Spring Superior 50k Race Recap
From steep, rocky climbs and switchbacks, pine forests and rushing streams, to remnants of snow and ice; the Superior 50k feels like a mountain race. Regardless of how much pain I was in, I couldn’t help but appreciate where I was. The views atop Mystic Mountain, Moose Mountain and Carlton Peak were some of the best I’ve seen.
Calf-deep mud pits had me feeling like a kid again, playing in the dirt with no concern of how dirty I’d get. To top it all off, I was out enjoying these beautiful trails with a few hundred other kindred spirits.
On Friday afternoon we headed out towards Lutsen Mountain, four friends and Mill City Running teammates: Tim, Jason, Bunda and myself. As we drove north, the city faded in the rear view mirror and pine trees began to unfold around us, I could sense the growing excitement in us all. Our conversation hardly deviated from the topic of running and trails. We were like a group of young kids on the way to the candy store and all we could talk about was the candy we were going to eat.
On our way we stopped in Duluth to scarf down some burritos at Burrito Union. Tim so perfectly and eloquently describes our lunch stop in his own race recap that I have to include it here.
Jason declared the weekend one of no limits by eating two of the legendary Rasputin burritos—an item of such impressive volume and density that each is accompanied by a sticker meant to chronicle the achievement. Sadly, there was not an even more impressive sticker for double fisting it. Jared, Bunda, and I opted for the much less impressive, perhaps even un-American, Vegan Socialist. It was a pleasant start to the weekend.
A couple hours later we pulled into the Lutsen Mountain parking lot. This being my first time in the Sawtooth Mountains of Northern Minnesota, I was pleasantly surprised at the significance of the terrain. As I thought to myself,
tomorrow I will be running up and down these mountains multiple times,
I couldn’t help but feel humbled. We picked up our race bibs, ate some spaghetti and headed back to the hotel to prepare our gear and selves for the race.
After a restless night of sleep, I awoke, got dressed and ate some breakfast. We made our way to the starting line as 7:00 am drew near. Runners gathered and race director, John Storkamp provided us with some quick and witty words of wisdom before giving us the “Go!” In an effort to avoid the congestion up Mystery Mountain, Tim and I used the short stretch of pavement before the trail to move towards the front of the pack.
Mission accomplished, but it might have been a bit aggressive.
I suddenly realized we were running with Christi Nowak who often wins these races. I considered slowing down to preserve my energy, but decided against it, a decision I would pay for later in the race.
Finding a Rhythm
I settled in at a steady, but still pretty aggressive pace and started playing leapfrog with several other runners. Feeling steady and strong I found a groove and enjoyed the run out to Carlton Peak, the turnaround point for this out-and-back course. Once we started the technical climb up Carlton Peak I settled in with 3 others, hiking at a relatively comfortable pace.
The view from the top of Carlton Peak was amazing!
Part of me wanted to stop and soak it in, but knowing I was only about 15 spots back from the leader was all the convincing I needed to keep my momentum moving forward.
Heading back down the trail I passed Tim who had purposely fallen back in an effort to save his legs for his marathon the following weekend (it turns out his conservative effort would get him to the finish line at the exact same time as me). We low-fived each other as we crossed paths. I was feeling really good, but in the back of my mind knew I had to practice some restraint, otherwise I’d inevitably become trail carnage.
At Oberg Aid Station (mile 23) I started to feel tired. Some minor stomach pains made it difficult to eat or drink much. I refilled my water bottles, drank a coke and ate an orange anyway. After Oberg was the long, technical climb up Moose Mountain. Hands on quads, I powered up the steep trail to the top of Moose Mountain. A couple of times I had to stop to catch my breath. By the time I reached the top I felt exhausted, like I had nothing left. I would find out later I did, it was just getting harder to realize.
I meandered down the trail and made my way to the top of the next climb, Mystery Mountain, which was the highest point on the course and the final climb before the descent to the finish line. The exhaustion I had felt at the top of Moose Mountain was even greater now. With 3 miles left I was hitting rock bottom. I decided to give myself a break and sat on a rock atop Mystery Mountain. Looking out out over Lake Superior I tried to find something, anything that would re energize me to the finish.
A couple of minutes passed and Tim unexpectedly came running down the trail towards me. He asked me if I had already finished the race and I responded with a wishful, “Yes!” but went on to explain that I was hurting pretty bad. He immediately said, “Come on, let’s go!” and with that I was up, darting down the trail trying to keep up with him as we barreled through mud pits and flew past other runners that looked how I felt just a few minutes prior.
I quickly forgot how terrible I had felt and next thing I knew we were on asphalt with less than a mile to go. Tim and I both sped up to a speed that felt impossibly fast in that moment, but both of us seemed to keep pushing each other a little harder with each step to the finish. Just as the race clock reached 5:35:00 we both crossed the finish line simultaneously, putting us in 25th and 26th place out of 177 finishers.
Race director, John Storkamp was there to greet us with a “Yeah, Mill City boys!” and placed our finisher trophies (made from a slice of a tree stump) around our neck. It was an amazing feeling, but boy was I glad to be done!
I probably started the race much too fast, but I couldn’t have planned a better ending.