Superior 100 Race Recap
The thought of covering 103.3 miles of rugged, relentless, remote trails in Minnesota’s Northwoods had me both excited and scared. I would run all day, all night and most of another day. No sleeping; just eating, drinking and running. I had never run further than 50 miles, up to this point. I was eager to experience new ground and the highs and lows that were to sure to transpire.
The Superior 100 starts in Gooseberry Falls heading North along the Superior Hiking Trail, eventually finishing at Lutsen Mountain Ski Area. It’s a beautiful course with magnificent waterfalls, rushing rivers and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. It’s also an arduous course with incessant, steep hills and trails so technical that even the most experienced and competitive trail runners are reduced to hiking or scrambling at times. And of course, the mud. In places the trail is covered with mud pit after mud pit waiting to soak feet and swallow running shoes. This race has been known to break even the toughest of spirits.
START (at Gooseberry Falls) to SPLIT ROCK – 9.7 miles
Friday, 8:00 am
The air is filled with energy and excitement, but everyone still seems relaxed; drinking coffee, taking pictures, and chatting away as we count down the final minutes before the start. The weather is perfect, a cool and crisp morning with plentiful sunshine. I feel more calm than I expected; curious to what the next 30+ hours will bring, but mostly just ready to run. I line up somewhere in the middle of the pack with a couple of my good friends and training partners, Tim and Bunda beside me. The race director, John Storkamp wishes us luck and counts down the final seconds before releasing us to the trail.
Everyone takes off at a nice easy pace. I’m in no hurry, nobody else seems to be either. I restrain the excitement and energy I feel burning inside. My first 100 mile race is underway! The grassy trails and gentle terrain is the easiest I’ll see the entire race. The pace feels slow at times, but I resist passing anyone and instead enjoy the race from where I am. Miles start to pass by quickly and effortlessly.
I reach Split Rock River, one of my favorite sections on the Superior Hiking Trail. The morning sun is beaming through the trees and the river water rushing over the rocks. I feel amazing and revel in the moment. I joke with a runner in front of me about being on the honeymoon stage of the race, knowing it’s only a matter of time until things get real.
The first aid station is a bit hectic with tons of runners all scrambling to get their water bottles filled at once. One runner jokingly says it feels like a college kegger. The volunteers somehow manage to fill my water bottles quickly and I head back down the trail in a matter of minutes.
Split Rock to Beaver Bay – 20 miles
Friday, 10:17 am
We start to spread out a little, but the pace continues to be dictated by a line of runners. The trail starts to get a little more technical, but it’s still easy compared to what lies ahead. In a matter of minutes we’re met with the first of many amazing views along the course, this one overlooking Lake Superior (see the featured image of this post).
I’m still running with Tim and Bunda by my side. We chat and joke like we normally would on a leisurely run. I feel relaxed and it starts to feel like just another training run. Without realizing it at the time, our pace picks up.
Beaver Bay aid station is the first place where crews are allowed. As we approach it we are greeted with loud cheers from our crews and what seems like hundreds of spectators. I’m surprised and suddenly feel like a superstar. My crew greets me and immediately starts restocking my vest with Huma gels and refilling my water bottles. I’m not hungry, but I eat a ProBar anyway then head back out feeling energized and excited from all the cheers and my progress thus far.
Beaver Bay to Silver Bay – 25 miles
Friday, 12:34 pm
We follow the trail along the rushing water of the Beaver River for a couple of miles. The three of us are moving especially well over climbs and find ourselves playing leap frog with a few other runners because of it. For the first time I start to feel a little tired, but the miles continue to pass quickly.
As we approach Silver Bay aid station we’re greeted with more huge cheers from crowds of spectators and crew. I soak it up and try to take the energy with me. After spending a few minutes chatting with my crew, refueling and restocking I’m on my way again.
Silver Bay to Tettegouche – 34.9 miles
Friday, 1:54 pm
This is one of my favorite sections, filled with some awesome vistas of Bean and Bear Lakes, among others. The course also becomes increasingly difficult here with several technical climbs and descents such as the long, relentless climb up Mt. Trudee.
As I reach the top of Mt. Trudee I’m met with another breathtaking view and a nice rock to sit on. I stop to take a breather, eat and take in the view. Tim joins me, but Bunda is feeling ambitious so he continues without us. Physically I’m tired, but mentally I’m still strong. I’m ahead of schedule and it’s early in the race so I remind myself to slow down as needed. Tim and I seem to be in a similar place both physically and mentally so we stick together. It’s getting close to dinner so we decide we’ll take some extra time at Tettegouche to eat and rest.
Tettegouche to County Road 6 – 43.5 miles
Friday, 4:44 pm
After a nice pit stop at Tettegouche, Tim and I grab our trekking poles and head out to tackle one of the hardest sections of the race. I’m feeling refreshed as we begin to traverse some challenging terrain. The climbs are tiring, but I somehow find myself getting a second wind. My legs start to feel strong and fresh again, my mind clear and relaxed. It looks like we will make it to County Road 6 before nightfall, which is a huge boost for me. I am almost an hour ahead of schedule.
Arriving at the County Road 6 aid station I feel on top of the world. Physically I’m better than I have been all race. Part of me wants to just pick up my pacer and go, but the plan is to eat some real food here to prepare for the long night ahead, so I do.
County Road 6 to Finland – 51.2 miles
Friday, 7:32 pm
My pacer, Kelcey and I head out with Tim and his pacer, Todd right behind us.
I’m still feeling good so I power up a pretty long climb. When I reach the top I’m sweaty and gasping for air. I realize I probably pushed a little too hard and also realize I fell behind on my hydration and gels. I feel tired and mentally foggy. I share this with Kelcey and he suggests I drink and eat, so I do and it seems to help. The sun is setting so I turn my headlamp on.
Night running has begun and so is the roller coaster of how I feel. I find myself getting sleepy and feeling drained, but in a matter of minutes I start feeling refreshed and energized again. This roller coaster continues for the rest of the race.
At Finland aid station I’m moving slow, and I unintentionally spend nearly 30 minutes here.
Finland to Sonju Lake – 58.7 miles
Friday, 9:44 pm
It’s hard to leave the warm fire at Finland, but I pry myself out of the chair to continue down the trail through the darkness. It seems like a good time to take a break from my trekking poles so I stow them in my pack. I quickly realized my sense of balance has left me and I regret putting my poles away. I turn into a stumbling mess. For some reason it doesn’t occur to me to take 60 seconds to pull my poles back out so I just keep stumbling along without them until the next aid station. Each stumble takes a little extra out of me and eventually feels exhausting.
Sonju Lake aid station isn’t accessible to crew so it’s quiet here. When we arrived there are a few runners sitting around the fire, silent and looking half-asleep. I’m pretty tired myself so I grab a pancake and some coffee and join them for about 15 minutes.
Sonju Lake to Crosby Manitou – 62.9 miles
Sometime in the middle of the night
I feel somewhat re energized from the pancakes and coffee, but the trails are too technical to run on in the dark so we continue moving slowly. It’s a huge mental relief to know it’s only 4.2 miles to the next aid station. I’m glad to have my trekking poles out again, they help me keep my balance and move faster. I don’t recall much from this section besides staring down at the roots and rocks in front of me.
Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf – 72.3 miles
Saturday, 2:21 am
I’m happy to have reached another aid station, but it’s a little bittersweet because I know how brutal this next section is. Julio is waiting, ready and eager to go. His energy is contagious. I’m looking forward to having him by my side through these tough sections.
We head down the dark trail, I’m feeling re-energized. Within about a mile the trail starts to get technical again. The incessant climbs and descents begin. Suddenly I slip and fall down a steep rock face, tearing my jacket and scraping up my arm. I’m fine, but it reminds me how relentless this trail can be. The trail gets more and more challenging and I start to slide deep into the pain cave. I’m moving like a zombie down the trail.
The sun starts to peak its head out as we near Sugarloaf aid station, but I’m too exhausted to really care. Reaching the aid station I sit down and start eating some aid station food and drinking coffee. One of the volunteers I know, Robyn Reed must notice how terrible I look and gives me a little pep talk, providing some words of encouragement. This is a huge help and gets me to think more optimistically about the rest of the race. Only 50k left!
Sugarloaf to Cramer Road – 77.9 miles
Saturday, 6:15 am
I feel slightly better as I leave Sugarloaf and I’m happy that this is a shorter section, but it’s not long before I’m feeling drained and delirious. I see someone standing along the edge of the trail ahead. I must be close to the next Aid Station! As I continue down the trail the person I saw turns into a tree. Bummer.
I keep moving forward, looking down at the trail in front of me when I notice a small mouse just sitting there. It doesn’t move as I approach it. Weird. I take another step and the mouse turns into a leaf. My eyes are playing tricks on me.
I arrive at Cramer Road right as the marathon is starting. I’m suddenly surrounded by marathon runners, each filling me with words of encouragement as they pass by. I feel energized from all the excitement and find myself moving faster. I arrive at the aid station in good spirits and ready to eat! Sitting down I’m quickly reminded how sleepy I am. I eat some delicious blueberry pancakes (thanks Mom!), refill on supplies and head out.
Cramer Road to Temperance – 85 miles
Saturday, 8:10 am
My energy seems to evade me as quickly as it had hit me and I feel wearied as I leave Cramer Road. I recall this section looking promising on paper with what looked like lots of nice descents. These descents turn out to be brutally steep and rocky and my ankles and the tops of my feet take a beating. Eventually each step is excruciating and the pace becomes painfully slow. I walk sideways down some of the hills just to ease the pain. I try to run a couple of times, but only make it a few steps before I surrender to walking again.
At this point I feel really low and for the first time I let myself have self doubts. A part of me wants to curl up in a ball and burst into tears. That seems like a lot of work so I just keep slogging on. I eat some Huma gel and drink some water hoping it will help me rebound.
With a few miles to go before the next aid station I hear some runners coming up behind me. At this point of the race it doesn’t happen much so my ears perk up and I start to wonder if it’s Tim. I haven’t seen Tim since mile 43, but I know how he tends to surge late in the race. A few more minutes pass and sure enough, Tim passes me, trotting down the trail effortlessly. As he’s passing me he invites me to join him. I decline and wish him a strong finish, which he ends up having.
A couple more miles and to my relief I finally reach the Temperance aid station. I hobble in to the aid station and don’t even need to tell my crew how bad I’m struggling before they react like a pit crew; taking my shoes off, icing my ankles, and putting fresh socks and shoes on my feet. They fill me with words of encouragement and confidence as I eat some food and take a couple Tylenol. I’m humbled by how committed they are to getting me across the finish line and I’m reminded that I’m not just doing this for me anymore. This is exactly the boost of confidence and determination I need. I’m suffering, but I can continue. I am relentless.
Temperance to Sawbill – 90.7 miles
Saturday, 11:27 am
As I stand up to leave Temperance my legs are stiff and the first few steps feel impossible. Within a few minutes they’ve loosened up again making a swift hike possible. I have two new pacers with me, Gary and Jordan. We had already discussed that I’d need to move slowly for a while in order to give my ankles a break from the pounding descents, so that is what we do. This section is a huge relief. No more descents, just a lot of smooth trails on either flat or inclined terrain. Exactly what my ankles need.
The pain starts to fade. The sun is shining and day hikers are out. I start to enjoy the trail again as I head up Carlton Peak. By the time we reach the other side my mood is completely shifted, my ankles feel better and I am running again.
Sawbill to Oberg – 96.2 miles
Saturday, 1:20 pm
I start this section in good spirits, but soon it fades when a spell of sleepiness comes over me. I find myself seeing cross-eyed and constantly fighting off sleep spells. Eventually I decide to give up and just let my eyes shut a little and my body relax as I continue to hike down the trail… half asleep. After what feels like a couple minutes of sleep walking I wake myself up. Looking down the trail I see people, animals, and even houses that later I realize aren’t actually there. My eyes continue to play tricks on me so I decide it’s best to just stare at the ground in front of me.
This section of trail seems like it could be runnable, but mud pit after mud pit keeps the pace slow. There’s a couple of climbs that feel harder than they should. I’m getting so close, but still can’t seem to find that third wind so I slog it in to the next aid station feeling drowsy.
Oberg to FINISH (at Lutsen Mt) – 103.3 miles
Saturday, 3:32 pm
After all of the mud in the last section I decide to change my socks one last time. I chug some iced coffee and eat some pancakes to try to wake up and get the fuel I need to finish strong. It’s hard to believe I’m almost there. Only 7.1 miles to go! As we head out I explain to Gary and Jordan how bad these last 7 miles had me hurting at the Spring Superior 50k. I’m getting excited to finish and want to hammer, but I know I don’t have 7 miles of hammering over Moose and Mystery Mountain in me. The plan is to keep the effort reasonable until we reach the top of Mystery Mountain. The descents are still really painful on my ankles, which forces me to hike more than I want.
I make it to the top of Mystery Mountain and start running down the other side. After a few minutes the pain in my ankles forces me to revert back to hiking. I’m hiking pretty quick though, eagerly awaiting the beautiful sound of the rushing Poplar River that tells me I’m almost to the final stretch. I finally hear the river and I’m instantly filled with energy and emotions. I jog down to the bridge and pause to soak it in one last time. I feel elated and alive. Chills go down my spine. A part of me is sad that the experience is ending. A bigger part of me is happy to be where I am, almost finished with this 103.3 mile journey. I’m filled with gratitude and turn to thank Gary and Jordan for helping me get here. I don’t know if I could have done it without my crew and pacers. I take a deep breath and we start running to the finish line.
As I cross the finish line I’m greeted with a finisher medal then hugs and high fives from my son, parents, crew and friends. I can hardly keep my balance, but I also can’t wipe the smile off my face.
Finished at 6:13 pm (34:13 elapsed)