hours. I could sense the Mystery Mountain campsite ahead and the end of the uphills, so pushed harder. Past the campsite, it’s all downhill from here. Some singletrack, then onto an ATV trail and we were cruising. The running felt good, and we were moving with ease. Nick was jacking me up, he was so excited. I couldn’t help but smile, and relished the last miles running strong. Some trail markers, a beautiful left hand turn and we ran across the Poplar River bridge hooting and hollering. I took another peek at my watch and knew we had a little bit of flux time. Oh well, no sense slowing now! Onto the pavement, I asked Nick to run off, grab Emily and have her run it in with me. He went off, not putting a ton of time onto me, and I realized I was cruising pretty well. He stayed left, I went right, onto the grass, a tiny bump in the ground slowed me slightly, but saw the pool and the finish line. Sweet. I ran it in, stopped my watch, and saw 22’s on the time clock. My whole crew was behind a row of chairs, I received a medal around my neck, a belt buckle, and was led to a chair. It’s over.

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Nick Nygaard

To sit down was nice. Nobody really spoke right away. Maybe a few questions: “need anything? Can I grab your backpack?” but I didn’t respond. I closed my eyes. They were bothersome. Definitely dry and itchy but still fuzzy and out of focus. It was really weird. I mentioned that. Emily, the great race manager that she is, realized that I wouldn’t actually state anything I wanted or needed, so she brought to me some various food and drinks. “Milk? Water? Gatorade? Pretzels?” and I grabbed the chocolate milk. It was delicious. I sat down for a bit longer, and everyone filtered out. I said “we did it”. They said I did it. NO, we did it as a team effort, and I was certain of that. And so one by one, Skeeter and Kris left, Nick and Elizabeth left, Dad and Matt left and it was just Emily and I. What a crew. They made the race happen. It took some careful planning but it went off without a hitch.

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

The Superior 100 was an incredible experience, one of the most enjoyable races I’ve done. My immediate thoughts were that it was much easier than I thought it would be. The prospect of 100 miles on that trail is hard to fathom, and you have to expect highs and lows, frustration and pain. In general, it was easier than I thought. Perhaps that was training, I know my crew helped that out, and a well executed race. Running with Tommy in the early miles set me up for success. I was super happy to watch him finish, after Emily and I ate breakfast and bummed around the finish for a while.

The Superior Hiking Trail will draw me back for something. Right now, I don’t know for what.

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS (UltraTrac Mode) Data

Results

Race Tracking Link

Time: 22:57:25
Pace: 13:46
Place: 5/169

Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 12, size 11.5; Adidas Trail Response, size 11
Hydration: North Face 4L pack, Nathan 19oz handheld
Poles: Big Agnes Helinox Ridgline

Race Day: Saturday, July 29, 2017 – 6am

With a race that has so much history and a legendary course, it’s hard not to derive some enjoyment out of the Voyageur Trail Ultra, even though it requires 50 grueling miles of running in the heat of the summer. On race week, all I could do was dread that heat.

I was feeling pretty fit leading up the Voyageur, despite having spotty running mileage through Grandma’s half. In fact, I hadn’t been able to get into a solid build up of mileage since after Zumbro. Either way, it was paying off with PR’s in every race I entered: 5k, 5 Mile, half marathon, 50 mile at Zumbro and aspirations to set another PR on Saturday. Tester runs had positive results, I thought I knew what to do, and so it all came down to getting into a good race day mindset.

An old tri buddy Bennett Isabella bunked at my house, coming up from the Twin Cities to race Voyageur. We went for pizza beforehand and I had a nice relaxing beer along with Emily and her sister. I ate a lot of pizza, despite a burrito debacle Grandma’s weekend… But being overly full plays a positive role in a 50 mile, as opposed to a major hindrance when trying to run under 6 minute pace!

I woke up early on Saturday, with the race start a harsh 6am. Breakfast was cereal and Mountain Dew. Standard. I took a bagel on the road to abide by the “full when you start” strategy. When I parked, I got greased up with sunscreen, since it was forecasted to be a day with abundant sunshine. There were a lot of familiar faces in the start line. Before long it was 6am and Kris instructed the mass of people to line up. I wiggled my way to the front and “GO!” – we’re off.

Phot credit: Nick Nygaard (but probably Elizabeth or Rhonda??)

I took two steps and heard a very peculiar sound. It sounded exactly like a gel pack sliding across the ground. I felt my right pocket and noticed that it was empty, although 8 seconds earlier it held a gel. I checked my left pocket and noticed that its only contents were a baggie with emergency toilet paper, although 8 seconds earlier it also held a gel. I looked down and behind me and only saw a stampede of 300+ feet. Oh well, what can you do! 2 gels gone. I figured the TP was a higher value anyways, since every aid station would surely have gels. I had four more on me, anyways. The front runners took off and I wanted to get into some sort of secondary chase pack. There was a lotta testosterone up there, though.

Onto the Munger Trail, things started to take shape. About 6 guys took off out of sight, and there a couple more spread out in front of me when we hit the woods into Jay Cooke, the hardest and most technical singletrack on the course. Matt was right in front of me and I knew he wanted to try to pace together in the early miles. A mile later and I noticed Matt and I were leading a long train of runners along the great Saint Louis River. The morning sun’s angle made some rocks and roots difficult to see.

We cruised through the first aid station. I didn’t stop or look behind me to see if anyone else did. Onto Jay Cooke Park’s horse trails and our chase group narrowed. Matt was still leading, right in front of me, and we had Ray and Jacob, all chattin’ away. Ray was Nick’s old UMD cross country buddy, and Jacob was a first time ultramarathoner going to post-secondary college in the Cities. A Canadian runner Steven even latched onto the pack. We rolled quite a few miles together and just clicked off the aid stations until we hit the some singletrack a bit after an hour. I was having the indistinguishable swishing feeling inside my stomach and unfortunately had to stop off the trail. We had lost Jacob and so saw him run by me. I pulled up my shorts and caught him shortly. We ran a mile or two together and I dropped him on the second round of powerlines.

I wondered where the pack of three, the chase pack, was in front of me. Were they far? Steven had a few good finishes at past Voyageurs, who knows what Ray can do, and Matt had won the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon a few weeks prior and so the course was fresh in his mind. They could be putting big time on me. I wanted to speed up, but tried to hold back. It didn’t work and I knew I was pushing too hard out in no-man’s land. Although, I wanted to be running my own pace and own race at some point, and here I was. Time and miles went by quickly early on in the race.

Photo credit: Shane Olson

After a few more aid stations, and nearly after the loop, I passed pre-race favorite Mike Borst while he was going quite slow. He said it wasn’t his day. I got to the Beck’s aid station about 18.5 miles in, on track for a pretty fast race and feeling good. I was being smart with nutrition and drinking a lot–a lot of Powerade, water and trying to eat at least something at each station while my bottle was being filled by helpful volunteers. Nothing to say at this point in the race. So far, so good, like a jog in the woods.

As I ran up Skyline, I noticed the heat. It was getting a bit warmer out, and perhaps my legs were feeling the first twinges of soreness, but nothing too much. Nothing out of the ordinary. I saw a runner in red shorts and tried to track him down, although I definitely didn’t seem to be making up any ground. Onto the Magney ski trails and I caught him, Adam Doe, and slowly moved past him. He was running well, but I had some pre-race intel that he was nursing a sore Achilles and I wondered if I’d see him again. It was a long day yet. I started feeling a little beat down… you get the sensation of exhaustion, like its impossible to pick it up even a tiny bit. But, that feeling would wash away quickly and I was making pretty good time back up to Skyline, to the Magney aid station and road to Spirit Mountain.

By the time I reached the end of traversing Spirit, the sun was high in the sky, beaming down and hot. The temperature was rising every second. I saw Jakob Wartman on the way down, he was pushing a stroller up Spirit, and he said very seriously and dad-like to be VERY careful because it’s hot. Very careful. My nipples had started to pain me more than anything else, which was very unfortunate, and I asked Emily to track down bandaids from the last time I’d seen her.

At the turnaround, I had a 10-minute buffer to go under 7 hours, so well on pace to hit my goal time of 7:20. My watch was at 3:22 or so. I had to stop completely and assess the food table for a second. I drank powerade and spent time looking for salt. Chips will do. I took watermelon cubes. Emily ran up and looked confused when I said I need band-aids. I had eaten my watermelon and was good to go, so essentially just ran off mid-conversation, without allowing her to respond or react. I felt bad for my rude and abrupt behavior, especially because that was the last I’d see her– her preliminary plan was to hit a few aid stations and turn back for Duluth while she’d be the closest at the Zoo turnaround. Oh well, no time to lament because the race was really about to begin.

Up front, Nick was in the lead, which was great to see. I counted 7 other guys in front of me before the turnaround, putting me in 8th place. Not bad. I don’t know when I passed Ray, but saw him behind me. There wasn’t too much going on back there. It was impossible to say who could make a push, but definitely nobody breathing down my neck by the time I started back up to Spirit Mountain, which made it easier to walk. Now is not the time to burn out, I said to myself, and figured I’d have much more juice on the runable sections ahead if I take a hit on time and power hike up. Nobody passed me, so that was good.

 

Back on Skyline, it’s nice to pass the whole rest of the field. I was pretty encouraging right away, then just started saying “thanks” or an inarticulate mumble as the heat of the day became increasingly challenging.  Others’ words were helpful, though.

In the direct sun, my ears would feel so hot that a splash of water on each side would provide just a few glorious seconds of cool relief. When I got onto the ski trails and into the shade, I felt more in a rhythm. My legs were starting to feel sluggish, but I could still push. It was hard to pick up the pace… just a overall clamp on that springy feeling while running easy miles early in the day. I overtook Steven through the woods and he looked like he was struggling. I made my way through the heaviest pack of people and bombed down Skyline back to Becks Road feeling pretty good. At the aid station, I drank a lot of water, poured some on my head, drank powerade, and ate some chips. It was a longer stop, but necessary.

Photo credit: Ryan Saline

While passing the last racers, it was a grind. I was running, which was good, but my pace had slowed. There was no getting around that fact. By the time I got to Mission Creek, at mile 34, it was a death march. Every step was tedious. The heat was unbearable and the only relief was water on my head. My legs didn’t feel overheated, or my chest, or arms, or anything but my head. My ears were burning, face on fire, head so hot that if I had to wear a stocking cap for one moment, it would push me over the edge and I’d die. I saw Emily and the dogs at the Fond du Lac aid station and it was a wonderful feeling. I figured she’d be long gone by that point, and her smiling face gave me a huge boost. I told her and dogs each it was good to see them, but did not dawdle. I ate a few pieces of fruit, some chips and pop, and poured water on my face on my way out.

The next couple miles to the powerlines were very tough. Just a death march. It was a constant battle to convince my body to run with a higher cadence and longer stride, and felt like it took a quarter mile to even get up to running speed of 10 minutes per mile. The heat was a reminder to use water carefully. Drinking was as important as dousing my head and it seemed like every splash evaporated in a minute. I told the helpers at 7 Bridges that the wheels were falling off. I felt like the wheels did fall off in the brutal heat of the powerlines.

In 2016, the powerlines were kind of my savior. Then, I remember it was enough of a switch-up of running that I was able to stretch my back out a little and set me up for the last 10 miles of pretty flat and runnable terrain into Jay Cooke State Park. This year, I felt as if each hill, exposed to the hottest, muggiest death ball that is the Sun, was sucking my energy to near depletion. I was passed by a guy whose name I did not catch, but he was in all black. I looked at my white singlet and wondered how he was not overheated. He crushed me on a hill, and before long was a black dot in the distance. The powerlines seem vast. But they were over soon enough, and I looked forward to running on the flats.

It seemed like forever before I reached the horse trails in the State Park and to the Petersons aid station. I realized then that I wasn’t coming back… this race was one of slow dying. There will be no recovery, no second wind, only to hold on for whatever I can muster. The tent was a sight for sore eyes as I refueled and relished the stop at Petersons. Emily was at there, too, and I was lucky enough to sneak a kiss from her. Poor Emily, as Diamond saw her chance to jump on another nearby dog on a leash and Emily was yanked violently. Nice, Diamond… I shook my head at her and sped off.

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

The only way to make it through was to micromanage the race, and I made it a goal to run the whole way to Forbay. There was no trick or method, just a stubborn attitude and refusing to accept a slower pace. It didn’t always work, and I found myself in a few moments of funk while running just so slow. My GPS watch confirmed this. Any tiny hill seemed to break my rhythm, but every now and again I’d build back up to a strong form. On the Munger Trail, my second to last split alarm sounded to alert me that the previous seven miles were in 1:20, an 11:30 average mile pace. Not good. That was a big hit on my time. I brought it in hard to Forbay and was delighted to see Emily once more. It sounded like there was a few people in front of me who were not doing so well, but I felt like I was on the fringe of complete exhaustion myself. I did what I could to refuel with some salty chips, coke and fruit. My sweat and however many cups worth of water was making my skin nasty and slimy, and the feeling of fresh and cool water on my forehead was incredible. It only took a few miles for the water in my handheld to warm up, so I could notice the difference after each fresh fill-up at aid stations.

Photo credit: Emily Andrews

I saw a local trail runner Amy spectating past Forbays, and she was very encouraging by telling me that the three guys in front of me were having a really hard time and that I was looking good. Oh man, that got me going. The adrenaline kicked in and I could feel it. The end was in sight… just one more aid station and it was all runnable. Downhill even. All downhill!! I tried to lie to myself and it worked. My pace picked up, but my rate of acceleration was hilarious. I had no power, but somehow my legs would churn just incrementally faster. Bit by bit, until I was a running a blazing 9 minute pace. I was hasty and smart at the last aid station, quickly refilling and drinking coke for any last minute boost of high fructose corn syrup and caffeine.

Across the swinging bridge, I felt so speedy just zinging by the tourists on the bridge, clamoring to the side to allow me to pass. The first few steps onto the singletrack, however, were defeating. I had no energy, no stamina, no power, no nothing. Done. It took some grunting and wincing to get up the hills and to stay speedy afterwards. Perhaps it was the extreme focus it takes to navigate the puzzling rocks and roots, but I eventually got into a rhythm and was chugging away. I even passed someone who I’d seen so long ago cruising back up Spirit, who was now really struggling. That was a source of energy and I felt faster. The sun hid behind clouds and that was a source of energy and I felt faster. When I could sense the end, and envisioned crossing the bridge onto the Munger, I sped up on the coattails of adrenaline. When that last curve in the trail occurred, I saw Nick in front of me. That was a source of energy but I couldn’t go any faster. It would be funny to pass him in a dead sprint on the street, in a way, but that would be HIGHLY improbable as I dug deep to push across the bridge. Once onto the Munger, the sun came back out and I tried to focus as much as I could on my form and cadence. Nick looked back a few times and wasn’t going to give an inch. He must’ve had a really tough 25 miles since I’d last seen him in the lead…

I looked at my watch and figured I could sneak in in the 7:20’s. My goal was 7:20 flat but I was several minutes ahead of that at the moment. One last turn, the clock in sight, and I knew I’d finish under 7:30. Nick crossed the line and I cruised in right behind him. I immediately felt a bit overwhelmed. The relief to finish was coupled by pain and fatigue. Nick and I both gravitated towards two folding chairs conveniently side by side. I asked about his race but he didn’t want to talk to me. I didn’t really want to talk either. Our respective support crews were asking questions but neither of us had the gumption or energy to respond assuredly. I took my shoes and socks off in the grass, which felt good, but really no position allowed my body comfort. Laying on the grass felt much better than running would, though.

I got a mug with “6th Place” etched in the side. I wanted to finish in the top-10 in a stacked field and was happy to do so handily. My time was off from what I thought I could do on the very top end, but given the day, given the heat and humidity, I thought it was an excellent result. 7:20 could have happened with 60 degrees and cloudy. Next is Sawtooth.

Garmin Fenix 3 Data

Results

Time: 7:28:05
Pace: 8:57
Place: 6/289

Shoes: Brooks Ghost size 11.5

Hydration: 19oz Nathan insulated handheld

Race Day: Saturday, June 17, 2017 – 6:15am

It was fun to go back to the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon after running Grandma’s Marathon the past three years (2014, 2015, and 2016). Leading up to the infamous Grandma’s weekend in Duluth, my training was pretty good. I was running faster and stronger than ever, had a huge bank of running volume from the Zumbro ramp-up in March, and had done a pretty nice job of sharpening up and running fast on top of big miles.

I set a 50 mile PR and a 5k PR both in April, but took a few weeks nearly entirely off shortly thereafter with an achilles tendon scare. Luckily, I nipped any injuries at the bud and felt pretty decent with my half marathon training. My workouts, tempo runs (NMTC spring race series), and long runs were consistent and I felt pretty spry on race week. Long ago, my goal was 1:15. I thought I could break 1:15, but barely, while plotting my racing calendar in January. I thought 1:14:59 would be a great goal time, but started to think I had a sub-73 minute run in me. High expectations.

I felt like an idiot going to sleep on Friday night because I had a huge burrito and was really full. Why did I overstuff myself?? I woke up at 4:25am the next morning and nailed my morning routine. Cereal, Mt. Dew, and the bathroom stop was perfectly according to plan. I jogged down to the corner and met Savannah and a few other of her running buddies. We walked to Fitger’s, about a mile from my house, to catch the bus. This was the first time in 9 consecutive years not taking the bus from University of Minnesota-Duluth. I nibbled a few caffeinated jelly beans and drank some Mt. Dew and felt good. Ready to roll.

My legs felt OK once we got to the start line. Maybe a little heavy. I waited in line for the bathrooms and the final step of my pre-race routine was executed. I had plenty of time to find my way to the start line and do some warm ups. With around 7,500 people starting the race, it’s always an anxiety-provoking thought to get caught behind thousands of 2-hour half-marathoners.

It felt like no time before the race organizers corralled us behind the line and got the race start sequence underway. National anthem, equipment check, everyone is lined up, flags up, checking watches, and nervous energy of the fast runners all around me at the front. I could only image the throngs of people behind me.

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

Without further ado, the horns blasted and we were off. I had talked to Gregg before the start and he wanted to go sub-1:15. I had my sights set on Gregg right away. He’s a seasoned racer and knows exactly what to do, so if I could pace off of him I’d probably get my goal.

Otherwise, my pacing strategy was to go out at 5:40-5:45 pace and hope to feel good through mile 6. If the first six miles didn’t feel smooth, I’d have to reassess, but I figured they’d click right off given my fitness level. In training, 5:30’s felt easy to hold for a couple of miles, which is a good sign.

I couldn’t believe how fast the first mile went by. My watch beeped 5:30 and I remembered Savannah saying I’m an idiot if my first mile is the fastest one and there is no way I can do a 5:40 first mile. Well, what does that say about how my race will go, I thought? The second mile seemed to come and go in a flash and I was worried that the race would go by too quickly!

I saw Gregg and passed him. Another local runner, Adam Swank, latched on to my heels. We were with a little pack of people, a few elite women that came and went, but Swank did not waver from his place right beside me. My pace was right on track, in the low 5:40 range, and I was pleased to have a little buffer with the fast first mile. I was doing great mile after mile as they whizzed by until Brighton Beach.

I wasn’t super comfortable, but managing the pace really nicely. I felt a few stomach pangs. Nothing serious, really, but my systems felt a little off. I thought how I have to pee. No, that is a non-factor. Whatever. I have to poop. No, not this in a half marathon… My thoughts were a bit negative as we crossed the Lester River, and Adam ran away from me. Should I stop? Nah. But running was hard and getting slower. I lost my fluid rhythm. I didn’t feel right, to run at my pace was labored and it was because of some general discomfort with my systems. Then, I felt the unquestionable quench of the bowels around 4oth Avenue East, after a couple of slower miles. I still had the buffer, but truly could not decide if I’d be best to stop and get it out. I knew I could do my business quickly, and it would likely make the remaining five or six miles much more comfortable. Or could I gut it out and save the stop? OR would I poop my pants in front of hundreds of spectators on Superior Street and Lake Avenue? I’d have to move away from Duluth and never do Grandma’s again!

My pace slowed further by a few seconds, and I knew I was in the 6:00 per mile range. My legs felt OK, my breathing was fine, but it was some heaviness slowing me down. A heaviness that I could leave in a port-a-pottie. I didn’t know if it would help or hurt, but ate my one gel at the Glensheen Mansion. It went down fine.

I crested Lemon Drop Hill and did a few calculations. 4.1 miles left. I was slowing to about 20 seconds below my race pace. I was maybe 20 seconds down from my goal time of 1:14:59. Gregg had passed me, looking really good with a rock-solid group. I couldn’t latch on.

Lemon Drop Hill felt OK, actually, but I have run and raced enough in my life to know my body. And once you feel “The Clench”, it never gets better, it only gets worse, despite sometimes coming in waves. At 21st Avenue East, I couldn’t focus on the cheering fans everywhere. It was a terrible feeling, and I made the decision to stop at the john. Terrible. How do I have to make an emergency dump stop at a half marathon? At Zumbro 50 mile in March I’d run with less stops!! Crap!

Photo credit: Tone Coughlin – Endurance Kennels LLC

Photo credit: Tone Coughlin – Endurance Kennels LLC

Luckily, it was in and out, and I was determined to let ‘er rip on the final 5k with no mental (or physical) blocks. I sprinted out of the capsule feeling great, and with something to prove. I had to justify and offset the stop.

It was just what I needed to completely change the tone of the race. Shortly thereafter, my watch beeped to signify I was 10 miles into the race. The time it took to run the previous mile was 6:38. A full minute slower than what that mile should have been. Or could have been. That’d take a fast 5k to make it up! I couldn’t do the math, and figured I’d put that mental energy into finishing the race as fast as I could, without questioning what may have happened down that final stretch down Superior Street. With huge volume in my legs, and a decent threshold speed built up, it was time to shred.

Photo credit: Grant Johnson

I was finally able to soak in the crowd support, and I felt like I was flying. It was still a bit painful, but I could hold on and felt like I was running at a good clip. My watch’s mile splits confirmed that, and I was back on track with high 5:30’s/low 5:40’s per mile coming into Downtown Duluth. Duluth Running Company is always a welcome boost of adrenaline, and I ripped down that block. All downhill from here, I thought…

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

All I could do was hold it together through Lake Avenue, and I was passing people, which fueled the fire. I sped up. I glanced at my watch to see the mileage and time, and did some quick guesstimates. A fine consolation to sub 1:15 would be a finish time IN the 1:15’s, and I was going to be very close. So I picked it up. I bashed my quads on the up-and-down across 5th Avenue West, and passed a couple more struggling elites.

My face started to form a grimace, and my stride lengthened considerably as I dug deep to find higher gear. I remembered the Superior NMTC race where I consciously increased my cadence and pulled away from Nate (who was about to start the marathon at the moment the thought crossed my mind). I tried that method for a second but reverted back to overstriding. It was ugly but who cares. Another glance at my watch and I was disheartened to see that I missed my primary goal of 1:14:59. However, I was past the William A. Irvin and just had a few more seconds of pain left. I was breathing really heavy, and started to feel a drag while running under the Lake Avenue bridge. Around the hotels and the finish line was in sight. One final glance at my watch and I knew I had to kick it in in a major way to at least get a 1:15. I sprinted, my eyes on the clock perched high above the finish line.I knew I was close enough to the start line for that time shown to be accurate.

I passed the announcer line and heard my name. The adrenaline was pumping so hard at this point it would be impossible to slow down. My field of vision narrowed as I lunged across the finish. I remembered to stop my watch shortly after the finish, and and was happy to see 1:15:XX as my run slowed to a jog then to a walk. Good for a solid PR by nearly two minutes, but I hadn’t run a half marathon outright in over two years!

I was pissed as I finished. My immediate emotion was frustration. How could I dump during a stupid hour-long race? Weak! I blame the burrito! No, no, I can’t stay mad at burritos. My frustration changed to happiness and elation as I had a medal hung around my neck, and collected my shirt, beer ticket and chocolate milk. If anything, I was eager to find another half marathon to race soon while I have the fitness. Adam came in in the 1:13’s, and Gregg finished in 1:14:50. Double crap! I knew if I could stick with Gregg, I’d be right on the money. I figured that if I didn’t stop for the e-dump, my pace would have stayed around the 6:00 per mile region and my time would be much worse. Strategically, perhaps it was the right move. But a flub in race execution no doubt.

Photo credit: Duluth Eastern Observer

With Grandma’s Weekend over with, I am super excited to revert back to long trail training and racing. I think having a fast half marathon under my belt is a good base to pile trail mileage onto.

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 68/7,337
Time: 1:15:54
Pace: 5:48

Shoes: Saucony Freedom ISO
Food: Gu Roctane Tutti Frutti

Race Day: Friday, April 7, 2017 – 11:59pm

Never in my life have I had such a perfect training block leading up to a race. I guess that is a bold statement to make, but I feel like there is always some sort of question or apprehension, some little nagging injury or training fall-out that makes you question the pending performance. This year, this race, and with race week taper in full force, I was so content with every single mile I had put in and the output of fitness it produced. I was running faster and stronger than ever.

With a second-place finish last year at Zumbro, and no Kurt Keiser (2016 winner and course record holder), no definite slam dunk winner on the start list, I had one thing on my mind. One goal, one mission, a singular reason to toe the line. I wanted to win. Bad. It’s a tough thought to have, and an impossible one to wash out of your mind once it creeps in. As fit as you are, you can’t control who else is on that start line and what sort of shape they are in. Well, if you’re Tonya Harding you have that control, but I don’t own a baton. Either way, I was racing for the top spot.

12 months prior, I ran 8:32 while pacing for 9 hours. I hit just under my goal of 8 hours at Voyageur 50 with less-than-ideal training, and so I figured that 8 hours would be a good benchmark or time to pace off of. Then again, Zumbro is a hard course. The midnight start adds a different level of complexity, but 2:40 each 16.7-mile loop works out so nicely! My plan was to try to hit a tad under 10 minute pace for two loops and then let ‘er rip.

The weather was looking simply perfect for the run. Low 40s and dry for the whole night. I drove from Duluth Friday morning after getting a solid 11 hours of sleep, plus took a nap. It’s such a weird day just milling about, waiting for midnight. I left from Minneapolis around 8:30pm for bluffs country and got there in a breeze, but didn’t have much time to take a nap. I got my packet and hung out around the bustling start/finish/lap area and drank Mountain Dew until the start.

I saw a few friendly faces from last year, Jeff Vander Kooi and Bennett Isabella, and before long the countdown began. Watch on, headlamp on, “GO!”, start watch, start running.

I got swallowed up by a pack of guys, which was perfect. It’s a little freaky starting out the run in the pitch dark and not knowing exactly where the trail goes. This is race is so incredibly marked with reflective ribbons and a clear trail that’d truly be difficult to get lost on, but you don’t remember that in the anxiety-provoking first minute of the race! So we started towards the woods. It is not long before the trail turns onto some technical singletrack that goes up, up, up. It is comical how the first mile or two of the race is so incredibly challenging!

We were trucking pretty well, everyone was on the same page of walking up hills, and we were making good time. Jeff and I were up front and chatting away, which was nice. Bennett chimed in, and I talked to fellow Duluth resident Ryan Braun a bit. With the first aid station in sight, someone sprinted out from the group into the night. We looked around to each other and Jeff even asked, “who was that??”, almost offended that he’d run away like that this early in the race. I was offended because I wanted to win. It is way, way, way too early in a race like this to go after him. So either this guy is the real deal or he’s a clown and will blow up. It’s not like we were going slow, but this guy blasted way out in front and sprinted out of sight.

I made a point to eat something at the first aid station, as was my goal and plan for every aid station. The pretzels were not appetizing whatsoever, and I was the only one in the group to stop. I had to pee so bad, and lost my spot up front after the stops. There was a group of perhaps eight guys in one big pack, and I weeded my way back up. I didn’t recognize half of them, but started talking to TJ Jeannette, who chimed in when he mentioned he was from Duluth. I recognized his name from ‘Superior’, a book I read about the 100 mile race with the same title. We were all chatting away and running well–nice and fast but manageable–so the miles clicked away in the night. I peed at least twice before the third aid station.

For some reason, I felt like I had to break from the pack. I was good on water, and certainly not hungry, so deviated from my plan and skipped the third aid station of four per lap. Jeff was the first one out of the aid station and could have hung with me, but probably saw what I was doing and let me go. I was pushing the pace at that moment anyways, and kind of felt the time for chit chat was over. We hadn’t reeled the other mystery dude in at all, and it was time to focus.

After that third aid station, it’s relatively easy running until the next lap. I was getting a little carried away all alone, running fast and breathing hard. My watch didn’t seem to be splitting every three miles like I set it to, or I couldn’t hear it and was missing it. I was frustrated about that. Either way, my pace was on point for a 2:40 loop and I felt pretty decent. My fueling was going good. Perfect, really. I got some varied feedback from 100 milers and volunteers from the fourth aid station, and the guy in front of me was probably 5-10 minutes ahead. A lot of race left to run, I thought.

The moon was great, the temperature ideal, and trail in pristine condition. I sprinted across the finish line, grabbed some goodies from the finish aid station, got a fresh couple of gels from my stash, and ran out onto my second lap exactly at 2:40. I even said “two more of those and I’ll be all smiles”. I forgot to put my extra batteries in my waterbottle pouch. Do I turn around? No.

It was a bit harder to pace the start of the second lap without the big group to pace. I tried to hit an intensity that was mild but deliberate, especially on the uphills. You don’t want to really run or push it too hard, because that is where you blow up. There are plenty of hills that will destroy you at Zumbro. I had fun running in the night going into the first aid station on lap two, and was feeling spry and energetic. I altered my gel-and-hour plan, which pretty much threw my whole nutrition plan out the window after I’d skipped one aid station already. Oh, well, it’s better than trying to stick to a stupid plan just because, and throwing up or pooping my pants or getting terrible stomach pains.

Across the Zumbro River bridge, left into the flats, and I started to feel the first signs of fatigue. 20 miles in and that’s expected! I was pretty baffled that I was almost half way through already. Then, I felt bummed. Dang, it’s so fun running out here. Just me and the trail, the beautiful night. The conditions were so ripe that I wanted to keep going. Well, still not at the half way mark yet…

Between the first and third aid stations is hard. The sand couloir section was really terrible, and I got a little frustrated with that and the unrelenting hills. My legs were definitely starting to feel it, and time slowed down. 21 miles. 22 miles. 22.5 miles. 22.6 miles. Gah, just get to half way!! Things could be much, much worse, though, and I was still running well. I figured that I was breathing too heavy on the second part of that first lap and paying for it now.

At the second and perhaps third aid station (as they are the same physical aid station), I talked to my cousin-in-law Dan, who was volunteering once again. He said that the guy in front of me was at least 17 minutes up, and how he sprinted up the steep hill out of aid station two, and how he’s twice my age. Well, CRAP! So the win is unreachable. No way, no how. I did some quick math, but didn’t have to do any calculations to know that either I’d have to speed up quite a bit, or he’d have to slow down a lot, for me to have a chance at this stage in the race. But second place is still great. That’s better than third, and I can still race the clock for the sub-8, which had only been done once in race history, last year when Kurt said the course record at 7:49.

After the third station, I put the crank on. I wanted to get another perfect 2:40 lap, and for that I’d have to run really consistent down Ant Hill and back to the finish. I was breathing really pretty heavy, and blasted through the fourth aid station in a hurry. My legs were pretty weary running the winding singletrack and fast horse trail into the finish line and start of the third lap. My stomach was feeling good, and it was nice to see Ryan Saline at the start of the third lap with my drop bag held open for me to grab away. I quickly snatched the last gels I’d need, kept my half-open bag of caffeinated chews with me, and sprinted off with about 5:21 on the clock. A 2:41 lap is not bad at all! Just one more of those…

I made a point to let ‘er rip right out of the gate. I was pushing up the big first hill and passed a few hundreds and even some 50 milers. There is still plenty of race left to completely explode, I reminded myself, but felt good cresting the peak and looking down at the mini-village of the start/finish area still in the dark of night. I was running hard.

I put the lap on quite a few 50 milers, and we were all exchanging nice words of encouragement. I noticed in the warmth (compared to 2016), the 100 milers were in much better spirits. My pace was really good and I wasn’t giving up a second. However, the pain was nearly overwhelming and I couldn’t help but grunt, especially bombing down the technical descents. I was dreading the stupid sand cooler (as I called it in my mind), but knew once I hit daylight and that third aid station, it was time to really push it.

I saw Dan again when I was coming through the second aid station, and he said it’s a lost cause. This old guy in the lead was still far up–15 minutes or so. I said to him that it’s no matter, and asked that he at least time the person behind me and let me know how comfortable I should be in second when I come back through. I pushed and pushed, daylight came and it was wonderful. That in itself made my pace increase even more. I wanted to just run, and felt my fitness in that. Every hill I’d have to stop and walk, then start running at the top. My hamstrings throbbed on those first few running strides over every hill. Then, my brain told them that this is how it’s gonna be and the pain subsided. Weird how that is…

When I got back to the aid station, they told me Dan left. Well, crap!! I didn’t stick around to chit chat, or eat food or drink, and just ran off. I didn’t care about much except the clock. I wanted to win but that’s out. I wanted under 8 and that’s totally feasible. I had timed out from the fourth aid station to the finish to be around 20 minutes if I’m running well. So that was my goal, to hit that fourth station by at least 7:40. I did not feel good down Ant Hill, but was cruising well on the road below. This is where time is made up, I thought, and was passing other racers like they were standing still. I was breathing really heavy and making strange noises. I saw a photographer ahead and tried to look smooth and strong despite the discomfort.

Photo Credit: Zach Pierce

I hit the last aid station at 7:35 and skipped it. Two in a row! That is risky, but I wasn’t hungry, wasn’t thirsty, and had some water. I knew I needed to eat a bit, so had a couple of chews to blast me off. It worked, and I was really moving on the trail section before the final road stretch. It was a lot longer than I’d remembered on the previous two loops. Finally, the trail snaked down to the gravel road and I knew I was close.

With minutes to spare, I caught a glimpse of the gate, then campers and cars, and then the finish line. I ran up, feeling pretty well. My time was well under my goal of 8, but it was hard not to be bummed about second place once again. It was a hell of a race, though, and truly perfectly executed. What can you say when you believe there is no way to run even a minute faster? It was even harder, though, to see the results and know that Jason won by barely over two minutes. HOW?? He came up to me and congratulated me, but I was in a daze and didn’t get much time to pick his brain.

Photo credit: Julie Ward

Despite a few fleeting thoughts during the race of how running is terrible, immediately after finishing I acknowledged how fun the night run was and my excitement to do it all over again. Weird how that is.

Results

Garmin Data

Race Stats:

Place: 2/148
Time: 7:54:57
Pace: 9:30

Lap 1: 2:38:21
Lap 2: 2:42:27
Lap 3: 2:34:09

Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 11 Gore-Tex size 11
Food: Too much to count/remember

Race Day: Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 8am

I neglected writing about this race for a long time. It was a bad race. I’ve never fallen apart as badly as Wild Duluth 2016. I was undertrained and figured I could wing it. If you don’t put in the miles and race-specific intensity, you cannot wing it.

I did one two-hour run a week before the race, which was my tune-up. I’d been running pretty consistently, but low volume, since the big thru-hike. Three miles per day and one two-hour run. The only reason I signed up is because I thought I could potentially squeak out a win. I mean, I had extreme volume on my legs from a month prior with hiking 50k per day nine days in a row, but that is slow walking, and I was hoping to run over twice as fast for this race. I scoped out the start list and my game plan was to start really easy, hopefully be in the front pack at least, and then race my own race and hold on.

Race morning went off without a hitch. Mountain Dew, check. Cereal, check. Deuce deuce, check. The day was shaping up to be pretty warm. Overcast but in the 60’s. I was feeling good and ready to rip. Talking to other competitors that I recognized, it seemed like everyone was questionable about what sort of shape they were in. But that’s what everyone always says…

I moseyed around and then the hoard started to congregate towards the start line at Fond du Lac park on the outskirts of Duluth. A few words and “GO!”, we were off. I took off absurdly fast for some reason, and my buddy David Dickey stuck right on my shoulder. That’d be a great race, if we could feed off of each other’s energy and push the pace up front. There were a few guys up front with us, but I was in the lead in the very runnable mountain bike trail through Mission Creek. An older guy zipped in front of us about two miles in, apologizing and citing he though he had to go to the bathroom.

I was feeling good through my first five-mile split in the 45-minute range. Right on track… David fell back after the first aid station and I was by myself. A familiar competitor, Ryan Braun, was back behind me somewhere. I saw him on a few switchbacks, and knew that he was pretty fit. He finished shortly behind me at Voyageur 50 Mile and had finished second at Wild Duluth 50k several times. Perhaps this was his year. By the way, I wondered where that other guy was? Maybe we passed him squatting in the woods.

I felt like I was racing well–not too aggressive but not falling behind–until Braun passed me like I was standing still. I considered chasing him but he was out of sight in no time. Dang. I was passed another time, now in fourth place, coming through the second aid station and heading towards Ely’s Peak. Not where I want to be, but I just told myself to race my own race and it will sort itself out.

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Photo credit: Julie Ward

I pounded it up through Ely’s, and started passing 100k’ers going the other way. That is always a good boost, and I felt good. It was definitely getting warm, though, in a muggy and sticky way. Otherwise, I felt pretty decent coming into mile 10. My next 5-mile split was almost exactly 10 minutes slower. But it’s harder running. I told myself to stick that pace.

I held my own through Spirit Mountain, and once I passed the last 100k stragglers, I felt lonesome out by myself. Nobody else near me, just hanging out in fourth place. Climbing out of Spirit, I felt the urge to walk. I dismissed the thought and just shuffled my way up the hill. The early onset of fatigue and low-volume training was starting to surface. By the time I got to Cody Street, it was really tough to maintain a reasonable pace. My split from mile 15-20 was just shy of one hour. To win, I knew I’d need under 4:45, and that equates to less than 50 minutes per 5 miles for sure. An hour was way too slow and I did not foresee a second wind. I wasn’t walking a whole ton, but my running pace was noticeably slowing. From here, the derailment was swift, but the remainder of the race was long. Very long, painful and drawn out.

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Photo Credit: Julie Ward

Like a ton of bricks, my motivation and energy levels plummeted and I was dead meat. I got passed a few times through Brewer Park after the Highland Getchell aid station. I was really going slow by now, and knew my next split would be over an hour. A slow and painful death, but now was the time that I realized what was happening and my mental state came into play. I knew I wasn’t trained to run fast enough, I was dead meat. Piece of crap. Whatever, it’s still fun, I thought. Just jog it out.

Through the tunnel under Haines Road, I could barely run. I wasn’t that sore, it’s just the terrible feeling of not being able to turn my legs over fast enough. Slowwww. I was passed a few more times into Piedmont, once by a woman who was holding her hand cockeyed. She mentioned how she fell a bunch and thinks she tweaked a nerve or something. Ouch. Then she fell again right in front of me. I couldn’t even hang on to this woman… I got chicked. She got back up and ran past me with the speed of a track star–out of sight in no time. I didn’t even know what place I was in at this point, but was nearing five hours through Lincoln Park. After the last aid station, it’s all easy, I thought.

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Photo Credit: Julie Ward

I took my time at the Duluth Running Co. aid station, and expressed my woes to the familiar faces handing out drinks and snacks. I took off jogging across Piedmont Avenue at a comically slow trot, but picked it up. I told myself to finish somewhat strong… the pain will all be over soon enough. I didn’t feel too beat up, but just had no step, like a car stuck in first gear. It took forever to get to Enger Tower, and I got passed there too. Worse than getting passed repeatedly is that I couldn’t hang on to anyone. They’d pass me with ease and run out of sight in a flash. Am I really going that slow?

I finally got to Enger and then just leaned forward for the straight downhill bomb towards Bayfront Park and the finish line. This was the easy part, finally. Just don’t get passed anymore, I thought. I had nice form coming across I-35, and peeked behind my shoulder just to make sure I didn’t have to bring the pain on some fools behind me. Nobody there, luckily. A short jaunt and I was within striking distance of that stinking finish line after a long, long morning.

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

My watch was well past 5 hours, and it looked like I’d be just about an hour slower than my winning time from 2014. Piece of crap, but what do I expect? I finished and sat right down on the ground.

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

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Photo Credit: Mike Wheeler

Garmin Data

Results

Race stats:

Place: 8/145
Time: 5:30:00
Pace: 11:00

Shoes: Mizuno Hayate size 11

10 Sep 2016

Afterword

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As I walked away from the future southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail, the Wisconsin border, finally done with the entire trail, I felt like the walking dead. My feet hurt bad, really bad. My shoes felt so uncomfortable, like walking on concrete slabs. My backpack was drenched in sweat and grime, and I was shirtless, walking so slow. It took a long time to get back to the road. No rush, though and I was beaming.

It was relatively emotionless right after finishing the thru-hike. Shock, awe, dumbfoundedness, I don’t know. But a great feeling all the same. I was done. It was complete. Thinking back to the true nature of what “unsupported” is, that was it. I was self-reliant, dealing with every challenge that presented itself and using my skills and what I had at my disposal to carry on.

On the return trip, I forgot to turn my watch off until I was speeding away from the St. Louis River bridge on Highway 23. So tired. I snapped a picture of Ely’s Peak, where I ate lunch six hours earlier. What a trip.

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I wonder if it could be done faster? I know someone could run it, fully supported, and do it fast. I would like to try it someday. The Superior Hiking Trail has some magnetic attraction for me. Can it be done faster unsupported? No. As of September 2016, I don’t think that record will be broken in a long time. The gear, the preparation and the knowledge of the trail were an indispensable tool that would be hard to match. But I hope someone does break the unsupported record. Because if they do, that means that they understand not only the pain, the suffering, the agony and tediousness of this task, but also the extreme joy, happiness, freedom and satisfaction that it provides.

 

Garmin Data:

When my alarm went off at 3am, I hit the snooze button. Onto my very last day, but yet I still wanted to eek out that last little bit of sleep. I may have slipped back into REM sleep. Upon the next alarm, though, I started getting my things together. Pants on, shirt on, I carried my phone and headlamp to my pack, then went back for my quilt, then the sleeping pad. I shoved my breakfast into my pockets, wondering when I should eat it, put my socks on and then my finally-dry shoes. I took down my tarp, throwing the sticks I’d used for stakes back into the woods and shoved it deep into my pack, wishing I hadn’t lost two little sacks in the flood from the night before. 24 hours ago, I was just finally going to sleep… Now, I start hiking. I took a dump in the port-o-pottie, it was a clean break. Too much information, perhaps, but I only needed to use my last few squares of toilet paper that I packed. And then I started my watch, not to stop it again until I reached Wisconsin.

I made certain to hike back to the exact point where I veered off from the Superior Hiking Trail. I was a little creeped out hiking in Bagley in the pitch black, my dim headlamp lighting the way. I run in Bagley so often, I could have had no headlamp. On top of the lookout, I yelled “MORNIN” for all to hear.

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It felt so weird walking in the dark! The SHT darts right through the UMD campus, and I saw one guy walking down the street with a guitar around his back. I hope not a robber, because he did not look like a student! Down 19th and into the Chester Creek. The water flowing guided my way. It was a complete new perspective on my favorite running trails. I tried to get a picture across the bridge.

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Past Burrito Union, down 14th Avenue, and I was actually hoping I wouldn’t get mugged! I’d rather be back in the wilderness hiking at night! Not that Duluth is a crime haven, but these are not the best neighborhoods in town and it was barely 4am. I got to the Lakewalk, into Leif Erickson Park, and saw a homeless person who I’d seen before on the rough and tough streets of Duluth, smoking a cigarette on a bench. He said that winter is coming soon. I yelled back in agreement, keeping my pace. He said it’s not March. I did not respond.

I decided I’d eat my last four breakfast bars at Enger. The Lakewalk should be the easiest part of the whole day on fresh feet, but I was just fatigued. It was the feeling of wanting nothing more than to sit down for one second. I sat down on a bench looking out from the very corner of Lake Superior. No, I thought, this is where the seconds count. Every other day was just a setup for this day. Scott Jurek broke the Appalachian Trail speed record and set the fastest known time (FKT) by just three hours. I got up and walked along the very end of The Big AC, Lake Superior.

I was stymied at the Baywalk, on the other end of Canal Park. The Baywalk garage doors were closed, so I backtracked, walked around Adventure Zone, Famous Daves, Old Chicago and Red Lobster. I made the trek alongside the gigantic William A. Irving lake vessel, and back on track along the Bay of Lake Superior and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to my right. Through Bayfront Festival Park, across train tracks, and just like that, I was out of downtown Duluth and Canal Park. It was all trail from here. Time to crank.

Up, up and up, I climbed to Enger Tower, excited to get there and eat my last breakfast. I was feeling pretty good once on the singletrack trail, and my cardiovascular system was unfazed by the climbing. My pack weighed very little, and I don’t think I’d really adjusted it at all for a few days now! At Enger, I rang the big bell, 6am or so and 7.5 miles for the day, and started eating my last breakfast bars one at a time. The chocolate one was delicious. It wasn’t so smooshed. The pastry bar was completely obliterated, but delicious as I poured the crumbs into my mouth. I savored the taste, and was very satisfied with the last-minute decision to try these pastry bars. They did me well. The blueberry one was delicious as well, and I ate the fourth one hungry for about ten more after that.

I crossed the bridge over Piedmont Avenue with the sun starting to rise, a red glow illuminating the industrial bayside Duluth below me. I was cranking along as I entered the trail at Miller Creek, nearing the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The trail went quick, and I was onto 10th Street West in no time.

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I saw the early risers starting their day as I hiked through a gate, across an open field, and then up towards to the Piedmont trail system. Up and up, and I was breathing decently hard. The sunrise was really quick and it was pretty bright in seemingly no time.

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On the rocky outcroppings near Piedmont, I was regaled at the classic North Shore vibe of sweeping vistas. What a place to live, I thought! Duluth has got it all, and I felt a swelling of pride for where I call home. That gave me a boost of energy, coupled with the caffeinated chews that I was gobbling down, and I felt like I was cruising. With my music on, Jon Wayne and the Pain, the hike was going by easily.

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Through some classic singletrack, down to Haines Road and under the tunnel, I was sad to see the graffiti taken down. It was sketchily-written phrases like “You Can Do It” and “Believe In Yourself” the last I’d seen! I was really in the zone climbing back up to Brewer Park, and noticed the heat a little bit after just zinging up to the top. It was nice to walk along the ridge, but just like any Sawtooth Mountain trail, it was soon to go back down, down, down to Merritt Creek. The trail was flying by.

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I’d done this same trail backwards at least four times all the way through, from beyond Ely’s Peak north to Enger Tower and beyond, so I was pretty familiar with it. Hiking it southbound, which I’d done maybe only once, seemed easier. Maybe it was the music or the focus of the last day, but I was making really good time as I got to the roadwalk near Cody Street. Under the huge I-35 above, I walked parallel to a woman and her dog for a bit, but perhaps 50 feet apart. I jetted back into the woods on a seemingly new section of trail. I asked myself out loud if they just made this. Back up towards Spirit Mountain, but first is a tough section along the freeway. Up to some decent views of West Duluth and the narrowing St. Louis River, and along a lot of exposed rock.

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I was getting a little bit tired back into the forest, over the four wheel trail, and further towards Spirit. I knew it was just a wave of fatigue, though, and put it out of my mind. I put on some more music, which helped. T.I.’s Trap Muzik did the trick, and I was feeling better. Down a lot of stairs, then up on the ol’ Voyageur course, near the turnaround on the the grueling climb back up Spirit. It didn’t seem as grueling today as it did 6 weeks ago. I heard some racket in the distance, and wondered if some hooligans were goofing off. That’s what that truck must be, parked on the non-maintained ATV trail along Knowlton Creek. Across the bridge, and I saw some people hauling lumber. I follow closely. It must be some trusty SHT volunteers again! Sure enough, a nice long hike in, and I saw the same guy from the day before and a few new volunteers making a bridge. I stopped to chat once again, made a point to ask if it was Larry Sampson (it was), and laughed when he said that I was the guy he was telling them about. Cool. I left pretty quick after they ushered me along. I tripped going across the gorge, but caught myself, and joked with them how they should build a bridge there. It was cool to see Larry twice in a row.

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Another round of fatigue hit me while walking down to the chalet at the bottom of Spirit. My pinkie was causing me grief. Again, it wasn’t necessarily the pinkie itself, surprisingly, but the shim I was still using would constantly shift, and the bungee cord put pressure on certain parts of my hand. My ring finger would be incredibly tender on the very top and so I’d move the bungee to the side slightly. A stretch would hopefully create some slack, but ten minutes later and it’s all shifted back. I was experimenting with every grip possible trying to take the pressure off my my poor thumb and pointer finger having no help with the duty of gripping my trekking pole. I broke open my Clif Bar and ate a small chunk, trying to conserve. I made a plan to eat lunch at Ely’s Peak, and just needed to make the Clif Bar last until then.

Past the chalet, up and up, back up and I grinded my way to Skyline. The sun was out and it was a beautiful windy day. I thought of Voyageur, which shared the same course along the gravel Skyline Boulevard for the time being, and remembered being heckled for taking a terrible tangent. I made a point of following the tangent of the curving road this time. At Magney, I paid close attention and got on the right trail back into the woods. There were plenty of creeks all day, and I was feeling good on all fronts: hike, drink, eat, sleep. Well, I was totally sick of walking, desperately wanted to chug, could eat anything and an insane amount, and so fatigued I constantly thought about sitting down. But when push comes to shove, I was still walking, not going to die, and felt like I could hold a 3mph walking pace indefinitely. By Bardon’s Peak and my lunch spot in view, I was a solid mile ahead of schedule: 7 hours and 40 minutes in, 24 miles on the day. It was a few minutes past 11 o’clock.

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Down a bit, up a bit, scrambling across open rock faces, and I was at the spur to Ely’s Peak. I didn’t take it, but started to keep my eyes peeled for a lunch spot. Across some very technical rocky sections, down a bit, and I stopped on a big rock. It was very windy, making it nerve-wracking to eat lunch with wrappers and such. I savored my last big stash of food, leaving one Lara bar, some smashed chips and few handfuls of soggy trail mix for the rest of the day. My ring finger on the bum right hand was very tender from the bungee cord pressing on it. I rewrapped it with my last bit of athletic tape, and ditched the bungee in my pack. I didn’t want to stand back up, but grabbed the power bank with plenty of juice left, hooked my phone in and set back off, no time to waste.

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On the way down Ely’s, I noticed my finger more than anything. It was a major ailment! There is no better bone to break than the pinkie finger, but it was a domino effect where I had to alter my grip on the trekking poles, that made my finger sore, my hand felt off a little bit, putting more pressure on my left side.

I cruised on the Munger Trail, over Beck’s Road and back into the woods. I needed water from the creek, and decided to stop there. It was only a mile from my lunch break, but I spent the time to drink water and plan. With a renewed mindset, I set off towards the challenging Mission Creek sections. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I could run it in from the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke. I’d hiked that section only a few weeks prior, and it was flat, wide and runnable. I’d at least try! From here to there, my plan was to hike non-stop. There is no other reason to stop until my afternoon stop, which was probably going to be right after the swinging bridge. A straight shot for perhaps 12 miles, four hours at 3mph, and then run it home for the remaining 8 miles or so.

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I put on some Rage Against The Machine, and was revamped from the lunch and mid-day breaks. I kept telling myself how this is where the seconds turn to minutes, minutes turn to hours. Every moment was crucial to make sure I’m making forward progress. In the hilly Mission Creek sections, I felt pretty good. A constant white-noise in the back of my mind was to sit down, but I looked away from any rock or stump or bench. Who puts a bench out here!?

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There was a big climb, up and up out of Mission Creek, and I pulled out my last trail map, map 1 of 6. It looked like it was all flats after this big climb. To Palkie Road, flats, easy horse trails from there, and then beyond the swinging bridge, I was planning on running. Over the crest, and I entered Jay Cooke State Park. A slight downhill was enough to get the idea to run. I was feeling OK, but why not give it all? I awkwardly started a running gait, which felt so painful and foreign. Nope, not gonna happen, I thought, and stopped. I walked down the rest of the slight downhill, feeling a little defeated.

Easy horse trails, flat or slightly downhill ahead, and I had to try again. I remembered my triathlon experience, how running off the bike is always so weird right away with jelly legs, but you always get in the groove. I need to get in the groove. I started running again, through the pain and awkwardness and bouncing pack, and got into a groove. My pack was jumbling around everywhere, water spilling from somewhere on my water bottle. I tried to hitch the pack down on my back, holding my trekking pole balanced lengthwise in each hand. Poling didn’t work too well as I ran. I got into the groove! It was much more strenuous to run, of course, and my shoes felt like I had wooden inserts. I was relieved to see the Palkie Road trailhead, and ready to let ‘er rip on the Munger Trail. I’m sure the bikers on the trail thought I was insane. I stopped briefly for a picture, but was focused.

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Into the woods, back onto horse trails through the state park, and I did some quick math from my watch’s data. I was making BIG time compared to hiking. I figured I was running at least twice as fast as I could walk. In running just a half hour or hour, I was about four miles ahead of my 3mph target for the day. This section was again part of the Voyageur course, and I put my mind back to July, where I was at this point at mile 45 or so. I ran then, I can run now. So I cruised, only stopping to walk on uphills. I was at Jay Cooke in a flash. I got my Facebook out, trying to do a live video across the bridge, but it didn’t work. I didn’t have fast enough cellular service, so walked across and decided to fill up water in the St. Louis River. Most of my water had spilled, but I was running about 6mph and only had about 8 to go. I drank as much as I could as I walked back up to the trail. I’d probably spill all of this water out anyways. Running was causing me to sweat completely through my clothes, and it looked like I got caught in rainstorm, but I wasn’t going to keel over and die from dehydration. Well, what would that feel like, anyways?

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I stuck to the plan and kept running through Jay Cooke. It was getting dark with clouds, which felt nice, but was warm and I was definitely sweating. I stopped briefly to eat the rest of my food. The lemon Lara bar in one bite, a dump of chips in my mouth to finish those off, and a big squeeze of the nearly liquefied trail mix, which was delicious. The food did not phase me. I washed it down with the remaining non-spilled water, and kept running. I ran without stopping until the trail bumped back into the singletrack. This was the last part of the trail that I hadn’t been on at all, and I was looking forward to getting to Highway 23 and Wild Valley Road more than anything else. I figured I had five miles left total.

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After the hill up into the singletrack, it flattened back out and I kept running. It was a little more challenging to run on windy singletrack, and I didn’t feel very sure-footed. Watch, I break both of my ankles five miles from the finish. There were a few screaming downhills. I still walked any big uphills. Out of nowhere, was spooked by a black bear, and it sounded like there were two that went separate directions from the trail. I caught a glimpse of one of them, and started yelling! Watch, I get mauled by a bear four miles from the end. I was focused.

I wanted to get to the finish at 4:20pm, the exact time that I stopped for an afternoon break eight days in a row now. I was pushing really hard given the circumstances, 40 miles in on the day, fatigued legs, a broken finger, a 10-pound pack on. I thought several times that I was right about to cross Highway 23, but nope, the trail would curve around and the clearing I thought I saw was just woods. Just more woods. Finally, I heard traffic, went down the ditch, up and over 23, and down the gravel Wild Valley Road to my car.

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I was still running. It was great to see my car, and I stopped very quickly at it. I got my keys out, opened my car up, grabbed a bottle of root beer and a bottle of Gatorade. I shoved them in the back pocket of my pack, and continued running down the road. The Superior Hiking Trail was officially ended, but I was going for Canada to Wisconsin. The northern terminus at Canada is set at 270 Overlook. The future southern terminus, which I had scoped out twice in the previous month, was in the middle of the woods. I knew there was a trail cut, after a mile more on Wild Valley Road, and flagging into the woods even past the Wisconsin border, courtesy of the North Country Trail Association. On my previous GPS missions, I determined that the border was near a spur trail to the railroad, a stack of wood and two trees, parallel on opposite sides of the trail, with blue taped wrapped around. Larry Sampson confirmed this, so I definitely knew the spot. In fact, I initially pinpointed the location because I was stung by bees at the exact border, threw my trekking poles in the air, and zig zagged on the trail to go get them later! The GPS data told the whole story.

As I walked away from the car, I grabbed my phone to shoot another live video with my car in the background. I put my phone away, and set my sights forward. So, as the sun came out briefly through the cloud cover, I ran down the unmaintained dirt road to my final destination two miles away.

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A car passed me, surprisingly, and kicked up some dust. I ran longer, thinking of how long it’d take if I was walking. How tedious is that?!? Speaking of which, I looked at my watch. It was 4:15pm. No way I’d make it across the Red River in 5 minutes!! But, I thought of the time I started, so long ago, eight days ago. It was September 1st at 8:39am. It is September 9th, and 4:39pm would make 8 days, 8 hours. That is my goal. So I picked it up. I passed a parked van. Was that the one that drove up on me? I turned the bend and saw a guy with his dogs. I caught up to him and just ran by. I may have said hi under my heaving breath. He said “ambitious!”, and I told him, while running past, how I was so close to the end of the trail. The pop and Gatorade were incredibly heavy, and probably added three pounds to my pack. After carving it down to around 10 pounds, the extra three weighed heavy on my shoulders as I ran. It was a little ridiculous, and I jogged out of sight.

Finally, the flagging into the woods appeared. I thought I’d missed it. Down the ditch, through the tall grass, and then onto the nice cut trail. I was really hauling ass, and checking my watch constantly. 4:20, then 4:25, still not at the Red River. 4:30, and an intersection flagged both ways. Pretty sure it was left… I went left and right down to the Red River. The SHT crew had begun to build a bridge over the river, and it was cool to see that stage of development. I scurried across the river bottom, in the grey clay, and up the other side.

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Up out of the small gorge, I had to walk. 4:36. I started running and saw the void of trees to the right where the railroad tracks run. So close. I felt like I was running so hard, no feeling in my legs or my feet or my shoulders or pinkie finger. I saw the blue tape, I ran past the trees, past the spur trail and wood. I stopped, done. I hurriedly grabbed my phone and took a screen shot. 4:38. One minute short of 8 hours exactly. 8 days, 7 hours, and 59 minutes it is.

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I stopped my watch, hoping that even in the Ultratrac GPS mode, that connects to satellites less frequently and therefore consumes far less battery life, I’d stop exactly at or slightly past the Wisconsin border. I saved the long, long day onto my watch, over 46 miles, and walked to the taped trees to take a finish selfie. There was nothing to say it was the border, no sign, no plaque. I wasn’t even sure if this was truly the border, but it’s close enough, and something to take a selfie by.

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After the necessary finish line duties, I took of that stinking pack, promptly sat down on the stack of wood, and took out my drinks that I stashed from the car. I chugged the Gatorade first. Chugging was great. It was worth the weight. Next, the sweet, sweet root beer. What a treat. Then I just sat there, in awe. In a daze that it’s all over. In a stupor of fatigue, from running miles 298 to 308. Hmm, what now? Well, I missed my afternoon break time for the first time in 8 days, so I figured I’d do what I did every other day for my afternoon break.

I relaxed briefly, and then put my pack back on and started back to the car, back to walking.

On to Afterword


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