11 Nov 2017
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
03 Aug 2017
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.
Shoes: Brooks Ghost size 11.5
Hydration: 19oz Nathan insulated handheld