Superior 100, September 2019 – The Fall

Superior 100, 2019

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This race report is dedicated to Jason Husveth, Joel Button, Matt Robertson, Noah Johnson, and my wonderful family!

Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) put it best of all:

“First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. And both are the mercy of God!”

This quote is of the utmost importance for my race.

You will understand why in a bit.

This year I trained smarter for the Superior 100. I felt faster than ever and far more knowledgeable. I accomplished some solid hill and stair training, a large number of Afton loops, and did some more serious lifting and core work.

This was to be my third time running the race! I had two prior finishes. I was ready!

My goal for Superior 2019 was 32 hours.

For me this was a decent goal. It would mean I would need to pick up the pace over night and the next day. And spend way less time in the aid stations. As many of you know, I’m a big talker and I love to sit by camp fires….so getting out of aid stations is actually a bit of a challenge for me. Especially at 3am!

My two previous Superior finishes resulted in a 37:30 the first year and 36:40 the second. Finishes, to be sure! But definitely towards the very back and getting dangerously close to that final 38-hour cut off. I was averaging 37 hours.

Long story short, I needed to do everything in my power this year to speed up.

The 3 goals: Make it to marathon start before the marathon start, finish in the light, and finish in 32 hours around 4pm on Saturday.

I woke up around 4:40am after a decent sleep. It was split into three distinct pieces over a 7-hour period. I slept better than usual the night before the race.

Matt R. came at 5:30 to take me up to Lutsen so that I could catch the bus to the start. He was up North with his family (close friends of ours) and planning to pace me for the second year in a row overnight. What a commitment! I am deeply grateful for Matt.

Matt was lively and engaging. Oh, and very importantly, he picked me up so that my wife and kids could sleep in.

Thank you Matt!

Matt dropped me off and we said goodbye until Finland. He said, “good luck”!

The morning was cool and I could feel the energy building.

I saw Allie by the buses. She was excited and nervous—I think we all were feeling that way!

I sat in the very back of the first bus. It was relatively quiet although one guy was extremely talkative. He had more to say about gear than I thought possible.

Jeff G and Brian L were sitting a couple of rows in front of me, the OG’s. It made me feel good to be on the bus with them. They represent many years of ultra running experience between them. Their presence offered an air of stability, or grounding.

The bus ride was good for centering. I watched the sun rise over Lake Superior, the Gitchi Gami. I looked around at the others and wondered what their upcoming day and a half, or more, would be like. Once the race starts we all go into our own worlds. We are together on the trail, but the real battle is inside. I wondered who would finish. It’s a natural thought when there is usually about a 65%-70% finish rate. I hoped we’d all have epic finishes.

My ride was filled with gratitude for the day, my family, the race, my pacers, the land, the water, and the First Nations People on whose land we would be running.  It was a time interspersed with prayer.

Then we arrived.

I saw many great people at Gooseberry Falls (the starting line). It was hopping. Music, laughter, coffee, activity.

But I was alone and pacing, as usual, for most of the time. Reid and Alex weren’t there right away so I walked around, sat down, walked around, smiled a lot, said hi to numerous people, smiled, sat down, then paced some more. I got my usual 2,000+ steps in before the race.

I saw Mike Asmus (who is really fast) and Nikki, and numerous other awesome people. I asked him if I drank Ensure, like him, if it would make me as fast as him. He said that it probably would. So, note for next time, Ensure has magical qualities.

I saw Reid and Alex.

Game time.

We strolled anxiously to the start.

I felt oddly confident but I also knew anything can happen. There are so many variables in this race. I knew I could make that 32-hour goal and finish in the light.

The first section to Split Rock aid station went fast. Reid, Aaron, Tim and I sprinted through most of it until we got our feet wet at the river crossing. Both of my feet were soaked, but no worries, I was expecting that.

Then came the bees! Emily was in front of me, then Reid, then Aaron, then Tim. Emily got stung several times, and so did Reid and Tim. She had to pull over a little ways on because of a swelling hand. I hoped she was ok. Later I heard stories of other getting stung, along with a very dangerous allergic reaction. The bees, or ground hornets, I believe, were out in full force.

On the way to Beaver Bay I ran very fast. I was with Reid for most of the time.

I ran along with gratitude in the beautiful, sunny morning.

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It went along swimmingly, that is, until the great fall. What a parallel to life!

It was around mile 18, I think. I decided to pass Reid, which was clearly against one of my main rules. The rule is simply don’t pass Reid. I was running smoothly and in a happy go lucky kind of way, and wham! I caught my foot on a rock or a root and went tumbling downhill onto a tree stump and into the vegetation and rocks on the side of the trail.

I went down so hard it knocked the wind out of me. My body immediately seized up and the impact induced cramping in my left quad, right calf, and my stomach. I couldn’t get up right away. Another guy and Reid were shocked and tried to help me but I asked them politely to move on while I gathered up my pride from the forest floor. This was the trail saying, “…Calm down, and take your time boy.” The cramping was intense and I had a hard time walking it off.

I hobbled into the Beaver Bay Aid station and put on a good face. I got food and water from Teresa—and kept moving through quickly. I mentioned to Craig about Emily’s bee stings and swollen hand.

I waved hi to Russ and Sandy, Alex’s wonderful parents. And kept on moving!

I wondered how Alex was doing and hoped it would make it to Beaver Bay soon.

On the way to Silver Bay, I kept up a good pace despite the cramping and pain. I think the adrenaline was kicked in and I was able to still move. I wasn’t sure if I had actually hurt myself or if it was mostly cramping. I couldn’t tell. I worried that some damage had been done.

At Silver Bay I changed my shoes and socks. Getting my A shoes on definitely was a boost. They were so much more comfortable and what I had been more used to recently. Dry feet felt great. I saw Kelly, Peter, Charlie (Reid’s Family), and Reid. He looked less than happy. The stings were bothering him along with some leg pain.

I looked at my watch and it was 1:15. I had gotten 25 miles in 5:10. That is super fast for me, and probably too fast for me during a 100 mile! But I was encouraged. It meant that even if things got worse I still had a good cushion of time.

The next section from Silver Bay to Tettegouche is a beast.

It’s almost 10 miles and lots of climbs.

It is my favorite section in terms of views and overall beauty, but its just plain difficult during the 100. It occurs for me (and for most runners) during the hottest part of the day and there are some pretty exposed spots where I tend to heat up.

The pain kicked in harder right away and the cramping worsened significantly.

I dragged my legs up the climbs and hobbled along.

It’s a warm, sunny, beautiful day though, and I remind myself to be grateful.

I see Seth, and several others. Everyone seems to be in a good mood, and in fairly good shape. A lot of people pass me, check on me, give me good vibes, and disappear down the trail.

Bean and Bear are just as lovely as I remember them from last year. If you have not laid eyes upon them I highly recommend that you do! Stunning. One of the best views in Minnesota.

Mt. Trudy is a climb, every time. By this point I was ready to be at the aid station, which I knew would be coming up.

I knew Liv and the kids would be there and this gave me a ton of extra strength. This was the peak of my day—seeing my family and having access to my crew bag.

I come into the aid station and I hear Liv. I see them and it feels oh so good. So much love and support. I see the kids and I am instantly filled with joy.

They are excited to see me too. And focused on the race—they are dialed in to what is going on and really paying attention. They give me hugs and check on my well being.

I sit in a chair (thanks to the volunteer who gave it to me) and start telling them what has been going on from the fall until now. They understand the gravity of this situation and ask good questions. They encourage me to keep moving.

We take several pictures; the nice women next to us help us out with a few pictures and with chips for the kids. It’s a little after 4:30. I am behind but I’m still doing just fine time-wise, but I am just moving slow.

There is so much action in a small place—Tettegouche is a great ball of activity.

It’s exciting but I know I need to leave. I’ve been doing a great job on aid stations so far, spending next to no time at them. I grab all of my gear, headlamp, battery pack, poles, light jacket, etc. I don’t grab my gortex jacket because there is no rain forecasted and the sun is out. It’s clear as can be…

A lot of love from the family, hugs and kisses despite my smell and sweatiness. I love them.

I see Peter S. the aid station captain. He tells me I’m first on the waitlist for the Arrowhead 135 in January (in my mind I say, oh fuck!), but I tell him thanks for the cool news. I set off again feeling full of love and hope.

On the way to County Road 6 things take a turn for the worse.

I’m so slow and dragging my legs. The Cramping is shooting back despite the food I ate and the water I took in. I pull myself up each climb. This section is always way harder than I remember. I’ll try to remember this for next time!

It starts to rain, a torrential downpour. Not good. Could’ve used that gortex jacket I had access to an hour ago. I get soaked.

I sit down to remove a rock from my shoe that I’ve had for several miles. But then I  can’t get my shoe back on because of a calf cramp. I literally can’t lift my foot off the ground. I freak out for a second.

A guy comes by and inquires about my state. I say I’m fine. I suppose this was a lie…

Dragging legs. Cramping out of control. Pain shooting through and up. The rippling in the right calf. The rippling in the left quad. Its madness. I’m done.

This is when I admit to myself that I cannot go on.

I make the decision to drop at County Road 6, if I ever arrive.

This sucks and no one is making me do it.

I imagine dinner with my family, a warm shower, a warm couch, a warm, cozy bed.  More good food, a beer.

My mind is set.

The view of the sunset from on high is stunning. It’s like the mists of Avalon in front of me. I stop and take in the view. What is time anyway? I am dropping so I take a moment to center.

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The views are magical.

This is a thin place and I see God in front of me.

I feel the thinness and I breathe. I gaze out into the wild.

I am ok with stopping. In this moment everything is just fine.

I come down out of the hills and forest into the aid station and sit down on a cold rock.

If there is a critical moment in my story, this is it:

I called Liv from my rock office and told her what was going on. I told her I needed to drop and that I was certain. She told me to just sit and rest and eat for a while and then call back.

I texted Liv (my wife) and Matt, my pacer, here is the exchange:

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I see Jason Husveth standing nearby.

Jason is a legend at Superior. I know him from his reputation and have met him briefly before. I trust him to tell me the truth. And I am scared of what the truth might be, so I hesitate.

I beckon to him and ask him if I can talk to him privately over by my rock. He comes right over and he listens to every detail of the sad story I tell about my day. He asks me lots of questions and thoughtfully considers each answer.

His advice is simple and profound. He says something like, “Go to Finland and pick up your pacer. You can go 3 miles per hour, which is actually slower than you have been going for much of the day, and take your time. Reassess when you get there. You’ve made it through the hardest part.”

Jason was patient, calm, and non-anxious.

I trusted what he said and understood it to be true.

The internal change began but I am stubborn and I fought it for a while.

I wind up on the other side of the aid station in the dark sitting on another cold rock.

Then Joel Button comes up. He sees me by myself and he checks on me. This is what Superior is like—you can’t sit by yourself and pout for too long. Someone will check on your wellbeing and make sure you have what you need.

Joel asks me about ibuprofen or Tylenol. I say I have not taken anything and I prefer not to. I don’t take that stuff normally so why start now? Plus what if my body doesn’t like it!

Well, it can’t get worse. I’m still mostly ready to throw in the towel.

My mental state at this point was: Jason was probably right but he doesn’t know how much pain I’m in. I’m still weighing the decision.

Fuck it. I pop one ibuprofen, for better or for worse.

I call Liv and she tells me Matt and her are on the way. I know this will take a while but I don’t care. I’m still may be dropping anyway, probably…maybe.

Well, now I call Joel, Doctor Joel. For obvious reasons!

Within 20 minutes I was feeling a lot better, 40% of the pain was gone. I had rested for almost an hour at CR 6, and eaten and drank fluids. I was somewhat replenished!

Liv and Matt arrive.

Matt is ready, we go. I’m super happy to see them. It’s amazing what seeing someone can do to your mood! I tuck this thought away with regard to my work and visiting people who are unseen and unheard in our community.

I’m feeling much better.

Mike Barton had told me that time was measured in minutes not hours at CR 6.

I had asked him for a few hours there as a joke (mostly).

Lisa and Jamison were very nice although I didn’t talk to them too much. They were busy running the aid station. And a great aid station it is!

I was there for more than 50 minutes total—that’s a long time, even in hundred-mile race time. And it was contrary to my goal of not spending time at aid stations or sitting down. However, it was absolutely what I needed.

Liv gave me a big hug and encourages me. She is concerned about my pain but she can tell that it’s probably going to fine. I’ve been through worse (County Road 6 in 2017, for example).

Matt and I set off. Within a few minutes we are going at a strong power hike. I’m feeling so much better its like magic. We cut through that section like butter.

We arrive at Finland and they have pizza. I am delighted! I have heard rumors of pizza at numerous aid stations but it never has materialized until now.

The food there is beyond what I was hoping for and it tasted better than I could have imagined.

I change socks, tee shirt.

Eat. Drink two or three cups of coke. Get some coffee.

Apply copious amounts of Vaniply. The chaffing has begun. Damn.

Once it starts you can’t just un-chafe yourself, you can only try to keep it at bay.

Matt’s in a fantastic mood. This helps my mood.

The pacer is the person focused on accompaniment. They are with you as the runner through all the ups and downs of the race.

After Matt paced me at Superior 2018 we really know how to work together on these sections that lay before us. We experience on our side.

We head out to Sonju. We go the long way. Well, it’s all long…

I am feeling good but this section is always long and hard for me.

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Matt talks, it helps. He talks and talks, stories and quotes, movies from the 80’s songs. He knows what I need, and that is to keep my mind off of the distance and be in the moment with him. The conversation keeps my mind off of the constant movement. We have a number of silent moments where we stop and turn our headlamps off while we look up at the stars. The night sky up North is unbelievable!

At Sonju I sit briefly, against my rules at this time of night and against my better judgment. I asked Matt to find me drugs. The pain has been creeping in and is getting to a point where I am struggling again. We always plan about a mile or two out, before we reach an aid station. What do I need and what do I need to do, and what does he need to do? We figure this out and execute our plan each time.

I get two Tylenols from a pacer who is there with her runner. She is glad to help.

We move quickly to Crosby. It’s good to be there.

I don’t sit and we pass through like a lightening bolt. Or really like a camel train.

The first 3-4 miles of that section are out of control ups and downs. These climbs are serious. The sun also rises during this time. On our last climb it peaks out from behind the distant trees and waters. Our spirits are lifted. I remove my Smartwool layer as it begins to warm up.

Then we settle in for the long haul. The total section is 9.9 miles. The next 5 or 6 miles are long and slow. The sun is still rising.

We get through to Sugarloaf and take a few minutes to eat the world’s best sausages.

We get back on trail in like 4 minutes. I start to think about cutoffs although I am not in danger at this time. Still, I’m here way later than I had hoped. But then I remembered I nearly dropped so this is all bonus time anyway.

The Sun is out in all its glory.

We speed up towards Cramer Road and to Noah!

I see Noah right away and he is ready. I think he had been there a while. He is such a conscientious guy. His friends are all there. Everyone gives super nice high fives.

We make a quick hand off. Meet Jesse, Matt’s friend who has been volunteering there.

I get some key food items and leave some wet and dirty things.

I actually have no memory of what, exactly.

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I say good bye and thank you to Matt with a hug. Noah and I head towards Temperance. Temperance comes quickly. Noah is in great spirits and telling me about Duluth and life, and asking lots of questions. Its so good to see him! We have been friends since 2004 but I have only seen him a few times in the last few years. He paced me at Superior 2018 though, so we were ready for this together. Having both of my pacers for the second time was awesome—they were so ready for all of this!

We arrive at Sawbill really quick. 19 minute splits average for the last section which is flying for me at this point. We flew up Carlton and down the other side to Sawbill. This section was a whirlwind. I kept telling Noah I could run and it felt like I was sprinting. Like a gazelle, as my friend Phil who paced me the first year, liked to say.

Super nice volunteers awaited us. We had a very humorous chat with one about my “mental acuity”.

I saw Jason Husveth, Joel, and Kyle, and many other familiar faces there. I think most of them were Carl’s crew!

I told Jason and Joel that I fucking loved them. I know some people don’t like the foul language, but I had no filter at this point. And seeing them again after so many hours was wonderful. I was going to drop! But I was still going. And this was in large part due to their help.

I could see in their faces that they were happy to see me still on course. I was delighted to see the guys that had helped me out, so long ago, there and cheering.

I saw Carl Bliss and his brother, Nathan, getting on course just in front of me. This brought me a great sense of gladness and a burst of energy. Carl was going to do this!

Maria Barton was very encouraging! I had seen her several times throughout the last 30 hours and she was a burst of energy each time. Thanks Maria!

I could not keep up a good pace during this section. Noah was extremely encouraging and told me that we were ok time wise. Just keep moving. It’s a relatively short section but it just keeps going. You get closer and closer to Oberg and then you realize it is still out of reach.

Then Oberg! Yes! The feeling of the final victory lap. Its still light but sunset is not far off.

We see Carl and he’s got his whole crew surrounding him. He looks good and ready to finish. I wave and Noah and I head out into the final 7.1 miles. We set off knowing that it will get dark but that we will finish on this night. I make my peace with that.

Moving into the Oberg section I feel good. I hold on to every last second of the light.

Carl passed us with his wife and Joel Button. But then we passed them as Carl was taking a short break. I wished him well (and hoped he was ok).

We headed up Moose and my legs devour it. I felt like it was certainly hard but the ups were fine with me. My chaffing is out of control. But I try to think about something else.

We descend and then trek onward. Before Mystery the sun fully sets and I turn on my headlamp. Noah turns on his too. We knew this was coming.

He’s in high spirits and keeps turning around and freaking out, “You’re gonna do it buddy! This is happening!”

I look for John’s stone by the tree where he passed away a couple of years ago. I find it and say a short prayer for his family and friends.

Mystery takes forever. We pass a hundred miler and he is looking a little wobbly. We start running fast. We don’t see too many others.

We move over the ground and begin the descent to the Poplar River.

That blessed beautiful sound of pounding water!

Noah runs ahead a little and I run across the bridge alone. It is a sacred moment and I breathe it in. A extra holy moment in a race filled with many sacred moments. Noah is a Lutheran Pastor and spiritually in tune. I think he can tell which moments I may want to savor and so he acts accordingly.

We run down Ski Hill Road towards the finish. We pass Jason Husveth and he yells and we yell! We pass a few other runners. This is the time I have been waiting for.

Noah drops back and I run down into Caribou Highlands behind the pool. I hear Craig announce my name and I come into the finish line.

My family yells and Reid and Alex and Matt yell, and I hear a roar!

Bill Pomeranke is there to put my metal on. Thanks Bill!

My kids come up to greet me with Audrey and I give hugs and high fives.

I hug Liv. She is all smiles. Seeing my family at the finish was a beautiful and wonderful moment.

I see Anne and John and they congratulate me. Great to see them!

I see the guys and I give hugs and more high fives. I nearly lose it when I see Matt—he spent 35 miles with me the night before and is a big reason why I am standing here at the finish. I give Noah a hug. Matt and Noah gave their whole weekend for this and I thank them.

I hear a bit about Reid and Alex’s respective journeys.

I sit down at the row of finisher chairs. A sight I have been waiting for!

I take a load off. Noah gets me some great chilly and I talk to everyone.

I talk to Sandra and Liv. I thank Sandra for making this journey and letting Matt spend so much time out there with me.

I take my shoes off and my feet look like a war zone. My toes are badly beaten. The left big toe toenail is black and blue completely. After a while I make my way to the changing room by the indoor pool. I feel bad walking through the place with my body and feet in the condition they are. I change and immediately begin to feel 19% better. I rock my sweatshirt. Back out on the party deck I take a seat by the fire and put my feet up. They steam off a bit and I am on the fast track to heaven.

Liv sits down with me while the kids run around. They guys are all talking and more runners are coming in. Each time the crowd goes wild! Liv and I talk for a while and I am so glad she is there. We are all happy.

Jesse, Matt’s friend, gets me some kind of IPA that was brewed either in, or very near, heaven. I sat there sipping my beer with my feet steaming by the fire and felt euphoric.

What just happened? How in the world?

Questions to ponder tomorrow.

We get up and grab all of my drop bags (thanks Matt!). Liv gets the car and we pile in.

Finally we head back to Blue Fin and get the kids to sleep. I take a shower and crack another beer. It goes down not very easily. I do a pretty good job unpacking my drop bags.

I say a prayer of gratitude and then sleep takes hold.

First came the fall, and then the recovery. Both are the mercy of God. Indeed.

Post-race:

I reached out to Jason Husveth after the race to thank him and his reply said, “I am glad to pass on to you what has been given to me so freely by so many. Thank you for asking for help, it is as inspiring as your grit and resolve.” How profound. In our culture and context we are taught not to ask for help. At least men are. If I hadn’t have asked I would have dropped out of the race. If I hadn’t had accepted the help I would have dropped. This community freely gives of itself. No one is turned away when help is needed.

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