Superior 100 Endurance Run, September 7-8, 2018
I have a love-hate relationship with tough ultras. That is probably why I was screaming and jumping up and down with excitement last January when I found out my name was drawn in the lottery to run the Superior 100 trail race. Actually 103.3 miles with 21,000 feet of climbing (and an equal amount of decent), the race motto is “Rugged-Relentless-Remote.” And is it ever! This race is point-to-point (my first experience with this type of course), beginning at Gooseberry Falls State Park and continuing north on the Superior Hiking Trail to Lutsen.
Training went well, and I was feeling strong when September rolled around. Soon my family and I were headed to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota for my goal race of the year. I am blessed to be so well supported by my wonderful family in my ultramarathons. This race was no exception. It was uncertain whether my husband would be able to get time off work until rather the last minute, and I was relieved when he was able to come. I don’t know how I could do this type of event without him. Our daughter Elizabeth and her boyfriend Brian also came, along with Elizabeth’s ten-year-old son Kolton. Our son Jared came with his almost five-year-old twin girls Aubree and Avalee. We rented a house right on Lake Superior. When we pulled into the driveway, I didn’t even go inside, but headed straight down the hill to the lake! It was so beautiful!
I have trouble sleeping the night before a race (and often a few nights before that), so I tried something new this time. I bought Gaia Herbs Sleep and Relax tea and made a strong batch before leaving home. I drank some of it before bedtime for several nights, and I think it helped. The night before the race I actually slept a decent amount, which was a great relief over lying awake for long hours waiting for morning to arrive.
I was actually able to eat in the morning when I got up and finished most of a Clif Chocolate Hazelnut bar. Everything seemed to be lining up for a great start!
God blessed us with perfect weather—sunny skies, high temperatures in the upper sixties and overnight lows in the 50’s, perhaps dipping into the upper 40s. I was told the trail was drier than usual and in great condition (although there was still plenty of mud). At start time, it was perhaps 50 degrees.
I wore my Sugoi Prism shorts–which I love! I never gave a thought to my shorts the whole race, which is exactly what you want. I also love the roomy side pockets and stuff all sorts of things in them during a run. I started with a short sleeve tech top and my lightweight arm sleeves, with a very light headband over my ears. Of course, I wore my beloved 100 Ultra Headsweats hat.
I decided to wear calf sleeves for this race. On my two previous 100-mile efforts, I wore calf sleeves for one and not for the other. I could tell no difference. But in the last several months of training for Superior, I had nagging soreness in my right calf and running with calf sleeves seemed to minimize it (along with foam rolling, stretching, and frequent visits to my awesome sports chiropractor, Dr. Nathan Uhl).
My shoe choice was my Altra Superior 3.0s. I had tried the new 3.5 version, but the sizing was different, and while an 8.5 was too big, the 8 was too small. Fortunately, I found a new pair of the 3.0s on clearance and snatched them up.
I lubed my feet generously with Vaseline pre-race in anticipation of water crossings and wore my favorite DryMax Trail Lite 3/4 crew socks. Although I rarely wear them in training, I usually wear my Dirty Girl gaiters at races, and Superior was no exception.
I also used Squirrel Nut Butter lube generously in my typical hot spots and put a strip of Rock Tape over my left collarbone on a spot that tends to rub. I always run with Rock Tape on my IT bands—just a bit of prevention after having terrible ITB problems years ago.
The week before the race, I spent several hours mending my beloved Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 12-set pack. It is the 2013 model and no longer available. Our sons both have versions of the newer Salomon packs and although I like the new stretchy comfort of them, I do not want to be forced to use the narrow-mouthed soft flask bottles. For one thing, they hold less water than my 20-ounce Amphipod hard plastic bottles, but the main issue is that it is pretty much impossible to get ice in the narrow mouths at aid stations during a hot race. I have used both the Salomon and the Ultimate Direction soft flasks and while they are indeed more comfortable, in my opinion, the cons outweigh the pros. The Ultimate Direction do have a bit wider mouth, but they will not fit in the front pockets of the new Salomon packs. And so I continue to mend my S-Lab 12-set. It is holding up well.
I had loaded up my pack the night before: S-caps, baby food pouches, (wholesome) cookies, candied ginger, Pepto Bismal tablets, chap stick, Kleenex, wipes.
One new thing for this race was that Brian generously insisted on buying me my own personal Spot tracker so my crew would know where I was all the time, instead of the killer waiting-and-worrying that crewing usually involves. It worked pretty well most of the time, and my crew said it was a great investment. It was also nice for our son Aaron to be able to follow my progress, since he was back home in Missouri with his wife who had literally just birthed a new baby. (She was born about the time we were driving into Duluth!) Welcome Reagan Louise!
Soon it was time to drive to Gooseberry Falls State Park. It was swarming with runners! I got checked in and looked for our friend Mindy. It was important to find her, since we had her race packet (including her bib), which she had arranged for us to pick up for her the previous night. Fortunately, we spotted her smiling face right away.
I did a bit of my usual pre-run mobility routine, but it was hard in such a crowded space. Then it was time to line up. I was eager to get started. I knew my pre-race nerves would settle as soon as I started running. A few announcements, and off we went!
The first 4.5 miles of the race were on the paved Gitchi Gami bike trail. This was actually good, since it gave the runners a chance to spread out and find their places in the pack before we hit the single track. I started out extra easy, which is vital in such a long race. I enjoyed the views of Lake Superior as I jogged along at a very comfortable pace. I took walk breaks from the start and walked up the hills. (The bike trail was paved, but it was not flat!) The arm sleeves came down around my wrists right away, and I pushed up my headband. Temperatures were very comfortable. It was interesting to chat with many different runners as we cruised the bike trail.
Then we turned left, ran through a tunnel under Highway 61 and up the hill onto the single track. I felt a surge of joy as I settled into the trail dance that I love so much—over rocks and roots, up and down hills, through the forest. I praised God in my heart for such a lovely day and for the opportunity to run through this beautiful place. The climbs here were short compared to the long climbs yet to come, but they were steep and already displaying a sampling of the roots and rocks ahead. I could tell right away that this course was no joke!
Soon we were running along side a river—such an amazing river, rushing over and around huge boulders . . . and then the first waterfall! It was a good thing I had purposefully chosen NOT to run with my phone or I would have stopped to take pictures way too often! I paused a moment to drink in the sights and sounds, then moved onward.
I felt like I was running just a tad over an optimal effort level for this point in the race, but I wanted to keep the place where I had settled among the runners around me. I was fueling extremely well, and my stomach felt great. I was happy! I might have been running through the forest with a grin plastered on my face!
My first goal was the aid station at Split Rock, mile 9.7. Split Rock had no crew access, and I would have to wait until Beaver Bay to see my crew. We had to cross the Split Rock River before the aid station. We were told pre-race that the bridge was (still) out. The river was not deep, and it was well-staffed with volunteers (and even decorated with cute ducky and froggy floaties). The volunteers said that some runners were jumping from rock to rock in an effort to keep their feet dry, but the rocks were slick and several had taken falls. I did not want to risk that, so I just waded. My Altras drain reasonably well, and I figured it didn’t matter, since my feet were going to get wet anyway crossing the beaver pond on the way to Beaver Bay.
A mile or so later as I climbed a grassy hill, I looked up and saw a jolly man standing beside the trail. Yes, he really was jolly—smiling and encouraging every runner. When I got closer, I realized he was directing us down the hill to the first aid station. Down a steep hill, down wooden steps, down even further I went. A steady stream of runners was coming back up and most exchanged a “Good job!” or “Way to go!” with me as they passed.
I did not sit down at this aid station, but got ice and water in my bottles. The boiled potatoes on the table caught my eye and they looked good! What?! Something on the aid station table looked good to me? Unheard of! I grabbed a couple and dipped them in the bowl of salt as I headed out. They went down well.
It was 10.3 miles from Split Rock to Beaver Bay, the longest stretch between aid stations in the entire race (although a few others were close). In about half the race reports I had read before hand, runners had said they had run out of water on this stretch. Accordingly, I was carrying an empty soft flask which I had planned to fill at Split Rock to assure an adequate supply of water to carry me through. However, with all the baby food pouches and cookies, I was already feeling loaded down. The temperatures were still cool, and I had not used more than half my water in 9.7 miles from the start to Split Rock. I made a quick decision to skip filling the soft flask and asked an aid station worker to put it in the back of my pack before heading out.
Back up, up, up the hill and stairs. The jolly man reminded me it was a beautiful day and to enjoy the trail. “Yes, it is!” I replied. “And I really am enjoying it so far!” It is amazing how a smile and a few positive words can lift one up.
The sun was warming up, plus in this stretch, I ran through several more open, exposed areas. Perhaps not bringing the extra bottle of water had been a mistake, I thought.
Somewhere along the way, I noticed some soreness beginning in my upper tibialis anterior muscles, especially in my right leg, undoubtedly from all the dorsiflexion of my feet as I hiked up the never-ending steep inclines. It concerned me a bit to be feeling this so early in the race. I stopped a few times and used my hands to work on the sore area in active release fashion.
The next landmark I was looking for was the beaver pond. “Persistent” beavers had flooded the trail with their dam building. We were told to be prepared to wade through thigh-deep water. After seeing the photos from last year and reading about hidden rocks and logs under the murky brown water, I was concerned that I would stumble and fall in the water, totally soaking myself. I had borrowed poles from a friend to help me cross more securely, but they were not running poles. I had decided before the start that they were too bulky to carry. Maybe I could find a stick to help me balance when the time came, I thought, but I needn’t have worried. The water level in the beaver pond was down so that we could walk across on a network of logs and branches. My feet stayed completely dry! “If I’d know this, I might have tried harder to keep my feet dry crossing the river,” I said to myself. Oh well.
After crossing the pond, the trail turned left . . . and disappeared! Where was it? Surely this jumble of boulders was not the trail! But it was! Jumping from rock to rock, I moved on. The next time the trail disappeared into a pile of huge rocks, I was not surprised.
At some point, I noticed that I was having the same cramps in my feet that I always have at FlatRock. They don’t hurt, thankfully, but I feel them. They are the result of my feet flexing so much over roots and rocks.
At Black Hills 100, I was worried about mountain lions. At Superior, I was concerned about wasps. About half of the race reports I read beforehand talked about being stung by some type of ground wasp or hornets. This is certainly less dangerous than being attacked by a mountain lion, but also much more likely to happen. I read about one lady who was stung 12 times and had to drop out of the race. I knew that a sting or two wasn’t likely to end my race, but I just didn’t want to go through that type of painful experience on top of the other difficulties of completing a tough 100. So I prayed diligently about it for weeks before the race, and continued to pray about it during the race. It seemed selfish to pray only for myself, so I prayed that the other runners would not be stung either.
My Garmin said I must be getting close to the Beaver Bay aid station. I picked up the pace, so eager to see my crew after 20 miles! I ran out of water about fifteen minutes before arriving at the aid station, but it wasn’t a problem.
I sat in my special chair and drank water. I had planned to change socks at this aid station, but since my feet were already dried out and doing fine, we decided there was no reason to do so. Aubree and Avalee cheered me up with their goofy antics. They thought my race was done when I reached this aid station! Kolton was very helpful and encouraging.
Since Minnesota is one of the top ten Lyme’s disease states, I had my crew spray me with bug spray almost every aid station. I used a natural essential oil-based product, which seems to do well repelling mosquitoes and ticks, although not as well with chiggers. I was so glad I didn’t have to worry about chiggers at this race!
I also used the Stick (soft tissue tool) on my tib anteriors. My crew efficiently took care of my needs. They took my arm sleeves and headband, put my full ice bandana around my neck, filled my bottles with ice and water, gave me a new selection of baby food and cookies, and sent me on my way. It was encouraging to know that it was only 4.9 miles to the next aid station.
It didn’t seem like it took too long to reach my crew again at Silver Bay, 25 miles into the race. The continual climbs and descents over rocky, rooty ground were already taking a toll on my legs, which worried me. My right tib anterior continued to be sore. I used the Stick on it again. They were out of ice, so no refill for my ice bandana. That was okay, since I still had a bit of ice in it, and while the day was warm, it was not overly hot. Through this warmer part of the day, I was trying to take an S-cap electrolyte capsule about every two hours. That seemed to be working okay.
My crew asked me if I wanted to take the poles for the next section to Tettegouche State Park. Our friend Mindy had warned them about a particularly steep, rocky downhill called the Drainpipe. She said she didn’t know how she would have gotten down it last year without her poles. I declined the poles. They were too much to carry.
I felt like I had paced myself well and fueled exceptionally well to this point in the race. But here is where my first real problem began to develop. I have my crew put a tiny sprinkle of unrefined salt in my water bottles, since I believe it helps my body utilize the water more efficiently. As Elizabeth handed me one of my water bottles, I saw her dump in some salt. “That’s too much!” I immediately said. She had me taste it, and at that moment, it tasted okay, so I took the bottle and headed out. It was a long stretch to the next aid station at Tettegouche—9.9 miles with some major climbs.
It wasn’t long before I noticed both my bottles of water were too salty, but one was particularly over salted. At first it wasn’t too bad, but the further I went, the harder it was to drink it. I couldn’t think of any way to remedy the situation except to get to the next aid station as quickly as I could—which wasn’t going to be very quickly since there was a lot of ground to cover. Not being able to drink, of course, started affecting my fueling. I need to drink water with my fuel to digest it properly. And so the downward slide began. My stomach began to feel the familiar “ick.” I tried to fuel and drink the salty water, but salty water in itself can cause nausea. I just kept pressing on. I gave up on trying to eat cookies and stuck with the baby food pouches. Since they had a much higher water content, they required me to drink less to get them down.
We started out this section with some great views over Lake Superior. I settled into a rhythm the best I could over the rocky terrain. I ran a few steps here and there anywhere the trail was even a bit smoother. I have found this little bit of running can make a big difference in average pace over just hiking the long stretches of rough trail.
A few miles into this section, I came to a lady standing on a rock talking on her cell phone. I asked if everything was okay, and she said yes. She was just giving someone at her work a hard time. I thought that was rather funny in the middle of a race! She fell in behind me, and we chatted for several miles. It helped the time pass more quickly. She was from Minnesota and informed me that the dreaded Drainpipe now had stairs built on it. I was doubly glad I had not opted to carry the poles.
This section included several big ascents, but I tackled them strongly. The extremely rocky downhills, however, continued to slow me down. When we swung around to the other side of the mountains to the rocky, exposed areas overlooking Bear and Bean inland lakes, I was disappointed that the photographer was not there. I had seen awesome photos online taken of runners in this spot and hoped to have one of my own. Oh well. I thought the second lake, which I think was Bear Lake, was the most beautiful with its greenish-blue water.
At some point, the Minnesota gal moved on, and I ended up behind a lady from Florida. She had woken up with a bad head cold and was just soldiering on as well as she could. We talked a while and she told me how she had trained for this race on a treadmill in her garage (a really nice treadmill that went up to 40% incline and also did decline). A guy came up behind us and asked if either of us might have some extra water. We did, but he decided he did not want to drink after the Florida lady with her nasty cold, nor did he want my salty water. I felt bad for him, since we were still quite a distance from the next aid station.
The Drainpipe was a steep, long set of wooden stairs. I could see that it would have been nasty without the stairs addition and I was thankful for the volunteers who built them.
About 5:30 pm, I decided to take a Pepto Bismal tablet to try to calm my stomach. It seemed to have no effect.
Finally, about 6:00 pm, after what had seemed way longer than 9.9 miles, I came into Tettegouche aid station, mile 34.9. My crew had lugged everything about half mile up a hill to meet me there. My stomach was still feeling yucky, but it was not full-blown nausea. I hoped getting fresh water with NO salt in it and working hard to get more fuel down would help it settle.
My legs were feeling the wear and tear of the rugged course. I was worried that they were getting too tired, too soon, and decided I needed to do damage control every chance I got. I continued to use the Stick on my legs at many of the aid stations and stopped a few times between aid stations to do some quick standing stretches for my hips, glutes, and legs.
At Tettegouche, I also took two to three minutes to do “legs up the wall.” Elizabeth introduced me to this great recovery position. I guess it is actually a yoga pose. I had used it at the midpoint of FlatRock 101K in April, and it seemed to yield a noticeable refreshing of my legs which I considered very much worth a few minutes investment. It felt good when I did it at Tettegouche, too. It also helps the lower back and hips to relax.
I changed in the porta-potty, taking off my sweaty short sleeve shirt and putting on my favorite Mizuno Breathe long sleeve zip-collared top. I traded my hat for a light headband and picked up my headlamp plus a flashlight and batteries. I had my jacket stuffed into the back of my pack, along with my spare flashlight. I was prepared for the night. I wanted to take my phone for music, but once again, the pockets of my pack were so filled with baby food pouches and cookies, I didn’t have room for it.
Onward I went. Only one more section until I could pick up a pacer, but it was another long section—8.6 miles. After leaving Tettegouche aid station, I crossed the Baptism River on an interesting suspension bridge. It was a bit freaky looking down through the mesh floor to the rushing water below, but I didn’t give myself time to think about it. Just move forward. We had a great view of High Falls, the highest falls in all of Minnesota. The trail followed the river for perhaps a mile, up and down mounds covered in pine needles and rocks. It was a beautiful area, one of many where I wished I could sit down and spend some time soaking in the scenery.
Darkness fell quickly in the forest. It wasn’t as cold as I expected, and I was quite comfortable in my long sleeve shirt. I tried not to think about the distance yet to be traveled and simply focused on moving forward. I kept telling myself, “Just get to County Road 6 and then Elizabeth will be with you.” I wasn’t apprehensive in the darkness at this race—I wasn’t worried about being attacked by a mountain lion like I was at Black Hills—but I was certainly ready for the emotional boost of having the company of a pacer.
You expect to slow a bit in the darkness, but with my stomach on the edge and my legs feeling tired on top of the darkness, I allowed myself to slow down more than I should have. Looking at post-race splits, from Tettegouche to County Road 6 was my second slowest section of the whole race.
It was an effort to eat anything, but I kept forcing down little bits of the baby food. My stomach seemed to be improving a bit. A few times I felt a bit dizzy and since I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken an S-cap, I decided to take one. The woozy feeling went away, so I guess the extra sodium was needed.
Finally, I reached County Road 6, mile 43.5. Elizabeth was ready to go. It was 7.7 miles to the next aid station, but it seemed less daunting with company. Elizabeth played music from Pandora on her phone when she had signal and it helped the time pass. The miles drag by when your pace is slow. Elizabeth did her best to prod me along. The roots and rocks just seemed to get worse and worse, and I did a lot of hiking (too much). Although I still ran the smoother sections, I was no longer running a few steps here and there on the rougher sections.
By Elizabeth’s GPS, we were past 8 miles on the supposed 7.7 mile stretch before we reached the Finland aid station at mile 51.2. This seemed to be the pattern for the rest of the race. “Where is that aid station?! We should be there by now.” And then running another mile or two before we got there.
I came into Finland at 12:48 am. I sat down in my chair and ate some Ramen noodles. They tasted good. My crew wrote down that my stomach seemed a little better, but I was sleepy. Everything is a bit fuzzy in my mind during that time.
The next aid station at Sonju had no crew access, so it would be 11.7 miles to Crosby-Manitou before I saw my crew again. I was so glad Elizabeth was with me! On and on and on we went in the darkness. We thought Jared had said it was 4.2 miles to Sonju and then 7.5 miles to Crosby. Elizabeth’s GPS flipped over 4 miles . . . and then 5 miles. Still no aid station. Could we have missed it somehow? I started to worry that we had missed a turn. “If I miss an aid station, I will be disqualified from the race,” I told Elizabeth. It seemed unlikely, since everything so far had been well marked with reflective taping that was impossible not to notice in the dark when our lights hit it. We went another half mile. No lights, no sounds, no evidence that we were near an aid station.
Finally, Elizabeth called Jared (and woke him up). It was 7.5 miles to Sonju and then 4.2 to Crosby he told us. That made us both feel better—except I was so ready for an aid station break and now I had a couple more miles to travel to reach one. Again, the 7.5 mile stretch ended up being over 8 miles by Elizabeth’s GPS.
The nighttime aid stations were well done. They were bright and cheery with colored lights and glow sticks. Since the Ramen noodles had gone down well at Finland, I thought I would try them again at Sonju. They had chicken noodle soup instead of Ramen. I tried to eat some. I really tried—but it was not going down. I also tried a cup of mashed sweet potatoes, but they were cold and wouldn’t go down either. I gave up trying to eat aid station food and we moved on.
There were quite a few Superior expressways in the section between Sonju and Crosby. These were boards laid long-wise end to end over marshy sections. They are called “expressways” because they are some of the few smooth places where you can run without fear of tripping on roots or rocks. There were some in pretty much every section of the trail, but some places more than others. You had to take care jumping up on them, since many were springy or wobbly. It got pretty interesting at times!
The mud on our shoes made the boards slippery, too. Usually the expressways were two boards wide, sometimes only one, occasionally three. One expressway was over the edge of a lake. I looked down and saw dark water. This would not be a good spot to slip off the boards!
As we headed away from Sonju, my stomach got worse. If reading about vomiting bothers you, skip the next couple paragraphs! The dry heaves started. I would be compelled to stop along the trail retching, but nothing was coming out. I had been at this miserable condition before in previous 100s. Why was my stomach getting worse now when I had thought it was improving?!
Since I was unable to throw up anything, I knew my stomach was completely empty and I had to get food into it. We have figured out that much of my nausea arises from a very empty stomach. I was still forcing down tiny bits of baby food and at Elizabeth’s insistence, I ate a ginger cookie one little bit at a time.
It was disheartening to have several runners pass me as I struggled along. Not surprisingly, this was my slowest section of the race. To top things off, there were hideous roots in this section, as well as more rocks and more mud. The mud made our shoes slippery on the rocks and roots. At one point, as we hopped from rock to rock through a jumble of boulders, my left foot slipped and knocked my right foot off the rock. I slid sideways down into the gap between rocks, banging my left hip and knee. The runners who had just passed us, turned to see if I was okay. I was. It was not a hard fall (although I had a pretty good bruise on my hip later).
I actually though about quitting during this section. My legs were tired and achy, I was sleepy, and my stomach was in full revolt. The thought entered my mind that I could stop and be done suffering. But I knew I would not. I kept plodding along. I knew from previous experience that it could get better, and likely would get better, but at that very moment, it was so miserably hard. I told Elizabeth that I needed to finish before cut off, because I was not coming back to try this race again!
Maybe an S-cap would help my stomach, I thought. It had been hours since I’d taken one. Elizabeth said to give it a try. I did, and about ten minutes later, I squatted down beside the trail and vomited. It felt like I was being turned inside out. Sorry if this is too much information, but this is the first time I have actually thrown up something during a race. Usually my stomach is so empty, I only have dry heaves and retching.
My stomach immediately felt better after vomiting. It was 5:28 am. Elizabeth pointed out that it was beginning to get light in the eastern sky. It was a new day, and it was a turning point for me.
Suddenly, I could run again! I caught and passed a few runners who had overtaken me during my misery. Elizabeth explained that my stomach felt better as we breezed by. “What did you do to settle your stomach?” one guy wanted to know. Elizabeth slowed to give a brief explanation as I cruised onward.
We came to the road and volunteers directed us. It was supposed to be a half-mile up the road to Crosby-Manitou aid station. (It had to be longer than that!) When we reached it, I sat down. Elizabeth said I needed to sit and try to fuel and regroup for 20 minutes to get my digestive system straightened out. This was the advice of our son Aaron, who is an experienced ultra runner. “I’m not sitting in this aid station for 20 minutes,” I said. But I did. Actually, I sat there for 22 minutes.
To my amazement, I ate a bite of bacon when Elizabeth offered it to me. It sounded good and it went down well. I tried pancakes with syrup, but that did not go down well, and I only ate a few small nibbles.
It seemed only moments when it was time to move on. Sugarloaf aid station was 9.4 miles away—the last really long stretch between aid stations. It was beginning to be daylight now, but I thought it might still be dusky in the heavily forested areas, so I kept my headlamp and headband. Before we had gone far, I was wishing that I had thought to have them stick my hat in the back of my pack. The sun was in my eyes for long periods of time on this stretch and I wanted my billed cap! At times, I resorted to holding my hand up to shade my eyes.
The trail soon because incredibly steep and rocky as we traveled down into the Caribou River Gorge. We followed the river for a while and then crossed over and climbed and climbed and climbed up the other side. This was said to be the second longest climb in the race. I believed it, although I still felt strong climbing.
Not too far into this section, the two lead 50-mile men came flying by us. They were traveling at an amazing speed. “Either they are elite or sub-elite athletes or they are going to blow up before the finish line,” we both decided. It was incredible that they could travel over the rough trail at that speed. No other 50-milers caught us for perhaps thirty minutes to an hour. (We found out after the race that one of these men had dropped out and the other had fallen back to finish a “distant” third place.)
The fifty mile race had started at Finland at 5:15 am. Soon, there were enough 50-milers coming up behind us that I no longer stopped and stepped off the trail, but just continued moving forward along the right edge of the trail so they could pass me on the left. I would be tangling with 50-mile runners the rest of the way to the finish line.
We came over one hill and started down the other side when we noticed a bit of a commotion at the bottom. There was a giant mud hole with standing water across the entire trail and into the brush and trees on both sides. The runners just in front of us had stopped, trying to decide what to do. One runner went ahead and sunk in the mud nearly up to his knees. No way I was going through that! Elizabeth bushwhacked a trail through the bushes and I followed her way out and around the muck.
The trail started to have some smoother, more runnable spots as we got closer to Sugarloaf, and I was still able to run. My stomach was continued to be okay, although perhaps not as solid as the first 30 miles of the race. I was very grateful, and prayed fervently that I was done with stomach issues for this race. My average pace for this section was still a bit on the slow side, but much better than I had been moving since it had gotten dark the previous evening.
I wore my own Garmin the first 35 miles or so, and then switched to Don’s Garmin so mine could be recharged. I don’t remember when I switched back to mine, but I do remember that I ran a good portion of the latter miles with a Garmin with dead batteries. Over long distances on trails, average pace gets very inaccurate due to the percentage of mileage the Garmin loses. I usually try to stay aware of what time it is and what time cut-offs are, but I mainly run by perceived effort levels. Any information in this report about average pace is from analyzing splits post-race. I was not aware of my average pace during the race.
Once again, the aid station was well beyond where we expected it to be. Elizabeth had figured that she would run about 28-29 miles with me, but by the time we reached Sugarloaf, her GPS said she had covered over 31 miles. Kolton had hiked out to meet me on the trail, as he did at several aid stations. It was so encouraging to see his smiling face! I ate some salted watermelon from the aid station table, and it was delicious! Jared was taking over pacing responsibilities from here to the finish line, which was supposed to be another 31 miles. It was 10:00 Saturday morning. The next aid station was 5.6 miles away.
It was a treat to spend time with Jared as my pacer. Since he started medical school over six years ago, our time together has been very limited. I forged ahead, feeling good and moving at a better pace. I don’t remember anything notable about this section. I think the trail was a bit more runnable than many areas, and I ran it at a better pace. I came into Cramer aid station at mile 77.9 at 12:08 pm. After routine care from my crew, Jared and I headed on to Temperance, 7.1 miles away.
What I remember about this stretch of trail is that I was smiling, feeling great, and having an absolutely marvelous time. I was so happy that my stomach felt better that everything seemed wonderful! I told Jared that if running 100-mile races was like this, I would do it all the time! We ran past a gorgeous waterfall, and then along the river under pine trees for a few miles. There were still a lot of rocks and steep downhills, and I probably let myself hike a bit more than I should have. A fifty-mile lady passed me and said she could not believe how chipper I was. (She knew I was a 100-miler by the pink ribbon tied to the back of my pack. The 50-milers wore a blue ribbon.)
We came breezing into Temperance aid station at 2:52 pm. I was all smiles and feeling great. I ate an entire piece of bacon (which has never happened in a race before)! However, I soon noticed that my crew seemed uptight. They bluntly told me that I needed to get on my way quickly and start pushing the pace because of cut-off times. What?! I was over an hour ahead of cut-off. It was the next aid station that had a tight time cut-off they told me. I had an hour and forty minutes to cover 5.7 miles to Sawbill, which seemed like plenty of time to me, but they were concerned, especially since my notes said the biggest climb of the race was on this next section. I felt a bit like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over my head.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” I told them, feeling a bit huffy. And I took off running to prove it. The trail was smooth and I felt surprisingly good (although my stomach wasn’t completely happy that I ate a piece of bacon and then took off practically sprinting out of the aid station). The sweet smooth trail continued until we reached the hike up Carlton Peak. I continued to feel great climbing. Up and up and up, then turn a corner and go up some more. Then we came to a section of steep bouldering. I looked up and thought, “I cannot believe this is part of a 100-mile race!”
“See,” Jared said, “Colorado WAS good training for Superior!” (He was referring to our crazy trail run/climb up Peak One near Frisco, Colorado in July.) This was steep enough to be slightly scary, but once again I didn’t stop to think about it, but just moved forward. Actually, it ended up being a lot of fun! I enjoyed it, but I did not enjoy the steep, bouldery downhill on the other side.
Then we came to more smooth trail, and I let it fly! I felt so strong! It was harder for me to fuel when I was running faster and at a higher effort level. My stomach felt okay, but not solid. I tried not to worry that a higher effort level might tip me over into nausea again. I just kept running.
Before I knew it, we came blazing into the Sawbill aid station. I didn’t need much since it had only been 5.7 miles, so I grabbed a flashlight (for safety insurance in case something unforeseen delayed me and I didn’t make it to the next aid station until after dark) and headed on.
Could it be that we were headed to Oberg—the LAST aid station before the finish?! I slowed just a bit to get some fuel down, but tried to keep pushing the pace. The trail was rougher again, and my legs were tired (although not hurting). There were many long stretches of Superior expressway boardwalks, and I ran them all. I caught a group of about five runners and passed them. They fell in behind me and suddenly, I was leading the train. I don’t like being in that position, because I feel pushed . . . but I needed a bit of pushing at this point. I asked twice if anyone wanted to pass me. They declined both times, so I just kept moving along. There were some steep climbs, but none extremely long. I hadn’t noticed, but Jared told me it was 50-milers I had passed and that I was dropping them on the climbs. I led the train all the way to Oberg.
Finally, I came into the last aid station! It was 6:35 pm. The end was actually getting near! Only 7.1 miles to go. Coming into Oberg, someone had set up an almost life-sized stuffed gorilla and a large stuffed zebra. They were good for a smile. I guess my four-year-old granddaughters weren’t too sure about them!
I pulled a long sleeve shirt over the short sleeve one I had on and once again traded my hat for my headband and picked up my headlamp and main flashlight. I had my crew stuff my jacket into the back of my pack again, just in case I got cold. One more section! I was allowed TWO pacers from Oberg to the finish line, so Elizabeth joined us and our threesome headed out.
It was cruel that almost as soon as we left Oberg, we could hear the finish line. I knew it was still a long way away, but we had to listen to it for several miles as we evidently looped around it. I had to stop and use the bushes and the train of 50-milers went ahead of me.
Darkness descended before we had gone far. It was rough mentally to run into the darkness a second night. Coming into the race, I had set my main goal to finish before it got dark on Saturday, and it had seemed obtainable—but I didn’t make it. I suddenly felt very tired and doubts filled my mind. What if my stomach got bad again because I was running at night? Nighttime always seemed to be when my digestive woes were the worse. I didn’t have time to slow down for nausea. Darkness would surely slow me down. What if it slowed me down too much? What if I didn’t make the finish line by the final cutoff? My Garmin batteries were dead at this point, and I repeatedly asked Jared and Elizabeth what time it was and how far we had come on this section. “Am I moving fast enough to make cut-off?” I asked multiple times. They assured me I was.
At first, they didn’t want to tell me how far their GPS said we had come, knowing the measurement was likely not accurate, since every other section had been long, but I told them I needed to know. I told them it would encourage me to tick off the miles as we covered them. So they relented and counted down the miles for me.
My stomach continued to be okay, but not great. I was struggling to fuel, but forcing down some baby food. I was so tired of making myself eat, but I knew I was still too far from the finish line to stop fueling.
There were two huge climbs on this section—Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain—both steep and very long. I still felt strong climbing, but I was slow going down the mountains. A few places had drops that were too big for my short legs. I had to sit down and slide over the edge. I needed to get done. My legs didn’t hurt, but I was tired and the need to get done filled me from head to toe. I pressed forward as fast as I could. Get done, get done! I caught and passed a runner. “That was a 100-miler,” Jared said.
Soon we saw more lights ahead of us. “It’s the lady in the camo skirt,” Elizabeth said. “I think she is in your age category. You need to pass her.”
“I don’t care,” I said. But I felt myself speed up a bit. This lady had been ahead of me all day, they told me. She would come into the aid stations anywhere from fifteen minutes to forty minutes before me. It’s not like I was going to get an age group award, since there were none, but my competitive spirit was not quite dead. I caught her and the two guys with her and kept on going.
We heard voices. Was it more runners ahead of us? No, it was a campground. Something clicked in my brain. I had read a race report that said as you neared the end of the race, first you passed some campgrounds, then the bridge over the river, then double-track to the road, and then the finish line. We must be getting close!
“I hear the river,” Elizabeth said. I couldn’t hear it. I kept straining my ears. Finally, I heard the unmistakable roar of rapids. It was the river! The trail got a bit smoother and I picked up the pace. There was the bridge! We clattered across. There was the double track on the other side. Then we burst out onto a road. I could see the lights of the ski lodge where the finish line was located and headed toward it.
“She is kicking,” Jared said after a couple minutes. “There are lights coming behind us.”
Darned if she is going to pass me now, I thought. I started running like I was racing a 5K. “This is ridiculous,” I said. “You are not supposed to have to kick at the end of a 100-miler.” And in the next breath I asked, “Is she gaining on me?”
“No,” Jared assured me, “she’s not, but keep running.”
My legs felt amazingly strong, so I ran. I couldn’t believe I could run like this at the end of 103.3 miles! I was almost done. Finally, I was almost done. Thank you, God! I was almost done. My breath hiccuped with emotion.
On and on I ran. Where was the finish line for goodness sakes? We followed cones around a corner and up a slight incline. A volunteer waved us to the right. “The finish line is right around this corner,” she said.
“I’ve heard that before,” I moaned.
“No, really,” she said. “This time it really is.”
I ran around the corner and then over a rough section of grass. I turned another corner and there was the finish line! I ran down a narrow passage with a fence on one side and across the timing mat, speaking the deep emotion in my heart, “Thank you, Jesus!” I was done.
Someone put the aspen-slice finisher’s “medal” round my neck and someone else pressed the belt buckle into my hand. Kolton suddenly appeared, and I grabbed him in a big hug! Where was my husband? I found out later that because of the narrow finish line area, they did not allow crew or spectators down in it. Kolton had slipped through. Don was standing a ways back with Aubree and Avalee. I found him and gave him a big hug too.
“Is your race over?” asked twins.
“Yes,” I told them. “It is over.”
After a few minutes, Jared said, “Oh, those lights we saw were not the lady in the camo skirt. It was two guys running the 50-mile race.” What?! I kicked to beat a couple 50-miler men?
“We couldn’t tell,” Jared said. “It was dark. It might have been her.”Oh well. It got me to the finish line faster and my legs had felt fine running hard.
My official finish time was 37:19:50. It was a couple hours slower than I thought I would finish, but I did it. The course was much harder than I anticipated and significantly tougher than any race I’ve ever done. This course was also the most beautiful I’ve ever run. I am so thankful to God that He allows me to enjoy the beauty of His creation in this way and that He gave me the strength to do it.
PS—I was not stung by any type of insect during the race, thank the Lord! At multiple points, I saw bees flying low along the trail, but I was never stung, nor was anyone around me. I was sorry to hear from my crew that some runners coming into the aid stations reported being stung, but I don’t think anyone had serious problems from it.