Support… Our Superior 100 Mile Endurance Run starts here.
Without the support of my family, my friends and the ultra - community, I would not have succeeded at Superior.
After running some errands and stopping in at TC Running, talking with Kurt, we left Osseo at 12:30 and got to Larsmont sometime mid afternoon. After checking in and getting somewhat situated, Jesse and I headed to the SHT office in Two Harbors. We wanted to get on the trail for a few minutes just to see what it looked like leading up to the event.
Less than two weeks prior, I had covered 63 miles on various sections of the trail so I knew what it looked like then. They had some rain recently though and I was sure the trail would be a little bit wet. It was, but not too bad.
The thing about ultra – endurance events and one of the things that I appreciate having been an American football player through my college years, is that we play no matter what the weather. Weather would not be an issue whatsoever this year as we saw highs in the low 70’s and lows in the high 50’s. It was a perfect weekend, as far as weather was concerned for the 2014 Superior 100 Mile Endurance Run.
We hit the trail for a few minutes and headed back South to the evening festivities. As always, it is an absolute pleasure being in the presence of this group of individuals. I was able to finally meet Jason Husveth after modeling my way of moving after his. Many people told me that this was my year. I believed them. My preparation had put me in a position I’d never been in heading into a 100 mile attempt before. I was ready…
We got our drop bags all packed up, bought a bunch of sweet Rocksteady gear, picked up my race bag and settled in for our instructions. We were told to run North, follow the trail, don’t get lost and don’t stop until you get to Lutsen. That’s what I heard at least. On our way out I stopped to get my picture taken by Ian Corless, a well-known European ultra-writer and photographer.
We headed back to Larsmont, settled in for some Seahawk domination and went to bed. I did not sleep well. I was jittery and very excited to get this show on the road. I remember thinking that if I had this much energy through Friday night there would be nothing that could stop me. The alarm went off.
Friday Pre - Race
I gave myself plenty of time to wake up and start the day easy before heading into the woods. We woke up, ate three hard boiled eggs and a banana with peanut butter with a cup of coffee, got dressed and headed up to Goosberry Falls, where the run would begin. I was ready. I went to the bathroom, lubed up for chafing and headed to the start. I had 6 E balls, Tailwind powder to go along with the small Salomon bladder in my front left pocket. I carried salt and had it waiting for me at 4 different spots along the trail. My water was full and I decided to listen to music on this first section. The countdown began and we headed to Lutsen…
Gooseberry – Split Rock 8-10:36
I just got excited to write about this next part. Not the Gooseberry to Split Rock part, but the adventure from here on out. You see, for the past two years when I’ve sat down to write my 100 mile race report, I’ve only been able to report a DNF. Both of those experiences have their reasons and I did a great job of justifying those reasons too. This time is different. I overcame those ways out. I was able to shut that voice of quit up when it reared its head. I was able to face any fear of success that had limited my ability to achieve greatness and go at it all out.
Having run this section just two weeks prior, I knew exactly what to expect. In fact, I watched this video in preparation earlier on the morning of the event start. I knew what I was getting into early. I wanted to take my medicine on all aggressive hills and power walk moderate hills and flats. I would let gravity work for me on the downs.
I was going to go out slow and follow my plan no matter what. A couple of weeks prior I had done 14 minute miles on this section. That felt slow so I was keeping an eye on my Garmin and shooting for similar numbers. During last year’s race, my brother and I hooked up with John Taylor and the gang he was leading through the night. It was a great moment in my ultra experience so far. This year, I was able to share the trail and talk for a bit with John on the first section of the race. We came to a flat and he was running it. I stuck to my guns and power walked. I would not see him again although he did finish the race. Part of me was expecting to see Jason Husveth early on. I was thinking my pace was right in that pocket of finishers. Come to find out he dropped at Finland. Thank you for your support Jason. The way you move has inspired me and is a contributing factor in me now being a Superior 100 Mile finisher. I don’t know if I ran into Daryl Saari on this section but I know I was blazed past by him overnight.
As I’ve read in a number of reports already, this section was pretty forgettable and that’s the way we like it.
Split Rock – Beaver Bay 10:40 – 1:15
After turning and burning at Split Rock and commenting to Jason Husveth something that made no sense about his lucky race number (100), it was off and up the hill. I had packed enough E balls to get me to Beaver Bay and I mixed a new bottle of Tailwind and filled up my main bladder with water. Right on track.
Folks were thinning out a bit at this point and I was in and out in what had to be less than five minutes. It was a beautiful morning and some people were really moving quickly through this section. The section from Split Rock to Beaver Bay was more forgettable for me than the section from Gooseberry to Split Rock.
I got into Beaver Bay and my crew was waiting for me. Dad, Jesse and Caden were all there. I was well ahead of schedule and hadn’t been moving quickly in comparison to years past. So far my plan was working. Take your medicine on any of the bouldering and make up ground on the flats or moderate downs. The extreme hills, while memorable, make up such a small portion of the trail, that if I took my time getting up and down and kept my muscles well within their range of motion, I knew I would be ok to power walk at least through Crosby. At that point, it would be just a 50k to the end.
Beaver Bay – Silver Bay 1:21 – 2:43
This section was more up and down than I had remembered from last year. It was forgettable for me in 13’. Actually it’s in Silver Bay that the heat on the ridges that went along with this section and the nasty climbs and descents added up to a near DNF at mile 25 just a year ago. This year was much cooler, I was more prepared and trained and I had a much more refined plan about how to cover this ground. Lots of slow moving, up and down the boulders overlooking the piles of metal.
Silver Bay – Tettegouche 2:50 – 5:50
This is the Bean and Bear section. The elevation chart tells some of the story. About 2 miles in I ran into Ian and Kurt. It was good to see them and lifted my spirits to the top of the ridge overlooking the first of the two lakes. In 13’ this section was going great until the second half when the climbing in the first 5 miles caught up to me and almost took me down. Had it not been for a couple of fellow runners, my race in 13’ would have been over on this section.
This year though, I stuck to my plan and took my medicine. I ate every hour, 1 E ball, 2 salt tabs, a couple swigs of Tailwind and a bunch of water. It worked, at least through Tettegouche.
Tettegouche – County Road 6 5:58 – 8:52
Tettegouche to Cty Road 6 is a longer section than the mileage indicates. The section finishes on a ridge where you can see the aid station lights for what seems like forever before a long, slow descent takes you onto the road and into the aid station. This section for me was all about getting to my pacer and I knew once I got into that game, I had a good chance of being successful. I had an amazing team with me and was excited to share this trail with them.
I was hoping to see Dann at County Road 6. He wasn’t able to make it up until Finland, where he would do the Finland section with me.
County Road 6 – Finland 8:55 – 11:31
Jesse was waiting though and After Todd had reminded me that the trail into Finland was pretty runnable I was excited to get moving.
I began to curse Todd initially as the trail was not runnable. After the first mile or two though it opened up and we moved quickly, power walking our way into Finland. There’s Dann.
Finland – Crosby 11:39 – 4:14
Now it’s the night and the tired starts to set in. I had a bad time here before because I had a bad attitude. I asked Dann to support me out here not because he is a real experienced runner or because he has a lot of marathon experience. Dann is my cousin. We are kindred spirits. We both seek adventure and I know that the SHT was going to be able to throw nothing at Dann that he couldn’t not only handle himself, but handle for me too.
I had the best team out there. Dann had never experienced this trail at night and I was excited to share it with him. Two weeks ago I covered this ground and imagined what it would look like at night. The truth is, you can’t see anything at night. The canopy covers everything. This is one of the gnarliest sections of the entire race, not to mention all of the wood is slick. There are sections out here where the roots actually seem like they are reaching out to pull you into the ground with them. For some reason, everyone was flying. Daryl Saari seemed to be on one of those Jetson’s floor moving things through this section.
My plan was to take my medicine. The cutoffs were more gracious at night and I knew that if I could just keep a sub 25:00 pace, we would be just fine. Many of our miles were 22’s and some were 25+. It was good to see you John G. at Sonju among other places along the trail and I am appreciative he kept us moving along. Larry provided us with a hot pancake and homemade apple sauce. My only regret at Sonju is that I didn’t take about a dozen pancakes with me. YUM!
The roots get more aggressive after leaving Sonju. They get longer and more relentless as the night wears on. My attitude stayed good and I attribute part of that to Dann. At one point I was telling him about how this section got to me last year and I told him about how my attitude went south and ultimately it cost me. He said, “You know what they say. You can go 3 weeks without food, three days without water and three seconds with a bad attitude in a survival situation.” The hammer dropped right there. My head was already down (I had no choice) but I put my head down and took it one step at a time. It was a moment in my race that I will never forget. That moment transcends the trail and is a lesson that I’ll take with me into my life too. I choose not to live in survival, but we all encounter things and situations where our attitude begins to fail us or we start talking about someone else’s problems and make them our own. I’m looking at three seconds to shift that thinking in my mind and shut off to hearing it from anyone else. I won’t surround myself with negativity. I will focus instead on moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other. I’ll find a pace that I can sustain, deviate from it in a faster direction when the terrain allows and create a new steady every single day. I will get better and persevere with a positive attitude. Thanks Dann.
My race strategy was to give my mind a break on the road going in to Crosby. I knew there would finally be a break in the action. The trail wasn’t grabbing at my ankles trying to bring me down. The stars were amazing and the brightest I can ever remember. There was not place I would have rather been than right there alongside my cousin Dann staring at the most beautiful sky I had ever seen.
We shut our lights off, I did my business, refueled, picked up Jesse and we attacked what I knew would be one of the, if not the, most challenging 10 miles of my race.
Crosby – Sugarloaf 4:18 – 8:22
I conquered this section just two weeks prior and proclaimed then that I would do it again today. The teeth of the saw are deeper and more frequent here than anywhere else on the course. Factor in the break of dawn and overall fatigue of headlamp focus necessary for night running the SHT, and you’ve got yourself a beast. The roots weren’t reaching but the rocks were beating me back. First they seemed to be rolling out from under my feet on the way down to the River, then they kept falling and beating me back down the hill. The relentless nature of this unforgiving, relentless terrain kept biting. I kept coming. It tried to beat me down on this day but I would not allow it. I got knocked down. I kept getting up. The rocks would throw a haymaker and connect. I would get up and say is that all you got. The ups and the downs seemed to never end.
Once the sun came up, we finally reached the ridge where Jesse and I both knew there was some easier trail until Sugarloaf. I was still able to move pretty well. With a couple of miles to go to Sugarloaf aid, I realized I was going to make it this year. It didn’t start that way though. My mind started to wander off to a warm bed and a thousand excuses as to why I wouldn’t make it again this year. Something hurt, my feet were torched, I ran out of time. There could have been a number of reasons why I didn’t finish. I could have said anything and walked off to play another day, once again not having to deal with my own success and greatness. Not this time…
My focus is different now. My ability to overcome is at a whole new level. I am in a position to conquer on this day. I have prepared. I have an amazing team with me and once I get to Sugarloaf, I’ve only got a 50k to go. I am very familiar with that distance. Once I get to Cramer, it’s only a marathon, then under 20, half marathon, it doesn’t matter how far it is from Oberg.
I talk a lot about commitment. I believe with commitment, action is sure to follow. In my moment of weakness, my moment of doubt, I chose to focus on the commitment that precedes action. My choice was not to move forward. My choice was to honor my commitment and move with committed action. I was all in!
We pulled in to Sugarloaf before 8:30.
Sugarloaf – Cramer Road 8:25 – 10:28
Dann was going to pick me up here. Jesse and I pulled in and couldn’t find our aid anywhere. Oh, there they are helping that very small rental car get unstuck a quarter mile away. Hey guys, we’re over here.
Dann took off his cowboy boots, which he was beautifully wearing with his Army running shorts, Jesse made a few trips back to the car to get me some things (thanks Jess), and Dann and I were off.
This section was muddy. I had done this a couple weeks back and was really able to move quickly here. The 50 milers had really muddied it for us. Dann and I were still able to move pretty quickly and before we knew it we were half way through the section. I had to go to the bathroom so I did. We kept moving and as we exited the woods onto an opening in the trees, a woman yelled, “It’s not a mirage, it’s really me!” My initial reaction was great. Then, I realized it was my lovely wife Katie!
I didn’t know if she was going to be able to make it. She’s a teacher, school just started and we’ve got two girls at home to take care of. I was so glad to see her and I knew from that moment on, I needed to push forward. Her father, Ron came as well and it was great to see him. One thing that Ron said to me as I was sitting in the chair waiting to leave for Temperance was, “There aren’t too many battles left to fight now.” I drew on those words every time I set out. Thanks Ron.
Cut was 1:40 and we were in at 10:40. I was feeling good about that and would not have to recommit again for the remainder of the event.
Cramer Road – Temperance 10:40 – 1:18
I was really looking forward to showing Carlton’s Peak to my cousin Tomm once Jesse and I got through Cramer – Temperance. I didn’t remember this section much since I hadn’t traveled it since 12’ when I did the 50 mile. The second half was beautiful as we ran along the river. I couldn’t remember if we went downhill before the river or after and soon was reminded it was before the aid station. I was happy about that. Then we could get it over with.
We pulled into Temperance and Mom, Beth and Tomm had joined the crew. That would make 8 who made the trip to support me in this dream. I’m floored by the amount of support by so many people.
After a couple of hugs, it was time to get moving again. I didn’t want to spend much time at any aid stations. It was one of my goals in this year’s event. I stuck to it pretty well.
Temperance – Sawbill 1:26 – 3:24
Come on Tomm, you ready. Yep. Tomm came with no expectations. It’s how he lives his life and I admire him for that. That being said, I wanted Tomm to get a workout in today. He’s done a marathon and did it wonderfully, but I was pretty confident he had never experienced anything quite like “the south side”. I was going to show him.
My buddy Tom came by and he was killing it, looking fresh and moving well. As he passed, I yelled to him, “Enjoy the south side Tom!” Tom would later tell me that he did.
As we turned north from the river and started to encounter a little incline we came up on a fellow hundred miler. I don’t know his name but he was using poles, moving slow but moving steady. We passed him and would later be passed by him on his way to the finish.
I was familiar with this trail. I had been to the peak from this side in July and again two weeks ago Jesse and I did this section as I anticipated it as a possible sticking point. At this point in the race, you can count the hills on one hand, at least the memorable ones, and it’s still a full hand. That being said, Tomm and I came to the hill. I looked up, then looked back and told him, “I’m going to go slow but I’m not going to stop.” Tomm is just the right amount of encouraging. I physically put my hand at chest height on my left side and pulled it back down to my hips while making a gear changing sound. I then declared I had just dropped er’ into 1st gear. Away we went. I had to have been moving ok because I could start to hear Tomm breathing heavier behind me. Once I got to the top, I stopped to catch my breath. The guy with the poles came up right behind us. Nice! I thought to myself.
Having been on this section so recently, I knew it was time for the south side scramble. Again, I told Tomm, we’re going up and not going to stop. Up until this point in my race I had been avoiding extreme ranges of motion in order to save some for the end. This was close enough and with the size of these rocks, there’s not much choice on how to get up. Everything is extreme about the south side of Carlton’s Peak. It’s not real long, but standing at the bottom, it does not resemble a trail, more like a pile of rocks.
Once we got to the top, we were on a very familiar 15.5 miles of trail for me. The spring 50k turns around at the top of Carlton’ Peak. The race starts in Lutsen, comes south to the peak, then heads back north to the finish of this 100 mile endurance run. I was now operating in very familiar territory.
After scampering down the north side, I was able to jog it out on the boardwalks and it felt good to move a little bit quicker. Once I saw the road, we crossed and hiked it in to Sawbill aid. Katie would pace me on the next section…
Sawbill – Oberg 3:39 – 5:50
This section would be muddy. This was the first section I thought of on Thursday night when Jesse and I tested out the trail conditions before the pre-race meal and briefing. I didn’t know how it would go having Katie out there with me. We haven’t spent much time on the trail together and I wasn’t able to have the pacer talk with her like I had my other pacers so she didn’t really know what to expect or what was working so far.
I Love my wife very much and am so glad I was able to be in her presence on the trail for the couple hours. She had gotten some nice new shoes just a little while prior. They were really pretty and shiny and not muddy. A quarter mile in, she realized those beauties were going to get muddy.
After over 30 hours and 90+ miles, I had my head down and was moving. We started the section listening to music. It was very upbeat and motivating. I endured it for a little while before politely asking that the music be turned off. We talked about what had been working for me in the past and by the time the section was through, we were both very excited about the real possibility of this being my year. I love my wife and am so blessed that she would take the time and energy to come and support me on this day. When I first saw her Saturday, she turned my stoic face into a smile and energized me for sure.
I was a bit sad that this section was coming to an end and that Katie would hop off the trail and meet me at the finish but I was so grateful for her to be able to spend some time with me on the trail. Check out this video she took. I watched it on Sunday after the race and was shocked at how slowly I was moving. In my mind, I was cruising. This truly was giving it everything I had. It turned out to be enough.
Oberg – Lutsen 6:00 – 9:30:34
Here we go. I wanted to get out by 6. I did. I refueled, picked up Dann, got some love from Kurt and we hit the trail. It was still light when we left and Dann talked about hoofing it and moving quickly. I sure am glad we did. The first two and a half miles flew by, then we hit an incline. I knew the mileage too, but didn’t realize we had hit the first of two major hills on this final section of the Superior 100. We got about a quarter of the way up when I realized this was it. I was mentally not prepared for this yet. I hadn’t been eating like I should have for the past few hours. I didn’t have any reminders set and I had no salt with me. I did have Tailwind and water and E balls though. I needed to stop on hill 1 three or four times before getting to the top. I was gassed.
Once we got to the top, I knew it was a scamper up on the ridge for a ways before coming to arguably the most technical and long downhill on the course. We got there while it was still light which a good thing was. It seemed to take forever to get down but we wanted to make sure we didn’t have any major disasters at this stage of the game. It took a long time but the descent was uneventful and since we gave ourselves a decent cushion on this section we could take our time.
We came to the switchbacks in the dark and I used trees to propel myself up the moderate inclines, stopping frequently to catch my breath and keep moving. I didn’t know when we got to the top, it was all the same at this point. From the time we started going down, it seemed like we went down for a long time. It kept getting steeper too. We heard the river and Ryan Yearley trucked by with some encouraging words. The mud was thick and the dark made it that much more difficult to navigate. The road widened and the Poplar started roaring. I knew then that we were getting close. It was just a matter of getting up to the road and following it around the pool to the finish.
As soon as we turned the corner onto the road, Katie yelled, “Jon?”. I said, “Yes!” and the joy in her overwhelms me. Caden and her father were there too and they walked with us for a while. Jesse and Tomm were driving down the road as one of them was going to head into the woods to get us moving. Dann did his thing. We had plenty of time to get where we needed to go. Once we got to the spur around the pool, I put on my hat and Caden led us to the finish line. He crossed first and we made our way across the line. 37 hours, 30 minutes and 34 seconds is the official time. John draped the oak around my neck and gave me a finishing hug. Thank you John for all you have facilitated in my life. This has been a dream of mine for three years and it is finally a reality.
Support… Our Superior 100 Mile Endurance Run finishes here.
Without the support of my family, my friends and the ultra - community, I would not have succeeded at Superior.
I was draped in blankets and shuffled up the steps to the truck. The race was over. We had been successful.
I went to bed at 10:30, woke up at 11:30 and ate some pizza. I then woke up at 4:30, showered, hiked up the hill to find the car, couldn’t find it, hiked back down the hill, was locked out and didn’t want to wake my roommates, slept on the grass in front of the condo, finally knocked at 7 to get back in, slept til 8:30, found the car and headed to Betty’s Pies. After a great breakfast and a chocolate shake to go, I made it south of Duluth before needing to pull over for a nap.
With the state I was in upon race finish I did not pick up my buckle or sweatshirt myself. Thanks Tomm for doing that. My dad stopped by on Sunday afternoon to drop it off and we had an emotional exchange. Dad has been with me at a number of events and I appreciate his support. We got my minivan cleaned out from the weekend’s events and he headed home.
Monday and Tuesday I have been very tired. I keep telling people that I get a little bit better with each nap. Wednesday was the first day I had some energy. I know that once I write and digest this incredible experience I will be well on my way to recovery.
I am extremely grateful for everyone who has contributed to my success at the Superior 100 Mile Endurance Run. I am truly blessed by the people in my life and I look forward to being a part of the fall races in 2015.
Jon Howard - Husband and Father of 3 | Ultra Endurance Athlete | Owner - Training Edge Sports