I pulled into Sawbill well ahead of any cutoffs and saw my friend John Gustafson captaining the aid station. He and I go back a few years and have shared the Superior Trail on more than one occasion. I told him I was ready for a lift back to Caribou Highlands (the finish line) so I could see a few friends finish the 100 miler…
Wednesday evening I arrived at Caribou Highlands just in time for an amazing home cooked meal. It hit the spot and the crew was alive with conversation, telling stories of adventures past and discussing the path of Hurricane Irma. I caught myself many times just sitting back taking it all in. As I sat back I was surrounded by the buzz of lively conversation and laughter. Energy was high as everyone was gearing up for a weekend of activity. I was with a large group of Superior Trail Race volunteers and I was one of them. I met a whole bunch of people and looked forward to seeing the race I’ve grown to love from a different angle.
The past four years I’d been preparing to run, to toe the start line of the Superior 100 and see about getting to Lutsen 38 hours later. Not this year. A couple of weeks prior to Superior I texted the RD about any volunteer opportunities that might be available. I told him I was coming up Wednesday and I’d love to help out any way I could. Monday, I got a reply with two jobs that had just opened up due to Donnie, a legend in these parts, needing to stay away for medical reasons. I was honored that John would think of me and gladly accepted and anticipated my contributions to Superior ’17.
Thursday morning my new friend Jerry and I were headed to the Beaver Bay trail head to mark trail from Beaver Bay to Silver Bay. It’s a beautiful 4.9-mile section of trail with lots of climbing and descending. We drove Bill’s car and had the crew marking the Silver Bay to Tettegouche section leave my car at Silver Bay. It was good to get on the trail for a bit as my feet weren’t used to the technical terrain. By the time we got to Silver Bay I was hustling the way I knew I could and gained a lot of confidence for the 50-mile race I was going to do Saturday. Jerry and I got back to Caribou Highlands at noon or so and I spent the rest of the day doing some computer work and gearing up for Thursday Night Football! I like football so I was pretty excited for opening night.
Friday morning was the start of the 100-mile race. John asked if I would be a course marshall on a section of trail coming off the Split Rock loop 10 miles into the race. The aid station is down a hill towards highway 61, then once you hit the aid station you come back up the hill and head to Beaver Bay. My job was to direct runners coming off the loop towards the aid station, then direct runners towards Beaver Bay on the way back up. We didn’t want anyone to do the Split Rock Loop more than once :) What a beautiful day!
I got back to Caribou Highlands at 1 or so and my mind shifted to the race I was about to attempt. Usually when I’ve got a race like this I don’t volunteer beforehand. I’m glad I saw the other side of this event. It makes me appreciate, even more, the sacrifice and commitment by the race director and all of the dedicated volunteers that make this thing go. Now I had to try and figure out how I was going to cover 52.1 miles having not run more than 4 miles TOTAL since Voyageur 50 mile on July 31. I had a couple of things going for me heading into this year’s Superior 50 mile though.
It’s about a 45-minute bus ride from the finish to the race start in Finland and most everyone is trying to get a few more minutes of shut eye on the ride. I did too. When we got to Finland I lubed up good with peri-garde. I’m not a big fan, as most of us probably aren’t, of chaffing during these things. I’ve learned over the years that extreme chaffing with 20 miles to go can make it pretty easy to end things for my races. During Voyageur in July I had no issues and was hoping for the same here. The key I found is to lay it on thick! I went to the bathroom and off we were. Temps were in the 40’s and you could see your breath. I underdressed to start as I knew it would heat up quick. It did and I was perfectly dressed all day.
The only real plan I had for my race was to get to Sugarloaf as soon as I could and figure it out from there. A couple of sections I was worried about mud were Sugarloaf to Cramer Road and Sawbill to Oberg. Gustafson was at Sugarloaf and I was in and out in a hurry. Sugarloaf to Cramer is pretty runnable and I ran a lot.
I got into Cramer well ahead of the cut, changed out my socks and headed up the trail. The Cramer to Temperance section is runnable too and I ran a lot there. I did stop by the river for a quick bird bath. It felt great! I knew up the South side of Carlton’s peak was going to be slow going so I went slow. That whole section was slow really and, at some point on the way down, I decided I was going to call it quits at Sawbill, head to the finish and watch my friends finish their 100 miler.
As I pulled into Sawbill well ahead of any cutoffs and saw my friend John Gustafson captaining the aid station. He and I go back a few years and have shared the Superior Trail on more than one occasion. I told him I was ready for a lift back to Caribou Highlands (the finish line) so I could see a few friends finish the 100 miler. “No you’re not.” He said. You’re going to finish. I have a lot of respect for John and he knew I was looking great, feeling great and was going to finish this race.
I changed socks again and headed up the trail to a chorus of “finish, finish, finish” from the crew and aid station volunteers. I pulled out my phone and facetimed my family for a mile or so and that really lifted me up. For most of the section from Sawbill to Oberg I walked. I walked with a purpose and patience only gained through knowing this trail and this point in the race. There was little mud to speak of and for this I was grateful.
When I got to Oberg my goal was to get out of there and see how far I could get before the darkness hit. I changed socks, added my rain jacket around my waist just in case it got cold after the sun went down and made it my mission to get down the back side of Moose Mountain before dark. It’s a tricky descent with lots of roots and slick terrain. I made it! It wasn’t until I got half way up the switchbacks that I needed to turn on my headlamp. As I got to the top I remembered John Mathson, who we lost at this very spot, during this year’s spring races.
It’s all downhill from there! I was running. Aside from the 25k race I did a few years ago, this had to be the fastest I’ve every covered this section of trail. One conversation I had with a fellow runner this year was about how we get these sticking points on the course stuck in our heads and we let them affect the runnable sections as we anticipate the suck. This time around I embraced the sucky parts, dropped it into first gear and ran when gravity helped me. That was a big mental boost this year.
I got into Caribou Highlands at 8:20 and change and was thrilled at the amount of people hanging out waiting for runners to come in and finish. With each finisher, our name was announced and there was a huge roar from the crowd of crews and fellow runners. John even announced my name and I got an extra ovation. It was a special moment. One that I won’t soon forget.
I say thank you for everyone involved in making this event happen. Superior has changed my life and I’ll forever be better because of it. My wife held down the fort here at home for four days while I was gone. She worked and shuffled kids from one thing to the next. She’s always been supportive. I think she knows how much this community means to me. It was really gratifying to give back and volunteer this year. I didn’t make it to all of the pre-race festivities but it feels good to have contributed.
This surely was A Superior Experience!