By now most of you know the outcome of my first 100 mile trail run at the Superior 100 and have said what a great race I had. But it was with the inspiration and support of so many people that it was more of a group effort that got me to the finish line. Therefore this is an acknowledgement to everyone involved and my journey to get there in addition to being a race report.
While I knew some day I wanted to attempt a hundred miler I really hadn’t decided when or where. After finishing July’s Dances with Dirt 50k, I was trying to figure out what race I’d do next when I remembered an email from Amy’s Play Group (APG) member Karla Bishop offering everyone a place to stay for the Yellowstone – Teton Endurance Race relay or solo 100 miler. Seeing fellow ultra runner Tracy Neupert (APG) was signed up for her first 100 it got me thinking, if Tracy is going for it why shouldn’t I? I had just done a 50k which would be a good foundation for my training so during a lunch run I ran the idea past friend and coworker Dave Nowotny. He not only supported the idea but said he would even be willing to crew for me (800 miles away)! Now the wheels were really turning, however upon further investigation we found that Yellowstone is a road race and I couldn’t see going that far on pavement (especially in such a beautiful area). So we starting looking for others that were a little closer and of course the Superior 100 (actually 103.3 official miles) came up along with the Hallucination 100 in MI.
I started asking about Superior at a Lapham Peak Trail Runner’s Wednesday night run and found Kevin Grabowski was making his third attempt at Superior with one DNF while Tina Heil had a 37 hour finish last year and was going back for more. How you could you not be inspired by this even if it showed the difficult level of the course? Then on a lark, Brad Birkholz said he might be willing to pace for me. I ran this by Dave and he said he could crew but could not go up until Friday. Now I would need a ride up and Tina came through big, not only with a ride but with a place to stay Thursday night and offering crew support until Dave got there. With everything falling into place and people to mentor me on the course how could I not sign up?
As word got around people were surprised maybe even amused that my first 100 would be at Superior, known as one of the more difficult and hilly races in the country with 20,000 feet of elevation gain (Rugged, Relentless, Remote is their slogan). In fact when Angela Barbera (a Superior veteran) heard, she laughed at me and bet I couldn’t finish it! She then asked what my goal was and laughed more when I said 30 hours. We ended up with 2 bets for three 6-packs of my choice (Saranac Carmel Porter, not available in WI). Angela claims this was to motivate me and had laughed because she knew I liked to run fast. This was not only twice as far as I had ever run but was totally out of my element as I like shorter races like the 50k where I can run the whole time. She also knew that if I started out as fast as I normally do I would never make it to the finish. She did offer me a bright headlamp to wear for night running (but that may have been an attempt to sabotage me).
As I learned more about the race from Kevin and Tina and looked up training advice on the internet I found there were 3 changes I’d need in my running: more miles, more hills and a slower pace. The miles and pace were not too difficult to implement but the hills would require work. Thanks to Amy Sanborn (APG) for inviting me to join her Skinny Girlz training group for hill repeats at Elver Park (even if it was the day after the Great Taste Midwest Beer Festival). That week I also got a great training tip from Darren Fourtney (APG and 2x Badwater 135 finisher). Since much of this race would require walking up hills, he recommended walking on the treadmill at a 15% incline. I added this to my training the next day and could feel the calves burning in less than a minute. My long run ended up being a 31 loop night run on a 1 mile trail I created on my father’s land, followed by 16 more loops less than 12 hours later.
Race preparation consumed much of my free time, not only the training but figuring out my gear and nutritional needs as well as mentally learning and preparing for the course. Finally the last piece of the puzzle fell in place when Brad confirmed that he would not only pace but be able to crew from the start. I think everyone was a bit bewildered with the amount of gear and supplies I had as I was prepared for everything and even had nutritional logs and instruction sheets for filling my flasks. My main energy supply would come from 3 flasks that I would carry: Gu premixed with water, Perpetuem, and Gatorade with S-caps and chia seeds.
The weather forecast was great, low 40s to the low 70s with light wind and no rain (when are forecasts correct)? Surprisingly I was very calm the 24 hours prior to the race but still only got about 3 hours of decent sleep. Race morning was cool, I lined up about 15 feet back so that I wouldn’t get drawn out too fast at the start. Kevin was ahead at the front line. He had told me not to run faster than a 10 minute pace. I hit the 3 mile mark at 29:55, right on target, but Kevin was nowhere to be seen. I passed numerous runners as I power walked up hills while they walked at a normal pace. At mile 7 I tripped for the first time and went down hard, I figured it was the first of many. I finally caught up to Kevin at the first aid station, mile 9.3. This was a no crew access station but I had a plan, and my first race failure. Paul Heil was volunteering at the aid station and I had given him a frozen bottle of Perpetuem to give me to dump in a flask. Unfortunately the cooler temps had the bottle still frozen so I left without it. I had a backup plan though and chewed a couple of Perpetuem tablets as I headed after Kevin.
I quickly caught up to him and ran behind him for a mile or so. He slowed up to climb over a high log and I had to step back to avoid being skewered by the spears he was carrying for protection from the wolves (he called them trekking poles). As I started over the log I caught my leg which caused my hamstring to cramp up, a bad sign I thought. I made it over just as a guy behind us said “guys, the trail turns here.” I hurried back over the log with my hamstring still cramping and headed after the other runner as Kevin was busy trying to bush wack a new trail ahead with his spears.
A few miles later, running alone, I slowed up when a large black animal appeared on the trail ahead of me. I believe I heard Kevin behind me, run away screaming, but I was quick to recognize it as a giant black lab with a stick in its mouth and a goofy look on its face (probably wondering what all the screaming was about). I continued past it and several yards later its owner came around the corner. That was it for my wildlife encounters in over 103 miles of wilderness. I made it to the first crew accessible aid station (mile 19.4) and Brad quickly replaced my hydration pack and nutrition flasks, I was out in under 2 minutes munching on a breakfast cookie from my wife, Trish.
I ran/walked the next 40 miles in a variety of weather as it constantly changed from hot sun to cloudy with a cool breeze to chilling rain showers. I felt no pressure other than to finish and slowed to take in some of the hill top views. I came to the downhill known as the “drainpipe” and picked my way down over wet rocks. I was pleased to find it was not as bad as expected but that was turning out to be par for most of the course. While the trail was filled with roots and rocks (sometimes the size of small cars) it was not as bad as I expected. Nor were the inclines and declines as steep and numerous as I though they would be. Since I had been expecting the worst it actually made things seem somewhat easy for much of the race. Not that there weren’t steep technical spots, a few times I saw my pace was barely over 2 miles an hour and that was on downhills! At one point I backtracked, thinking I had missed a turn when I came across ribbons on the wrong side of the trail. But it turned out they were markings for something else. And then I misread the signs and made a wrong turn as I came to the mile 50 aid station but only lost a total of several minutes between the 2 errors.
I covered the first 50 miles in just about 10 hours. This had me thinking, if I could do the next 40 miles in 10 hours, I might break 24 overall (that has won the race some years). But I knew I had a long night and much fatigue ahead of me. At the Finland aid station (mile 50.6) I was greeted by Dave, Angela and Marty Kanter-Cronin and took time for a change of socks, shoes, cap and shirt as well as relubing different body parts. Angela attempted to sabotage me here by feeding me a cheese quesadilla (actually she was very helpful and got me drinks while I changed). This was my longest aid station stop at just under 10 minutes.
It was at this point I was allowed to have a pacer as it was near dusk so Dave joined me for the next 12 miles. This was a fairly runable section and we kept up a decent pace that only slowed as it got darker and harder to see the trail. By now I was starting to get some soreness in my quads but really only felt it on the descents so it didn’t affect me too much.
We came into Crosby-Manitou (mile 62.2) and again were greeted by Angela and Marty along with Matt Patten and Brad. It was great seeing an aid station manned by the LPTR gang and I spent a few extra minutes here eating and talking. It did turn out to be my biggest mistake of the race however. While talking with everyone I noticed I was blinding them all with my headlamp and made an attempt to turn it off. I gave up since we were about to leave but was unaware that it had different brightness settings controlled by the main switch and I had dimmed it (never try something new on race day). As Brad and I headed out I noticed it had dimmed and thought it was the batteries. The dim light made it near impossible to run on the technical trail. There would be short sections that were obstacle free but as soon as you got a pace going you had to walk again to avoid tripping on tree roots. I realized I would now be walking most the night even though I had the energy and legs to run. Through out the night I tried to employ a power walk and told Brad to remind me if I ever slowed down. Even at a walk we both constantly tripped and stubbed our toes, followed by curses about the pain.
Sometime in the night I noticed the pain in my quads was gone but it was replaced by a terrible shin splint like pain in my lower legs along with a pain on the top of my right foot. It was especially bad on down hills and I cursed any with high down steps as they hurt the most. At one point we discussed the idea of never deciding whether or not you would do a race again the day of the race. However I told Brad it was unlikely I would do this one again since I was not likely to get better weather and therefore would not PR. It was in these long dark hours that I was caught by several runners (whom I assumed were just younger with better night vision) and dropped from about 6th to 12th place. The only complaint I got from Brad was that he was falling asleep on his feet (I must have been going too slow). I never had an issue with sleep as I had avoided caffeine until about 11pm that night.
As dawn came I was able to run again in the light but it was always difficult to get going after an aid station as the muscles tightened up standing still. Earlier I had told Brad that my mantra - If you don’t feel like walking you aren’t running hard enough. If you are walking, you aren’t suffering enough - doesn’t apply to 100s and certainly not to the Superior. Here if you didn’t walk the up hills you weren’t going to make it to the finish and by now even walking hurt. But it was somewhere in the early morning hours that I told Brad I had to run even though it hurt. I didn’t want to finish and feel like there were parts where I could have gone harder, especially if I got caught by someone (Kevin was still out there). The most pain still came in my lower legs on the down hills and on the steeper steps (rocks) I would look for something to grab onto to lower myself down. Then with about 12 miles left I got a second wind (or maybe it was the Aleve I finally was persuaded to take) and was able to run strong.
We were in and out of the last aid station in about a minute as we started the climb up Moose Mountain with 7 miles to go. Maybe it was just the point in the race but this seemed as bad a climb as any I had done. By the time we reached the top I was spent, it took all I had to start running again. My lower legs ached again but we continued on and in the middle of the woods came across Dave waiting for us about 3 miles from the finish. He congratulated me on completing 100 miles but I still had 3 miles to go. At this point in the race having someone new took my mind off the monotony of the past 25 hours and as we ran he snapped some pictures. The last few miles went by quickly and soon we came out to a gravel road leading to the finish. Knowing we had less than a half mile to go we picked it up and I was surprised to see I could still run an 8:15 pace. The finish line was quiet with just a few volunteers but they cheered and rang cow bells as I crossed the line, I had conquered Superior.
We sat down and I was a little dismayed as there was no food available, not even aid station food. Brad mentioned they don’t bring the food out until the bulk of finishers are coming in, so I had a cup of lemonade but that was it. I’m sure this factored into my passing out a ½ hour later, verifying that I had left it all on the course as is always my goal. It was after that Dave brought in my nutrition bag and I gulped an Ensure since I hadn’t used any during the race.
I had gotten through the whole race with just the one light cramp, no blisters, no real raw spots and ended up finishing in 26:22, 12th place. It was good enough to beat the women’s course record, but then I was beat by 3 women in the process! After being up for 30 hours straight (and 26 hours of running and walking) I was beat and it showed. Dave took Brad back to mile 62 to get his car and I was falling asleep alone in the pool room of the hotel when my angels of mercy, Angela and Christine Crawford, appeared. They were staying in the host hotel and offered me their bed to crash in. After a 4 hour nap I was ready to join the finish line festivities that were just getting under way. A few long awaited beers helped relieve some of the aches while some real food reenergized me. We were lucky to have Deb Vomhof offer us a place to stay as I had originally planned on starting back that night with Dave.
The next morning on the way home after a hearty breakfast, Brad mentioned Mary Gorske’s rule: you can eat anything you want for 24 hours after a race. I said “that not fair, it’s already been 24 hours!” After some thought I came up with a better rule of thumb: you can eat anything you want for each mile you covered in a race, that was 103 hours for me.
I was hampered the next 2 weeks by the lower right leg shin pain but after an x-ray was cleared by my Dr to run again. Earlier I had said I was not likely to do this event again but then I think I could take off a couple hours by being able to run at night, so one never knows. Of course everyone says any other 100 miler will be a cakewalk in comparison so I think I better find another one first. Thanks again to everyone mentioned above that helped me through this, its great to be able to call you friends and/or family.