Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 Superior 100 Race Report

Superior.  What is there that you can't say about this race?  It is exceptionally well-organized, very well-attended, and the volunteers are amazing.  It was also my introduction to "big-boy" hundred milers.

Two years ago, I asked Sue Lucas if I could pace her for the last 50 miles at Superior.  Fortunately for me, she said yes.  But with a caveat:  She walked fast, and didn't spend a lot of time at aid stations, so I'd have to keep up.  No problem, I thought.  Needless to say, Sue broke me.  By the time we got to Oberg, I was spent.  This gave me two insights: 1. Sue Lucas is an absolute beast.  2. Superior 100 is a really hard race.

So naturally, after last year's complete disaster and string of DNFs, I had to sign up for this year's race.  I needed to earn my first 100 mile belt buckle.

This year, there was a record number of Manitobans driving down.  There was last year's women's winner, Mallory Richard, equally-speedy Steven Grauper, wildcard Dallas Sigurdur, and front-packers Brad Whitson, Murray Arnason, and Craig Desjarlais.  And then there was me.

Steven, Craig, and I drove down together.  It was a fairly uneventful trip down, and we got to Two Harbors with plenty of time for a pasta dinner and quick grocery run.  The pre-race briefing went on a bit longer than I wanted, especially with the long drive to our hotel in Lutsen.  When we got to the hotel, we crashed instantly.

The next morning came far too quickly, as it usually does before races.  But this time I slept like a baby and didn't feel groggy at all.  Maybe I had gained some confidence after my finish at Kettle Moraine earlier this year.  I impressed a few people by demolishing a whole loaf of cheese foccaccia bread on the bus to the start line.  Once there, I realized that I may have made a mistake in planning my drop bags, and made Joel Toews (Mallory's pacer) promise to throw my warm-up clothes in my County Road 6 dropbag (thanks Joel for coming through and saving my race!).  The forecast had been getting cooler and cooler all week, and I foolishly hadn't been watching it and planned my drop bags as if it was the middle of summer instead of the near-freezing temperatures we were going to get.

After a few inspirational words by star race director John Storkamp, of which I don't recall any due to the excitement of getting the race started, we were off.

This year's edition of Superior 100 had the first 4 miles or so detoured on the Gitchi-Gami bike path as a result of a landowner (rightfully) removing permission for the Superior Hikint Trail to pass through his land.  It would be a relatively-flat asphalt start.  One that I thought sucked people into unsustainable paces.  I on the other hand, had none of that and treated the paved trail as if it was at mile 99 and walked the uphills.  I waved all my friends goodbye, feeling certain I wouldn't see them again until the finish line.  As a result of my conservative starting pace, I came into the Split Rock aid station in 163rd place.  After a formula-one style fill-up of water bottles, I was off on the next section.

The trail from Split Rock to Beaver Bay is the longest in the race.  Eleven miles before the next aid.  I brought a third water bottle specifically for this section, and used every drop of water from it.  I realized that I got so much use out of my bottle that it was probably a good idea to bring it along for the rest of the race, and only fill it up on the longer sections (such as Tettegouche and Crosby Manitou).  The views on this section were breathtaking.  A short while in, I realized that I was running in front of Susan Donnelly.  Knowing her finish record, I felt a bit humbled and scared that I was where I was.  There was no reason I should have been in front of her that early in the race, and it most likely meant that my conservative pace wasn't near conservative enough.  Whoops.  I let her pass and tried to slow down a bit.  Nevertheless, I had moved into 148th place.

At Beaver Bay aid station, I took a bit more time.  I had my first drop bag and refilled gels, salt tablets, changed shirt, and socks.  The fresh clothing felt great.  Grabbed a handful of potatoes (no need for salt since that was taken care off) to fill my stomach as a surrogate lunch, then I was off.  This was a short section, so I didn't need the third water bottle.  But even though it was short, it was by no means easy.  I managed to make a stealthy pit stop midway through this section, and if anybody noticed they sure played it cool.  That dropped me to 156th.

The Silver Bay aid station was a quickie.  Filled the third water bottle, slammed some "rocket fuel" (a.k.a. ginger ale) and was out of there.  This section had Bean and Bear lakes, which are absolutely fantastic views.  It was also a notorious section for baking unsuspecting runners who weren't ready for the heat.  Fortunately, this was a cool year and the temperatures stayed quite manageable.  Came across a photographer at the top of a bluff overlooking Bean lake (or maybe it was Bear?), and gave a pirouette.  I don't think it came across right in still-life.  Just as I was hoping for the section to end, it did.  Moved into 154th.

I got a surprise at the Tettegouche aid station.  There was Craig Desjarlais looking very dreary.  He had a problem with one of his legs, and was moving slower than he normally was.  But he said he wasn't ready to quit.  I didn't stick around long enough to let negative vibes become contagious.  I was feeling great and wanted to keep my aid station stops short.  I was warned that the section from Tettegouche to County Road 6 wasn't incredibly long, but it was incredibly hard.  I figured this was a great time to give up running for the day, and start power-hiking.  And did I ever power-hike that mofo.  I had a few runners give me compliments as they had a tough time catching up and passing me, I was walking so fast.  There were some great views in the section, and a very welcome one was seeing the aid station.  When approaching the Co Rd 6 aid station, you can hear it from very far away.  And eventually you can see it.  But then you still have a few miles to go as you need to go past it to descend the cliff (and go over another one last hill) before you get to the road.  It was at this time that it started to get dark.  Fortunately, I had picked up my headlamp at Beaver Bay.  I never thought I would get this close to Co Rd 6 before it got dark.  Moved up into 140th place.

At County Road 6 aid station, I was in for another surprise.  As I ran in, I came across Brad, Dallas, and Murray getting ready to head out!  All three have BQ speed in their legs, so I was very surprised to be as close to them as I was.  I raided my drop bag for gels, salt tabs, my pullover (again, thanks Joel!), a fresh shirt, and my handheld light.  Said "hi" to Robyn Reed, whom I met at the spring race, working the aid station, and was off again.  It didn't take long to come up to the trio of Manitobans.  I think somebody was having a wardrobe malfunction, and I passed them.  I was power-hiking up a storm at this point.  There were lots of opportunities to break into a run in the last half of this section, and I took the opportunity any time the trail gave it.  I don't recall passing many people, but somehow ended up in 126th place.

The Finland aid station is more or less the halfway point of the race.  It's a huge aid station, and the start for the 50 mile race.  I didn't have a drop bag here, so had no real reason to stick around.  I downed some hot chicken soup as quickly as I could, and was out.  The next section to Sonju Lake was another easy section, but was completely in the dark.  It also seemed longer than it should be (typical of running at night).  I noticed that people were starting to pass me, and that my power-hiking pace was slowing down.  The good news is that the highest point on the race course is over this section, so technically it was all downhill from there.  Yeah right.

Sonju Lake was a welcome sight.  I had a change of shoes here, as well as spare batteries for my headlamp.  For some reason I didn't think I needed spare batteries for my handheld, as it was supposed to last for 12 hours on the setting I had it on, and it was definitely fully charged before the start.  About 5 minutes after leaving the aid station, I realized that I forgot my handheld at the aid station.  Aaaaargh!  I briefly contemplated continuing on without it, but came to the conclusion that thinking wasn't my strong point at that time, and that if I had planned to run with it I better should.  I wasted 10 minutes going back to the aid station and reclaiming my handheld.  A few minutes later, it died on me.  Motherf^&*er.  I was now down to one light, my headlamp.  I was counting on my handheld casting shadows on the rocks and roots so I would know how high to lift my feet.  Now I just had the flat light that was emanating from my forehead.  And wouldn't you know it, a few minutes after my handheld died, my headlamp gave me the "low battery" warning.  Great.  That meant I had only one set of batteries to make it the rest of the night.  The cold of the night must have been wreaking havoc with my batteries.  I didn't want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold, unable to move, so I delayed changing headlamp batteries until I could barely see my feet.  I was somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning, and down to my last set of batteries.  Fortunately, my handheld started working a little bit, enough for me to be able to change my headlamp batteries.  So at least I wasn't fumbling around in the dark.  Despite all the shenanigans that went on, I arrived at Crosby Manitou aid station in 117th place.

Crosby Manitou is another huge aid station.  If there's something you want food-wise, they have it.  It is also the last aid station before what is affectionately-known as "the suck".  As a result, there were a lot of pity parties crowded around.  I would have none of that.  I knew that if I thought about what was ahead, the warm food would coax me to stay far too long.  I grabbed a handful of cold quesadilla (didn't want to stick around long enough for a hot one) and got out of there.  The suck came quickly.  This section had a seemingly non-stop of ups and downs into the Manitou river gorge, before crossing it and continuing with more ups and downs.  Eventually, you end up in a swamp that threatens to suck the shoes off your feet.  And lastly, you get to the most-runnable few miles of the entire race.  Even though I had a mad case of the sleepies, I took the gift the trail gave me, and ran into Sugarloaf aid station, now in 106th place.

I had made the decision during the suck that I needed a 20 minute nap just to rest my eyes for a bit and stave off the sleepies.  I was in danger of passing out on my feet and face-planting on a rock (if I was lucky), or falling off a cliff (if I was unlucky).  I was greeted at the aid station by Jen (Brad's wife), Lisa, and Dallas (who dropped at Finland), and took charge over me.  They found my drop bag, threw a sleeping bag over me, and let me get my rest.  I don't know if I even slept at all, or if it was even 20 minutes, but when I stood up I felt refreshed.  The daylight had brought warmth to the race again, and I was able to ditch the unnecessary weight of my lights, batteries, and pullover.  After a long aid station stop, I was off.  There was no way I was not going to finish after making it through the night.  The next section to Cramer Road was relatively uneventful, except for all the mud holes.  And somehow I only lost one place, arriving in 107th.

I was in a great place at Cramer Road.  Fortunately, I had missed the started of the marathon, so it wasn't a zoo.  At the aid station, I saw some kids wearing matching shirts cheering on their daddy.  That kind of thing always gives me a warm feeling inside.  A couple of sausage patties for breakfast, and I was moving.  The section from Cramer to Temperance is one of my least favourites.  Even though you follow the scenic Cross River, after you cross it you need to climb up up up before a huge drop into the aid station.  By this point, my knees were starting to rebel.  Everything hurt.  I was crashing.  Hard.  In 93rd place.

I had a huge breakdown at the Temperance River aid station.  I saw in the chair and moaned and whined.  I wasn't prepared to drop.  I just wanted the pain to stop.  I wanted my knees to stop hurting.  I wanted the race to be over.  But none of that was going to happen sitting in a chair.  After wasting far too much time, I took two tylenols and left.  I knew most of the rest of the race, as it was in common with the spring Superior 50k.  The only wildcard was the climb up Carlton peak.  Fortunately, climbing didn't hurt the knees.  But it did make me tired.  For some reason, I was particularly annoyed by some hikers hogging a bench partway up.  I vowed that I would sit at the next bench I found.  And wouldn't you know it, there was a picnic table right below the summit.  When I sat down, the sleepies came back.  The sun was so warm on me, that I feel asleep.  I have no clue how long I was there for.  I was woken up abruptly by Brad shouting at me as he ran by.  I took my cue, and followed after him.  I had lost a lot of time and placing with my ill-advised summit snooze.  I came into Sawbill in 122nd place.

Sawbill was my final drop bag, and I didn't waste very much time there.  Murray was just a minute behind, and caught up to me at the aid station.  I briefly considered running with Brad and Murray, but decided that each person must run his own race, and so left before them.  I don't remember much of the section to Oberg, other than chatting with Stewart, the race director of Ozark 100.  It sounds like a really good race, and one that I would love to run one day.  The downside of all that chatting was that I began missing my watch's beeps, and missed taking a few gels.  That was energy I needed and wouldn't be getting back.  Oh well.  Ran into Oberg in 121st place.

I basically ran through Oberg aid station.  I wasn't going to let something like 7 miles stand between me and a belt buckle.  I got Lisa to fill my water bottles while I shed some weight in the outhouse for the last push to the finish line.  I was out of the aid station before Brad or Murray got there.  I pushed hard.  Really hard.  But my body just wasn't responding any more.  I felt pretty good getting to the top of Moose Mountain, but the descent blew my legs apart, and I couldn't get my form back for Mystery Mountain (the final hill).  Brad blew by me like I was standing still, and finished 13 minutes before me.  At the top of Mystery, I was passed by Jason, one of the co-race directors of Kettle Moraine.  I was so in the zone, that I didn't recognize him.  He was running the 50 mile, and I think my chattiness was holding him back (sorry).  When I got to the Poplar River, I was elated.  It was less than a mile to the finish line, and all runnable.  If only my body was able to run.  I put on my Emil Zatopek face, and limp-ran through the finish chute.  I don't know if I scared anybody with my primal scream after crossing the finish line, but it was something I just had to do.  I had to let everything that was in me spill out.  35 hours and 18 minutes of suffering was over.  John Storkamp gave me my belt buckle, and as I was crawling toward my hotel room, I heard Murray's name announced on the loudspeaker.  He was only 30 seconds behind me!

I learned that the perfect weather (and slightly easier course) had allowed the men's course record to be broken by nearly 2 hours.  And Mallory also ran a phenomenal race, placing first again with the second-fastest time ever.  I have a feeling she'll be back again next year with the aim of breaking the course record.  Steven Graupner had to drop at Sugarloaf with a bad foot.  And Craig eventually finished with 30 minutes to spare before the cutoff.

This race took a lot out of me.  Over a week later, and my knees and ankles are still tender to the touch.  I haven't gone out for a post-race run yet either.  But it was all worth it.  I got my first 100 mile belt buckle, and finished one of the toughest races out there.  If I can finish this race, I can finish any.

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