2009 Superior Trail 50 Mile Race Report
Posted by scott on September 14, 2009
I finished the Superior Trail 50 Mile race in 13 hours 48 minutes (according to my GPS, no published times yet). The race was a total blast, I loved it and will do it again. My family was there to crew me and I loved seeing them at the aid stations, and running with my boys when they came to meet me on the trail. It was crazy hot and muggy for me, but I think I was able to stay ahead of food and hydration enough that it didn’t bring me down.
I just had a blast with this race. By rights, I was bold even toeing the starting line and frankly had no business finishing. My training this summer was nowhere near what I wanted. I had a few injuries that lead to 2-3 week breaks in running, and I only did 2 runs over 20 miles (26 and 30). To top it off, I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before the race. Before going to bed, I discovered that I had forgotten the bladder for my Camelback, and my 2 Nathan handhelds were with my crew and showing up at Crosby-Manitou (11.7 miles into the race). So I started with my Camelback as a backpack and had to carry an REI water bottle for the first couple hours. I knew it was going to be warm, so decided to take an S! cap every 45 minutes, much more frequently than I did in training.
For the first sections of the race I just really took it easy with the pace. I started towards the back of the pack and a lot of people passed me. No worries. I kept telling myself to go slow and do my own race. I started eating at mile 2 with Clif bloks, and planned to steadily eat all day. I drank HEED at the start and filled my water bottle with HEED there and again at Sonju and was downing it like crazy.
By the time I got to Crosby-Manitou (mile 11.7), I could really tell it was going to be a hot and muggy day. I dropped my Camelback and picked up my handhelds. Mom had mixed my custom ultra fuel (rice milk, soy protein, chia seeds, honey – 620 calories) in one and I put water in the other. I ate a bit at the car, then chatted with Maria Barton and John Storkamp at the food table while I ate some more.
I hit the trail still feeling great and ready for this section, which I love and know. The massive gorge didn’t seem as bad as the first time I went through and I finished this section with a surprise. My two boys had hiked in to meet me! They filmed me coming down the trail and then wanted to run with me to Sugarloaf.
At Sugarloaf (mile 21), I had some Ramen noodles and a bit of breakfast burrito along with a lot of HEED and other aid station snacks. I realized there that I was going to be able to eat a lot more at the aid stations than I had planned, so wouldn’t have to eat as much on the trail. My goal was about 350 calories per hour, or 4900 calories for a 14 hour race.
My older son ran with me out of the aid station for a bit, then we said goodbye and I walked while I finished eating. During the sections I usually ate a pack of Clif bloks and a gel. I tried Lara bars, but they were just a bit too dry. I don’t remember anything notable about this section terrain-wise, but I did start to realize that I was feeling absolutely great. The heat was starting to get to me, but fortunately it absolutely poured rain during this section for a mile or two. I loved it! I mean poured-cats-and-dogs rain. It really cooled things off and I loved it. I did feel bad for the 100-milers getting their feet repaired at Sugarloaf. I imagined how great it must have felt to get blisters fixed and put on dry socks and shoes, and how disenheartening it would be to have them get soaked less than a mile later.
I just kept cruising along the trail, running when I could and walking when I had to. I had done some math while planning and found that the average finish time for last year ended up being around a 16 minute pace. Note for anyone not familiar with this trail, that’s a statement of how tough it is and how much walking is required! So I was shocked to see a lot of my miles ticking by at 12 and 13 minutes – I’m getting some in the bank! A mistake of the day that didn’t turn out catastophic was that my S! caps had melted in my pocket during the rain. I managed to smear one last one into my mouth in this section before they were scrap. Have you ever eaten an open S! cap? Don’t.
At Cramer Road (26.7 miles) I picked up my empty mini-M&M bottle filled with S! caps and ate, ate, ate. I drank a bunch of HEED and filled one handheld with HEED and one with water, which I did throughout the day. I was drinking and peeing like crazy trying to stay ahead of hydration and it was working.
I had also picked up a bandana at the last aid station and it was a godsend. Honestly that was the most valuable piece of gear I had on the trail that day, a cheap REI bandana (actually not cheap it was $3.50, which I thought was kind of a ripoff for a bandana at the time – the day before the race). It was still wet from the rain and kept me really cool in the heat. I used it a lot just to wipe away sweat and cool off, and stopped to dunk it in rivers and cool myself down – awesome.
I cruised along to Temperance River (33.8 miles) and was still feeling just awesome. I had a very slight headache that I was tracking, but really could figure out any food or hydration reasons behind it. So I chalked it up to heat and did what I could to cool down. I was passing a lot of people on the trail, surprisingly. At Temperance I ate a bunch again (thanks for the turkey wraps, gang, those were great!) and hung with the family a bit. I think one reason for my picked up pace was that a couple miles out I would start thinking “If I just pick up the pace a bit, I can chat with my family longer!”. They really kept me in the game.
I had never run this next section, and it was absolutely beautiful along the river. I passed a lot of day hikers, who politely moved off the trail for me which was very nice. I wondered how many of them knew what was going on. There were a lot of backpacking campers in this section, and their campfires all smelled so inviting! I wondered why no one ever mentions how challenging this section is. There is a long but 900 foot ascent to the foot of Carleton peak, then a 600 foot scramble over a rock fall – it was a sick joke. That is a crazy section at the end, one of the toughest spots but very beautiful views. I signed the guestbook at the top and kept booking onto Sawbill, where I volunteered last year.
At Sawbill (39.5 miles) I hung out for awhile and chatted with my family and with Dale and Steve.
I chowed again on more Ramen noodles and other snacks. I heard about Matt and Adam dropping and felt bad about that. I was still just amazed that I was feeling great. I knew the last section was hard, but I was feeling like I had the race in the bag as long as I didn’t do anything stupid (certainly not out of the question). I also showed my geek colors – I was determined to get a full GPS track from the race. I plugged a USB charger into the base for my 205, then strapped the watch hugely around my wrist and tied the charger to my forearm with the bandana. Totally geeky but it worked – I recharged all the way to Oberg where I dropped it off again. For some reason I thought Sawbill to Oberg was a fast, runnable section – not so. This was way slower than I thought, and finally at mile 43 something changed. My quads started to bark and I was finally feeling the race. It wasn’t awful, but I just really reset expectations to take it easy.
At Oberg (45 miles), I drank and ate a ton and really tried to hydrate since I knew the last section was going to take me awhile. I re-lubed to prevent “ring of fire”, put on my headlamp and hit the trail. I had arrived here way ahead of schedule. I didn’t really set pace expectations other than knowing the averages from last year so my crew could roughly plan, but I had been ahead of them since Crosby-Manitou.
This section was grueling as usually. By the time I got to the top of Moose Mountain, I was really feeling my quads. I was doing a lot of walking and just doing anything to not fall and screw things up. I remember the overlook towards Caribou Highlands and thinking, yikes that’s a bit farther than I want. Every time I have run this section I have confused the small dip at the end of Moose for the descent of Moose and the ascent of Mystery. So I was sorely disappointed to be reminded of Mystery mountain of the end. It’s not the biggest, it’s just killer when your gassed. At long last I could hear the welcome sound of Poplar River, and knew I was close. That’s such a great sound to hear.
As I popped out onto the road, I couldn’t believe it but there were my two boys standing in the dark waiting for me. We ran together all the way to the finish, and it was the best race finish I’ve ever had.
I’m sore and hobbling around like an old man, but nothing too serious. I had a fabulous day out on the trail and will definitely do this race again. That is one tough trail, but the reward is all of it’s beauty. I still don’t know how I had such a great day out there, but I did.
My family was a phenomenal crew, and there was no way I would have done this well my first time out without them. Thanks you guys for chasing me all day and giving me something to run towards. Larry and all of the volunteers put on a great race. I also couldn’t have finished this without help from the mn-drs list and all of the local ultra bloggers I read, you guys are a great source of information and inspiration. More than others, I want to thank Adam and Matt for advice and encouragement along the way. I really appreciate your posts and thanks for letting me bug you with email questions along the way – your responses were invaluable and I wouldn’t have done this well without your input.
52.44 miles in 13:48:30
Overall average pace 15:48
5600 calories burned
Map at RunningAhead