I ended up deciding to go for the Superior Trail 50 mile race this past weekend despite not feeling very well the last month or so. Have been trying to figure whether my respiratory problems have been from this summer's bad allergies, mold problems in my summer residence, or from signing up for too many races in the last few months(like to believe this is not the case). Anyhow, I did not find a time where I was ready to run my scheduled 35 mileish run as my long run like my training schedule Chris Lundstrom had wrote for me. Instead of going out for the one long run, I decided to try and hit 70 miles in a week, hoping this would be the easiest way to be able and finish the 50. With usually having pretty low miles compared to everybody else, 70 was an accomplishment for me and gave me just the tad bit of confidence I needed to attempt the 50mile race.
The prior few weeks to the race, I had not been running much, perhaps due to fatigue of the summer mixed with CA training and also maybe I was justifying my laziness with calling it an extended taper. Anyways, did few couple mile runs the week before and was curious how things would go down.
Initially Brandon and Jeremy planned on coming up with me to crew me through to the finish, but unfortunately I found out on the website this was not allowed so plans ended up changing last minute. It was the day before the race and I was still not sure how I would be getting there, until by Miracle, Steve found me by facebook and offered me a ride up there. I ended up leaving class early and he picked me up to head towards Lutsen. We got to Caribou Highlands and ate a pasta dinner which was very satisfying. I initially planned on sleeping in some public lounge area at the Highlands but was not able to find anyplace that I would be able to get away with being a bum for a night. Luckily, I ran into Steve after he found a parking lot he was planning on sleeping in. He offered for me to crash with him in his tent, but not wanting to keep him up during the night, I decided to try and crash in his car. This was not working for me so I went out in the back on Caribou Highlands and fell asleep in the back courtyard. It was pretty cool hearing wolfs howling at night. Ended up getting woke up by a drunk guy at about 1:30am and was freezing my butt off in the cool night air so decided to go scrunch back up in the car and try to sleep til 4:00am. Woke up with the alarm on time and was feeling very anxious. I had not completely processed what I was about to do and it was slowly starting to hit me. Steve and I saw the northern lights flashing over the Caribou Highland lodge and across the sky and the combination of hearing the wolves the previous night and the northern lights that morning was pretty magical.
Ate an unplanned breakfast of a bagel with pb and downed it with a little coffee and muscle milk. We got on the bus and headed to Finland which took around 40min. At this point I was getting to nervous to really talk with people so just sat with my headphones on trying to relax. It was a funny feeling being in a bus with 60 other people at 5:00am and the bus noise level was noisy as a cocktail party. It was still dark out and it was beginning to hit me more would I would be doing soon. Thinking about the guys who had been running the 100 mile since 6am the previous day, eased my mind a little bit but still my stomach seemed to get more tight. It seemed pretty bizarre that those 100milers were out there with their headlamps running around their 50th mile. In an odd sense, there were jealous feelings in my mind for those runners who had been running for almost the past 24 hours.
After checking in Finland and waiting around for about 15min we lined up on the road and headed out. We started out just trotting down and took a left turn into the woods. At this point, I was towards the end of the group and tried to hop in front of a pack of people before hoping onto the single track trail. Once getting on the trail, it felt like I needed to go faster being stuck behind a huge group for the first 5 minutes or so but figured if I was going to be running all day, better off to just chill now. Was able to hop in front of a big pack of people following another guy named John who was also doing this for his first time. We ended up running around 10 miles or so together until we caught up to the guys I would be running the next 40 or so miles with later. Ended up hanging out behind Jared and Joseph for a bit before we started chit chatting and getting to know each other. With all of our names beginning in J we found it funny to call each other J1, J2, J3 depending on our position in the single track trails we were running. Think we were together when we got to the 1st aid station and I remember eating alot of food. Had pb and J sandwiches, banana slices, coke, and just tried to stock up as to refuel my legs which were sadly already fatiguing. I knew if I didn’t consume a ton of calories at the aid stations, the race wouldn’t be possible to finish. Looks like my eating Taco Bell before long runs helped out as I didn’t experience much GI problems the whole day. I think our second stint on the trail was 9.7ish miles and this was pretty tough with just carrying 1 handheld with the 2 gels stuffed into the pocket. Finally made it to the next aid sation and plowed through some food again. Tried a canned potato dipped in salt and nearly gagged. Other J's and I were able to laugh about the bad stuff we ate. After this aid station I think we began doing a system where we would run 10 minutes and walk 1. I remember the J train experiencing a group low around 20 as knew we were still 30 from the finish. The final destination of the race was unbearable to think about so we just focused on the next aid station to get us through in steps. It really helped having the other J's around to talk to about whatever. The trails were super challenging and was tripping all over the place. At the aid stations, I had been eating warm mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup because could not stomach any more gels. Surprisingly the soup was a miracle worker for me and really made me feel revived. I had also taken advil and antihistamines because my throat was swelling up. They seemed to help out a ton. It was crazy to start going by some of the people who were running the 100mile race. They were distinct by wearing a red race bib different from our blue ones. Seeing the red bib made me instantly respect and admire those who had it and I would genuinely try and give encouragement to them. Woww Good job to all of them!
Sadly the race kinda meshes together in my mind about which aid stations were where and what miles we were at during specific times but I just remember cycling the J train in intervals of 10 minutes running followed by a minute or so of walking, which changed to 8 min running and 2ish minutes walking. It was soo nice having the other J's to swap out of leading. It broke our waiting time to the next aid station into more manageable sections. Instead of having to think about the next aid station for over an hour, we were able to focus on following another J, or leading the other J's while the others followed. What was also inspiring was complimenting each other after a J finished a lead session. Really crazy the camaraderie that can be created between a few guys after knowing each other for such a relatively short time. I guess you really learn a lot quickly when you are out in the wilderness fatigued and on the same mission together. Finding out more often that these are my zone moments where nothing else is in my mind. Feel like I should have been born 500 years ago!
More vivid memories start to pop out in my mind again towards the end of the race. I remember coming into the last aid station which was headed by TC running Co and feeling super excited to arrive at it. This was definitely one of my highs of the race, coming out of the woods ad seeing the big TC running Co bus and Paul H. at the aid station. Seeing his big smile and sporting the same TC running co shirt I had was so awesome. Shortly after, I noticed Kurt who had graciously given me the shirt to wear for the race so this was also satisfying showing him how good morale I was in. Brian P. also just woke up from a nap inside the RV and was hobbling down the stairs from his 100mile race followed by helping crew the winner for the 100 mile. People who have done these races before really know the right things to say at the right time and with their words of encouragement the J’s were out for our final stretch. This was our last aid station and we only had 7ish miles to the finish.
After about 3 or 4 minutes I realized I forgot the headlamp that we were required to have at Oberg aid station after 5pm. Although it was not dark out yet, I needed to get the headlamp to give back to Adam from who I had borrowed it from. Telling the J's to keep running and I'll catch up, I flew back to the aid station and grabbed my headlamp. Turned back around and started trying to catch them. Feeling more energy than I had then compared to the last 6 or so hours, I was really pushing it to try and catch up to them. I kept thinking that I should be seeing them shortly and was getting more and more worried that something had happened. I continued going on the trail that I didn't see any orange flags or blue Superior Hiking Trail signs on the trees and was beginning to get super worried. I saw some tourist taking pictures at a million dollar view and asked if they had seen 2 runners come by recently. They told me no which made me increasingly worried. I contained on a path that I was almost certain was the wrong way, in a dumb stubborn attempt to find something I knew wasn't there. Now hoping to see even anybody, I luckily found another tourist couple taking pictures and again asked if they had seen 2 runners and again the other couple said no. I asked if I was on the Superior Hiking Trail and not to my surprise they said I was not. My stomach sank as I knew after my ballstothewall attempt to catch the J's that I was only further from them and the finish. I was fortunate enough to have them be able to tell me how to get back down to the trail I needed to be on. It was super deflating at the time running back down the hills that sucked my limited remaining energy out. I kept hearing screams back from the TC running co aid station probably for the support of the 100milers passing through. Finally I got to a V in the trail and seen where I had took a wrong turn. I knew Oberg sounded familiar so in the rush of trying to catch up to the J's I followed a signed for Oberg loop rather than the little orange markers on the trail that we were supposed to follow. My high that I had experienced just 30 minutes or so ago quickly turned into a deep low. Seeing another runner on the trail, I asked how far to the finish and found out I still had 5 miles to finish. It might not have seemed difficult an hour ago, but at this point it seemed dang near impossible. At this point I was walking more than any other time during the race. I remember a runner passed me and after I thought he was out my audible range I let out a loud sign and he turns back to me and says “that’s a pretty sad moan”. I couldn’t help but laugh a little because of what he said but still was feeling completely exhausted. I couldn’t stop from thinking how I wasn’t able to finish with the other J’s and worrying about how much time I added overall. I almost considered walking to the finish, but knowing that if I had done this, I would look back in regret so I tried to run as much as possible. Another runner went past me during one of my walking sessions and I made a deal of myself to not let him get to far away from me. I was trying to leach of his energy and so would run when he did and walk when he did. This made things a little easier and definitely made me run more than I might have if I didn’t make that deal. The last few miles I felt a little dizzy and my vision was getting slow. There was many negative thoughts in my head, wondering if I should stop and lay down on the trail, and even stop running after the race. Prior to this race, I saw myself doing a 100 mile race sometime in my life but at this point, I could have bet my life that I would never be doing one. I imagined prior to the race that I would be mentally handling these moments more maturely than I was with all the negative thoughts in my head at the time. Even as I crossed the finish, there wasn’t an exhilarating feeling that I had been anticipating there would be. Jared and his family that had kindly supported us at each aid station were there and it was relieving to see him again but I still felt embarrassed for the mistake I made and was letting the pessimist inside me grow. As I was sitting eating a sandwich afterward, I realized how immature my thoughts were and how I needed to restructure my thoughts about how the race went.
When some of the first people asked how the race went I felt the need to describe all the bad things that happened to justify how hard it was, but now I see myself just wanting to describe the good things. On the car ride home with Steve, I still had negative thoughts in my head, probably from exhaustion. These were similar thoughts to the first marathon I ran when I promised myself I would never run another again. I ended up signing up for another marathon later that night after my first marathon wanting that growing experience again. As I thought about the 50 mile race the day after, I was able to see the race in a different view, and realized how much I loved that vulnerable/fatigued state and realize how much I really learn about myself. Now as I sit here a couple days later, I see this race as a more extreme version of my first marathon: thinking I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish something, somehow managing to get it done, and then craving that feeling again. Looks like I will be signing up for a 100 mile race.