Friday, September 18, 2015

2015 Superior 50 Mile Race Report

"O'Doyle rules!"

Someone shouted shortly after race director John Storkamp counted us down from five to "Go!" at 5:30 AM outside the Finland Rec Center. I laughed my ass off, for reasons that only a small number of inner-circle friends would understand. It was the first of many laughs that I would have that day and a great way to start the race, in a fantastic mood. I started off in the way back of the pack. I didn't know how my calf was going to hold up and I sure as hell wasn't going to test it on the road in Finland. John waited up at the trail junction to see everyone off. I thanked him and somehow restrained myself from making a smartass comment about how I was running "just the fifty." I was one of the last of 150 some runners to enter the woods for a long day on the legendary Superior Hiking Trail. This is my first ever race report, so it's super long and probably very boring, overly dramatic, and filled with dweebery. There's also a lot of swearing, so if you want your kids to read it, just read it out loud off your phone or tablet and adjust the content accordingly. Feel free to send me videos of yourself struggling to find appropriate substitutions.

Race Start
(Photo: Kelly Doyle)


Training

To say that I was excited is a huge understatement. I had trained all year for this race. Yes, there were other races that I trained for specifically and did along the way, but it was all part of a plan to be ready for this race. For the most part, things had gone very well for me over the course of the year. I got my first 50 mile finish at Zumbro in April, which was especially important, as I did not have a qualifier for the Superior 50 mile race, since the only other ultra I had run was Surf the Murph in October 2014, where I DNF'd after 34 miles due to a flare up of an old hamstring injury (which was sustained 2-years earlier during a kickball game). As soon as the results for Zumbro were posted, I signed up for the Superior 50 miler. Fortunately for me, it didn't fill up as fast as the 100 miler, and of course this year, only a portion of those who signed up for the Moose Mountain Marathon got into that race due to the new lottery system. I was not one of them. Yes, I had initially signed up for the lottery to get into the marathon, because A: all my friends were doing it, and B: I wanted to get a guaranteed qualifier for the other Superior races. The marathon is a lifetime qualifier for the 50 and 100 mile race. But to tell you the complete honest truth, I was secretly hoping to not get picked for the marathon lottery, so that I'd be "forced" to register for the 50 instead. Wish granted! Since Zumbro happened more than a week after registration had been opened up to everyone, I had to make sure that I finished that race so that I could use it as a qualifier and sign up before the remaining slots filled. So the goal was just to finish, which I did, but I felt like I really half-assed it, and wondered what I could do on that course if I had tried harder. I think there were still about 40 spots open when I finally signed up for Superior. But up until then, I was checking Ultrasignup every single day, multiple times a day, to see how many spots were still left. Obsessed? No, not at all.

I got my first official 50K finish the week after Zumbro at Trail Mix, with a pretty decent time, considering that I was not conditioned to run ultras on back to back weekends. It did catch up with me, and I had to take it easy for a couple weeks. From that point on, it was all about roads, flatland, monotony, and relentless pounding, in preparation for the FANS 24-Hour race. I'm not going to lie, training for that race flat out sucked. I had a lot more fun climbing snow-covered hills at Murphy-Hanrehan in February with temperatures well below zero, in preparation for Zumbro. I don't like roads, and I don't like flat terrain. The one exception to this was the day that I joined Julio Salazar and company for the Break the Stigma run across Minnesota for mental health awareness. That day we ran from Gear West in Long Lake to the Capitol Building in St. Paul, with an hour stop at Mill City Running in Minneapolis. I think our total moving time was about 6 hours. That served as a nice training run for FANS and I have a lot of fond memories of it. I had a blast with those guys. Overall though, the build-up to FANS was not very enjoyable. I DNF'd several training runs, mostly due to stomach issues and not being adapted to the rising temperatures. This summer was filled with hot and humid days, as it often is in Minnesota, but this year was a little worse than usual. Side rant: to all those who say, "Oh, you should try living in blah blah city, where it's always hot and humid." Yeah, well, if it's always hot and humid, your body will adapt to it. When you live somewhere that's bitterly cold and dry for 6 months out of the year, and then it shifts to being just like your hot and humid climate, things are a little bit tough for awhile. The weather is also very inconsistent, so you can have a string of several 90+ degree days with dew points in the 70's, and then the temp will plummet down into the 60's for a few days, before going back up, which makes it even harder to adapt. In fact, many people never fully adapt to the heat and humidity of a Minnesota summer. End rant.

I did well at FANS for my first go. Finishing with 91.7 miles, I was short of my goal of 100 miles, but I learned a lot about myself. The day before that race, my wife's position was eliminated and she lost her job. "We can and we will" became my mantra. As in, "We can and we will" make it through this hardship. "We can and we will" conquer this challenge. "We can and we will" overcome the struggles that come with mental illness. Though those words were burning in my mind as I laid in the tent at 10 PM, shivering while bundled up in a sleeping bag, even though it was still 75 degrees and humid, I could not get up. I had stripped down and my wife had covered me in ice cold rags to help bring my core body temp back down to normal, while my kids tried to sleep on the air mattresses next to me. After 2 Aleve donated by Brian Klug and another 45 minutes had passed, I - having just read Scott Jurek's "Eat and Run" - envisioned his legendary training partner and pacer Dusty Olson standing outside of the tent saying, in a drill sergeant-esque sort of way, "Get the fuck up Steve. You're not gonna reach your goal lying there on your sorry ass, crying inside your tent. Get the fuck up." And so I did. And I ran another 37 miles throughout the night and into the next morning which included one hell of a thunderstorm. I have to give major props to Brian for pacing me at that race and helping me work through my issues. He also paced two others at FANS and ended up running over 50 miles! He's truly a class act and a fantastic runner. There are so many other people that deserve thanks and praise for FANS. But this report is not about FANS. Rather, FANS was always about this. Even though it was flat as a pancake and nothing but pavement and gravel, it helped prepare me better for Superior more than anything else, because I found out what I was made of. I really learned how to endure at FANS. Despite failing to meet my goal, just knowing that I could come back from the dead, rise out of the ashes, and keep moving forward was a huge, huge confidence booster. There's a lot more to say about FANS, but I will leave it at that for now.

Throughout the summer, I ran a few short races and one long one, the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon which goes from Duluth to Carlton. I had a blast during that race and finished with a pretty solid time of 5:54. I met Midwest ultrarunning-speedster Jake Hegge at the finish line there. "Nice hat!" he said, and I turned around and saw that he was wearing the same Break the Stigma trucker hat. We chatted for a bit and I asked him if he had run the race and how it went. He modestly says, "It was good. 3:25, so it was good."
"Shit." That's all I could say. I was stunned. I also didn't know who I was talking to at the time. Later on, I felt like a dick for forgetting to say, "congratulations", but I was kind of in a fog after having just finished and I was dehydrated, hungry, and it was super hot out. Still, no excuse. Congrats Jake! BTW, Jake smashed the Superior 100 mile course record this year by over 90 minutes.

I made a couple training mistakes in August. Namely running 2 of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series races: The Hyland 7-mile, and Murphy 5K. I have very little self restraint during races like this. I ran both of those races balls out. Why? Oh, it's because they're short, so it's OK. Stupid. Short races hurt more than long ones, because of the high intensity. My average HR for the 5K was 180! That is far too close to max HR. And I paid for it, by pulling my right calf muscle on a short run 2 days later, 16 days before the race I had been training so hard for. Great. Nothing like a forced, super low mileage taper. Prior to that, my hip had been all jacked up, most likely from running the Hyland 7-mile race too hard. Next year you can expect to see me at those same races, but only as a volunteer. I will never run another short race again, unless it's to help motivate a friend or family member, one that is slower than I am.

It wasn't all bad though. It gave me some time to settle into my new role as a board member of the Break the Stigma Project. I was very humbled and honored when Julio asked me to join. I'm excited about the future of the project. Things are starting to take off with the podcasts and we've got a lot of other things in the works. It's exciting! I also worked on an app that provides me with some analytical tools and insights that are not available on popular workout tracking apps or online services. Time will tell if anyone else finds it useful. I have to finish it first, and my track record for doing that isn't very good.

Weekly Mileage Totals
(16 weeks up to and including the race - I used a race plan from SageRunning.com)


Preparations

On Friday, the day before the race, I was probably at about 85% of my potential fitness level. This perceived 15% fitness deficit became an integral part of my race plan, and I was very nervous about making the intermediate cutoffs at aid stations. You have 16 hours and 30 minutes to finish the race, but if you go out at that pace, you will never make the intermediate cutoffs. I had definitely lost fitness from having to sit around and baby the calf injury. I didn't even want to try biking. I was just too nervous about aggravating it. I had seen my chiro 4 times in the two weeks leading up to the race. That guy is a wizard. Still, I was very worried. 2 days before the race, I couldn't run for more than 50 yards up any incline. The flats and down were fine, but even the smallest inclines were still giving me trouble and would force me to walk. Luckily, I was able to walk quickly without any issues.

Despite this setback, I was determined to be as ready as possible. I did this by focusing on the mental aspects of the race. I knew that I really had to get my shit together this time. I learned from the FANS 24-hour race that "winging it" is a really bad idea, especially when it comes to nutrition and hydration. I bought all my nutrition, supplies, and drop bag containers well in advance. Now the tricky part comes in deciding what to put in each one. If I just shoved everything I had into each drop bag container, it would be a pain to find that one thing that I actually do need during the race. It's also expensive. Thank you Zumbro for that lesson.

Drop bag for the Sugarloaf aid station
(This was one of two "mother load" drop bags that I had on the course)


Getting in and out of aid stations quickly was going to be critical to my race. As I mentioned, I was really worried about the cutoffs, so there would be no fucking around this time. This doesn't mean that I couldn't have a nice little chat with the awesome volunteers. It simply means that for each aid station, I would need to know the answers to the following questions:
  • What is available to me? 
  • What am I going to need when I get there?
  • When am I going to arrive?
  • What am I going to do when I get there?
Essentially, it just means that I need to plan ahead for aid station stops, so that I don't end up wandering around, getting side-tracked and forgetting something important. Figuring out the answers to most of those questions is pretty easy.
  • What is available to me? 
    • This is a first class event put on by John and Cheri Storkamp of Rocksteady Running. They have pretty much everything you could possibly need at each aid station. The only challenge is knowing what kinds of foods your stomach will agree with.
  • What am I going to need when I get there?
    • The simple answer is usually a refill on fluids, and for me, some supplemental nutrition. Other things might be a change of socks, reapplication of Body Glide, a headlamp, etc.
  • When am I going to arrive?
    • This is the hard part
  • What am I going to do when I get there?
    • This is important. You can have everything planned out, but if you fail to execute it, it could negatively impact your race. Remind yourself of what you're going to do as you approach the aid station.
Wait, it sounds like I'm writing an ultrarunning field guide. I'm not qualified for that! This was just my own strategy. One that I hoped would work.

Now for the dweebery. Knowing when I would arrive at each aid station was tough to determine. I looked at race results from previous years and was pretty intimidated. I tried to find someone that I thought was 15% better than me. Once I found someone, I started searching on Strava and GarminConnect for recorded activities from the 2014 race. I found an activity on GarminConnect for someone who had a similar finish time to the person that I targeted. I pulled the mile splits into a spreadsheet and used that to predict my own mile splits, aid station splits, estimated aid station arrival times, and final finish time, all with a performance deficit of 15%. You can read more about my predictions at the bottom of this post.

Aid stations with predicted ETAs and cutoff times

Alright, let's get on with it already! Friday at noon, my wife and I left the house with our two dogs and picked up our kids at school and made the 5 hour drive up to Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen. My one daughter helped my wife get the car unloaded and my other daughter helped me check into the race and place my drop bag containers in the appropriate locations, a very important task! I picked up my race bib from my buddy Jason Hara, who was volunteering and running the marathon the next day. Seeing a friend was the perfect way to start the race weekend. I bought a sweet t-shirt with a wicked design on it, and after getting settled into the town-home, my wife and kids went into town to get groceries, and I headed off to the pre-race briefing. John reminded us of some important things, of which my favorite was to be on the lookout for the people wearing pink ribbons, as those are the hundred mile racers. My wife and kids snagged a table at Moguls while everyone was at the briefing. No waiting for me. Sorry guys. I had some potato skins, a burger and fries and it was good. I've started to realize that heavy carb loading doesn't always work for everyone, including me. Running slower and at a lower effort, you burn a lot less sugar than you would if running a shorter race, including marathons. We went back to the town-home and I said goodnight to my wife and kids. My wife reassured me that I had done everything that I could to prepare for this. I set multiple alarms for 2:30 AM so that I could eat a little something and have a cup of coffee before I had to get on the shuttle bus at 3:45 AM that would take us to the race start. I went to bed at 9:30 PM, but I'm not sure if I ever really slept. Before I knew it, it was 2:00 AM, so I just got out of bed and turned the alarms off. A bagel, Honey Stinger waffle, and a cup of coffee and then it was out the door and onto the bus. Jake Hegge had already finished the 100 mile race with a new course record, and his buddy Michael Borst would finish in second place, well before we even started the 50-mile race. OK, it's time.


The Race

I entered the SHT at the way back of the pack. The first 3 miles were slow, dark, and chilly. The temp was probably around 40 degrees. I had a jacket and gloves on, and I'm glad that I did. I know that I get cold in these conditions, since I'm not fast enough to be generating adequate amounts of body heat when I run. These first few miles were pretty unremarkable for me. I don't remember anything particularly challenging about them, but I did know that the pace was, in my opinion, too slow to get the job done. I kept glancing down at the aid station cutoff times written on my arm. We were less than an hour in and I'm already freaking out about the cutoffs. However, I did the math and knew that I'd still make it to that first aid station close to my projected ETA, and then I could simply fly through that aid station and go at my own pace. After all, it's far better to start too slow than too fast. However, I didn't have to wait for the aid station to start going faster. The people at the front of the pack that I was in made a wrong turn and everybody followed, including me. We were heading out towards an island, and it was just beautiful with the light of dawn and the fog all around. It looked like something out of an epic fantasy film, but with pure natural beauty, no special effects or CG needed. Then someone near me shouted, "You're going the wrong way!" It was my good friend Wendi Baldwin. She had trained for this race on the SHT and ran this section just a few weeks prior. As we turned around, I went from being the caboose of this pack to the leader of it. I quickly pulled away and eventually caught up to the next pack. Their pace seemed pretty good to me, for being early in the race. I settled in with them and we quickly reached the Sonju Lake Aid Station. I looked at my watch and I was 5 minutes ahead of my projected arrival time. "Cool", I thought. "Let's see if I can add some more cushion to that." I got out of there quickly, as I had planned, and was now out in front of that pack that I had fallen in with just before Sonju. Here I ran mostly at my own pace all the way to Crosby, passing a few people and also getting passed by some. It was pretty uneventful, but the trail was gorgeous and still very runnable. I was still cold and kept my jacket and gloves on. I ended up reaching the Crosby-Manitou Aid Station now 6 minutes ahead of my overall projected ETA. I only gained 1 minute on that section, but was totally fine with that.

After reaching Crosby, I knew there was a long grind from there to Sugarloaf. I knew this because Alex Kurt told me so at the Break the Stigma trail race in June. I also read about it in race reports. I had actually hiked the first few miles of this section myself, back in August. I had planned to run it, but I seriously jacked up my hip running on the trail by Bean and Bear lakes, which is part of the 100 mile race route. After I hobbled back to my car, I drove up to Crosby-Manitou State Park and decided to go for a little hike. I'm glad that I did. It helped prepare me for the race, just knowing what the trail would be like.

Leaving the Crosby aid station, the trail starts off pretty easy and is very runnable. Wendi caught up to me here, and as we were running along I told her that we were on a good pace and ahead of the cutoffs. She said that that was good and "Let's not do anything to screw that up." I ended up losing her on the first descent down toward the Manitou River though. I looked back and she wasn't there. I started wondering if I was going too fast. I was feeling good, so I quickly put those doubts aside and just went with it. And even though I wouldn't see Wendi again, I knew that she would have a great race. Now this is where you get your first real taste of the ruggedness that the SHT has to offer. On the first real technical rocky descent, I was following someone down, and we were going at a reasonable pace, when someone else just comes flying down the hill, dancing atop the rocks. "On your left!" he shouted, and I was just amazed by how quickly he was moving. I thought that running like that, he should have been up near the front of the pack. I ended up passing him on a flat section before the Caribou river, and never saw him again. I wondered if he had beat himself up by being a bit reckless early on, because I've NEVER done that, and I hoped that he would still have a good race.

Rocky descent down to the Manitou River

The climb up and away from the Manitou river winded me, but I recovered in a decent enough amount of time. Having hiked this section previously really helped. I knew that the first views of Lake Superior were coming and they did not disappoint. Then we descended down into the lower lands. This part dragged on and it is what makes the Crosby to Sugarloaf section a real challenge, in my opinion. It was pretty wet in spots, with roots and rocks everywhere, and some of these little hazards were submerged in bog-like stuff. You really can't take your eyes off trail for a split second, even though sometimes, you should. I found this out at mile 17. There was a somewhat low, beast of a tree branch hanging over the trail. My eyes were glued to the trail and I was wearing my Break the Stigma trucker hat. I didn't see the branch because it was just above the brim of my hat. THUNK! I hit it at full speed (a blistering 5.5 MPH at best, but still, damn) with the top right side of my head. I was completely stunned. I was so shocked by it that I didn't even swear. It stopped me in my tracks and I walked a few steps. I figured that I should just keep running and hope that I wouldn't get any concussion symptoms. I ended up getting a nice lump there and my head hurt for 3 days after the race. But it happens. I spun my hat around so that I could see better. Onward.

Dazed and confused, but still smiling
(Photo: Kelly Doyle)

My run-in with the tree wasn't the only scare that I had during this section. After crossing the bridge over the Caribou River, I turned left to follow the trail which runs along side the river gorge. It is absolutely gorgeous. I was admiring the beauty when I tripped on a small rock and my body was airborne flying directly toward the gorge with the river at the bottom of it. Luckily there was a tree trunk close enough that I was able to grab with my outstretched left arm. That tree saved me from a fall that would have certainly ended my race and possibly even my life. Always respect the trail first. If you want to gawk at the beauty of the trail's surroundings, stop first, or at least slow down to an easy walk.

Despite all of that, I still gained another 3 minutes on my projected arrival time as I approached Sugarloaf, and it was a huge relief to see that aid station. I had been out of water for a couple miles.   Fellow Break the Stigma comrade Kevin Chem hooked me up as soon as I entered the AS, giving me my drop bag and refilling my soft flasks with water. It was like having a crew! I grabbed a little food, chugged some water, chatted with Kevin for a few seconds, thanked him and the other awesome volunteers, and then got the hell out of there. Sugarloaf has the first intermediate cutoff, with a time of 11:45 AM. I was nearly an hour ahead of that and wanted to keep that momentum going.

Lake Superior after the climb up from the Manitou River

From Sugarloaf to Cramer, there was nothing too eventful, but I fell in with 2 other runners, Jason from Wisconsin and Scott from Iowa. They made nonstop banter, and time passed quickly. I didn't really participate in the conversation, but they kept me entertained, nonetheless. They asked me if I wanted to pass, and I told them that they were running the perfect race, so that's why I kept hanging around. It turns out that they really were running the perfect race, and maybe too perfect for me. I gained a massive 37 minutes on my projected arrival time when I reached the Cramer Road Aid Station, which is the half-way point of the 50 mile race and also the start line of the Moose Mountain Marathon. The marathon runners had started at 8, so there was no chance of running into any of them. At this point, I was over 45 minutes ahead of my projections, and I seriously started to wonder if I would blow up in the second half of the race, where the big climbs were. But I was feeling great, so I just kept going with the flow.

From Cramer to Temperance was a little more frustrating. In this section you run along side the Cross River for quite a ways. This was the only time during the entire race that I had any sort of "low point," though saying that is a stretch. It was more like a very mild case of frustration. The surface along the river is really rugged with non-stop rocks and mangled, sprawled out roots that are endless. I was feeling a bit lonely and isolated now that the field had really spread out. However, this is where I saw one of the first hundred-milers out on the course. It was Todd Rowe. He was grinding it out along that rugged trail and I was happy to see him going strong. I offered some words of encouragement and he told me that I was doing great. Seeing him cheered me up, and even though he had a very long way to go, I knew that he would make it. Seeing him toughing it out inspired me, and that continued to be the case with every hundred miler that I passed. I have so much respect for them and I wanted to be one of them. I was jealous. I really was. After seeing Todd, I wasn't dreading the climb up Carlton Peak as much anymore. I actually started to feel really good. This is where that runner's high finally started to kick in, somewhere after the 50K mark. I eventually made it to the Temperance River Aid Station (mile 33.8), and the Mill City Running peeps were there. It's always great to see them. Kelcey Knott just happened to have his camera nearby and snapped a quick photo of me. He then filled up my soft flasks, and I grabbed a few little things to munch on, including a salted orange. No, they don't serve salted oranges, but I grabbed an orange and sprinkled some salt onto it. The young woman behind the aid station table remarked, "That's one I haven't seen before!" I told her that I discovered it by accident at FANS, when I clumsily dumped a ton of salt onto an orange, but ate it anyway. Honestly, I find them to be quite good during a race, if you don't overdo it. I also had my first shot of Coke for the day. Once I start doing that, I need to do it at every aid station, so I waited until the second half of the race in order to avoid gut rot. I got out of there quickly and headed up the river, towards Carlton Peak. 


Hey guys, you wanna get high?
(Photo: Kelcey Knott)

Runner's High

I had made great time from Cramer to Temperance, and was now well over an hour ahead of my predicted overall time. This is when I realized that my prediction method was seriously flawed. But whatever, I was still feeling great. I was riding that runner's high, which I very rarely get. I've only had real runner's high a few times, and only from very high mileage during long days on the trail. When it does happen, it is quite enjoyable. I know when it's happening, because I begin to lose awareness of how my body feels, yet my performance doesn't seem to suffer and running seems effortless. My mind starts to wander freely and I usually get the giggles. Here are some of the things that I thought about this time after that high kicked in.
  • After glancing at my watch, "We have a fugitive that's been on the run for 8 hours and 6 minutes. The average speed of a man over uneven terrain is... whatever miles per hour. That gives us a radius of 34 miles." Yeah, good luck setting up that perimeter Tommy. Come and get me.
  • Thinking about the incident with the tree earlier, I imagined that it had knocked me to the ground, and then like C-3PO in Return of the Jedi, I sat up and said, "Oh, my head." After, which of course I would be surrounded by furry little creatures chanting, "Hooooy-yo, Hooooy-yo." As the chant in my head fell into time with my footsteps, a hype man came in. "Hooooy-yo, Yeah! Hooooy-yo, Lemme hear you now! Hooooy-yo, C'mon, C'mon! Hooooy-yo, Come and get some!" Then Lil' John would jump in and start yelling about grillz.
  • After belching, "Oh, mother cigrit." A dumb thing that Pug1 says from 1puglife.com, which is sort of like a redneck version of Jackass.
  • When I stumbled, which was no less than 8 times per minute, I'd think of Tourette's Guy quotes, such as, "Ouch! Motherfucker you hit me in the dick! You're lucky it wasn't hard! I meant this thing, not my dick!" (Referring to a roll of paper towels that his son threw at him)
  • What is a sugarloaf? Is it like a loaf of bread? How do they get the sugar into that shape and why the hell would you ever want to do that?
  • Paranoia of someone jumping out of the woods in a bear costume, as opposed to being afraid of an actual bear.
  • Forrest Gump.
  • Public restrooms and how stupid the sinks and hand dryers are and how it relates to running long distances out on trails. Sometimes the sinks barely give you any water at all, or the water comes out at such high velocity that it splashes all over and makes it look like you pissed yourself. This can be likened to drinking from certain water bottles/flasks/hydration bladder tubes. Of course, if you did piss yourself out on the trail, no one would care anyway.
    And the hand dryers can only be one of two speeds, "fast as ass or slow as fuck.” (Thank you James Rolfe, aka AVGN and Bullshit Man)  This is how you might approach running on the SHT, by taking advantage of the descents and then backing off on the climbs to conserve your energy. Although "fast as ass" is relative, of course. 

It wasn't always about silly stuff though. I visualized seeing my family at the finish or possibly even an aid station. I was so happy that they had come along for this and so appreciative of the sacrifices that they have made for me, so that I can do this wacky thing called ultrarunning. I would think about my friend Ryan Carter and how he's just started his battle with a sarcoma in his leg (which he affectionately calls the "egg in my leg"), having just had his first 2 weeks of radiation treatment. I imagined a surgeon slicing open his fascia, and pulling out an actual, fully intact alien egg. Problem solved. I thought about my other friends on the trail and wondered how their races were going. I thought about all the friends and family members who have given me encouragement, and I felt proud knowing that I have inspired some of them. Thinking about these sorts of things really gives me extra motivation. The race is not just about me. I know that these people in my life want me to succeed, and some of them worry about me when I'm out on the trail, and for good reason. I want to make them proud and to continue to inspire them and others, for as long as I can. Whenever I had these thoughts, especially when thinking of my wife and kids, I was overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes started welling up, which obscured my vision, and then I'd stumble.

I saw Meredith O'Neil right before the climb up to Carlton Peak. I've run hills with her and "The Hill People" several times on the Hyland ski hills in Bloomington and Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area (MacGyver Park) in Eden Prairie. We call her BAM (Badass Meredith). I was really happy to see her and made a smartass comment about another asshole 50-miler coming up to make a pass. She started laughing and that made me smile. I gave her a little hug, which I immediately regretted doing, because I looked down and saw that I had broken her stride, and made her criss-cross her feet. I thought to myself, "You dumbass! You almost made her roll an ankle." I offered her a snack from the "Fanny Bar," referring to the back pocket of my shorts, where I had a stash of Honey Stinger waffles. She laughed again, and politely turned down my offer. After a few more words of encouragement I moved on, knowing that she was in good hands with her pacer, Adam Bornholdt, who is another one of the Hill People. She seemed to be in pretty good spirits. I knew that she would make it. There was no doubt in my mind. She is a badass.

Carlton was a little beast of a climb, and really rocky, which was almost like a little scramble at times. I used my hands to help stabilize myself as I climbed up and over some rocks. To some extent, the ruggedness of the trail here was actually beneficial, as it helped to slow me down. Still, this is the first time during the race that I really went all Mr. Baldy and Friends.


Mr. Baldy

I made the descent down the other side of Carlton relatively slowly. Partly because of the trail itself, but also because I needed to recover from the climb. Soon enough, I was on a flatter, less technical surface on the way into Sawbill. Nice!


Descent down from Carlton Peak
(Photo: Kelly Doyle)

Somewhere in this area I saw Joel Button. He was running the 100 and moving really well. It was great to see him and I told him to keep kicking ass. I was pumped up when I reached Sawbill. I knew there was "only" 12 or 13 miles left. John Storkamp had told us during the pre-race briefing that the family of volunteers at the Sawbill Aid Station has been doing it since 1992, and they don't even run the race or know anyone that runs it. While I was there, I heard one of them say he might try the Moose Mountain Marathon next year. I told him that he should, and I hope he does. I grabbed some super delicious pancakes, more than I normally would. They were so freaking good! Then after another salted orange, shot of Coke, and a big thank you to the volunteers, I was off. I had gained another 25 minutes on my overall predicted time. I was maintaining a solid, even effort, and still feeling really good. 

From Sawbill to Oberg, there's not much that I remember. I started to slow down a little here, and this part dragged on a bit. Honestly, at this point, I was mostly focused on not getting hurt. My calf had held up amazingly well, and I wasn't going to do anything stupid to ruin that. 12+ miles of the SHT is a very long way and I did not care to ruin a fantastic day. I still managed to gain another 20 minutes on my predicted finish time though. When I reached Oberg, I saw Brian Klug and Kate Hoglund there. Seeing those two always makes me smile. Brian kicked ass this year in the 100, surpassing his personal goal and then some, taking third! I was really stoked for him when he said that. Seeing them gave me another boost. I was fired up and ready to finish this thing! Some more pancakes, another salted orange, Coke, thank you to the volunteers, and a few cookies this time, and I was off. I was eating much more food at aids stations now, as I didn't feel much like eating on the run anymore.

When I left Oberg, I pulled my phone out of my pack for the first time and turned it on to text my wife and tell her that I'd already left Oberg, since I was now 1.5 hours ahead of my aid station ETAs. Alas, no service. I learned later that they had tried to come see me at Sawbill and Oberg, but since they were going by my estimates, which included a range of best and worst case times, they waited around Sawbill way too long before asking someone if I had come through, and then by the time they got to Oberg, I had already been through there 30 minutes before they arrived. They were literally chasing me, which is kind of fun for a change (for me at least). By this point I was only shuffling the flats and "running" the downs when the surface allowed. I hiked all the ups, even the smallest little baby ones, but still maintained a good pace. I saw more and more hundred milers during this section. With each one that I passed, it lifted my spirits, knowing that they had their 100-mile finish in the bag, barring a disaster. I tried to pass with care at all times and sometimes I would just walk behind them, telling them to keep doing what they were doing and that I would pass in a suitable place. I didn't want them to stop and step off the trail, which they often did anyway. I just wanted them to keep moving. I have such an immense amount of respect for those hundos, as well as all the other racers. I ended up climbing Moose Mountain with a couple hundred milers and their pacers. That one sucked the wind out of me like no other. I kept my cool around those hundred milers on the way up. The last thing I wanted to do was say anything negative around them. I felt like I had not earned the right to complain. On the descent down though, after I passed them and they were well out of earshot, I said out loud, "Moose Motherfucker the Motherfuckin' Moose!" and then I felt better. Sometimes swearing just helps. I just didn't want to do it around the hundred milers. From then on I was very careful to not swear around them. This was a real challenge. At this point, I was passing a lot of them. As I said earlier, I stumbled at least 8 times per minute, which means that every single minute, that equates to 4 "shits," 3 "fucks," and something a little more creative, for variety, like "fucking dick shit." I have found that if I restrain myself and don't swear, it really increases the perceived amount of pain that's felt when smashing a foot against a rock, when said food is already going to lose 3 toenails. Swearing in these situations is good for the mind, body, and soul. I digress. The climb up Mystery Mountain was pretty unremarkable to me, and nothing like Moose Motherfucker. Before long, one of the hundred milers let out a sigh of relief and delightedly said, "Now it's just the descent down to the road." I was surprised, as I didn't think we had really made it up Mystery Mountain yet, but he was right. I took my time on this descent, just sort of soaking it all in, and once again, being careful to only pass hundred milers if there was ample room. Once on the road, though, I pushed it, all the way to the end. My wife and kids were there just before the finish line, and my kids stepped onto the course and ran with me to the end. Dawn, another friend and one of the Hill People, hung the finisher's medal around my neck and then I hugged my kids, squishing them together probably too hard, their faces pressed up against the rough edges of the wooden finisher's medal. Then I gave my wife a huge hug and a kiss. Tears were flowing. It was over. I had run the race of my life and loved every second of it.

(Photo: Scott Hudson)


I finished with a time of 13:44:17, a new trail 50-Mile PR, and more than 45 minutes ahead of my best case projected time for this course.


At the finish with my amazing daughters

After the race, I went back to the town-home with my family, took a shower and ate a nice meal that my wife prepared. I then went back out to the finish area to watch the rest of the runners come in. That last hour was just incredible. I saw Todd and Meredith finish. Each time someone finished, it was just a rush of mass elation throughout the entire crowd. Then as close to the wire as you can get, at 38 hours, the Superior 100 mile race founder Harry Sloan staggered across the finish line, giving it absolutely everything he possibly had. He is 67 years old and had never run the race that he created. When he came in, the crowd went absolutely berserk. It was a collective runner's high, a huge party, only there were no angry drunks to be found anywhere. I hung out with all my friends that had run one of the races or were volunteering, and met some cool new people too, including Chris and Karlene, and someone that I mentioned in the beginning of this race report, local ultrarunning legend Dusty Olson. I had a lot of fun hanging out with those guys and shooting the breeze with Dusty. It turns out that he sounds nothing like a drill sergeant, although the things that he says are just as funny. Trust me, drill sergeants are pretty damn funny. I have a lot of fond memories from that time in my life, and was making new ones now at the finish line of a truly incredible event.

I'd like to give a huge thanks to all the volunteers and everyone involved in making this race possible. Thank you to all of the spectators and family members who made the trip to support their runners. Thanks and kudos to all of the runners as well. And thank you to the hikers and others that were out there enjoying the trail, kindly stepping off to the side and offering words of encouragement as runners passed by. The biggest thanks of all goes out to my family and friends for all of your continued support. I honestly cannot do this without you.

Wicked artwork on the wrap by the RD. Mad skillz, yo.


Aftermath (caution: gross pictures ahead)

It's now 6 days after the race, and I will lose some toenails for sure. This happens to a lot of runners during descents in these types of races. Usually it's because the shoes are too tight, or perhaps not secured well enough to hold the foot in place within the shoe. I had a different problem. My shoes were a half size too big. Even after the race, with swollen feet, I still had a good inch of room in my left shoe. This is why I tripped and stumbled so often. I felt like I was a boxer taking non-stop shots to the body and it was just a matter of time until the next rock or root would be the final knockout blow. Even though the shoes were too long, the overall fit was really good and secure, which gave me the false impression that I was wearing shoes with a very precise fit. I had a lot of trouble remembering that they were too long. My soon to be black toenails are the result of repeatedly smashing into rocks and roots, mostly on flats. The toecaps of both my shoes came unglued as a result of the beating.

My left foot is shorter than my right and took much more of a beating


I was able to avoid significant blister issues by taping my problem spots with duct tape. Wearing gaiters also helped to keep abrasive materials out of my shoes. I never changed shoes or socks. The mud and water took a bit of a toll, but it wasn't too bad.

Mostly harmless blisters


The bump on my head is still there, and is still sensitive to the touch, but it will go away in time. I haven't felt any concussion like symptoms, other than trouble typing the right words, but I attribute that to being overtired.

Unlike FANS, I didn't have any joint pain in the days following the race. My muscles still felt strong, though my quads and glutes were very sore. Everything is still a little tight now, but overall I'm feeling pretty good. I haven't run yet since the race. My lower back hurt for a few days, mostly because of my poor posture during climbs, I'm guessing. Twin Cities Marathon is coming up in just a couple weeks, so I'll be getting back at it in the next couple days, hopefully.

Note the duct tape hanging by a thread from the sock






For the Dweebs

Race info from website:
Distance: 52.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 12,500 ft
Elevation Loss: 12,500 ft
Surface: 99% Superior Hiking Trail, 1% road
Type: point-to-point

Activity Data:
Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/390916939
Movescount: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move76351773

Suunto Movie (ultra dweeby!)



Gear:
  • Hoka Challenger ATR shoes
  • Altra gaiters
  • Pearl Izumi Ultra split shorts
  • Hoka tech t-shirt
  • DryMax v 5.5 Lite Trail socks
  • Break The Stigma trucker hat
  • Zensah compression sleeve on right calf
  • Salomon S-Lab 5L Advanced Skin Set race vest
  • 2 Salomon 17 oz. soft flasks
  • Suunto Ambit2 Black watch
  • Road ID
  • Petzl Tikka+ headlamp for race start
  • Champion C9 cold weather running gloves for race start
  • Patagonia Houdini jacket for race start
  • Black Diamond Spot headlamp for race end (not used)

Nutrition that I carried:
  • Honey Stinger waffles - chocolate and vanilla (one per hour; perfect, no stomach issues)
  • SaltStick electrolyte capsules (one per hour, or more depending on amount of effort)
  • 2 GUs, for emergencies only (not used)
  • Aleve (2 at race start, 2 at 4 PM)
  • Psychiatric prescription meds (taken at race start and 4 PM)
  • Water

Nutrition from Aid Stations:
  • Salted oranges
  • Bananas
  • Pancakes 
  • Coke
  • Chips
  • Pretzel sticks
  • PBJ quarters
  • Cookies
  • Water


Race Prediction Method

Just to recap, I found an activity on GarminConnect from the 2014 Superior 50 mile race for a person whom I judged to be 15% faster than me (the "target" person). I pulled the mile splits into a spreadsheet and used that to predict my own mile splits, aid station splits, estimated aid station arrival times, and final finish time. I simply estimated my own my mile splits by adding 15% to the target person's splits, and then everything else was calculated based on those estimated mile splits. A large part of this estimated 15% difference was due to how I felt about my calf and my decline in cardio-vascular fitness in the 2 weeks leading up to the race.

The big flaw with my prediction strategy is that the effort level of my target person at any given point in the race is completely unknown. I'd like to say that personally, after the first few miles, I felt like I maintained a pretty even effort, with a slow fade at the end. So if you want to try this method yourself, you might be able to use me as the target person and end up having decent results. My target person most certainly did not maintain an even effort. My guess is that this person started out too fast and then struggled after Sugarloaf and slowed way down, as that's where I really started gaining a ton of time on my predicted ETAs. It's also possible that they dawdled at aid stations or overlooks, which made their splits longer, and subsequently, my predicted splits became longer. However, the target person picked up the pace again from Oberg to the Finish and went much faster than I did during that same stretch. Not knowing the target person's level of effort really makes this entire method rather useless. Another unknown is hiking pace. The target person could be a much faster runner than me, but his/her hiking pace might be the same or possibly slower than mine. Only the fastest runners actually run the climbs, and they hike at times as well. I have found that on smaller hills, I am able to keep up with people who run them, by switching to a fast power hike. This is a skill that I really started to develop at Curnow. Before that, I was a pretty lousy hiker. There's still a lot of room for improvement though.

Pre-Race Predictions
(colors indicate closeness to cutoff times, green = good, red = race over)

Predictions vs Actuals






If you are reading this, congratulations! You're a dweeb!

FIN

Monday, September 14, 2015

Welcome to Dweeb Runner!

Run: "To move swiftly on foot so that both or all feet are not on the ground during each stride."
Dweeb: "A person regarded as socially inept or foolish, often on account of being overly studious."
-The Free Dictionary

Put those two definitions together, with the exception of moving "swiftly", and that's me: The Dweeb Runner. 


Excuse me. I'd like to get by now.
(The correct way to state your intent to pass someone on the trail)

I'm a software engineer, gear junkie, wannabe hobbyist musician, runner, ├╝ber nerd/geek/dork, and a DWEEB. Referring back to the definition above, I am socially inept, often overly studious (once accused of being outright pedantic). I can stay up all night reading articles which are cited by other articles that have been cited by even more articles on Wikipedia. I am also foolish, as I really only like to run very long distances, often on brutal surfaces over difficult terrain.

Actually, on a scale of 1 to Dweeb, I'm probably a 6 or 7 at best. I can only recite the lines from less than a handful of Sci-Fi movies. I don't even like Star Trek. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons. I abandoned my pure Debian Linux setup for straight up OSX on a Mac. I drink my coffee black. I don't like PBR and I don't have a fixed gear bike. Wait, now I'm confusing dweeb with hipster. Is there a difference? And perhaps I am also confusing dweeb with nerd. To be honest, I just love the word dweeb. I do wear glasses though, but only while I'm working.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my ramblings and dweebery!