Thursday, September 15, 2016

Superior 100 Mile - 2016 Race Report

"By mile 40 it feels like you're in Lord of the Rings," says Scott Kummer, founder of Flatlander Ultrarunners in Chicagoland, host of the hilarious Ten Junk Miles podcast, and guest on the Defeat the Stigma Podcast - Episode 9. (Totally shameless plug) He is referring to the Superior 100-mile trail race, formerly known as Sawtooth 100, which takes place in the far reaches of Northeastern Minnesota on the Superior Hiking Trail, running near and parallel to Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. When Scott said that, I laughed, but he is not wrong.

If you want to know the history of the race and everything about it, including a detailed "run through", pick up Kevin Langton's new book Superior: 100 Mile Endurance Run, One of America's Oldest, Toughest, and Gnarliest Ultramarathons. I purposefully put off reading it until after the race, since I had not seen much of the first half of the course, and didn't want to read any spoilers about it. Now that the race is over and I have started reading it, it's very hard to put down. If there was an e-book version, I'd be done already, but the lights have to be turned out at some point.

The race starts on Friday at 8 AM in Gooseberry Falls State Park, just a little ways north of Two Harbors, MN (where the start of Grandma's Marathon is) and runs point-to-point, along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), ending at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, MN, about 60 miles from the Canadian border. The length of the race is 103.3 miles and 98 of those miles are on the SHT, one of the most scenic and best marked hiking trails in the country.

In addition to being scenic and well marked, it's also known for being relentless, rugged, and remote. That is no joke. Throw in some warmer than expected weather (especially in the further inland sections), a really wet month of August, storms in the days leading up to the race, overnight rain lasting several hours beginning early Saturday morning - and you've got yourself one hell of a meat grinder of a race.

Elevation profile - as captured by my GPS watch (uploaded to Strava)

That elevation profile covers the "relentless" portion. It is non-stop up and down, sometimes steep (and treacherous), and sometimes not, but unending elevation change, with very little flat.

The "rugged" portion comes in the form of endless rocks, roots, and this year, shoe sucking mud interspersed with slippery planks across bogs.

The "remote" portion comes from feeling like you've been transported to another world, away from all civilization, with a giant inland sea on your right and a majestic mountain like landscape of lush forest on your left. Imagine looking out to endless layers of foothills of mountains, but no giant snow covered peaks rising behind them. In the place of mountain peaks are various rock formations, cliffs, and lakes. It feels surreal at times. How in the hell is this in Minnesota? I keep asking myself.

There is no shortage of beauty in this race

There are 13 aid stations spread out over the 103.3 mile course. That's an average of almost every 8 miles, which on the SHT is a very long way. Zumbro 100, being a 16.7 mile loop course, has 4 aid stations on the course and then the mega aid station at the start/finish for a total of 30 aid stations over 100 miles. It feels like a big party at times. By contrast, at Superior you can be on your own for hours without seeing a single soul. This adds to the challenge. There are several times you go for 9 or 10+ miles without aid. You need to carry enough stuff with you to sustain yourself for large amounts of time and in not so favorable conditions. Because of that, we're gonna get into some dweebery early on in this race report. This is from my pre-race checklist.

On Person at Race Start:
  Phone (airplane mode)
  2 soft flasks
  1 extra bottle in back 
  4 trash baggies
  1 bag of 8 salt caps 
  1 poncho
  1 Buff
  1 blister kit
  2 baggies toilet paper
  1 small roll of duct tape on stick
  6 waffles
  1 pkg cliff bloks
  1 headlamp
  1 headlamp battery
  1 vaseline
  Hand wipes   
  Meds (x3)
  Aleve (x2)
  Course profile/AS times printout

  Temp tattoo of course profile with AS times
  DSP Trucker hat
  HR wrist monitor
  Race bib
  Sunglasses (TBD - probably not though)
  Glide applied
  Sunscreen applied
  Bugspray applied

Now, even with all that, and being pretty disciplined at aid stations with the means to restock from drop bags, and at the very least assessing my supplies before leaving, there were times when I still ran out of something, whether it was fluids, food, electrolytes, or all of the above! (how's that for a run-on sentence?)

I had drop bags at every aid station that allowed them. Each one, at a minimum, had some toilet paper, baggies, and 3 Stinger waffles. Most also included some alternative food (Cliff shot bloks) and three drop bags - at roughly 25 mile intervals - had the motherload: salt caps, socks, shirts, jackets, underwear, ponchos, compression sleeves, compression socks, body glide, sunscreen, bugspray, batteries, spare headlamps, portable USB chargers, etc. Different supplies were put in the various drop bags according to when I planned on reaching them. For instance, the drop bag at the Crosby-Manitou (100K) aid station had a long sleeve top, full length tights, and gloves, as I knew I'd be running that section during the coldest part of the night (early Saturday morning). Similar to above, I had an equally exhaustive checklist of what was to be put in each drop bag. I kept a printout of this list with me, so that I knew what was available to me before arriving at each aid station. 

I also had a temporary tattoo on my arm (and a matching printout in my pocket) of the course profile, with AS cutoff times and little indicators for motherload drop bags and toilets. 

$8.95 + $20 for overnight shipping!

In summary, I thought that I was really well prepared for this race, but I wasn't. Last year, I ran the Superior 50-mile race, which is the second half of the 100-mile race and you can read about that here in my race report. For that race, I used a wacky "algorithm" to estimate my arrival times at aid stations and the finish, and I beat nearly all of them, finishing way ahead of my own expectations. This year, I decided to just relax a little and project my arrival times based on my performance at the 50-miler last year. I estimated that I would arrive at Finland (the halfway point) between 8 PM and 10 PM (12-14 hours) Hey, I've got another full year of running on my legs, including a trail 100-mile finish at Zumbro, and a 100+ mile finish at the FANS 24-hour race. I must be a better runner now, right? 

Mistake 1: not factoring in current course conditions. Last year, the course conditions were perfect. The weather was very pleasant, not too cold and not too hot, and the trail was in great shape, as it had been a very dry summer. There was very little mud. It was probably about as good as the trail gets for the SHT in late summer/early fall.

Mistake 2: not factoring in the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about the terrain and surface of the first half of the race. It turns out that the two halves of the race are actually quite different from one another. The first half is non-stop rocks and the second half is non-stop roots, with minefields of rocks occasionally mixed in. Both halves had a more than ample supply of mud this year.

Mistake 3: believing that my experience from Zumbro 100 would apply to this race. Sorry, but it just doesn't. It's great to know that I can handle the time on feet, sleep deprivation, massive amounts of climbing and descending, but this race is so different from that one and there are so many more lessons to learn. 13 aid stations vs. 30!

There are many more mistakes to talk about, but let's get on with it. We'll take it from aid station to aid station.

The Race

Start to Split Rock (9.7 miles)
After kissing my wife and kids goodbye, and squishing the pug faces, I set off with 217 others on the paved trail that runs along the shoreline of Lake Superior. This nice easy start allowed me to make sure that I was taking it nice and easy and relaxed. I was even smart enough to walk the hills. After mile 4.5 it was time to make the turn onto the SHT, where we would stay for the remaining 98.8 miles. Race Director John Storkamp was waiting for us at the end of the pavement. I can't help but say awkward or smartass things around total badasses, so after clocking a few "fast" miles on the pavement, true to form, I said, "This race is too hard, man." He replied with an enthusiastic, "I know!" I really, really shouldn't have said that.

The remainder of this stretch was kind of a blur. There were some spectacular views of Lake Superior under clear skies. I just remember kinda taking it easy, and didn't really care to pass many people as I figured I'd move quickly through the first aid station, which I did.

Split Rock to Beaver Bay (10.3 miles)
Right out of the gate, we get a long grind of nothing but up and down, mostly up, and non-stop rocks, rocks, and more rocks! I passed a few more people just to get out of bunched up packs, which I hate running in. I regretted some of these mini surges later, as it continued to get warmer and warmer. During the latter half of this stretch, I saw Erik Raivo and Kari Gibbons, two very strong runners and amazing people who also represent the Defeat the Stigma project (DSP). I ran with them for awhile. Erik took the lead out in front of Kari and I. We were enjoying the trail, when he suddenly shouted "Hornets!" as he jumped across some rocks. He had stumbled upon a hornet's nest that was right in the middle of the trail, on this big rock and had gotten stung in the arm. Kari and I gingerly walked to the left on some more rocks to get around it. Not too long after, we heard a very loud "OW!!!" behind us. We felt bad for not shouting out a warning in case someone was within earshot of us.

I was feeling pretty good at this point and decided to push on ahead of Erik and Kari, stating that I didn't want to be the "third wheel." They both laughed. I knew they'd catch me later.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay (4.9 miles)
I spent very little time at Beaver Bay AS, but as I was leaving, Scott Kummer recognized me and approached me. When I looked up at him I realized who he was right away. I was very happy to meet him in person, finally. I asked him who he was crewing/supporting and it turns out that it was Mark Gilligan, who is the founder of Ultra Signup, the place to go when registering for almost every ultra, and shorter trail races too. I always think it's cool when people choose Superior as a destination race. It's definitely worth the trip.

I don't remember much from this section, other than it starts easy on a little gravel path and then gets pretty dense with rocks again. It felt like it took longer to get to Silver Bay than it should have. When I got there, I was rewarded with the sight of my family. My wife Erin, my two daughters Aryel and Caitlyn, our pugs Leia and Cara, and even my mom and dad were there, taking some time to come watch the misery unfold and cheer me on. They were there in the North Shore area to celebrate their anniversary.

This was the first motherload aid station. I changed socks and got some of the muck out of my shoes, and my kids brought me some food to eat. I had hoped that Kevin would be there too, as he had my extra shoes. My insoles had started sliding around and bunching up inside my shoes, and were beginning to create hot spots. I had glued them down, but to no avail. I had another pair of the same shoes, but with double-sided tape holding the insoles down. I wanted to try them out, but they were in Kevin's car, and he was off doing social media stuff. I didn't linger too long though, and so after Erin helped me restock, I was off and onto the next section. 

Silver Bay to Tettegouche (9.9 miles)
The second long grind of the race. It was starting to get warm now. I needed all three of my bottles to make it through this section. This is where some of the most epic inland views are, including Bean and Bear Lakes, a favorite selfie spot for many. It's also very perilous, with rocks everywhere and steep drop offs, and once again it was slow going. Towards the end is the "drainpipe," a super steep descent down large boulders. I did my best to just take a second to breathe and take my time there. There was no damage and I made it to Tettegouche feeling OK. However, earlier in this section, I ran into Julio and Kevin, who were walking against traffic. As soon as I saw them, I lost focus and slipped off the trail. We were up on a ridge too, so staying focused is always a good thing. Julio shouted words of encouragement and knelt down to snap a photo.

"Motherfuckers. Let me concentrate on this shit. Assholes."

I think they got a good laugh out of that. That is just how we communicate with each other. Though later I did pull out my phone and apologized to Kevin via text since he would be pacing me from Crosby to the finish, about 40-ish miles.

Gotta stay focused out here! (Photo by Julio Salazar)
Moments after I passed them, I shouted, "Kevin, I'm running an hour behind at least, probably two!" "or...more", I muttered to myself. No response. Yup. I must have pissed him off and he hates me now.

Tettegouche to CR 6 (8.6 miles)
Though the distance was less than the previous section, the going was, once again, very slow, and it was warm. I had been dousing myself with water now, in an effort to keep somewhat cool. Plenty more rocks to contend with, but also more incredible views. This is what Scott Kummer was talking about. "By mile 40 it feels like you're in Lord of the Rings." Atop every ridge there's a view of such incredible vastness that is hard to describe. But Lord of the Rings comes close. It's something one might see in the beautiful and prosperous Kingdom of Gondor, I thought. I saw a runner stop at a little outcropping on top of one of the ridges, and then he pulled out his phone.

"This is Mark Gilligan."
"Yes, but I’m going to have to get back to you later. I’m actually running in a race right now.”

That's right. The founder of Ultra Signup took a business call in the middle of a 100-mile race. Talk about being dedicated to your work! I had a good laugh as I ran past. I don't think I saw him again after that.

This section dragged on and on, and as mentioned previously, it was warm. I was out of food and about to run out of water and salt. I started coming up on another runner, who looked very familiar, someone I should never see during a race unless it's a loop course or out-and-back, whose ability level far surpasses mine and one that I couldn't even dream of ever reaching. It was Kevin Langton. Something must have gone horribly wrong.

"How are you doing, are you alright?"

"I'm alright, just some cramping."

I could tell it was worse than he made it sound.

"You'll get some help at this next aid station."

"How far is the aid station, do you know?"

"My watch has been fucked up all day, to be honest."

"Mine is too. I took it off."

"If I had to guess, I'd say about 1.5 miles."


I wished him well and hoped I was right about the distance. Unfortunately, I wasn't. It was getting dark by the time I rolled into CR 6, and it had to have been at least 2 miles since I passed Kevin. I learned later that he dropped at CR 6, unfortunately. That afternoon was just brutal.

At the CR 6 AS, captained by Jamison Swift, I had my crew waiting for me: Erin, the kids, and Kevin now, and he had my backpack with my shoes! I had sent a text right after I left Tettegouche specifically requesting shoes. They sat me down in a chair. My kids fetched me food and some Sprite and water. I was battling a bit of nausea, which is something I've never really had to deal with, and the Sprite helped with that. I know everyone says Ginger Ale is the cure for nausea, but just the smell of Ginger Ale makes me gag. Erin took care of making sure my bottles were filled and my pack was stocked. I was delighted to find compression sleeves in my drop bag. My calves were throbbing a little bit during the previous section. Kevin went to work on changing my shoes...for quite some time.

After he got the shoes off, I put my compression sleeves on. Or maybe he tried to put them on for me, I don't remember. But then he took out the wrong pair of shoes (Hoka Challengers). I told him that I wanted the same shoes that I'd been wearing, just the ones that are brand spanking new (Altra Olympus 2.0). So he dug the correct pair of shoes out of the backpack and started putting them on. They felt great, but then I saw that the gaiters were lying there on the ground.

"Oh crap, the gaiters!"

"Do we have to take these off now?" (referring to the shoes)

"Um. Yes."

So he gets the shoes back off and I get the gaiters pulled on and up out of the way, and then he puts the shoes back on and starts tying them. I reach down to fasten my gaiters and wondered why the shoes were so muddy.

"Wrong shoes!"

He had put my original shoes back on my feet. So we laughed and he told me to not tell anyone else about it, but it's just too good. Too good to keep it a secret. With the right shoes on, headlamp turned on, backup headlamp packed, and everything restocked, I was ready to go. My first pacer, Elizabeth, would be waiting for me at the next aid station, Finland, the halfway point of the race.

CR 6 to Finland (7.7 miles)
I honestly remember very little of this section. It had cooled off a little now, but I was still plenty warm. It was dark, and I was by myself. It seemed to go by rather quickly, although time-wise it didn't. I think I got to Finland around 10:40 PM, 40 minutes after my "worst case" predicted arrival time. Elizabeth was there ready to go.

Julio, Jason Hara, and Adam Bornholdt were there too, as they were waiting to crew/pace their runners, Kari and Wendi Baldwin. It was great to see them and it provided another boost. I hadn't seen Wendi since the bee sting incident, as she wasn't far behind us when it happened. I remember her telling the runner to put some mud on the area. I didn't know where she was now, but I figured that she, Erik, and Kari were not far behind. One of the volunteers kept bringing me stuff to eat and drink, and filled all of my bottles, which was awesome. I wish I knew her name. I had a hot dog and chicken noodle soup, and that really perked me up.

When I first came into the aid station, my voice had suddenly got all nasally, as if I had a clothespin on my nose. My ears were popping too and for the last several hours I had felt like my throat and chest were tightening up. Julio said I should do the podcast in that voice. Haha. Elizabeth said that it might be allergies and she fetched me an Allegra tablet from her car. I took it. After a couple hours, the tightness went away and I was able to breathe normally again.

I changed shirts, applied glide, restocked and Elizabeth and I headed off down the trail. I was feeling much better now.

Ready to roll with a hot dog to go

Finland to Sonju Lake Rd (7.5 miles)
This was familiar territory to me, having done the 50-mile race in 2015, which starts at Finland. I remembered it being pretty easy to start with, and it was, except for the mud that wasn't here last year. I told Elizabeth that we celebrate all sub-20 minute miles now. We clocked off a few, which was awesome. The night slowed us down, and it took quite a while to get to Sonju. Once there, I had some more chicken noodle soup and a bit of PBJ and then we were off again.

Sonju Lake Rd to Crosby-Manitou
 (4.2 miles)
Elizabeth is a joy to run with. She is full of energy and positivity and her presence just inspires you to be better, even if just by a tiny bit. We kept hearing thunder in the distance, but it sounded like it was to the East, as if it was over the lake. Eventually it did start to drizzle a little bit. This section wasn't too tough, other than some mud. We had pleasant conversations and even nerded out a little bit over science and engineering stuff. I like to pretend that her job is to make particles collide inside of red blood cells. She's a biophysicist. We talked about the 500 apps that I have in beta, 90% done, just lacking the finishing touches to be on the App Store. She said that she was curious about using programming to build something, rather than to break something down and analyze it. That's the difference in how we work. I build stuff out of nothing, using people's wild (and sometimes stupid) imaginations in a virtual world without physical limits (other than hardware). She deconstructs and analyzes real things that actually exist in the real world that we live in, that we don't yet understand.

I was in a very good mood when we arrived at Crosby. But I was dreading what was ahead. The drizzle had picked up to a persistent light rain. It was getting colder. And if the stretch between Tettegouche to CR 6 is the Kingdom of Gondor, The forest between the Manitou River and Sugarloaf Road is Mirkwood. It's Kevin's turn to pace me now, and happy times are about to end. Sorry Kevin.

Crosby-Manitou to Sugarloaf (9.4 miles)
This section starts off deceptively easy. And still in a good mood, I was happy to chat with Kevin about anything. I started telling him stories about my own life experiences and also about things that happened during this section of last year's 50-mile race. It was fun, it was good, all the way down to the Manitou river, despite the minefield of treacherous rocks. We were having a good time. The hike up out of the gorge was steep and I was getting winded very easily by this time, so we just took it slow. The intensity of the rain gradually began to increase. Once we started descending down again, it was time to put our shells on. I had a Houdini jacket, which retains heat very well, although it doesn't do much in terms of repelling water.

Now we enter Mirkwood, the endless tunnel of mud, roots, bogs, slick planks, low tree branches that need to be ducked under, and fallen trees that need to be scissor-stepped over. It was a dark, slow, wet slog. "Pure fucking misery," I said out loud on numerous occasions. It would take us a very long time to get through this nightmare. Even still, I was moving quick enough on the downhills to pass several people. I'm sure they all passed me later on.

At one point, I stepped forward off the end of a plank, not really being able to see the ground clearly.



My right leg was submerged in mud, all the way up to my knee. Kevin turned around and laughed, of course. So did I. What else can you do? I carefully and gently pulled my leg up and out of it so that my shoe didn't come off. Onward.

It was during this time that I had my first real low point. I had smaller ones during the first half of the race, but I could really feel myself sinking now. I knew that by having my foot fully submerged, it would lead to further maceration and aggravation of those hotspots I got from the sloppy insoles in my first pair of shoes, which meant many more blisters to come. I started to have doubts. What if the blisters got so bad that I wouldn't be able to walk? I remembered Julio telling me about the massive blisters he got on the bottoms of his feet at Keys 100, and how it hurt so bad to walk, the only way for him to make the pain bearable was to run. I wondered if the same thing would happen to me, but I was so gassed and with the terrain and surface of the SHT, running would not be an option most of the time. The rain continued to fall and make the trail conditions worse. Kevin asked me how I was doing.

"Let the skies open up and strike me down with lightning. End my suffering."

That is the talk of despair. I was half-joking of course, but still, I was feeling down. Way down. What kept me going is knowing that this was the last super long section of the course. Daylight would come soon, and the aid stations would be more frequent.

Kevin did a great job of trying to keep things positive. He only complained when I wouldn't duck down under the branches far enough. They were all soaked from the rain, so when I half-assed it and just put my head down right into the branches, pushing them forward, as I moved through they'd snap back and douse Kevin with water.

"God dammit, Steve!"

How could I resist not doing that more than once?

Mirkwood wasn't done with me yet. It is known for its dark magical powers. This is the first time in a race that I have experienced hallucinations. Several times, I thought I could hear people coming up right behind us, and even see the additional glow of their headlamps, only to turn around and find no one there. Remnants of fallen birch trees morphed into dogs, cats, and in one case, a slumped over runner who was either dead or just taking a break. At one point I thought there was a cougar up ahead on the side of the trail. That freaked me out. It turned out to be a small collection of leaves scattered on the ground. I guess these technically aren't hallucinations, but rather misperceptions of reality, which makes them illusions. Kinda like that one time I got stoned and went to Taco Bell, and freaked out because I thought I had cheese all over me. It was just the graphics on my t-shirt, which featured some yellow and orange colored lightning.

I remembered this section as being the hardest one for the 50-mile race, mostly because of how frustratingly long it takes. It's because of that experience that I carried an extra bottle of water with me for this race. I really needed it during those long sections in the first half. However, it turns out that when you're moving at a snail's pace, and it's cold, your body doesn't lose that much water. So you can actually end up over-hydrated, and that's exactly what happened, although I didn't notice it until a few hours later, when I had to stop to pee every 20 minutes. I think I peed at least a dozen times in the last 30 miles.

At long last, after over 4 hours of "pure fucking misery," we exited Mirkwood onto Sugarloaf Road. I offered a middle finger to the forest behind me.

Sugarloaf to Cramer Rd 
(5.6 miles)
"Burgers for breakfast!"

It was 7:30 AM, and I was sitting in a chair eating some burgers and drinking Coke. Hell yeah. Surgarloaf AS gave me a much needed boost. Elizabeth was there, now as a crew member, and she went to work right away getting my bottles filled and making sure I was taken care of. I didn't want to sit too long though. The rain had let up, but it was still drizzly and cold. I ditched my headlamp in my drop bag, assuming I'd easily finish before dark. Hell, we were down to a 50K now!

Elizabeth had my poles ready, which I had requested. I hadn't used them since hiking around in the Columbia River Gorge in 2004. Let's just say they're not quite as good as today's quick collapsing carbon fiber trail slayers. It took a ridiculous amount of effort just to pull the rubber caps off the ends. I had planned on using them during our family trip to the Southwest in August. We were going to hike the Zion Narrows. However, due to severe storms and flooding, we ended up going to Valley of Fire State Park instead. So the poles stayed collapsed, until now.

Kevin and I set off down the trail towards Cramer Road, which marks the start of the Moose Mountain Marathon. We wouldn't make it there by the time the marathoners took off at 9 AM. That was probably a good thing. I can't imagine all those fresh legged marathoners flying by on the singletrack. Anyway, it quickly became apparent that I had no idea what I was doing with the poles. The baskets kept snagging nearby brush and I couldn't figure out how to move quickly with them, or even power walk. I could tell they were slowing me down, and I wanted to ditch them almost immediately. But I stayed patient, knowing that the toughest climbs were ahead. It almost felt like I was learning to skate ski again, which I suck at and can't even do. Then trying to figure out how to transition in and out of running with them was pissing me off. Later on, I figured out how to shuffle along and just lightly tap the trail surface with the tips of the poles, and that way, I didn't feel the need to carry the poles in my hands while "running." I figured out how to use the poles to balance myself and take some of the stress off my quads when going downhill. I still felt and looked like an inexperienced idiot. But I was an inexperienced idiot that was going to finish the Superior 100.

This section, although short, took longer than I hoped, and I don't remember much of it. I was still sort of frustrated that we weren't moving faster. Kevin would try to cheer me up, whenever we'd reach a point where there was a clear view of the lake.

"Steve, look at that. That's not even a lake, that's the sky!"

I did look, though not for very long, out of fear of face-planting. But he was right. Lake Superior looked like it was part of the sky. It was so blue, with some clouds seemingly passing through it. More Lord of the Rings epic-ness came to mind. Maybe there were ships down on the shore that would take me to Valinor.

Eventually we made it to Cramer Road, about 20 minutes after the marathoners had set off. Erin was here with the kids again, so my full crew was back, and that gave me a huge mental boost. "Take my strength," my wife said as she hugged me tightly. Some tears rolled down my cheeks.

I can't say enough about my crew. They were a well oiled machine. I'd come into an aid station and within seconds, someone had my pack off and went to work restocking it and filling bottles. Since I had not been tolerating the Stinger waffles, I was using Heed for additional calories. They knew to put the Heed in the left pocket and water in the right. They knew to put the extra bottle of water in the top of the back pocket to keep things well balanced. Meanwhile, someone else would be taking care of my feet, and another person would bring me food and drink. That's the kind of selfless service and dedication that gets me all choked up. I feel like I don't deserve it, but they obviously believe in me, and it makes me teary eyed just thinking about it.

I changed socks for one last time and put on my "safety green" DSP shirt. This was the last motherload aid station, and I was fully stocked and ready to go, with a full crew backing me and a pacer with me every step of the way. Like Neo, I was beginning to believe.

Cramer Rd to Temperance (7.1 miles)
I finally started to rally again, and was feeling good enough to try moving quicker. We clocked 3 sub 20-minute miles in this section (two 17's and one 18) and I wondered if these little bursts would come back to bite me. I knew that it would take a long time to get to the aid station, as you run along the Cross River forever, but that didn't sour my mood. I was feeling good and happy to be moving faster. I remembered passing Todd Rowe here last year, as he was on his way to another Superior 100 finish. He, along with many others that day inspired me to do this race. I remember last year wanting to be one of the guys with the pink ribbons dangling off their pack. I was jealous. I wanted that hundo. Badly. So badly that I couldn't wait for Superior to come around again, and I got it done at Zumbro 100 instead, back in April. I helped rope Kevin into doing that one as well, and there he got his first 100-mile finish. Shortly after Zumbro, Julio got his first 100-mile finish at Keys 100. The DSP board of directors is all hundos now. Pretty cool. Hopefully we don't get hot headed and start acting all elitist. Or are we already?

We came into Temperance and I was feeling pretty good. I knew that the toughest climbs were ahead though. For some reason, I thought the next segment was 7.5 miles, and I was worried about the cutoff. I have no idea why. I was comfortably ahead of the cutoffs the entire time. Erin said that even after slowing down that I hadn't lost any ground. Elizabeth said, "Why are you worried about the cutoffs? The cutoff at the aid station you were at before this one isn't for another hour and you only have 5.7 miles to the next aid station." OMG, I am such an idiot. That was a huge relief when she said that and it finally "clicked." It took a minute for that to happen. Don't do mid-race math, just don't. Everyone knows that. Also, that damn temporary tattoo was nothing but trouble. Too small to see the times and distances clearly, or too much water or dirt covering it and just... no. It sucked. Stupid. I HAD A PRINTOUT OF THE SAME THING IN MY SHORTS POCKET IN A ZIPLOCK BAG THAT WAS CLEAR AND EASY TO READ.

Temperance to Sawbill 
(5.7 miles)
Reaffirmed that I didn't need to worry about cutoffs, I told Kevin that we should take easy as we'd have to climb up Carlton Peak during this section. For some reason, I had it in my head that the climb started within about a half-mile of the Temperance aid station. This is mistake #947, believing that your memories from running the trail one time, one year ago, are accurate. It turns out that the climb up Carlton Peak is much closer to the end of the segment, and leading up to it are miles of pretty easy and runnable (for once) trail, on relatively gentle grades. It would have been a good idea to keep the momentum rolling and pick up the pace, but I was convinced that the climb was coming soon. What happened instead was almost a disaster. During that leisurely stroll on a now hot, mostly exposed trail, I ended up burning more calories than I had accounted for, and didn't take in enough fuel. I had water and electrolytes but was low on fuel. This didn't really become apparent until we started climbing Carlton Peak and I was wobbling all over the place, even with poles. I thought I might fall and take a tourist with me. It was obvious to Kevin that I was all messed up. We stopped at the top of the climb and he poured water all over my head.

"Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get you to that aid station, and you're going to sit in a chair. We're going to get you some calories. We're going to get you some food and some pop, and we're going to get you cooled off. It's going to be a long stop but we gotta do it."

Are you kidding me? The kid just turned 18 and he's already a fucking pro. I have come to love him like a brother over the last year. He is an incredible person with a bright future ahead of him, and I think everyone sees that.

I took all of Kevin's advice when we came into Sawbill. Last year I was in and out of this aid station in 2 minutes, and had a pleasant little conversation with the awesome family members that run this aid station every year. This year, I didn't go near them. I was set up in a chair that was off in the shade, and my crew brought everything to me. When I first sat down, I had the 1,000 yard death stare. Erin brought me a plate full of stuff, and I started eating. I don't even remember what it was, but it was filling and there was lots of it. I started feeling better within a few minutes. Elizabeth said that she could see me coming back from the dead as I sat there eating. I had some much needed Coke and water, both of which helped to cool me down. After another 10 minutes or so, I was good to go again, and so we were off. One more aid station.

Sawbill to Oberg (5.5 miles)
After being re-energized at Sawbill, I was ready to get this thing done. The only problem was that my feet were so torn up by this point, that it was really painful to do what I do best, and that is running downhill. Anytime I needed to make a sudden movement, it would just kill my feet as they would burn and scream bloody murder at me. So for the most part, we just walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. This section is like purgatory. You're getting close to the finish and it's only 5.5 miles to the Oberg aid station, and the terrain is a little bit easier, but it just takes forever. And there was still enough roots and rocks and plenty of mud to slow us down. I was getting frustrated now. I wanted to be done. I had wanted to finish in the daylight. The chances of that were slipping away as we continued to slow down.

There isn't a lot to see in this portion of the trail. You're just deep in the woods and there aren't really any views. You just feel kinda isolated. Purgatory.

We came into Oberg about an hour and a half ahead of the cutoff. No need to worry. Just avoid catastrophe and get that finish. Since it took us so damn long to do the last section, I needed food again. I sat down and started eating. Scott Kummer was here, and he kept me entertained with his good humor. I had some leftover pizza that Erin and the kids had bought for lunch that day. It was good, but I definitely was not a fan of the feta and balsamic vinegar pizza. I had half a slice of that and had to put it down. I had already had enough other food and was feeling good to go. I was ready to get it done. After I got out of the chair, Scott gave me a high five and said, "Ready for the slowest 10K of your life?" Once again, he was not wrong. Later, I regretted not yelling, "Frodo!" when I saw him. I kept telling myself over and over again to do that.

Oberg aid station, with Scott Kummer

Erin and the kids walked with us out to the end of the aid station and back to the trail. Along the way Erin pointed at the sign that had the distance to the finish. Each aid station had a similar sign that had the name of the aid station, the overall distance, and the distance to the next aid station.

"See how it says, distance to the finish? That's not the next aid station, that's the finish. No more aid stations. We'll see you at the finish!" I kissed her and my kids one last time and we were off to get it done.

Oberg to The Finish 
(7.1 miles)
I'd like to say that this was a victory lap, and that it was all joy and laughter, but it was anything but. This is another section that leaves you feeling isolated and alone in the woods, until you climb Moose Mountain, which is a beast. It just felt like it took forever to get to Moose Mountain in the first place. Once again, I was drawing on my not so accurate memories from a year ago. Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Other runners were storming past us, revitalized and ready to bring it all the way to the finish. I was happy for them, but at the same time, it was sort of disheartening to know that I couldn't do that. Why couldn't I be like them? Why couldn't I just flip the switch and hammer it all the way home? Even if I had wanted to, my feet would not have let me. I just accepted it, and the slow journey continued.

Kevin had been checking his phone and giving me updates on other runners. Every time he told me that someone I knew dropped out, I felt sad. But he tried to turn it around and motivate me.

"Everyone has dropped. Everyone. But you know who hasn't? Do you know who hasn't dropped? Steve Connelly."

I applaud his efforts, but I still felt bad for the others. Every once in a while, there was the sound of a loud boom. I wondered if the TCRC folks back at Oberg were firing off a cannon every time someone DNF'd.

Finally, we started the climb up Moose Mountain. It didn't take as long as I thought it would, but it was super steep. I was really climbing with my arms at this point, really leaning on those poles. When we got to the top, I sat down on a fallen tree trunk, and Kevin poured water on my head again. I had some calories and tried to soak in the view, for once. It's beautiful. Kevin said again, "That's not a lake. That's a sky." It's true. Surreal.

Then it was time to go. It took us a long time just to get across Moose Mountain before the descent on the other side. Earlier in the race, someone told us that the descent was worse than the climb. I can understand that if you have blown out quads, which many people do by this point. It's technical and it requires you to stop and change directions, sometimes taking big steps down 2 to 3 foot drop-offs onto a slippery mess of mangly roots or sharp rocks. In other words, nothing new, but it's just a lot harder to negotiate that sort of thing this late in the race.

We made it down the descent without incident, and then did the long and anticlimactic ascent up Mystery Mountain. During the first part of this climb, I had an encounter with a 50-miler which was similar to last year, only this time the roles were reversed. I sensed him coming up behind me, and I began to step off the trail, so he could pass. I was in no rush.

"No, no. You just keep going. You're climbing. I'm not going to pass a fucking hundo when he's climbing."

That was nice of him and it made me smile. After all, we were both toward the back of the pack now in each of our races, but there was plenty of time left and we knew that we'd get it done.

Once we started coming down from Mystery Mountain, my memory did not fail me. We were getting close. Still, we walked and now had our headlamps turned on. "Arika finished!" Kevin shouted. Arika Hage was running the Moose Mountain Marathon, just 3 months after having a newborn child, "Murphy," named after Murphy-Hanrehan park, I'm guessing, which is where us South Metro dwellers often train. I was very happy to hear that she had finished.

My watch had sync'd itself up nicely as we left Oberg, hitting exactly 95 miles when we went back out on the trail. It had been about a mile short of the actual overall distance for quite some time. When my watch beeped and flashed mile 101, I knew that this was happening for real. I was going to finish Superior 100. Tears started rolling. In a choked up voice, I said to Kevin, "We're fucking doing this, man. We're actually fucking doing this," and I thanked him for everything.

Not long after, we were off the SHT and onto the long road leading to the finish at Caribou Highlands Lodge. I held my poles in my right hand, and we started to run, and didn't stop until the finish line was crossed.

103 miles in 36 hours, 37 minutes, and 24 seconds. It was done.

The best crew members in the world

I don't really get caught up in the personal journey or any of that. I could go on about how I'm 9 months cancer free or 7 years mania free or whatever, but the truth is that you don't need to run 100 miles to beat cancer or mental illness. But if you have beaten those things or are just battling them, then you can probably run 100 miles. You have what it takes inside you already. I felt like dying during the race. I wanted it to be over, so many times. Races like this remind me that no matter how bad it gets, as long as you keep moving, however slow, you'll eventually come out of it and reach a place that's not so bad after all. It doesn't have to be a herculean effort, you just need to keep moving. And letting go of self-judgment (using poles, throwing away time goals) makes that a little bit easier to deal with. I think I finally found the true spirit of ultrarunning in this race. I remember being overcome with emotion last year while hanging out at the finish, watching people just like me coming in after dark. And to top it off, there was the last minute finish by race founder Harry Sloan. It was electric. It was emotional. It was eye opening. Superior, somehow, is just different from other races. It is a true gem of ultrarunning.

What really chokes me up though is thinking about the selfless sacrifice that all the others around me have made, in order to get me to that finish line. In the finish area, some of the volunteers, like Maria Barton, looked like they had just run the race, because they had been up for days and were completely exhausted. I could not have done this without my family/crew and pacing team. It's because of their sacrifices that I was able to get this done. I truly mean that. Sometimes people just say that, but for this race it is the absolute truth. I needed my team and I needed the volunteers to reach that finish line. Endless thanks and praise to you all!

It was amazing to see all of the DSP runners and supporters out there. So many people that weekend were flying the flag to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was humbling, to say the least. I think we are onto something after all. Thank you for your continued support. It means a lot!

It goes without saying that the 2016 Superior 100 is the hardest race that I've ever done. It was harder than FANS 24-hour, where I kept walking for 4+ hours on an injured leg, that put me in a boot and crutches afterward. Now 5 days later, other than my feet, which look like that of a leper, my muscles and joints feel like they're mostly back to normal. I had a lot of upper back and shoulder soreness for about 3 days, just from being so inexperienced with trekking poles. But the mental challenge of this race was just so immense. I've never really been stripped down to the core like that, submerged in the dark sea of my own negative thoughts, for so long during any race. I would say that I spent at least 50% of the race in a very dark place, almost all of it during the second half, which took about 21 hours.

Was it worth it? Hell yes.

Dweeb Stats

Official race info from

103.3 miles (point-to-point)
Elevation Gain 21,000 FT
Elevation Loss 21,000 FT
NET Elevation Change 42,000 FT
13 Aid Stations
38 hour time limit

Official finish time: 36:37:24
Place: 111

Moving time: 31:22:08 (as calculated by Strava)

Non-Moving Time: 5:15:16 
  - at Zumbro I had 2 hours of non-moving time, which I thought was disgraceful!

Starters: 217
Drops: 78
Finishes: 138
Finisher Rate: 64%

Splits: (no splits were recorded at Sonju Lake Road)

StationDistancePlaceTime InTime OutElapsedPaceSection Pace
Split Rock9.713710:24am--:--02:24:0014:5014:50
Beaver Bay20.112912:48pm--:--04:48:0014:1913:50
Silver Bay2511002:15pm--:--06:15:0015:0017:45
County Road 643.59008:00pm--:--12:00:0016:3319:46
Sonju Lake Road58.70--:----:----:----:----:--
Crosby Manitou62.98803:25am--:--19:25:0018:3124:11
Cramer Road77.99309:55am--:--25:55:0019:5726:14
Oberg Mountain96.210405:35pm--:--33:35:0020:5628:10

PRP: 1
MRP: 1
MRP Attempts: 1
MRU: 15+

Shoe Changes: 1
Sock Changes: 3


Dweeb Gear
Shoes: Altra Olympus 2.0 (x2)
Gaiters: Altra
Socks: DryMax Lite Trail (1/4 crew)
Compression Sleeves: Zensah (after CR 6)
Undies: Under Armour compression shorts (bad chafing in the tag area, above the ass crack)
Shirts: Hoka tech tee, Asics running tee, DSP safety green running tee
Shorts: Pearl Izumi Ultra Split
Outer Layer: Patagonia Houdini jacket
Hat: DSP trucker hat
Buff: Rocksteady Running Wrap - Superior 2015 edition
Hydration vest: Salomon Advanced Skin 5L with 2 Salomon soft flasks
Backup water bottle: Nathan quick draw 20 oz.
Watch: Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Headlamps: Zebralight H600Fc III High CRI, Black Diamond Spot
Portable USB Charger: MyCharge (Small, light, durable, and plenty of juice to get the job done)
Poles: Expedition by Transport (after Sugarloaf)

Dweeb Nutrition
Honey Stinger waffles: vanilla and strawberry (abandoned by CR 6)
Cliff shot bloks: strawberry and orange (with caffeine)
Grilled Cheese
Chicken noodle soup
PBJ Quarters
Potato chips
Hot dogs
Sprite (helped with nausea and to settle my stomach)
Saltstick caps

Dweeb Crew
Erin Connelly
Aryel Connelly
Caitlyn Connelly
Elizabeth Smith
Kevin Chem

Dweeb Pacers
Elizabeth Smith
Kevin Chem

More Pics: Warning!!! Gross foot pic at the very bottom!!!

Just a few of the many DSP team reps, L to R: Kevin Chem, Doug Kleemier, Myself, Julio Salazar, and Jeff Miller

More climbing

Sheer beauty - should have picked up the pace though on this runnable surface

Proper pole technique - 100% of body weight onto the poles

"That's not a lake, that's the sky!"

Endless planks over endless bogs: not all were in good shape like the ones you see here

Top speed late in the race - 13:30/mile pace

The reward: a medal, a buckle, and the coveted finisher's sweatshirt (a sew on star is given for each finish)


The price of the reward (Photo by Wendi Baldwin)