A 15 mile run that felt effortless. A 25 MPH wind that pushed me one way, and made me work on the way back with dirt hitting against my face. I laughed at some great podcasts and learned from others.
I planned the hikes I would take my children on in the mountains next summer.
I thought of my favorite hikes I want to take them on when they are old enough.
I hoped for a day when they ask me to go on their favorite hikes they discover as adults.
No wildlife made this run great, there were none to be seen. No interesting scenes of nature. No cars. No people. No crops.
Perhaps the nothingness was part of what made it great. Getting lost in the constant effortless pace. I didn’t need to look at my watch to know I would average under a 10 minute mile pace.
With just 1 mile left to go I almost felt sad. I felt like going another 5 miles but knew I didn’t have the time.
I felt like a sled dog that wants to keep pulling the sled with the rest of his pack over the next hill. Like a 12 year old that just wants another hour to play with his friends before going home. Like a teenager wanting time to stop, so that his date can go on forever. I felt myself pushing even harder into the wind and lengthening out my stride. It felt awesome!
Some days I don’t want to run but I do. Some days the run feels horrible. But today I was reminded of why I run. I run because someday I won’t be able to run any longer. I’ll remember days like today for years. A simple 15 mile run that made my life better.
“Always remember our goal is Greece. Don’t mess up and I’ll try my best to get us there.” That was the final remark in the crew notes to my wife for this race.
So let’s get the main details out of the way. This is a 100 mile race in extreme southern Illinois (Land of Lincoln!) on an old railroad bed. It isn’t paved so it is still technically a trail but because it’s so flat and smooth, it is also a certified course for distance. The course is an out and back from a central location; You end up doing a Southern and Northern out and back twice for the 100 mile. It’s in November so the temperatures are near ideal and little chance for rain in November. Basically it was designed for fast times and breaking records. Despite being flat, it is quite pretty. There’s a 543 foot long tunnel you go through 4 times, and lots of trestles. Also, with 566 total starters there are plenty of chances to talk to other people. I’ll detail the race results later.
This race required a 10+ hour drive from MN to get there. That’s a long way for a race but the entire purpose was to get under 21 hours to qualify for a future race. I further wanted to get under 20 hours so that was my goal. It wasn’t just because under 20 hours seems cooler than under 21, but the race I was qualifying for has reduced their time cutoff in the past and I wanted to be under what I thought they might change it to. While this race would be easy to do without a crew since it’s an out and back past the same drop bags multiple times, I brought my awesome wife to crew once again. I had all of about 15 minutes of down time changing clothes, peeing, getting food and drink because of her. The majority of aid stations I wouldn’t even stop as she’d just hand me water and gels on the move. Not having her would’ve added 30 minutes to my time.
The drive was long and filled with “Land of Lincoln” signs all through Illinois which induced many inside jokes and voices. We got to the race bib pickup and supper before they closed. It is a good spaghetti supper with awesome desserts! They also had sweet tea so you now you were in way Southern Illinois. We stayed in a town to the North since Vienna doesn’t have much for hotel rooms. It seemed like we had to drive uphill for a long ways which made me wonder what the climb to tunnel hill would be like on the course.
I got up at 4am for a 7am start. The temperature was 28 degrees and zero wind so I had to start with a thermal long sleeve shirt, gloves and buff knowing I’d have to change after a couple hours when it warmed up. Shorts were still in order though. I saw runners wearing full jackets and long pants the entire race, I suspect they lived somewhere warmer.
There is a small warm building there at the start line you could go in and a good amount of porta-potties. Even though the course is certified for distance they had us do this loop around the parking lot at the start. I don’t know if this was required for the distance or just extra we ran. With there also being a 50 mile race, it seemed odd since we never ran this loop a second time for the 100 mile distance.
I started somewhat up front, trying to leave room for fast 50 milers. The race is chip timed but not from the starting line so your start time is gun time. I wasn’t going to start 5 minutes in the hole lining up in the back, plus I thought a sub 20 hour time should be somewhat in the front. Again, I really needed under 21 hours which is why I was so concerned with a few minutes here and a few seconds there, it really could make the difference.
I planned a slow degradation in my speed for the race with some adjustments for the incline and decline of tunnel hill. Basically I started at a 9:10 pace and would finish with a 13:20 going downhill to the finish line. I had been using Sword drink all year in preparation for this race since it would be served here and also I wanted to try something with fructose in it. I’ve liked it so far this year. BUT… I really don’t like the Orange flavor. So sure enough, that’s all they had at the race. Ugh! I could only stomach it for the first 30 miles or so and then I was going to drink my limited supply of berry flavor I brought. In the end though I only drank water the remainder of the race.
I’ll quickly state that while I’m confident the race course is indeed 100 miles (plus whatever fudge factor they always add for certified courses) I don’t agree with the distances between different aid stations. Not a huge deal if you have a GPS watch but if you’re going with just a watch, you’ll be wondering why some sections are going faster/slower than you thought. Also it’s hard to know what part of the aid station they are measuring from. Often the timing mat isn’t at all near the aid station tent and Karnak and Tunnel Hill are very long areas.
My wife made it to the first aid station Heron Pond and I just did a Sword swap. Next up was Karnak and here I changed into a T-shirt as it was above 40 now and still zero wind on the trail at least. I had been talking to people here and there up to this point. I had listened to a loud conversation about relationships by a group of women behind me for about 20 minutes. Finally I ran with a woman named Abby going for sub 20 as well. We stuck together for an hour or so but she ended up dropping to the 50 mile distance I found out later.
From Karnak to the Southern turn-around is almost 2.6 miles according to my watch and Google Earth and not the 2.4 miles listed. To compensate for this Karnak to Heron Pond and Heron Pond to Vienna are both shorter than listed but mostly the Karnak to Heron Pond is shorter. I’m going from tent to tent for measurements.
Abby and I got to the turnaround which has a timing mat but isn’t updated to the live results website as far as I can tell. I assume it is there to make sure you didn’t cheat. Soon after the turn I saw a friend of mine that I knew was also going for a qualifying time. I had previously told her I’d slap her butt if she wasn’t keeping up so I started motioning as to get her back side as she passed me. Of course I wasn’t really going to slap her, but in the process I scared the crap out of the woman running in front of her. I yelled “sorry” over my back and hope she heard me.
So 14 miles down and a bunch more to go. The trail is tree lined the entire way and very pretty, especially on the North section. I went into cruise mode. Eating gels and some ham and cheese sandwiches they had at aid stations, and Sword. Still doing under 10 minute miles and banking some time. I was up 10 minutes by the time I finished the first Southern loop and got to Vienna.
Somewhere around 20 miles I think.
The photos are from somewhere around mile 20 I think.
I got my music out now as people were just kind of following their own game plan. There is an aid station called Shelby Road just under 3 miles from Vienna going North. I just got some more gels and Sword from my wife. This is were I typically slow down in an ultra. My stomach gets acidy, it usually is hot (not this race though), and I’m just out of glycogen after 30 miles. I only drank water the rest of the race and didn’t eat much until I got back to Vienna at 50 miles.
I planned on 11 minute miles for this Northern loop but I was slower than that and I could feel it. I had even done some math 20 miles into the race on what it would take to do sub-19. Now I was hoping I could somehow hang onto sub-20. I of course knew there are ups and downs and yet I’m always seemingly surprised when the first down shows up. I had to start a running/walking pattern at Shelby Road that I maintained the remainder of the race. Run 5 / walk 1. The same I had done at my first 100 miler at Heartland 100. My muscles were just tired of the same flat surface and the walking made a huge difference on things getting loose and normal feeling again.
The trail on paper starts to climb right away from Vienna to Tunnel Hill but to me it seemed like it didn’t really start until after Shelby Rd. You go up almost 300 feet from Vienna to Tunnel Hill in 9 miles. That certainly isn’t much but like I said it seemed to be more concentrated towards Tunnel Hill. You can definitely see you’re going up during the daytime watching the trail cut into the bedrock in spots and seeing the people in front of you are uphill. It’s harder to notice going downhill. There is a long trestle before the tunnel that had gallon water jugs for an aid station. I think it is about 400 feet long and 90 feet high. You’re surrounded by hills though so there isn’t much of a view other than looking down.
The tunnel itself is 543 feet long and after about 100 feet it’s completely dark. You can see light at the end of the tunnel but that just makes it worse since the contrast is so high. I just had to trust there weren’t any holes for me to fall into or twist an ankle on. Even moving at a pretty good speed, it still takes a full minute to get through it.
I got to tunnel hill aid station which is a small town and a long parking lot along the trail. I had lost 4 minutes of time already. The Northern turn around is 2.1 miles away (not 2) and all downhill. It’s pretty and curves a lot so you really never know when you’re going to get there. Again you go over a timing mat and around a cone. Then the uphill back to tunnel hill. I saw Abby again about a half mile after the turn around so she was about 10 minutes back now and I knew behind her pace she wanted. I still didn’t try to count how many people were in front of me at this turnaround since there were still 50 mile runners and way too many people to count accurately. I didn’t see my friend Kimberly so I knew something must’ve happened to her. She did end up going over 50 miles so I should’ve past her somewhere but it was likely at an aid station. I saw some other VolState friends as well.
Back at tunnel hill it was all downhill to Vienna and I was looking forward to it. I was still only 5 minutes in front of my pace. I didn’t eat anything and only drank water. Antacids helped some. I saw people puking a lot. I heard many runners telling their crew they had puked or saw other people puking. I won’t go as far as to say it was like the Lardass scene from Stand By Me, but a case could be made that at least 10% of runners puked during the race. In fact, that’s what my friend ended up getting pulled from the race for. It wasn’t hot so that couldn’t be the reason. I suspect there are a LOT of runners trying for their first 100 mile distance at this race and inexperience was the cause for a lot of them. It’s also probably part of why so many drop to the 50 mile distance.
I got to Vienna just 2 minutes under my goal pace now. 9 hours into the race and 4pm on the clock. I was getting concerned but I was also happy that I stopped the bleeding now. I was feeling better. I had a breakfast shake, got my headlamp on and brushed aside the long sleeve t-shirt for now as it was still warm. My wife seemed kind of grumpy with my loosing time. I still technically had an hour buffer. She was still doing a great job keeping things running smoothly though.
I now had a 12 minute pace planned. I gained time again. It was dark now and I kept going back and forth with this group of 4 guys. Our run/walk patterns were different so I think we leap frogged a dozen times. I had to charge my watch from Heron Pond to Karnak so I didn’t really know how fast I was going but ended up staying pretty much where I wanted. My back started to hurt now and I could tell there was likely a blister on at least my left big toe but it only hurt if I purposely rubbed my toes in my shoes so I didn’t stop. This time from Vienna I started counting people in front of me. The leaders passed me still during the light. The first place woman was gaining on the male leader from the last 2 times I saw them. Then there was a long time before I started seeing more people in the dark. I just counted everyone, not knowing if they were just a pacer or not. I counted close to 50 by the time I got to the turn-around. I wasn’t concerned about place, just time but I felt happy with the number. In fact I was higher than 50th since there were a fair amount of pacers.
At Heron Pond the 4th time through, I stopped for the first time of the race and sat down. My lower back was all tight and I was hurting. I took an NSAID and had my wife massage me some. She got the knots out in like 4 minutes, awesome. I put on a light long sleeve shirt. With all this I also lost all my banked time. 29 miles left and no room for error.
I took some caffeine and got to Vienna. My wife had a double cheeseburger waiting for me. I knew the climb up tunnel hill would be slower so I planned on a 13:30 pace but even that was proving to be difficult. The winners had already finished so I didn’t bother to keep track of how many were in front of me. I started to get used to the idea of not getting under 20 hours as I just couldn’t get going. I finally got to the tunnel and it was much less creepy now that I had a light in the tunnel. I couldn’t believe there was no graffiti in it. I got to Tunnel Hill aid station 7 minutes behind my schedule. I drank some beet juice here and looked forward to the short downhill to the turn-around.
I cruised downhill but sucked going back up. I was 10 minutes behind schedule and basically had 2 hours to get back to the finish in under 20 hours. 9.7 miles in 2 hours. I had planned on a 13:20 pace back to the finish but would now essentially need under 12 to make up for stops and the lost time. I soon decided after leaving Tunnel Hill for the last time that I’d go for it. I took some more caffeine, ate a gel, and took off.
With the walking breaks I had to run under a 11 minute mile pace. With the slight downhill, it wasn’t all that difficult to keep the pace. I had to start mouth breathing again to get enough air and just concentrated on the 5 run / 1 walk timing and keeping the pace under 11 while running. It was clear after an hour that I was making up time very well. I would get to Shelby Rd back on pace meaning I had made up the 10 minutes already and just had under 3 more miles to go. I got to Shelby and told my wife I was going for it.
It was nice those last few miles. I knew I would make it but still kept up the pace. There were a few hundred mile people still coming from the other direction with encouraging words. I haven’t mentioned this before but there are mile markers along the tunnel hill trail and the finish line is just .15 miles after the nearest mile marker so I was constantly doing math on the way back in. I finished at 2:54am, 19:54:05 after I started! I think I made a whoo but there was basically no one there at the finish line to hear it. The crowd to watch Camille Herron break the women’s world record 100 miles on trail with a time of 12:42 were long gone. The aid station that had food before looked empty. Really the only people there were pacers waiting for their runners to do the Northern loop with them.
I finished in 28th place overall, 22nd male, and 10th in my age division.
I got a nice looking sub 24 hour buckle and running jacket. I thought there was supposed to be finish line food but I didn’t see it and maybe it didn’t start until later. Either way I wasn’t that hungry. For the first time I realized how horrible I smelled. There were supposed to be showers at the high school where we checked in the night before the race so we heading straight over there.
There were supposed to be signs where to go but we couldn’t find any. The doors to the school were open so we just searched around and found a gym and then looked downstairs for locker rooms. We could hear water running so we went in that direction. This is the point where I was glad I wasn’t alone. It’s 3am, we’re creeping around dimly lit halls in a school; Basically the beginning of every horror movie. I walk into a locker room that is fairly well lit but the lights are blinking in that annoying fluorescent strobe effect. No one answers my calls to “Hello”. I get back to the shower area and can see almost half of them are dripping water at a steady pace with only 1 incandescent bulb working in there. Luckily no one else was in there as I had no idea if this was a girls or boys locker room. There were still a couple small rooms going off this locker room that I didn’t investigate for a murderer but really I wasn’t going to be able to fight one off anyway. I had a hard enough time walking by this point.
I took off my shoes and socks and discovered a huge blister on my left big toe with the toe nail already lifted up. I also realized that while I had brought a towel and soap, I had forgot clothes to change into. So I went to the door naked trying to find my wife, and yelled at her outside. Luckily she heard me and got my clothes and a safety pin to pop the huge blister. We should’ve got a picture but whatever. The left side of the nail had moved a couple millimeters towards the end of my toe as well. I had always wondered why the left side of this nail wasn’t growing as fast as the right side of the nail from when I had lost it last year. I think the tip of the nail was getting caught under the skin towards the end of my toe and now that the blister had lifted the nail up, it just went up and over it like it should’ve been. That’s also the possible reason for the blister to begin with. That or these shoes were doing something I wasn’t aware of in training. Regardless, I’m starting over with this nail yet again. I had zero blisters at Superior 100 just 2 months ago and now I’ll likely loose 3 nails from this easy flat race.
The shower was nice and quick. It took some effort to get my compression tights on but I got them on with my wife’s help. She wasn’t super tired so we started the drive home right away. I tried to sleep in the passenger seat but it’s so hard to get comfortable with my feet and legs being so painful and not being able to put them up decently. I wasn’t that tired mentally either. I couldn’t keep my eyes open but I talked to my wife to keep her up and company until we stopped at a rest stop around 5am. She got the air mattress out for me and we both slept for about 80 minutes.
I then drove for a few hours until we were both kind of hungry a few hours later. There was a Jack in the Box and we always love those so she got gas while I went in to order. Afroman’s “Because I Got High” was playing loudly from the kitchen. I started laughing since most of the workers were in the single digits old when it came out. Also a totally inappropriate song to be playing since this was the unedited version. Anyway, I asked if they had burgers and the response was a glorious “we have a full menu all day”! I got the big double bacon burger combo and another sandwich for my wife. Only $5 for the same thing Hardee’s charges $8 for. Man I wish we had Jack in the Box in MN.
The rest of the trip was fairly benign. A good night’s sleep was had by all and we both had the day off work the next day as well.
The stats for this years race: 314 started the 100 mile race. 15 DNF’d, 119 dropped down to the 50 mile distance, which leaves only 180 to finish the 100 mile distance. That’s only a 57% completion rate. You’d think by the statistics that this is a super difficult race, it’s not. I really wouldn’t recommend this for someone’s first 100 mile race unless you are the type of person who would never quit or you really don’t care if you actually finish the 100miles. You need to know yourself that well, not just hope. Otherwise you’re very likely to quit by dropping down to the 50 mile distance since you still get a buckle and go right past the quitting point halfway through the race. 37% did just that this year with absolute perfect weather and conditions. They were no where near the time cutoff either.
I’d suggest a point to point race or long distance out and back where the only way back to the start line is to finish for your first. The only way you’ll see if you can do it is to force yourself by not giving yourself an out. You will hurt no matter how “easy” of a course a 100 mile race is on. I don’t recommend going for Superior as your first either as that one is quite difficult but there are lots of races in between the two.
The race itself is well run. I didn’t really make use of the aid stations since I had my wife to help. While there was plenty of food at the beginning of the race, it was basically all gone by dark. Even water was in short supply my wife said at times. I’m not sure if people ate way more than they expected or if crews were eating aid station food or what. Maybe a bunch more food showed up at 5am when I was already done, I guess just be prepared like you always should that there might not be food at an aid station. I would probably only run this again if I needed another fast time in November since it’s a pretty long drive for me. I don’t think you could find a better race as far as setting a personal best at the 100 mile distance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve noticed in every 100 mile or longer race that I’ve done that there is a definite period of mental negativity during the race. What I mean is that there is a point where your brain tells you that you should stop because of X. Then Y. Then every other excuse it can come up with. To me this is the hardest part of a longer ultramarathon. It used to show up towards mile 80 or so of the race when I was physically in pain. Lately though it’s been showing itself sooner. Both seem like logical times. You are tired and hurt by 80 miles. You still have a long ass way to go at 30 miles of a 100 mile race. I basically just call these times, my pity party.
I don’t really know how I get over these negative times other that to just keep going. I know some people have a mantra they recite but I’ve never done that. I guess the best thing for me is to KNOW that things will get better. I’ve been through this before and got through it and I WILL this time too. At my first 100 mile race I just listened to the advice I got from others which was basically the same thing. Don’t dwell on any pain you have because something else will take it’s place in 5 miles. Just accept that it hurts and then move on and ignore it. Sure enough they were right.
Your body can handle the effort! Seriously, even if you think it can’t, it surely can. Your mind is what will stop you. This has been proven by research. A person will say they are completely drained to the point of collapse and if enticed properly, they can go longer still. Even without research you should know this as common sense. Go run some long distance to the point you can barely shuffle along. Then add a pit bull chasing you. You will be sprinting, I guarantee you. You’re body can handle it. Ready your mind.
Something will surely go wrong during an ultramarathon. You’re out there for a day or more so there’s plenty of time for things to fall apart. The point is to plan for as many contingencies as you can so that you’re mind is already in what I call McGyver mode. Even if you don’t have what you need, there is likely another racer who will help out. That’s one thing our sport has going for it more than most. Volunteers are awesome at aid stations as well and willing to help.
Everyone can find the will to finish the race if they want to. And you should want to. Really, why the hell else are you signing up for a 100 mile race. If you just want to see the course, save yourself the $250 entry fee and go hike or run it yourself. Quitting unless truly injured I think cheats yourself. By the way, I’ve seen very few DNF’s from true injuries. Most people who have DNF’d will admit this, at least to themselves, if being honest.
One of the best things about ultramarathons is seeing how much more capable you are than you thought. I still to this day am amazed that I can run 100 miles in a day. It just blows my mind the human body can do that. Nothing about my body is special. Nothing. If you’ve been to an ultramarathon, you’ve seen that any body type can finish one. Not all are fast, but all can finish. Of course you need training but it isn’t as much as you think. If you can finish a marathon, you can finish an ultramarathon.
I guess the whole point of this is to say it’s worth the effort. It really is. Yes you get a belt buckle to remind you of the race. But, it’s reminding you of how awesome you felt. Not necessarily just when you crossed the finish line, but the memory of when you KNEW you were going to conquer the distance and the course. That might be mile 99 or 39 of the race, but there will be a moment of clarity that you just absolutely know nothing will stop you from finishing. And that moment is amazing. If you quit, I don’t see how you could get that feeling of accomplishment.
I love the feeling the whole week after a long ultra. Not the physical feeling, cause that kind of hurts. It’s the emotional wonderment of the feat you accomplished. “How the hell did I do that?” “Yes, I trained and planned, but still how did I do it?” “100 freaking miles!” “And the winner did it in like 18 hours, humans are amazing!” Those are the usual things I say to myself.
My new favorite song relates to this all somewhat.
I’m not sure how to start this one so I’ll start with the basics. The Bighorn 100 is a 100 mile trail race that takes place in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming the 3rd weekend in June which this year meant the race started Friday June 16th. It started at 10am this year which was an hour earlier than most years but still 2 hours later than I’d like it to. This was my first mountain ultramarathon and a qualifier for both Western States and Hardrock which was part of the attraction for me. Honestly I probably wouldn’t have even considered it if not for some friends that have attempted it in the past. Most of the information I got from them and previous race reports helped a lot, some of it was just plain wrong and so my original game plan had to be changed. The main game changer in this race though wasn’t the course, it was the weather…
Before this race the whole family went to Yellowstone. I figured it’d help out with the elevation adjustment and it’s only 3 hours from Yellowstone so you might as well go there too. The race peaks out at 9000 ft. I live at 1000 feet. I’ve never had an issue when I go hiking in the mountains, even to 14,000 feet but it never hurts to give yourself time to adjust. Other than breathing faster than normal, I never had any issues during the race.
On a side note, Yellowstone was awesome. I did a few training runs in the park (one on which I had to wait on 6 elk that wouldn’t get off the trail). We saw 6 geysers going off in one day. I saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn, a wolf, a brown bear, a black bear, 2 osprey nests, marmots, and all the smaller things you see in the woods. Do you want to know how many animals I saw the entire race? 5 small mice at night on the trail. That’s it! Lots of flowers though as you can see in the photo at the beginning. Tons of lupines which I love.
So based on the above elevation profile, race reports, etc I set a race goal of just over 27 hours. It was pretty aggressive for me but it seemed very doable. It would’ve been doable save 2 things: those apparent straight lines aren’t, and it rained, for a long time.
The pre-race meeting was at 8am in Dayton, WY which is where the finish line is. After the meeting they had buses to shuttle us to the start line. It was a pretty long wait for the race to start and it was clear there were a lot of people. Turns out 373 runners to be exact plus their crew. I brought a chair to relax in since I knew it would be awhile. Normally this race is really hot so I decided to use my 2L bladder and made an insulated pocket out of mylar bubble wrap to keep the ice in it cold. Also I had a bad reaction to having ice straight against my skin at vol state and this prevented that. Even though the temperatures weren’t very high, I still was sweating a lot during this race so I was happy with my decision to bring the bladder. I was able to skip most aid stations as well this way and save time. I also had taped my feet since the race was starting dry. I planned on changing over to my wet feet setup later.
Finally we got into line just before 10am. It was crowded! We started on a dirt road but there were so many people that you really couldn’t even pass anyone on it very easy. Plus everyone was going fast already. I started towards the back middle and should’ve started way further up or just sprinted the first mile. After the 1.3 miles of road, we started the conga line up the mountain.
3200 feet in about 6 miles with most of the elevation gain in the last 4 miles. The trail doesn’t open up again until almost 7 miles into the race so any passing done in the beginning is hard fought. I’d have to save energy and then run full speed uphill around the 8 or so people in front of me to get anywhere. Then I’d catch up to the next group of people after power hiking for 5 minutes. There was no way to get a rhythm at all since your speed was determined entirely by the person in front of you. I was assuming the trails in this race would be similar to trails I’ve hiked in the mountains where the grade is pretty consistent with switchbacks in the steepest areas. Not so with race. The trails pretty much go straight up and down similar to back home in MN. Not a big deal but it keeps you from being able to get a good rhythm going like I was counting on when I set my goal paces. Especially when in a conga line. At times there was completely still air. I imagine this section really sucks with a cloudless sky above you and warmer temps.
The nice thing was all the flowers and since we were going so slow up the mountain, talking to people was easy. Here are the pictures I took on the way up.
At last you get to some dirt roads and more open pasture areas where you can go your own speed. Then you go down a steep hill to upper sheep aid station. From here to dry fork aid station (mile 13.5) is almost entirely on good roads, meaning a hard packed road with some rocks and not just clay. You go uphill and then back downhill into the station. This is the first big aid station where your crew can meet you.
On the way there was a spot I had to duck under a tree. I thought the path was clear but then something threw my head back and I almost stopped cold. There was a branch that hit my head and slid down my face. It hurt and was burning since all the sweat was going into whatever wound I had. I took a picture of myself to see what it looked like and I couldn’t see anything. By the time I finished the race though, it became clear.
The family was there with the cowbell cheering me on when I got in at 1:16pm. I got more ice water and Sword in my bladder. There wasn’t much else to get here but I took some time to make sure I had everything I needed since I wouldn’t see them until the turn around at jaw’s trailhead (mile 48). The kids still seemed in good spirits. This was the first 100 mile race they were helping crew so it was going to be a good test of my wife’s nerves. I bought some toys they didn’t know about to have her hand out throughout the race to help out with boredom.
From dry fork to cow camp aid station is about 6 miles all on dirt roads. It was also downhill overall but still lots of ups and downs in between. I did this section fairly fast since I love downhills and had plenty of energy from going so slow in the beginning. I passed a few people on this section.
Cow camp to bear camp was back on trail with lots of ups and downs but overall the elevation doesn’t change from aid station to aid station. It’s 7 miles long. This is where I determined it would be difficult to keep my 27 hour pace up. I was keeping it up so far but it was clear these up and downs would slow my expected pace on the way back to the finish line. 28 hours still isn’t bad and I was still having fun. Now, with the elevation I was pretty much open mouth breathing all the time since I’m from the prairie. Soon after cow camp I breathed in a fly. It went full on into my trachea and I could feel it’s wings buzz a little. Luckily I had my lungs half filled with air before he went in so I had something to immediately cough him out. He buzzed around my mouth before I could finally spit him out. Then I proceeded to cough for 30 seconds straight. Good times!
There are 2 water pipes with drinkable water coming out of them along this section. The first is almost exactly a mile from cow camp. The other is about 3 miles further. I washed my face in one of them and it felt amazing. It was cooler at the higher elevation but still hot for me so I was still sweating a lot.
Bear camp is a limited aid station since they have to hike in the supplies. Basically water and some food choices. The next section to footbridge is a large downhill. Don’t worry, there’s still a couple hundred foot uphill you get to do as well. This section is known as the wall. It’s not really a wall, just very steep at about 750feet a mile drop. Steeper in sections and flatter in others. Awesome views of the valley you were going to drop down into though. I put in my headphones here for the rest of the race and started down. I wish I could say I flew down, but you can’t go fast when it’s that steep.
This section was pretty rocky which would help some in my determination of if I’d be able to get up it in the rain later on. I’ll add that while running from cow camp to bear camp there are basically views of the cliffs down to the river. You’re never close to them so you can’t see the river, but it hints at how steep of a drop the wall will be once you get there. It got warmer as I went downhill and my ears were constantly popping.
Footbridge (mile 30) is a major aid station with drop bags. Your crew can meet you there but you have to drive through a couple streams and it’s a long drive so I decided it wasn’t worth my family trying to get there. Plus they make you park a mile away and there’s no way she was going to carry stuff a mile to me and a mile back. I got in at 4:34pm which was still on pace for me. I got my cold weather gear out to put in my pack. Also my headlamp as it’d get dark before I got to jaws trailhead. I put on a long sleeve tech shirt since it suddenly got cold with the large clouds and wind moving in. I left my hat in the drop bag as well. It looked like there was a campground near this aid station so the road in must not be as bad as I thought.
The next 17 miles is all uphill with a mile of pretty much flat after that into jaws trailhead. But, as before, the uphill is not constant. There are lots of ups and downs, especially in the first section to cathedral rock. This section was right along the river and kind of loud because of it. It was all pretty much rocky with a sharp drop off into the river on your left side and a steep hill on your right. As usual I was hitting my first wall of the race which I usually hit around mile 29 but since that was downhill, it came now. I could see up the valley that it was raining there already. By the time I got to cathedral rock aid station it was raining. I got my cheap Walmart poncho out and put it on. I’d have it on for the next 12 hours.
The next section to spring marsh is 6.5 miles long. This is where you start to pull away from the river some and are more in pasture land again. It was already muddy and I hit my low point in the race. I still had 66.5 miles to go! The most logical place to quit in this race is at jaws trailhead since your crew can easily get you there. I started worrying about getting up the wall in the mud on the way back. I didn’t want to quit at footbridge and then have to wait forever to get a ride back to the finish line. Plus the kids would now have to wait almost all of the next day for me to finish as I’d be way behind schedule. Food tasted gross, gels would almost make me barf. Etc, etc. All negative all the time for the next 6.5 miles.
Finally spring marsh aid station. This is where I instantly felt better and knew I’d finish the race. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it without poles but my mind was made up I was going to finish. It was 3.5 miles to the next aid station. The mud just made it impossible to move fast. I had to shorten my stride way down and use all my accessory muscles to stay upright. There is a constant slight slope which normally you wouldn’t even notice but when the trail is thick clay mud, it slides you around. People started making new paths through the grassier areas which helped some. It ended up easier when the trail had standing water in it since the mud didn’t grip your shoes as much while running through that. My shoes shed the mud on the sole but it was deep enough that it started building up on the sides and tops of my shoes. I’d run straight through any creeks to wash them off. I took a picture during one of the slower rain periods before dark to remember the trail conditions. They got worse in the dark after this was taken.
At elk camp aid station, I got my headlamp on since It’d be dark before I got to jaws trailhead 4.5 miles away. This is the section I suspect the moose like. Even when it’s not raining, you will get soaked on this part. It’s pretty swampy and there were spots the muddy water would go half way up my shin. I never lost a shoe though. I was kind of glad it was dark. I didn’t really want to know how bad it looked. The rain seemed to be letting up some finally. This is where I routinely saw the leaders coming back at me. I had seen some since spring marsh. I lost count of how many were in front but it seemed like only 40. It obviously was more than that since I was supposedly in 115th place at jaws. The last mile or so was on fairly flat pasture and road into jaws aid station. The wind had picked up so it was the first time I actually felt good temperature wise. Of course everyone else looked freezing cold and were huddled around the heater in the tent when I arrived at 10:48pm.
Jessie was waiting outside the tent since crew were only allowed in with their runner. It was crowded but they found a chair for me. This was going to be a fairly long stop since I had a lot to do because of the rain. First was to get out of my wet clothes. My long sleeves and gloves were soaked since the poncho only goes to my elbows. I also left my phone since I didn’t want to land on it since the chance of me taking a spill was pretty good. I had to take my shoes and socks off to start applying my wet foot powder and Vaseline mixture. No blisters yet but my shoes were already pretty trashed. I started this race with just over 600 miles on my Altra Olympus 2.0 shoes.
I got more water although I didn’t need much anymore. I was peeing all the time now since it cooled off; at least I was well hydrated. I just used soft body water flasks instead of my bladder from here on. I changed into another dry long sleeve shirt. The only dry gloves Jessie had were my warmer fleece gloves so I took those too. I put on a buff too. The aid station people were great here. It took some time for them to get a few things but I was amazed how cheerful they still seemed as it was clear this was a hectic time for them as well. I think I tried to eat half a quesadilla but I still wasn’t that interested in food. I’d just have to go off fat power for awhile. I was chilled by the time I left since it had been 25 minutes. Way longer than I wanted but as fast as it could’ve gone without 2 more crew members doing my feet for me. I told Jessie not to bother to get to dry fork until at least 2 hours later than my original time as I knew it would take awhile to get down the long hill in the mud and then back up the wall.
Jessie had to have the car jump started since the battery died. They slept in the back of the car at the aid station for the night. The kids were already sleeping when I got there but that was for the best.
The rain had stopped for now and the fog rolled in as I left the aid station. It was hard to see anything due to the headlamp reflection coming back at you. I warmed up after a mile or so and stopped shivering. I still had my poncho on to help stay dry. I decided to use it instead of my rain jacket because I knew that would be too warm and the poncho covered my shorts as well which my jacket didn’t.
So now I saw the course in reverse. Back through the swamp to elk camp. Back down the now very slippery mud to spring marsh. Even the new trails people had made going up were slop now going down. I met about 40 more people still coming up to jaws and then no more people. Either people hit a time limit cutoff at that point or they just quit while they were at footbridge. Either way I started wondering when the time cutoffs were. I hadn’t even bothered looking at them since I wasn’t planning on being anywhere near them. Well, nothing else to do but keep going I guess.
After spring marsh was more mud. It started raining again. Now the trail sloped to the right so I got to use all new accessory muscles on the other side to not fall with every step. Every once and a while I’d spin out and go down a hill backwards. I never totally fell but I’d have to catch myself a few times. About 2.5 miles out of spring marsh there was a fairly side sloped section that I slid off trail about 4 feet. Once I stopped I realized my foot felt weird. Well that’s because it was now half way out of my shoe! The right side of my right shoe had tore open about 4 inches long along the sole. Now every step I took my foot would slide out of my shoe. This is while going down muddy slopes mind you. I mentally thought of everything in my pack and how it could help me. I wish I had an extra shoelace like I had at vol state. Finally after about a quarter mile I kind of figured out how to mostly keep my foot in while running.
After 2 miles I saw a fence line. I was going to use the barbed wire if I had to but luckily there was just regular wire rolled up hanging on a post as if left there just for me. I bent the wire back and forth a bunch of times to break a piece off, almost burning my fingers off even through the gloves. It was some seriously strong wire. It was hard to bend in the perfect shape since it was so thick but I got it good enough to keep my foot in and not completely dig into the top part of my foot. Then I started worrying about slicing my other leg open with the sharp edges of the wire. It’s not uncommon to hit your leg with your feet, especially in uneven muddy conditions so it wasn’t a totally unfounded fear. I could kind of turn the one edge back which I hoped would prevent that and just paid extra attention to my foot placement.
Finally I got to cathedral rock again. I still had 3.5 miles to go in my sweet McGyver shoes. On steep downhills the wire would move back a lug or 2 and dig into my feet so I’d have to slide it back in to place. Other than that it held up pretty well. This is the section with the steep drop off into the river. Basically if you slip you’ll either die from hitting rocks or drown in the swollen, fast moving river filled with boulders. But don’t worry mom, the trail was rockier here and not very muddy at all. Of course I wondered how often the cliff just gives way and falls in the river, especially when wet and after 400 people have been jumping on it. Well it didn’t give way and I made it to footbridge at 5am (66 miles). I was now 2.5 hours behind schedule but I wasn’t surprised. Despite it sucking, I had still managed to pass about 20 people on the way down from jaws. Many people just walked the whole way down.
I was glad I had a pair of shoes waiting for me in my footbridge drop bag. This is the first race I’ve ever left a pair of shoes in a drop bag thinking I might want dry shoes if it stopped raining before I got there. My race might have been over if I hadn’t done that as I don’t think I would’ve gone another 34 miles in them. I put more wet foot paste on and new dry socks and dry Altra Lone Peak 3.0. My feet felt like heaven for a moment. I put on a dry t-shirt and dry gloves. I still had to have my headlamp since it wasn’t quite light out enough yet without it although it would be in 20 minutes. I found out the race time limit was 34 hours so I had plenty of time even if it totally sucked. At least 4 runners quit just before I got there since there was a car of them leaving. I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it up the wall but I left with an egg mcmuffin in hand.
It quit raining, but it would sprinkle here and there from now until about 9am. I left my poncho off most of the time since it wasn’t worth putting it on and off a bunch of times. The hike up the wall wasn’t that slippery at all. Previous footprints had made sort of terraces in the trail and there were lots of rocks to step on to help get traction. It still sucked going up over 2000 feet in a couple miles but I made it to bear camp. I even passed a few people going up. The volunteers here said the guy who was leading by 30 minutes quit at dry fork but they didn’t know why.
Bear camp to cow camp in the reverse direction seemed much easier than I thought it’d be. It was muddy yes, but the side paths were still in pretty good shape. Every once and a while I’d pass another person so I felt pretty good about that. The longest I went without seeing anyone was during this section. A whopping 10 minutes where I didn’t see another runner. Again this race is crazy crowded even after half the people quit. I’m used to at least an hour being the longest time I don’t see someone. Towards the end of this section the 52 mile leaders started passing me. I was slowly eating food and gaining energy. I actually ran this section faster than I had planned on initially even with the mud.
Cow camp finally came and now it was the road section for the next 6 miles. At least there was bacon at this aid station so that was good. This section absolutely sucked. Thick mud with no rocks to gain traction on. The side trails were just as bad. The road was rutted so even running through the thickest mud in the tire track section didn’t help because the side walls were so sloped you’d constantly slide and get off balance. Walking and running both were nearly impossible in sections. I didn’t think the roads would be so bad. In fact they were the worst section of the whole race. The sun came out so now I was getting sunburned. The road was SLOWLY drying out which made it worse at this point since it just made the clay even more sticky and shoe sucking. 52 mile people were passing in big groups now. How could they run in this crap? And how was I still slowly passing 100 mile runners here and there? The last hill up to dry fork took forever since you can see the aid station miles before you get there. I just decided to look at my feet and not look up to make it not seem as bad.
I got into dry fork at 11:02am (82.5 miles). 2:40 behind schedule which I thought would’ve been 3 hours so I felt good about that. They had sunscreen for me there at least. I had left my hat at footbridge so I still would get sunburned on my face. Putting sunscreen on my face is pointless as it just gets in my eyes and I wipe it all off after 20 minutes. They also had double cheeseburgers! Yum. I knew 2 hours from now I’d have a bunch of energy and it tasted sooo good. The aid station worker kept asking me questions while I was talking to Jessie. I figured later she was probably checking my mental status or something. I didn’t bother changing my socks. My shoes wouldn’t get any wetter since the grass had finally dried off but I didn’t want to take the time and I didn’t have any hot spots yet. I told Jessie it’d be 5 hours until I finished so she should just go to the cabin and I’d call when I finished. She handed me my phone back. I dropped as much weight as I could with her and left. 17.5 miles left to go.
I found out later it was a pretty interesting drive for the cars to get to dry fork in the mud that morning. Jessie said she saw some tire tracks go off the road at a turn on what looked like a steep drop off. She made it down OK but the car looked like it had 3 inches of concrete on it at the finish line.
The roads from dry fork to upper sheep were in good shape. The sun was getting hot and I was back to sweating again. Constant runners from other races were passing me. The hill seemed to last forever. I saw the stupid tree that hit me yesterday and stayed away. Finally the run down into upper sheep. I filled up with water there and continued on.
It’s there that I could see the one last big hill to climb before all the downhill to the finish line. How did it grow so much? I don’t remember going down that big of a hill yesterday while running into upper sheep aid station. It’s steep and about 500 feet high. Finally I got to the top and started slowly running down. It felt pretty good. My shins had been hurting for hours due to all the walking in the mud. I hadn’t planned on walking so much so they were sore. But now things felt pretty good going down. I started going faster. My cheeseburger 2 hours ago was now hitting my system.
Down, down, as fast as I could with the steep terrain. I’d have to walk in sections since it was too steep with too many round rocks to slide on. I was going even faster than I had planned on initially. I soon realized that a sub 30 hour finish was still possible. I was expecting 31 hours. I just kept pushing it down the hill. Now I started seeing a bunch of 100 mile runners just walking down. I started passing them right and left. It felt awesome for so late in a race. I finally got to lower sheep aid station. I tried to get a rock out of my shoe but another one seemed to find it’s way in. Looking back I think it was all the mud from my gaitors falling off as they dried. There was 7.5 miles left to go!
It wasn’t great having a couple rocks in my shoe but I wasn’t going to stop when I was passing so many people. The next section down to the road was so much more fun than yesterday’s conga line march up it. It was hot but I just had to hold on a few more hours. A 29 hour finish briefly came into thought but the math just wouldn’t work for that. I probably passed 10 people from upper sheep creek to the road. I generally never pass people at the end of a race. Just another sign I started way too far behind in the beginning.
I made it down to the road. Just 5.2 miles more to the finish line. The river was right next to the road and loud. It was so tempting to just jump in it and float on down to the finish line. The road was dry now and even though we were following the river downstream it sure didn’t seem to go downhill. I ran as much as I could but would have to take walking breaks here and there. I got a popsicle from a kid handing them out which helped some with the heat. Oh that road seems to last forever. It has a bunch of small curves that never let you see how much further it is to go.
Finally I got to town where you have to run around the park to get into it and then run back around the park again to get to the finish line. There were bleachers along the path through the park with people cheering. I think the whole town was either there at the finish line or volunteering somewhere on the course. Pretty awesome! I even saw Jessie and the kids about 100 yards from the finish line. Turns out they never went to the cabin. Finally, I finished strong at 3:34pm for a total race time of 29:34. 2 hours 20 minutes slower than I wanted but I did that section from dry fork 16 minutes faster than I had even planned on. I suspect without the mud 28 hours would’ve been pretty doable.
They had food at the end which was great but the line took over 10 minutes to get the food. I had to have Jessie stand in line for me since my feet hurt so bad and I was getting nauseous standing. You get your buckle and swag at a different area of the park so I got that. I then looked at the results and found out I was 62nd overall. I thought for sure I would’ve been in the 40’s since I had passed over 40 people since jaws, but I was obviously way further behind at jaws than I thought. I’d later find out only 175 of the 373 starters would finish. That’s pretty bad and shows how difficult the course was even though it wasn’t as hot as it can get.
I’m sure in dry conditions I would have a much faster time but likely my placing wouldn’t be any better. Other people usually do better in heat than I do and less people would drop out. I’m happy with it since it’s better than my usual 20% placing. I was told that recovery from this race is pretty quick compared to midwest 100’s. I would totally agree. I suspect with all the walking you just don’t trash your legs as much. My quads didn’t hurt in the slightest during or after this race even with very little hill training. My butt and feet were sore but I could run 3 days later and I usually take a week off.
I should’ve taken a picture of my legs when I was done. There was a thick coating of mud everywhere. During the last 20 mile of the race it would occasionally feel like I was getting bitten by something only to find out a chunk of dry mud had broken loose and was only being held by a leg hair. I’d brush that chunk off and keep going. Even after all the stuff I brushed off there was still almost a half inch of mud covering my calves and even my shins were covered. My Olympus shoes are now in a landfill somewhere in WY. I wonder what future archeologists will think about the wire shoes they find someday? The newer design of Altra trail shoes all have reinforced sides to prevent this sort of failure. The problem is that they hold almost half an inch of water in them now. If water gets in, they basically never dry. The lone peaks were still wet at the finish line 6 hours after the last puddle and when I washed them, they held a half inch of water with the insole removed. Never drained even after a couple minutes. Ridiculous. Figure it out guys! Now I’ll have to drill holes in the sides to make drain holes.
By finishing this race, I completed 786 race miles in the 6 ultramarathons I ran as a 40 year old. I didn’t really intend for that to happen but it just worked out that way. Vol State last July started it off and Bighorn was just before I turned 41 (Facebook doesn’t have my real birthday by the way). I don’t know if I’ll ever do that many race miles in a year again or not. I don’t regret it at all but 786 is kind of a big number and probably hard to repeat unless I just do a bunch of short 50k’s as training runs.
Thanks again to my super awesome wife and crew! The kids didn’t drive her completely crazy!
This is a small local baby Barkley type race that took place April 29th at 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN. It’s around 30 miles long with an advertised elevation of 8000 ft of gain. There are 11 books we had to collect pages from on each of 3 laps. We were given a different page number to get each lap. The first lap was counter-clockwise, 2nd was clockwise, and 3rd alternating.
The race started at 7am but registration started at 5am so you’d have time to look over the map and written directions of the course. The course was about 2/3rds on trail, a short bit on a road, with the rest on deer trail or no trail. I’ve been to the park before so I knew about what to expect as I love to go off trail in this park. There are many unofficial trails that we routinely run on. This is about the only place in southern MN to get over 200 ft steep hills. Along the Mississippi river is steep too but that’s hours from where I live.
At 7am 20 of us started off with only 14 finishing. I wasn’t at the first running of this race 2 years ago but I was told it was easier and the race director was “disappointed” that everyone finished. This year he wasn’t disappointed. It was 38 degrees so I started with a long sleeve shirt knowing I’d be hot by the end of the lap.
I stayed back a little from the front group to let them figure out where to go off trail to find the books. Everything was well marked but that doesn’t mean you can’t run right past where you’re supposed to turn. Plus, since we were so close in the beginning you ended up waiting for the person in front of you to tear out the page in the book anyway. Why run fast just to wait at the next book. The first book I ended up tearing the page horribly, so I ended up with 3 pieces to get it out and make sure I had the page number on it, all the while people waiting behind me. I guess the lesson is to learn how to tear really brittle yellow paper out of books in the woods with gloves on.
The books aren’t really hidden which is good and bad. Good since it’s easy to find them, and bad because the park was pretty popular that day with mushroom hunters and other people doing some sort of naturalist type things (I never asked what they were doing) off trail where we were.
The first 2 books felt great climbing up the hills. Basically go up find a book and come back down, just to do it again. The only out and back uphill was book 3 which I think everyone dreaded by the 3rd lap. I’m not sure if it was just the steepness or the fact that it was an out and back, but no one liked it. It seemed like it took forever to go up and only 20 seconds to get down. That’s probably not reality though. The books all had great titles to them which I have mostly forgotten. But I remember book 3’s title: Dead End
So continued the seemingly endless task of climbing up a hill just to go back down again. Like you constantly keep forgetting something downstairs at home and have to keep going back down to get it, except the stairs are 200 ft hills. There are a couple longish flatter sections to break it up a little bit but for the most part you’re either ascending or descending in this race.
There is a aid station out of the park between book 5 and 6 that you have to climb up to get to. They had awesome candy bars, pop, water, etc there. The race director said there is a short loop to do at the aid station. Well yes it’s short, but also straight down and then straight back up just to go back down to get on the course again. The section back to the course did have my favorite tree on the entire course though.
Then on to book 6 where some barbed wire sticking out of the ground almost got me. Speaking of thorny things, I got somewhat scratched and cut up from this race. There are plenty of thorny bushes, berry patches, and shrubs to get you on this course. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of my legs. I had cuts everywhere but really only remember 2 of them happening.
There was a punch after this book to punch the pages you had so far. This was to determine which direction you had traveled the course. Next was a longer flat section before turning uphill to book 7. Then between 7 and 8 gets sucky again. Scott the RD was sitting along the course making sure we all made the turn straight down a steep rutted out path. I enjoyed it the first lap, not so much the 3rd. Basically you go down this hill just to come back up it in a different spot and end up about 20 feet from where you started down the hill. All of this to get book 8.
Book 9 was fairly straightforward.
Book 10 I almost ran past or was that 11. It’s already becoming a blur after only a week. After 11 you go back to the start at the RD house. This is the only other aid station. I changed into cooler clothes as it was warming up some. First lap time was 2:25.
The next section was clockwise. I had got to talking with Ed who I hadn’t met before but we both did Arrowhead this year. I always love meeting new people during the race. We were talking pretty much non-stop the second lap and before we knew it, we were at the aid station. Oops. We missed book 6. Back we went to get it and then finally noticed the 3 foot long pink ribbon showing the turn off for it. Guess we got talking too much. He had to do the aid station loop twice since he missed it the first time and so I didn’t see him until the end of the race.
I missed the turn to book 1 as well but I think a lot of people did. Finally I got back to the start. 5:14 total time so far so that lap was about 2:45 without the stop time. I was happy with this as I had to leave by 4pm to pick up the kids so I was on track to get done by then. I definitely wasn’t in condition for this much elevation so I was starting to feel it.
Since the leader picked clockwise (thanks TJ, NOT) and I was in 5th place, I had to go clockwise. Off I went. I had been eating the entire race and drinking what seemed like a lot but my stomach just didn’t feel quite right and I wasn’t really peeing any so I suspect I was somehow dehydrated. It slowed me down.
Right away I saw one of the leaders coming back up the hill to the start due to injury. Now I was 4th I guess, but still had to go clockwise. I didn’t miss the turn to book 6 this time since I was by myself. Ed had started the mid-way aid station loop just before I got there so I never ended up seeing him. I never saw the other counter-clockwise leader either and found out later he dropped at the aid station.
Finally it dawned on me to take some antacids as this wasn’t my first time down full stomach lane. In fact it happens almost every race, just not in the first 20 miles. They kicked in around book 4 (counting down book numbers now since clockwise lap). The last 3 books I felt great (still hated book 3 but felt better at least). Too bad I didn’t think of taking them sooner. I saw some people looking kind of sad while looking for mushrooms. I told them some people were already in that spot 3 hours ago with bags full of them. They seemed somewhat relieved.
I even made the turn for book 1 this time but when I got to where the book should’ve been, it wasn’t there. 3 people coming from the other direction on the start of their lap 3 also couldn’t find it. Remember all those people in the park? Turns out someone must’ve taken it as no one ever found it. I took a picture with them to prove we all looked together and hoped for the best.
I got to the finish line and rang the bell at 8:12 for 4th place. Ed had beaten me in which I wasn’t surprised by. So that lap took about 2:50 with the down time and looking for book 1 taken out. Scott allowed my finish without book 1 since it was gone and someone had texted him.
I had some time to eat the great finish line food they had for us before leaving to get the kids. They even offered the shower which was awesome. Thanks!
This race would be much harder/scarier/more fun if it was raining the whole time. There are some steep slopes on it. The conditions on race day were pretty good. The mud was firm enough to get a grip on and not slip. I usually use gps visualizer to make an elevation profile of races. I find it to be much more accurate than google earth. It came up with the race having more elevation than advertised. Almost 10,000. Who knows? I can assure you it wasn’t under 8000 total.
This is a great race! I hope Scott continues to put it on. I wish I could’ve stayed to watch everyone else come in. I’m sure there were great stories. We all got an email of the official results and there were some pretty good comments on why people dropped out. My favorite was someone wanted a burrito. I’m sure there’s more to that story. I wished I would’ve taken a picture of the bell we rang when we finished. Guess you’ll just have to run the race to see it.
I realized during my run tonight that Vol State is about 4 months away. I thought I’d jot down a few words of advice to people who may be running it this year. These are in no particular order. Also I only had a 3 mile run to think about this so this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Read race reports! Like A LOT of them, including mine:). You may not know the places they are talking about but you will learn tricks about how to get through the race. Last year I just jotted down notes as I read all of them. I thought about how I’d handle those situations. Certain bad sections of the race will show up continually in race reports, heed their warnings.
Your feet will hurt
Get the GPX file of the course if you can. I’d still carry a map in case your phone dies but I found it much more convenient to use my phone since it was more accessible. Buy the book and check for the updates on what stores, etc are still open.
Train on roads. I don’t care if you have a hilly trail race in May. Start running roads now. Your body needs time to get used to the camber of the road. Your mind needs to get used to cars whizzing by, dogs running after you.
Get your night time visualization plan figured out. Either light yourself up like crazy or go totally dark. I don’t care which but figure out what works for you. You’ll find both plans are used during this race when you read the reports.
Take an afternoon off work on the hottest days if you can and do a long run. I ran probably 80% at night but you will get caught in the heat of the day at least once during the race even with great planning.
Get a base tan going. Sunscreen will come right off with sweat.
Get a sun hat or something like that. I just safety pinned a handkerchief to my visor to cover my ears and neck.
Think about how you’ll sleep outside and try it out.
Your feet will HURT!
Bring extra socks so you can always dry one pair hanging on your pack while wearing the other pair. I brought 2 different sizes as well since your feet will swell.
Train with the gear you plan on using during the race!!!!!!!!!
Watch MacGyver. Or find a way to be more like MacGyver. You will need those skills if you are running screwed.
Put your feet up every time you stop. Also take off your shoes so things dry out.
There will be a point the second or early third day that will test your determination. You will be slow and in pain. I can’t tell you how to deal with it, everyone is different. I learned I had to put my feet up for X amount of time every X hours to deal with it.
Join the google group to keep in contact with people before and during the race.
Join the facebook page. Lots of locals post on there places that they leave out water, etc.
Your feet will HURT!
I took voice recorded notes during the race with my phone so I’d remember things later. You may think you’ll never forget that one cool thing you saw on day 2 but you might.
Help each other out. Seems kind of obvious but I’m telling you, by the end of the race you will feel a closeness to all the other racers, even the ones you didn’t meet. What I’m saying is they’re already your friends, you just don’t know it yet.
Don’t talk about politics. Even if you agree on stuff, you’ll get each other all worked up and distracted. You can’t be distracted during this race.
Again. You can’t be distracted during this race! There are cars filled with dipshits texting. Don’t run side by side when there’s no shoulder, unless it’s the middle of the night with no traffic.
Your feet will HURT!!!
The detailed past results and lists of race reports are posted at tinyurl.com/volstate2016 For each other year just change the 2016 to whatever year you want. For example tinyurl.com/2014 for 2014 results and race reports. There are tabs on the bottom of the spreadsheet with the reports, etc.
With proper preparation and determination you will finish this race. I truly believe that. You have plenty of time to finish if you choose to use it. You don’t need to be a super athlete or even an ultrarunner to finish this race. Non ultrarunners have finished although they usually had a large amount of “preparation” in that they ran it with someone with lots of ultrarunning knowledge. I consider training on roads and in heat to be included in the proper preparation. Mostly though I consider preparation to mean knowing your gear, having a plan (even though you will change it during the race), use your brain, know your body, listen to your body on some things but also when to tell it to shut the hell up (your feet will HURT, expect it and deal with it).
So 5 years ago I started running for the first time in 15 years. I ran poorly in track in high school and only a little in college while on the crew team; so even when I ran it wasn’t with much purpose. 5 years ago I had a purpose to do a Tough Mudder with my brother and brother-in-law and I started running again. I was out of shape, had a dad gut, and had my second child due that year. Within 9 months, my purpose was trail ultrarunning. Soon after, a major goal was to finish Arrowhead 135. I think I first heard about it on the ultra-listserv 4 years ago and knew immediately that I had to run this race. I went the slow route and made sure to get a couple winter races in and enough 100’s to not be afraid of the distance. My application was accepted last fall and I left for International Falls Saturday morning.
I did my check-in Saturday afternoon to get it out of the way. It’s at the Backus Community Center which I assume was the old school building. Door #3 is the closest to where you need to go for check in by the way. I was told there that I’d need to have packaged food to prove the caloric content of the food for my emergency food requirement so I had to go to the store to buy a pound of butter since my home made brownies wouldn’t count. I even laminated the ingredients with all the calorie information and stuff but it still didn’t matter. Otherwise I passed on everything else. For those unfamiliar with this race, here is the required gear as taken from the website.
MANDATORY GEAR from race start to race finish.
Minus-20F degrees sleeping bag or colder rating. Colder than -20F almost all previous races. If you skimp here you are foolish. And we will not allow you to skimp. So do not skimp. Fool. 2011 it was -42F on trail. Be able to prove your bag is a -20 bag. Don’t cut off the tags to shave weight.
Insulated sleeping pad – minimum 20″ by 48″
Bivy sack or tent (space blankets/tarps do not count). We don’t like seeing new bivy sacks that have never been tried.
Firestarter (matches or lighter).
8 fl. oz. fuel at ALL times (either gas, alcohol or 2 canisters of propane/butane 100 g. each or 12 Big Esbit tablets). 1 lb propane tanks, white gas, and Heet are available in Int’l Falls – propane/butane and Esbits are available from RD with advance notice. Please plan accordingly.
Pot (min. volume is 1 pint)
2-qt (64 fl. oz.) or just under 2 litres, insulated water container. (Yes, Camelbacks count). Not freezing your drinks in a cold year is a real challenge.
Headlamp or flashlight. Suggest minimum ~100 lumen good for 12 hours/bike or 20 hours on ski/foot. Bring a spare, the cold eats batteries.
Flashing red LED lights (and spare batteries), both on front and back of sled or bike or racer – Don’t show up with single LED key chain lights…bring real safety lights or you will not pass gear check and they may not be available at local stores. Keep ON 24/7. HIGHLY IMPORTANT….THIS MAY WELL PREVENT YOU FROM BEING A HOOD ORNAMENT ON LARGE FAST-MOVING SNOWMACHINES.
Everyone must have at least 10 square inches of reflective material on front and 10 square inches on the back of the person for this race. If you don’t want to put holes in your $200 jacket bring a reflective vest.
Whistle on string around neck to call for help, because your mouth is too numb to yell.
1-day of readily edible food at ALL times (3000 calories)
You will be given 2 bibs. We must be able to see your bib number on the front of your body (outer layer) at all times!!! Post the 2nd bib where it is easily visible.
YOU CAN STILL BE STUPID WITH ALL THE GEAR, KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
The race itself is 135 miles from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN along the Blue Ox Grade and Arrowhead snowmobile trails. You can go on foot, bike, or ski. I of course went in the foot division. It’s basically flat for 30ish miles, then hilly for about another 40 miles, then really hilly for 40 miles, and then pretty much flat the rest of the way except for the biggest hill of them all at mile 113.5. The trail is wide and all the snowmobilers I saw were driving appropriately and safely. More details on the trail to follow but that’s the overview.
I went to the hotel after I ate and organized my gear and started making decisions on what to leave behind. The forecast was for snow but no one really knew how much it would be. It definitely wasn’t going to be a cold year. The temperature wasn’t even forecast to get below zero the entire race. That’s really warm for this race. I almost felt like it was cheating having it so warm. There are just so many things that you can get away with when it’s this warm. You can take your gloves off to open things is the biggest “cheat”. Seriously, if it’s -20 and you take your gloves off for even 20 seconds, it takes a long time for them to warm back up if at all. I didn’t even run with gloves on most of the first day. So you worry and plan for all these scenarios where you have to do things with big gloves on and now none of that mattered since it was so warm. Anyway on to the story.
I slept quite well for having a constant pipe banging sound in my room. Apparently it was the boiler and the sound was heard in every room so switching wouldn’t matter. I could see Canada out my window since it was just across the river. I brought my passport but didn’t need to go over to purchase any last minute items so I never went.
My plan for Sunday was to go and check out the trail and my fully loaded sled. Here is what the sled looks like. This was taken the first day out on the course.
Just a side note on my sled. I used a Paris sled at Tuscobia last year which had holes in it by the time I finished. So this year I made my own sled out of Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. It has a coefficient of friction near Teflon and is very durable and can handle extreme cold. It’s the only material to use for winter ultras really. Yes it’s easier to just put a rope on a ready made sled from the store but it won’t last, and if you make one yourself it’s cheaper. This sled cost me $40 of materials and I’ll never need to make a new one if I don’t want too. I think the Paris sled with poles was closer to $70. My main worry about it was I was only able to test it 3 times since we didn’t get much snow down in southern MN this year. I learned a few things during the race that would make a better sled. One is to put runners (just a couple thicker strips of UHMW-PE on the bottom) on to make it track better. It will add weight but I think it’s worth it. It would also pull easier if it was narrower. I’m not going to do that though since my gear fits just right with this width. But if I had to start with nothing, I’d go narrower and longer. That’s enough help on the sled, to me that’s part of the learning process and it’s more satisfying to do that on your own. There are a few people that make them but with shipping it’ll cost you around $250. Really depending on the snow conditions it would make sense to have a couple different sled styles to chose from. Mine would do well in deep powder, and the narrow ones with no sides to them would likely do poorly since they’d be swamped and cut in too much. But those were the best for the race this year.
So I stopped along the trail at road crossings a couple different places on Sunday morning. I ran a couple miles with my loaded up sled to make sure it held up. The trail was very hard due to the melting they had had the last week. Also nice and fast. The new snow coming would slow that down though once it got deeper.
I got back to International Falls and dropped my drop bags off at the Community Center. There was a mandatory meeting there at 4pm and then a meal after that. The meeting filled in a few questions I had as a rookie. The race is about 2/3 veteran and 1/3 novice.
After the meal I headed back to check on the weather and do my final packing. I took out a few things and decided to leave my snowshoes as well as it wasn’t going to get over 6 inches of snow and they weigh 3.5 pounds. I saw some people with much smaller and lighter snowshoes so I may need to look into those.
The race started on Monday Jan 30th at 7am for the bikers, 7:02 for skiers and 7:04 for us on foot. I got up around 5am. It was about 10 degrees when I woke up but kept getting warmer by the time the race started. There was a 10mph wind from the south that we’d be going into for the first 9 miles of the race. I wore tights, thermal shirt, wind jacket, gloves, and buff for a hat. 181 were accepted for this race but only 156 ended up starting. 59 runners started.
The bikers started off with fireworks going off. Then the skiers 2 minutes later, and then we started 2 minutes after that. I didn’t hear anyone say anything for the start but just saw people leaving so I followed. They say “release the hounds” to start us off but I must have been too far away to hear it.
I started running and eventually ran with Breanna from Arizona and talked for about an hour. Then John Storkamp caught up and I talked to him for awhile as well. He was just power walking and I had to run to keep up. He’s done this race a dozen times so he knows it very well. Of course every year is still different because of the weather and snow conditions.
The course follows the Blue Ox Grade snowmobile trail from Kerry Arena in the middle of International Falls until it meets up with the start of the Arrowhead snowmobile trail 9.5 miles later. There is a shelter there but no one stops that early I’m sure. There are 10 shelters along the course but I missed one or two of them during the night. We then headed East. This entire first section is flat. It started snowing soon after the start. It looked very pretty but my shoes were getting wet already. Once I turned I took off my buff and gloves since without the wind in my face I was getting warm. I talked to a few other people here and there until things started spreading out more.
The next landmark is crossing Hwy 53 at 18.75 miles. There are train tracks there and I could hear trains but luckily they were past by the time I got there. By this time there was probably a couple inches of snow that had fallen. It of course didn’t look that deep since it always settles. After Hwy 53 the sled started pulling harder so I started walking around mile 24 where shelter #2 is. The small hills start around 26 miles. I think this is around where I met a guy that was running this for the first time. He had done it with a bike I’m pretty sure but he hadn’t really run an ultra before. Meaning each step was a new personal best distance for him on foot. I don’t think he finished the race this year though.
There is another shelter around mile 30. Then the hills start to get a little bigger. Enough that you could ride down them but there was only 1 that I rode down just before the first check point which is Gateway Store. You have to do a short out and back to get to it. The store is 36.7 miles into the race. There is food, etc to buy there. They had I think 5 kinds of soup to buy as well. I changed my socks and noticed my feet were already getting wrinkly from being wet all the time. The usual stuff I do wasn’t keeping them dry. I suspect the warm temps and the constant snowing was the difference. I spent 25 minutes here, it just takes a while to get things done even with a efficient plan.
I left at 4:26 pm and it would be getting dark soon. There were 8 people in front of me when I left but I didn’t know that at the time. I knew of at least 4 due to tracks in the snow but there were people so far ahead that the new snow had totally covered up their tracks. And so began what felt like the longest night ever. The hills keep going and get bigger as time goes on. There are several roads you go across that people tend to drop at and I could see why. It just seems like it will never end. Plus, it does really just keep getting worse for the next 70 miles or so. There are brief easy sections and then more hills. I met a few people and talked to them for awhile. I was never this tired so early in an ultra before. I was only 14 hours into this thing and could’ve slept instantly just laying down. My next goal was the second checkpoint at MelGeorge at mile 72 of the race. I was hoping it would take 11 hours to get there from Gateway but ended up taking 12.
I know many who said they heard wolves along this part. I didn’t. The snow had finally stopped and around 9 or 10 I saw the clouds part for a short time and tons of stars. No northern lights this year. There also was a very slight crescent moon that gave a nice eerie touch once the clouds started coming back in and covered it up.
Since I hadn’t seen anyone in a long time, I put on some music to try to lift my spirits some. It didn’t help that much really. Even though I tend to slow down when talking to people, the time flies by so much faster I wished I would find someone. I know of 2 people that I caught up to that said me talking to them made a big difference in their spirits. That’s the solitude part of the race though. You could choose to stay with someone the entire time but it’s kind of against the point of the race. You should have thoughts of loneliness, boredom, etc that come into your head. That’s the test, to push them out and focus on the ultimate task of finishing. There are plenty of physical reasons to quit this race, all of them are reasons to not even start. But the mental reasons are what stop most people, even the ones who have finished before and know better.
Along the way are shelters 4 and 5. There were people sleeping at shelter 5. I had a room reserved at the MelGeorge resort which is legal for the race. I figured since this was my first year, it would be a good idea in case things went bad. I couldn’t get there soon enough. I was so tired and just tired of the hills. The trail changes directions so many times, I had no idea how much further the check point was. My GPS had to be recharged so when I turned it back on I could see my pace but really had no clue how long was left. The last shelter is 13 miles from the resort which is hours for this race.
Finally I got to the lake that you cross over on for 1 mile to get to the resort. We were supposed to check in first before going to our room so that added a quarter mile of back tracking from where the check in cabin was. I checked in at 4am and 9 people had checked in before me. It was worth it to have a room. I sent a Skype video message to my family since there was no phone service but did have WiFi. My feet were all trench foot. I slept for 2.5 hours with my feet uncovered to dry them out. My shoes dried some but not completely. The new forecast called for -4 degrees Wednesday morning. I finally left at 8:15am after getting ready and going back the quarter mile to the check in point. 16 people left before I did since I was there so long. I knew some would have to bivy again before the finish, but how many? So overall I spent 4 hours there which was longer than I’d like but I needed it due to my feet.
As usual, sleep had wondrous healing powers for me. My feet hurt but looked normal. I kind of had energy but the best thing was the sun was up! Day 2 would be MUCH better than Night 1. There were 2 people who started seconds before me. One was a skier Jerritt and the other was Jeff Firkus who I ran with some at Tuscobia last year. He knew this trail pretty well.
I wish I would’ve taken pictures during the second day but it was a big hassle getting it out of the pack where it was staying nice and warm in case of emergency.
There are the usual hills for the next 2 miles. At exactly 2 miles from the check-in cabin is the turn that can be difficult for some. It’s where you get back on to the main combined arrowhead trail. It was well marked.
2.7 miles from MelGeorge check-in cabin is where my day got amazing! That was the start of a huge downhill that I seriously thought about climbing back up to go down again it was so fun! It’s 150 feet high and I got going up to 13mph according to my watch but it felt like 30. Remember the first time you ever just bombed down a ski hill and felt the wind pushing hard against you and absolutely loving it? Yep, just like that. Felt like I was 13. Some of these downhills would have bumps in them from the snowmobiles so I’d get air on them. Awesome! Remember I had no way to keep this sled going straight other than my hands and feet. That just added to the excitement! There were kind of snowbanks all along the edge of the trail since it’s packed down but I didn’t want to test if they would keep me from flying in the trees. I told Jeff I wish I had a GoPro for that hill. He did have one but didn’t think of it at the time. For the next 32 miles minus about 5 miles of flat towards the beginning of that section, it was nothing but sleddable hills. I was having so much fun. Jeff would bomb down head first to steer with his feet behind him. He left me behind on the flat part section.
I changed socks again since I could feel them soaked again. They didn’t look as bad as yesterday and I was hoping to keep them that way.
That’s when Jerritt and I kept crossing paths. He’d have to take off and put on his skis constantly because of the hills. It didn’t look fun. I was still having fun. Just before 26 miles from the cabin is the start of 2 hills that looked like every other hill we had gone down. The difference was they go way steeper as you went down and had a fairly sharp turn part way down you couldn’t see from the top. I ended up testing those banks on the side of the trail and bounced back and forth spinning and going backwards down the hill. I thought for sure I’d hit a tree but never did. Then right after is another one where I had to really dig my shoes in to not hit a bridge post. I was yelling at Jerritt to get out of the way since I couldn’t stop and he was at the bottom. He told me he ended up in the trees on that first one but was OK.
It then got dark and it started to snow for the second day in a row. Then the hills were kind of scary because you couldn’t see anything with the falling snow reflecting in the headlamp. You never knew where the bottom of the hill was, how steep, nothing. So I ran down a lot more of them. I became bored of hills and was starting to count down the miles to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at mile 111. The wind really picked up and you could feel the temperature dropping fast for the first time in the race. The forecast was -4 which isn’t bad at all. The wind was mostly at our backs the rest of the race so even the wind wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Finally I hit the turn to the Southeast towards the checkpoint. I started seeing smart ass signs reminding us we’d signed up for this, etc. The usual ultra humor. At least I knew I had to be getting closer.
I got to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at 9:30pm Tuesday. 14 people checked in before me. I didn’t need to do much and had a plan in my head. I changed socks again (on my 5th pair now). Since it was now colder they would likely stay drier but I had to get the wet ones off. I put on another layer of pants. I got out my second jacket. Got a fleece hat instead of a buff. I put on warmer gloves and got out the next warmer pair and put it in my backpack as I knew the trail got more exposed later on and would need them. I put some more hot water in my cooler and was out the Tee Pee door. It only took my 22 minutes but it didn’t even feel that long. I had no wasted time in my mind. It just takes a long time to get new socks on it seems. They were steaming when I took my shoes off. I left some people behind at the checkpoint that were taking a break as only 10 left before me. I had started to take caffeine at this point but there was no chance I’d have to bivy. I ate the rest of the food I planned on eating so that I’d get an energy boost around 2 or 3 am.
There is one more big steep hill called Wakemup hill after the checkpoint that starts about 1.6 miles out. You go up about 100 feet but get to go down 150 feet. I didn’t know if you could sled down it safely so I dug my shoes in until about the half way point down. Turns out you could just fly down pretty easy as it’s a gentle turn and it slowly flattens out. You go a long way with this hill. From there on out it’s a very gradual uphill to the finish line about 21 miles away. There are some turns here and there but most of the time you can see over a mile in front and behind you at all times.
This next part I wasn’t sure I’d put in here but my wife said I should so I will. About 4 miles in I could see someone ahead of me and I caught up to him soon after sitting on a tree on the side of the trail blankly staring. All his lights were on as I passed him (important for later). One on the back of his sled and one I think on his chest. So he only had 2 but that was all that was required. I said “Hi” and he said nothing in return which was odd for this race or anytime really.
I looked back a minute later and I could see he was getting ready to start up again since lights were moving everywhere. About 10 minutes later he passes me with only his headlamp on super low. All his blinking lights required by the race were turned off. I also couldn’t see his bib number anywhere to know who he was. Obviously he was trying to not be seen by me after he passed me as there is no other plausible explanation. I’ve seen this many times before in summer races. The difference is that it is required during this race to have them on at all times, even in the day because we’re on a snowmobile trail. I was pissed so I sped up and followed him for probably 5 minutes until 2 snowmobiles that were associated with the race came by. I tried to stop them to tell them about his lights but they must have assumed I was saying I was OK and just kept going. They didn’t stop him which I was surprised by.
You see during check-in they were very anal about the blinky lights as really they probably should be. People had already contacted the DNR about being surprised by us being on the trail in years past. If anyone ever gets hit during the race I think we can safely assume the race is dead. At Tuscobia, it’s part of their permit from the DNR that you need at least 3 lights on at all times and at certain heights, etc. I had 3 lights on my head, and 3 more down my back and sled. I also had one in front. I asked several people during the race if they could see my lights and they said they were real good. Really everyone I saw had good lights, assuming they were ON!
I followed him closely as I could only see him by his reflector and had to be fairly close for that. I had planned on doing 20-22 minute miles until the end but was now doing 18 minute miles. It took about 20 minutes and then I caught up to him while he was stopped. As I was coming up to him, I asked him if all his blinkies’ batteries had died. I then got in front of him and could see a faint red light coming from under his duffle bag at the front of the sled. He had hid them in there. Remember I saw them on the back of his sled in the beginning where they should be. I said, “Oh, there they are, just as I thought” and left him. He didn’t say anything but sure enough they were on again later on when I looked back. He tried to keep up and it did take me about an hour before I couldn’t see him anymore but for all I know he had turned all his lights off and was still just behind me. I refilled my water bottle for the last time after I turned a corner as fast as possible. Basically I spilled water everywhere but got enough in my bottle. I never stopped again.
I was on a mission to not let a cheater beat me. 17 minute miles were common now. I kept thinking about the character Crusher on Blaze and the Monster Machines cartoon I watch with my kids. He always cheats to try to win the races but he never does. In fact, if he wouldn’t cheat he’d likely win some of the races because he’s so far ahead. Sound similar? My kids loved this story when I got home by the way.
I ended up seeing another light up ahead and caught up to him in about 30 minutes. It was Jeff and I had caught back up to him. I briefly told him about the guy behind me. I told Jeff I didn’t care if he (Jeff) kept up and beat me, just as long as I beat the cheater behind us. Jeff did keep up for a while but stopped somewhere and I never saw him again. The trail seemed to go along swamps a lot in this area so I ran anytime I was on icy looking stuff since the sled pulled so nice.
It was colder now and I put on my warmer gloves from my backpack while still moving. I knew we had to turn off the arrowhead trail somewhere and I thought it was soon after crossing CoRd 77. I crossed a road but it never seemed to me that we turned off anywhere. I could see tracks and footprints in the snow and the course was well marked so I knew I was still on the right course but really had no idea how much further it was. My watch had died from the cold. I didn’t want to stop to take my phone out which had a gpx file of the course on it. I’d get there when I got there I told myself. I could tell my speed was slowing now. I was getting tired and it seemed like all I was doing was making turns in the woods. East then South then East then South. Other race reports made it sound like you could see the casino long before you got there but I never did.
Finally I heard some noise. I got to the snow fence area which I thought meant I still had a couple miles left to go. Nope, it means you have like 0.1 miles. I asked a guy how much further to the finish line and he pointed to the top of the hill he was standing by and I could see the banner. To say I was happy is an understatement. Not even so much that I finished the race (I knew that would happen back at Surly), but that I didn’t have to go 2 more miles and I had beaten my new Nemesis. It was 4:56am Wednesday Feb 1st. I had finished in 45 hours and 52 minutes. I proclaimed I’d party till the sun came up which was only a couple hours away.
I told them Jeff should be coming shortly. They take you inside and I had to pick a number from 1 to 10. I don’t remember what number I picked but whatever it was meant I had to do a full gear check so we did that and I passed. I got brought up to the hospitality room in the Fortune Bay Casino and I got my trophy, some food, pop, and my clean clothes bag. The volunteers really are amazing at this race. Jeff came in I think 10 minutes later. My feet looked better than they did at Surly. The cold and wind had dried out my shoes and socks. I got my picture taken with the trophy.
I took a shower and changed. I tried to sleep some but mostly just talked to other racers. Some were just coming in, others had already slept and were getting up to see the new finishers.
I couldn’t wait to get home to my family so I slept some once I got back to my car in International Falls and then drove home.
The cheater was Italian I found out as he came in. That’s maybe why he didn’t say anything to me. But as my wife said, it’s no excuse for cheating and putting himself and the entire race in jeopardy. You need to know the rules no matter what, especially safety rules. There’s no way he accidentally took his lights off and hid them. Her argument made sense to me and that’s why I even put the story in here.
There are some who don’t agree with the sledding aspect of this race. From what I’ve been told it’s always been allowed and I love it. Even if you took every step down a hill you could easily lower your sled in front of you with a retractable dog leash and not have it pushing you down the hill negating the main argument most have against it. I think people should take advantage of it. I don’t think it makes you go much faster as most hills you could run down faster and it takes time to get on and off your sled. There’s only about 10 hills that you really cruise on. The main advantage is the fun factor and the fact you’re off your feet for 10 seconds. I was seriously thinking I would never do this race again until I got to the sledding portion of the trail. That first night for me just kinda sucked. Now I plan on doing it again if I gain entry again.
The headlamp suggestion for 100 lumens or more is a good one. You don’t need more than 50 on the flat parts but if you want to see the bottom of the hills and not overrun your light then you want well over 100. 200 would be good if you have the battery life to keep your headlamp on that high of a setting. I’d crank mine up on the downhills but it didn’t help much this year since it was snowing and all I saw were snowflakes flying at me.
Again the volunteers are great for this race as are the race directors although I never spoke to them directly. Well organized and I saw lots of race associated sleds in case anyone was in danger.
Speaking of snowmobiles, I saw very few non race related snowmobiles the entire race. Only a couple the first day. Probably 15 the second day. For some reason the second night I saw 40 between 10 and 11pm. After that I saw none again. They were all very well behaved riders and none of them seemed surprised by my presence, but then again there was always someone just a half mile ahead of me for most of the race.
There is a ton of walking in this race. I estimate I ran 30 miles, sledded 1.5 miles and walked the rest. The only thing that hurt after the race were my ankles. Those are back to normal and my calves are a little sore. Don’t let the distance scare you if you are thinking of this race. If you’ve done a 50 mile race you can easily finish this from a physical aspect. The cold and your mind are the things you need to train for. Walking just isn’t that hard, even if pulling a sled.
With all that said, I suspect this was an “easy” year both weather and condition wise. 38 of the 59 runners finished which is 64% and pretty high for this race. I remind myself though that even if it was an easier year than most, it’s still 135 miles.
This was my first fixed-time race and took place on Nov 12-13, 2016. It was a spur of the moment thing for me as I was hoping to get a qualifier in so I could apply for Spartathalon next year. I needed 180 km in 24 hours which for this course turned into 83 laps and 112.56 miles, which was more than I needed but the way it worked out due to the 1.3562 mile course.
The course itself is basically running a loop at Chaplin Park in Wichita, KS. I’m pretty sure it is an old landfill near the river that they turned into a park with a large dog park and model airplane park included in it. It is a gravel path with a little bit of sidewalk. The path was greatly eroded in some places where you were running on the geotextile fabric that is under the path. So because of that there were areas of uneven footing. There is a max rise and fall of about 20 feet. You climb up this gradually once and then go steeply down and steeply up right after it (basically crossing a drainage ditch between 2 areas of the old landfill the best I can tell). There are also some gentle 10 foot hills you go down and up each loop. Overall I’d say there is about 70 feet of elevation gain and fall per loop. Not bad as far as trail running goes but was much hillier than I expected from a 24 hour race on a measured course. The 20 foot hill was advertised as such but I wasn’t aware that you’d go up and down it twice each loop plus the other hills. They’ve had the race at a different park other years so it’s possible they may go back to that one.
The event itself was greatly run. The timing chips worked flawlessly as far as I could tell and they posted all the loop splits after the race which will be nice for future fixed-time race planning. There were port-a-potties literally along the course. There was lots of grass along the course that you could set up your own gear/aid station which I did. You could even set up a tent if you wanted. The weather this year was great. Just a little warm during the day for me and nice and cool at night. It did get close to freezing at the end of the race. The aid station could make you food, although I didn’t realize that until later in the night. I think ham and cheese, PB&J, don’t know what else. They had pizza once during the night.
So my race went like this. Started off at 7am and it went really good for about 50 laps, stayed with my pace or ahead by as far as 14 minutes. The next 14 laps went OK, hanging on but not feeling great. Then it flat out sucked. I ended up walking most of the last laps and only ended up with 77 (104.4 miles). I had time for 1 more but I had second place locked and wanted to get going home. Anyone over 100 miles in 24 hours got a buckle so I got one and my second place plaque. The race directors and everyone congratulated me but I felt so disappointed. I let myself and everyone else down that had helped me do this race. My parents watched the kids for a couple days, I spent gas money and hotel money, spent 2 days away from my family, and for what? I guess some lessons in how much Vol State and Superior races linger. I just hadn’t recovered enough and therefore trained enough to get 112 miles.
So what went wrong? I had finished a 100 mile race in under 21 hours just 2 years ago in Kansas with more elevation and hotter temps. That race was just 5 weeks after a hard 50 mile race. I didn’t even get to 100 miles in 21 hours at this race. I got like 97 or something. I probably could’ve really pushed it to get to 100 but that likely would’ve been the end of the race for me. I would’ve crashed even harder. My legs hurt! My toes hurt which didn’t slow me down but it was a sign something was different than normal. My quads, IT band, and even my hips hurt like I was doing a difficult trail 100 mile race. In fact my IT band hadn’t hurt for 4 years until this race. The pain is what really slowed me down. I’m sure this is due to under-training. That under-training is due to having too many hard races this year that took a while to recover from. The people that told me it could take 9 months to fully recover from Vol State are probably right. I also seemed to not have the energy I wanted. Partly that could be nutrition but more so from fighting something my kids had given me. They had fevers 6 days before the race so even though I was only getting a sore throat from it, it was obviously draining me some as well.
I really hope none of my failure was mental. Spartathalon is a race in which you cannot waver. It’s much longer than this race. I set up my early splits fairly fast to simulate what is needed during Spartathalon to stay ahead of the cutoffs. That race has cutoffs at the very first aid station. So if you have to poop at the beginning you better hold it and go fast to the next aid station to allow enough time to go before the cutoff. They have a zero tolerance policy there from what I hear. I’ve heard from a friend that has finished 4 times that you just can’t quit. You can’t even think about it, no matter how bad you feel. Of course it helps that he’s much faster than me and can make up time when needed. I guess the best thing about not getting my required distance is I can put this out of my mind for a while and concentrate on my next race which is Arrowhead 135. I’ve been dreaming of this race for years and it’s in a few months now. This winter will almost certainly be colder than last year so it is sure to be a challenge.
I don’t know if I’ll ever do a 24 hour race again. I’ll likely just find a flat 100 mile race and do it under 21 hours which is another way of qualifying. Going around a loop is boring. I know that doesn’t seem surprising to most people but I didn’t think it would be that bad since I had music to listen to. I still may do a 6 day race at some point though. Yes I know I just said it’s boring but a 6 day is different. You’ll be walking a fair amount later in the race and can actually talk to people to pass the time. I didn’t talk to anyone for more than 20 seconds at this race since I was never going the same pace as anyone else. Also at a 6 day you can stop and rest/sleep whenever you want without ruining your game plan for the race. You also just eat real food since you have time to absorb it. Even with a 3 day race you can’t plan on sleeping much if you want to do well. A 2 day race you really shouldn’t be resting more than a couple hours or at all. All 6 day races I know of are on very flat courses which would make them more enjoyable as well. Perhaps 6 days at the fair near relatives in New Jersey someday.
I made my own gels this race which worked out fine. I made them too thick though so once it got cold I couldn’t get them out of the tubes anymore. I didn’t add any flavoring either so that would be good if I decide to make them again. It’s kind of a pain in the butt making them so I may not try it again (my wife would say it sucked way worse, sorry honey!). I never really hit a wall this race. My split times were within seconds of each other with a gradual decay, unless I had to stop to reload water or use the bathroom. I slowed down for sure but I never felt like I had to walk until the last 5 hours or so which wasn’t nutrition related. My gels were just a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin and fructose based on research of how much you can absorb through the various glucose transporters. The sweetness was just right for me. Not as sweet as honey so they went down just fine. I just need to add more water next time to thin them out more.
I ended up cutting off 2 toenails after this race. I haven’t done that for years. Same style shoe I’ve worn all year and fairly new but not brand new. Same socks and taping job I always do. I’m not really sure why they got so bad. I mean I did Vol State without a problem, and then going on a pretty easy course for 24 hours wrecks them? The only good thing is that I made my sister puke in her mouth a little when I texted her a photo! Maybe the race was worth it after all.
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.