START (at Gooseberry Falls) to SPLIT ROCK – 9.7 miles
Friday, 8:00 am
The air is filled with energy and excitement, but everyone still seems relaxed; drinking coffee, taking pictures, and chatting away as we count down the final minutes before the start. The weather is perfect, a cool and crisp morning with plentiful sunshine. I feel more calm than I expected; curious to what the next 30+ hours will bring, but mostly just ready to run.
I line up somewhere in the middle of the pack with a couple of my good friends / training partners, Tim and Bunda beside me. The race director, John Storkamp wishes us luck and counts down the final seconds before releasing us to the trail.
Everyone takes off at a nice easy pace. I’m in no hurry, nobody else seems to be either. My first 100 mile race is underway! The grassy trails and gentle terrain is the easiest I’ll see all weekend. The pace feels slow at times, but I resist passing anyone and instead enjoy the race from where I am. Miles start to pass by quickly and effortlessly.
We reach Split Rock River, one of my favorite sections on the Superior Hiking Trail. The morning sun is beaming through the trees and the river water rushing over the rocks. I feel amazing and revel in the moment. I joke with another runner about being on the honeymoon stage of the race, knowing it’s only a matter of time until things get real.
The first aid station is a hectic scene of runners, all scrambling to get their water bottles filled. One runner jokingly says it feels like a college kegger. The volunteers somehow manage to fill my water bottles quickly and I head back down the trail in a matter of minutes.
Split Rock to Beaver Bay – 20 miles
Friday, 10:17 am
We start to spread out a little, but the pace continues to be dictated by a line of runners ahead of me. The trail starts to get a little more technical, but it’s still easy compared to what lies ahead. Next thing I know I’m met with the first of many amazing views along the course; this one overlooking Lake Superior (see the picture at the top of this post).
Tim, Bunda, and I are still running together. As we chat and joke among ourselves it feels like another training run. Without realizing it at the time, we’ve picked up our pace.
At Beaver Bay, the first aid station that crews are allowed at, we are greeted with loud cheers from our crews and what seems like hundreds of spectators. This takes me by surprise and I suddenly feel like a superstar. My crew promptly greets me and we go through our aid station routine of refilling water, tailwind and Huma gels, and of course eating. I’m not hungry, but I eat a ProBar anyway then head back out feeling energized.
Beaver Bay to Silver Bay – 25 miles
Friday, 12:34 pm
The trail follows alongside the rushing water of the Beaver River for a couple of miles. The three of us are moving especially well over climbs and find ourselves playing leap frog with a few other runners because of it. For the first time I start feeling a little tired, but it’s to be expected so I just take it for what it is and keep moving. The miles continue to pass quickly.
As we approach Silver Bay aid station we’re greeted with more huge cheers. I soak up all the positive energy as I spend a few minutes chatting with my crew and of course refueling and restocking. I finish up and head back out.
Silver Bay to Tettegouche – 34.9 miles
Friday, 1:54 pm
This is one of my favorite sections, filled with some awesome vistas of Bean and Bear Lakes, among others. The course also becomes increasingly difficult here with several technical climbs and descents including the long, relentless climb up Mt. Trudee.
As I reach the top of Mt. Trudee I’m met with another breathtaking view. I notice a nicely placed rock so I take a seat, eat another ProBar and take in the view. Tim decides to join me, but Bunda is feeling ambitious so he continues without us. At this point I’m feeling physically tired, but mentally pretty strong. I’m ahead of schedule and it’s early in the race. I remind myself to slow down as needed. It helps that Tim and I seem to be in a similar place both physically and mentally so we stick together. It’s getting close to dinner time so we decide we’ll take a few extra minutes at Tettegouche to eat and rest. My real dinner isn’t until County Road 6, though.
Tettegouche to County Road 6 – 43.5 miles
Friday, 4:44 pm
After a nice pit stop at Tettegouche, Tim and I grab our trekking poles for the first time and head out to tackle one of the hardest sections of the race. I’m feeling refreshed as we begin to traverse some increasingly challenging terrain. The climbs are tiring at first, but at some point I realize I must be getting a second wind. The fatigue that had plagued my legs for miles was suddenly gone. I’m feeling strong and fresh again, my mind clear and relaxed. We realize we’re probably going to arrive at County Road 6 before nightfall, which means we’re almost an hour ahead of schedule. This is a huge boost for me.
As I arrive at the County Road 6 aid station I’m feeling on top of the world. Physically I’m feeling better than I have all race. I have an urge to skip my hot dinner, pick up my pacer and go, but I decide against it. With 60 miles to go and a long night just around the corner, I need to stop and eat real food, so I do.
County Road 6 to Finland – 51.2 miles
Friday, 7:32 pm
My pacer, Kelcey and I head out with Tim and his pacer, Todd right behind us.
I’m still feeling good so I power up a pretty long climb. When I reach the top I realize I’m sweaty and gasping for air. I might have let myself get a little excited and pushed a little too hard. I feel tired and mentally foggy. I let Kelcey know and he suggests I drink and eat, so I do and it seems to help. The sun is setting so I turn my headlamp on. The day slowly fades to night and next thing I know I’m seeing no further than the beam of my headlamp.
Night running has begun and so is the roller coaster of how I feel. I find myself getting sleepy and feeling drained, but in what feels like just a few minutes I swing back to feeling refreshed and energized. This roller coaster continues for the rest of the race.
At Finland aid station I’m moving slow. The night is getting chilly and the campfire is warm so I end up spending nearly 30 minutes here.
Finland to Sonju Lake – 58.7 miles
Friday, 9:44 pm
It’s hard to leave the warm fire at Finland, but I pry myself out of the chair to continue down the trail through the darkness. It seems like a good time to take a break from my trekking poles so I stow them in my pack. I quickly realize my sense of balance has left me and I regret putting my poles away. I turn into a stumbling mess. For some reason it doesn’t occur to me to take 60 seconds to pull my poles back out of my pack so I just keep stumbling along without them until the next aid station. Each stumble takes a little extra out of me.
Sonju Lake aid station isn’t accessible to crew so it’s quiet here. When we arrived there are a few runners sitting around the fire, silent and looking half-asleep. I’m pretty tired myself so I grab a pancake and some coffee and join them for about 15 minutes.
Sonju Lake to Crosby Manitou – 62.9 miles
Sometime in the middle of the night
I feel slightly re energized from the pancakes and coffee and try to maintain a nice, slow shuffle down the trail. Before long the combination of rocky, rooty terrain and the darkness slow me to a hike. I want to run, but I can’t. At least the next aid station is only 4.2 miles away. Plus, I have my trekking poles out again, which helps me move better. All I really remember from this section is staring down at the excessive amounts of roots and rocks in front of me, trying not to fall.
Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf – 72.3 miles
Saturday, 2:21 am
I’m happy to have reached another aid station, but it’s a little bittersweet because I know how brutal the next section is. Julio, my next pacer is waiting, ready and eager to go. His energy is contagious. I’m looking forward to having him by my side through these tough sections.
We head down the dark trail and I’m feeling re-energized and ready to take on this tough section. Within about a mile the trail starts to get pretty technical. Then incessant climbs and descents begin. On one of the descents I slip and fall down a steep rock face, tearing my jacket and scraping up my arm. I’m fine, but it reminds me how relentless this trail can be. Things gets more and more challenging as my body and mind seem drained of all energy. I start to slide deep into the pain cave. I feel like a zombie staggering down the trail.
The sun starts to peak its head out as we near Sugarloaf aid station, but I’m too tired to really care. Reaching the aid station I sit down and start eating some aid station food and drinking coffee. One of the volunteers I know, Robyn Reed must notice how terrible I look and gives me a little pep talk, providing some words of encouragement. Next thing I know she has me thinking optimistically about the rest of the race. Only 50k left!
Sugarloaf to Cramer Road – 77.9 miles
Saturday, 6:15 am
I feel slightly better as I leave Sugarloaf and I’m happy that this is a shorter section. Unfortunately it’s not long before I’m feeling drained and delirious. I’m not sure how much time had passed when I notice someone standing along the edge of the trail ahead. I must be close to the next Aid Station! As I continue down the trail the person I saw turns into a tree. Bummer.
I keep moving forward, looking down at the trail in front of me when I notice a small mouse just sitting there not moving as I get closer. Weird. I take another step and the mouse turns into a leaf. My eyes are playing tricks on me.
I arrive at Cramer Road right as the marathon is starting and I’m suddenly surrounded by marathon runners. They are all flying by me like I’m stopped, but as they pass me they fill me with words of encouragement. I feel energized from all the excitement and find myself moving faster. I arrive at the aid station in good spirits and ready to eat! Sitting down I’m quickly reminded how sleepy I am. I eat some delicious blueberry pancakes (thanks Mom!), refill on supplies and head out.
Cramer Road to Temperance – 85 miles
Saturday, 8:10 am
My energy seems to evade me as quickly as it had hit me and I feel wearied as I leave Cramer Road. I recall this section looking promising on paper with what looked like a lot of easy downhills. It turns out they are brutally technical descents, one after another. My ankles and the tops of my feet are taking a beating and eventually each step is excruciating. The pace becomes painfully slow again. I’m actually walking sideways down some of the hills just to ease the pain. I try to run a couple of times, but only make it a few steps before the pain wins and I surrender to walking again.
At this point I feel really low and for the first time I let myself have self doubts. 18 miles suddenly feels like a long way, especially on this terrain and in the condition I’m in. A part of me wants to curl up in a ball and burst into tears. That seems like a lot of work so I just keep slogging on. I eat some Huma gel and drink some water hoping it will help me rebound.
With a few miles to go before the next aid station I hear some runners coming up behind me. At this point of the race it doesn’t happen much so my ears perk up and I start to wonder if it’s Tim. I haven’t seen Tim since mile 43, but I know how he tends to surge late in the race. A few more minutes pass and sure enough, Tim passes me, trotting down the trail effortlessly. As he’s passing me he invites me to join him. I decline and wish him a strong finish, which he ends up having.
A couple more miles and to my relief I finally reach the Temperance aid station. I hobble in to the aid station and don’t even need to tell my crew how bad I’m struggling before they react like a pit crew; taking my shoes off, icing my ankles, and putting fresh socks and shoes on my feet. They fill me with words of encouragement and confidence as I eat some food and take a couple Tylenol. I’m humbled by how committed they are to getting me across the finish line and I’m reminded that I’m not just doing this for me anymore. This is exactly the boost of confidence and determination I need. I’m suffering, but I can continue. I am relentless.
Temperance to Sawbill – 90.7 miles
Saturday, 11:27 am
As I stand up to leave Temperance my legs are stiff and the first few steps feel impossible. Within a few minutes they loosen up again making a fast hike possible. I have two new pacers with me, Gary and Jordan. I had already warned them that I’d need to move slow for a while to give my ankles a break from the pounding descents, so that is what we do. This section provides a huge relief. No more descents, just a lot of smooth trails on either flat or inclined terrain. Exactly the change in terrain my ankles and body need.
The pain starts to fade. The sun is shining and day hikers are out. I start to enjoy the trail again as I head up Carlton Peak. By the time we reach the other side my mood is completely shifted, my ankles feel better and we start running again.
Sawbill to Oberg – 96.2 miles
Saturday, 1:20 pm
I start this section in good spirits, but soon it fades when a spell of sleepiness comes over me. I find myself seeing cross-eyed and constantly fighting sleep spells. Eventually I decide to give up and just let my eyes shut a little and my body relax as I hike up a hill… half asleep. After what feels like a couple minutes of sleep walking I make myself snap out of it before I really do fall asleep and end up on my face. Looking down the trail I see people, animals, and even a house. By now I’m realizing none of these things are actually there. My eyes are playing tricks on me.
This section of trail is filled with mud pit after mud pit, which again keeps the pace slow. There are a couple of climbs that feel harder than they should. I’m getting so close, but still can’t seem to find that third wind so I slog it in to the next aid station feeling crabby and drowsy.
Oberg to FINISH (at Lutsen Mt) – 103.3 miles
Saturday, 3:32 pm
After all of the mud in the last section I decide to change my socks one last time. I chug some iced coffee and eat some pancakes to try to wake up and get the fuel I need to finish strong. It’s hard to believe I’m almost there. Only 7.1 miles to go! As we head out I explain to Gary and Jordan how bad these last 7 miles had me hurting at the Spring Superior 50k. I’m getting excited to finish and want to hammer, but I know I don’t have 7 miles of hammering over Moose and Mystery Mountain in me. The plan is to keep the effort reasonable until we reach the top of Mystery Mountain. I’m reminded of the pain in my ankles on every descent, which forces me to hike more than I want. I make it to the top of Mystery Mountain and start running down the other side. I only run a few minutes before the pain slows me to a hike again. I decide I’ll just hike as hard as I can.
I’m eagerly awaiting the beautiful sound of the rushing Poplar River that tells me I’m almost to the final stretch. Finally I hear it. I’m instantly hit with a wave of emotions. A newfound energy let’s me jog down to the bridge with no pain. I pause on the bridge over the rushing Poplar river to soak it in one last time. I feel elated and alive. The pain and exhaustion don’t matter anymore. Chills go down my spine. A part of me is sad that the experience is ending. A bigger part of me is happy to be where I am, almost finished with this 103.3 mile journey. I turn to thank Gary and Jordan for helping me get here. I don’t know if I could have done it without them, or the rest of my crew and pacers. I take a deep breath and we start our final stretch to the finish.
It seems like I’m flying as I turn the last corner and make my way across the finish line. I’m greeted by smiles, hugs and high fives from my son, parents, crew, and friends who had all spent a large part (or for some, all) of the last 34 hours doing everything they could to make sure I had what I needed to keep moving toward the finish line. They made sure someone was at every possible aid station refilling my water bottles, restocking my gels, and giving me words of encouragement. They even changed my nasty socks and shoes when I needed it. Needless to say, my crew was fantastic.
As I soak in the finish line I’m filled with happiness, gratitude, relief, satisfaction, and so many other emotions. It compares to nothing else I’ve experienced. I left everything I had on that trail, and the fact that I’m a stumbling mess is proof. As I hobble back to the condo I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Eventually I surrender to what will probably be the deepest, most satisfying sleep of my life.
Finished at 6:13 pm (34:13 elapsed)