Race Recap: Superior Fall Trails 50 Miler (9/9/17)

Travel Details

Jeanette and I traveled together by car (my family's minivan) from Louisville, KY to Lutsen, MN where we were staying at the Caribou Highlands lodge, which was also the location of the finish line for the race. I was packed for the race the previous weekend, and had very little to take care of the night before the race. My mom brought me awesome chocolate chip cookies and folded laundry and reviewed my lists with me to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything. Mike was handling kid activities for the night. I got to bed at a reasonable hour, and planned to leave my house at 6:30 a.m. to pick up Jeanette from her house by 7am. At 4:30 a.m., I woke with an outrageous migraine. Ugh. I couldn't move or even ask for help until after 6am. It was almost 9am before I was able to drive, and I still felt pretty awful most of the day. Our drive was awesome though. We didn't need any distractions with all the fabulous conversation. We turned on a podcast around 6pm, but ended up pausing it about 20 times to interject thoughts. It was so fun to be sharing this experience with Jeanette!

 We drove 12 hours to Jay Cooke State Park on Thursday, arriving after dark, hungry and tired. I set up the hammocks while Jeanette made dinner, and then we went to bed. The next morning, we explored the park and got to go out onto the swinging bridge. The fog over the river was beautiful. It was a cold morning but would be a gorgeous day. Jay Cooke State Park is the place where the Superior Hiking Trail begins, which was the trail I'd be running on during the race. It was fun to be right there at the start of this epic trail, the day before the race. 

We drove the rest of the way (about 2 hours) on Friday morning while eating muffins that Jeanette had made. Awesome muffins, by the way. We stopped for coffee at a local place called "Moose and Mochas" just off the main road up there. Loved the local feel, and the owner was a runner too. We talked about Ragnar because he saw our sweatshirts. 

Superior 50 miler is advertised as follows on their website:

"52.1 Mile point-to-point 100% trail ultramarathon – 95% single-track, Founded 1990, Elevation Gain 12,500 FT, Elevation Loss 12,500 FT, NET Elevation Change 25,000 FT, 7 Aid Stations"
"The Superior 50 Mile Trail Race is a point-to-point (100% trail) ultramarathon which traverses the Sawtooth Mountain Range on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches northern Minnesota .  The course parallels Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world, climbs to near 2000′ peaks with breath-taking vistas of the lake and inland forests and crosses countless whitewater rivers and serene streams while meandering through mystic Boreal forests."
Best crew and BRF. Awesome travels, perfect job supporting me, fun times, more adventures ahead! The blue hair is my favorite!!

I felt well trained and well prepared for this race. I did not meet my time goals. I went into the race expecting to take around 15 hours.  The16.5 hour cutoff felt pretty generous to me, so it was really about whether the stars aligned and I could do closer to 14 hours to meet my "A" goal. How I felt, trail conditions, nutrition, weather, etc. would all contribute to the stars aligning. 

Watching the moonset and sunrise Friday morning from my hammock in Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth, MN (12 hours drive from Louisville). 
Jeanette, asleep in her hammock Friday morning. 
Reading about trail adventures in the early morning hours, waiting for Jeanette to wake up.
A pit stop at Black Beach!
Lake Superior has great views on the way north
At the resort Friday when we arrived!

Getting to the start line!

The race started at 5:15 a.m. This meant I had to be up at 3:15 a.m. and out the hotel room door by 3:45 a.m. to get onto the shuttle to the start. I always create a race morning checklist so I don't feel stressed trying to figure out what needs to be done on my way out the door. The bus was quiet, with a little chatter among friends who were running together. The ride went smoothly and we arrived at Finland Rec Center by 4:40 a.m. and immediately went inside the building. We were all glad for this - it was quite cold. Later I found out there was a frost! 

What I wore

I wore Lululemon cropped pants (shorter than capris; no undies), an Oiselle sports bra, Inknburn short sleeve shirt and Inknburn long sleeve shirt over that, and a Lululemon lightweight jacket over that. I also had on my Salomon hydration vest with Skratch in one front bottle and water in the other front bottle; no bladder. I only own one pair of trail shoes, my Brooks Calderas (men's) and so I wore those with Darn Tough socks and a pair of Dirty Girl gaiters which I borrowed from Jeanette. Pearl Izumi running gloves. BondiBand headband with "Stormrunner" on it. Plus a Petzl headlamp. I wore contacts but carried my glasses just in case; I also carried Goodr sunglasses but they got super steamy in my pack and my clothes were all too sweaty to clear that up, so I couldn't wear them for long during the race. I put aquaphor on my feet before I put my socks on, and some other places that require protection from rubbing.
Clothes and supplies laid out and ready to wear!

Section 1

The race started on a dirt road and then transitioned to a fire road and narrower dirt roads for the first two miles. It was dark and quiet. Everyone was getting into their own zones, and I enjoyed listening to everyone's feet pounding and a few quiet conversations among people who knew each other. 
Waiting at the start. Happy and a little nervous. 

The start of the 50 miler!
By the time we turned onto the single track trail, we were spread out enough to not be totally bottlenecked. This section on the trail had lots of cedar roots and mud, and it ended up being pretty slow once we got on the trail. It was hard to pass in the dark and I decided to just embrace the slowness since it was early on in the race and I didn't want to burn myself out. But it was so slow that I got cold, and my hands were so cold I couldn't get a gel out of my hydration pack. Finally, a couple of runners went to pass the long line I was in, and I jumped in to pass with them. It was so freeing to just run, and quickly we came upon the first aid station, Sonju Lake. I stopped only long enough to finally get out that gel. It was past the time I should have fueled and I worried that I had already messed up my nutrition for the day. I made a mental note that I should stay more on top of it. 

Section 2

Once I got going in the next section, I came upon a guy who does heart rate running; he was doing the 50 and his brother was doing the 100, and he was anxious to get to the next aid station so he could hear whether his brother had finished. While we were chatting, he got stung by a ground hornet on his lower right calf and yelled out. We kept running and chatting, I liked his comfortable pace and thought about my own heart rate, which I wasn't monitoring. I felt like this pace was good and slow for this point in the race. I knew from prior times I had worn my heart rate monitor that my average heart rate on a long run was in the low 130s; my resting heart rate is usually around 46-52. Once I started to think about these things, I wished for a second that I had worn my heart rate monitor, and then I was reminded why I usually don't wear it. I focus on the data too much instead of just listening to my body. These were my thoughts when I got stung by one of those hornets. It latched onto the top of my left ear, buzzing, and stung stung stung! I tried to brush it off but couldn't get it to release, and I was yelling in pain. The two people in front of me turned around to make sure I was OK. I laughed at myself. But wow, holy shit that hurt. This was about 10 miles in. We all chatted about it when running the 1/2 mile up a dirt road together to the next aid station. Jeanette was waiting for me there and told me I was running ahead by about 10 or 15 minutes. I switched out water bottles, had her look at the sting, and I grabbed a few gels. Jeanette handed me a laminated slip of paper with writing on it. A note from a friend. I got tears in my eyes; another thoughtful gesture from my tribe back home, executed flawlessly by my BRF. 
Oh yeah, some muddy conditions!

Muddy trail

Section 3

Next section was Crosby Manitou. I had heard that it was the hardest section with some good climbing and lots of roots, but runnable again along the river before the climbing started again. I ran this section alone. It felt like forever with my ear stinging and the pain radiating to my head and through the left side of my face. I was too warm in my extra top layers. There was some serious mud in this section too, which did slow me down quite a bit. I somehow slipped into mud up to my knee, and almost lost my shoe trying to get it out! I had to pull slowly because I was also worried about getting a leg cramp. I found myself smiling a lot in this section. I didn't even have to remind myself to run with joy. I felt comfortable and at home and happy. This section was long though - 9.4 miles between aid stations. 
Coming into an aid station!
The Skratch was starting to bother my stomach and make me excessively thirsty. I kind of needed to pee but I didn't want to take the time at an outhouse. I would wait and go later in the woods. I was relieved to find my bladder full - that was a good sign about my hydration going well. I was super glad to see Jeanette at the Sugarloaf aid station. I think I told her this but I'm not sure. I had hit a low point and was lonely - had been running by myself with little interaction for over 10 miles. A familiar face, friendly and helpful. It was good timing. I took off the extra top layers, switched out water bottles, and told her I thought I wanted two waters at the next aid station instead of a Skratch and a water. I grabbed more snacks. Jeanette handed me another slip of paper to read when I needed it. I teared up again, feeling overwhelmed by this awesome support.

Section 4

The next section was 5.6 miles and felt like it would be short in comparison to the long sections I had already done. When I got to Cramer, I would be halfway. The marathoners started there and were out on the course already, and I had done the marathon last year so I was slightly familiar with the remainder of the race. I plodded along, took some fuel to help pull me out of my low, a waffle I think, and before I knew it, I was at Cramer. It was fun to be at the marathon start again and know I had already run a marathon. I was still feeling good. Jeanette had 2 water bottles ready and I was glad to stop drinking the Skratch. I would switch to Base salts and water and see if my stomach settled down. I think I grabbed a PBJ to start getting some protein. 
Waterfall from a bridge

Section 5

The next section was Temperance. I knew this section would be beautiful and hard. I remembered it being quite runnable last year, compared to what I was expecting and how I had trained. It was, until it wasn't. It was nice to do some of that section without the bottleneck of several hundred people going to single track at the same time. The trail was quite pretty. I was still mostly smiling. The climbing got so tough that I felt like I had remembered this section wrong! And I was getting lonely and felt too in my head. Time for more fuel. And WHAT was I doing encountering cobwebs?!?! Was I that far behind the person in front of me? Pretty much the only thing I expect from a race is no cobwebs - Jeanette and I had laughed about that perk on the way there! 

Whoa those were some climbs! Hand over foot boulder climbing for what felt like a really long time. I remembered exactly how this felt last year. It was easier this year (because of better training), and there wasn't another runner behind me being negative and swearing about how awful this was like last year. Just me in my own head, enjoying the challenge and this beautiful day. I ran down the river and saw the awesome waterfalls. I remembered bringing my family to this spot in early August, and how much fun it was to share with them that I had run here before and would be running here again in just over a month. I crossed the bridge and turned to run up the other side and remembered this section being runnable and fun last year. I also had to weave around some tourists who clearly did not know there was a race happening, nor did they know any trail etiquette. Haha.
View of Lake Superior

Happy to see Lake Superior.

Temperance from the other side

I think I was about halfway up a really tough boulder climb, maybe about 33-34 miles in, when a woman came up behind me and said, "thank god I came upon you, I am so tired of being alone; I have been running alone for over 20 miles." And I turned around to look at her and I smiled and said, "me too! Happy to have someone to talk to for awhile!" We chatted about how hard this climb was but also how rewarding. I made it clear that I was enjoying staying positive and thinking of it as a challenge to conquer. I didn't need a trail buddy who was going to kill my happy buzz. She stayed with me for the rest of the section, letting me set the pace and lead. We talked about our training and experience and where we were from, etc. The next aid station was Temperance, and our crews were not allowed to be there. I smelled bacon. I thought of my friend Amy and smiled, asked if there was any bacon ready since there was none on the table. I grabbed 2 pieces and shoved them in my mouth. So good. Then I grabbed a PBJ again even though I didn't really need it. 

Section 6

My running buddy for this last section rejoined me when I started up again. The conversation made the next section go quickly. A guy with hiking poles joined us and wanted to go at the pace I was leading. He would sometimes lag at the downhills because his quads were shot, but then he would catch up again. 
Sunlit trail

When we got to the next aid station, we parted and met up with our own crews. I was glad to see Jeanette. This was the second to last aid station, so we talked about what I would need at the next one. I grabbed two Espresso gels by Hammer, with promises that they would be great. The PBJ tasted great, and went down much more easily than ever before at this point in a race. Jeanette handed me another few slips of paper. I teared up again, feeling so supported and loved. As I was wrapping up my few minutes at the aid station, the woman I had been running with walked up to me and asked me if I was going back out now. She joined me and we got back on the trail.

Section 7

This next section went quickly and I started to get cold. I was worried about how cold I would be once it got dark, and was a bit bummed that I wouldn't be done before the sunset. The three of us plugged along at my pace again, which I noticed was slowing down despite my efforts. I was tired, but nothing really hurt. I couldn't believe I hadn't even changed my socks yet. They had gotten wet early on, and stayed wet the entire day, but it wasn't bothering me (the beauty of wool socks!). In that last aid station, I put on the clothes Jeanette handed to me. When she gave me my butterfly shirt, she said, "This one is mine." We bought these shirts together earlier in the year. I asked her if mine was still wet, though it didn't really matter to me. She said it wasn't really wet but she couldn't give me a shirt to put on that smelled that bad. I was so busy changing that I sort of missed this conversation until a few miles later when I was able to giggle to myself about how bad my shirt must have smelled. Jeanette is no stranger to sweat, so it must have been quite awful. She handed me my last 2 notes. One of them stood out in my mind - to envision my oldest child running with me on this section. (He's 10, and he's not a runner, but he's a fantastic companion on an adventure like this, and he always knows how to lift people up.) As Jeanette said goodbye to me, we acknowledged that I was at my furthest distance ever now. She reminded me of the magnitude of what I was doing. We hugged and cried. I was doing this!
Coming into an aid station

Treasured notes I received while on the trail.

Bob, this one's for you! I tried the Espresso gel and it was so awesome I had another one later!

Section 8

At the beginning of those last 7ish miles, the woman I had been running with introduced herself as Callie. It was funny to introduce ourselves at that point since we had been together for hours. I was still setting the pace, and I was pushing hard but respecting the amount of miles still left. Especially knowing that Moose Mountain had a tough climb and Mystery Mountain was not an easy section. Early on, we came upon a 100-miler who was doing his 100th 100-miler. Even though I was now with a group, I was still running my own race. Doing what I needed to do and working toward my own goal and finish. I don't do that enough and I was high on it, fueled by my self determination and my intrinsic motivation to keep going and keep running.

But dude. 100th 100-miler. I was in awe. His name was JT. He had been profiled before the race so I knew of him. He said he could use some conversation. We got to talking. I had done a lot of this in the race - came up to someone ahead of me and started a conversation. Or had someone come up behind me and start a conversation. So we all got to talking with JT and each other and just stayed together. Walking fast, but letting JT lead. He was wearing Brooks Cascadias (shoes) that looked new, and too big. In my head I thought, "Weird. New looking and too big." Eventually he shared that his shoes had blown apart after all the mud and were unusable, and a volunteer had offered these Cascadias up; two sizes too big. Amazing. The time was passing quickly and I was learning so much about endurance and determination and grit. And how to train for a 100-miler, which will be important later. At 48 miles into this race, I still knew I would come back for more and eventually do the 100-miler when my kids are older. JT was great, and we stayed with him for 3.5 miles. Then it was dark, 14.5 hours in, and I was not dressed warmly enough to continue walking, so I decided it was time to get back to running and finish the race. Callie stayed with me. 
Coming through the finish line!

The Finish Line

Crossing the finish line was a relief. I didn't cry like I thought I might. I think I was just too tired at that point! Plus I had already done lots of reflecting on the trail. When I was done, I was really done. I wanted to go up to my room and take a shower, but I dreaded the shower too because I knew our tub did not drain. Yuck. I was happy to discover that I had no blisters, no hot spots, no chafing, no issues at all. 

My finish photo...dying to get into the shower.

50 miler medal!

So much mud
I was very hungry and Jeanette had ordered me a turkey club sandwich that we had talked about. I ate about a quarter of it and a few tater tots, and my throat was hurting and the roof of my mouth was hurting and I had a hard time getting anymore food down (I think I ate something I was allergic to on the way to the race - my whole mouth had broken out and eating had been painful for a few days; luckily it didn't bother me much during the race). I was exhausted. I got out my R8 roll ("foam" roller thing) and rolled my legs. I almost never roll, but I thought maybe it would help me sleep. I couldn't even respond to texts or give people updates. I was done. My skin hurt all over. I felt like I couldn't be touched at all. What a strange thing! I drifted off to sleep for about half an hour, and then I was awake but too tired to think straight until about 2am. I dreaded that drive home the next day; 14-15 hours in the car was going to feel like forever. When I woke, I was sore, but less sore than after my first ultra in March. My knees didn't hurt at all. Actually, I was mainly just sore in my quads and a little in my calves. I was pleased, and looked forward to a recovery hike if we could make time for that. I was also really hungry. 
Amnicon Falls in WI for a recovery hike

Snake Pit Falls. For our friends who love the snakes.

Yes, I climbed it too. The day after running a 50 miler.

This trip was made incredible by my travel companion, crew, cheerleader, BRF Jeanette. The only way I can truly thank her is to some day do this for her if she decides to run a long race like this. We had an awesome time, start to finish. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I'm so proud and impressed by your determination and strength! I'm forever grateful that our paths crossed!

  2. Such a great recap. I felt like I was running alongside you! Really proud of you, my friend. ♡


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