Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Superior 100

I’ve read elsewhere that any time you toe the line in a 100-mile race, you’re doing alright. This was true for me, but it was close. My legs had healed well and felt fantastic after a ten-day break from running, although I did feel a little soft in the middle as a result. I had been fighting what I thought were allergies all week leading up to the race, but Wednesday night I started to entertain the thought that it might be the nasty sinus/upper-respiratory virus that had been going around. On the drive up with the team, my friend/trainer/teammate Tiffany mentioned I sounded exactly like she did at the beginning of her bout with the virus. The panic began to set in. I grabbed some vitamin C drops and orange juice at a gas station and began to freak out a little. So much time, effort, and hope had gone into this race. I just couldn’t be beaten by a stupid cold.

I had been overdoing allergy meds in an attempt to combat what I thought was hayfever, so by the time we got to my hotel in Silver Bay I was lightheaded and a little delirious. I settled in, and my parents came by to get some crewing instructions. I was distracted. My stomach had begun to turn. Not good. The team picked me up for the meeting, which was fantastic. So many runners I’d seen before, either in person or online or both, all in one place for the Super Bowl of Minnesota trail running. After five years of dreaming, I got to be a part of the big one. Holy shit. I couldn’t really talk to anyone, though, because my voice was cooked. Dammit. The meeting was well-run, just like everything at this race. We went out for dinner and then stopped at a grocery store, where I bought tummy meds, zinc drops, and apple cider vinegar (upon recommendation from Tiffany.) I took shots of the apple cider vinegar all through the night, and used it a couple of times in a Neti pot. I don’t believe I would’ve made it to the start line without it. I maybe got five hours of sleep, after getting five the night before. I woke up feeling ok, which was really the best I could ask for.

And then we were lining up for start. Dusty Olson walked past me. I’d have said hello to him, but I really didn’t have a voice. Everything else felt ok, having been saved by the apple cider vinegar. Who knew how long it would last? Whatever. I was about to start a race I’d thought about for years, and that’s all that mattered. The first section was pretty forgettable, other than I ran ahead of Susan Donnelly for several miles. I knew I wouldn’t keep pace for too long, and eventually she did pass me. The trail was not terribly technical, and that’s about all I can remember. When I got to the spur trail to head down to the first aid station, the man chaperoning the corner told me to take the stairs down and the elevator back up. It was funny. Thanks, guy who makes jokes. For real. (Upon further research, it appears as though this funny man was Donald Clark. Thank you for so much more than a laugh, Donald Clark.) The stop was uneventful. I filled my bottles, took a little top-off in the bladder and slammed some potatoes. I took the elevator back to the top and had a chuckle with the man at the corner.

The man checking runner numbers on the way out asked me if anything was wrong with my hand, seeing as I had it wrapped in a buff. I told him it was for my nose. He promised not to shake my hand. More chuckles. I mostly felt really good. I wasn’t running too hard, my breathing was fine, and I didn’t feel fatigued or sick. I was sweating a little more than I thought was normal, especially considering the cool temps and cloudy skies, but I didn’t worry about it. I was in a really good place.

Eventually, I stopped to pee and tie my shoe, and many of the familiar faces passed by me. I fell in behind a woman who struck me as an experienced trail runner. She also struck me as someone who wasn’t terribly interested in conversation, which is something I am always cool with. I did introduce myself and offer to pass if she would prefer, but she said everything was fine, so I stayed put. I was happy to take notes on when to run, when to hike, and how often fuel and water were going in. I noticed myself getting pretty low on water, having misjudged things. I asked if she would drink from any of the sources up here. She said no, but added that if I had to, I wouldn’t get sick until much later. I conserved. We passed a guy who was totally out of it. 17 miles into the race and the guy was done. I made him take a couple of salt pills. We got to Silver Bay in good shape. I thanked my running partner for the lesson in trail running. I think she got a kick out of that.

My parents had a really nice setup for me at the stop. Tiffany was there, too, crewing for my teammate, Meredith. I changed shoes, from New Balance Leadville’s to Brooks PureGrit 3’s. I had not liked the Brooks at really any point since I purchased them, and I figured they would be to flimsy for the Superior Hiking Trail, but they felt really good when I put them on. I also switched to Injinji socks, which I haven’t thought were great since I wore Vibram’s back in 2010-2011, but something about it sounded right. The combination was fantastic. I had zero foot problems the rest of the day, with the exception of a toenail on my right pinkie, which settled down after a trim.

I have zero recollection of the five-mile section from Beaver Bay to Silver Bay. I’m sure it was nice. I remember thinking it wasn’t that bad. The aid station crew at Silver Bay was exceptionally helpful.

The next ten miles had some beautiful views. This is a section of trail I will revisit. There were beautiful sights, overlooking Bean and Bear Lakes, among other bodies of water. Some pretty good climbs, but nothing awful. I took a dump in the woods, which is hilarious to do during a race, because I feel like a sniper. I can see them, but they can’t see me, and I’m doing something dangerous. Ha! What fun we have. I hopped back on the trail and went down the infamous drainpipe, which was precarious in places. I’m glad to have a little background in gym climbing to help with technique. I’m lucky I spent the time taking care of my business in the woods, because my parents were still hauling in items when I got to the aid station. I recognized an aid station worker, which is a cool thing, even if she didn’t know me. (I should really be better at introducing myself. I’m an adult now. From now on, I will introduce myself to people.) A well-known runner left shortly before me, and everyone cheered him on by name as he ran away. My dad thought everyone should know my name as I left, so he yelled to everyone what my name was. The humor of being a 35-year-old man muttering "shut up, dad" was not lost on me.

Off I went. I knew it would get dark, so I took lights and poles. I don’t remember very much about the trail. There was mud and hills and rocks. I knew my wife would be at the next stop, which was a huge boost. I was eating on pace and taking salt every half-hour and everything felt good. There was a lot more up-and-down at the end of the section than I thought there would be, but it was an unknown stretch of the SHT so you just kind of take it as it comes. I got to County Road 6. My wife was there. I drank a Red Bull. I had my calories. I was on pace with food and salt. My body felt good. I had no blisters. I left the aid station with a full head of steam.

I fell in behind some people. There were now people with pacers. I had no pacer. I tried, but things didn’t work out for me to have one. I think I’m a particular enough person that I’d rather have no pacer than the wrong pacer, and most people are the wrong pacer for me. It was good. I stopped to put on a long-sleeved shirt, pausing my stopwatch in the process. It almost threw me, but I saved it and kept my original time count. If I’d have had to start doing math, I’d have been fucked. My head cannot handle doing math while running, a fact that has been proven repeatedly. No big deal, though. I got behind a guy I ran the final section with in 2013, he finishing the 100 and me the 50. Super-cool to see him again, but I was really feeling it so I passed and never saw him again. I was cruising, marveling at the beauty. It was dark now, and the trip on the boardwalk over the lake was amazing. I was hallucinating a little, and the sky looked like an overpass. I was glad not to fall into the lake. I charged pretty hard. I might have pushed too hard. When I rolled into Finland I was ready for a seat. I had a good hour before the cutoff, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I took care of my things, using the restroom and applying moleskin and lube and eating everything and putting on a jacket. I should not have put on the jacket. The jacket may have cost me the race.

The trail from Finland to Sonju is tough, rooty and rocky and not all that much fun to cross. “Shit pie,” says Julie Moen Berg in one of her race reports. Shit pie is right. I got tired, and then I got sleepy. I was moving slowly. Several runners passed me. One pacer asked me how I was doing, and I told him sleepy. He politely asked me if I wanted some tips. I said yes. He said speed up the pace for 30 seconds, or push up my sleeves/open my jacket/take off my jacket. Considering how difficult that section of trail is, speeding up was not an option for me, so I took off the jacket. It did help, but it was too little, too late. I was beginning to shut down. My ears were beginning to plug. The lack of sleep over the past three nights was catching up. The virus was settling into my sinuses and lungs. I had hours to go to the next aid station. I stopped on a rock and shut off my lights. The sky up there is so wonderful on a clear September night. You don’t see stars like that in the city. I took it in. I appreciated where I was and what I was doing. I tried to rally the troops with some mantras, but to no avail. By the time I got to Sonju, I knew I’d just hike it out to Crosby and call it.

The aid station crew at Sonju was classic. Unforgettable. Larry Pederson made me a pancake. I sat by the fire as the crew made fun of each other. They told me I had to get going. I’ll bet they knew I wasn’t going to finish, but they knew I could get myself to Crosby. There’s a goodness that can only be had by sitting around a fire at 5 a.m. with people who are willingly giving their time and energy to help you do the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted. It’s wonderful and amazing and it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Thank you, volunteers. Thank you.

Two guys left Sonju about ten minutes before I did. I wouldn’t see them again, but I would get to Crosby before they did. When I left Sonju, I gave myself a chance. I had eaten food, drank coffee, and had taken some inspiration from these moments of rest around an open fire. It didn’t take long for the sleeps to return, for my ears to plug, for my lungs to whimper, my eyes to close and my mind to say ok. I would hike it out to 63 miles, and I would be done. Tiffany and Meredith couldn’t be far behind, and I would cheer them on as they passed. As the sun was rising I sat down on a log to eat a gel and take some salt and drink some water. I leaned my head against my poles and shut my eyes. I took a nap on a log for somewhere between five and ten minutes. I got up and slogged on. Eventually, my team caught me and told me they had the same plan. Meredith’s knees had called it a day. I was asleep on my feet. We turned the Superior 100-Mile into the Superior 100k, and while there are no buckles or sweatshirts or crowds cheering, that’s no slouch of a day. It’s a tough trail. We tried. We were passed by the leaders of the 50-mile on our way into Crosby, where we both dropped.

My wife made me be sure of what I was doing. I was sure, but when she looked me in the eyes it hurt like hell. I retired, right there on the spot. I have spent enough time, energy, and money on sport that more often than not leads me to disappointment. I’ll keep running, but nothing more than a 5k or a 10k. Maybe a half. The plan going in was to spend 2015 getting faster anyway, so this wasn’t a huge shock. 30 minutes later, on the drive back to the hotel, we agreed that I would just run 50-milers next year, and maybe not so many. We would go camping and hiking, and I would go golfing once in a while. That felt better than retiring. Balance. My life lost balance this year. Trying to go from zero miles to 103 over the course of five years was bold, but certainly not unprecedented. It was too much for me, though. My life is out of rhythm, and it’s time to correct that. Find a day job. Let running be something that teaches me lessons and enhances my life, not something that keeps me from doing other things that make me happy. Get faster. Run like a child sometimes. Run barefoot again. Enjoy it. Okay.

Thank you, everyone: My wife, my parents, my team, the volunteers and RD who put on this race, my coworkers who cover my shifts, my friends, my chiropractor, my massage therapist, my physical therapist, the people of Minneapolis Improv, to all of the other trail runners out there. This is a wonderful event. How lucky I am to have spent nearly 24 hours covering 63 miles of this beautiful trail on the nicest of September days and nights. I have no regrets. The rest I leave to the poor.


  1. My favorite recap yet! It shed light on what one could expect in the race as well as your personal adventure. My favorite paragraph included your sniper analogy as well as your dad's strategy to get your name out there. :) While you said you were satisfied without, I do believe that a pacer would have aided your efforts. 100% health at the start would have also been something you would have benefited from. Continue to shoot for the moon whatever your endeavor. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you, Greg. I will certainly not give up. I will continue to look for a pacer. Someday, I will cross the line in Lutsen after taking down 103 miles of the SHT.