Superior 100 Race Report

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BeanLake

SUPERIOR 100 RACE REPORT

If you think you have to prove it, you still do. So quit thinking, quit posing, and get to work. Do not allow the fear of failure to overcome your potential to succeed.

Mark Twight

Date: 09/05/2014

Time: 8:00 AM

Place: Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Finish: 24:54:59, 5th place Overall

Preparation for Superior had its ups and downs. Having relocated to Minnesota last fall, I’ve struggled to get used to the weather, terrain, and lack of access to trails (St. Paul). My season prep began in April. My running at this time was done on the roads of St. Paul and in Fort Snelling State Park. After signing up for the Savage 100 on May 17, I did a few runs of 20+ miles, but no specific build up and taper. I definitely entered this race to commit to my running once again. It worked. The only real downside is that the recovery from Savage took 3-weeks longer than I expected, and I developed tendinitis in my posterior tibialis tendon making running on hills, slants, or grades non-doable.

As June came around, my running just started to click again. I began doing some hill and tempo workouts as well as a long run on the weekends. My calendar was set for the rest of the summer in hopes of building up to a solid finish at Superior.

  • July 12: Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon
  • July 26: Voyageur 50
  • September 5: Superior 100

My worry was that I wouldn’t manage enough technical-trail running to have any chance of finishing Superior. In addition to those races I also ran the last 26 miles (Moose Mountain course) of the Superior course 3.5 weeks before the race. My peak mileage was in the 80’s. Not very high by most standards, but with the steady amount of strength and cross training I do it is sufficient. I also managed four back-to-back long runs of 2.5-3.5 hours apiece. I spread these out every 5 days finishing the last 16 days before Superior. From there, I tapered pretty aggressively.

Mentally and physically I was as ready as I could have been. Hindsight always presents you with “could have” and “should haves”, but dwelling on that never does you any good.

Race:

My nutrition plan was to carry a handheld bottle with water, and use a 13 oz bottle tucked in my shorts with perpetuem. I also wore a fanny pack stocked with s-caps, 4 gels, and some skratch labs hydration mix. In the aid stations my plan was to drink a 12 ounce concoction of skratch rescue hydration and skratch w/matcha lemons and limes to top off my electrolytes constantly. Also, I would drink at least one cup of water at each aid station.

My apparel was simple: hoka huaka shoes, drymax max protection socks, Patagonia air flow tank, and coolmax tight shorts. To prevent chaffing I used vaniply and gold bond anti-friction glide.

Crewing for me this race was my Dad, Al. I left him with some instructions and figured we would figure some of the details out on the fly depending on how the day went.

Back to the race…

I started off somewhere in 10-15 place in a very relaxed pace. I hiked most of the small, steep hills, being careful to not overexert or focus on what was happening directly in front or behind me. This is always harder to do in race conditions, but with experience comes confidence and I feel I’m getting better at it.

Coming into Beaver Bay at mile 20 I was feeling really solid. We had a quick crew exchange and I was off and up the trail. This next section was short, less than 5 miles so I did not consume anything extra or reload on gels. I passed a couple more runners here and began to concentrate on hiking efficiency. I figured if I could keep a consistent uphill effort, utilizing my hamstrings and glutes more, I would be able to maintain a solid pace further into the race.

At Silver Bay, mile 25, I exchanged bottles with my Dad, but he forgot to bring the bag with my gels in it. No worries though as the aid station had plenty, so I grabbed three and was off again. This section is long and tough. 9-10 miles is a stout distance to travel on technical single track. Here I began running with John Cameron of Coon Rapids, MN. He came up on me after one of the climbs and we found a rhythm together, which would last for the better part of 25 miles. It’s always pleasant running with someone in the early stages of a 100. It takes your mind off of yourself and your sufferings, which is welcome at the 100-mile distance.

At Tettegouche, mile 34.9 I hydrated, drank a Mt Dew, ate some chips, reloaded on fuel and was out. This next section to County Rd 6 is stout. John Cameron and I kept a good pace here, fueling on the ups and coasting the flats and downs. Here we passed two runners including last year’s winner, John Horns. The positivity was super nice as we came into CR 6 aid. I pretty much repeated the process I’d been doing all day long, quick bottle exchanged, downed the skratch labs mix, drank some water, reloaded the pack and was out.

The next section started off with some consistent climbing and descending, but that would not last. Eventually some really smooth, runnable singletrack was to be enjoyed. It was here that the course started to present a lot of boggy, muddy sections, some of which were covered with wood-plank bridges. Super neat terrain… like running through a Lord of the Rings movie set.

Cruising in to Finland I could feel the pressure of the race in the air. One runner was dropping, others were picking up pacers, and we all were gearing up for the impending darkness.

I fueled, hydrated, filled the pack, placed one light on my head and another around my waist. The waist light proved annoying as it bounced and jiggled around. I stopped to adjust it, but found myself stopping again shortly later, ending up slinging it over my shoulder and under my far arm for the next 12 or so miles.

I was now running alone. Humming along, hiking hard when it was called for and jogging everything else I could. This section between Finland and Sonju Lake Rd is pretty runnable. I found my stride a few times, and was grateful for that. At Sonju aid station I drank some water and sprite, filled my water bottle and added a little Skratch to it for the short, 4.2 miles to Crosby-Manitou. This was a fun section. It’s runnable and the entrance into Crosby-Manitou is fun and fast. I ditched my waist bottle for 2 handhelds, one of which had 3 scoops of perpetuem. I drank some mt dew, ate a gel, drank some water and was out. Heading into the aid station I passed another runner, whom would leave the aid station before me, but I would pass again as we descended down to the river crossing. Here I also passed John Cameron and his pacer. I was feeling pretty good on the descents and the climbs, but that would change about 90 minutes later. The darkness of the night was upon me now and I began to second guess the course. A few times I thought I was off course, would stop, try and decipher if I knew any landmarks, and be off again. I ran into a large porcupine that didn’t want to leave the trail. Tossing a rock in his direction managed to get him to move. At this time I started to feel some mental fatigue. I needed some caffeine and to put my music on. Entering the Sugarloaf aid station I was quick to put a long sleeve shirt on, grab a clean buff, hydrate, change bottles, back to the waist bottle and one handheld, take a caffeine pill and run on. This next section is short, but not too troublesome. The kick from the caffeine was excellent and the music helped take my mind off my now throbbing knees and quads.

Cramer Rd., which is the start of the Moose Mountain Marathon course came and went, without me changing much of anything. This section consists of some small climbs and steep descents as you skirt and cross the river a few times. At 7.2 miles it’s a longer stretch of running without aid and you need to be sure to have a proper amount of fuel on hand, especially with the cooler temps.

The sharp descent into Temperance river aid station is taxing on the quads. Coming into the parking lot I could tell the crews were feeling the cool night air. Everyone was bundled up and moving around to keep warm. I made it a quick transition here, but was sure to grab another caffeine pill for the climb up to Carlton Peak. It’s a short section, but has some substantial climbing and descending. I had to stop and go to the bathroom here, which was not planned for, meaning, I had to improvise. It took a couple minutes for me to get back to moving normal again and once I did, I found this mild-grade really runnable. I think I made good work of Carlton Peak, but the descent proved tough. My quads were toast. It was not a war of attrition and completely mental. I hobbled into the Sawbill aid station ready to finish this thing off. I knew I was almost an hour behind John Cameron and his pacer so catching anyone was out of the picture. I also knew that John Horns was behind me. I did not want him behind me, but it gave me good incentive to push when I could and hike hard when it was called for.

This late in an ultra you really have to force yourself to fuel. I drank some soda and ate a gel. The stomach was still working fine. The cool night air had zapped my thirst, but I was still peeing about every 90 minutes so was adequately hydrated. The section between Sawbill aid and Oberg was muddy, swampy, and boggy. In a dry year I’m sure you can really bomb through here, but this was not to be the case. I struggled to find my stride with the stop/go/slide repetitiveness of the terrain. It took me a long time to cover these 5 and some odd miles. My quads had seized up and I was hobbling. I knew I could walk it in, but I wanted to finish with some prideful running.

The last 2 miles are very runnable and mostly dry. I managed a short shuffle that I would carry into Oberg. The aid station was a welcome site. I quickly popped two ibuprofen, took a caffeine pill, drank some soda, ate a gel, drank some water, ditched my headlamp and buff and was off. Before leaving the aid station a runner, Gary, asked me if he could run it in with me. I gladly said yes and we jogged to the trailhead. I told him to stay 10-20 yards ahead of me to give me something to focus on. This worked. We pushed up Moose Mountain. Powerhiking most of this section felt good. After summiting, the descent down and eventual climb up Mystery Mountain was taxing. I ran as much as I could, focusing on moving as fast as possible. I heard the split between John Horns and I was a mere 15 minutes. Easily lost with some unfocused, zoning out, self-pitied walking. No time for that… Gary urged me on. I stopped to go to the bathroom and take a gel, which would be my last before the finish. We tackled the downhill with force and hitting the road into Caribou Highlands we spoke a few words of relief. Soon enough the finish was in sight. I broke into a dead sprint the last 200 yards before crossing the finish line. Sweet relief. It was over. I did it. Completion is overwhelming. These things don’t come easily, at least not to me. It’s a chance to put it all together, the mental and the physical.

I thought a lot about my family. I hoped I had made them proud as they followed along online (live tracking) with my progress. I’m extremely grateful for their love and support.

Having my dad crew was special. We developed a pretty sweet process over the day, which I hope will carry into many other ultras in the future. It is so special to share these journeys with those that truly care about you.

I’m also thankful for John Storkamp and his crew of support and volunteers. The aid stations were friendly, helpful, and lively! What a stellar race. You can’t ask for a better setting, especially in the Midwest. This is tough stuff. It really is relentless.

Receiving the sweatshirt and buckle was satisfying. These are not participation prizes. These are earned.

One final thought. Running 100+ miles/week on flat or rolling terrain will not help you with this race. Being extremely “run fit” looks great on your training log, but if you are not strong in your core and upper body, and proficient in your technical trail running/hiking, you will have difficulties. Seek out short, steep climbs and descents in your training. Climb and descend on rocky, loose footing. Hike! Learn to really power up the climbs and transition quickly to jogging the flats and running the down hills.

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