Coming into Superior, I had pretty clear expectations of the two cards I may have for the race. Option one was to race as hard as possible, going out with the front runners. Option two was to treat it as a good training run and enjoy the Superior Hiking Trail. Somehow, I managed to do a hybrid of that plan and not completely mess up the day.
Mal and I camped out the night before the race near Grand Marais under clear skies and low 30's for temps. To no one's surprise, I could have shot a cannon through the campground and not hit a single tent. Thank God for warm sleeping bags and an understanding wife. We took advantage of the night to hike around and check out the numerous close waterfalls and also spent time in Grand Marais. In hindsight, I prepared for the race by spending too much time on my feet, but I wouldn't trade time exploring with my wife for anything else.
Race morning started crisp to say the least and I spent the first couple minutes on thoroughly wooden legs, bright red from the headwind. As per usual, there was a pack of 15 guys that accompanied the charge out, most of whom I didn't recognize. Amazingly, this sorted out rather quickly within the first mile and I found myself in a tight knit fourth before we crossed the river. Upon hitting the single track and beginning the first climb, we had a preview of how wet the course was. Half frozen mud puddles and shoe sucking holes greeted us kindly. I cursed and thought how accurate Storkamp's description of "shoe sucking death holes (or something like that)" was. As we continued to climb my legs felt uncharacteristically flat. Usually race nerves prevent this from happening, but I felt ragged. Unfortunately, I hadn't prepared for this so early and let myself go negative for a while as I continued to chase with burning lungs. As we continued the climb, I had tangled thoughts. The SHT kindly reminded me of it's rocks, roots and brutal terrain.
After taking inventory on a level section I decided the best thing was to slow down and get into a rhythm. It was that or drop out...which wasn't an option if I still had a pulse. If anything, 50km is a long enough race where the competition could shake out completely different in 20 miles. With that, I shifted focus to work on fueling properly, adjusting my outlook on the day, and enjoying the scenery. Immediately, the pressure lifted as I reassured myself a training run would be fine. I hit the first aid station only one minute off the pace I told Mal which was encouraging. But, I still had zero mojo in the tank for inspired running. From AS1 to AS2, the running seems to have more descents which was helpful as my climbing legs were still notably on vacation. No matter how small the climb, my effort felt relatively weak on the day, but I continued to stick with my plan.
Upon hitting aid station two, I dropped my hydration pack which was a kind relief. The climb up to the turn-around is roughly two miles of consistent ascent. On the climb up, the trail allows a great look at the inbound competition. The first two leaders were roughly 7 minutes ahead at this point which was encouraging (better than last year). The third runner was roughly 3-4 minutes ahead. Upon cresting the top, this year's spectacular weather afforded a breathtaking view of Lake Superior and the endless miles of forrest that surround the SHT. I couldn't help to feel refreshed. Descending into AS2, I was glad to see 5th through the rest of the chase pack was far enough from me. I clocked two low 6 minute miles to provide some hope of separation as they were busy climbing.
I quickly grabbed my pack, refueled and continued towards the last aid station feeling good for the first time during the day. The last ascent left me with some semblance of confidence and I had a shot at catching third. Coming back to the last aid station was a mess. The inundated trail had basically been turned to a bog from all of the foot traffic with some stretches anywhere from mid ankle to near calf deep. I didn't try to skip the mud, instead I would run right through it and hope to not lose shoes. Along the way, it was awesome to greet everyone else and see some friends among the many faces.
As I ran down the last stretch of pavement towards the finish, I knew I gave the course another honest effort. The beauty of ultra running is no one race will ever be perfect (at least for the every day mortal). In hindsight, I executed nutrition and adjusted my strategy to finish the day in 4th place and not DNF. Though I would have loved to be closer to the podium, this race gave great insight of my current fitness and weaknesses going into the rest of the year.
Like every Rock Steady Running event put on by John Storkamp and team, this year's Superior 50k was flawlessly marked and produced. The only constant is that John can spin some sort of sick humor into a rugged course and less than flawless conditions. There is no doubt his passion for tough races inspires others to get on the trails and enjoy a day of hard work and accomplishment. Moving forward, Superior 50k will provide a great base as I build towards Black Hills 50 in a month. A special thank you to my wife Mallory for unwavering support, Fitsok for blister free toes, Hammer for energy and zero GI explosions, and TCRC for smart shoe selections and chafe free running singlets and shorts.
- Ultimate Direction AK Pack
- Nike TCRC Singlet
- Mountain Hardwear Cool Runner Shorts
- Fitsok ISW Wool Socks
- Nike Zoom Wildhorse Shoes
Nutrition Used: Hammer Nutrition
- Hammer Gel (2 parts Espresso, 2 parts Huckleberry, 1 part water) - 8 gels total in 2 Hammer gel flasks
- Hammer Race Caps Supreme + Anti Fatigue Caps - 2 of each every hour
- Salt Stick Tablets - 6 total late in the race
- Roughly 30 ounces of 2 scoops Heed and 2 scoops Generation UCAN