“ We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.”
As I think about Superior 100, running ultras in general, and why I sign up for these events, this quote speaks to me. I don’t sign up because they are easy. I don’t take on the necessary training to complete them successfully because it is easy. I don’t push myself out the door at the crack of dawn or the heat of the day because it is easy. I do it, because it is hard.
The weekend started on Thursday when Matt and I headed north. We enjoyed lunch at the Duluth Grill with fellow ultra runner, Kari, and her family. After lunch we made our way up to Two Harbors to check into the campground where we were camping with my parents. We got the tent set up, and enjoyed some time together before heading to the pre-race meeting.
The pre-race meeting was a sea of people at the local 4-H building where it is held every year. This year photographer, Ian Corless, was taking pre-race pictures of all the runners. I picked up my number, got my picture taken, and socialized some before the meeting got underway.
Race morning came quickly and I woke before my 5:30am alarm. After a little breakfast and coffee with my parents, Matt and I were off to Gooseberry State Park and the race start.
Gooseberry is busy with racers, crews, spectators and volunteers getting ready for a long day(s) on the trail. I checked in, shared hugs, and well wishes with fellow racers. There was so much energy, you couldn’t help but be excited for what the day(s) would hold. A few pre-race pictures, a brief message from the race director, and at 8:00am we were on our way.
The first 4+ miles are on a paved trail that runs along Hwy 61 before heading into the woods and single track trail for the next 99 miles. I had planned on running easy and just shaking out the legs this section. I ended up running almost all of this section with my friend, Gary, and the miles passed easily, albeit, a little faster than I had planned, but I felt good, so I didn’t stress over it.
Into the woods we went, and I told Gary to go ahead of me. There had been a lot of talk leading into the race about the mud this year. I wasn’t worried. I had run many sections of the course already this summer and didn’t find it any more muddy than usual. I hadn’t run these early sections though. They were muddy. So muddy. 5 or 6 miles in, shoes caked in mud already, I stepped onto some boards, and my feet went out from under me. I landed on my butt. I wasn’t hurt, annoyed, but not hurt. I pressed on. Moving a bit more cautiously on the boards now. My hip where I had landed started to bug me about an hour later. I tried to ignore it.
We came to the Split Rock River crossing, where we would skip across the river on exposed rocks, guided by a line of volunteers. It was super fun. Friendly faces, and fresh water; carried by fresh legs over the river. Next up was the first aid station, a quick out and back on a spur trail leads to the aid station where no crews are allowed. My friend, Chris, was working there, so I was looking forward to seeing her and checking the time to see how I was progressing. I was in and out of there in no more than a minute. Back up the spur trail, friends and other runners greeted me as they made their way down the trail.
The next section, 10.3 miles, is the longest distance we’d go without an aid station. My hip was starting to bug me and it was making me crabby. It was too early in the race to be crabby. It was too beautiful a day to be crabby. I was doing one of my favorite things. I decided to take a Tylenol, eat more, and make sure I was drinking enough. Oh what a difference that made. My hip was forgotten, and I was feeling better, chatting with other runners, by the time we came to the next water crossing. This time, it wasn’t fresh, clear, flowing water that we could skip across on rocks… instead it was mid-thigh, stagnant, muddy water that you couldn’t see the bottom of. In I marched, no need to give it a second thought, I’d change shoes at the next aid station and make sure my feet weren’t getting irritated from being wet and muddy this early in the race.
At 20 miles we reached the Beaver Bay aid station and it was a flurry of activity. I found my crew, and quickly got a fresh pair of shoes and socks on. My feet felt so happy with dry socks! Oh the simple things! Fresh shoes and socks, a pack full of snacks and water, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich square in hand, I was back out on the trail
I was feeling good, and enjoying myself before we came to more mud. Slippery, gross, slimy, mud. I picked my way through it, but once again, my feet went out from under me. Grrrr. I got up, kept moving. Nothing hurt, at least mud is soft… Just taking a hit at my pride, that was all. I was starting to get a bad attitude. Time to reset the brain. I decided that I needed get my head in the game. I shut off the grumpy brain, and instead tried to focus on gratitude.
Look around, notice the views (amazing), listen to the birds (happy), check in with the legs (feeling fine), keep moving. Run with a grateful heart.
The aid stations kept clicking off; Silver Bay, Tettegouche, and soon enough I was on my way to County Road 6. County Road 6 is a big checkpoint because if you get there after a certain time, you can pick up your first pacer. It’s also where I figured I needed to get a dry shirt, lights, and ready for the nighttime.
I got to County Road 6 later than I had planned, but it was still light out. I took about 10 min to change my shirt, add layers and lights and pick up my pacer, Chris. We headed out and chatted all the way to the Finland aid station.
We arrived at Finland at 10pm. I didn’t spend much time here. My pacer, Jodee, would join me and we’d run together all night. I said good night to my crew, as they were headed back to the cabin to sleep, and Jodee and I took off.
3 weeks prior, Jodee, myself, and another runner, Laurel, had run this section. Some how in those 3 weeks, the roots got taller, the sections longer, and the mud deeper. It seemed like it took forever to get to Sonju Lake aid station. I was starting to really crave protein. I was eating at the top and bottom of the hour, but I was really tired of what I had with me (gels, sport beans, waffles, lara bars). Finally arriving at Sonju aid station, I was thrilled to learn they had hamburgers. I gobbled one down, refilled fluids, and headed back out.
The night and the miles dragged on. Finally the trail opened up to the road to the next aid station and I needed to run. I had been basically hiking since Finland. My legs had a different idea. As much as I wanted to run, my right leg would run but my left leg was still walking. It was hilarious. Basically stuck in a shuffle, we progressed up the road, under a blanket of stars to the aid station.
I tried to not spend too much time here, and the details start to get a little fuzzy. I know I was slower than I had anticipated. It was cold, and I put on a second pair of gloves. It didn’t take long before Jodee and I headed out – another 9+ miles to Sugarloaf aid station. This section can be rough. A technical downhill to the Manitou River followed by a long uphill on the other side. Jodee and I both agreed that the climb didn’t seem as long as it did a few weeks before. It seemed like it took forever to get to the Caribou River however, which is about 3 miles to the aid station. After the river it gets more runnable. I tried running, but it didn’t last long. I was back to hiking. This was taking forever.
We arrived into Sugarloaf almost 2 hours behind my anticipated time. My next pacer, Alli, was waiting for us there. She would call Matt and let him know how we were doing so he could meet us at the next aid station. I decided to change shoes and reset. It was almost light out now. The sun would be up soon.
Shoe change complete, pack refilled, Jodee and I headed back out. Our friends Gary (from the paved path section) and his pacer, Tim, left just ahead of us. We quickly caught up to them and shared a few miles of this section together. It was fun to see them and chat about the race so far. I was feeling good with the sun coming up, and began moving well. I was definitely energized by the sun. We arrived at the next aid station, Cramer Road, faster than I had anticipated.
It was almost 8am when we arrived, and the marathoners were getting ready to hit the trail. I didn’t stay here long. Jodee was done pacing, and Alli was on board for the next few sections. We hit the trail a few minutes ahead of the marathoners.
Getting out that close to the marathoner start was a blessing and a curse. I found myself stepping aside a lot for the fast runners, and losing my momentum. But it sure was fun to see my friends who were running and soak in the cheers of the marathoners as they passed. Seeing Silver Fox and Chrissy were definitely highlights!
Alli and I hit Temperance aid station, and were in and out. The next section has a lot of runnable areas up to the big climb at Carlton Peak. I knocked out a few 15 min miles here, and I was feeling good as I climbed the rocks up to Carlton Peak. Just about a half marathon to go. I could smell the barn. Coming off Carlton Peak is a technical downhill then a nice easy section before the Sawbill Aid Station. I was moving well.
We hit Sawbill, and I was craving protein again. I was over anything sweet. But there was nothing here except some chicken broth. I sipped on that and we hit the trail. I am not a fan of this next section. It can be muddy, and feel longer than the 5+ miles it is to the final aid station. I started to run out of steam. I was still eating and drinking, but every time I would eat, it would be followed by about 10 min of nausea before I felt better. So it went like this: top of the hour choke down 100 or so calories, 10 min later feel nauseous, then feel better, then need to eat again… repeat… I was starting to get crabby. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to be done. Eventually, we arrived at Oberg, the last aid station. From here it is 7+ miles to the finish line.
I was starting to feel blisters on my feet. I was weary. I needed to reset. So I opted to change my socks. My feet didn’t look as bad as they felt. Alli & Jodee decided they would both pace me to the finish. I was happy for the company, even though I had absolutely no interest in talking.
We headed into the final section. I was motivated by the simple fact of getting done, taking off my shoes and no longer eating every 30 minutes. The eat-nausea-energy cycle continued to repeat itself. I struggled up Moose Mountain. It took forever. I picked my way down the technical downhill. It took forever. Next came Mystery Mountain and it’s beautiful switchbacks. I had my poles, and I hit a rhythm. Head down, poles, legs, arms in sync, I marched. I was feeling good. Then boom, I needed to eat again. I was still far enough out, I better eat again, so another 100 calories down the hatch. We had picked up 2 other marathoners at this point. One was from South Africa. I enjoyed listening to her accent. We were getting closer. I knew the landmarks – campground, river, two track, finish line. I started a mantra in my mind: campground, river, two track, party. With every step, I repeated it, campground, river, two track, party. I pressed on. After what felt like an eternity, I reached the campsite, then the river, then the gravel path to the parking area and road to the party (finish line.)
I ran some into the finish line, but after a minute or two, slowed to a walk. I had made it. I had two amazing pacers by my side. I was so glad to be done, and so grateful for another finish. I didn’t need to rush; I knew my main time goal had slipped away, so I just shuffled it in. It was wonderful to round the corner of the pool at Caribou Highlands where my crew, parents and friends were all waiting. Superior 100 finish number 3 in the books in 32 hours and 32 minutes. 3 minutes slower than my 2015 finish time.
I love this race, trail and ultra running community. It is really amazing that we live where we can enjoy wilderness, top notch events, and a community of trail people who support all facets of this sport.
Thank you to all the volunteers and photographers on the course, Rocksteady Running, my awesome crew (Matt, and Sandy), my patient and fabulous pacers (Chris, Jodee, and Alli,) my ultra supportive parents, and my dear friends, Jennifer and Jonathan for coming out to support this crazy endeavor. It truly is a community effort.