2015 Superior 100 Race Report

Wow.  What a weekend.  It’s taken me a few days to decompress and review what actually happened between Friday & Sunday & Gooseberry State Park & Lutsen Mountain. 

First and foremost I have to take a moment to thank my crew and pacers.  You guys rock.  Coming into aid stations, my crew worked like a well-oiled machine – filling my pack, refilling my snacks, and attending to my needs.  My pacers pushed me and kept me focused on the trail so I could reach goals that I didn’t even think were possible.  A big thanks go out to: My wonderful hubby, and number 1 fan, Matt Leis; John Magner who is 3 for 3 crewing/pacing for my Superior Races, I am so grateful for your support; my In-law’s, Jerry & Sandy who were eager to lend a hand at aid stations & kept me well fed post-race; my parents, John & Ellen, who drove for 2 days to be a part of this crazy adventure, and entertained all of us at the camper for dinner Thursday night; to Annemarie Arzenti, who keeps us laughing & made sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously; and to Katie Leslie who joined me through the night during the hardest sections of the course, may the stories, laughs, and f-bombs we dropped along the way go down in history. 

Race Morning
I stayed in Two Harbors with my parents on Thursday night in their camper.  I actually slept remarkably well & woke moments before my alarm at 5:30 ready to get going.  The usual morning routine – coffee, pre-race breakfast (chocolate shakeology & a slice of toast with peanut butter,) a shower, and dressed for the race.  At 6:50am we left for Gooseberry State Park, Mom, Dad & Mr Patch, the Jack Russell. 
Pre-race coffee!
At the race start, I ran into lots of friends, and hung out with my trail buddy, Stephanie Hoff, for a little while.  Before we knew it, it was time to get lined up.  I felt ready.
Mom, Dad & Mr Patch

Pre-race pic with Stephanie Hoff
Gooseberry State Park to Split Rock Aid Station (Mile 9.7)
This year the course started out a little different due to some changes on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).  We now had 4+ miles of bike trail before we connected with the SHT.  My plan was to run 9:30 min/mile for the 4 miles.  I looked at this as a 4 mile warm up before the race actually started.  I wanted to stay relaxed & not go out too fast.  At 30 minutes in my watch beeped cuing me to eat – I would continue to eat every 30 minutes for the rest of the race.  I had part of a Lara Bar while I jogged along.  During this section I had an opportunity to catch up with my friend, Kamie, who I had raced much of last year’s event with.  Kamie, Stephanie & I enjoyed some light conversation. 

Pretty soon the course turned under the highway, and connected with the SHT.  It was go time.  I continued to work on staying relaxed, walking the technical sections and the climbs and just getting into the rhythm of being on the trail.  Soon enough we arrived at the Split Rock Aid Station.  The spur trail down to the aid station is a fun place to see where you’re seeded in the pack, since it is only one of 2 places that is an out and back.  There is no crew access here, so I was in and out rather quickly.  Grabbing half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to eat on the climb back out of the aid station.  I was 10 minutes ahead of my projected pace at this time.
Quick selfie before getting down to business!
Split Rock to Beaver Bay Aid Station (Mile 20)
Beaver Bay is the first opportunity to see your crew, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  I was moving well and at about 16 miles came to this long section of standing water.  At first glance, there wasn’t a clear way to go around it, so I opted to go right through the middle. That probably wasn’t the wisest decision… It was nearly knee deep in spots & filled my shoes full of mucky, nasty water.  I don’t get grossed out by much, but this totally grossed me out.  The next four miles I spent trying to decide if I was going to change my socks when I got to the aid station.  I wasn’t planning a sock change this early in the race, but this was disgusting.  I could feel the mud in my socks & shoes, and even though they were starting to dry, the grit was not going to do me any favors over the long haul.  I made the decision that I would change socks at Beaver Bay. 

I rolled into Beaver Bay at 12:25pm, a full 30 minutes ahead of my plan.  I quickly got fresh socks on, and my pack refilled, and by 12:30 I was back on the trail.
20 miles in with my #1 crew member!
Beaver Bay to Silver Bay Aid Station (Mile 25)
This is a seemingly short section, I don’t recall much here except for the fact that I found myself in the middle of a pack of runners I couldn’t shake.  After spending so much time on the trail training by myself, being in a large line of runners was a little stressful.  I was hoping the approaching aid station would spread people out a bit more.  I arrived at Silver Bay at 1:40pm, 40 minutes ahead of schedule.  I felt good, and in 4 minutes I was back on the trail.

Silver Bay to Tetttegouche Aid Station (Mile 34.9)
This nearly 10-mile section can feel long, but luckily I trained on this part of the course on 2 separate occasions, so knew what to expect.  I know that this helped me manage my expectations.  This section is also quite beautiful, as you climb up to the ridge overlooking Bean & Bear Lakes, pass Mount Trudee & then navigate the uber technical downhill known as the “Drain Pipe.”  Then it’s lovely single track for a couple miles as your cruise into Tettegouche State Park.  I found myself alone for most of this section, and didn’t mind it at all.  I continued to eat every 30 minutes, and I felt good.  Strong.  Confident. 
Coming into Tettegouche.  Robin Wirth photo
I arrived at Tettegouche at 4:20pm, 50 minutes ahead of schedule.  I was happy to see my parents here as well as the rest of my crew.  I picked up my headlamp here, just in case I didn’t make it to the next aid station before dark (I had needed it in previous years, and being stranded without a head lamp will really slow you down!)  I was back on the trail 5 minutes later.

Mom helping me out at Tettegouche
Tettegouche to County Road 6 Aid Station (Mile 43.5)
This is another long section – 8.6 miles – and can be mentally draining.  At County Road 6, you can pick up your first pacer, so that is always a pick me up after running all day alone.  I found myself mostly alone again in this section.  I passed a few folks on the way out of the aid station, and had a guy a little way behind me, but not close enough to really talk to.  I kept moving well, and having run this section a few weeks ago in training, I knew what to expect.  I also know that you can see/hear the aid station at least a mile before you get there.   I rolled into County Road 6 at 7pm feeling strong, and ready to continue without a pacer until Finland if needed.  I was still 50 minutes ahead of schedule.

Running into County Road 6 aid station
Lots of laughs!! You can't take yourself too seriously!
County Road 6 to Finland Aid Station (Mile 51)
Matt paced me this section, and I was grateful for some company.  We cruised along, and chatted about our day.  I was still feeling good, and I knew I was pushing the pace a bit more than what he was planning on.  It was here that it started to get dark & my headlamp with its high-powered battery pack was working great.  This section wasn’t too technical, but it started to wear on me as we got closer to the aid station, and the battery on my headlamp started to die.  I don’t think I’d even been using it 2 hours.  I knew at Finland I’d need to switch to AAA batteries in it.  I kept thinking that the aid station was just around the corner.  The trail dragged on.  FINALLY we crossed a bridge and saw the sign pointing to the left that signaled the spur trail to the aid station.  My headlamp was nearly dead by now.

We jogged into the brightly lit aid station in the little town of Finland at 9:30pm.  55 minutes ahead of schedule.  It was a perfectly clear night, and the temperature was starting to drop.  My main order of business here was gloves.  My hands were ice cubes.
Katie & I ready to go into the night!
Finland to Sonju Lake Road Aid Station (Mile 58.7)
Katie was now pacing me, and we rolled out of Finland at 9:35pm after finding gloves, batteries, and sipping on some hot chicken broth.  I had the first caffeine of the night at this point.  After feeling dumpy towards the end of the last section, I knew it was time.  I was starting to ride the energy roller coaster, and as long as the peaks didn’t get too high & the valley’s too low, I was ok.  It was all about managing my energy.  I started to anticipate my 30-minute feeding alarm because I would start to feel sluggish.  I’d eat, and I’d feel better.  Just like magic.

Katie and I would spend the next 21 miles together.  This first section felt ok.  A little slow due to the rocks & roots, but we made it to the next aid station feeling pretty good.  My headlamp was starting to fade, so I knew a battery change was going to be in order.  There are no crews allowed at Sonju Aid Station so Katie & I would be in and out fairly quickly.  Some hot soup & fresh batteries and we were ready to go.

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby Manitou Aid Station (Mile 62.9)
I don’t remember much of this section – it was dark, my headlamp wasn’t great, and we were getting frustrated by the roots.  I knew it was only 4 miles to Crosby, and the road into Crosby was a great place to check out the stars and stretch the legs.  Pretty soon we made it, the stars were impressive, and we slowly jogged up the gravel road to the aid station.

We arrived at the Crosby Manitou Aid Station at 1:45AM, still nearly 50 minutes ahead of my planned schedule.  I had told my crew not to meet us here, so they could get some sleep, and I had a drop bag with food, dry clothes, and more batteries.  The aid station volunteers were great, as they retrieved my drop bag, and got me “the best - worst “ hamburger ever.  The hamburgers here taste bad, but they work miracles!!  So I always have one!  After putting in more new batteries in my headlamp, we were off.

Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf Aid Station (Mile 72.3)
I know that this is probably THE hardest section of the course.  Katie, on the other hand, didn’t know what she was in for.  A few minutes after leaving the aid station the course drops down, down, down, to the Manitou River. Then it climbs back up, up, up to Horse Shoe Ridge.  For me, there is nothing runnable about the first half of this 9.4-mile section.  Shortly after leaving the aid station, I was having more trouble with my headlamp.  It just wasn’t bright enough.  I was getting so frustrated.  Luckily, Matt had sent a “backup” headlamp with me, so I retrieved that and wore both headlamps together.  This helped some, but was barely enough light to move efficiently. Katie and I would mumble about the rocks, and challenges of this section, it was hard.  I knew there was a runnable section towards the end, but it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Finally we crossed another river and the trail opened up.  My legs were fried, but it felt good to change from hiking to jogging – or shuffling, as the case may be.  It was still pitch black dark, and I knew we were getting close to Sugarloaf where I was looking forward to meeting my crew again and changing my shoes and socks.

We finally arrived at Sugarloaf at 5:45am, an hour and 45 minutes ahead of my original plan and a solid 45 minutes ahead of when my crew was expecting me.  They were nowhere to be found.  The aid station volunteers helped me refill my pack, and I struggled changing the batteries in my headlamps (darn headlamps!!) my fingers were cold, and I just couldn’t get them changed.  Luckily Katie’s husband had met her there, and he gave me his headlamp to use.  Katie had survived the night with me, but was done pacing.  I told her not to worry, I would continue on alone.

Sugarloaf to Cramer Road Aid Station (Mile 77.9)
I left the aid station and turned on my ipod for the first time.  I knew this section was fairly runnable, the sun would be coming up and it was only 5.6 miles to the next aid station.  I felt good, and was actually happy to continue on by myself.  Plus I knew my crew would FOR SURE be at the next aid station! As I ran alone, I could hear voices of a pair of runners behind me, but I couldn’t see them, and I hadn’t seen any runners in front of me since early in the Crosby section.  I was perfectly happy.  I knew I was moving well & the light on the horizon added a little spring in my step.  I watched how the morning light danced through the trees, and I wished I’d had a camera to capture the magic of those early morning hours, but I'd given up my phone back at Beaver Bay.

As I rolled into the next aid station, the start of the marathon distance event, I wondered what time it was “in the real world.”  The marathon would start at 8am, and no doubt I would get caught up in the mass of runners.  I tried not to worry, and looked for my crew as I came into the aid station.  As I did, a marathoner that I knew ran up to me & gave me a big hug.  That was such a highlight to my day.  Thank you Jayne!!

I arrived at 7:40 AM, a quick shoe and sock change, a couple chocolate chip pancakes and with Annemarie by my side, I was back down the trail.
Annemarie & I ready to rock & roll!

Cramer Road to Temperance Aid Station (Mile 85)
I managed to leave Cramer Road ahead of the marathoners, and enjoyed a nice runnable section of trail.  I had ran this section a few weeks back, so knew that it was pretty easy to start, one or two big climbs and then a long downhill stretch to Temperance State Park.   It didn’t take long to start to see the marathoners.  They all wished me luck & cheered for me as they passed.  I’d have to stop & step aside on the narrow trail to let them by, and we’d exchange some words.  I’d try not to trip them with my hiking poles.  Sometimes I wasn’t as organized with them as I could have been.  But we all laughed & I told the marathoners that they needed to keep up the pace so I didn’t pass them later.  It was a really fun section.  I saw a number of runners I knew and that really helped perk me up.  I rolled into Temperance at 10 am and feeling good.
BACON!!! Pancakes and bacon never tasted so good!

Temperance to Sawbill Aid Station (Mile 90.7)
At this aid station I picked up my friend, John, and he and Annemarie both paced me this section.  It was fun to have both of them to talk to and keep me moving.  After leaving the aid station you run down one side of the Temperance River, cross the bridge and then start a gradual 4-mile climb up to Carlton Peak.  I kept moving right along, and shuffling faster than a hiking pace when I could.  It wasn’t long and we came to the technical part of the climb that is the last bit up Carlton.  I kept pushing and ended up passing a few marathoners.  I looked over my shoulder to find John right behind me, but Annemarie nowhere to be seen.  One of the things I love about Annemarie, is I don’t have to worry about her.  I knew she’d catch up once she got over the climb.  I started the descent down towards the aid station and one of the marathoners came up behind me and said, “Annemarie wanted me to tell you, ‘she’s not dead’.” We all laughed and kept moving.  I knew she’d be fine!
Coming into the Sawbill aid station you run across some wooden boards before you cross a road and come into the aid station.  That section of boards was the longest section ever! I don’t think it was more than ¾ of a mile or so, but it dragged on and on.  I just wanted to get to the last aid station!! I finally rolled into Oberg at somewhere around 2pm. 

Oberg to the Finish Line (Mile 103.3)
I needed to sit down at Oberg for a few minutes.  The final push over Carlton Peak and then running the boards into the aid station had taken a bit out of me.  It was warmer than it had been, and I found myself feeling a little wonky.  Plus I had neglected to eat when my alarm went off the last time because I thought I was only a few minutes away – it ended up being more like 15 minutes.  Someone brought me the best chocolate chip pancakes ever and after a couple minutes I was ready to hit the trail again.
My awesome hubby, Matt, and John decided to pace me together the last 7.1 miles to the finish line.  By this point I was tired and definitely ready to wrap this thing up.  I told the guys that I would be putting in one ear bud.  Listening to music can really add a spring in my step and take my mind off the nagging pain that accompanies a race of this distance.  It isn’t long into this section that you climb up Moose (or is it Mystery?) Mountain – it just goes up and up, and when you think you are done, it turns and goes up some more.  I just wanted to cry.  For some reason this climb really got to me.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other, listen to the music, tune out the boys behind me, keep your eye on the prize, are just a few things I kept telling myself.  I finally made it to the top.  I knew this was the worst climb of the section. 
At one point when John & I were chatting earlier we talked about me finishing in the 33 hour range.  He had thought that was doable.  I agreed, but then after that climb, I wasn’t sure it was.  I knew my 3 mph pace had slipped, and I wasn’t confident I had it in me to get it back.  I was tired.  I was tired of eating, but my alarm kept beeping every 30 minutes, and I’d reach blindly into my pack and find something to eat.  I tried not to get emotional about it – calories are calories.  Even if I didn’t “want” what I pulled out, I ate it anyway. 
Pretty soon, my energy level was increasing, and I was within the last 5k or 3.1 miles.  I can do 3.1 miles in my sleep.  I could “smell the barn.” An incredibly upbeat song came on my ipod & I spotted a runner up the trail.  That was all I needed – a carrot – I turned to John, and said, “he’s mine.” I would pass him.  It wasn’t that I wanted to beat that person, or finish ahead of him; it was literally just a carrot to get the lead out of my ass and get me moving a little faster again.  When that song would come to the end, I’d just repeat it.  It had the same rhythm as my shuffle, and I found my groove.  It wasn’t long, and I passed that runner – the same marathoner I had been leap frogging most of the last section.  After a little bit, John reported that I just “ran” a 17 min/mile uphill in the last 5k!  Yes, I was ready to wrap it up.
It wasn’t too much longer that I passed some other runners.  We were within the last mile and a half or so. And then came the bridge over the Poplar River!! My favorite spot on the trail!! I knew I was close and from there I ran the rest of the way in.  I thought I was flying, I’m sure I wasn’t in actuality.  You turn off the trail onto a paved road through Lutsen Resort.  I kept running.  I wanted to walk, but there was no way that I came this far to walk it in to the finish line.  There was no point in leaving anything in the tank.  I kept running.  Pretty soon, Matt & John peeled off for me to run the last section around the pool of Caribou Highlands to the finish line.  And I could hear them announce, “In her second Superior 100 finish…”
John and I crossing the Poplar River!!
Finish line smiles!
Finish Line
I crossed the finish line to see my parents (and Mr Patch) and my crew and pacers.  I couldn’t believe it.  I did it! Another finish, and way ahead of my time goal!! My friend, Stephanie was there and she came over to give me a hug.  She asked what my time was, I said, “33 something.” I was quickly corrected by my crew that I had finished in 32 hours and 29 minutes.  A 3 hour and 45 min personal best over last year’s time!! I couldn’t have been happier!

Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement of my adventures! Until next time, Happy Trails!!!