As long as I have known about the Superior 50 I have held it in high esteem
The North Shore of Lake Superior is a place that have visited since I was a kid. The Superior 50 mile race was the first 50 miler I knew about. My friend Steve Schuder used to run it back in the 90’s. I had hiked enough of the Superior Hiking trail to know that it would not be an easy trail to run. I remember thinking that it was something I could not imagine doing, so I suppose it is a little surprising that 20 plus years hence, I would be submitting my qualifying races and even more surprising is I would make it through the entrance lottery.
This was my 3rd 50 miler and it came at the end of a fairly ambiguous race plan: two 50k’s, a 380 mile gravel bike race (that I called at mile 190), a 340 mile canoe race, and then this 50 miler with its well known roots, rocks, and 12,000 feet of vertical. The truth is I was a little off my game in terms of motivation by the time September and the race came around. Coming off of the MR340, my coach Scott Gall’s main concern was to get me adequately recovered in the 6 weeks between the canoe race and the run. This meant that there were less back to back long runs then had been in my previous 50 miler training plans.
Is it posible to train for a 1/2 marathon and run a 50?
The summer training group got started again this summer and so I tagged along with them as they were training for a 1/2 marathon, all the while wondering if this was going to be enough to get ready for what I knew by reputation was going to be a very hard 50! I added a couple longer runs in the 2 1/2 hour range but nothing like I had in my training plan for the last two 50’s.
The Superior Fall trail race comes in 3 lengths: a 100 mile race, a 50 mile race, and a marathon length race. The moniker of the race is “Rugged, Relentless, Remote,” and with almost all of the race on the hiking trail it was true enough. At the pre-race meeting at the Finland Recreation Center, the race director pointed out that based on finishing times, the 50 mile race was one of the most challenging 50 milers in the country.
We started in the dark at 5:00 am. with the first couple miles down a gravel road and then a snowmobile trail in an attempt to sort the race field out by pace. We picked our way through rocks and roots, by the light of our headlamps. It might have been the energy that always comes at the beginning of a race, but apart from the relentless rocks and roots, it was not too physically challenging. This would be a theme for much of the race, plenty would be so technically challenging that it could not be run! The consensus was that this was a race where only 20% was truly runnable, I think that was a little low, but the truth is there was more than 1/2 was not really runnable.
I made it to the Crosby Manitou aid station (just short of 12 miles) ahead of schedule and almost ahead of Kathy! I was feeling pretty strong at this point. After a short climb, the trail dropped steeply and crossed the Caribou river. For the next 14 miles the trail climbed, but what often gets missed in Sawtooth mountain terrain is that there were a series of climbs and descents.
Trekking poles are all about technique!
There is a whole secondary story that happens on races like this with your support crew. Because it is a point to point race, people come and go at about the same time, as the runners. When I came into the Sugar Loaf aid station, Kathy announced “you should run with Fiona.” I was thinking, I do not know Fiona, or her pace, but she left the aid station about the same time I did. I was carrying trekking poles but had not yet gotten them out of my vest. It took about 50 yards for me to realize that Fiona really knew how to use poles! (She is a crosscountry ski coach from Thunder Bay.) I had been noticing that most of the people I was observing were using them as “walking sticks.” Honestly that was why I decided to bring them myself. But cross-country skiing was my first marathon sport, so I am quite familiar with poling! For the next 8 miles or so I followed Fiona as we poled past plenty of “runners.” Eventually after we had talked through plenty of US politics with Canadian insight, she poled off ahead of me.
The last 12 were the hardest
By the time I got through the Sawbill aid station my pace was lagging. In the last 12 miles of the race there are 8 steep ascents and descents, not counting the smaller climbs. For a while I was hoping to be in by dark, but that was increasingly becoming unlikely.
Kathy had given me my headlight at the Oberg aid station and I was needing it as the trail continued to be rough as the light failed. I finished while there was still a little light in the western sky. My time was 14:57:19, that was a pace of 17:57 per mile! It was my slowest 50 miler so far but also it was also the hardest.