Superior Fall 50 Mile Race Report
Race Day: Saturday, September 9, 2023 – 5:15am
With my pre-race routine perfectly completed, me and 150 friends shuffled through the muggy, pitch-dark early morning air towards the starting flags on County Road 7 in the outskirts of Finland, MN to start a 50 mile journey to Lutsen. I was so excited. 9 months prior, as I started thinking about my upcoming race season (and you need to think out that far for a lot of these races), I knew I wanted to go back to Superior. Every year I think about the 100. I thought about it this year, but figured that the 50 would be a great choice. I think 50 miles is my favorite trail race distance, it wouldn’t require as much as a dedicated training requirement to get to the finish line, and who doesn’t like trying new things? So I signed up during the lottery period in early January and shortly thereafter learned that I was officially registered.
Training went well. I found out my dear friend Kyle was signed up for my two primary races on the year – Superior and Grandma’s Marathon. So, we started linking up for long runs around February or March. I was diligent with Grandma’s and had a pretty good lead up by balancing the high-wire act of optimal training and injury. The scales tipped into either side, and when on the side of injury, I was able to minimize downtime but of course, then “optimal training” goes down the crapper. I was extremely pleased with a sub-3 hour finish at Grandma’s, with my training partner Kyle mere seconds behind me. From there, I focused on the trails. My next big effort was at the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon. I got into that race via the waitlist and was super excited to be there. The race didn’t go so well from nearly the start. After months of reflection, I think that I got too excited and went out too hard. It was a muggy and smoky day and I felt the whole time that I couldn’t get my breathing under control. By mile 13, I was slowing down with no zest. No zing, no spring, no pop. Just leg pounding. By mile 20 I was being passed frequently. By mile 24 I was exclusively walking as others blew by me with scents of the finish line wafting through the air.
After Curnow, I was able to stay very consistent with long runs on the Superior Hiking Trail weekend after weekend after weekend with my faithful training partner Kyle. We seemed to do 20 miles almost every Saturday from the end of July through August. Besides the weekend, however, my mileage was spotty at best. Absent at worst. But every Saturday, we cranked miles and that went well every single time. Heat and humidity was frequently a factor but I practiced pacing and nutrition and the heat made me a stronger runner. I figured 12 minutes per mile/5mph was a good realistic pace to train and race. It felt easy, but after a long run it was hard to imagine doubling the effort plus some. Luckily, my confidence was bolstered as August came and went. I had a really fun trip near Grand Portage with a Fastest Known Time on the Grand Portage Trail, then a 27 mile rough and rugged run just two days later. The following weekend we did a hard 21-miler on the challenging Spirit Mountain section of the SHT on a very hot day. Those were two key workouts that I held onto into September.
On race week, I tried to get good sleep and nutrition, but neither really panned out. I didn’t go grocery shopping and kind just slept bad. I took Friday off work to lay in bed as late as I could, then planned to pick Kyle up at 1:30pm and meet my parents at a campsite my dad has secured at Lax Lake Resort, just 15 minutes from the start line. Scattered, I threw together a bunch of crap and hoped it was everything I needed. I figured a $50 grocery bill comprised of junk food would be a good supplement to the aid station fare. Right on time, I swooped Kyle up and we headed up north. We went straight to Lutsen to get our packets but didn’t read the schedule close enough – packets weren’t available for another hour. We kept driving north to Grand Marais and had a delicious early dinner at Gunflint Tavern. Back to Lutsen, we picked up packets and chatted a bit with fellow Duluthians Tyler and Jakob who were set up to compete with Kyle and I at the front of the pack. As I drove back south, Kyle was tracking another Duluth runner Matt, competing in the 100-miler, who would likely be coming through Finland at a perfect timeframe for us to swing by on the way to the campground. We landed there and waited about an hour to see Matt. He was struggling with bad cramps and was at the aid station for quite some time. It was past 8pm by the time Matt left and we left, with only a few measly hours left before we’d be back.
I decided not to prepare for the next day and to just go to bed as soon as possible. My alarm came slowly, after a night of tossing and turning. 3:15am is an abrasive time to wake up. I was a little flummoxed, realizing that I forgot a lighter to start my stove to make coffee and oatmeal. I realized I forgot an aid station cup for the cupless event. I lost my honey. Honey make all the difference with the oatmeal! But, I had plenty of time to cook, eat, slug some coffee, and get my gear perfectly set. So, right on target at 4:30 we headed back to Finland. I checked in, waited in line for the toilet per my pre-race routine that cannot be altered, and listened to a bit of the pre-race meeting, then out to the road.
The start was sudden – “ready? Go!”, then a seizure-inducing blur of headlamp beams bouncing around led me into the dark abyss. We ran the road for a couple tenths of a mile before bypassing the main trail and instead running on a rugged forest road for an additional mile or more. I felt like I was running fast but clearly remembered my missteps at Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon with a similarly runnable suite of early race miles. So I held back as best as I could and ran a few miles with Jakob Wartman. It reminded me of Voyageur a few years back where we ran together early and he went off to have a killer race, as did I. Once we finally got onto the singletrack it was still pitch dark and I was in a conga line of at least 6 people in front of me. We seemed to be going so slow, but a mile split under 12 minutes made me very happy and content if not just for a moment. I was walking a bit just to avoid stepping on Jakob’s fancy carbon-plated trail shoes. The overnight dew made things slick, especially the numerous roots in the section leading to Egge and Sonju Lakes. I had a few small slips right away, but a root that ran parallel down the trail actually caused me to go down. My right foot slid, I fell left while moving forward – I was on a slight downward slope – my left hip took the brunt of the fall and hit something like a rock or another root. Although I bounced right back up, as Jakob asked if I was all good I wasn’t fully truthful and the fall hurt! I felt the sting of a blunt force impact linger as I kept my place in the line of fellow competitors, but my mind started really racing on the next uphill where my gait switched to a powerhike and every left-leg propulsion was met with pain targeted between my outer hip and lower ass region. This could be an issue, I thought to myself. Yet, I powered on.
Jakob somehow scurried past the conga line and I was in a nice spot with three people in front of me. Once gentleman was talking loudly and it was kind of nice to just zone out and focus on the next person’s footstrike. I found myself getting a little frustrated by being limited to what the three runners in front of me were doing, but it was holding me back to the pace I wanted and needed to hit. I plotted on how I’d omit a stop at the Sonju aid station – check in and run out. It worked great and I was able to get out into my own space on the way to Crosby. I jetted off quick because I felt the loud talking guy behind me and didn’t necessarily want to carry on a conversation at the time. Can’t I just get off into my own zone and lock in? I clocked a few pretty quick miles in the relatively flat creekside miles headed away from Sonju Lake. Too fast… with the couple of fast road miles and several more trail miles under 12 minutes, I was up on my time.
The night seemed to suddenly turn to day and I was able to put away my headlamp in a clearing with the morning sun just starting to peek through some whimsical clouds of purple and orange. It was a spectacular morning with optimal conditions. I was so excited for the day! I was also nervous. I felt my left hip and touched a tender spot where I had to have jammed a root or even a rock, and also felt a twinge with every single foot strike, left and right. It didn’t necessarily hurt unless I was walking uphill, which I knew wouldn’t bode well for the large hike out of the Manitou gorge. But I kept on. “Do No Harm” was my mantra. Keep it smooth and easy, I told myself, and I’d make it to the end in one piece.
In no time I popped out to County Road 7 and saw local runner Spencer directing traffic and runners towards the Crosby Manitou State Park aid station where I’d see my crew for the first time. I saw my friend Joe who I’d paced through this same section back in 2019 during his 100 mile race finish. I jogged up the hill, remembering to try to keep my heart rate low, and was excited to see my mom and my dad, my faithful crew, at the upcoming aid station.
I sensed the check-in coming up, then saw the crowds, then my mom’s signature lime coat that she said was going to be easy to spot. It sure was! She had her phone out taking photos and pointed to my spot where all my stuff was laid out, and my dad pointing at the small tripod stool that I was looking forward to sitting on. I figured I’d stock up for the long upcoming section, maybe grab some aid station fare, and maybe sip a bit of mt dew. I was a bit up on my target pace, but pretty much exactly where I wanted. I sat on down but was pretty brief, just taking a package of gummis along with me, then I stood up and headed out. Getting up running after a pretty short break, my mind was on my hip and it was feeling good. Well, not good. Bad, actually. But good in the aspect that I was running just fine, albeit perhaps with a bit of a hitch in my step. I was about 11 miles in, right about 2 hours, and I set off down to the Manitou River, a section of the course that I had been visualizing for weeks and months, now with a nervous dread since uphill powerhiking was proving to be aggravating to my injured left hip.
Into the woods, with noise from the aid station dissolving into the trees, I was perceptive of people around me. Is there anyone right in front of me? Behind me? I might have passed someone at the aid station, but I told myself that it didn’t matter. It was important to me, with the fear of kersploding like at Curnow salient in my mind, to not focus on placement whatsoever. But, it’s impossible not to notice where I’m at. Down and down and down towards the river and I felt someone latch onto me. It was a gal Jaycie who had been running two people in front of me for a couple miles leading into Sonju aid station. It was her first ultramarathon technically but she had a pedigree of excellence with collegiate running experience and recent high altitude training. We talked a bit – I mentioned how I was a bit scared of my hip after falling on it. She said I was definitely running off-kilter and she could see it. Crap. Our conversation was brief as I pulled away a bit on the very technical and steep downhill near the Manitou River bridge. Now it was time to test my gimp hip on what would normally be my favorite section of the course. It hurt. I ate a gel while walking uphill as fast as I could.
I passed a few 100 milers hiking up the Manitou gorge, and asked them if they thought this was the best section of the course. I got mainly confused responses and/or groans and grumbles. Eventually Jaycie caught back up to me, as well as the guy who was talking really loudly right in front of me back a few miles in the dark and early hours of the race. He was still talking about all types of stuff: technical and cutting-edge manufacturing processes, subatomic particles, ultramarathon running and to some extent how getting really high correlates with all of that. I was happy to lead my two friends for quite a few miles. I felt a little pushed and so probably wasn’t able to temper my pace as much as I would completely alone, but I also felt really good and strong and just kind of rolled with it. We rolled all the way to the Caribou River, steadily passing 100-milers and running at the good clip. After the Caribou bridge and campsite, the trail merges with a double-track trail and I relinquished my spot up front for my two pals to take the lead for a bit. They took off like crazy. I logged a 10-minute flat mile and immediately started walking. Too fast, too fast. I could tell I was breathing pretty heavily and had no issues with running and walking by myself for a while, and although the constant talking was slightly annoying, it did help a lot of miles click away like nothing and kept my mindset positive. Across Crystal Creek, walking up the hill in the amazing morning light, I felt a little wave of fatigue. I had been solid on nutrition up to this point, either eating a whole pack of gummis or a gel at exactly 45-minute intervals. I was hungry for real food, though. I started planning my aid station stop. I’d eat a bag of chips, grab a bunch more stuff, maybe drink some mt dew. Hmm. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the day was. The sun was peeking through the birch leaves through a fantastic traverse across a bluff alongside Lake Superior to my right. I felt speedy running into a pine forest that I knew was close to my next aid station at Sugarloaf. I saw a hiker that noted I was four tenths of a mile to aid. Got it. Then I could see the aid station, my mom, then my dad pointing to my chair.
Upon sitting down I immediately grabbed a bag of chips and started shoveling them in my mouth and eating as fast as possible. I saw my friend Joe, my friend Aurora, then my dad asked if he could fill up my water bottles! Oh, YES! Excellent. A bit of mt dew, then I took a bunch of caffeinated energy foods, a granola bar or two and organized them into my pack’s pockets. I told my dad I was way up on my time goal of 12 minutes per mile or 5 miles per hour, by about 20 minutes. Then I stood up and took off, but not before perusing the aid station’s goodies. Sugarloaf had breakfast sandwiches. I took a half of one, which was a sausage mcmuffin essentially. Absolutely delicious. That got shoved in my mouth as well and I took off, not more than 2 or 3 minutes at the aid stop.
Once I got onto the trail and out of view from the aid station, I stopped and walked. I felt that was vital to be able to finish my quite large mouthful of food. I felt like I drank half of one water bottle right after that, then trudged on with a running stride. Oof, it was difficult. Hip was doing good enough. Not critical, that was for certain. I kept chugging away. The clouds came in, and I found the Sugarloaf section to be boring. I was all by myself. I got passed by a 50 miler, which frustrated me but I told myself that it was not a factor and to not chase. I passed 100 milers steadily. There was no sign of my friends ahead who I had shared quite a few miles with so far this race. My mile splits were not excellent, but good enough to at least maintain my buffer. That was my goal… if I could sit on my banked 20 minutes, and focus on a steady 5 miles per hour until Carlton Peak or so, then crank it down, that would result in the perfect race. I got a little frustrated when I’d see 13 minutes flash on my watch, then would crank it down a bit and see 11 flash on my watch. Can’t I just hit my sweet spot of 12?! Yet, I was going for 5 miles per hour, not 12 minutes per mile. They are one in the same, but 5mph allows for fluctuations based on terrain, mental status, pee breaks. I took one pee break after I was certain there was nobody looking. All clear! And I took that moment look up to the clouds. A tree’s leaves had already turned fiery red. I took a deep breath through my nose then let it out through my mouth. Yes. I was right on track.
Although the Sugarloaf section was quiet and seemed boring, it was a successful part of the race and I was excited to get to the dynamic Dyer’s Creek area. The last mile of the section is fun with a very steep and technical drop to a bridge over Dyer’s Creek, the campsite on the north side, a big climb with stairs out of the creek gorge, a short run on a gravel road across decommissioned railroad tracks, then the aid station is right there. I felt I busted through that section quickly and with ease. After eating a lot at the previous aid station, I was really not hungry whatsoever. I also had loaded up on snacks and my pack was still full. I sat down, then popped right back up remembering I don’t really need anything. My dad was filling my bottles like clockwork, I took a slug of mt dew and headed right on off. He reminded me that we wouldn’t see them until after Temperance. Oh yeah… oh well, I have all that I need, I told myself. I told my dad and my mom that, then was back out on the trail very quickly.
In the cool overcast late morning hours, I was pretty excited to run the Cross River section. It had been a long time, and it’s one of my favorite stretches on the Superior Hiking Trail. Leaving the Cramer Road aid station, I was just over 26 miles in and right at 5 hours. That put me at about 15 minutes above my goal pace. A nice buffer. I had to keep it controlled and consistent at 5 miles per hour, I told myself. That’d be easy. I was feeling good. It took no time to get to Fredenberg Pond campsite. The bridge had been removed since I was last there and I liked the natural stone crossing better. I made smooth and easy work of the flatland getting to the Cross River. Before I could hear the rushing river, I caught up with two 50-milers – the person who passed me on the Sugarloaf section and the guy I’d run maybe 10 miles with already this day, the talker. Still yappin’! But, I could tell he was tiring out based on the conversation. We blitzed the rocky and technical Cross River stretch. With punch uphills and highly variable terriain, I noticed both friends were getting a little chewed up, which gave me a bit of confidence. I passed them both on a steep uphill where I was still able to excel despite my dud hip poking at me every uphill lunge from my left side. Like: “hi, I’m injured! Don’t do this!”. It wasn’t that bad, in fact my hip probably felt better at that point than the whole day so far. But, it was a pain point. Across the Cross River Bridge, I passed another 50-miler at the ladder and ran away. Not knowing what placement I was at, I had some excitement knowing at least that I’d passed three people in this section already. We were getting close to go time, where the race actually started. For now, I had to keep it comfortable at my goal pace of 5 miles every hour.
I remember the trail between Cross River and Temperance taking forever. I put that in my mind and tried not to yearn too much for the aid station. Just get through this section in one piece, I told myself. I passed the last place marathon runner and a few 100-milers before the descent to the Temperance River. I started realizing how fun it was to look 100-milers in the eye, then give a big smile. In their feeble mental state, with all the blood that typically allows operation of their pre-frontal cortex working the legs, they’d see a smile and instinctively smile back like the goofballs they are. It was a fun game, but didn’t work with everyone. It gave me a boost too. I found another 50-miler in the final boardwalks to the Temperance aid station – where crews are not allowed – and this person looked like they were really beat up. I probably looked the same, but felt good. I had juice left to squeeze, gas left in the tank. I was just getting started. I had to remember to be smart, though, as I didn’t really feel too much like eating. Mt dew and gatorade sounded wonderful although I did not have access to those delicacies at Temperance. So when I got to the aid station, I focused first on getting my bottles filled up with water. Then I ate a couple strips of bacon wrapped in a pancake with syrup on it, chugged some coke and headed off. I saw my friend Bob, who I had paced for a 100 mile finish in 2018. I set off running down the Temperance River to perhaps the crux of the race – Carlton Peak.
After I was able to chew and swallow my delicious breakfast food, I felt terrible. My legs were shot, heavy, and running was arduous. Walking wasn’t pleasant, either. But I kept moving. It was mental – I could run with ease if I just told myself to do so. It’s that easy! With choppy breaths, I was frequently remind myself to slow down, breath in deeply through my nose, and spend a long time exhaling through my mouth. Over and over. It was fun to see so many tourists and long-distance running fans through the Temperance River State Park area and that gave me a boost to actually run, and look like I am alive.
Across the bridge, onto the other side and I was ready to attack Carlton Peak. I felt someone behind me, spotted a blue bib, and was frustrated to know a 50-miler was gaining on me. This was the time of the race where I did care about placement. But, I knew that if I trashed myself on the steep uphill in my near future, it could really affect the conclusion of the race in a negative way. So I stayed within my comfort zone. He stuck behind me for a little bit but eventually passed me and took off out of sight. Up and up, to a crest in elevation and I didn’t remember Carlton Peak being so small. Nice! Were we already this close to the aid station? No way. I was not hungry at all, and looking forward to some liquid calories and to see my mom and dad, my wonderful crew, at the Britton Peak/Sawbill aid station. Then, the looming, scary Carlton Peak shrouded my view of the cloudy sky overhead. Oh yeah…
I passed a few 100-milers in the sheer scramble up precariously erect boulders. I asked a hiker how they don’t just fall down. Neither of us knew, and we were both in awe. I was gassed, not running at all, and although my bum hip was tender it was holding up well to the powerhiking. It’d last me through the vital Moose and Mystery Mountain climbs, I figured. Towards the top of Carlton, I saw Kevin Langton, Tony Coughlin and some other spectators. I got a pep in my step and started running. My watch flashed the slowest mile I’d seen all day with a 17 and change. Yikes. There goes a nice chunk of buffer I had… And then I ran it in. I passed lots of marathon and 100-miler runners while hammering on the downhill section of solid boardwalk on the other side of Carlton. I pressed my hips forward and churned my legs. Across Sawbill Trail, a volunteer halted traffic for me. Thanks! I saw Bob again, and my friend and podcast co-host Tony. Tony commented on my bum hip. He asked if I was limping as I hopped up a step. I muttered: “uh, er no, well ah, yes. Yes, I’m limping,” then busted ass into the woods a fraction of a mile to the aid stop.
My stop was brief – my pops got me water and I dug into my bag for a large drink of mt dew and some slugs of gatorade. Oh it tasted amazing. I knew I had one more aid station to go after this, then done. I told my mom to have my handheld ready for the last aid station. Food good, water good, I set off without much time at the aid station at all. My mom said there was another guy right there. It was the dude who passed me at the foot of Carlton Peak, and we set off together back into the woods. I asked him how he was faring. He said he just wanted to get the thing done. I conferred with him on that one. In the wide and buffed out trails, I felt strong and fast. It became automatic. Breathe deeply through my nose, out through my mouth, lean forward with my hips and churn those legs. Press, press, push forward and I’d make it to the finish. I was the one who pulled away this time and didn’t see the guy in the blue singlet the rest of the race.
With marathoners much more prevalent, I felt strong. I didn’t want to pass someone then start walking and jam up traffic. I also wanted to look cool and strong and fast, so used that to my advantage by blitzing the section past Springdale Creek campsite where I camped during my 2016 thru-hike of the SHT, Leveaux Peak, then Onion River. In 2017 at the 100-miler, this was my most troublesome section, because it seemed so runnable but I was so dead I felt like I squandered a lot of time. I confirmed this time, in the light of day and with 50 less miles in my legs, that this section was indeed runnable. This time, I was able to capitalize. My watch flashed 10, 12:21, 11, 10, 9 and some seconds. I was moving. I let it go. It didn’t matter. If I run 14 minutes for a mile or 10 minutes for a mile, I’ll still feel like ass the next mile, and the eighth mile where the finish line is. I ate a couple of gummis and plotted my next steps. At Oberg I would drop my hat, my pack, and pick up my handheld. When I got to the last aid station, it was a madhouse.
There were 100 milers, marathoners, volunteers, crew and spectators everywhere. My mom pointed to where my dad was, my dad was pointing at my chair and I went directly there. I was so excited to drop my dang pack, which had been rubbing my shoulders raw for hours to the point where I wasn’t sure if I was bleeding or not. All things considered, my pack rubbing was the most minor of inconveniences. I was so excited to finish off the race fast. I had racing on my mind. I drank some fluids, threw my pack on the ground instead of gently placing it in my gear bag or handing it to my mom, grabbed my handheld and ran off. Then I realized I wanted a bit of food, and there was a half full pack of gummis in my pack so I went back, fiddled with the zipper and frustratingly grabbed the food. The I ran off for real. Nope, I wanted to drop my hat too, so ran backwards again. It was just 20 feet both times, but a waste of time nonetheless. God damn it!! I sprinted off but felt very tired, very slow and very labored. Joe cheered me on and I had to really dig deep mentally to run it out. With racers all over the road, I tried to sneak into the woods and keep the train on the tracks.
Suddenly, I was all by myself. It was strange! There were no racers a half mile into the trail from the final aid station, where all race distances conglomerated and I figured I’d be a conga line akin to the start of the 50, about 9 hours back when it was dark out. Now it was early afternoon, cloudy with a very light sprinkle. It felt nice to have a light load with just my handheld water bottle with me. I snugged it down against my hand, found a marathoner to pass, and did so with a pleasantry and strong running stride. Calculating math in my head, I figured I was likely good to go for a sub-10 hour finish, which was my primary goal going into the race. Then again, a few 15 minute miles could put that goal into serious jeopardy. Where am I at in the race? I wondered. I figured maybe top-5. I had only passed people since Sugarloaf. The one time I was passed, I caught back up and left him behind. Hmm. I finally saw racers up yonder at what looked like a wall of dirt. The climb up Moose was ahead. Time to test the hip one last time, I told myself. Then, I attacked. The 100-milers were struggling on the hillside. It was absurdly steep. I was gassed going up and although passing others with ease, had to seriously remind myself constantly to breathe deeply through my nose and out through my mouth in a controlled fashion. That helped. A turn to the right and it got steeper. My powerhike stride was slow. It was painful, but at this particular juncture, really not too bad. I was ready to run at the top. Despite the exhausting climb, I was indeed able to run. I saw local runner Alex, who I’d last seen at the race meeting in the pre-dawn hours at the Finland Rec Center, finishing off the big Moose Mountain climb. He let me pass as I steamrolled the trail at what felt like the top of the world, a little jolt of energy from passing another 50-mile competitor. I told Alex to latch on. He didn’t respond. I asked if he knew what place he was in. He said now he thought he was in 7th place. I left him to descend Moose by himself. I felt my left Achilles start aching. Yikes. It felt rickety. My right knee was in bad shape. I jumped up a little rock off my left leg and that calf nearly cramped. I could feel the precursor to a cramp right there, ready to ruin my day. The effort from Carlton Peak to the top of Moose Mountain was showing itself. This was perhaps a function of a lot less caloric intake during the second half of the race, I figured, and so ate another handful of gummis.
My body was falling apart and I started to fear cramping. I could feel it in both groins. I was one misstep away from crippling cramps, although I’d felt this before and actually never experienced cramps while trying to run. My body was certainly busted up. I wondered if I’d actually be able to finish it off strong, as my energy levels fluctuated wildly. One step at a time, I remembered. Down the extreme descent from Moose Mountain, I saw local runner Amy hugging a tree to allow me to pass. I then saw another 100-miler slip on a rock, poles flailing, and fall on his back. It didn’t cause an injury, but he yelled some words that indicated it was either the final straw or very near that point for him. I could relate to that feeling, where you’re holding on by a thread. Then one little thing like slipping and falling on your back is just too much to deal with. I asked if he was OK. He was. I left him on the ground and powered down the hill, picking up my feet like a mountain goat would do to escape a tiger on a remote mountain range.
At the bottom of Moose Mountain, while navigating muddy lowlands and displaced puncheon, I passed a steady stream of racers in other distances and tried to keep my pace impressive. It worked decently, but a slight uphill was enough to stop me in my tracks. Then again, if I was able to dig deep mentally, running uphill actually felt the best. Albeit, it was a sad shuffle to gain elevation, but certainly faster than what I could do powerhiking on fresh legs, and much faster than my defeated walking pace. I was excited to see the series of switchbacks up Mystery Mountain, knowing that the end was near once I got up and over that last big climb. I made it to the top quickly, and figured that it was a mile to go from here. Nice. I was certain to make my goal time. Could I pick off one more racer? Who was out there? Jaycie? She must have had an extremely good race since I hadn’t seen her since the Caribou River. I remembered the finish was about a mile from the Mystery Mountain campsite. It’s right here. I ran and ran, passed more people. Still running, feeling worse than ever, cramps imminent, I realized I wasn’t at the campsite yet. Gah. I was still having fun trying to smile at 100 milers just to see their response. They knew where they were, as did I, and so there was excitement all around. Finally, I passed the Mystery Mountain campsite. Isn’t it downhill from here? I was so eager to finish the race. I really did not feel good at all. The singletrack merged to a wider gravel trail. I peeked at my watch – 9:40. 50 miles on the dot. In the bag.
I sprinted through a well-received downhill without rocks or roots or big drops. I could move well knowing the Poplar River was right here. I tried to remember the sequence… hill, sharp left turn, bridge over the Poplar with fantastic view, SHT sign, then the pavement. Right? Left hand turn, and I crossed the bridge with a 100-miler. We were both pretty emotional. I asked if it was beautiful. He agreed wholeheartedly. A sign pointing to the right and I could see the road. It was equally beautiful but in a different way. With a continued downhill grade, I pressed my hips forward and churned my legs more quickly than ever. I encouraged a marathoner to latch on and run it home with me. She agreed but I was running much faster than her. I smiled a few times, and spectators smiled back. I noticed during packet pickup that the finish line was further back than previous years. Why’d they have to do that? I asked myself that rhetorical question as I turned off the road to travel behind Caribou Highlands, past the pool to my much-anticipated finish line. The grass was uneven and slowed me down a bit. But, I knew I had a finish time well under 10 hours and so all I had to do at this point was look nice for the finish line paparazzi.
I saw my friends Ryan and Sarah. Sarah is my training partner Kyle’s wife. Then former Duluthian Kyle with an outstretched hand to high-five. Local Duluth runner and friend Dave shouted positive affirmations at me, I saw my dad and the big group of volunteers at the finish. I had planned for at least two hours about how I’d yell “REDEMPTION” at the finish line, if I was indeed able to finish under 10 hours. At the finish line, I stopped my watch. 9:50. Then, I executed my final plan, shouting “redemption” straight up into the air as a volunteer chuckled and repeated my phrase while putting a medallion around my neck.
Upon finishing, I couldn’t move any longer. My body was completely trashed. My training partner Kyle finished a half hour after me and I found some energy to run up and congratulate him. He had an excellent race. I was absolutely shocked to see that Duluth multi-sport phenom Tyler Kobilarcsik took the win with a course-record time. A master of consistency, Jakob finished third in a few minutes under his projected time of 9 hours. Jaycie finished 4th place overall to win the women’s race. I ended up in 6th place overall, extremely pleased with every aspect.
It was an interesting year of running to culminate to the finish line at Superior Fall 50 Mile. My primary objective was to run lots and rediscover my identity as a runner. It worked. Training wasn’t perfect and it never is. However, when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, training only goes so far and one has to rely on mental fortitude and smart execution to have a good race. I was pleased to achieve that at Superior Fall. Besides the overwhelming physical pain, all I could think about the rest of the day was how I either wanted badly to register for Superior 100, or how I would never be back for some stupid-ass shit like that.