Sunday, September 18, 2016

Superior 100 2016 Race Report

Finish Line with SWAG and Pacer Nick
tl;dr I finished.

Distance: 103.3 miles
2016-09-09 08:01:16 start
2016-09-10 16:57:47 finish
Actual Time: 32:56:31
Target Time: 32:09:42

Running the Superior 100 is something I have been dreaming about for years. As a trail runner only dabbling in ultras I wasn't sure I could tackle 100 miles. But once I volunteered at the 2012 race I knew it was something I needed to try. The energy around the Superior 100 pulls you in.

After snowshoe racing season ended this year I started looking around for what to do next and got it in my head to section run the entire Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). It's 310 miles and I started making a plan to camp and run back-to-back long runs on the weekends when I could fit them in. As my plan was coming together I realized the Superior 100 would be a good way to run some of those miles and I wondered if the lottery was still open. I got lucky and it was just closing that week! I signed up, and took a big gulp when I got in. Could I really do this?

I used the spring and summer to run the other 200 or so miles of the SHT. I learned a lot about the trail, including how to run and pace on the distinctively rugged terrain. I also figured out what gear and nutrition worked best for me. I hadn't run anything like the distance and I didn't even run any other ultras in 2016 but I was gaining confidence I could control enough variables to complete the race.

After I got into the race two of my running friends reached out offering to pace me. I'm a bit of a loner and was initially apprehensive. Did I want to run with someone else for hours and hours? Both of these guys were experienced runners and great people and in the end I decided to accept their generous offers, thinking I should take every advantage I could get. And boy did it pay off. My pacers got me through the second half of the race just when I was entering a dark place, both literally and figuratively.

The race began on the paved Gitchi Gami trail again this year due to a reroute on the SHT. It's an odd way to start a 100 mile trail race but on the upside it allowed the 217 racers who started some space to spread out. By the time we hit the single track I only got caught behind one 6-7 runner conga line that I was able to get by in just a few minutes.

Running over Bean and Bear
The first couple sections of the race are pretty runnable and I was keeping a decent pace without too much effort, easily chatting with other runners and enjoying myself. I even got the chance to chat a bit with the eventual female winner. My strategy at this point was to run as much as I could until dark when I planned to switch over to hiking. My pacing plan said that would happen sometime between the County Road 6 and Finland aid stations, which ended up being accurate.

Things went well through the roughly 25 mile mark at Silver Bay, but the weather was starting to heat up and I felt it. Running with two 20 ounce bottles of fluid, I thought they’d hold me through the longest sections. But in the roughly 10 miles from Silver Bay to Tettegouche I ran out of water. I came into the aid station bone dry and a bit scared that I was dehydrated. Luckily I had packed my 1.5L hydration bladder in my crew pack and my wife graciously filled it for me.

In the first 30 minutes out of Tettegouche I drained the entire bladder. I started to feel a bit better but I was definitely still feeling the heat. I ran out of fluids again before County Road 6 but I was much closer to the aid station and I felt like I was getting my hydration under control. I decided to keep using both the bladder and the bottles for the rest of the race to make sure I didn't run out again.

At the County Road 6 aid station I was hitting a low point. My crew later commented that this was the one time they were worried about me and for good reason. In addition to heat and hydration issues I was starting to have a hard time getting down the gels and stinger waffles I was eating. I was taking on too much sugar and not using the real food at the aid stations enough to balance things out. From here on out I started spending more time in the aid stations. My goal was to finish and the time spent eating was worth it.

The run to Finland at roughly the halfway point is when the dark thoughts started. My legs were feeling shot and I started thinking about how far it still was to the finish and if I felt this bad now could I really do another 20 some hours of this. I knew better than to be focused on the distance remaining at this point. You have to mentally focus on small milestones, one section at a time. But I was running alone and wallowing. I needed to get out of my head.
Plan vs Reality relatively close

Picking up a pacer at Finland most likely saved my race. Kelcey brought his best attitude and kept things light all night long, including making pirate sounds whenever we crossed one of the many wooden planks (ARR!). We moved well and picked up a couple other runners who were looking for companionship. I was getting out of my head and focusing again on one section at a time. The highlight of the night was coming into Sonju with the beautiful Christmas lights off the spur and seeing former race director Larry Pederson working the aid station. So cool.

We saw some lightning and steady rain starting around Sugarloaf. We also found some deep mud that was hard to gauge at night. I went in up to mid calf a couple times and was lucky not to lose a shoe. We were plenty wet and muddy for a good chunk of the night.

Marathon to go and not puking or crying
Day broke on our way to Cramer and with it the rain let up. After some ups and downs in my pace plan we hit Cramer as expected right at the marathon start of 8:00 a.m. Saturday. I ran into my parents on the road just arriving at the aid station and was able to chat with a couple of the marathoners before they started. I was feeling good.

I picked up my second pacer Nick and after waiting for the faster marathoners to go by we left the aid station. We received encouragement from the marathoners as they passed us, which was a big mental lift. At this point I was feeling confident I could finish. Only a marathon to go.

It was good to be moving in the light of day again. We had beautiful views along the Temperance River. Nick started reciting snippets from park brochures that he had read, most of which I think he made up because they didn't pan out right. After Temperance we made our way up to Carlton Peak, which was a big, rocky climb that never quite seemed to end. It was good to knock it out because it meant only one more significant climb remained in the last section of the race. Moose Mountain was yet to come.

After we rolled out of Sawbill, the second to last aid station, I was trying not to think too much about the finish. Nick led for a bit to help keep a brisker hiking pace as I was slowing. We ran more which I found helped to loosen up my legs but also wore me down, so I was careful to hold back. My goal was to finish.

Ready to be done
Hitting the Oberg aid station 7.1 miles from the finish was a huge milestone. Once we cleared it I knew there was only the finish ahead. We had Moose Mountain to climb and descend but I knew I could push through anything at this point. The Moose Mountain climb was kind of ridiculous. The rest of the trail utilizes switchbacks for steeper sections but at Moose the trail just goes straight up. Maybe the SHT trail designers just decided the trail was long enough? My body handled the climb well but after traversing Moose, I paid a bigger price on the descent. Going down was much more painful than going up at this stage of the race. My quads and calves protested every step down.

Once we cleared Moose we had the relatively easy Mystery Mountain to tackle, and after that it's flat to slightly downhill to the finish. Nick was counting down the miles in this section, which earlier would have driven me crazy but I now welcomed as we hit single digit miles. "Just a 10k to go". "Under four miles to go". "Just a 5k to go, you can stop now you already ran 100 miles". It felt good. At about two miles out I decided to start running again. It took a bit to get the legs going but once we got started we flew along. My wife met us out on the trail with her now popular Grumpy Cat balloon just after this and we ran in together.

Crossing the finish line was an indescribable feeling. Goal accomplished!

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