Superior 100 – 2019 Race Report

Preface

Skip this part if you just want to read about the race. This is going to be a bunch of rambling. But it helps to provide some context.

In 2016 I wrote about my first Superior 100 attempt and the resulting DNF. I went back and finished in 2017 and added another DNF in 2018. So before I get into my 2019 experience I will fill in a bit about the past 2 years.

2017 I was hungry after dropping the year before and took all I had learned from that experience and constantly replayed it in my head. That year I ran Trail Mix 50k, was supposed to run Black Hills 50 mile but didn’t (due to swollen joints in my toe which turns out is psoriatic arthritis) and the Voyageur 50 mile. Those races went well and I honed my gear, nutrition etc… and really boosted my fitness. I felt prepared lining up at Superior and ran great through the day, picked up my friend Lucio at Finland (50 miles) and he paced me through the night. By the time I had reached Temperance River (85 miles) my left ankle was swollen and in excruciating pain from having sprained it in the night. I had been using trekking poles all night and if I didn’t have them with I am not sure I would have finished. Was on a solid sub 30 hour pace all the way up until then but with my ankle being the way it was I threw out my time goal and made up my mind to finish. Picked up my brother Matt at Oberg (mile 96.2) and dragged myself to a 32 hour 42 minute finish. Although finishing that race was pure agony I was completely stoked to have finished. The experience I had with my family and friends, those I met on the trail, I’ll never forget any of it.

2018 started out really good as far as running went. I was running more mileage and it was really paying off. I ran Trail Mix 50k again and finished top 10 for the first time in any race. Everything had gone right in that race which featured tons of snow, ice, slush and standing water from 2 feet of snow the weekend prior to the race. Coming off that race I continued to train well until a nagging calf pain turned into a full blown injury and I couldn’t run without hobbling in serious pain. I was signed up for Silver Rush 50 mile in Colorado. For a second year in a row I had to skip an out of state race. I was diagnosed with a torn gastrocnemius and took 3 weeks off as recommended by the Dr and then started training for Superior. Hoping to salvage the fitness I had built earlier in the year, I focused mostly on running a lot of elevation. The pain in my calf while it was better persisted and would instantly bother me with faster running. Deciding to still make a go of it at Superior I lined up feeling strong but nervous about my calf. The race went fairly well most of the day but within the first 25 miles the calf was bothering me. I was moving well hoping to move fast enough that if I had to slow down from the calf I would still be able to make a decent finish. When I arrived at Finland (50 miles) I had made it there before sun down for the first time (it had just gotten dark when I arrived at Finland in 2017). I felt great but my calf did not. Consulted with the medical staff and took their advice to not continue the race. Another DNF hurt, but I was proud of how well I had run up to that point. Knowing I still had a lot of strength left it was bittersweet though ultimately I believe I made the right decision.

2019 has been a struggle most of the year as I was still trying to resolve my calf issue. I had been to several Dr’s, had an MRI (which was clean), had sports massages, did hot yoga, went to physical therapy and saw a chiropractor. Nothing seemed to really make a big difference. On a whim I purchased a massage wand I recalled seeing some physical therapists on youtube talking about using for calf strains. Initially I was underwhelmed with how it felt while using it but the next day I was surprised to find my calf felt way better. I started massaging my leg with that thing every night sometimes for a full hour. Within a week my leg was nearly 100% normal feeling. By this time it was June and it had been more than a full year since the injury began. My running had taken a huge nosedive in that year. I was running shorter, infrequent miles at a much slower pace and gained some weight. But with this magic massage wand in hand I felt July and August gave me just enough time that I could put in some decent training to get me to the finish again. Like I did last year I focused on elevation over volume or speed. I knew with less long runs, races and weekly mileage than I had done in the past that it would be hard this year. Though with my calf issue now finally resolved I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from finishing this time.

Before the race

We arrived in Two Harbors on Thursday to chilly air and clouds with drizzling rain on and off. Got settled into our hotel room. Terrin and the kids went to the pool while I got all my gear ready. Then we hit the packet pickup, spaghetti dinner and pre-race briefing. The energy was good! We got back to our room and having already laid out everything I needed Terrin and I went over the plan. Got into bed around 9:30 and actually got a decent night sleep before waking up around 4 something. Gave up trying to catch anymore sleep at 5:45 and started getting ready.

fam

Race start to Split Rock 9.7 miles

Checked in at the start, took some pics, saw some familiar faces, lined up and we were off. The nervousness and anxiety had melted before I even started running. It felt so good those first few miles, looking out over Lake Superior running along the bike path on the way to the Superior Hiking Trail. I stayed relaxed, taking in the moment, just running in that beautiful place.

Getting on the trail, it was wet and greasy from the rain the last several days. I had noticed how humid it felt in the morning and even in the first few miles I could start to feel it affecting me. In this first section I got stung by 4 bees or so as a group of us were swarmed. Made into the Split Rock aid station having downed my bottle of Grape Drink (GU Roctane). Volunteers helped me get refilled and I was on my way.

Split Rock to Beaver Bay – 10.3 miles (20.1 total)

By now my shirt was completely saturated. The humidity was getting to me and I could feel my nipples were already chaffed even though I had used anti-chafe pre-race. Removed my shirt and kept moving. I was on a good though cautious pace through this section and was running well. I remembered to just enjoy the trail and listen to my body. Literally sweating buckets I made sure to finish every last bit of water and my Grape Drink bottle before getting to Beaver Bay.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay – 4.9 miles (25 total)

Beaver Bay is the first aid station with crew access and I was happy to see Terrin and the boys. We swapped bottles, I chugged some ice water and grabbed a few bites of food from the aid station. Again I kept my pace nice and easy though I was starting to feel a little frustrated, I wanted to go faster but my gut was starting to bother me. Still I made it through this section feeling relatively good.

aid

Silver Bay to Tettegouche – 9.9 miles (34.9 total)

Arriving at Silver Bay I knew I was getting ready for a big slow down. Feeling overheated and having trouble either hydrating or digesting calories. I could feel my gut starting to turn on me and I didn’t want to get sick. After swapping out bottles again, chugging some more ice water I headed to Tettegouche. Starting out I kept a good hiking pace and held off from doing much running for the first few miles. Trying to let my core temperature come down so that I could digest the calories I was taking in. I was feeling fatigued and knew I was not digesting enough of what I was taking in.

Although I had been telling myself leading into this race that I wasn’t going to worry about my finish time, I still have a sub 30 hour in my head. During this section it really started to sink in that I was not making sub 30 hour pace and it was most likely not happening. I reminded myself to let negative thoughts come and go while focusing on the positive. As I made it into Tettegouche aid station my legs and feet were in good shape still and my stomach feeling better.

Tettegouche to County RD 6 – 8.6 miles (43.5 total)

Terrin and the boys as usual took care of everything getting my bottles swapped and resupplying me with gels and food. Our friend Luke (who ran the marathon) was there which was a cool surprise to see him. At this point I have to emphasize how supportive everybody is at this race. Everyone who’s ever been to this event knows what its like. While this aid station is often times crowded and chaotic simply because of the small space the energy is always great. Every time I leave there I feel so good.

Running down towards the Baptism River I felt great. Sure, I was not going as fast as previous years but I was looking forward to the amazing views in this next section. The whole way is beautiful but Tettegouche to County RD 6 is definitely one of my favorite sections simply for the views. And while there are some really tough climbs there is also some runnable trail which is few and far between earlier in the race. The bridge over the Baptism River was having some issues so there was a state park employee there to only allow a few runners at a time and no running on the bridge! I’m just glad we were still able to cross, ha! Around this point I shared some miles with another runner who I unfortunately didn’t catch his name.

We ran a good portion of this section together talking. We shared our issues with each other, encouraged each other. He gave me a tip on my nipple chaffing to cleanup with antibacterial hand wash so that tape would stick. Which was one of my biggest worries at that point, that no tape would stick since I had used anti-chafe lubricant. I was terrified to put a shirt back on.

Of course the views did not disappoint. I came out on one of the overlooks right as some rain clouds were moving in and the sky, lake Superior and surrounding forest looked incredible! It started to rain which helped cool me off a bit and I was feeling it! I was moving well, taking in the views and eventually beginning the descent down to County RD 6.

County RD 6 to Finland – 7.7 miles (51.2 total)

Getting to County RD 6 my body was holding up well. My feet felt sore and I had banged my toes a bit by then but no major bothers. Terrin helped me with the antibacterial hand wash trick and we put some KT tape over the ol’ nips. It seemed to hold. Changed socks, grabbed a shirt and headlamp. With swapped bottles and shirt in hand I was off.

As the sun started going down, it did not start to cool off one bit. I never even put my shirt on through this whole section. I continued to feel warm and sweaty enough that I felt better without. Greeted with a beautiful sunset at the top of Section 13 (amazing overlook) I kept on. But as it grew dark during this section I couldn’t prevent negative thoughts from creeping up about my pace. For the past 2 years I made it to Finland before dark. I was frustrated. I pushed hard. I find that a lot of people seem to do the same here, wanting to get to the halfway point. Its a big aid station, people pick up pacers there and stop to rest and eat etc… so I can see why. I was pushing out of frustration. I wanted to be going faster.

Finland to Sonju Lake Road – 7.5 miles (58.7 total)

Coming into Finland I was glad to see our friend Al and his son Franklin had arrived. They were coming up to volunteer the next day and were staying with us at a cabin. It was so great to have their support. But with ultra running sometimes comes ultra crankiness. Every little thing started bothering me. My toes were sore, mud had been getting in my shoes all day. I switched socks and shoes. I felt exhausted. I swapped my hand held bottles for my vest with 2 bottles, power block for charging my watch, backup headlamp battery, long sleeve shirt, gloves, light jacket and plenty of nutrition to get me through the night. I wouldn’t see them again until sometime in the morning. Also taking my phone with I planned to listen to a bit of music to help get me through the night as I would be solo (no pacer). I discovered I had forgotten to download my running playlist and without service I wouldn’t be able to listen to it. Just another thing going wrong I thought. I felt dejected, I wanted to quit right then. My brain was trying to turn all these little inconveniences into reasons not to continue.

I left Finland with barely saying good bye which I felt awful about later. My feet were feeling a bit better and I clicked off some miles talking to a guy from Indiana. As I was getting close to Sonju Lake Road aid I noticed my watch was paused. I must accidentally paused it at Finland which can happen when I bend my wrist, my hand presses the button. Just another thing to piss me off. Now my GPS data is screwed and left trying to figure out my mileage in my head constantly.

finland

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby Manitou – 4.2 miles (62.9 total)

Made it into Sonju Lake Road and an awesome volunteer who seemed impressed with my choice in Grape Drink helped me with my bottles. I grabbed some cookies and headed out to Crosby. Smooth going through here the night was starting to feel cooler now though I definitely still did not need a long sleeve which stayed in my vest. As I got nearer I checked my headlamp and the battery was really low. It has a phone app so I checked the app and the profile somehow got screwed up and I was already down to 14% battery.

Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf – 9.4 miles (72.3 total)

As I got to Cosby I switched out my headlamp battery and made sure I had it on a profile that would last me the rest of the night. I grabbed a quesadilla, refilled bottles and left. Soon I was descending the Caribou River gorge. I spent some miles with a runner named Glenn from England. He had come over just to run this race and was surprised how rugged the trail is. I think we all have that same reaction ha! He had an impressive ultra running resume having run races all over the world. Climbing up out of the gorge took a toll on my legs and eventually I slowed and Glenn went ahead.

The night was peaceful and the forest beautiful. I maintained a steady hiking pace to Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf to Cramer RD – 5.6 miles (77.9 total)

I walked into Sugarloaf feeling beat up. Sat down and ate some hash browns and bacon. The sun would be coming up soon and I was again reminded I was moving slower this year. In 2017 I made it to Cramer Road before sunrise which was not happening this time. I took out my phone and saw that I had service so I texted Terrin that I was leaving Sugarloaf. I was hoping she would see it and meet me at Cramer.

Through this section I was completely trashed. My legs were trashed, my feet were trashed and mentally I was having a hard time. The sunrise was beautiful though and I enjoyed that aspect as I slowly trudged along.

Cramer RD to Temperance 7.1 – miles (85 total)

Some slow painful jogging got me into Cramer Rd aid station and I immediately sat down by the fire. Helpful and concerned volunteers offered me things. But I just needed to sit. I sat there feeling totally drained. One volunteer in particular was really supportive and she helped me with my bottles and got me some food. One thing about this race is the people are amazing. This was one of those moments where the humanity struck me and stuck with me. Most of us are all complete strangers, they are out there for hours just helping other people do this crazy thing. Its a unique experience of people helping other people that can be pretty rare in every day life.

I saw Terrin had texted me back saying they would meet me there. In total I took around 45 minutes here I think. When Terrin and the boys arrived I swapped shoes and socks and got ready to head out. At this aid station is also where the Marathon distance starts and it started right as I was leaving. Over three hundred people beginning their own journey on the trail took off.

I quickly realized I was going to be stuck in bottlenecks of big groups of marathon runners. It was either be passed by wave after wave of fresh runners or start running. Suddenly I was swept up in the freshness of these runners and I as I tried to get around a group they noticed that I was running the 100 mile. Someone shouted to let me through and these folks all moved to the side of the trail, formed a line and started cheering for me. It was amazing, I was so inspired by this my legs just started working like new and I ended up falling into a good pace with a bunch of marathoners doing a good 11-12 minute mile pace.

We ran as I received all kinds of encouragement for being crazy enough to run 100 miles. It was a great experience running with and meeting all these runners. While I received a lot of ‘you’re amazing!’ and ‘I can’t imagine doing 100 miles!’ comments, I caution everyone not to sell themselves short. As an individual I am not so special. Going from barely being able to move prior to reaching Cramer road to suddenly running all the way to Temperance solidified that to me. It was the help I received from the volunteers by the fire, from seeing Terrin and the boys and all these other runners pulling me along.

Temperance to Sawbill – 5.7 miles (90.7 total)

At Temperance I saw Terrin and the boys, they got me food and refilled my bottles. I rested for a few minutes and thought maybe running the last section was a mistake as it really wiped me out. Oh well, I grabbed my trekking poles and headed out to Sawbill.

Through this section I maintained a solid pace up to Carlton peak and after getting over the peak just hiked as well as I could muster.

Sawbill to Oberg – 5.5 miles (96.2 total)

Al was right there as I came out of the forest into Sawbill cheering for me. He and his son Franklin were here volunteering. It was good to see them and they really helped lift my spirits. My body was holding up and only having 2 more sections to go I felt determined although exhausted.

My son Jaxon who is 9 was going to pace me from Oberg into the finish. I decided through this section I would push as hard as I could without wearing myself out completely. As I thought about Jaxon pacing me to the finish I started to tear up. Both of the boys had been so helpful, encouraging, positive and proud of me. So proud of those 2 boys, I couldn’t wait to get to Oberg.

oberg

Oberg to Caribou Highlands Finish – 7.1 miles (103 total)

Terrin and the boys cheered me in as I arrived to Oberg. Jaxon was ready to pace. I sat, ate some pot stickers, Kurt Decker from TC Running helped with my bottles, Ian Corless (photographer/journalist/runner) took a close up shot of me likely looking like shit. It was great. I almost didn’t want to leave! After a bunch of support and encouragement Jaxon and I started the final journey to the finish.

We hiked at a good pace and talked. He lead the way and never complained once. I wasn’t too worried about him since he had run the Superior Spring 12.5k race but I also didn’t want him to be too worn out as I knew it was a long weekend for him as well, being up late, getting up early. We just enjoyed the scenery and the miles together. It made everything that had gone wrong during my race right. Going into a race its easy to get caught up in the frivolous aspects such as time. While time can be a good measurement for progress and indicator of dedication during training (and really simply a result of hard work) it is still of much lesser value than the overall experience of doing an event like this. In the end this race was everything I needed even if I didn’t complete it in the time I wanted. Spending a year injured with not much running and only 2 months of serious training, I am proud of how well I did.

As we made the final descent and came out of the forest we started to jog. Over the Poplar river and then out onto the road I let my legs loose and forced a sub 10 minute pace that felt like sub 7. We saw Al and Franklin and they ran with us towards the finish until we got over to the chute and Jaxon and I crossed the line together in 33:05! I hugged and kissed Terrin and the boys and kissed the Wolf (new tradition to kiss a big Wolf statue). It was done.

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wolf

The End

I hung around the finish for a bit, cheered some other runners, congratulated familiar faces and mingled a bit. One of these days I am going to post up at the finish and stay for the night but being that I could barely move and everyone was tired we headed to the cabin. We stayed up for a bit going over the crazy weekend and it was a great ending to the whole experience. Grateful for my family and for Al and Franklin being there. That night I didn’t sleep too well and the ride home I was nauseous with a brutal headache. My body feeling the toll. The whole time Terrin had my back, its amazing to me that she even lets me do this let alone does and goes through so much to help me through it. And we’ll do it all again. Until next time Superior!

Gear list and nutrition

Salomon SLAB Ultra 2
Salomon Sense Pro
Nike Wildhorse 5
Salomon SLAB half tight, shorts and belt (modular setup)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Nathan Speedmax Plus 20oz bottles (1 bottle for GU Roctane and 1 for plain water)
Salomon soft flask in waist belt (water)
Rocksteady Running shirt
Salomon trucker hat
GU Roctane grape flavor drink (six scoops per bottle)
Various GU gels
Salomon Sense shirt
Salomon Advanced Skin 5 set vest
Head(Costco) light gloves
Petzl NAO+ headlamp
Drymax and Adidas socks
Some old REI carbon treking poles
Rocksteady Running buff
Trislide anti-chafe spray
Kodiak mini ultra power block
KT Tape

Splits as recorded by the aid station volunteers and posted to ultralive

2019-09-09 11_53_24-Runner

Superior 100 – A DNF Race Report

Superior 100 for those who do not know is a 100 mile race that takes place up on the north shore of Lake Superior along the Superior Hiking Trail. I first learned of this race several years ago and the description of the race immediately resonated with me.

The Superior 100 Mile Trail Race is a point-to-point (95% trail) ultramarathon which traverses the Sawtooth Mountains on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches Northern Minnesota near the Canadian Border .  The course parallels the North-Shore of Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world, climbs to near 2000′ peaks with breath-taking vistas of the lake and inland forests and crosses countless whitewater rivers and serene streams and meanders through mystic Boreal forests. 

Known as being rugged, relentless and remote, this race is extremely technical and features 21,000 feet of gain/loss. Part of me wanted to think there was some exaggeration to how difficult this race is, with its 38 hour cutoff (much longer than most 100’s) I thought perhaps they were just being nice to back of the pack’ers. But alas, that trail is no joke.

After running 3 ultramarathons last year I decided to make a go for it in 2016 and ran a few more races this year in preparation. I knew it would be hard, but I was certain I could finish.

The race starts at the Gooseberry state park visitor center, so I booked a campsite there for the night before and we drove up that day for the pre-race meeting and spaghetti dinner. The energy was great, and it was cool that this community is like a big family. Runners, friends, kids, parents, grandparents, everyone was there. One of the veterans of this race-Kevin Langton-even wrote a book about it. Of course I bought it and though I’ve not yet read much of it, I can already tell it is going to be a great read.

Early in the year, I had asked my brother if he would crew for me. Lucky for me he accepted as I didn’t really have any other help. My training would go pretty well, I debated running a 50 miler somewhere in the mix but opted to go for an early ‘fast’ (fast for me) 50K so I signed up for the Trail Mix 50K in April. Did lots of speed work and more miles than I had ever in the past. Unfortunately I overshot and went out too fast, bonked hard and though it was my fastest 50K yet it was still much slower than my goal. I then did the Afton 50K and treated it as more of a long training run. Kept my heart rate low and waited until the end to push for a strong finish. I was worried if I threw a 50 mile effort in too close to Superior that I wouldn’t be recovered in time. So I just opted for consistent miles running almost every day and averaging just over 50mpw.

Putting in more miles than I did in all of last year, I felt prepared. My goal was a 30 hour finish and thought if everything went my way a sub 30 hour finish was possible. Over the course of the day it gradually became very apparent to me just how much of a pipe dream all of that was.

Gooseberry to Split Rock – 9.7m

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We walked over to the start from our campsite with about 30 mins left to the start of the race. The time went by pretty fast and I was anxious to get going. After some brief words from John Storkamp the Race Director we were on our way. Finally the moment I had been waiting for, it was a huge relief just to be moving. Making the adventure I had been thinking about for months, a reality.

This year-just as last year-the race started on a bike path before getting onto the Superior Hiking Trail. It was nice to be able to spread out a bit and was pretty relaxed. I started to feel some weird rubbing going on with my big toe on my left foot which I had not experienced before in all the miles I had worn the shoes I chose. I don’t know if it had something to do with being on hard flat ground or what. It almost felt as though there was already a hole in my sock but I knew that wasn’t right. I tried to put it out of my head.

Pretty quickly we were on the SHT and while I was moving at a nice relaxed 11-12min mile pace it didn’t really feel as slow as that normally would for me. My heart rate was staying low but perhaps not as low as normal for that pace. That had me a little concerned but I just focused on the trail, figured it would come down and was due to all the excitement of finally doing this.

Before long we hit the spur trail to the first aid station. I had carried a handheld from the start filled with amino energy drink which I had finished. Volunteers helped me refill my 2 17oz soft flask bottles and I briefly thought I should fill my handheld with water as well but this aid station was chaotic and I decided to quickly move on. In hindsight this was big mistake as it would be 10.3 miles to the next aid station.

2:13 elapsed

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Split Rock to Beaver Bay – 20.1m

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I remember this section being pretty slow. Long lines of people and no real way to get to the front of them. Although it felt a bit too slow for me, I knew there was a long day ahead so I didn’t really try to pass people unless out of necessity.

Eventually I would run out of water and with the slow long line I had no hope of being able to speed up to get to the next aid station any faster.

4:50 elapsed

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay – 25.0m

During this section I got stung by a yellow jacket on my left achilles, literally right on the tendon. Several other people got stung, one guy got it bad and was laid out on the side of the trail from dizziness after being stung. Several of us briefly slowed down to make sure he was ok, another runner was sitting with him so we moved on.

Coming into Silver Bay aid station I was feeling pretty dehydrated. I asked my brother how far the car was as I really wanted the watermelon I had packed in the cooler. He ran back to the car for me to get it while I refilled my water and ate some pb&j. After eating a ton of watermelon I was back on my way, feeling pretty good but the heat and humidity was really starting to become a factor for me.

6:26 elapsed

Silver Bay to Tettegouche – 34.9m

Here I came across a guy who I would end up spending a lot of miles with. He was moving pretty good but asked if I wanted to get around as I approached. I said I was fine and just then he bent down and picked up a headlamp someone had dropped. He joked about how I would have been the one to find it if he had let me pass. We talked for a bit and eventually I moved on as he needed a brief stop.

Later I ended up falling into a nice groove behind a couple of guys chatting that were veterans of this race and so I latched on hoping some of their wisdom might rub off. We chatted a bit and one point the guy right in front me reached back looking for his headlamp that wasn’t there. I asked if it was a Petzl with an orange band and sure enough it was. Told him about the runner who picked it up and initially he seemed ready to go back to look for him but his buddy convinced him to keep moving, he had a spare at the next aid station anyway.

One of the main things I recall about this section was the mud. Literally miles of mud. I am usually not one to mind running straight through mud but this was so deep and sloppy and such long sections of it that it really didn’t seem worth trying to go straight through it. Aside from the mud though there were some amazing views, stunning views, just one right after another.

Coming in to Tettegouche and I would finally get to see my wife and youngest son. Though I had been feeling pretty relaxed during most the race and my legs were fresh, the miles were definitely taking a toll. I felt a bit like I had not had enough calories along with being behind on my hydration. Seeing my wife and son made me feel a bit emotional but I tried to focus on the task at hand, refueling and directing my brother with what I needed. We switched out my bottles for my 2 liter bladder.

As I was getting ready to leave I saw the runner who had found the dropped headlamp. Let him know I came across the guy who’s light it was and he said he was able to return it to him.

Kissing my wife and son as I left, my brother walked with me for a bit. He was mentioning to me a friend of his that was coming to pace another runner named Steve and right as he told me his bib number the runner in front of us turned around and asked what he said. It was the same guy who had found the headlamp and sure enough his name was Steve. We all introduced ourselves and then he went off ahead as I took my time to settle back into my groove.

9:34 elapsed

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Tettegouche to County Road 6 – 43.5

I recall this section being really tough. Soon enough I caught up to Steve and we would basically spend the entirety of the section together trading places as we were grinding out the miles.

We traded places a bit with a couple of other runners who were chatting and as it grew dark it turned out one of them had not picked up his headlamp at the last aid station. I ended up running behind him with my lamp lighting the way for both of us and another runner he knew in front of him with a light.

It really started to set in that if I was going to finish this race it was going to take a very long time. But I enjoyed the company of the other runners and though the day was starting to wear on me, the comradery, the experience, pushed me forward.

13:07 elapsed

County Road 6 to Finland – 51.2

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Coming into County Rd 6 my brother, wife and son were waiting for me with a nice comfy chair to sit in. I ate some chicken noddle soup (which was extremely delicious at this point) and decided to put a long sleeve shirt on. Later I realized this was probably a mistake.

As I continued on my way I started to notice some serious chaffing setting in. I’ve never had an issue with chaffing but then I’ve never run for more than 10 hours and that was in cool weather where sweating all day wasn’t an issue. I had used vaseline before the race on all areas of my crotch etc… and even reapplied it a couple of times when I initially noticed an issue but apparently it was not working. This along with the long sleeve heating me up as the night stayed fairly warm and humid made me start to worry.

I had let my brother know I wanted my second amino energy drink at County Rd 6 so I had drank that before leaving. It really did help and with this section being some of the easiest trail I recall out of the whole race I was moving a at decent clip toward Finland.

15:38 elapsed

Finland to Sonju Lake Road – 58.7

Arriving at Finland I was exhausted, the high from the energy drink was over and I was hitting a pretty hard low. The chaffing was getting really bad and I was worried things were going to start bleeding down there.

My brother was there with my mom coming to help with the overnight crewing. She works nights as a nurse so she is used to staying up all night. It was nice to see her. I had some more soup and changed my shorts hoping a fresh pair would help with the chaffing. I briefly thought about changing my shirt back to a t-shirt but knew I was going to be moving a lot slower from here on out.

Just before I was ready to keep going my other brother arrived with his daughter and my oldest son. My wife and youngest were there as well. It was a good boost of morale to have most of my family all there together. After some hugs and kisses I was off.

This is where things really went down hill for me. It would be a roller coaster where the lows lasted a lot longer than the highs. I tried to stick with a group of other runners for a bit, one of them being the legendary Stuart Johnson who has-now-finished this race a record 19 times. It was nice to be in a group chatting for awhile, listening to stories etc… but eventually we would all spread out and I went ahead of some, while others were keeping a better pace than I could and I ended up alone.

These were some lonely miles, though I didn’t mind too much. It was the exhaustion that was really starting to set in. My stomach started to feel pretty awful and I just felt crappy overall.

19:17 elapsed

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby Manitou – 62.9

Coming into Sonju Lake aid station I was a mess. There is no crew access at this aid station but it was warm and inviting. I could tell I was visibly looking like shit as some of the volunteers appeared to be concerned if I was ok. One woman in particular was really awesome, she sat me down asked what I needed and offered some encouraging words. I was so out of it that it probably seemed to her to fall on deaf ears but her caring demeanor even without her words was what I really needed in that moment.

As I started moving again I felt a bit dizzy and light headed. There was a nice stick sitting off to the side of the trail that made a perfect walking stick so I quickly picked it up to use to help keep my balance. My right ankle/achilles had started to bother me so it was nice to keep some weight off of it.

There had been thunder and lightning for a few hours by now and a slight drizzle that was starting to pick up. All I could think about was keeping moving, laser like focus on the trail and not slipping on wet roots and rocks.

As I was going along at a decent hiking pace it seemed like the stick was making my knee on the other side hurt from the uneven balance of weight so I dropped it. I started stumbling around as my equilibrium was thrown off from losing the stick. I slowly dragged my ass toward Crosby Manitou.

Coming out of the trail onto a T intersection there was a line of cars going one way and a road in front of me which apparently led to Crosby aid station. By now it had been pouring out for at least an hour and I stupidly had only carried a very light jacket which did nothing in the pouring rain. The road seemed to go on forever with no idea when the aid station would appear.

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Finally I reached the aid station. Eager to find my brother and get a change of clothes/shoes/socks but he was no where to be found. I wandered around the aid station looking for him before I took a much needed bathroom break. After that I looked some more, debating what to do. I knew if I dropped out of the race without any crew to get me out of there I could be waiting for hours. I thought perhaps they had missed me and went on to the next aid station, one guy mentioned this aid station was hard to find and perhaps they were still on their way (he then snapped this picture of me). As I stood in the pouring rain by the fire, dejected and cold questioning if I had it in me to keep going, knowing some of the hardest trail was just around the corner, my brother popped out of nowhere.

He took me to his car where I began to remove my shoes and socks, I got one sock off and a new one halfway on as I sat there feeling completely done for. Tears started to well up in my eyes. It was over, I knew it was over for me but I didn’t want to admit it. I wanted nothing more than to finish this race, I had trained all year, I had visualized, fantasized and dreamed of making it across that finish line every day for months. How could it end this way? DNF’ing had never even crossed my mind before this moment. I was frustrated, in shock, every emotion balled up into one. I was completely disappointed in my performance, angry at the trail and how unrunnable so much of it was for me.  I thought about all the time, the sacrifice I and my family had made. People coming to help crew, to support me, to see me finish. At nearly 23 hours into the race with so much left to go I knew I would be lucky to finish before the cutoff. In the back of my mind the slight possibility I could have trudged on lingered but I couldn’t make myself do it, I froze. I dropped.

22:20 elapsed

The aftermath

We got to our hotel where my wife was wide awake as she was completely unable to sleep. I immediately hugged her and profusely apologized for not finishing as I shed tears of disappointment and shame. I never imagined it would end this way. Coming to this race I was expecting a life changing experience, that is what I wanted and I didn’t think I got it. I didn’t get the buckle, or the sweatshirt. I didn’t get to hang out at the finish having completed one of the toughest races around and bask in my accomplishment with the other finishers. Most of all I didn’t get to be the hero for my two boys. Instead I got a feeling of being completely broken. When my oldest son woke up and I told him I didn’t finish he started to cry. It broke my heart. I had pushed myself all the way to the edge and the trail had brought every bit of darkness inside me to the surface.

After a day of wallowing in self pity, I woke up the next day and realized that although I didn’t get what I wanted, maybe I got what I needed. I needed to be broken, to find my limit, so that I can regroup, rebuild and become a better me. After all, that is what this is all about, that is why I do this. And that’s why I will do it again. Ultrarunning, more than anything else in my life, has manifested immense spiritual growth within me. The trails are my church and running my ritual.

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What I learned

I learned a lot from this race. I learned that my training was inadequate, that not only did I not do enough but that I really should have spent time out on the course. I learned that its not enough just to have other people helping you, my brother did an amazing job for his first time crewing and knowing little about ultrarunning (in fact he had a lot of passion and really seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as me, perhaps a future pacer?). But for an event like this it takes serious planning and strategy. Not knowing the course, or knowing other people out there, people who have run it before, a pretty big mistake right off the bat. Most of all, I learned a lot about myself. Not only about my limits and what I am truly capable of. I realized how important being a part something bigger than myself, being a part of a community is to me. So in the end I am grateful, grateful to family, to friends offering their support, to all of the other runners, the volunteers who put so much effort into making such an amazing event happen, to the race director and his family and the sacrifices they make to make it all possible. And not least of all, I am grateful for the trail, for mother nature. She chewed me up and spit me out and I will never be quite the same.