Writing this blog post is turning out to be more challenging that I would have initially thought. It should be simple, embark on an epic adventure, finish, celebrate, share your story with others. Done. This time however, it wasn't that simple... But that's ok, because that's how we learn, and grow.
This last weekend, I lined up with nearly 200 other runners at Gooseberry State Park to follow the Superior Hiking Trail 103 miles to the finish line at Lutsen Mountain. We had 38 hours to get there.
By my side was my trail buddy, Steph, and we had agreed we'd run what we could together, but knowing that it was likely that we'd end up getting split up before the day(s) was over. The morning air was warm, but I had goosebumps from my nerves. After a few words from the race director, we were off.
In the beginning there were these single file packs of runners. A train of people stretching down the trail, but as the miles wore on, it didn't take long for people to find their own pace & get more spread out. Pretty soon you were with a group of maybe 3 or 4 people without being able to see anyone ahead or behind you.
It didn't take long before I noticed a steady drip of sweat off the right corner of my baseball hat. One drop at a time, but at a regular rate of drip...drip...drip... My bandana that I carry with me was getting very wet from wiping my face & soon felt completely saturated. I worked hard to keep drinking & eating & to remember to take a salt tab now & again.
Steph & I arrived into the first aid station, right on schedule. I had put together a schedule for myself & my crew of what time I had "hoped" to arrive at each aid station & what the cut off times were for each one as well. Staying one step ahead of the clean up crew was my goal. I wanted to finish, but I wasn't out to set a land speed record!
At 20 miles, the next aid station, we got to see our crew. That was exciting. I was really hot, and I had ran out of water in the previous section. I added a bottle of Heed (electrolyte replacement drink) to my pack along with 2 liters of water & a variety of bars, gels, & snacks.
As the days have passed since the race, some of the more finite details have faded. But it was going into the County Road 6 aid station (about 43 miles) as one area that sticks out in my mind. Steph was running strong & in the miles leading up to this aid station, we had gotten separated. I was a little bummed, I'll admit it, but I totally understood. When you need to fly, you fly! I would only see her 1 more time before the finish line. My crew would update me along the way as to how she was doing. The other thing that happened here, was it got dark. In many ways, I think we, as runners were looking forward to it getting dark. After sweltering through the day in the hot sun, we had all hoped nightfall would bring some relief. I stopped for a brief moment to dig my headlamp out of my pack & turned it on. It took a little while to get used to running in a small beam of light, but there I was alone on the trail with my light & having really no idea how much farther to the next aid station. Soon I saw a sign that said 4 miles... 4 miles?!! Are you kidding?! I was sure I'd done at least that much. Boo. Ok, well, keep going I told myself. Pretty soon another runner came up behind me & we ran together for those last 4 miles. Another big bummer here, was you were up high on the ridgeline & all of a sudden you could see & hear the aid station below you. So you knew, you just had to get down to it... It took another 45 minutes to get to that aid station!! Every descent I thought would take us there. I was nearly on the verge of tears when I finally popped out of the woods to be greeted by my pacers, Colleen & Katie.
I refilled at the aid station here & Katie and I headed into the woods. The runner I had met in the previous section was still with us & we had picked up another guy. The four of us swapped stories & shared some laughs along the way. It was so much fun!!! Such a change from the dark place I had been in earlier.
Before we knew it, we arrived at the Finland aid station. 51 miles. HALF WAY!!! This was awesome. Half way. I changed my shoes & socks & Matt cleaned up my feet (he's a keeper!!) Then Dale & I headed off down the trail. Dale was going to run with me for 3 sections & about 21 miles. It started out well enough, but then my body wanted to shut down. It was sometime after midnight. Maybe 1am.. I'm really not sure. We had 7+ miles to go to Sonjou Road aid station, where we would not have a crew. I was spiraling into a hole. Dale told me stories & encouraged me to eat & drink. I was walking & but not really going anywhere. We finally arrived into Sonjou Road & I wanted something salty. So I sat in a chair by a fire for a few minutes & sipped on some broth. This didn't taste nearly as good as I had hoped... I was getting shaky, but knew I wasn't getting anywhere sitting there. So I picked myself up & moved on. Dale picked up a baggie of potato chips for me & half a banana. Off we went. I felt awful. I was barely moving. Dale "forced" a couple potato chips into my hand & I would eat them one tiny bite at a time. All I wanted to do was curl up in the fetal position & go to sleep. But luckily for me, Dale wouldn't let me. He kept pressuring me to eat the chips & drink water. And believe it or not, I actually started to feel better. Who knew the magic of potato chips?? Seriously! It was getting on to 5am by now & I could tell that it was getting lighter - maybe only by degrees of light, but morning was coming. Soon we hit the road into Crosby Manitou State Park. Matt & John were there & they helped me jog in.
At Crosby, there was a lot of activity. I sat in a chair & somebody brought me a hamburger. I'm not going to lie, that hamburger patty was pretty gross. But I ate it anyway, and it too had some magical properties. I picked up my trekking poles at this point, because I no longer could trust my legs. And Dale and I were off for our final 9 miles together.
I had heard rumors of this section being very tough. They were true. A few minutes after leaving the aid station, I got stung by a bee. It hurt like mad! But Dale took my bandana and dunked it a river & we tied the cold cloth to my arm. That felt sooo much better. The climbs & descents here were crazy. I was actually really grateful the sun was coming up & I was reaching this in the daylight. Speaking of the sun coming up. That also proved to be magical. As day broke over the woods, the song "Morning has Broken" came into my head. I hummed the few words I could remember over and over as we made our way through the forest. I was feeling good & we were almost done with this section.
We came into the next aid station & I was greeted by my crew. Always a refreshing site. I drank some perpetuem (protein, carb, caffeine mix), changed my socks & Katie & I were on our way. I felt good. I was picturing the finish line. I had this in the bag. Or so I thought. We kept on cruising & the miles seemed to fly by.
Soon enough, we came into the next aid station & I was finally going to run with Colleen. I think we were both pretty excited. I said thank you and good bye to Katie, and Colleen & I were off. Things started out ok here. We chatted some, and she pulled me along down the trail. But sooner than either of us would have liked, I started to spiral downhill. I wasn't able to eat, nothing sounded good. Nothing I had or Colleen had was appetizing. She encouraged me to drink my Heed. That tasted awful, too. I wanted to puke. I thought I was going to. I was barely moving. This went on for a long time. One step at a time, Colleen encouraging me to eat or drink, anything. Me barely able to get anything down. Hardly moving. Finally at one point I asked if I could sit down. I sat in the middle of the trail & couldn't stop yawning. I was done. Colleen put her hand on my shoulder & said a prayer for me. Something I will never, ever, forget. With some encouragement & the truth that my day was over, I got up. I still had to get off the trail. No one was going to come in & carry me out. I had 4 miles to go to the next aid station. I don't have any idea how long it took me to finish those four miles. Colleen had her phone and called Matt to come in and walk out with me. By this point I was starting to see things (ok, truth is I was seeing stuff way before this too...) and the 3 of us were able to giggle about it now and again. The sweepers (people who were volunteering to take the course down after the last runner) were following us. I was it. The last person on the course at this point. I remember being able to crack a joke or two, and Colleen and Matt still trying to get me to eat or drink anything. But I was barely moving. But one foot in front of the other finally will lead you to where you need to go.
And after a total of 32 hours and 39 minutes of continuous forward progress, I found my finish line at 85 miles. I sat in a camp chair by the car, and with that, the tears came. There was no stopping them. 9 months of training, endless support from my wonderful husband, the encouragement from my friends, and the fact that I didn't make my goal all came flooding down around me.
I don't know if I'll ever be able to express the love that I felt out there from my crew, pacers, and other runners - Joli & Scott, especially.
After taking a shower & grabbing a bite to eat, we all went back to watch my friend, Steph, finish her 103 miles. It was really impressive to see such grit, and determination on a hot, challenging course. I am so impressed by her & grateful to call her a friend.
And now what? Here I am with 85 miles under my belt, but the larger 100 mile goal is still out there. I will achieve it. But as I'm still nursing the occasional blister & stiff and sore muscles, I'm not willing to say when just yet.
Thanks for reading, and all of your support. Here's to the next grand adventure!