So I finally ran the Superior 100 race last weekend (September 9-10)! I had previously done the marathon distance (my first trail race ever) and the 50 mile race. Now I can say I’ve done all three. If you’re not aware these are all run on the superior hiking trail which I love and they are all point to point races which I also love.
I’ve forgotten a lot of this race honestly, so I may have sections messed up in my head as far as what happened on which portion of the trail and such. I’ll try to get it right.
The main goal for this race was to finish. I know that’s what everyone always seems to say. That or I want to finish with a smile. I don’t know if they actually mean those statements or not. Most of the time I have a set goal, either a finishing time or place. To me a race is a race. I do have fun before the race and even during the race but for me I’m there to challenge myself somehow. My training runs and journey runs are the ones I do for fun and see the most interesting things in nature. Perhaps I’ll change my mind as I get older. But again I needed to do a 100 mile qualifier for Western States this year and this was the only one that would work so finishing was really my main goal.
Anyway I wasn’t expecting much since it hasn’t even been 2 months since Vol State and the longest run I did since then was 11 miles. The main training I did was running down Hermann Heights hill over and over again to get my quads somewhat in shape for the torture they would endure at Superior. The computer said I should finish around 30 hours. I think I could finish under 30 hours if I trained just for this race but that certainly wasn’t the case this year. So to be more realistic for this years race I put down 31:30 for my goal time on my aid station sheet for my awesome wife who crewed for me. I also made a sheet with 30 and 33 hour goal times in case things went well or bad. There is a lot of data available on split times for the previous races and racers in a spreadsheet format from the race website. I used it to find people that finished around when I expected and then looked to see how much time each section took for them. I did this because some sections are easier than others (maybe more accurate to say some sections suck worse than others since nothing is easy on this course) and I haven’t run the first half of the course to know what they would be like.
The pre-race meeting and bib pick up is the night before the race (Thursday night) and it was great to see the people I knew. It’s getting to be I know more and more people at every race which is nice. I tried to introduce Jessie to some of the other crews that I thought she might see so she wouldn’t be so shy at the aid stations. I got an autographed copy of Kevin Langton’s book. Ian Corless took everyone’s photo. Here’s mine.
The pre-meeting speech was a little over an hour long and since there weren’t many chairs most of us had to stand the entire time. Not a huge deal but if you want a chair, make sure you’re sitting down when they announce the meeting.
Our motel was a mile from the starting line at Gooseberry Falls State Park and since the current race route goes on the bike path for the first 4.5 miles it went right past the motel. Thursday night I taped my feet and repacked everything so Jessie and I both knew where everything was. Then it was bedtime around 10pm. With an 8am start and being so close to the starting line, it was the most relaxed morning before the race I’ve ever had. I could walk to the start line if need be. I didn’t even need to get up much earlier than I normally do.
In fact I’ve never been so calm before a race. I had zero nervousness about this race. I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t pressuring myself for a certain time or just that I had confidence I would finish. The distance certainly doesn’t scare me anymore, and with a 38 hour time limit I wasn’t worried about running out of time. I’m not completely sure of the reason but it was a great feeling race morning just being calm and looking at all the other racers looking nervous.
One guy I kind of know looked pretty nervous to me and my wife. It was his first 100 mile race. I seriously wouldn’t recommend this as someone’s first 100 mile race. They don’t come much harder than this one. We didn’t say anything to him of course and perhaps we were wrong. He did end up dropping out towards the end of the race.
So what would I recommend for a first 100 mile race? Any sort of rail to trail course or other fairly flat course. I did the Heartland 100 (which I still need to do a race report for) for my first and with 6000 feet of elevation gain, it is an easy 100 mile race. That’s not to say it’s an EASY race, it’s still 100 miles but compared to Superior with 21,000 feet of elevation gain and an extra 3 miles of distance, it is easier. Kettle Moraine is probably the easiest more local one, lots of aid stations at that one as well which may be good or bad for a first timer.
So back to the race. Here’s the video of the start. I tried to place myself around 40-50th place since I figured that’s where I’d finish. The nice thing about the new beginning of this race is that it’s on a bike path for 4.5 miles which allows plenty of time for people to spread out a little before getting to the single track (similar to Kettle Moraine).
So the tagline for this race is Rugged, Relentless, Remote. My wife doesn’t like the remote part of that since it’s not all that remote to her. I can see her point since there are a lot of road, powerline, railroad crossings that you could find civilization on in an emergency, but there is no cell phone coverage pretty much anywhere on the course and you’ll never see a house. So while you’re not far from civilization you will certainly feel remote when you’re on a ridge and see nothing but trees and the lake. Regardless, I couldn’t think of 2 more appropriate words than rugged and relentless for the superior trail. This is a very technical trail. By the time you get to the Beaver Bay aid station around mile 20, you will already be hurting some. The trail is almost solid rocks and roots that first section. Not nice smooth rocks, jagged rocks that you have to land on while coming down a steep hill. Oh, and the slate rocks around split rock like to slide around some too. I don’t know how anyone does this race in minimal shoes. They must have to go slower downhills to make sure to miss everything. The roots will trip you up even in the day, even in the beginning of the race. Wait until nightfall! The next 3 photos of the race course give you an idea of what this trail is like. Of course it’s not all like this but these aren’t the exception either. A good chunk of this race is on similar terrain.
I was able to pass a few people on the downhills in the first section to Split Rock. Split Rock aid station is an out and back spur off the trail so I saw a few people I knew ahead of me and then behind me on the way out. I saw a pack of 30 runners all grouped up going into the station while I was leaving it. I kind of wanted to slow down because I was breathing through my mouth some and it was already hot but I for sure didn’t want that pack to catch up to me. I really hate running on single track in a big conga line. I go faster than the vast majority of people on the way down and go slower than they do on the way up. I love bombing the hills like I’m a 6 year old with no fear. In fact there were about 5 people in the middle of the race that kept saying “see you on the downhill” as they past me going uphill. That’s part of the reason I don’t think I’ll ever have a pacer, few people run like me it seems.
Kevin caught up to me outside of Split Rock so we ran and talked for a good while. He loves the downhills like me. We came into Beaver Bay together and met up on the trail again shortly after that aid station. We ran together pretty much the whole way into Silver Bay aid station at mile 25 or so.
Things had slowly started to go down hill for me starting at Beaver Bay (mile 20). It was noon then and hotter than I’d like. No one liked the heat really. I wasn’t nauseous necessarily but the thought of food disgusted me and only plain water tasted good. I had a hard time staying hydrated but I did. I had been eating my regular gels and tried honey this race as well. But really nothing at the aid stations looked or tasted good so I stopped eating for the next 20 miles to try to get things straightened out. I took antacids and gas-x as well just in case that was the cause. I was running slower than I had planned and the course was much harder in the beginning than I planned (most of the elevation of this race is the second half). The trail was so much more technical the first half of this race than the 50 mile race I did 2 years earlier on the second half of the 100 mile course. I was already 8 minutes behind my goal time and felt drained and done already. I’ve never wanted to quit a race before at 20 miles into it. Knowing I still had at least 27 more hours of this kind of weighed on me.
I’ve hiked the section from Silver Bay to Tettegouche before and loved it. It really is beautiful and I don’t remember it being hard at all so I kind of fudged the numbers on my pace sheet to make this section faster than what racers in the past had done. Nope, numbers don’t lie, it was hard. Doing this section after running a difficult and technical marathon makes it hard. I started the section with Kevin and soon told him I was going to have a pity party with myself for about 20 minutes. Not that I didn’t want to run with him but I wouldn’t be too talkative. See, even though at the beginning I didn’t care what time I finished, once I got in front of that big pack, I went into competitive mode. I had been doing math which we all do during a 100 mile race and I was likely not going to finish even in 33 hours. 34 was looking more realistic based on how I felt. I knew I’d feel better at night in the cool air but really 33 hours was the new reality and it took me a while to accept it and move on. It seems odd now, but I just didn’t want to be out there another 1.5 hours. I mean what’s another 1.5 hours when it’s going to take at least 31 hours. The great views of this section did a lot to help me get back to a normal mental state. It is the prettiest section of the trail I’ve ever been on and I’ve been on over half of it. I think this is the area I lost Kevin. He stopped to talk to someone he knew and I never saw him again. Turns out he was having stomach issues as well and ended up quitting as night fell.
I got to Tettegouche having successfully gotten down the drainpipe without injury or slowing me down much. I even passed 2 people going down it. I was 42 minutes past my goal time for that aid station. Yeah that’s a lot. I’m sure Jessie was worried a little. I knew since I fudged my pace sheet that I was more like only 20 minutes over time but I would have to do the next 2 sections faster than I thought in order to even it out.
Tettegouche to CR 6 I don’t think was really all that hard of a section. At least I don’t remember it being very difficult other than my stomach being the main issue for my slowness. I know others say it’s hard so who knows, my memory just isn’t the best this race. I think I could run this section faster if I felt good. I came into CR 6 43 minutes behind so I had stopped the bleeding at least. It was now 6:50pm so I got my headlamp on. I ate something here but I don’t remember what. Something finally tasted good. I still never drank anymore drink mix though the remainder of the race, just water. Jessie’s final words at CR 6 aid station were “hurry up and get to Finland so I can go eat!”
I was glad to get through the section 13 cliff section while it was still light. After that the trail started to get dark and it cooled off. The trail was runnable again and I took off. This section would likely be boring to hike but was awesome to run. Flat, went over a beaver pond I’m pretty sure, more flat and then Finland aid station. I yelled out “bananapants!” so Jessie would know it’s me in the dark. Some people were kind of thrown by that I think. Anyway I was feeling better and had made up a small amount of time. It looked like 33 hours would be possible. Cheese curds at the aid station looked awesome and they were. Finally I was eating again. I had seen rain in the distance that had rained on Finland but I hadn’t gotten wet yet. I wouldn’t see Jessie for 4 hours according to my pace sheet so she could finally go eat.
The rest of the course I had run at least once before so I knew what was ahead. Finland to Sonju Lake is a fairly easy section. You run on a road for a mile or so and then gradually go uphill for miles. It’s a runnable incline and not very technical (comparatively) so with my new found energy and food I made good time.
Sonju Lake to Crosby Manitou I can’t remember much really. I think it is fairly average. The last mile is a road into the state park and the aid station is the parking lot. At my 50 mile 2 years ago I came into the station to see a bunch of people dancing to “What Does the Fox Say”. It was much more subdued this time. I was now only 38 minutes behind my pace sheet. I think Jessie was slightly impressed. She had slept a little bit at least. The next section I remember sucked from my 50 mile race. It’s a very technical downhill which isn’t too bad on fresh legs in the daytime but I expected it to be horrible now. It was 1am and storms were coming. I had planned on 26 minute miles for this section since that’s what other racers did in the past. Yeah, that’s really slow but it’s that bad of a section and 9.4 miles long without any aid.
So off I went. Down, down along the river you could hear but not see very often. Down the giant rocks, down the 30 foot sheer wall of mud that I don’t know how anyone ever goes up. Cross the river. Then crack, boom. The storm was here. Good thing I made it down before it really got wet. I put on my poncho but it never really rained much, just sprinkled with lots of lightning and thunder in the canyon. I hadn’t seen anyone so far but expected I would see people passing me on the 5 mile long hill. Sure enough someone passed me. But I also passed someone who was having trouble with his sandal. Anyway I was power hiking up the incline like a boss. Lightning always makes me go faster as well.
I think it was this section that some sort of animal ran into my left ankle. I heard rustling in the leaves coming towards me from the left and saw a little movement as well. Then something hit my ankle and went away. It felt like what I imagine a chipmunk hitting me would feel like so I’m assuming it was a chipmunk. Although why would it be out at night. And maybe it was actually towards dusk which means much earlier in the race. Like I said, lots of this race is hard to remember.
I ended up getting to Sugarloaf aid station AHEAD of my pace sheet. I had just cut off 50 minutes of time. Somehow my goal time was back in play. The course was now wet and muddy. My feet would be wet the rest of the race for the most part so I went ahead and took off my tape and put on my foot paste. My toes had already started to get wrinkly so it was good timing. No blisters yet at that point. Over night I had passed 9 people, mostly at aid stations. I knew many would pass me again once it was daylight. I felt good having made a cushion though.
Sugarloaf to Cramer Rd it started to downpour. I put my poncho back on. It rained for a long time it seemed like. Then the wind came that would last the rest of the day. I got chilled from the wind and sweat soaked shirt so when I got to the aid station I put on my long sleeve shirt. It was light out now so I left my headlamp with Jessie and hoped to not see it again this race, the dreaded second night.
Cramer Rd to Temperance is a pretty fun section if you have new legs. Lots of fast gentle downhills. The marathon starts from Cramer Rd area at 8am so I wanted to get as much distance as I could before they caught up.
Temperance aid station I know had pancakes and bacon. Awesome! I found the best way to eat pancakes was just to roll them up with the syrup in the middle and eat with my hands. Plastic forks suck. I put on a new t-shirt since it was getting warm again.
The section to Sawbill was bad. Lots of uphill to Carlton Peak. I’ve done it before so I knew what was coming. It’s actually runnable in the beginning if you’re a 50mile or marathon runner but not for me this year. If you’ve never done this section be prepared for lots of false peaks. It went even slower than I thought it would so I lost some time. At this point I had been running for 25 hours and I was pretty tired. I started taking caffeine at 6pm the night before and it helped some but I never felt alert by any means. This was the slowest section of the race averaging 26 minute miles. And yet only 1 person passed me. Well 1 100 mile racer. Marathon runners started passing me. If I remember right the last part of this section is downhill with lots of boardwalks. I like to call them expressways. While they can be slippery, you don’t have to worry about tripping on rocks or roots and they are in flat or downhill sections as well. You can cruise along quit quickly on them.
I finally got to Sawbill and had more pancakes and bacon. I was behind pace again by 30 minutes. Only 3 big hills left though. Sawbill to Oberg is a fast section. It’s also the most muddy even without rain. If you are a marathon runner you should be almost sprinting this section. It seems all downhill to me really. It’s not of course since you climb up Leveaux Mt but still it seems fast every time I run it. In fact I did this section at 4 miles an hour.
This also is the section where a lot of marathon runners past me, or maybe the end of the previous section, hard to remember. They knew I was a 100 mile runner due to the pink ribbons we wore on our backs to let them know. They’d all wait to pass and yell out something like “great job hundred”. I’d move over a lot this section and wonder how much faster I’d be if not for all the moving over and stopping. The 3 main phrases I heard were: “you’re awesome”, “super job”, or my favorite “you’re amazing”. Most of them were women and many held my arm as they passed (I’m sure just to stabilize themselves) and a couple even looked me in the eyes. I told Jessie at the next aid station that she might want to start worrying about all these other women calling me awesome and amazing. Oh wait, they were probably just saying that because I was running 100 miles. Crisis averted. I passed another 100 runner who looked kind of hurt just before the Oberg aid station but had been passed by someone as well. I was also going to get passed by someone soon according to the marathon runners who passed me.
I was in and out of Oberg pretty quickly. I knew a lot of people would be coming after me. I told Jessie I’d probably lose close to 5 more places. I was only 4 minutes over my pace sheet now since I went so fast the last section. This next section is fairly hard with 2 big hills. I was able to hold off anyone passing me until the climb up Moose Mt. I then ran pretty quick over the mountain and down hill. I was hurting a lot by this point (I’ll talk more about pain later) but I just got into this mode where I was able to ignore all the pain in my legs and go. It still hurt like crazy when I stubbed my toes though. I got passed by 3 more people and I had had enough. Even though I wanted so bad to just walk up Mystery Mt I didn’t want anyone else passing me. There was still an hour of race left and I decided I’d see if I could run it all. Mystery Mt is pretty much the only place on the entire length of the superior hiking trail with switchbacks so it’s fairly gradual of an incline. I actually passed some marathon runners on the way up Mystery Mt. I don’t know where the energy came from. Maybe it’s always there and I’m just not pushing myself enough the entire race. Finally the crest and now the downhill. Man I was hoping I’d catch up to someone who passed me. I did see one of the runners on the straight downhill section but he looked back and saw me so he picked it up so I couldn’t pass him the last mile to the finish line.
I love the finish at this race. Over a mile of downhill all the way to the finish line. I crossed the line at 31:14:29 37th place overall and 7th in my new age division of Master. That’s one good thing about turning 40, I’m a Master now. The time was 3:15pm. You get an awesome buckle and finisher medal once you cross the line. Of the 217 that started this race, only 138 finished. 64% which is pretty typical of this race. Of the 6 other runners I knew well, 4 had quit. I haven’t run this 100 before so I don’t know how this year compared to other years but it seemed tough and the finishing times were definitely longer than last year. I got my one drop bag back and got my finisher jacket with my name and my first star for my sleeve.
I was hurting pretty bad but was able to get to the food area and had the chili and corn bread which was better than most years it seemed to me. I went to the hotel and showered in the stand up shower (not easy when you’re super sore). We went to bed around 4pm so I was up for 34 hours. I think Jessie only got about 3 hours of sleep during the race. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been up that long without at least some sleep. It would’ve been at camp as a teenager if I did, and I certainly wasn’t running the whole time. We got up around 8pm and ate an entire 16 inch pizza at Grand Marais. Then back to bed and home the next day.
Here are some more pictures along the course just to get an idea of the awesome views there are. Also some more photos of the varied terrain. Some are from the race Facebook page, others are credited on the photo itself.
So back to the pain thing. My feet were killing me pretty much from mile 20 on. I wore my Altra Olympus I wore at Vol State and they are about as padded as you can get. Those constant sharp rocks and roots really wear on your feet, even with thick soles. Around 8pm is when I was wishing I was doing Vol State again so I could put my feet up and sleep for a bit. But you can’t do that in this race, you just need to keep going. By the end my quads were pretty trashed as expected. Surprisingly my hips were fine, probably since I wasn’t sliding down every hill like at Zumbro. The new tread of the Olympus worked better than I expected. No slippage ever in the mud with these. The foot pain by the end was pretty intense. I was able to block it out the last 2 hours to pick up the pace but I was happy to finally get off them after 34 hours.
Toe pain was even worse. Not from my shoes, but from the constant stubbing of my big toes on what seemed like everything. Rocks were everywhere, even when you thought the path was clear, one would jump up and jam your toe. Then the roots. Oh Lordy, the roots. Relentless in their pursuit to trip you and stub your toes as well. I once had my right foot get caught while running and I had to hop on one foot until I came to a complete stop. I don’t know how I didn’t fall that time. It didn’t tear a hole in my shoe either which was surprising. I stubbed my right big toe at least 100 times during the first half of the race and then for some reason stubbed my left big toe close to 100 times the second half of the race. Weird. I ended up popping blisters under both of those the next day so I’m fairly certain I will lose them both but I’m holding out hope on the right one staying on since it was a very small blister that I had to fish for to find. I don’t know how people with sandals or Joe Fejes with his open toed shoes don’t break a toe on this course. Despite all the stubbing of my toes, I never fell down once! I’m still amazed at that, especially after looking at the photos of the course.
I spent 70 minutes total at aid stations this race. That is way more than I thought I did since there are only 13 stations and I had a crew. I need to shave some time off that next time. Despite being at stations longer than I wanted, I still passed most people at the aid stations. Meaning that I’d leave a station before someone that was already there would. For example, the last section I got passed by 4 people but still only lost 3 places since I passed someone at the station by leaving before them. Most of the race I’d get passed by the same people because I’d always pass them at the station and then they’d catch up again.
I think there weren’t many hornet stings this year either compared to some years. I never encountered any nor did anyone I talked to.
I was able to walk normal by Monday which I was surprised by since I could barely walk Saturday after the race. Amazing what sleep can do to restore you! I ran a couple miles on Friday last week which felt good but my quads were sore on Saturday (yesterday) so I must not be ready to run again yet. I’ll try again in a few days.
Here’s a great blog with commentary on the race winners and lots of photos:
Well that’s it. Short for once! If I didn’t credit you in a photo somewhere let me know.