The drive to Lutsen was pretty fun. Scott claimed he didn't know how to drive stick (I'm still convinced he was punking me), so he was in charge of the music. He did a pretty good job at introducing me to the finer nuances of Cajun. After going around in circles in Duluth, we made it onto the right highway and got to Lutsen in time for race packet pickup and a quick bite to eat at the Caribou Highlands Lodge. While waiting for a table, we were joined in line by Robyn Reed whose blog it turns out I follow. She joined us for dinner since it was a long wait for a table, and we got to discuss the finer points of craft beer and mead.
Scott and I decided to camp at Temperence River State Park, but got to the campsite office closing time had long since passed. Fortunately, a park ranger was still in and let us get a spot for the night. I can't say enough about those guys, they were really easy going and awesome. The spot we got was technically an "undesirable" site because it was next to the highway. But with earplugs in, I didn't hear a thing all night long.
The next morning was chilly, as we had expected. The forecast we checked the previous day said it would be 6 degrees at race start, and would have a high of 8. Two hours of sunshine with the rest being overcast. With a forecast like that, I figured it would be best to wear wind pants and a long-sleeved tech shirt. When we got to the start line, it felt much warmer so I stripped off the pants (fortunately for everybody present, I had compression shorts on underneath). After a quick race-day check-in and a speech from John Storkamp (race director extraordinaire), we were off. I elected to take a relaxed pace. Scott is much faster than me, and took off at his usual pace. I didn't think I'd see him again until the turnaround.
The Superior 50k race starts on the road beside the Caribou Highlands Lodge, and makes an out & back along the Superior Hiking Trail to the summit of Carleton Peak turnaround. Along the way are two aid stations: One at the Obert Mountain trailhead, and the other at the Sawbill trailhead. The terrain pretty technical: Plenty of rocks, roots, mud, climbs, and descents. The trick is into not getting stuck in a conga line where the people in front of you aren't confident in running on said rocks/roots/mud.
The first mile of the race is entirely on the road, and after the first half mile I looked around and realized that there were only 4 people behind me. That was not good. Either everybody started off too fast or I was going too slow. I glanced at my Suunto GPS watch, and gathered that I was going at exactly the pace I should have been going (keeping it real, and waiting to use my energy on the nasty climbs ahead). It was everybody else who was blasting out of the gate. Unfortunately, this created one of the aforementioned conga lines the second we hit the single track. There was more walking through mud puddles and descents than I wanted over the first few miles. I managed to pass a few people going down Mystery Mountain (wheeeee!) and leapfrogged a few on the insane climb up Moose Mountain. After we got to the top of Moose, I made my move and blasted past probably about 20 runners, and finally got my groove-on as my pace was no longer being dictated by other people.
Going down Moose, the trail widened a bit and I passed a few more people. At the bottom, I was surprised to see Scott ahead of me. He said he had stepped off the trail for a few minutes. Dang, so I wasn't turning into a rock star. I didn't even try and keep with him, as he took off again. After what felt like a few miles of nonstop mud, I came to the Oberg Mountain aid station. One of the goals I had for this race was to have F1-style aid stops, where I'd fill my water bottles and get out. I had to make one small modification to that plan this one time, as my left shoe had filled with mud during the previous leg and there were more rocks in it than I would have liked at that stage of the race. Still, I consider it to have been a short aid stop. I did manage to have a bit of fun with the "25k turnaround" sign. I did a 360 around it and kept going. One quarter of the race was now done.
I thought that there was a lot of mud between the start and Oberg Mountain, but the next section of trail was going to prove me wrong. The section between Oberg and Sawbill was almost one long swamp. I let my inner kid out, and puddle-jumped a few times. The cold mud splashes felt great on my legs as the day heated up. Wait a minute... Wasn't the forecast supposed to be a high of 8? How come there aren't any clouds in the sky? Uh oh, maybe a black long sleeved shirt wasn't the best choice.
Sawbill came at just the right time, as I ran out of water just a minute before. A quick top-up and I began the long climb up Carleton Peak. I was surprised when I came upon Scott on his way down, as I was almost at the top. I was expecting to have seen him much earlier (like around the Sawbill aid station). Nevertheless, some words of encouragement were exchanged and I power-hiked to the top. Halfway through the race in 3:15:48. The views were amazing. And the cold beer (courtesy of a local ultrarunning legend whose name escapes me) was even better. I caught up to Scott on the way down and asked him what was going on. He told me his ankle was hurting something fierce, and the brace he was wearing wasn't helping. Doh.
The way back was pretty much like the way out, except in reverse. The only difference was that I now had 25k runners to contend with. Fortunately, they were pretty late in their race by that point, and had spread out so there were no conga lines. I was also pretty relaxed, as I had proven everything I needed to prove, and elected to slow down and save my legs for Kettle Moraine 100 in three weeks. Lots of words of encouragement were exchanged between myself and the back-of-the-pack 25k runners. I caught up to a group of 3 women where the race turns from the single track SHT and onto the gravel road. They were excited to learn that there was only 1 mile left in the race. I told them to finish strong and book it to the end. I believe my exact words were "You can breathe after the finish line". Not sure if they bought it. One final adrenaline surge, and I crossed the finish line in 6:49:00. The second half of the race took me 3:33:13, which was a bit faster than I was aiming for. Still, I'm pretty happy with how it went. I think if I didn't have my "A" goal race coming up in 3 weeks, I could have easily dropped 20 minutes from my finish time.
Scott finished 20 minutes behind me. He was pretty happy with that, as he thought I finished over an hour before him and I was stuck without the car keys! I spent most of the time waiting in line to hose down my legs and shoes. The atmosphere at the race finish was amazing. I fell in love with the Superior fall races two years ago when I paced Sue, so I was pleased to find that the awesomeness at the finish line there extended to the spring races too. A quick change, a bowl (or two) or chili, and a few beers in the sun, and we were ready to call it a day.
The drive back seemed longer, probably because we were both tired from the long day. A surprise thunderstorm before Bemidji made me want to pull over and spend the night. Driving at night I can handle. Driving in the rain I can handle. But driving at night in the rain, and I draw the line. Fortunately, the rain was fairly short-lived and we never did pull over in Bemidji. However, I began to feel tired just after we passed Grand Forks, and we decided it was best if we pulled over and slept in the car at the next rest stop. A 6 hour snooze was exactly what the doctor ordered, and we got home 2 hours after we woke up.
Now I just need to recover fast so I can get a few good miles in before my big race: Kettle.