The (not so) new job has wreaked havoc with my running plans this year. My overall year-to-date mileage is the lowest it has been since I started the run log (barely 450 miles), work meetings have conflicted with almost all the weekly WeRunMpls runs and the first Vikings game meant I had to break my streak of nine straight Milk Runs at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a minor miracle I finished Grandma’s Marathon in June and the Afton 50K in July with semi-decent times. Unfortunately, those two races gave me false hope that I could still run the Superior Fall 50 while being significantly undertrained.
While I have lots of experience with marathons and two difficult 50K trail races under my belt, this jump to 50 miles was a much bigger challenge than I expected. I mean, really, look at this course elevation graphic – 25,000 feet of total elevation change. Portions of the trail are more like rock climbing than running. The winner had a pace of 10:22 Minute Miles. Only 75 people out of 174 starters finished the 50.
So on top of my work/training issues and one of the toughest courses in the country, I had logistical problems, rain and a whole lot of mud to make it even more challenging. Since I neglected to reserve a room closer to Lutsen, I stayed with my sister in Duluth. This meant a 1:30am alarm to get on the road by two so I could catch the 4am bus to the starting line. It rained that entire time, peaking just when we arrived in Finland. I checked in, pinned on my number and waited for the always excellent John Storkamp to lead us out to the start.
This was my first race that required a headlamp, so I picked up one of these from Mill City. We started in the rain at 5:30am, running down a gravel road to the actual Superior Hiking Trail. Once there, it was a big bottleneck and many people walked for quite a while. The first aid station, Sonju Lake, is 7.5 miles in and it seemed to take forever to arrive. My stomach felt terrible and I was experiencing some extreme G-I pain (thankfully not the usual disgusting runner problem you always hear about, though). When I got to the aid station, my heart sank when they said there were no bathrooms until the next one (in 4.2 miles).
I filled up my hand-held water bottle and headed off to the Crosby Manitou checkpoint. The trail was extremely muddy in spots – just like last year’s Spring 50K race. My shoes nearly got sucked off when my right leg sank a foot and a half into the muck. My left ankle got twisted (and still feels off now). At several points, I had to stop and nearly doubled over from the stomach pain. Don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see an aid station. Visited the bathroom, cleaned up some unexpected bleeding, restocked on water and felt a lot better.
The third checkpoint, Sugarloaf, was 9.4 miles away and had a cutoff time of 11:45am. Since my Garmin died, I haven’t been running with any timing devices and didn’t know how long I had been on course. I knew there were a lot of people going slow because of the mud, but I really didn’t think I was close to getting swept so early in the race.
The rain stopped and the sun came out, revealing some amazing views of Lake Superior and the beautiful Minnesota Northwoods. The Caribou River brought big elevation changes and I quickly used up my water supply. This, of course, started dehydration problems that lead to cramping in both legs and stretched that 9.4 miles for what seemed like forever.
As I trudged to Sugarloaf, I was already trying to decide if I would drop out there or attempt to make it to one more checkpoint (Cramer Road, the halfway point and start of the marathon). When I finally got there, the volunteers had already broken down most of the food and I was asked to turn in my timing chip.
Too slow. No options. First-ever DNF.
Disappointed, but it just wasn’t meant to be this year. Mark it down as a learning experience:
- Spend the money and buy a Camelbak
- Spend some more money and get a new watch
- Rent a room near the start
- Do the miles
The DNF experience was harder without a support crew – there are no shuttles back to the finish, so you are on your own to find a ride. I had a race official take me to the next aid station, then found another group that offered to drive me back to Lutsen. It felt terrible going to the finish line to pick up my bag – everyone there was so happy, while I just felt…out of place.
So what’s next? I need to take a little time to recover, then make running a priority again. Get back to the running club, get back to runs with Megan. Run in the stadium this winter. Do more cross-training. Ski. Bike. Golf. Run Get in Gear 2017. Maybe run Zumbro.
And the Superior 50? Definitely…