Superior Trail 100 -- Race Report: Sept 11-12, 2004

We had a fantastic time and enjoyed almost every mile of the unbelievably beautiful trails. We owe all of it to our wonderful crew, Daniel's parents, Virgil & Verena. Without their help, we probably would not have finished. We can't thank them enough.

Race morning, our alarm was set for 3:20am, but we both woke up suddenly at 2am, too full of the adrenaline of anticipation for our first 100-miler to fall back asleep. We lay quietly in our tent and waited as the minutes ticked away. Although the night had been cool and clear, and we had enjoyed the most abundant and beautiful stars I'd seen in years, by 3:16am when we finally rose the sky had clouded over. We packed up our tent and met Virgil and Verena (Daniel's parents, our crew) at 3:45 at the campground entrance. We crammed ourselves full of PB & J bagels, and tried only semi-successfully to go to the bathroom at the campground, as we knew there would be no port-o-potties at the start.

pre-race, PB&J consumption
At the campground pre-race, stuffing ourselves with peanut butter and jelly bagels.

The start was at an out-of-the-way dirt parking lot on county road 6. We were lucky we had checked it out the night before, because we might not have found it otherwise. We arrived around 4:30am, and were some of the first there. Eventually 28 runners and some crews milled around at the start in the dark. A light rain had started. We stretched and waited... and waited... Finally, we started about 5 minutes late.

pre-race, hair-braiding
At the start, braiding our hair to keep it out of the way.
waiting for the start
Waiting for the start.
still waiting for the start
Still waiting for the start.

Pam Reed and two other guys took off immediately at the start. I ended up leading a large pack behind them. I had been really afraid of running in the dark (we definitely hadn't practiced this part) but it turned out it was a ton of fun! A light rain was still falling, and the trail was warm and misty... and muddy. Since I didn't have anybody right in front of me to figure out which were the slippery parts, I landed on my butt several times in the mud! But luckily my butt is well padded and the mud was soft, so no harm done. Eventually several other runners tired of my slow pace and went by, so Daniel and I arrived at the first aid station alone.

first aid station

Muddy but cheerful, eating at the first aid station, Finland.

Jenny changing shoes

Changing shoes at Crosby Manitou.

My favorite section of trail was the Bensen Lake loop. This was hardly a trail, more a barely discernible herd path, even rockier and rootier than the rest (if that's possible). The "trail" was covered with leaves, tall grass, low-hanging branches, fallen trees, etc. But here we had some of the most amazing views of the reds and yellows and oranges of a northern Minnesota autumn.

Somewhere along this loop, I fell down a ladder, sustaining a quality bruise even on my well-padded butt. My shoes suffered even worse! My right foot went completely through the front of the shoe, and I had to trip the rest of the way along with my foot continuously falling out. Luckily I had only a few miles to go, and a spare pair to change into at the next aid station.

Before we started the race, we speculated that we might make it 70 miles before dark. After all, we had completed a tough 100k in 12 1/2 hours, and we were fitter now than we had been back then. But the rocks and the roots took their toll much more than we would have imagined. I guess part of the difficulty is that when the footing is so unsure, we have to take more smaller steps in order to place our feet securely. This means we're probably actually taking 50% to 100% more steps to cover the same distance, which causes that much more pounding, and tires out our feet-lifting muscles that much more. Also, we took many steps on uneven ground, so we had to push off in all different directions with muscles not accustomed to that much use. We soon revised our goal to make it to Oberg Mtn at mile 60 before dark, because we had been told that the glowsticks and the chicken soup would start there.

Actually, neither glowsticks nor chicken soup started until the aid station after Oberg, but we collected our flashlights from our crew and headed out into the growing dark. It's amazing how fast it gets dark in the forest! We felt like it was still light when we left the aid station, but we turned on our headlamps almost immediately. It didn't take long to realize that it was hard to run in the dark! I just felt like I couldn't see quite far enough ahead to place my feet safely on such uneven terrain if I tried to run. So we slowed to a brisk walk. Still, I was using both my headlamp and my hand-held flashlight together to provide as much illumination as possible.

Poplar River

The first night aid station at Poplar River.

We made it to the next aid station feeling refreshed from the walking, but still a little disappointed, because I thought I would still have energy to run if the trail were a bit smoother. I tried to pick it up to a run again between Poplar River and Caribou Trail aid station, but rapidly realized that it was not energy well spent. In order to maintain my footing, my steps were just too small to make running worthwhile.

The nicest thing about about the night aid stations was the fires. It was really heart-warming to see a warm fire come suddenly into view after hours of trudging in the dark. At one point we came upon a large bonfire and a bunch of people whooping and hollering and beating on drums, apparently cheering for us! We thought it was another aid station already, but it turns out it was just some unaffiliated campers out having fun. We sure enjoyed the noise, but it was midnight on a lake with more than one campsite, so there were probably many others out that night who weren't enjoying the noise.

caffeinating at Caribou Trail

Filling up on caffeine at Caribou Trail before a 5-hour stretch in the dark...

The hardest part of the race for me physically was the 13+ mile aid-less stretch between Caribou Trail (mile 73.6) and County Road 45 (mile 86.9). This took us about 5 hours to cover. We were both too drained to have much to say, so we covered most of it in silence. Chris passed us, then we passed Pam, but aside from that we saw nobody. We started counting glowsticks, and every 20 glowsticks we were allowed to check our watches. Anywhere from 20 min to 40 min had elapsed. At some point, we saw a glowstick which seemed hundreds of feet below us. Sure enough, we descended what felt like hundreds of steps. I had to turn sideways, and in some places completely backwards, since I didn't trust my wobbly quads. Then we saw a glowstick several hundred feet above us. Back up more steps. Then down a few hundred feet. Then up. Then down. Then up. We yo-yo'ed up and down along a steep creek bank probably for more than an hour at snail's pace. Suddenly I became very confused, because a large grey object filled my field of view. Was it the sun rising? A lake? My perceptions were completely awry. It took several seconds, stopped dead in my tracks, before I realized it was a road bridge we were going under. And just on the other side of the bridge, at 5:21am, was the beautiful little fire of the County Road 45 aid station.

Chris by the fire

Chris, enjoying the aid station fire...

Chris was still there, sitting and enjoying the warmth of the fire. I sank down too, and Virgil & Verena supplied us with hot chicken soup. Only 14 miles to go from this point. Now we knew for sure that we would finish, and the hardest stretch of trail was behind us. Pam arrived a few minutes later, ranting about how she thought she was hallucinating all those steps, there were so many, but of course they turned out to be real. Slowly we refueled, and Chris, then Pam, then Daniel and I set off into the last half hour of darkness.

Cty Rd 45, chicken soup

...while we enjoy our chicken soup.

The sunrise was beautiful, and I was re-energized to run. I was even running the uphills at a decent clip. But Daniel's feet were not doing so well...

The hardest part of the race emotionally was deciding what to do at mile 93, the Bally Creek aid station. Daniel's feet were in bad shape. He had enormous blood blisters on one heal and between his toes, and he'd jammed his big toe so hard into a log that the nail was pressurized with blood. This probably happened because his ankle flexor wasn't working properly and wasn't allowing him to lift his toes. Both of his feet were puffy and swollen.

On the other hand, I felt great. I was ready to run "fast" again after a long night of walking, and I knew I had a shot to place well. Daniel told me I should go on and see what I could do, so we said a tearful good-bye. I shuffled off, while he stayed to see what he could do about his feet, and eventually walked the last 8 miles.

parting ways

Parting ways at Bally Creek.

I passed Pam Reed for the last time shortly after Bally Creek, after we had leap-frogged continuously since mile 78. She was tremendously encouraging and friendly to me, despite the fact that she was having a rough time herself. I have a lot of respect for her, for plugging away and being cheerful and a good sport, and for finishing despite feeling so sick to her stomach.

Soon thereafter, there was one last treacherously slippery single-split-log bridge around the edge of a lake. This time I managed not to fall in, although it took me several minutes to cover the 200 feet. From there it was easy running almost to the finish. I made good time to the last aid station at USFS 115F, and saw Chris Hansen's tail end leaving the aid station just as I entered. So I didn't stop, and tried to push to catch him, but to no avail. He must have made great time in the last 6 miles!

The last 5 miles of trail are somewhat of a disappointment after the beauty of the first 96 miles (yes, the race is 101 miles). Instead of single track, most of the remainder was snowmobile roads, with tall grass that seems to provide an absurd amount of resistance to tired legs. A few miles from the finish is a steep descent which almost stopped me dead in my tracks. Then two more road crossings, then a final "sprint" across the football field to the finish.

Chris Hansen

Chris Hansen

David Sauld + pacer

David Sauld
+ pacer

Jenny Hoffman

Jenny Hoffman

Pam Reed + Susan Donnely

Pam Reed
+ Susan Donnely

Daniel Larson

Daniel Larson

When I finished, I was not really relieved, but just sad that Daniel wasn't there yet, so I turned around and ran back to meet him. At some point, about a mile back, I must have sat down on the trail, although I sure don't remember making an active decision to do so. I saw Pam and Susan pass, with Pam's crew Mary (who has completed the race before) running along with them. Finally Daniel came into sight, so I picked myself up and walked/jogged along back with him to the finish. We were both pretty subdued and not really able to appreciate our accomplishment for a while.

But after long, hot showers, a few hours nap, and a great meal at Grandma's restaurant in Duluth, we perked up considerably, and realized how much fun we had, and how proud we were of each other. It was an amazing way to spend 29 hours and to see 101 miles of trail. We are so grateful to Virgil & Verena for enabling us to have such a great successful run!

See Daniel's version of the race report here too.

Aid Stations:

Where:Distance:  Cumulative:
Little Marais, Lake Cty 600
Finland Rec. Center7.87.8
Sonju Lake Road7.715.5
Crosby Manitou Park4.319.8
Crosby Manitou Park5.024.8
Caribou Falls (no crew)8.333.1
Sugar Loaf3.536.6
Cook Cty 1, Cramer Rd.5.542.1
Temperance River8.050.1
Oberg Mt.5.760.6
Poplar River, Lutsen Ski Hill6.667.2
Caribou Trail6.473.6
Midway (no crew, unmanned, water only)  5.278.8
Cty Rd 458.186.9
Bally Creek Rd5.792.6
USFS 115F3.195.7
Grand Marais High School5.2100.9

Jenny's Consumption:
(I added it up just because I was curious.)

12 power bars12 x 230   2760
~3 boiled red potatos, w/ salt   300
3 handfuls of candy corns 600
4 cups of noodle soup4 x 125500
2 half cups of cherry coke 150
~10 cups of gatorade10 x 50500
1/2 PB & J sandwich 200
~1/4 cantelope melon 250
~1/4 honeydew melon 250
~10 grapes 50
1 chocolate brownie 200
2 caffeinated clif shots2 x 100200
1 espresso hammer gel 100
~2 bananas2 x 100200
4 salt-filled capsules 


1.Chris Hanson28:04.56
2.David Sauld28:06.58
3.Jenny Hoffman (F)28:31.51
4.Susan Donnely (F)   28:52.40
4.Pam Reed (F)28:52.40
6.Daniel Larson29:08.04
7.Susan Gebhart (F)31:11.14
8.Richard Plezio32:05.14
9.Johnny Gooch32:33.40
10.Kerry Trammell32:34.10
11.Stewart Johnson32:48.51
12.Allan Holtz32:55.36
13.Gary Sheets33:48.33
14.Alfred Sauld34:11.12
15.Cathy Drexler (F)34:39.46
15.J.J Rochelle34:39.46
17.Kevin O'Grady35:08.10
18. Tony Mazur35:39.40

(If you're considering doing this race next year, click here.)

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