May 22, 2016

May 21, 2016 Spring Superior 50k Trail Race

The short report:

This race was hot, hilly, technical and hard!!

The long report:

If you are still reading after the quick short version above here is the full story. I have been spending so much time getting ready for my hiking trip to the Border Route Trail in the boundary waters in a few days that I spent very little time thinking about spring superior. I have run the 25k and Moose Mountain marathon twice and am familiar with the course and what to expect. Training I had covered just did not put much thought into how the race would go. I suppose some may consider this a good thing as it means there is no time to get nervous about the race. And this is possibly true.

I drove up north on Friday afternoon after a morning at work. I was excited to be starting my weekend early. I picked up my friend Dawn in Hammond and we drove up the Wisconsin side to Superior and then into Duluth. Note to self: this is the slow road to China, I mean Duluth. It may be fewer miles but you have to drive through all the small towns slowing down as you go through each one. Frustrating when you just want to get up north. We arrived at about 6:15, dropped our bags off at the room we were sharing with Robyn at The Mountain Inn and headed over to packet picket and eventually dinner at Mogul's at Caribou Highlands. We had a nice dinner with a drink to relax and headed back to the room to get our stuff ready for the morning. I must be getting old as we were all in bed by 8:45 pm. Alarm was set for 5:15 for a race start of 7 am.

Me, Dawn and Robyn with Moose Mountain in the Background

I was awake much earlier than my alarm but stayed in bed. Last fall the motel ran out of coffee in the lobby so the first order of business was coffee to help wake up. It was a good choice as they ran out of coffee again but not before I was able to get at least one cup. I needed to get my drop bag to the packet pickup by 6:30 so I got dressed and headed over after using the sunscreen out of the drop bag first. I was able to get another cup of coffee at packet pickup as well. I saw some friends hanging around packet pickup but needed to finish getting ready so went back to my room.

The morning was warm at around 50 degrees. Good temps for starting a race but it was also a good indicator of how warm the day was going to get.

John started out with the usual starting line speech and thanks to Robyn for reminding me to check in that morning my name was not called. I started out near the front with Jamison. I was not too worried about holding any one up when we hit the single track as there was plenty of road for the faster runners to pass me by. One big problem was I was trying to keep up with Jamison and noticed we were doing 10:30 minute mile pace on an uphill road. Finally decided the peer pressure was not going to take me (well it may have helped that I could not breathe after about 1/2 mile) and backed off my pace. I may have even ended up walking a bit on the road section but I will neither confirm nor deny that if asked. My jockeying for position in the eventual conga line worked well as I don't believe I held anyone up and was able to keep up on that first climb. Once it leveled out I ran for a bit and at some point discovered Robyn was behind me. I did not realize she started behind me so was pleasantly surprised. She got out in front of me and I made the decision I would stick with her for as long as I was able. She set a good pace and kept me moving just a tad bit faster than I would have if left to myself. I affectionately refer to the first half of my race as my RRR race. That would stand for Run Robyn's Race, instead of Run your own race which is almost always a better strategy.

There is me trying to keep up with Jamison
The temps started heating up quickly. We arrived into Oberg, aid station 1 about 20 minutes ahead of my "just finish the race in 9 hours plan". I was able to stay ahead of my plan by that 20 minutes all the way to the turnaround at Carlton Peak.

That climb to Carlton Peak was hard! I huffed and puffed my way to the top all the while my thighs were screaming for mercy, not to mention my lungs. That climb felt like it went on forever. Up to this point I met many runners on their return trip but as we got close to the top they started telling me you are almost there. Now I love the positiveness and encouragement offered by my fellow ultra runners but I also know that lying to an ultra runner is an acceptable practice so I may have been a bit sceptical. But I finally made it to the top! Robyn was there just ahead of me and was enjoying the view and getting the required picture of Kevin Langton who was the official Carlton Peak crew this year. I took my time to take in the view and yes it is possible that the real reason was because I had to catch my breath before heading back out.
Getting to the top of Carlton Peak. Photo Credit: Kevin Langton

View of Lake Superior From Carlton Peak
View to the East on top of Carlton Peak
Robyn and I on Carlton Peak. Photo credit: Kevin Langton
Time to head back to the finish line! Photo Credit: Kevin Langton
I finally realized that the race was not going to finish itself and it was time to head back. Robyn was still ahead of me and while i kept her in my sights she was not within shouting distance for most of the next section. The heat was starting to zap my energy and I was starting to wane. It is only 2.25 miles from Carlton peak to Sawbill AS but that was long enough for me. My cutoff for Sawbill was noon and I made it in by 11:30 so my time was looking good. I had started putting ice in my water bladder and wetting down my buff and my visor to try to stay cool. My drop bag was at Sawbill AS so each time I went through I applied more sunscreen. I could not afford to get sun burnt with my hiking trip so close. It seems I managed the sunscreen well as I came out unscathed.

The next section out of Sawbill is about 5.5 miles and I have until 1:30 to beat the cutoff. In my head this should have been easy but I am pretty sure this section is when my body decided it was ready to be done. My garmin was not tracking mileage correctly so I was losing track of how far away the aid station was. I slowed down considerably on a section that is suppose to be very runnable and I hit my low point in the race for sure. Robyn had mentioned that she may drop at Oberg AS due to her injured calf and I quit trying to keep up with her on this leg. Well even if I had wanted to I don't think I could have but I was OK with that. I figured I would make the cutoff but also figured I would lose the 25 minute gain I had for the first half of the race. I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into Oberg at 1:10 or so. Lost some time but at least it was still ahead of the cutoff. Everyone was asking how I felt and all I could say was I was hot and how hard this race was. I spent at least 10 minutes in the aid station mostly trying to cool down. At this point I no longer had an appetite and just planned to eat cliff bloks or gels just for energy. I had added heed to my bladder back at Sawbill AS and even that was starting to taste bad. I could feel my feet with hot spots and someone asked if I wanted to tape them but I did not even want to take my shoes off this late in the race to see what was happening. I saw Robyn and asked her what she was going to do and she said she was going to run it in with me.

We left Oberg with about 10 minutes to spare with the desire to be done running. I was desperately trying not to think about the course that stood between me and the finish line. One step at a time and I would deal with it as it came. We moved slowly and while I watched the mileage slowly tick by on my garmin I refused to pay attention to what our finishing time would be. Those roots that I so admired on the first half of the race were no longer admired but dreaded. My feet hurt, my quads hurt and oh did I mention it was hot? We learned to appreciate when the sun was hidden by clouds and we could feel a small breeze in the air. The breeze helped to keep the bugs out of our faces. I don't think I mentioned the bugs. The gnats and flies were out in abundance. They were loving the perfect weather conditions.
This was the view I saw all day as I chased the elusive runner through the woods.
Beaver dam
These flowers loved the wet muddy spaces on the trail.
Soon we were running the switchbacks of the last major climb (well walking would be more accurate) and anticipating the top as we knew as soon as we hit the campground it was all downhill from there except for the little blip after the poplar river and before  the road. We finally hit the campground and had to celebrate with a selfie.

The Campground signaling it is all downhill to the finish. (well almost)
Not sure what we were celebrating as it turns out the downhill was painfully technical. Oh that is right we were celebrating being almost done. When I finally satisfied my urge to check my running time and noticed it was over 8 hours. Well that's OK I thought now I don't have to try to push myself for that sub 8 hour finish. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and we will get there Robyn says. Is that the Poplar River we hear? Well not sure but I can definitely hear the finish line! Yep that is also the river and by golly there it is! Now just to tackle that road finish. We will just run it slow and steady says Robyn. But my abs hurt when I run! I must have really used my core on those hills. I am not nauseous but the stomach muscles hurt. Oh well we are almost there. All of my races at superior I have always forced myself to run this last section in. No walking on the road. Finish strong. It is mind over matter even though my body is screaming it wants to walk. With the bridge in sight we finally turn right back onto dirt and bring it into the homestretch. I feel bad that I did not ask Robyn if she wanted to sprint it in before I picked up my pace as she may have thought I was trying to finish ahead of her. She kept up with me pace for pace and we crossed the line together. So what started out as me running Robyn's race may have ended up as Robyn running Janet's race. Either way it was a great day on the trail and running with Robyn definitely made it more enjoyable than listening to my own thoughts for over 8 hours.

Finished in 8:37:15. Overall 167/177, 41/45 females and 3/3 Grand Masters. Not the fastest of races but on a difficult course with the heat anything less than 9 hours was a roaring success!

1 comment:

  1. As a fellow back of the packer, I enjoy reading your race reports! I was leapfrogging you and Robyn most of the race until you both passed me for the final time just after coming out of Oberg. Similar feelings as you - the heat took its toll on the return trip and my sub 8-hour goal turned into "just beat the cutoff"! Keep up the good work!


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