Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Superior Trail Races

Loads of LPTR's up for Superior this weekend - Likely to be lots of reports so I will just post them and any photos as I get them!  First up is Mary Gorski's write up...

There is a reason why it's called the Superior HIKING, not RUNNING Trail.  Click on the Superior Hiking Trail Association's homepage and you'll see a photo of several hikers making their way up through a pile of boulders, tightly holding hiking poles firmly planted for balance.  The SHTA's description of the trail they maintain:

"The Superior Hiking Trail is a 277-mile footpath that largely follows the rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior on Minnesota's North Shore from Duluth to the Canadian border."

Note the words "rocky ridgeline."  Evidently the webmaster was short on space because s/he neglected to include "and root infested" in the trail description.  And while I know that technically it is a ridgeline, the word is a bit misleading.  "Line" seems so linear.  Think of clothesline -- it is basically flat, perhaps with a little slope in the middle when the clothes are hung.  In contrast, the Superior Hiking Trail is that same clothesline caught in a tornadic windstorm, flopping up and down every which way with debris hurling about.

But it sure is beautiful.  Exhausting and energizing all at the same time.  

This where the Sawtooth 100, Superior 50 (really 52) and Moose Mountain Marathon are held, starting 100, 52 and 26.2+ miles south of Lutsen, Minn.  As I have in the past, I ran (relative term) the 52 mile event.  Each year I think, "Sometime I should try the 100 here."  Each year, once I am actually on the trail, doing the race, I thank God that I once again stayed with the "easier" event.  

Although I've always known at least a few people at the race, this year's edition was special in that so many members of the Lapham Peak Trail Runners (LPTR!) made the eight-hour trip from the Milwaukee area to run the race.  We were split primarily between the 100 and the 52, though one person seemed to be looking for a speed workout and stayed with the shorter marathon.  

I can't speak to the 100 beyond the fact that all of our male LPTR runners were forced to drop while our females gutted it out to the end with Julie Treder out front and Angela getting her money's worth coming in with just 15 minutes to spare.  

I felt bad that our 100-mile men had such a tough time –– the heat of the first day got to many ––  but have to admit that Kevin's DNF was a win-win for many of us in the 52-mile race.  Instead of crewing just for her husband in the 100, Allison Grabowski decided to crew just about all of the LPTR runners in the 52.  I'd come into an aid station and she was like a seven-person NASCAR pit crew filling my hydration pack, digging out shoes from my bag and filling me with treats before pushing me back on the trail.  

Usually it is the Li'l Mister and his sidekick Dewey who serve as my personal pit crew.  Unfortunately, Dave injured his knee a few days before the race.  It was uncomfortable but tolerable until he tried an extended ride in the car.  About two hours out of Milwaukee we realized that his knee wasn't going to tolerate two eight-hour car rides.  Back home to Milwaukee to a weekend of ice and TV time on the couch.  And back on the road I headed to Minnesota's North Shore.  I felt guilty leaving, but if the roles were reversed I know that I would have kicked Dave back on the road.  So while Dave watched bad day-time TV I listened to its equivalent on satellite radio.  Does anyone really listen to the Cosmo network?  I love satellite -- you can listen to everything from opera to Oprah.

But I digress, as usual.

At 5 a.m. I joined our LPTR gang on the bus to the 52-mile start.  Disaster No. 1 got underway soon after.  Jim B's hydration bladder was leaking.  He decided to get off the bus and have his wife Sue drive him to the start to give him time to think of options.  Unfortunately for Jim, the fatigue of a recent battle with Lyme disease did him in before his leaky bladder.  He was the first of our 52-mile LPTR casualties.  But the rest of the gang was strong.  I jumped on to a couple of LPTR trains in the early miles of the race but eventually fell back to my own pace.  However, Marty was a train car that didn't seem to want to stay on track.  He'd wander off ahead and then I'd see him again, coming from a direction other than the race course.  "I thought that boardwalk on the water would make for good running, until I realized that it ended before it got to the other side."  He zigged when he should have zagged.  An hour or two later I saw him pop back on the trail again.  "Took a wrong turn!"  Evidently he needed guidance because when I saw him at one of the latter aid stations he was with Jodie.  Although he said that he wanted to stay with her to see her to her first 50+ mile finish I think he really just wanted a navigator.

My day was a mix, as it always is on this trail.  We lucked out on weather -- it was warm, but not quite as warm as the day before for the 100-milers' start.  Sunny skies, and temps in the mid to upper 70s.  Unlike last year's sludge fest in the rain, this year's trail was dusty-dirt dry.  Generally, it made for better running (when one could run) than a wet, soupy trail.  But in one spot the dust was really getting to me.  Hitting a runable section of the trail past the Temperance River aid station runners and hikers were kicking up quite the dust storm around me.  Although it has rarely bothered me in recent years I began to feel the familiar chest tightening and wheeze of asthma.  No big deal, I'll just take a few puffs from the inhaler I've had bouncing around in my pocket all day.  

I reached in my shorts pocket and felt a tubular item that I assumed was my inhaler but it felt smaller than usual.  "That's odd," I thought.  And when I looked in my hand I realized why it felt small: it was a lip balm, not a puffer.  I remembered that both were sitting on the table back at the hotel.  I grabbed one thinking that it was the other. 

Ultrarunning is about adaptation.  I wanted to alleviate a wheeze, but I ended up with well-balmed lips protected with SPF 40 instead.  Thankfully, after a bit of walking and strong exhaling, a minor wheeze remained just that -- minor.  

Coming into the last aid couple of stations I got updates on others.  Angela was the topic of most of our questions.  "Is she going to make the cut-offs?  Do you think she can do it?"  I kept getting word that "with five minutes she made the last aid station."  Deb Vomhof and I had seen her midway through our own race and wished her well.  She looked great, but I kept thinking "Would I be able to keep pushing it on this course for 30, 35, 37+ hours.  Angela is tough but that rock and root-infested wickedly wild clothesline of a ridgeline was a hard match for even the toughest of runners.

Stumbling through the last seven miles, primarily under the light of my headlamp, I kept thinking about that.  i was happy that I was coming to the end of what had been an exhausting day.  But I only had half the miles on my legs as did Angela. However, as I closed in on the finish line, passing the wedding reception that was blasting "Celebrate Good Times" from their disco ball enhanced sound-system, I forgot about the fatigue and enjoyed soaking in the finish line cheers.  With decent weather, the finish area was stilled filled with people, more so than other years.  

We exchanged war stories while welcoming the rest of our runners in.  "Do you think Angela will make it?"  As the clock closed in toward the 10 p.m. cut-off, we all thought about that last long section.  Seven miles up and down in the dark.  But then Kevin came around the side and let us know that she was making her way in.  Kevin switched from being a 100-mile DNF to being Angela's pacer for the last 12 miles.  

Angela, still fashionable as always in her red-tinted skirt to match her red 100-miler race number, came into the finish with time to spare.

Hugs, beers and more hugs and it was time to head to bed. I had an early date with the satellite radio.  Time to drive home and check on the Li'l Mister.  

Congrats to all the finishers, condolences to those who were forced to take a DNF this year, and as always, many thanks to the volunteers.  Results will be posted on the website:

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