Monday, September 16, 2019


More important to me than the RACE RECAP and getting to the finish line is how I got to the start line. In that race recap I wrote about the seeds that were planted as far back as 10 years ago. But what finally lead them to take root? What was my “WHY” for doing the race? What were the last 9 months of training like? What was my mindset along the way? How did it all come together? These are the questions that I attempt to answer here.

Journal entry 9/17/18 – note this is less than 2 weeks after last year’s race:

The Compete and Strong books talk a lot about goal setting, challenging yourself, not being afraid, etc. As I read from one of these books last week, it hit me, I want to run the Superior 100 next fall. I’ve always said that I don’t like being awake that long, let alone moving that whole time and that I don’t think my body would enjoy it. But deep down I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like – to see how far I could go and if I could battle the mental side of the sport. Of course, there was always the fear of failure, but I’ve been telling the cross-country kids that failure doesn’t exist – we try something, we learn something, and then apply those learnings going forward. Besides, if I “fail” I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people and, most likely, a crew of great friends who would support me.

While I like to coach runners, I admit when I’m out of my league – and training for 100M was definitely out of my league. Luckily, I bumped into Sherri Schummer at a happy hour in October and I was able to pick her brain. I first met Sherri in 2015 as I trained for my first 50M and she trained for her first 100M. That year she finished Superior with less than an hour to spare. Then last year, she ran 6 hours faster and was the 10th woman. Obviously, she was doing something right. That “something” was being directed by Coach Alicia Vargo.  

On October 29th, I reached out to Alicia;
I’m friends with Sherri Schummer and have been extremely impressed with her improvement over the last few years. I’d like to run the Superior 100 next year too and am looking for a coach. I’m wondering 1) if you have any openings and 2) how long you typically like to work with a runner leading up to a race? When it comes to #2, I imagine “the longer the better” but I was wondering if I started in January, would 8 months be long enough?

She replied the same day;
Thank you so much for getting in contact with me. Sherri is such a tough gal and it has been a pleasure to work with her!  I would love to see how I can best help you moving forward with your training and racing. Superior is such a unique and tedious (and beautiful!) 100 miler. It definitely necessitates a long, proper buildup. I think that 8 months would be prefect. I would probably structure your training, depending on where you are starting from, into two segments. A based building phase for 3.5 months, shorter break for 2 weeks and then 4 months of Superior specific training. January would work really well!  I do have openings and it would be a pleasure to work with you! Please let me know if you have any additional questions or if you would like information on what we would need to do to get started. 

Game on!

While Alicia handled the physical side of training, I knew it was also important to work on my mindset. As I tell the marathoners I coach, if we leave our thoughts to chance for 3 to 6 hours, it’s very likely that they’ll turn negative. I can only imagine the negative spiral that could take place during a 30+ hour race. To help get my head on straight I turned to sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais – well I didn’t turn to him personally, but through his terrific podcast, FINDING MASTERY, where he interviews “tip of the arrow” performers.

Journal entry 6/11/19
Being scared shitless is giving way to confidence and excitement… Feeling more confident because I’m able to get on the trails again, because of the two 50Ks I raced, because of some power hiking workouts, along with back-to-back longer runs.

One thing I’m working on is finding my ‘why’. I don’t want the Superior 100M to be about racing / competing / numbers. Instead, I want to focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself.
Dr. Michael Gervais talks about the importance of clarity of purpose and finding your “why”;
“The more extreme the environment, the greater the benefit of clarity of purpose holds. When pain is greater than purpose, we give into the pain. When purpose is clear, we can override the discomfort to move to the expression of purpose.”
Right now, my purpose for running the 100M is a tribute to 40 years of running, sort of my Love Letter to Running, if I had to put a name on it. During hill repeats I’ve been thinking about everyone I’ve met through running, typically going through the different phases of my running life; my youth, high school, college, roads, trails, MDRA, youth running, and so on. I also think about all the races I’ve run, other events, and all running has given me. 

Journal entry 7/30/19
I like the idea of spending time on the trail thinking of everyone that I’ve met through running over the years. On the next few pages I’ve tried to make a list of everyone that I can remember. I’m sure I missed a bunch, but that’s not the point.

As someone who was concerned with sleep and being tired, I heard a few things along the way that gave me confidence.

On the drive to South Dakota for the Black Hills 50M, I heard a podcast where an ultra-athlete said that a 24-hour race isn’t really long enough to get sleep deprived.

Also, Steve Tapajna (who ran his first 100M last year at Superior) told me this summer that you don’t get sleepy when the sun goes down. That was really good for me to hear.

Not sleep-related but I also heard that if you stay hydrated and consume enough calories, you can do amazing things.

Dr. Gervais likes to say, “By doing the inner work, you earn the right to tell yourself ‘I can do difficult things.’” For me, inner work included defining my “why” as stated above, but also adding in a meditation practice. I use the Headspace app. Also, a gamechanger for me has been doing yoga twice per week. I used to have hip and back issues that seem to flare up 2-3 times per. Once the pain forced me to skip the Birkie ski race and just 2 years ago I DNF’d at TCM. Soon after TCM I added yoga to my practice and I haven’t had a flare up since.

As for the training itself, I don’t want to give away all of Alicia’s secrets, but let’s just say I was shocked when I look back at my weekly mileage. And, I mean, shocked because it was so low. From January 1st through August 31st, I average less than 42 MPW. Other than when I ran the BH50 and ran 66 miles, my largest week was 60 miles. And my largest month was 232 miles. I’ve had marathon build ups with way more mileage.

That’s not to say the training was easy. The numbers don’t show the back-to-back medium-long runs, or power hiking 15-20 hill repeats at Hyland when it was 90 degrees out, or the last three long runs of 24, 27 and 30 miles – the last one being a solo run on the SHT. There were definitely hard days, but there was also a lot of recovery. It was just surprising to me, because I think most people would associate 100M training with HUGE numbers in the log book.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t want this race to be about time or place. The only reason I put any time down on paper was so that my crew would have a better sense of when I’d arrive at aid stations. To help with this I used the information on Course Record times into each aid station and multiplied that by 50% to 67% in order to get a range. That seemed to work pretty well as I compared this range of time to actual results for friends I know from previous years. The problem with these previous results is that they were all over the board. The same friend would run 26 hours one year, but 33 hours the next.

After being set on my times for each aid station, Mallory Richard’s STATISTICAL ANALYSIS was posted. I reviewed my numbers with her method and tweaked a few things to determine the final numbers that I gave to my crew.

Another thing that really helped was reading Kevin Langton’s COURSE DESCRIPTION . Going into the race I’d only been on about half of the course, so this provided some great insight. Although I will admit that most of that goes out the window when on the course.

All of this combined to bring me to the starting line feeling incredibly calm. I wasn’t really sure why, however, the week after the race Dr. Gervais explained why.
“There’s a relationship between skills and challenge. If the challenge is hard enough and you believe you have the skills to match that challenge, that’s the sweet spot. If you don’t believe you have the skills to match that challenge, that’s where we get anxiety. You might actually have the skills, but if you don’t believe, if you don’t trust yourself, that’s where we get sideways.” – Michael Gervais
I definitely believed that this challenge was hard enough, but I also believed I had the skills to match the challenge.

Photo: Brian Beckman

Sunday, September 15, 2019


I get it, it’s hard to wrap your head around covering 100 miles on foot without stopping for a nap. I imagine every runner that has entered a 100 mile experience, as Race Director John Storkamp refers to it in his RACE RECAP, has had similar thoughts at one point or another. Eventually, seeds get planted, and then fertilized, over the years before finally taking root. Here are a few of my seeds;

You must go back 10 years to July of 2009, that’s the first time I ever stepped on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). I even BLOGGED about that first run, “I ventured onto the Superior Hiking Trail only to find it incredibly rocky and rooty (is that a word?). I wasn’t so much “running” as I was doing that high knee tire drill that football players do.” At the time, I was used to the trails at Lebanon Hills and Hyland Park. The thought of running 100 miles on the SHT wasn’t even a dream back then.

In 2014 I experienced race weekend for the first time, as a volunteer. I even wrote a REPORT about that entire weekend. In it I wrote; “I can’t help watching 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 too 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.

The following year I paced Brett Busacker for about 25 miles. Running on the SHT in the dark was one of the coolest things ever and it answered a lot of questions that I think needed to be addressed before seriously considering taking on such an event.

Finally, right after the 2017 race, my friend Stephanie Thiede declared that she was going to run the 100M in 2018. It wasn’t only that she followed through, but it was the way she did it that really stood out to me. I still remember her coming into Oberg (mile 96) smiling with this incredibly great attitude. As she left the aid station she said, “Let’s go get a sweatshirt.” (referring to her finisher’s hoodie).

After that race, with turning 50 years old on the horizon, I finally pulled the trigger and signed up for the 100-mile race. People would often say; “Oh, you picked an easy one for your first 100.” Of course, they were sarcastically referring to the Rugged, Relentless, Remote tagline of the race and it’s 42,000 feet of elevation change. Running my first 100 miler was never about just covering 100 miles. If that was the case, I would have found an easier race. Growing up on its south shore, Lake Superior has always held a special place in my heart. And I find its north shore even more special. I’ve never been anywhere else that opens my soul like the rocky north shore. My first 100 always had to be the Superior 100.

DISCLAIMER: During the race I remember thinking about how alert I felt as I soaked in the entire experience. However, now as I sit down to write a recap, everything seems to blend together. I remember having vivid conversations, but I don’t remember most of them. I remember getting rained on, but not where or when. I remember hearing positive comments from my crew and pacers, but I couldn’t tell you the specifics. What follows is my interpretation of what took place from 8:00 AM on Friday September 6, 2019 to 4:40 PM on Saturday September 7, 2019. Perhaps my crew, pacers, and the aid station workers would have a different perspective.

Leading up to the race I heard over and over how 100M is all about problem solving. From that standpoint, this was a very boring race. I really couldn’t have had a better experience. As lame as this sounds, if I had to change 1 thing from the race it would be not having my glasses fog up. That’s it!

Nutrition was never an issue. The worst was right after eating or drinking, but I’d burp and/or take a tums and I was fine. My plan was to drink Perpetuem at 20 and 40-minutes of the hour and then on the hour I’d eat something solid (energy bar, dried fruit, or trail mix) and wash it down with water. After 50 miles my crew had a 20-minute timer going so I didn’t have to try to remember to drink, drink, then eat, by myself. A few times I dreaded when the eat-timer went off, but I never skipped. On those occasions I just took a gel because it was the easiest/quickest form of calories.

My feet were great too. I had a tiny blister on each heal and one of my left pinky toe. I swapped socks somewhere between miles 51 and 72. Then I swapped shoes and socks at mile 78. As you may notice from the pictures, I changed shirts A LOT. I think I counted at least 7 different shirts – and I think I put 1 or 2 back on after they were dried for me. It just felt so good to put a dry shirt on. 

CAST OF CHARACTERS – in order of appearance

Me and Scott safe and sound
at Caribou Coffee the week
after the race. Photo: Scott LaFrenz
Scott LaFrenz – Former cross country and track teammates at UW-EC. We first met in 1992. “Arch rival” constantly pushing me to be a better runner, teammate, husband, father, and just a better person, in general. He drove from the Twin Cities, sat around waiting for me for 5 hours, and ran through the woods for a few hours, before jumping in his car and driving home. Note: he did take four 20-minute naps along the way, including stops in Two Harbors AND Duluth. Pacer from Finland to Sonju Lake Road to Crosby-Manitou. Apparent star gazer. 

I remember Scott saying that he calculated that we’ve run 5,000 miles together over the years. Math after 14 hours of constant movement is hard, so I didn’t even try to validate his number. Throw in biking and cross-country skiing mileage and he’s probably on the low side. Needless to say, he was a sight for sore eyes in the middle of the night – especially after 26 miles on the trails without much conversation. I also remember him being mesmerized by the stars and even trying to show me the big dipper “if that tree wasn’t in the way.” 

Jenna and I somewhere still out on the course,
perhaps Cramer Road. Photo: Pat Richard
Jenna Boren – A 2:40 marathoner who flew in from California to be part of this experience. I’m honored that she took time away from treating Stanford athletes, to spend it with me on the north shore. She took the logistical-bull by the horns and eliminate a lot of stress from my life in the weeks leading up to the race – particularly when it came to getting pacers to the right spot on time and making sure cars were available too.

She doesn’t even like buffed-out trails during the day, so I had her pace one of the longest sections, Crosby-Manitou to Sugarloaf, in the middle of the night. Luckily, she only fell once. I don’t think pacing turn Jenna into a trail runner, but that was never the point. California has softened her up bit, but a weekend on the north shore changed that – at least a little. The biggest thing I remember from this stretch is going to the bathroom about 15 times. That’s not even hyperbole.

Me and Derek focus on one of
the many slippery boardwalks.
Photo: Pat Richard
Derek Sciacca – He’s had some bad luck when it comes to ultras lately. He missed this race last year due to work obligations and dropped out of the Waldo 100K this year due to being attacked by wasps. In between, he ran a great 50K at Wild Duluth last fall finishing as the third Master. He climbs like a Billy goat and, I believe, he will crush this race someday. His blue eyes have been known to stop women, and men, dead in their tracks. Pacer from Sugarloaf to Cramer Road to Temperance.

Given that Waldo was 3 weeks before Superior, Derek and I were able to do a couple of long runs together this summer at Battle Creek. During the race I remember him asking how my feet were doing and making a plan to change shoes at Cramer Road. I remember seeing Storkamp at Cramer Road and telling him I was just looking forward to a hug at the finish.

One thing John mentioned at the pre-race meeting was picking up trash on the trail. Coming into Temperance I saw a plastic bag and picked it up. It happened to be used toilet paper that someone dropped. No big deal to me, but Derek said I shouldn’t have to carry it and he took it out of my hand. We then proceeded, with our best 6th grade humor, to figure out who we were going to give it to at Temperance, along with different scenarios regarding who’s it was and where it came from.

Pat and I are all smiles
at Sawbill (I think).
Photo: Heather Richard
Pat Richard – Two sport “star” athlete at the University of Minnesota in cross country and wrestling. In fact, I believe he takes credit for Garry Bjorklund becoming an Olympian. He’s a terrific storyteller, unfortunately, he likes to include embarrassing stories about me from time to time. Pat’s part of an “old guy” group (guys in their 60s and 70s) that I train with and get together monthly for a happy hour. While I used to look for training advice from these guys, now I look for advice on colonoscopies, hip replacements, and social security. He’s an aspiring amateur photographer who will literally give you the shirt off his back – as he did for me at Temperance. Pacer from Temperance to Sawbill.

The thing I remember most about running with Pat is feeling great as we climbed Carlton Peak. That was great for me, but Pat was trying to take photos of me climbing and he missed a few shots. I also remember looking for the vistas. I figured when we got near the top of Carlton Peak we’d have some nice views, which I kept calling vistas. That entertained Pat for awhile.

Nike sponsored pacer, Kevin "TK" Nelson
Photo: Pat Richard
Kevin “TK” Nelson – Travel companion and crew chief, along with his wife Nordica Stocker, at my first “real” ultra, the Squamish 50M in 2015. I basically invited myself on that trip, but TK and Nords never complained. He’s a keen observer of people, lover of all things metal – at least in terms of music, an apparent rule maker, and an excellent hugger. Final pacer from Sawbill to Oberg to the Finish.

Coming into Oberg (the last aid station) with TK was the best. I felt great and the cheering crowd was awesome. We’ve both worked this AS before and know more people here than any other aid station. Of course, there’s Kurt and the TCRC RV, along with Sonya Decker, Mike Bateman, Nick Graham, Doug Barton (who I somehow missed), Jay McDonald, Brian Beckman, etc. So much energy here that it’s easy to stay too long.

Leaving Oberg I just remember reading “don’t underestimate that last 7 miles.” While I felt great, I knew that Moose Mountain still loomed in the distance. I know it’s “short”, but it’s also steep and that’s the combination that usually does me in. As we climbed a hill, TK and I were trying to decide if we were on Oberg Mountain or Moose Mountain. I thought Oberg, TK thought Moose. Luckily, TK was right and before you knew it, we were at the top. This is when TK started making rules; 1) no running on boardwalks (because they’re wet and muddy, which can be treacherous), 2) no running downhill (because there are lots of roots and rocks, which can be treacherous), and, I believe, 3) pick your feet up (because falling can be disastrous at this point in the race). I was smelling the finish and he was just looking out for me.

Finally, we stopped at the Poplar River for some photo ops before hitting the road. Derek joined us for a little bit and took some funny videos – mostly of TK – as we ran 8:30 pace for the final mile. As we rounded Caribou Highlands and ran into the homestretch it was everything I imagined; hearing Craig Yotter call my name, raising my arms in the air, collecting my medal and belt buckle, hugging TK and John, before finding the rest of my crew and sharing the elation with each of them. I admit, I totally forgot about the wolf and having to kiss it. I guess that’s another thing that went “wrong” for me.

Instead of trying to recreate my memories from the finish, here are a few texts from afterwards;

“Can’t believe how good I felt, especially on the 2nd day.” – 1st text to my wife

“Texted and immediately fell asleep for 4 hours. Other than becoming a father that’s by far at the top of the list.” – 2nd text to wife

“Crushed it! Can’t believe how great I felt. Day 2 was even better. Can’t thank you enough.” – text to Coach Alicia

“Truly unbelievable. I have no words to describe how great I felt. A couple low energy spots but always at the end of a long section and the next aid station brought me right back.” – text to the Godfather of Trail, Kurt Decker

After the race I emailed Coach Alicia; “The last 18 miles I felt like I was actually attacking the course. My crew was joking about how good I looked on day #2 and I told them I was climbing better than the previous day. I have no idea how 1,500’ of climbing up a ski hill translates to 21,000’ of climbing during a 100-mile race. You’re the coach and will have to answer that. But somehow it worked.”

An experience like this requires many thank yous;

First and foremost, thanks to John and Cheri Storkamp for not only putting on this incredible experience, but for building an incredible trail running community. Thanks to each and every volunteer out on the course, in particular I remember, Travis and Stephanie Thiede at Sugarloaf, Becca Metzdorf at Temperance, the entire Oberg crew. Obviously, thanks to the pacers I mentioned above, but also to other crew members; Nordica Stocker and Heather Richard. Kim Anderson, Kevin Ryks, and Brittany Smith pulled double-duty helping me at times, along with Aaron Smith. Kurt Decker for all he’s done for me and every other budding ultra-runner. Thanks to Sherri Schummer for telling me her Superior 100 secret, which was to hire Coach Alicia Vargo. I can’t thank Alicia enough for her training plan, guidance, positive feedback, nutrition tips, and so much more. Finally, thanks to my incredible wife and kids for their amazing support not only of these events, but all of life. 

Here's a recap of the weekend in photos;

Badass pre-race photo: Ian Corless 
Me and Kurt looking at the course map.
Me and Kurt discussing the course map.
Photo: Pat Richard

The actual course profile.

Early miles. Photo: Kurt Decker
Somewhere near Split Rock. Photo: Tone Coughlin

Temperance River. Photo: Pat Richard

One of the few photos of Scott and me.
Photo: Scott LaFrenz

Me and Derek multi-tasking; changing shoes
and socks and trying to close a reservoir.
Photo: Pat Richard
Climbing Carlton Peak.
Photo: Pat Richard

Amy Clark showing me all the plant-based options.
Photo: Pat Richard
Split Rock.
Photo: John Stewart
Can you say "overpack"? This is the leftover food
that I DID NOT eat along the way. Thanks to my crew
for hauling this stuff from aid station to aid station.

Jenna alongside one of the two totes
my crew hauled around for 2 days.
Photo: Pat Richard
TK saying something clever to get me from Sawbill
to Oberg. If you look closely you can see Derek between
us and Heather and Pat off to the right.
Photo: Chad Richardson
All smiles with only 12.6 miles to go. TK starting
his pacing duties at Sawbill.
Photo: Chad Richardson

1:40 later, TK and I coming into Oberg!!!
What a great feeling!?
Photo: Pat Richard

Last minute instructions from Derek.
Photo: Brian Beckman

Two of the best around, Mike Bateman and Kurt Decker.
Photo: Pat Richard
Me and Jay McDonald go all the way back to
high school cross country.
Photo: Brian Beckman
Me, TK and Derek - the all grays.
Would have finished a lot sooner
without all these photo ops.
Photo: Pat Richard

All I needed to get me to the finish line, a high-five
from the Godfather of Trail!
Photo: Pat Richard
Let's go get that hoodie.

Rule #1: No running on boardwalks.
Photo: John Stewart
Rule #2: No running downhill.
Photo: Pat Richard

Poplar River #1
Photo: Nordica Stocker

Poplar River #2
Photo: Pat Richard

Yes! 103.2 miles! What a great feeling!
Photo: Tone Coughlin
Thanks to TK for bringing me to the finish
and to all my crew for making this moment
a reality. Photo: Tone Coughlin

Me and Nordica
Photo: Pat Richard

Most of my crew; Nordica, TK, Jenna, Pat and Kevin in back
Derek, me and Kim in front
Photo: Brittany Smith
The crew from earlier in the race. Apparently I'm too busy
to pose alongside Kim, Nordica, TK, Kevin and Heather.
Photo: Pat Richard 

The coveted hoodie in a coveted chair.
Photo: Pat Richard