Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hear the wolf howl: Superior 100

I thought that running the 2018 Zumbro Endurance run, in a blizzard, would be
the hardest thing I have ever done.  Superior smiled and said “you ain’t seen nothing.”

Superior.  Where do I start? Maybe with the quick, easy stuff.  The Superior 100 Mile
Endurance Run is a 103 mile ultra marathon on the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern
Minnesota. With breathtaking views of Lake Superior, inland lakes and forests, river
crossings, roots, rocks, and mud; Superior is equal parts beautiful and brutal. 
Throw in 21,000 feet of climbing, and it can hold its own against most any mountain
ultra. There are no huge climbs.
Instead, as race director John Storkamp puts it, it is a death of a thousand cuts.

The race lives up to its motto: Rugged, Relentless, Remote.  
Ready to race

Gooseberry to Splitrock. 9.7 miles

My wife, my son, and Matt, my crew chief saw me off at the start.  We got there early,
the atmosphere was electric. Seeing over a hundred other racers, ready to go,
it was amazing.  I was a ball of nerves, just waiting to go and ready to run.
Soon enough it happened, and we were off, on the paved bike trail that was
the first four miles of the course.  Time flew, I ran and chatted with friends and
new friends. After no time, we turned off the paved trail and onto the “real” trail,
the Superior hiking trail, my home for the next 99 miles.

Here the relentlessness began.  Up, down, up down, repeat. Through green forests,
with just the first golden and red signs of fall on some trees.  It was here that I had a
realization. I wanted to make my time goal but, with the joy of the trail on me, I really
didn’t care.  As long as I made it to Lutsen before 10PM on Saturday, I would be OK.
Even the wet crossing at the Split Rock river wasn’t bad. At the crossing the water
was only 4-5 inches deep, the current strong enough to push my leg, but not
unbalance me. It was a beautiful day, and everything seemed to be just fine.

Well, that’s what I thought.  Somewhere between 7 and 8 miles in, the line of
runners stopped, and a call came back down the line “does anyone have an
epi-pen?” someone had gotten stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction.
Fortunately another runner had theirs (and their crew had more) and the
medicine was passed up the line.  I have my WFR, and wanted to see if
I could help. One of my friends, who is a RN was helping the stricken runner.
She gave him the shot, and handed off the epi-pen to me. We got the cover
back on and, since there was plenty of help, I handed the used pen back and
headed toward the AS, wanting to make double sure that they were informed
of what had happened.  A mile later, my rear hurting from my own bee sting,
I saw my friend rick the captain of the AS. I asked if he knew about the injured
runner and he let me know that they did and that more help was on the way.
Feeling better about the situation I ran the last 100 yards to the AS to refuel.

I hadn’t used all of my Tailwind, but I did a full reload anyway, it was feeling
warmer than I had expected, and I knew that I had more than 10 miles to
the next AS.  the slide on my water bladder jammed when I was putting
it back on. I cursed it out, shoved the bladder the rest of the way into the bag,
and headed out. Next Stop, Beaver Bay.

Splitrock to Beaver Bay 10.6 miles

Heading back up the hill from the AS, I stuck with a group  of other runners.
We chatted, we ran, we hiked. This section, for me, is most notable for the
climbs up, down, and across horseshoe and Christmastree ridges.
Up, across, down, I think there’s a pattern forming here….
The day was warming up, and the run felt good. I really don’t remember
a lot about this section, just that it felt LONG, even though it was beautiful. 
The climbs were enough to make me hike, and it was hard to get a rhythm
to my running. Finally, I saw the sign, “Beaver Bay 2.5 miles.” The home stretch.
The trail got harder, it seemed, a final rude gesture to me as I readied for the
descent to Beaver bay. I wanted to run, I wanted to fly,, to the AS in Beaver bay.
The wet boardwalks had a different idea. Slowed to a walk over the slick,
slippery wood, I finally was able to run well the last 50 yards into the
AS where my friend Matt Waited for me.

This was a quick stop AS, Give Matt my vest for a refill, fill him in on the
last 20miles and head out.  Matt quickly got my bladder filled and I got
some ginger ale, and it was time to head out again.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay 4.9 miles

Chowing down on some potato chips, I walked/jogged along the
gravel road leading from the AS. the day was still young and the
weather was nice.  Crossing, then parallelling the Beaver river,
I felt at home. I’d run this section many times and knew what to expect.
After about 2 miles, I began to climb.  This section gets vertical and technical
after the first few miles. I was taking it easy, knowing that I was behind the
30 hour “goal” splits, but feeling good, which mattered more.  
Then the heat hit.  There is a lot of exposed ridgeline and rock face along
this section, and I got my first real taste of the heat of the day.  This was
an expected, if unwelcome happening. Following along with some
other runners, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the trail and was having a good time. 
Finally, we hit the downhill into Silver Bay. This is a place I normally go fast but,
with 25 miles on my legs, and several runners in front of me, I took a more
cautious approach.  Getting into the AS, I met up with Matt and got reloaded.
This was another, somewhat fast turn around. I was feeling good, if not fresh,
and wanted to get onto my favorite section of trail.

Silver Bay to Tettegouche State Park 9.9 miles

Heading out from the AS, I felt good.  I was tired, with 25 miles on my legs,
but this is one of my favorite places.  The first three miles of the section are
mostly climbing, with one somewhat notable downhill and some flat. 
Two and a half miles in you get an awesome view of Bean lake.
looking down the cliffs into the water is one of the reasons this
is my favorite section of trail.  After a little more climbing, I began the
descent to Bear lake. The descent was fun, if a little slower than
I would have liked. I was with other runners, who didn’t know the trail as well,
and I’m too shy to yell out and pass people.  We hit the bottom of the hill and
began the short, steep climb past Bear lake.  

Mile 5 of the section is mostly downhill.  I took it easy, chatting with other runners
and enjoying the weather and the day.  I knew what was coming.
The Mt. Trudee climb is 500 feet of pain packed into just under a
mile and a half. The high point of the section.  It is a SLOG! But the views are worth it.
I love looking down at the surrounding countryside. This section was tough, the
bright sun and high humidity really sapped my energy.  I also had my first cramps of the race.
They would not be my last. The final downhill miles into the Tettegouche AS were a blessing.
Getting into the AS, I met Matt, and his friend Jason, who had volunteered to
come out and help me.  Let me say this now, I had never met Jason before,
he came out just because he wanted to help another runner.  This is one of
the things I LOVE about the trail/ultra community. At the AS, I changed
shoes, as planned, because 34 miles is enough for one pair.  Matt reloaded my
vest while Jason took notes on the section and they got me soup and some
ginger ale and I was on my way.

Tettegouche State Park to County Road 6 8.6 miles

TheTettegouche to CR6 section greets you with a nice run, down to the
Baptism River.  Then you climb. With the exception of one big downhill,
you climb for the next 6 miles, and you make up for that downhill by
climbing past that elevation along this section. At the beginning of the section,
I met up with another runner, who didn’t have a lamp with him. I told him I’d
stick with him until the next AS where his lamp was.  Our goal: reach CR6 before
needing a light. My theory was, if I stuck with him, we’d reach the AS before lights
were needed, but if I just kept going, then it would take longer and be dark before
either of us arrived, because, well, Superior seems like a course to play that kind
of trick on you. This section both sucks and is amazing. The never ending climbing
drains you, but the views are worth it.

As if to prove that Superior hates me, it began to rain.  At first this seemed to be a
gift, cooling and cleansing me, after the long dirty, hot miles before.  However, like
Loki, Superior is a trickster. The same rain that felt so good also spelled doom.
The first chafing started about 6 miles in.  Also, the rocks that I normally would
have easily ran across became wet and slick, slowing me, as each step became a
guessing game of whether or not I would go tumbling down.

Finally, FINALLY! I made it to the AS, and before dark!  Waiting here was
an awesome sight. The rest of my crew, my mom and my brother, had arrived
in time to greet me here. I took some time at this AS, applying more SNB and
getting some water and ginger ale, while my crew reloaded my vest. When I was
loaded up, I gave my mom a hug and headed out for the push to the halfway point.

County Road 6 to Finland 7.7 miles

This section was mostly all the same.  Rolling hills and moderately rooty
singletrack.  The one thing that stands out about this section, is the beaver
dam.  Imagine trying to run/hike 400 meters of boardwalk across a beaver dam. 
Now make the boardwalk rickety. Now make it wet. Oh, also, it’s dark out now,
so you’re doing this with artificial light.  Oh, yeah, there are many places were
the weeds have grown over the boardwalk so you basically have to walk, to ensure
you don’t step off the side of the zig-zaging boardwalk.  Fortunately I had some
companionship during this stretch. I had met up with another runner whose plan
was to just hike through the night, survival was the name of the game.
With someone to talk to, this section went fairly fast, and we made it to the Finland Rec Center
and the halfway point.

At the AS, I started downing coffee.  I also got my charger so I could make
sure my watch lasted through the night.  More coffee, more caffeine, reload
Tailwind and I was just about ready to go. I looked for my running buddy and
we headed out into the dark, the path illuminated by my Kogalla.

Finland toSonju Lake Road 7.5 miles

Finland to Sonju is an uphill section.  You slowly climb until you reach the
highest point of the course, near Egge lake.  It feels odd, knowing, with big
climbs at Carlton, Moose and Oberg still to come, that everything else in the
course is downhill from here. It’s a good section.  It can get rooty and rocky at
points, especially in the latter half, but it’s one I knew well. Well, I knew it well in
the daylight, and my Kogalla helped make it feel like it was daylight.  Until the
light went out.

Around halfway through the section, my light went out.  No warning, nothing.
I went from 800 lumens of happy, to 0 lumens of oh shit.  I had my buddy check
my connections and still nothing worked. It had only been 4 ours, the battery
was supposed to last for 9, even on full power. I’ll put this note in here. 
I am an idiot, and I had been on my feet for a lot of hours. The battpak has
an automatic shutoff after 4 hours, unless you use the middle port. I did not use
the middle port, and did not think of that.  My light functioned properly, I just didn’t
know it at the time.

Cursing my light, I slowly followed my running buddy as we stumbled through the
dark, his headlamp not functioning to full capacity.  We tried to move closer to the
train of runners ahead of us, stumbling over roots and rocks, inchworming forward
under his inadequate light.

Finally we caught up, and tucked in behind the bright light of the pacer, hiking
behind his runners.  After a few minutes of following, the pacer told us we could pass.
That’s when I admitted that my light was totally out, and that’s when the pacer helped
save my race.  He handed me a flashlight, and some good advice
“never run a 100 without 3 lights” he said. Sounds reasonable, lesson learned,
always bring a backup, or two. With the light, we passed the runners and pacer and moved slightly more quickly, finally getting to the Aid Station, after over three hours.

At the AS was my friend Brian.  I told him about my light issue, and another volunteer
offered to get me batteries.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t take them up on the offer,
because of how the Kogalla works.  I did, on the other hand, get not one, but
TWO of Brian’s bacon and egg rice cakes. They were awesome.  As I was
opening my first rice cake, the racers ad pacer I got the light from came in.
I told Matt, one of the runners, that I still needed the light, and would drop it
at the next AS, with instructions to get it back to him.  With light for the next
section, and a great rice cake (or 2) to eat, we headed out into the night.

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby-Manitou 4.2 Miles

This is a rooty, rocky section.  It doesn’t have the vert of other sections, but makes
up for it by being an obstacle course of roots.  Moving slowly, but steadily, I don’t
remember much about the section, other than what I already know, that there’s
roots, there’s rocks, and it’s a HARD section to navigate quickly during the day. 
At night it was even harder. We struggled through the relatively short section until we,
finally, it the gravel road leading up to the Aid Station at George Crosby Manitou State park.
Hiking/jogging up the road, I couldn’t wait to see my crew.

Finally, I saw them.  They didn’t see me at first, as they were looking for the daylight
produced by my Kogalla.  I quickly told them what the problem was, and My mom
gave me her waistlamp to borrow for the rest of the night.  Refueling and hydrating,
more coke, more coffee, more chicken soup. Feeling slightly better physically, and
feeling a lot better about my light situation, my running buddy and I headed off to
tackle, what to me is, the hardest part of the course.

Crosby-Manitou to Sugarloaf: 9.4 miles

THIS SECTION SUCKS.  There is no way around it.  It’s 9.4 miles, the first 4 of which
are down the Manitou river gorge, and then back up again.  My overnight running buddy
and I headed out, me now using my mom’s waist lamp. This was a definite improvement,
since I needed to use my hands a LOT, to grab trees and rocks, just going down the
gorge.  It iss steep, it is technical, it is,during the day a lot of fun. At night not so
much, Navigating the steep descent on legs with over 100k on them was no fun.
But, we made it down. Then we missed some flags and took a staircase down. 
It was only 200 yards later that we realized it, when we came to a campsite that,
having run the area several times, I knew was NOT on the correct path. So, we backtracked, retracing our steps and made it out.

The climb back up the gorge was everything I remembered it being,
with the added bonus of doing it in the dark.  I quickly confused myself trying to
figure out which relatively flat spots counted as one of the four false summits.
This made the climb seem even longer. Finally we made it to the top of the gorge.
I knew what awaited us. Roughly 5 miles of pretty runnable single track. 
That was not in the cards. The chafing that had been bothering me for almost
20 miles was really getting to me. As an added bonus, my feet were really aching.
I LOVE my Altra Superiors but, on that night, I needed more cushion. I could feel
what I was pretty sure was a bunch of nasty blisters on my feet.  No two ways
about it, this section sucked.

My running buddy was really getting down and, honestly, so was I.  His headlamp
had been giving him issues for miles, and things were just slow.  He talked to his wife and Iet her know how things were going.  We both tried to keep
positive, but having been on trail for more than 20 hours, only really sitting for shoe changes, we were both exhausted, and the darkness around us was seeping inside.

Then it happened.  I saw this light and was like “what the F%$# is that spotlight?”
Newsflash! It was the sun coming up.  As the day brightened I was able to hike
more quickly. We made it to the Caribou River, the spot, for me that says there’s
only a couple miles left to go before the AS.  I was hurting, I was bonking hard
and slowing down.

Then my running buddy took off.  Well, he started walking faster, the sunlight giving him a
much needed boost. I tried to keep up but just didn’t have the energy. Truthfully, I wasn't in
a real good mental place at that time, I was tired, I was sore, I was bonking.
We had helped each other through the night, and now it was time for us to each run our own race.

With about a mile left, I was nearly in tears. I had lost track of time, despite having my watch.  I was certain I was going to be swept off the course. To show how messed up my mind was,
it was about 7:15AM.  Cut off at the AS I was going to, was 12:10PM. I couldn’t move fast. Actually, imagine a 90 year old man trying to power walk, but slower,  That’s what I looked like.
I was on the verge of tears, really the only thing stopping me was exhaustion. I came into the
AS a total wreck.  

At the AS, I told Matt that I didn’t think I could finish.  Part of this was how close to
cut off I thought I was. The other part was that I was FREEZING.  I had gone through
the night in shorts and tech tee. I was fine while I was moving even moving slowly,
but as soon as I sat in the chair, I was shivering.  Matt took off his coat and put it around me.
He was totally taking charge. Thank God for him. He got the rest of my crew working at
taking care of me, and started getting himself ready to pace.

It’s amazing what calories and warmth can do for a person.  I won’t say that I felt amazing,
because I felt like trash but, some chicken soup, some other food,
and I was feeling quite a bit better.  I added some layers on top, to try to regain some warmth.
I took a salt pill, because electrolytes have been a nagging issue all summer
(side note, bad idea), and Matt and I headed out.

Sugarloaf to Cramer Road 5.6 miles

I really don’t remember much about the trail between Sugarloaf and Cramer road. 
As I would later report to my crew, everything hurt. Matt did an AMAZING job keeping
me going, encouraging me to run/shuffle when I could.  I didn’t know it, but he knew
how much time I had, and he wanted me to keep as much of a buffer before cut off
as possible. There were two highlights of this section.  First was seeing my coach Jake.
He was FLYING. He was running the 50 and was going at a pace I could only go half that
distance at… on the road… he really is amazing. Not only was he just cruising, he actually
asked how I was doing and, when I told him about my chafing, he said his crew had lube
and I could use some.  Great coach, great human. (I found out later that my view of his
speed wasn’t just me. He set a new course record for the 50 that day).  
Second highlight was the random hiker who  wanted my picture. I have no clue who
this person was, but the thought of someone wanting my picture, when I’m pretty sure I looked like an extra on The Walking Dead, was something I found Hilarious. 

The section went by fast despite my slow pace, and I found myself at the Cramer road Aid Station.This AS was one I had been waiting for and hoping I got there at the right time.  There was a wedding! Two of the runners, who normally are photographers for the race were running the 100 together.  They had met at this AS and now they said their vows here. I thought it was totally cool.  While the couple, who looked totally fresh and amazing, were getting married, I had some more mundane things to do, like changing my shoes, using an extra pair, and stuffing my face with bacon.  I guess eating 3 strips isn’t stuffing my face, but after eating mostly gels and Tailwind for twenty-five hours, it felt like I was. Fueled up and feeling somewhat better, I headed out, again with Matt.  

Cramer Road to Temperance River SP 7.1 miles

I honestly don’t remember much about this section.  Up and over hills, down
into valleys, over the cross river, with a sharper climb after the crossing. 
The course is harder to remember, the runners are not. I was regularly getting
passed by 50 miler runners.  The steady stream of “good job 100” and “keep it up 100 miler,”
were awesome. The truth is The encouragement didn’t register for me so much, I was just
trying to keep going.  I did, however, try to give some encouragement and thanks back,
when I was able to process my thoughts fast enough. Looking back, each time a 50 miler
passed me, I got a little boost, drawing some energy from them. It helped, but there was
still mils to go.

Running along the cross river, you encounter boardwalks.  I put the walk in boardwalk
at Superior. They were just a little slippery to me, and my balance wasn’t great. 
Not wanting to tumble into the Cross river, I took things carefully. I tried to run/shuffle
some during the parts of the trails without roots, but there were very fer places with
smooth single trask!  Ots of shuffling and hiking, making my way toward the next AS..
Then, Finally, the descent and some running along the Temperance River to the AS.  

The AS was a blur, I sat for a bit, I ate some food, I drank some Coke and ginger ale,
and then I was off with Jason, who took over pacing duties from Matt.

Temperance River SP to Sawbill Trail 5.7 miles

In this section I got a hint that I might be stronger than I think.  Even though I was
walking almost everything, I was FASTER on the hike up Carlton Peak, than I was
the flatish mile before it and the downhill mile after it.  Running/hiking with Jason,
first along the Temperence river, then up and over Carlton Peak, I felt good, if exhausted.
The climb starts out gently, a slow, steady grind up from the river.  Ever so slowly, the trail
gets steeper and narrower, as you leave the state park trails and are back on the single
track of the SHT. We climbed, up the trail, over rocks and boulders. Near to where you top out on Carlton peak is a rock fall, with boulders the size of cars.  You go through these boulders and over some smaller ones. There’s sand, lots of sand and gravel, where the rocks fell.  Climbing through and over rocks is fun, I can say that I enjoyed this, despite the difficulty. Soon we were back on single track trail and going down.running shuffling down the mountain, and then across board walks, a quick crossing of Sawbill trail, and I was at the AS.  I had actually been FASTER on this section than the ones before. I caught my crew off guard. It was pretty sweet. More eating, more drinking, using the outhouse, then I was ready to head out, my brother pacing me for the second to last section.

Sawbill Trail to Oberg Mountain 5.5 miles

“Your job is to tell inappropriate jokes and keep me moving” I guess my instructions
to my brother were pretty simple.  We headed out of the AS and and got into slow
cruising mode. Within 15 minutes, I hit a new problem. I REALLY had to pee. 
I had been pounding electrolytes, thinking that I would be low, as I had been all
summer. Nope, as my nutritionist would later tell me, I was HIGH on electrolytes. 
This became part of my new pattern. Power hike/walk for 15 minutes and go pee.
I did this for five and a half miles, up and down hills, through the woods. My brother
was great, he kept me on track with my fueling and with my water intake, despite
my not wanting to drink much, due to my constant need to answer nature’s call. 
I don’t remember much from the section, other than good times with my brother,
and a lot of rolling hills, and 1 or 2 bigger climbs. Finally we reached the turn on
Laveaux Mountain, and headed down to the AS…. The final AS before the finish.

We ran the last 100 yards into the AS because, when though I was hurting and
exhausted, you always try to run into the AS. I had walked into a couple, and I
NEEDED to run into Oberg.  The AS was ROCKING. Run by Kurt Decker and
Twin Cities Running Company, the Oberg Mountain AS is a big party, with lots
of food and music. It was here that I had a first for me. I had my first poop during
an ultra.  For some reason this seemed significant to me. Making it even more
historic, I got to go in an actual building…. A cement block outhouse with pit toilets
but still…. I remember bragging to Mat that my first poop during an ultra was 

Oberg Mountain to Caribou Highlands (finish) 7.1 miles

There’s no words to describe heading out for the last section, with my mom!  We
headed out from the AS and made the short climb up the flank of Oberg Mountain. 
We passed the spur trail to the lop trail, and continued to climb. Then, with a switch
and a switchback, we were heading down.  At the bottom, we continued a gentle
descent until Moose Mountain hit us like a baseball bat to the gut. It starts out gently,
and my mom commented that it didn’t seem that bad.  I said, just wait, it gets worse.
And boy does it get worse.

Just over two miles into the section, we began what, to me, is one of the toughest
climbs in the race.Climbing about 500 feet in two miles, Moose Mountain is really
hard on legs with nearly 100 miles on them.  I again entered the drone zone, just
plugging away, step by step. My mom later commented that the climb didn’t seem
to slow me down. Part of that was that I was going slowly to begin with, but another
part is that I just like the grind of hills.  Soon we were at the “top” of Moose.
Really, there was more elevation gain to go, but it was relatively flat and, if I
had had any legs left runnable. After a shortish hike, we were on our way down.
This was actually harder to me than the climb. When I’m fesh, I can run downhills
like this, steep, technical, awesome.  With 98 miles on my legs? Not so much.
We let several other runners pass us. I was JUST FINE with that, finally starting
to feel like the finish was going to happen.

At the bottom of Moose, we traversed the relatively short and flat valley to
Mystery mountain.  Mystery is switchbacks, lots of switchbacks. I was happy for this!
Switchbacks are a slow grind, and a slow grind is my specialty.  We made our way up
Mystery and hit the 100 point just as we began our descent.
Again, this was a slow descent, my legs and,my feet in particular, were not in good shape
for running downhill.  We went past the campsite that symbolizes the ending of the trail
section of the run and soon were on a new dirt/gravel path.  All of a sudden we were
going down and then crossing the Poplar river. Up and over one short little bump of a
hillock, and we were on the paved road to the finish. I tried to run, but the pavement
hurt my feet.  Another runner and pacers passed us, but I really didn’t care, I knew
I was going to make it.

We made it to the final turn off the main road and onto gravel, then it was onto the grass for the finish.  I took off! Well, I began what would normally be a very slow run,

but with my legs, it felt much faster. As we heard the corner of the lodge, I got a great surprise.  My wife and little man were waiting for me! I grabbed my little man’s hand and began running more. I actually had to slow down so I wouldn’t pull him over.

Running along the swimming pool, The lights of the finish area illuminated the path before me with intermittent light.  One more turn and I was there! We ran across the finish line and I was done. 36:01:57. I was 6 hours off my goal time
and couldn’t care less. I was done, I had finished Superior.

After it's all said and done mile 103.4
Superior has left me with a lot of doubts and a lot of lessons learned. I still doubt my ability to go long, through tough conditions. But Superior taught me that, even though I don't feel it, I do have the strength to take things as they come and continue on. Looking to the future, I know there will be hard races, even harder than Superior, but the lessons I learned will help me grow as a runner. Superior was a bucket list race, but it was more than that. It was a possible once in a lifetime chance, and I took it. In the night in the quiet I hear it, running through the trees, the wolf is howling, Superior is calling.

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Hear the wolf howl: Superior 100

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