On Friday I drove up to the north shore from the Twin Cities with my mom and son. Along the way we did some scouting – driving up Cramer Road to check out the marathon start. I ran a couple hundred yards down the trail just to get a feel for the start. This section of trail is VERY tangled with roots, which you could easily say about most of the trail, but this section is much more so than average. It felt a bit like running through one of these:
We continued to drive up to each aid station area, partly for me to check out short sections of the trail, and partly for my Mom to get an idea of where she was going to drive the next day to spectate. It was nice to at least have small mental snapshots of trail sections, even though it represented a very small % of the trail I’d be running the next day.
Saturday 9/7 – Race Day!
After reading updates about the heat/humidity carnage going on the hundred mile race, I decided that staying cool was going to be a major priority today. I planned to stop at every aid station (AS) to refill my hydration pack, as well as roll ice up in my new Rock Steady Running buff to wear around my neck as an “ice necklace.”
Cramer Road (Start)
Before John Storkamp’s race preview speech, I received a good luck high five from my boy:
And at 8am sharp the marathon was off!
I quickly settled into about 15-20th place as we ran down Cramer Road to complete the marathon bonus loop. I had been looking at results from previous years for this race, and based on the typical finisher’s pace, I figured 15-20th was just about where I belonged.
I could see Ben Kampf, the eventual land-slide winner (yellow shirt in center, above pic) setting the pace immediately, looking smooth and strong.
I also saw the Spring Superior 25k Grandmaster Champ and old-guy badass Conrad (orange shirt on left, above pic) taking off with the lead pack. A month ago, I got together with Conrad for a training run at Sibley State Park, and he gave me a clinic on running up technical trails with seemingly zero effort, leaving me in the dust and then waiting for me at the top of each climb.
My goal for this first section was to keep everything as smooth and efficient as possible, basically never pushing the legs whatsoever. If I arrived at Temperance in <1:20 I was going to feel a bit upset for pushing too early. The field quickly thinned out and I found myself running alone for miles two through seven. The only runner I saw was the eventual women’s winner Kris (yellow shirt on far right, above pic) passing me as I hiked one of the few uphill sections while she continued running.
I had a couple minor left ankle benders in the first few miles, but thankfully they never came back to haunt me. At one point I did a slight side step and attempted to plant my left foot on an angled slab of rock that was obviously wet. My foot slid a few inches and I scrambled to keep my balance. !#$^#^, I cursed to myself and said out loud “Don’t. Be. STUPID!” I then made a concerted effort to take the path of least risk, even if it wasn’t the quickest path. Any careless mistake on this trail can ruin a race.
The descent down to the Temperance aid station is quite steep at times and requires plenty of speed checks, lest you go flying over a root to face plant 10 feet below. During this descent I caught view of a three-runner train down below me, lead by Conrad.
I rolled into the Temperance aid station shortly after the pack of three and quickly got my water refilled by an awesome volunteer. I also took the RSR buff off my wrist and requested an “ice necklace”. I wasn’t sure if they would understand, but a young woman grabbed it from me and rolled ice into it pretty much perfectly – SWEET! I wasn’t really feeling the heat yet, but I knew the sun was getting higher in the sky and it was better to get ahead of the curve and stay cool.
I heard my name called and looked back to see my Mom and son. He was holding the sweetest “GO DADA” sign made with stickers:
^^^^I was happy to see them 😀 ^^^
I gave him a quick kiss on the head and headed back to the trail, hitting my watch lap button on the way: “1:22” (10:20 pace, including AS). Just about exactly where I wanted to be.
Other than a couple of huge boulders to navigate, the section heading down to the Temperance River bridge is extremely smooth and at a very nice gradual grade. Just about perfect for picking up some effortless speed without really pounding the quads. After a minute or two I had caught up to the pack of three. They were running at a pretty conservative pace given the terrain, but I did begin to question if I was pushing this downhill too hard so early in the race. I decided to just go with my legs and let them flow here, passing one, two, then Conrad, number three. I know Conrad is super competitive, so I felt a bit uncomfortable having a target on my back. I figured it was very likely Conrad’s climbing prowess would allow him to pass me going up Carlton Peak, but whatever… I was just going to run my race and not worry too much about what the other runners were doing.
The climb along the opposite side of the Temperance River was much more gradual and runnable than I expected. It seemed to take forever to hit the actual climb up Carlton, but when that climb started, IT STARTED. The Carlton climb is almost closer to rock climbing than it is to running. After the first switch back I looked down to my right to see Conrad in his blaze orange shirt working his way up the climb as well. Somewhere closer to the top of the climb I was passed by a different runner from the pack of three. He pulled ahead during the climbs and I reeled him in on the downhills as we headed into Sawbill. This turned out to be a theme of the day for me on the ups/downs.
At Sawbill I quickly got my water and ice necklace refilled. I also grabbed two handfuls of ice to munch on which really seemed to help with the increasing heat. On my way out I saw Conrad coming in, but this is the very last time I saw him during the race. Conrad was part of an ultra-ragnar team that competed just three weeks ago, so I’m guessing his forty mile (FORTY!) effort left some fatigue in his legs. I clicked the lap button once again for my segment time: “1:01” (10:42 pace, including AS)
Despite the elevation map looking like constant craggy peaks, there were some extended flat running sections on the way to Oberg. For the first half of this section I was all by myself. At one point I crossed a boardwalk that overlooked a very serene prairie with a glassy lake at the center, surrounded by wild flowers. I spread my arms out into wings and made the sounds of angels singing. This is something my wife and I always do whenever we see something beautiful in nature. 😀
I eventually caught back up to the ‘pack of three’ runner that had passed me earlier. He asked if I wanted to pass but I was content with just running behind him for a bit. Eventually we came to a technical downhill and he made a comment that these are the parts of the trail that are killing his legs. He slowed down quite a bit, so I let him know I was ready to sneak by and he kindly obliged. That is one of the coolest things about these trail races, everyone is always, “let me know if you want to pass”, and “good job”, and “go get ’em”! The camaraderie of suffering out on the trail (and enjoying it!) is pretty much always present.
At this point though, I hadn’t really suffered too much at all besides some burning quads during the Carlton Peak climb, but that was completely expected. I was getting a bit warm at times and was sweating more than in most of my training runs. I had doubled my S-cap consumption to two/hour starting at Temperance because of this increased sweat rate.
At some point here I caught back up to Kris.
About five minutes before hitting Oberg my right calf pinged, informing my brain it was about to start cramping – ugh! I popped an extra S-cap to see if that would help fend off the impending cramps. A couple minutes later I felt a little wave of chills move through my body. I immediately checked my arms and sure enough they were starting to dry out – #$!%#… Dehydration! This was definitely my biggest mistake in the race. I had made a concerted effort to up my electrolytes, but hadn’t also increased my hydration rate – rookie mistake and lesson learned.
One bad thing I’ve read about hydration packs: it is pretty difficult to monitor how much fluids you are taking in. I immediately eased off the pace and started sucking down water in an effort to get hydrated. I was really worried my stomach would reject a sudden injection of large amounts of water, but surprisingly it handled it quite well.
I got into Oberg with a segment time of “1:03” (11:27 pace including AS) As the volunteer was refilling my hydration pack he told me to “say when”. This was pretty much standard at each AS. Each time when the water got near the top (but not TO the top) I’d say “that’s good enough, thanks”. I did the same thing here, even after the volunteer kindly reminded that it is over 7 miles to the finish. This proved to be a stupid error on my part as well… as if saving a few seconds of time and having to carry 10-15oz less of water weight is worth the risk of running out of said precious water – ESPECIALLY WHEN TRYING TO GET REHYDRATED.
On my way out, a couple guys standing by the road gave me encouragement, “Just a couple of hills left!” HA!
I continued to suck water every couple minutes. My arms were still not sweating, and now my left hammie was threatening to cramp any time I attempted to power hike a step aggressively. This continued for the next 20 minutes as Kris, “pack of three” guy, and I made our way towards the dreaded steps of Mordor… I mean, Moose Mountain. How was my left hammie going to handle those steps?! Kris continued running the long gradual climb that comes before the steps and eventually pulled out of sight.
The climb up the Moose steps is a GRIND, and felt like standing still at times. Finally, about half way up I started sweating again and my left hammie and right calf stopped pinging me. It appeared I had avoided cramps for the time being. Finally the climb ended.
On my way down the backside of Moose I caught back up to Kris and it was pretty apparent she was hurting, but still managing to keep a pretty steady and consistent pace nevertheless. Earlier, we had discussed the last section of the course. At this point she asked if we had just completed the big climb or the medium climb. “Heh, the BIG one, thankfully!” She then informed me that she had puked on the way up. Still powering on, she continued running a really great, gritty race. I had a decision to make at this point, whether I wanted to pass her coming off this downhill or not, but it seemed like a smart idea to ease up, hook on to her pace, and see if I could keep up during the final Mystery Mountain climb.
I apparently don’t remember this section very well from this Spring 25k, or I would have known that the Mystery climb, albeit way less steep than Moose, seems to go on for-EVER! I kept thinking to myself, “It is a MYSTERY when this climb will end…” By this point Kris’s uphill running speed had been reduced and nearly matched my power hiking speed. We trudged on.
My 15-minute watch alarm went off telling me to drink. I bit down on the tube nozzle, sucked, and heard the dreaded sound of a straw at the bottom of an empty drink. SERIOUSLY? I really just drank 55-60oz of water in under an hour?! WTF. It turns out that sucking down water every few minutes trying to get rehydrated will empty a hydration pack pretty quickly. I figured I probably had about 30 minutes of running left. I accepted that I was done drinking and eating for the rest of the race and just hoped my body would hold on to the finish.
Finally we began climbing down Mystery mountain. Honestly, I thought I would be able to pass Kris quickly in this section, but I really underestimated her ability on the technical downhills. She seemed to really pour it on when fancy footwork was required and I found myself pushing to keep up. Along the way we caught up to another runner standing still to the side of the trail letting us pass. We had been passing a handful of the gnarly hundred mile runners just like this throughout the day. As we passed, he surprisingly hopped in right behind us.
“Still running 28 hours later?” I asked him.
“No” he laughed, “Just the marathon, but I am in rough shape”. I felt bad for making the wrong assumption. It turns out that just before we passed him he had been laying on the trail for five minutes unable to bend one of his knees. O_o
A few minutes later we passed another guy on the trail. I decided not to risk saying anything stupid and went with the standard “Nice job! Thanks you too!” He was also a marathoner.
Shortly thereafter we heard the Poplar river and descended down onto gravel trail. I had been conserving some gas in the tank since coming down Moose, and knew that we had under a mile to go. I switched gears and was able to move past Kris. I cruised across the Poplar bridge, onto the gravel trail, and onto the paved road at what felt like a 7-minute pace (probably was closer to 9-minute pace). I checked my rearview about halfway down the pavement, was able to ease up slightly, and cruised in to finish in 4:54. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was good enough for sixth place overall (177 finishers).
I stuck around for a bit to congratulate Kris on her big win, learning it was her FIRST marathon (nice!) and chatted for a bit with the two dudes we met coming down Mystery.
Overall I feel really happy about how I managed the race… Despite some rookie mistakes, I was able to adjust and thankfully avoid bonking.
I am seriously hooked on these Superior trail races. It was another really amazing event put on by John Storkamp and all the volunteers that make it happen. Is it time for Spring Superior yet???
Post race pose
At the top of Moose Mountain
On the shore of Lake Superior
Sunset over Moose Mountain