I’ve been reflecting on my 2019 Superior 100 race for the last few days. This was my fifth finish, 6th start & 6th 100 mile race overall. I ran this race for the first time in 2013, and made it 85 miles before lack of nutrition, heat & humidity caused me to drop. 2014 I returned and bagged my first finish in just over 36 hours. I was elated to have pushed past that 85 mile barrier, climbed Carlton peak and finished with a smile on my face surrounded by dear friends. 2015 I went back and set a huge PR by running just over 32 hours. That was amazing. I actually out ran my crew that year by hitting an early morning aid station ahead of schedule. I was on cloud 9 that entire race. I think I even finished in the top 10 women. It was amazing. 2016 I ran a different 100 mile race that same weekend - the Hallucination 100 in Michigan and while it was hard in its own way, the whole event paled in comparison to Superior. So in 2017 I returned to Superior, struggled the last 25 miles, hiked it in & finished a few minutes slower than my 2015 time. 2018 had it’s own struggles, mostly leading up to the race. Some personal things and a rolled ankle a few weeks before the race left me unsure I’d be able to get it done. I started the 2018 race on an easy pace, and ran a super strong final 25 miles to finish with a 40 min PR and hitting my time goal in the process.
Fast forward to 2019, after running such a strong race in 2018 I set an ambitious time goal. I wanted to cut another hour off my time this year. I figured I could do it if I executed the race similar to last year, but managed to stay just a little stronger over night. I also thought it was possible if the trail stayed as dry as it was last year, because in 2018 we had PERFECT conditions.
My training was good. I tried to follow the plan Coach Jake wrote for me to the best of my ability. I got in lots of hills, speed work as prescribed, and LOTS of time on my feet coaching this summer. I was ready. I was tapered, excited, well fueled and eager to get started.
Race week arrives, and on Wednesday evening Matt, Sandy (my Mother in Law) and I hop in the truck with camper in tow & head to Lambs Resort where we’d be camping for the weekend. Matt & Sandy would be my crew. Matt’s been crewing me since the beginning, and Sandy’s been with me for all 4 of my previous Superior finishes. They’ve got the system down, and know me better than anyone.
The race starts on Friday, and we head to Gooseberry State Park for the 8am start. Getting there about 30 min ahead of time gives me time to get checked in, use the bathroom & take a few pictures with friends before we head down the trail. At go-time, all the runners start on a paved section of trail. It’s 4 miles of pavement before we make the turn, go under Hwy 61, and start the climb up toward the Split Rock River on the main Superior Hiking Trail. We’ll be on single track for another 97 or so miles before hitting the finish line at Lutsen Mountain.
My friend, Kelly, is running her first 100 mile race and we stay together initially. She falls in line behind me as I set the pace on the single track. I’m trying to stay conservative, comfortable & patient in these early miles. At 7 miles in I feel a pain on the left side of my abdomen. OUCH! I look and there’s a bee on my shirt. I flick my shirt & off he flies, but not before stinging me twice. Shoot, that hurt like mad!! Kelly is stung too, and we stop to assess the damage. She’s stung in the ankle, and it looks like the stinger is still there, I help her by pulling the stinger out. We decide that we’re fine, but sore, & bummed that we’ve been stung. It isn’t long before we see a commotion just up the trail in front of us. Another runner has been stung & is unable to walk, 4 other runners are carrying him down the trail. They’re asking if anyone has medical training. My EMT training is almost 10 years old, but I stop to find out what’s happening. Runners have gone ahead to alert the aid station that there is a runner in dire straights, but no one has had service to dial 911. Cell phone service can be really hit or miss on the trail. I pull my phone out of my pack, take it off airplane mode & I immediately have service. I dial 911.
To make a long story short, I spend about 20 min or so with the group of runners helping the man who was stung while on the phone with 911. I have Kelly go on ahead since I didn’t know how long I’d be. Once a race volunteer got to us, I gave her my phone which was still connected to the 911 operator for her to take over the call. I headed on my way. The good news is the runner who was stung, and nearly unconscious, was able to walk out under his own power after a second dose of an epi pen.
After leaving the group, I arrived at the first aid station, checked in, grabbed a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and headed back out. I needed to keep moving. I saw Kelly leaving the aid station spur trail as I was arriving & told her I’d catch up to her later.
I headed out of the first aid station with 9+ miles under my belt; the next aid station being 10 miles away. I’d see Matt & Sandy there for the first time since the start. I was moving well, really well actually. I felt good. I was knocking off the miles, I was passing people & I even caught up to Kelly in this section! I was flying!
That was either a blessing or a curse....
I arrived at the Beaver Bay aid station, filled bottles, grabbed another peanut butter & Jelly sandwich & checked my pace chart with Matt & Sandy. I was back on my ambitious time goal schedule..... While that’s great, I probably should have still been 15-20 min BEHIND that goal time at this point in the race, since I’d stopped to help that other runner...
I was feeling the miles already. I was kicking rocks, and my legs had started to ache. I was 20 miles in.
I tried to slow down and eat a bit more in the 5+ miles to the next aid station. I arrived at Silver Bay on schedule, but definitely feeling run down. I was behind enough on calories that at first glance I didn’t recognize my friend, Alisha..... I needed to do some damage control.
Kelly and I had gotten separated at Beaver Bay, but caught back up to each other again here, so we left & had 9 more miles together before the Tettegouche aid station at 35 miles.
On the way to Tettegouche aid station, 9 + miles away, I tried to settling into a comfortable pace, and focus on getting in more calories. This is a beautiful section with Bean & Bear Lakes, Mount Trudee and the infamous drain pipe section before dropping into the chaotic, noisy aid station at 35 miles. I felt much better when I arrived here than I had when I left Silver Bay. My friend, Alisha, was there crewing Kelly, and she helped me get some anti-chafing cream on areas that were getting irritated and made sure I was eating well. Matt & Sandy were not meeting me here because this aid station is so congested, and I knew I’d be fine until I saw them at the County Road 6 aid station which was coming up at mile 43.5. I’d also be picking up my pacer, Chris at County Road 6, so that would be a longer stop to reset before night fall.
Kelly and I were still running together and having company made these miles flow by. On our way to the next aid station, the rain moved in, and for a short time it rained quite hard. It rained long and hard enough to soak us to the bone, soak our feet and make the rocks and trail slippery. My feet were feeling ok until they got soaked, and by the time I arrived at County Road 6, I could feel some blisters starting. Luckily that short rain storm was the only rain we had for the rest of the race.
At County Road 6 I take time to put on a dry shirt, dry socks, extra anti-chafing cream, add a long sleeve shirt to my pack, grab my lights and as much food as I can get in. Chris and I head into the woods on our way to the Finland Aid Station another 7.7 miles away. Chris will be running with me from now until mile 77.9. She will take me through the night and into sunrise on Saturday. She is a REALLY good friend!!
The night sections have a tendency to run together. We arrived at Finland, and met up with Matt & Sandy for the last time. They will be going back to camp to sleep and meet us the next morning at mile 77.9. I changed shoes, ate and repacked my pack with extra snacks. Soon Chris and I were off into the night.
Sonju Lake Road Aid station is another 7.5 miles away. From there Crosby-Manitou is a short 4.2 mile jaunt down the trail. These sections went by slowly, but uneventfully. It was rocky, rooty & dark. The little sliver of moon set early, and the stars came out. Chris & I eventually made our way to Crosby-Manitou.
I knew this would be a longer aid station stop. I needed calories, and was looking forward to my annual Crosby hamburger. Every year I eat a hamburger at this aid station and it always seems to perk me up & a nice change of pace from all the sugar I’ve been consuming. Friendly faces and super helpful volunteers make this a true oasis in the woods. The fire is warm, the music is upbeat & its easy to want to continue to sit by the fire. I tried to get in and out of here in an efficient manner, but I was still taking longer than I had in previous years.
Out of Crosby, it is a LONG 9.4 miles in the middle of the night to the Sugarloaf aid station. The technical downhill to the Manitou River caused my first (and only) fall of the day as I hit my backside on slippery rocks & tumbled into the bushes. Chris played the tough love card, and got me moving again before I could whine too much about it hurting. I’m so grateful for my friend who wanted to accompany me so many miles in the middle of the night down an unforgiving trail. I know this section well and was pointing out the campsites along the way as checkpoints that we were going to eventually get to the next aid station. The sun is coming up as we finally cross the cute covered bridge that I know as a final landmark before Sugarloaf. But my goodness, that aid station just wasn’t coming. Then there were the aid station signs that volunteers had put out telling us that we were “almost there.” Let’s just say that “almost there” at this point in the race is quite deceiving!
We finally reach Sugarloaf & I try to get some savory food in. I’m already tired of sweet things. Bacon, and hash browns seem to help & I’m eager to get to Cramer Road where I’ll pick up my next pacer, Willow, see Matt & Sandy, and hopefully pick up some energy of the marathoners who are starting at 8am from that same area.
In year’s past I’ve been out of the Cramer Road aid station before the marathoners and soaked up all their energy as their fresh faces, clean clothes & good energy pull me down the trail for the final 25 miles.
This year it would be close, and I wasn’t moving as fast or efficiently as I would have hoped. As we get closer to Cramer Road we can hear the Race Director giving final announcements and the music blasting from the speakers. I just wanted to get there, but again the aid station seemed like a long way away.
As we came out of the woods, there is a short road section before turning back on the trail that leads to the aid station. As Chris & I head down the road, here come the marathoners toward us. The fast runners sprinting down the road. And I knew we were all going to bottleneck onto the narrow single track I was about to turn down. I was not prepared to be seeing the marathoners here. I usually see them on the other side of the aid station, today my mood plummets. I’m definitely behind schedule. I’m tired. My feet hurt. The tears start to fall. I don’t want to lose my momentum stepping off the trail for the marathoners, but they are moving fast, feeling fresh, and I feel like I’m getting in their way. I step to the far right side of the trail, walking slowly, feeling sorry for myself. The feeling doesn’t last long as every single one of them cheers me on, wishes me good job, or some form of encouragement. My mood lightens. And soon a few more friendly faces, then my friend Eric is right beside me! He grabs my hand and we jog a few paces toward the aid station. I’m so happy to see him. I come into the aid station, and there is Matt, Sandy, and Willow, all ready to help me get ready to complete the final 25 miles.
I sit at this aid station, fixing my feet, eating and trying to get ready for the final push. I thank Chris for her company all night long, and hope she gets to go take a nap soon. Willow & I head off into the woods. It’s sometime after 8am on Saturday morning. I’m struggling, but energized with some fresh company, a new day & the taste of the finish line coming before dark, if I keep moving.
The next section is 7.1 miles to the Temperance aid station. This section has some demons from my 2013 race when I sat down somewhere in the section and refused to go on. I battle these demons every single time I run this section whether in the race or in training. As a result of frequently training on this section, I know it very well. We run some of the early miles, and then as it gets more technical closer to the river we slow down. I do need to go to the bathroom and I know there is a latrine in one of the campsites a long the river. I’m wandering around a campsite looking for the latrine when my coach, Jake, comes bounding through the woods. He looks fresh and happy. He’s running the 50 mile race which had started much earlier that same morning. There’s not another 50 mile runner around him. He goes on to win the 50 mile race and set a course record in the process.
I decide that I need to keep moving after not finding the latrine. It’s only about 2 miles now to the aid station, and I desperately need to find some cover. However there is no place to step into the woods. I can’t take in any more food unless something comes out… If you get my drift…
I haven’t taken in any calories in 30-40 minutes by the time I reach the Temperance aid station. Luckily there are porta-pottys there, and I immediately find an open one. This aid station takes a little longer because now I need to get in calories. I’m very low energy after not taking in food for 30-40 min before arriving there. I literally have to force myself to eat before I can go on. I logically know I have to eat if I am going continue, but it sure is hard to get those calories on board.
Eventually I get enough food to in to start perking up and head out with Willow. There’s only 2 aid stations left. The end is getting closer. This section is only 5.7 miles and includes the climb up Carlton Peak. This is another section I know well. We go down one side of the Temperance River, up the other side and make our way towards Carlton Peak. I’m still not moving that fast, and struggling to get food in, but we’re moving.
Eventually we reach the Sawbill Aid Station. I sip on some coke, grab a baggie of potato chips and we’re out of there. Everything hurts now, so stopping for too long just prolongs the pain. I’m ready to get this done.
Willow is a great pacer, telling me stories of her races, reminding me to eat, and handing me potato chips to munch on when I’m losing energy. The Sawbill to Oberg section is only 5.5 miles, and fairly runnable (on fresh legs) but it feels like it’s taking forever. The end is so close, but yet so far.
It’s somewhere in this section that Willow announces that it’s 6pm. “Wait, what?” I say. I know I have 3 hours or so of running left, and this is a hit to my mood. If it’s 6pm I’m going to be finishing in the dark and worrying about final race cut offs. I immediately burst into tears. I’m trying to choke back tears when I realize something. “Willow, are you sure we haven’t been running together for 6 hours?” I ask. She thinks for a minute, starts giggling and then agrees with me. It’s only about 3pm. We’ve been together for 6 hours. Whew! I’ll still be done before dark!
The Oberg aid station is a sight for sore eyes. It is the last stop before the finish & run by the amazing TC Running Company. I take a moment to sit & eat here, as I still have a couple of hours before I make it to the finish line. I’m not feeling great, but know that I’m going to bag another finish, and super happy to get this thing done.
The last 7.1 miles, are always a challenge. There are 2 big climbs, Moose & Mystery Mountains and then the view of the finish line about 2.5 miles from the actual end. You have to keep eating because if you don’t this becomes the longest 7.1 miles of your life, and eating is the last thing I want to do. You can’t go faster if you don’t eat, but you don’t want to eat, so you can’t go fast…. it’s a viscous cycle. Finally the roar of the Poplar River can be heard through the trees, and you know you’ve got it in the bag. After crossing the river, it’s up a wide trail to the paved road of Lutsen Mountain. Down the road to Caribou Highlands, around the pool to the finish line.
I jogged it in battling being light headed, and was happy to arrive before dark. 34 hours & 7 min after starting at Gooseberry Falls I finished. Greeted by awesome volunteers, Matt, Sandy, Alisha & a whole host of friends, I was grateful for the body & mind that allowed me another finish.
A big thank you the Race Director, John Storkamp, Rocksteady Running, and all the volunteers that put on these events. They allow us to push ourselves, and explore places of our mind that we might not otherwise tap into. I always find the domino effect of these events to be so amazing.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. And THANK YOU for your support.
Until next time! Happy trails and happy running!