Throughout the day I had slid from 98th to 121st. Arriving at mile 46 I felt good. I had worked my way through some major cramping and managed to get my hydration back under control.
Co. Road 6 to Finland 7.7 miles
Darkness was about to fall and I had done no harm. My race is about to begin. Technically I’m not racing anyone but the voice inside my head that is telling me I got no business being out here and that I should just quit. I have a goal of 34 hours which would be over an hour off my PR. The day went well and I know I’m ahead of my projected split times. For now I ask my crew not to tell me anything about splits. I know there’s a lot of race left. I love night running! I practice it and I’m used to staying up all night having been a shift worker for the past 10 years. For every 8 day swing I work two 12 hour night shifts back to back. This section starts out very runnable. Then it climbs and climbs. You can see a mountain top through all the dead or dying birch trees. Fortunately we don’t have to crest this one. We only go about 3/4s of the way up, but it still makes for one hell of a climb. Then the trail skirts the side of the mountain. Ahead we hear a cowbell. I ask Don if I had imagined it, but he assured me I did not. Sure enough we come to a lady in the middle of nowhere cheering us on. As we don our headlamps I begin to hunt. It becomes a game to us. Each light we see ahead is a new challenge. How many can we pick off by morning? I think of Jason and Kevin saying gets very runnable as we get closer to Finland. We are making good time. As we get to Finland we have moved up 30 spots to 91st.
Finland to Sonju Lake Rd. 4.2 miles
As we leave Finland I prepare myself for what may be the most technical section of the race. We take what the course gives us. I run when I can but more importantly I keep a steady pace by power Hiking thru the worst of it. I don’t let the rocks, mud, and monster roots get to me mentally. It don’t take long before we hear a party in the woods at the Sonju Lake Aid station. We get in and out and avoid the pitfalls of the raging bonfire.
Sonju to Crosby Manitou 7.5 miles
We continue our game of hunter and hunted, but not surprisingly the runners are starting to become fewer and farther between. Our game pouch is still bulking just not as fast as before. As we near Crosby I hear a familiar voice ahead. It’s Mark Smith and his runner. With a smile I call out to him in the dark. He introduces me to his runner. We have something in common. We were both in the Marine Corps. We are brothers. Quickly I slip past and the section makes a long descent to the road crossing. I can hear Mark let out an eerie howl from the hill high above. Someone on the roadway answers by beeping there horn. The sound of civilization can’t be more welcome as I climb out of the woods. I make my way up the 1/2 mile dirt road to the aid station. One more big section ahead and then the race will seem so much more manageable. We’ve moved up another 8 spots to 83rd.
Crosby Manitou to Sugar loaf 9.4 miles
Lindsey and her pacer Biz are getting ready to leave at the same time as us. Now I have another rookie pacer Travis in tow. Not wanting to worry me he doesn’t tell me that this is his first time running with a headlamp. I can’t believe we’ve caught up to Lindsey. Lindsey’s soon to be husband Bob was my pacer for my 1st 2 Superior finishes. Both Lindsey and Biz’s Uncle Stu, is my crew chief and 3 time Superior pacer extraordinaire. This was Lindsey’s first attempt at the 100 mile distance. She took 3rd at Zumbro this year in the 50. Her coach is Jake Hegge, the Superior 100 course record holder. Before the race I sent her a message of good luck with a P.S. Jokingly of, “Don’t to let me catch you!” For the rest of the race we play leap frog. She leaves most the aid stations first and I try to catch her. It’s a game of cat and mouse. I think she was using me as the mouse. It is the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. We spend a lot of time together over the final sections. Leaving Crosby starts with a gigantic bolder riddled descent down into the Caribou River Gorge. Once we cross the bridge I think it’s the 2nd longest, but for sure the steepest, climb back out of the gorge. Someday I have to go back in the daylight. It has to be absolutely gorgeous. Climbing out it’s hand over fist up the rock ridden ascent. It is extremely difficult but to top it off there are multiple false peaks. So just when you think it’s over you turn and continue to climb. As hard as it is we’re having a blast with Lindsey and Biz to keep us company. This section has been a death march for me in the past. This time however I was in a groove. My biggest concern with having two first time pacers was that it wouldn’t be fun for them or that they would hardly get to run at all because I fail to perform. Toward the end of this section we got passed by the leaders of the 50 miler. I ask Travis to notify me when he hears them coming. As they catch us he steps off the trail and notifies me how many of them are together. This method works brilliantly so that I barely have to move over. Yet at the same time it lets the fresher runners scoot right on by. As a small train goes by I make a monster effort to latch on as their caboose. I startled the rear runner as we catch back up. I confuse him a bit as he says he has never been caught by a 100 miler before. He thinks I want to pass, but I tell him I just want to ride their coat tails as long as I can. We were flying. Somehow I stick with them bounding down the long descent to the next aid station. My heart rate felt relaxed and somehow my breathing was in complete control. For once this section was not so bad. As I look back to Trav all is right in my world. He was breathing heavy and glistening with sweat. We gained 15 more spots and move to 68th.
Sugarloaf to Cramer 5.6 miles
Cramer is the Marathon starting point. I have a new objective. I wanted to get there and get out ahead of the marathoners. Stu is now with me. This section is not bad at all. It’s very runnable. It don’t take long and the trail opens up on two different occasions to power line sections which make you think you are at the aid station only to find out sadly you are not. It don’t take long and we hear a car door. We pop out of the woods and to our amazement see our buddy Jason right in front of us as he’s arriving to get ready for the marathon. We laugh, say hi, and cross the 1st road only to jump onto a parallel road that leads to the trailhead parking lot. 77.7 miles in and for the first time I change my shoes. I sit by the fire and take the time to thoroughly address my feet. I pop the one tiny blister that had formed using a bib pin, relube, and put on fresh shoes and socks. The aid station is serving pancakes and bacon. They may have been the best pancakes I had ever tasted. This time we had only gained 2 spots. We were now in 66th.
Cramer to Temperance 7.1 miles
Lindsey again leaves ahead of us but we are in hot pursuit. This section is mostly down hill. The trail rolls along side the cross river as it gently rolls up and down. Again it is very runnable. photo credit: Cole Peyton
It goes through several campsites along the beautiful river. As we near the river crossing we again catch Lindsey and Danielle and scoot on by. photo credit: Cole Peyton
We cross the river and climb into to forest on the other side. Trav and I latch on to some more 50 milers which gets us moving. I can’t keep their pace the entire time so each group that passes I stick with them as long as I can. It’s another long descent down to Temperance aid station and the last half mile I stick with some more 50 milers or what could’ve even been marathoners bounding down the trail. Travis is working hard which makes me happy. We again gain 2 spots to move into 64th.
Temperance to Sawbill 5.7 miles
Now we are into familiar territory. Having run three spring 50Ks and now on my 4th 100 miler it makes 9 times that I’ve been through these final 3 sections. I know exactly where I can make good time and where to conserve energy. Lindsey is in and out of the aid station super quick! I can tell she is smelling the hay in the barn. Stu and I are together again. The first part of this leg is super quick and slightly downhill. The trail is nicely buffed out and heads along side the river toward the lake to the big bridge that crosses high above the Temperance River.
Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore
After crossing the river the trail starts the biggest and longest climb of the race. At first it’s a scramble up some big rocks. Just after that is a great spot to get in the river to cool down or wash the salt and mud off. This is the first time I blow right by without going into the water. Again the trail is very runnable along side the river. Then the long climb begins. This is one of the tricky ones which can be a major mind fuck late in the race. After climbing for what seems like an eternity you come to an opening in the canopy only to be demoralized by this gigantic rock of a mountain still far up ahead. If you don’t know it’s coming this can break you mentally. We make good time and by the time we reach the top we are in a conga line. About 10 Marathon and 50 milers in front and 2 or three behind. I hear a guy behind me complaining that he should be in front even though the trail Is super tight. There is no way I am stopping to let him by as I am right on the heals of the runner in front of me. Also I have a big plans as we crest The top. As we start the descent I say on your left and bound by 6 runners at the same time latching onto two of the lead guys also hopping down the rocky descent. I stick with them all the way to the road as the trail is all downhill on this new beautiful wide wooden boardwalk. I bet we were doing sub 9 min pace easily the whole way quickly gapping the group behind us. I love that section! It’s so much fun. Another 2 spots gained moving up to 62nd.
Sawbill to Oberg 5.5 miles
Lindsey is leaving as I arrive. The crew has a chair for me off to the side in the shade. I don’t stay long or even fill my water knowing this next section goes quick. There are no major climbs and it’s again very runnable if you still have legs. Don is with me for his final leg. We make really good time. Toward the end I latch onto another group of Marathon runners and let them pull me into the aid station the final mile or so. We pull into Oberg and I am grinning ear to ear. Up another 2 spots to 60th. I take a quick seat and wave to Beth who’s working the aid station with her whole family. Stu breaks the news to me that if I make it to the finish by 4pm I’ll break 32 hour. That’s almost 3 hours for the final section. My math is all screwed up. It just doesn’t making sense. I still was just hoping for 34. I know I can do this section in closer to 2 hours. This has me chomping at the bit to get going to see if I can finish closer to 31 hours vs 32 hours.
Oberg to the finish 7.1 miles
We take off a blazing. The quicker we get there the sooner I have a cold icy beer in my hand. I have never felt the pull of a finish line more than this one. Only two major climbs and this sucker is in the bag. I can’t believe I’m still able to run. Then we hit it. The stairway to heaven. The long climb up the back side of Moose Mountain. It’s a steep, dark, and narrow rock and root infested climb that’s shadowed by the towering pines.
It is never easy. Especially when you’ve already got almost 100 miles on your legs. Travis and I are right behind a couple girls throughout the climb. After we crest the peak the sky opens up and you can practically see all the way across the Lake to Wisconsin. Moose Mountain is a long one. The trail follows the crest for what seems like at least a mile before we drop steeply off the other side and into the open hardwood forest below. We are catching other runners. Most likely Marathoners. Soon we start the final climb up Mystery Mountain. Which isn’t too bad because of all the switch backs. At the top I start to strain my ears listening for that glorious sound we all love. The sound of the Popular River as it plummets off the back of Mystery Mountain. I also start looking for the campsite that signals the final descent. This year something is different. It takes a bit longer than I remember. We come to the campsite, only to find out it’s on the left instead of our right. I guess they must have rerouted the trail to make up for the bridge being out and the lost mileage at the Split Rock water crossing. By this time however nothing can phase us. We hit the jeep trail and float on down to the bridge. photo credit: Superior Fall Races
We pass a few people as we climb out onto the pavement and make our way through the ski resort village. I look around to make sure no 100 miler is going to catch us. As we turn back off the pavement and enter the finish chute we catch another 100 miler. I feel bad passing him but there is no way I am walking it in. I hear my name over the loud speakers and couldn’t be more proud as Storkamp says my name and that this my 3rd finish. I can’t believe it. It’s over. We gained another 2 spots to finish in 58th place out of 169 finishers and bout 250 starters. With a finish time of 31:25. Almost a 4 hour PR.
So many people to be thankful to…..
First and for most my family for putting up with me and allowing me to chase my crazy dreams.. Then to the race directors extraordinaire John & Cheri Storkamp and all the 285 amazing volunteers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s like everyone wants you to succeed more than anything else and they will stop at nothing to make it happen. It is truly the people “trail people” that make this event so special. Finally to my selfless crew that made my race what it was. Thank you guys! You knocked it out of the park…..
#DreamBig my friends. There are #NoLimits…..