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