Superior 100 – 2017

I’ll just start by saying I’m pretty excited about my performance because it’s going to come through in my writing that way anyway.  Not that I won by any means or even placed for my age, but I did really, really well for me and a great improvement from last year.  I got 20th out of 237 starters, that’s huge for me in a summer race!  My time was 27:26:24, almost 4 hours off last years time!  It’s pretty safe to say I won’t have a performance like that again so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

So why did things go so well?  The main thing was the temperature.  The high was in the 60’s instead of high 70’s last year.  The low got down to freezing in some locations which was awesome.  Probably at least 90 minutes of the improvement was just because I didn’t get overheated for more than 30 minutes the entire race instead of the entire day last year.  Some improvement was because I didn’t run Vol State this year.  The rest…I’m not entirely sure.  I certainly didn’t train better or harder.  I planned things a little better with my crew maybe and changed some nutrition stuff.  I think mostly though I just kept feeling pretty good and as long as I felt good, I pushed it.

The Race

Absolutely beautiful!  No clouds pretty much the entire race.  Northern lights the night before.  The Superior Hiking Trail just gets better every time I run or hike on it.  I’m so glad it’s still a pretty good secret.  Here’s an example of the beauty you’ll see along the race route.  This is just after the Split Rock aid station so very early in the race.

Anyway just go to the race website for tons of awesome and scary photos if you want.

The race itself in on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.  We go from Gooseberry Falls to Lutsen Ski Resort almost completely along the superior hiking trail which is pretty technical single track.  21,000 elevation gain packaged in both large and many small doses.  The course had an additional change this year since the bridge over Split Rock Creek was out so we had to ford the river 7 miles into the race.  So guaranteed wet feet pretty early on.

I brought the whole family this year.  My awesome wife/crew, my children, and my parents/children watchers.  My parents have never gone to one of these events yet so I decided it was about time they came and saw what it was about.  I don’t think it hurt that it was on the north shore either.  We brought 2 vehicles so my wife could concentrate on crewing during the race and my parents could do whatever they wanted with the kids.

The night before the race is the pre-race meeting with spaghetti dinner.  We all went and ate before the meeting.  I talked to a couple people before the meeting started and got registered after I ate.  My parents stayed to listen to the meeting as well since they didn’t know much about the race.  It was shorter this year which I appreciated.  I didn’t stick around to talk to people since I had the family with.

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My pre-race photo.
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The start line if you couldn’t tell.

We stayed at a hotel near the start line again and got there about 20 minutes before it started.  I saw a few people I knew would be there but didn’t have much time to talk.  I was busy explaining things to my parents and wrangling children.  I lined up at the starting line and made sure to be up further this year as I didn’t feel like being slowed down again once we got to the single track.  I placed 37th last year so I lined up in about 30th place  knowing I’d do better.

And we were off at 8am.

The first 4 miles are on a bike path similar to the last 3 years and in my opinion will always stay that way from now on.  It’s the only way to spread the field out.

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Me running with the eventual female winner.

Next we turn onto the single track and start climbing up along the shore of the river.  We crossed the river about 0.2 miles from the old bridge spot so the course was shorter than normal (and even shorter because of the bike path, basically 1 mile shorter total but still 102.3 miles long)  Here’s a video of the crossing.

Split rock river - cole peyton
Photo Credit : Cole Peyton
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Photo Credit : Cole Peyton

It wasn’t bad but the first 2 steps were impossible to not get wet.  I wore my new Altra Timp for the first 20 miles of the race.  I didn’t have any time to break them in but they drained water like a dream.  I purchased them specifically because of this crossing and the next one coming up after Split Rock aid station.  My Lone Peak and Olympus both hold a half inch of water so they are useless for water crossing on trails.  I got into the Split Rock aid station at 9:28 am, 20 minutes faster than I expected for my 30 hour goal time.  That’s almost 9 minute miles but I still felt great and it was sure nice not to have to go around anyone on the trail.

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Some good views of Lake Superior early on in the race. Photo Credit – Amy Broadmoore

The mud the first 20 miles of this race wasn’t totally ridiculous but it was more than usual.  It’s not near as slippery as it was at Bighorn since there must be a lot less clay in it in northern MN.  Here’s a good photo of what the muddy portions are like.

Mud - zach Pierce
Photo Credit – Zach Pierce

Next up was Beaver Bay 10.4 miles away.  I tried to pay more attention to the trail this year so I could remember it better.  About half way to Beaver Bay is where the rocks begin.  Oh sure there are plenty of rocks before but you will understand what I mean when you run the race.  These rocks don’t stop basically until Tettegouche, and then they just go down to the normal amount of rocks.  Oh and there was lots of mud as well.  The entire trail was fairly wet the entire year according to the hiking trail website.  Finally about 7 miles from Split Rock you get to the beaver dam crossing.  I had read about it on the hiking trail website but I didn’t know how big it was going to be.  It was pretty deep and smelly and you couldn’t see where you were stepping.  Oh and the orange scum on top of the water was an extra special touch I thought.  Here’s a video of most of the crossing.

I’ll just add it here that I wish there was a compilation video of all the major spills people took during this race.  I saw/heard 2 of them just behind me during the Split Rock to Beaver Bay section.  One guy totally fell in the mud after slipping and one guy made a huge sound when he slipped on a boardwalk and I think landed on his back.  Both were fine.  I only fell once but it was from a rock in the Beaver Bay to Silver Bay section.  I just tripped and caught myself with my hands but I also hit my knees on the rocks while going down.  Somehow I was OK.

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This is what it looks like for a good portion of the section.  Notice how bent my left foot is?  You need flexible feet for this course.  Photo Credit – Zach Pierce

Finally I got to Beaver Bay and the first place you can meet your crew.  I got in at 11:38am which was only about 6 minutes ahead of my expected time.  Dam beavers slowing my down, get it?  My whole family was there.  My crew was efficient.  My children were not.  They kept wanting me to come see these rocks, as if I hadn’t seen a million in the last 5 miles already.  I took off my shoes and socks and applied my wet foot mixture.  I would’ve kept the Timps on but they were giving me a hot spot in the heel since they were so new.  I put on the Olympus knowing they should do OK since there was only mud from now on and they could handle that most likely, plus they were broken in.  I told my wife I would try to slow down.  Next stop was Silver Bay just 5 miles away.

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Nice runnable section from Beaver Bay. Photo Credit : Fresh Tracks Media

I didn’t slow down at all.  In fact I sped up.  I felt great in my new dry shoes and the mud was gone.  Still rocks, lots of rocks but a couple flat open runnable sections too.  I got to Silver Bay at 12:40, 20 minutes ahead now.

The next section was a long one again at 10 miles so I loaded up on gels and ice water and Sword.  It’s one of the tougher sections but I think easily the section with the best views.

The first video is bean/bear lake overlook and the second one is my favorite view point which is before Tettegouche and as far as I can tell unnamed.

 

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Yes that’s a straight drop off and an awesome view.

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As you get towards Tettegouche, you can see the lakes of the park with the cabins in between them.  You can rent them even in the winter but we still haven’t done that.  Finally you start going downhill, down the Drainpipe and to the Tettegouche aid station that your crew has to climb up a third of a mile trail to get to. The bottom half of the drainpipe.  There are bigger boulders at the top.  This part you can run down if you're brave, I almost ran into the photographer.

I was looking forward to an ice cold breakfast shake here and was going to grab my emergency flashlight in case things went real bad before County Road 6.  I got in at 3pm which was 50 minutes ahead of schedule now.  That’s what cool weather does, makes me go fast.  I looked around and didn’t see my wife anywhere.  I yelled out “bananapants!”, and got no response.

Well, on I go to County Road 6 for another 8.6 miles with no electrolytes or my yummy shake I had been looking forward to.  I started to slow down since my nutrition plan was now shot and I needed to conserve a little bit.  Plus it was actually kind of hot for me now.  There are a fair amount of ups and downs this section and not much for views.  People started passing me but at least I had someone to talk to.  Up to this point I had actually saw very few people since Split Rock.

I wondered if my wife got a flat tire and I’d never see her the rest of the race.  I could probably make it to Finland before dark and beg someone for a headlamp so I wouldn’t have to quit.  Finally I got to County Road 6 at 5:23pm an hour ahead now.  The first words out of my wife’s mouth were, “You were an hour early so it’s your fault!”  Whatever, we had a lot of stuff to do.  Got my headlamp, emergency flashlight, watch charger, finally my shake, etc.

There was a very real chance I’d get to Finland before dark.  It was nice seeing everything in the next section.  It looked different in the dark last year.  This is really the easiest section of the course.  There are a couple miles of real rocky trail and hills but the last 5 miles are either completely flat or slightly uphill.  Oh and essentially NO rocks either on the last part.  Much of it is on boardwalks (superior expressways) too.  Not much else to report on this section other than I finally started to get a little energy back.  The nutrition problems from Tettegouche had lost me some time but I knew the energy was coming soon.

I got to Finland at 7:30pm an hour ahead of schedule and more than 2 hours ahead of last year.  The race splits has me coming in almost 20 minutes later but maybe that’s of me leaving.  Anyway, my socks were kind of damp so I changed socks here.  I also packed a long sleeve shirt, gloves, buff and put my headlamp on.  I wouldn’t see my wife until Crosby which normally would take 3 hours but she knew better at this point not to follow the schedule anymore.

Sonju Lake aid station was next and 7.5 miles away.  It seemed to take forever this year even though it wasn’t too bad.  I had my gloves on to help keep my hands warm.  It was getting colder now that the sun was gone and the moon was rising.  It fooled me a couple times thinking the aid station was coming up.  I started worrying about missing the spur trail turn since my watch showed I should’ve been there already.  Finally I saw the lights strung up.  It was a 60’s love themed aid station.  The best part though was the cheeseburgers.  I swear that’s my new favorite aid station food, move over bacon!  I got there at 9:47pm.  I didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to get cold.

4.2 miles to Crosby and I’d see my wife there.  Finally a short section but a very technical one.  Lots of roots and rocks in the dark.  I got to Crosby at 11:02pm 80 minutes ahead.  At this point my wife knew she wouldn’t be getting any sleep since I kept getting to the next aid station too soon for her to rest.  I don’t even know what I did here really other than load up for the next long 9.4 mile section.

Crosby to Sugarloaf is never fun.  This is the type of trail section that if you asked a friend to hike it with you, you would probably no longer have that friend.  If I ever wanted a divorce, I’d take my wife on this section.  It just seems pointless.  Lots of steep climbs and descents filled with rocks and mud.  I doubt it’s even pretty in the day.  At least it was cool and it didn’t rain this year.  I think I passed a few people and got passed by a few people.  By this point I was listening to music.  I had heard some coyotes early on in the night but by this time nature had pretty much let me down aurally.  I also put my long sleeve shirt on during one of the non-climbing sections.

I got to Sugarloaf at 2:08am.  I think I had some beet juice here and some chips.  Night time was kind of  a haze this year since I didn’t have lightning  and rain to keep me focused like last year.

Sugarloaf to Cramer Road isn’t a long section at 5.6 miles but it has some fairly steep hills and overall is uphill to Cramer Road.  My watch died along this section due to the cold.  This section I also ended up putting on my buff for the first time.  It was only for about 5 minutes and then I warmed up going up a hill again and took it off.  I got into Cramer at 3:55am an hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  Last year it was already light out when I got there.  Now I was starting to think I might see the sunrise at Carlton Peak but that was a pipe dream.  I didn’t do anything special at Cramer as far as I can remember but probably had another breakfast shake.

Cramer to Temperance is 7.1 miles and the last long section in my mind.  I took the normal amount of water since with the cold weather I was plenty hydrated.  I always think this section should be fast.  It’s overall downhill but the issue is the technicality of this section I think.  Also, I always get fooled thinking the Cross River is the Temperance River.  It messes with me mentally.  It was almost as slow as my Manitou section.  You can’t really fly down the hill on the Temperance River either.  There are lots of rock and root sections that aren’t too hard on fresh legs like the marathon people have but hard on tired legs.  Towards the end it seems like you start going away from the aid station you can hear as well since there are kind of long switchbacks.  Plus this year my headlamp died.  I had it on too bright a setting with the colder temps.  So I had to get my flashlight which gives off plenty of light but then you can’t swing your arms very much.  This drastically slowed down my power hiking capabilities.  This section is pretty in the daylight though.

I got to the Temperance River aid station at 6:15am.  It was just starting to get light so at least I could unload a bunch of stuff here.  Gone were the headlamp, flashlight, battery charger, etc.  I changed back into my t-shirt but kept my gloves.  I changed socks for the last time here.  They weren’t wet but moist enough to change one last time.  I didn’t put anymore wet foot mix on though.  They have pancakes here so I had a couple of those with bacon to help fuel me to the finish.  I could see a lot of 100 mile people taking a long time here, it’s just a nice place with good food.

By the time I left I only had 10 minutes until sunrise so no way to make Carlton Peak for sunrise.  The next section is one of the prettiest but also the section I least look forward too.  You start off going further down river until you cross it and then start back up the other side.  Thus begins the 800 foot climb up to Carlton Peak.  It’s the longest climb on the entire superior hiking trail if I remember right.  It’s at least the longest of the race.  It starts out with pretty views of the river and it’s even runnable.  Then it’s just up, up, up.  Oh, you think that’s the top?  I mean you can’t see any trees higher than you right?  Nope just go around a little bit and then you see you can still go up more.  Anyway, the last bit is boulder climbing and actually kind of fun while still sucky on tired legs.  Your split for the entire section usually won’t be too horrible actually since the beginning isn’t too hard and once you get down the initial steep part off Carlton Peak, it’s smooth sailing on boardwalks for a bunch of it.  This year there was a fair amount of mud on the non-boardwalk sections as well.  I met a few people on this section.  I think it was a pacer/runner combo.  They caught up to me on the climb up and I passed them on the way down, the usual for me.

I arrived at Sawbill at 7:56am!  The marathon hadn’t even started yet.  I was being passed like crazy at this aid station last year.  I was so pumped to not have to deal with any people flying past me until at least after Moose Mt if at all.  This was pretty much an in and out stop for me.  Less than a half marathon to go and almost 2 hours ahead of my goal pace for 30 hours.  I decided I needed to try to get a little buffer to stay 2 hours ahead.

This is one of my favorite parts of the course.  There are a couple steepish climbs but the rest is open maple forest and you can see so far compared to much of the course.  It’s always muddy in spots on this section, even in drought years but they are still mostly runnable.  The main thing really with this section and the next is that it isn’t technical at all for the most part.  You can just run and not have to have your brain in what I call terminator mode all the time.  You know in the movie when you’d see the POV of the terminator and all you saw was a bunch of code and things being highlighted in his path?  That’s what it feels like in the technical sections, especially at night.  All you can do is keep your head down and concentrate on every object on the ground in your headlamp’s field of view flying past you and making sure your feet land either on or between those objects depending on what they are.  It’s kind of exhausting and I think the reason many people walk at night.  They’re too tired mentally to handle it.  I passed a few runners walking this section.  I’m pretty sure they were hurting in some way or another.  I heard one telling his pacer he just couldn’t figure out what happened to his quads.

I got into Oberg at 9:33am.  Over 2 hours ahead so I had my buffer and could just relax and enjoy the finish.  No second afternoon for this guy this year.  The only real reason I tried to push this section was just to not get passed by anyone like last year.  The climb up Moose Mt. sucked as always for me.  There is a great overlook just off the trail at the top but I didn’t stop to look.  I somehow caught up to a couple people at the top of the mountain so now I couldn’t let them catch back up.  I flew down the mountain as best I could which wasn’t that graceful.  The food from Temperance was starting to run out but I could smell the barn.  I only power hiked the majority of Mystery Mt. this year as I didn’t have the energy to run it.

I started to get excited at doing so well this year.  I had virtually no clue what place I was in but I know it was around 29th at Temperance.  I hoped my family would be ready at the finish line as I knew I was going even faster than last year and would be under 2 hours for the section which I’ve never done before.  I took off my headphones in preparation for the decent to the finish line.  Finally after running what always seems like the entire surface of Mystery Mt, the trail starts to descend.  It’s just the kind of steepness I love.  Not so steep it’s impossible to run but steep enough to make it on the edge of being scary at full speed.  I flew past 2 more runners who luckily heard me coming as one of them was just around a corner I flew around and couldn’t stop if I tried.  I ran that mile in under 9 minutes which is an awesome feeling after 100 miles.  Then the river crossing which is pretty but you can’t stop that close to the finish line.  There’s a small little hill and then a more gentle decline to the road and then the finish line.

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Coming around the turn… Photo Credit – MG Wheeler
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Down the straight a way… Photo Credit – MG Wheeler
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And across the finish line!  Photo Credit – MG Wheeler
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Celebratory Woo!  Photo Credit – MG Wheeler

I finished at 11:26am and never did get passed by any marathon or 50 milers.  That’s 27:26:24.  Most of my family was there.  My daughter felt it was more important to play on the playground and my mom was going to get her camera so she missed it too.

I got my medal, buckle, and star to add to my sweatshirt sleeve I got last year.  I ate a couple bowls of chili and my crew helped me wash my shoes and take my gear.  I slept for a little bit but I hurt too much and so I went swimming with the kids and tried to find out when my friends would be coming in.  We ate supper and then I was just too tired to stay and watch people finish.  I wanted to just kind of sleep and watch from my balcony but I couldn’t since there was all this smoke coming from the cook tent they had set up.  One friend missed the last time cut off but everyone else finished which was great.  Southern MN had a decent showing this year.

I only stubbed my toe about 5 times the entire race but they were doozies.  No toenails were lost from this race either so that’s always good.  No blisters at all but I changed socks more often than most races and that likely helped.

The finishing rate was 71.3% this year so above average which I’m sure was due to the nice temperature and no rain.  Plus I think there were a fair amount of people avenging themselves for quitting in previous attempts that weren’t going to quit no matter what this time.  I hope all my future races can go this well but of course that won’t happen.

We drove North to Naniboujou Lodge for their Sunday brunch the next morning since my parents have never been there and to challenge my daughter to a rematch waffle eating contest.  She said she didn’t feel like having an eating contest.  I think she just wanted to retain the title.  For the record though, I would’ve won.  I did just run 100 miles; you tend to be hungry for the next week.

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