After blogging for what seemed like every day for about 5 years this blog started to slowly disappear in 2010. Now it’s to the point where I haven’t updated it in nearly a year. However, every once in a while a new goal or event comes along that needs to be captured in words – or else I’m afraid I’ll forget about its magnitude completely. The latest such event for me is the Superior Fall Trail Races, which consists of the Moose Mountain Marathon, along with 50M and 100M ultras. Each race takes place in the Sawtooth Mountains along the Superior Hiking Trail. As the tagline states, these races are “Rugged / Relentless / Remote.”
Never has a race had a more accurate tagline. Rugged explains the trail that is completely littered with rocks and roots. Jon Howard’s blog has videos from various sections of the course if you’d like a better idea of the ruggedness. Relentless explains the topographical profile that looks like a saw blade, hence the name of the mountain range. While the race can’t boast of the same altitude of say a Western States or Leadville, the 41,000 feet of elevation gain – all done between 600 and 1,830 feet – is more than either of those well-known events. Finally, Remote describes the north shore, in general. Travel north of the Twin Cities for a couple of hours and things get remote. However, pass through the Silver Creek tunnel just north of Two Harbors and the remoteness is taken to a whole new level.
Let me be clear up front, I was there solely in a volunteer capacity. Race director John Storkamp posted a message on Facebook asking for more volunteers, so I raised my hand. To be honest, John asked if I’d write an article on this event. I’m embarrassed to say that was a couple of years ago and all I’ve managed to come up with so far is a recap of all the past race directors. On one hand, I figured I should help out in another capacity since I’ve struggled so much with the article. On the other hand, I thought seeing this event in person might actually spur my writing. I think John was thinking the same thing too because he assigned me to a wide variety of tasks that would immerse me in the event.
First off was the start of the 100M race at Gooseberry Falls State Park. Pulling into the parking lot I thought I might be in the wrong place. Then I remember that it was still 90 minutes before the start of a 100 mile race that only had about 230 entrants. Just after that I saw the TC Running Company RV and I knew I was in the right place. Kurt Decker was there and he introduced me to Ian Corless. Being new to the ultra scene, I had no idea who Ian was. It turns out he’s like the Toni Reavis of the ultra world. However, in addition to a blog, he also has a podcast and takes stunning pictures. If you read no further in this post, do yourself a favor and check out Ian’s recap and photos Ian’s recap and photos of the race.
Back to the start of the race. I can’t remember the last time when I was nervous for an event that I wasn’t even running. But for some reason I was nervous for this group of people that were about to try to run 100 miles within the next 38 hours. Perhaps I was nervous because it’s hard for me to fathom what these people were about to endure. I mean I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to run fast. You know, the kind of fast where I’d avoid races because there’s a slight up hill on the course or there are too many turns that might cost me a few seconds. Along the way there have been a couple of endurance events, namely Ironman Wisconsin in 2003 and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in 2011. But let’s face it, I probably walked two-thirds of the IM marathon and I never made it all the way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. So yes, I was scared, excited, and nervous for the 204 runners that started the 100M race.
en·dureverb \in-ˈdu̇r, -ˈdyu̇r, en-\
: to continue to exist in the same state or condition
: to experience (pain or suffering) for a long time
: to deal with or accept (something unpleasant)
After the start we packed up the trucks and headed to the Silver Bay aid station at mile 9.7. I know what you’re thinking; “Mile 9.7, not mile 10?” That’s right. One thing I learned during my research was that Don Clark and Bonnie Riley wheeled the entire course – over every root and rock – twice! As a result, aid stations are listed to the nearest tenth of a mile – and we also know that the race is actually 103.3 miles long.
I didn’t hang out here too long because I was scheduled to work at the next aid station in Beaver Bay – mile 20.1. There I met the aid station lead, Tom Burr, and his wife Nancy Griffith. Tom assigned me to crossing guard. That seemed easy enough until I figured out that spectators are as focused on their runners as runners are with the task at hand. That means they’ll forget things like looking for cars when crossing the road. I’d be waving cars through because there weren’t any runners coming and then all the sudden a spectator would dash out into the road. Luckily, most of the traffic consisted of other spectators and they were very cognizant of driving through the aid station.
One of the cool things I noticed was a number of people who’d be running the next day, but still came out to volunteer or cheer for the 100 milers. My only other ultra experience was crewing for Dave Dehart at the 2002 Ed Fitz 100K. I can remember seeing a lot of the same people throughout the day and getting to know more about them and their runner as the day went on. The same was true at the Superior 100M. It’s easy to start up a conversation with whoever is standing near you, simply by asking about who they’re waiting for.
My next stop was to the race finish at Caribou Highlands Lodge where I’d help with packet pickup for the marathon and 50M. This turned out to be a lot of fun too because I recognized a bunch of people that’d be racing the next day. The 4 hours or so flew by and it was finally time to sit down for a meal and a beer or two.
With only about 4-5 hours of sleep, Saturday was sure to be a long day, but it’s hard to complain when you think that the 100 milers didn’t even get that much sleep. The 3 AM wakeup call allowed us to get to the start of the 50M in Finland. There wasn’t a ton of set up for the start, but some people would be picking up their packets prior to the race.
Next, we headed to the start of the marathon where I recognized the most people, including Tony Kocanda and his wife Laurie Kocanda, Brian Peterson, John Naslund, and Ben Kampf. Ben would go on to run one of the most impressive performances of the weekend, 3:32:27 – just over a minute off the course record on a very muddy trail.
From there we made our way to the finish where we’d already missed the first 5 runners, including the winner, Adam Schwartz-Lowe who finished in just under 22 hours. I was able to watch John Horns finish in 6th place and first Grand Master. A month or so ago I met up with John for a training run in Lebanon Hills. He told me his plan for the day was 5 hours. I figured that meant he’d be going “slow” and I could hang for at least 2 hours. Well, I managed to make it a little over an hour before peeling off. The thought of running even 1 more hour at that pace didn’t seem possible.
The next 12 hours were a complete whirlwind; including cheering for runners from all 3 races, catching up with spectators I’d met the day before, sorting out drop bags from various aid stations, and working with the HAM radio operators to track runners still out on the course.
Perhaps the coolest task of the weekend was handing out trophies at the award ceremony. Well, first off, it’s the award ceremony itself. John holds the ceremony right by the finish line at 8 PM or 2 hours before the race cutoff. Whenever he sees a headlamp approaching he stops the ceremony and encourages everyone to cheer for the approaching runners. Part way through the ceremony as John continues to sing the praises of the runners, their crew and friends and family and the volunteers, the crowd starts to chant Store-Kamp, Store-Kamp, Store-Kamp. Of course, John would have none of that. He’s well aware that this is a very special event and even though he’s the race director, the race is really about everyone that’s been involved with the event; runners, crew, pacers, spectators and volunteers. He exudes passion and it carries over to everyone around him.
I can’t help watch an event like this and think to myself; 1) could I finish, 2) would I enjoy it, and 3) would I be any good at it? As Adam Lindahl said after finishing his first 100M this summer, I have to many ultra friends not to at least consider doing one. With that said, I’m already signed up for the Wild Duluth 50K on October 18th and I'd like to try a 50 miler next year. Is a 100 miler in my future? It’s too early to tell, but I’ve been thinking about it more than ever before.
What is a certainty is that I’ll be heading back to volunteer for this event next year. If you love running and/or the north shore I highly encourage to you check it out. Whether that means running, crewing, spectating or volunteering is up to you. You won’t be disappointed.