Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Superior 100 Race Report | 2012

Over the course of two sunrises & sunsets my life was changed. I am humbled. Jubilant. And still 2 weeks later...somewhat dazed. There are numerous sections of the race that I can't for the life of me remember and others whose details I will never forget.

Here is what I can/wish to recount of the amazing journey...

37hours: 30minutes: 12seconds | 41,000ft of Elevation Change | 103.3 Miles

Standing at the pre-race meeting race director John Storkamp jokingly plunks away at a piano. The dreary single key tune drones out in what can only be described as a death march. This, he tells us, is what the race may become to some of you, that is, if you're "one of the lucky ones". He goes on to explain/encourage/warn us...In the past we have had between a 50% and 60% finishers rate... Reflective XXXs mark cliffs, be careful.... We'll do everything we can to help you be successful, but don't be stupid or hate the reeper should he have to end your race early...Good luck! All healthy doses of reality met with laughter and a general understanding of what we're facing come morning.

At dinner my awesome crew (hubby &  his parents),pacer (ultra buddy Rick) and I talk race strategy. Stay as little time as possible at the aid stations, beware of the chair, put one foot in front of the other until they cross the finish line, hopefully within the time constraints.

I toss, I turn, I try to think about everything else but starting a 100miler in the morning. At some point I fall asleep and wake 15minutes before my alarm goes off. My pre-race nerves now at the surface are met with a God-sent calm. I give my Beloved a kiss before boarding the bus to the starting line...I won't see him or any of my crew until I'm 20miles in.

On the bus I manage to eat all of my breakfast without much trouble, I trade words with Ray the well accomplished ultrarunner seated beside me. I confess to him that this is my first 100. He reminds me to start slow & slow down, something Rick had already urged. I take note. As the sun begins to rise over Lake Superior, my eyes close and I somehow snag some Z's before arriving at Gooseberry State Park.

Rick graciously meets me at the starting line. We go over a few more race logistics. His words, encouragement & pacing advice help me to focus. I am at peace. I am ready.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord. -Proverbs 21:31

We're off... and from that moment on I no longer think of the 103.3 miles ahead of me. Just one aid station at a time until there are no more left or I have nothing left.

The morning sunlight sets the hills & changing leaves aglow. I settle into what I feel is a smart pace near the back of the pack being mindful to keep my heart rate as low as possible. The terrain is like candy to me, but if I eat it too soon or too quickly it will only bring trouble.

Mile 9.7 - Split Rock aid station comes & goes. I decide then that even though my hydration pack can typically last me 20miles I will refill it at every AS. Part of my early race strategy is to keep my pace in check by hydrating when I want to be hauling and snapping pictures. Eye candy.

Being conversational is a solid method to keep tabs on your exertion level and I am blessed to be paced with a handful of well humored & talkative ultra loving crazies. Over the course of the race these wonderful crazies would become my comrades.

After scanning the woods for a few miles I find a lady approved place to wee, I leave the pack and trek off into the sticks. My shorts hit my ankles then I hear shouts of "hey, you're going the wrong way!". As I glance back thru the woods expecting to see other racers I see a several people carrying flags and it dawns on me, I am dead last. These are race volunteers clearing the route. Start slow & slow down...Check?


A little concerned & not about to be last after the first aid station I allow myself to run in order to catch up with everyone else. I inform them of my DFL status and the flag bearers swiftly behind us, they are as shocked as I am, but we quickly get over it and onto the ruggedness...

We make our way toward the Beaver Bay aid station and the superior hiking trail starts to display some of her jagged ways. Every toe stubbing root or rock, every hill climb, erased by beauty.

Reaching Beaver Bay I am met by the smiling faces of my loved ones. It's invigorating. We stumble thru trying to refill my pack with water and fuel efficiently, but by next aid station that is already fixed. This is the joy of having a crew full of analytical thinkers, fixers.

Leaving BB Tony is leading the pack. He is more full of life at 65 than most people I know half his age. As the terrain becomes more technical he shares with me what he loves about ultra running. The sounds. Up until this point I had been running music-free, but not really listening. After his comment the symphony of the trail comes alive and so do I.

The roots underfoot lift up the soil making a hollow and as our feet fall upon it, it sounds like orchestrated taps on a bongo drum. The slivers of rock that have broken off of cliff walls, while horrid footing (especially for a minimalist) enchant us. They sound like seashell or bamboo chimes blowing in the wind. The breeze fills the trees and the forest has breath. With each note I know my Creator lives and I can feel Him there.

A few aid stations tick by, my crew finds a rhythm and each time the pack is refilled (added weight) I focus on keeping good form. So far so good. All of my training to get here is the perfect fit and smiling comes easy. I continue to eat before I'm hungry, drink before I'm thirsty & while this has me feeling somewhat full, I'm on track.

Between miles 24-30 the wind begins to build, the air temp starts to drop and I hear thunder off in the distance. It's tough to get a feel for the wind direction in the woods. I am reminded "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians 5:18 The rain may come, I have no control over it, but the only thing that matters right now is making it  to the next aid station. I keep charging on.

The torrent wind makes tornadoes out of the dusty soil on the bluffs. It's obnoxious. Then I catch up with Shelly just as the skies open pelting us with cold rain. She is a graceful runner, easy to follow and the time passes quickly. We're both able to laugh off the North Shore's unpredictable weather before the skies clear again.

Next up the Tettagouche aid station. Steve Q. had mentioned to me that he'd be volunteering there and that I'd see him right after The Drainpipe. I didn't know what he meant by drainpipe, but I knew where Tettagouche was.

Now I know...
Fiercely pitched, worn dirt patches now slicked by rain with the sporadic gnarly boulder or log protruding thru the surface in feeble hopes of keeping you from toppling over on your way down. It, along with many other areas along the SHT was  ridiculous. Logic tells you this shouldn't be a trail, but the markers assure you it is. This kind of terrain really gets me going. I love being the plinko chip and I can't really explain why.

Coming into the Tettagouche AS (Mile 35) I was stoked and nearing cloud 9.

Exiting it the sun was starting to set, I mentally tried to prepare for the coming darkness and battle with fatigue. The symphony quieted by the falling dusk is accentuated by the fact I am primarily alone now. But it was here that I would summit cloud 9.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm121:1-2

Technical terrain doesn't lend itself to a lot of looking up. When I did my eyes were delighted with the familiar. I was in the middle of nowhere but knew exactly where I was. Growing up my parents had taken me to this state park and section of trail many times. I was comforted by the sights and overjoyed by the flashbacks of memories. 

Rick had warned me that the highest highs are often followed by some of the lowest lows and it is a challenge to meter them in order to keep things level. He was right. I knew I had let my high moment peak too high when it happened.

Thankfully when I approached the corresponding low was also when we were allowed to pick up a pacer. Rick was such a blessing here as I struggled thru feeling overwhelmed. I remembered Maggie hitting this point when I crewed her thru her 100. At some point the rest of the race is going to feel vast, like more than you're ready to take on & that just drags you down. Physically I felt great for being 45ish miles in, sure things ached off and on, that's just part of it, but mentally it was time to go to war. With myself.

"but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

I pulled thru that just as we pulled into the Finland aid station. The night darkness now blanketing everything turned cold. So I went steazy. I'd officially reached the point of not caring what I looked like. Comfort reigned supreme & this is what it looked like.

Remember the candy? It was time. I had been holding off on my treats knowing that I'd need the boost later in the race. 50miles in...time for music & a little running. Past the low and somewhat still good humored sandwich in hand I headed into the darkness. Alone. I would do my best to cover ground well in the next 13 miles before picking up Rick again. Jeremy had selected Promontory as the track for my first steps back on the trail and from there it was on and my brain was off.

This is where the blur begins and my timeline starts to get fuzzy. From here I mostly just remember shorter & shorter snip-its.

Like arriving at Sonju aid station with what was left of the aforementioned sandwich tucked between my ta-tas. I like running with free hands & that was the only available pocket. I laughed at myself before the aid station worker laughed at me and kindly refilled my pack.

I also remember the reflective XXX's. It's a little unnerving to cast your headlamp out into the distance only to have it met with pure blackness. Cliffs. The risk kept me vigilant and that helped keep me awake the first night. An unexpected blessing.

For eons I could hear the cheers from the Crosby Manitou AS. The feeling of being so close, yet so far away. The switchback down to it took forever, but reaching it was sweet.

Rick took the lead as we departed Crosby and it didn't take long before we came upon this... 

This is the start of a very long boardwalk that would take us thru an open water marsh area. When we reached it we both stopped. Half of it was completely broken and to add insult to injury the remaining board was wet. It looked to be waist deep below the plank and all we could see beyond that was our breath mingling with the fog hovering over the mirky water & the occasional fringe of swamp grass. Rick looked back at me and I could tell he was unsure or less than thrilled. Perhaps both. I offered to go first, but he was a good pacer & tactically trudged on.

Night one was beautiful in its simplicity. Follow the halo of your headlamp, stay warm, stay fed, stay hydrated. Stay awake. I did.

Though I questioned myself once when I thought I saw a runner less than a hundred yards away before he disappeared right before me, for 1/2mile I was freaked out & convinced I'd had my first hallucination. I eventually caught up with him and thanked him for being real, we had a good laugh about that.

And I questioned myself again when Rick & I found ourselves on a pine choked trail. I hadn't seen any trail markers indicating a turn, either had he and the SHT is obnoxious so even though this section had me wanting a machete I didn't think we were off track. In fact I was just happy the pine trees made me smell better. Rick decided to go back and see if we had missed any flags, we had & back on the proper route again we went.

Day Two

There is something special about seeing two sunrises during the same race. I had been looking forward to & waiting for this moment for a long time. It brought with it new hope, some energy & more rain.

I remember standing under an aid station tent, grabbing a cup of soup, burning the heck out of my tongue. Soaked & burnt I must have looked rough because one of the aid station workers came over to inform me that the next section is a little more technical with some good climbing & I needed to decide if I could continue or not. She seemed shocked when I immediately laughed at that & said I'm going. She had just described the Superior Hiking Trail. It's all like that and the thought of dropping was never an option to me.

The grey skies continued.

I could feel the blisters, but they didn't seem like something that needed to be taken care of yet and I didn't want to lose any time in the aid stations so I ignored them for a long while as I splashed thru unavoidable puddles in the pouring rain on my way to Temperance River aid station. Here I would get a sock change, a view of the damage & the best foot rub I've ever had from my mother in law.

After removing my soggy shoes and socks I was surprised at the condition of my feet. They had gone from the been in the bathtub too long pruney stage & right ahead to trench foot. The crease lines were deep, the blisters barely visible thru the pale white skin, yet very much there. Sitting in the chair felt amazing, fresh socks felt amazing, getting out of the chair & back on the trail again, not so amazing. Beware of the chair.

The sun broke way and we were on the climb up Carlton Peak. This side was...difficult. Between the exertion of scaling the countless boulders on the way up and no sleep I was starting to see sparkles. Getting past the peak I refocused working on fueling/hydration to help with the glitter, it helped some, but then I became distracted by my feet. They had begun to feel every little thing and wouldn't stop for the next 20miles.

At the next aid station I grabbed a set of trekking poles, something I had never trained with, but I was desperate to distribute some of the pressure on my soles to anywhere else. This worked for a while and I was able to keep a more consistent however slow pace.

Sooner or later it didn't matter what I did, it just hurt. With each footstep the deep creases in my soles pulled away at the blistered beneath them. Then came the death march. My battle song. In second Corinthians it says that my King's power is made perfect in weakness...as I planted trekking pole after pole literally lifting my body off the ground over countless roots & rocks, I was weak, but His strength was sufficient for me. 

I am still humbled by how Rick took care of me while pacing those miles. It takes a special person to keep a suffering one company. To listen to their grunts, groans & f-bombs of discomfort. And to not be offended when you suddenly stop talking and put the headphones on in an attempt to try to numb out. He is that person and everything I had hoped for in a pacer.

Night 2 fell on familiar territory, 15miles of trail I had covered in a 50k two years prior. This was a double edged sword. Comforting to know where I was. Discouraging to know what climbs & switchbacks were yet to come. Looking at my watch time & time again I was convinced I wouldn't make the cutoff. The thought of not getting the belt buckle or finishers sweatshirt was so frustrating. I knew I'd finish, but that didn't keep me from doubting/believing I'd make it in time.

My brain now deteriorated to that of a 4yr old repeatedly asking "why?",  I asked Rick again and again if we'd make it on time. He estimated we'd be there at 9:30. How the man can do that kind of math given the varied terrain & pace is beyond me, but he was right.

My ipod died just as we caught up to a string of other runners, by then I had discovered that I could stay quieter by biting my neck warmer, my wooden spoon for pain. Their determined pace kept me going. I waited for the boardwalks on a downhill, I knew that meant I was in the last mile. It took forever but we finally hit them.

Everything in me wanted to sprint all the way to the finish when we got into Lutsen, but that was too far for this tired body. When I got to the corner of Caribou Highlands (the finishing "chute") I said aloud "okay my God & King let's do this" and forced my battered feet to run before jumping up & down on the timing pads at the finish line. Something I'm still not sure how I managed to do, but I did it and my race was done. Bliss.

To my Beloved, Family and Friends who came out to support me I am grateful beyond words. You have seen me as a sheep shorn and still supported me the whole way thru, this blows me away.Thank you!

Finishing something like this opens up the doors of what I had limited on being possible and that encourages me to dream big. So I am.

Next up... Arrowhead? I hope!