Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 Superior 100 Race Report

Yes, it's late, but this is a big one, folks.  Sorry, it’s Superior.    

I know this race.  I catch fleeting glimpses of the course in my mind, like a repeating dream you find yourself having over and over.  I tried to play the whole thing back in my head before the race, recall each aid station, every climb, each descent, but I couldn’t quite piece it together.  When we lined up on race morning, though, it all came flooding back.  The trail déjà vu was strong.  Last year I went into this race having never set foot on the Superior Hiking Trail.  I had no idea what to expect besides epic difficulty.  Each step was new.  This year, I found myself remembering the next climb, the descent following the next ridge, the next runnable section, everything, and this year, I ran. 

Race weekend started Thursday morning with a crazy bunch for Alicia’s blueberry pancakes at our place before having the pleasure of catching a ride north to Two Harbors with hundo-rookie Scott Huston for the pre-race briefing.     

Quite the crew crashed at my friend’s beautiful cabin on Lake Superior just 10-minutes north of the race start, including me, Scott Huston, Jason LaPlant, Misty Schmidt (*all finishers of the race!), and Jason's crew-woman extraordinaire, Amy Scherbring.

Race morning—whoa boy.  I was excited, nervous, and scared, but most of all, I was prepared and ready.  This season had brought me a few successes, but also some pretty gnarly failures (I always take more away from the failures).  I came into this race rested (sleep is bar-none the most important thing leading up to a race), healthy, and tapered.  All that was left was that little battle between me, my expectations, and the trail. 

At the start, Ben Bruce and I ran comfortably, leaving Goosberry Falls with the 80-mile rule in full implementation: "If you’re not going to run it at mile 80, you don’t run it now."  It flows well with my “run the runnable” and “don’t fight the trail” mantras, all of which come down to the notion that you want to move quickly over the easy stuff, the flats and downs, the whole race, and to do that, you need to walk the hills at mile 5 so you can still run the "runnable" at mile 80+.  A few miles into the first section, Christy Nowak and Chris Hanson came up on us and ran through Ben.  By the time they passed me, Ben had fallen off the back, which was sad.  I spent all 103.3 miles last year with Ben and wanted to spend some good miles with him this year, but we each have to run our race (be careful—trying to save someone else’s race can quickly and easily derail your own—know when to cut people loose, which is not always easily done).  The next few bends brought Aaron Buffington, Tony Pierce, and another runner into view, so I made a quick push to grab the tail-end of that group and settled into the train.

As the course started getting a little more technical, Aaron started pulling away, so I made another push to join, with Tony coming along.  The miles brought stories, and we found out that this was Tony's first hundo.  Aaron has a fantastic way of grabbing everyone's life story out on the trail and sharing a lot of his own, a skill possibly only rivaled by his tree-traversing abilities (April Cole get's this joke).    

Down the spur trail into Split Rock (aid #1), we ran into Matt Aro and Joe Boler coming up the hill, running fantastically conservative races, not getting sucked into the fast pace at the front.  Donny was at the turn, directing traffic.  John Maas was there welcoming people in.  Jordan Langen was snapping pictures.  Vicky Bagelle helped me refill my pack, remarking that I hadn’t drank much that first section—which I thought a bit odd.  No matter.  I felt good, grabbing a few cookies and a banana before hiking back up the spur trail.

Up the trail, though, that water comment really started to bug me. The next section was the longest on the course, and last year I’d run dry about halfway through, nearly crippling my race with early dehydration.  This year was a lot cooler, but still, I thought I’d been drinking pretty well, but there was no arguing that the water level in the open bladder was only a few inches below the top.  I finally figured out—a few miles up the trail—that I’d stuffed the back of the Salomon pack so full that when I opened the bladder to refill, the tension in the pack squeezed the bladder, reducing the capacity from the already-lean 50 ounces to something much less.  For the second year in a row, I had to conserve water on the longest section on the course.  Still, Aaron, Tony, and I moved well, and I took the last sip out of the pack about a mile before Beaver Bay (aid #2).       

This time, I took the bladder out of the pack before filling it.  The good news: I got the full 50-ounces in the bladder.  The bad news: it took forever to get the bladder back into the pack.  I had to have a spectator help, and that wiped out the few minutes I put on Aaron and Tony down the hill into Beaver Bay.  No matter.  We left together, running along the river.  At this point, I was still climbing (hands on knees, Euro-style) a little faster than Tony and Aaron, so I pulled ahead a little and into Silver Bay (aid #3) at mile 25, my first drop bag, ahead of schedule and feeling fine. 

Before the race, I made a pace chart for people to have some idea where I’d be at what times and to help me plan my drop bags (gel, salt, lights, etc.), which was actually rather necessary for this one because I didn’t have a crew until the Cramer Road aid station at mile 77.9.  In the early miles of these things, we tend to run at a somewhat “normal” pace before settling down into the 100-mile slog (“start slow, then taper”), so guessing times isn’t easy, and I couldn’t just use last year’s paces because, frankly, I was going to run more than last year, and faster.  I had been talking some made smack to my buddy Jordan Hanlon leading up to the race that I was going to crush yet another one of his 100-mile times.  Last year, he finished a fantastic race at Superior just a smidge over 30-hours, putting 4+ hours on me after County Road 6, mile 43.5.  Given that, my pace chart had 3 times on it: my “GOAL” pace at 17:30/mi for a 30:07 finish; my “UGH” pace at 20:00/mi, settling at last year’s 34+ hour finish; and a “GODLIKE” pace of 15:00/mi for a 25:49 finish.  Trust me, the “GODLIKE” pace was just for people trying to find me at the beginning.  I figured my best case scenario was an initial “GODLIKE” first few sections that tapered off to “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL” later in the race.  Though, through Silver Bay at mile 25, I was running comfortably, eating a ton, and holding fast to the 80-mile rule, a slick 45-minutes ahead of my “GODLIKE” pace, though I didn't know it at the time.  Still.. spiffy. 

I knew I was moving well, but I had absolutely no idea what that meant pace-wise.  I’d been running with the Suunto Ambit recently (love it--most of the time) and threw it in the 50-hour mode for the first time during this race—to complete and utter disappointment.  At the first aid station, 9.7 miles in, the watch read a paltry 8 miles, so I couldn’t trust the thing for anything more than time splits—tis-tis Suunto.  Vicky Bagelle was at the aid again (busy woman!), and to my surprise told me that Jeremy Lindquist had come through an hour-and-a-half before me (which, if true, would have been a sub-10:00/mi pace through the first 25 miles of the Superior 100!) and was in 4th place!  I was a little surprised, not because Jeremy CAN’T run that fast, but because he was running that fast during THIS race.  I was hoping he could pull it out, but thought that I might see him later—at the time, I was betting by Sugarloaf.     

I re-upped my gel and salt, grabbed a headlamp, and was off again for the next long section to Tettagouche.   Leaving the aid, Aaron and I lost Tony but picked up Steve Clinton for a spell.  Aaron, true to form, grabbed Steve's life story, which was really a pleasure to take in.  Steve is just another wonderful person out trying to find himself.  He happened to run one hell of a race along the way, too.  We stopped to take Steve’s picture at Bean and Bear Lakes, where Steve’s bud Ben Sorenson came up on the group.  Steve dropped us to run with Ben, and those two sped off putting a little time on Aaron and me into Tettagouche, where we were greeted with the following nightmare.  

Although it was pointed out that with that grip, and left-handed, we shouldn’t have too much to worry about, I still feel comfortable in my initial concerns.  

Tettagouche came and went quick, with Steve Quick remarking that I looked “way too fresh.”  I took that as a good thing, and pushed ahead. 

The section from Tettagouche to County Road 6 takes forever.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous, fantastically so, even.  The vistas of Lake Superior and the forest were stunning, but this 8.6 miles is a bear.  Last year, Ben, Jordan, and I witnessed carnage on this section, passing a few people that would never leave the next aid station.  This year, Aaron and I took it easy.  He’d get ahead of me for a spell, then I’d catch up and take a little lead.  Once, I found him perched at the top of a vista—seemed like a good place for a rest.  Wise man.  We sat, letting a few people go by, just enjoying the view before running across Eric Forseth on the hill above Country Road 6 on our way into the aid station. 

Finally, some of my peeps.  My dad, Krista Dierkhising, and Naomi Huston were at the aid station, whooping and hollering on my way in.  Last year, I had to turn on the headlamp a mile or two from the aid station.  This year, I got to the aid station with hours of daylight left, and best of all, I felt fantastic!  I grabbed my drop bag and was changing things out when my dad told me that Jeremy had just left the aid station 10 or so minutes ago.  I was shocked!  He was slowing down a ton, and that lit a little fire under my ass.  I thought that maybe I could catch him before Finland at 51.2, and I was off.

I was hiking the ups at a nice, quick tempo, and running the downs and flats.  After a few miles, the sun dipped below the trees, but I pushed on, trying to get to Finland without grabbing a light out of my pack, moving as fast as I could, faster than the last few sections.  There were a few times that I thought I heard someone coming up behind me, which I thought odd.  I was moving faster than I had been all afternoon.  I shouldn't be getting passed!  But sure enough, about a mile before the aid station, when I finally gave in and and grabbed a light out of my pack, Becky George came running up a hill behind me.  I hitched on, followed, and chatted until she stopped and grab her light and I was able to put some distance on her.  Honestly, I was ecstatic to still be ahead of her at the halfway point.  She's such a strong runner, winning the Zumbro 50 outright in the spring and putting up a 19-hour time at Kettle 100 earlier this year.  Around the next bend, I passed one older runner without a light, then came up on Jeremy, who started to run when he heard me coming, but was moving slow.  I told him to keep it up, snuck by, and hauled it into the aid station where Alicia was waiting.

The stop at Finland was quick.  I was still moving really well and wanted to keep that up as long as I could.  I refilled the pack, grabbed some Oreos, kissed Alicia goodbye, and took off towards Sonju.  Jeremy was coming in as I was on my way out, and I quickly caught up to Ben Sorenson and his pacer and chatted a bit  before sneaking by.  Becky George caught me quickly after that and I tried to hang with her through the roots to Sonju, but it was nearly impossible.  Her cadence is so quick, she just moves effortlessly through everything with seemingly zero impact--it's pretty amazing to watch, which I tried to do as long as possible.  She left me behind rather quickly, though, as I started to descend into my first real tough point of the night.

Pulling into Sonju was pretty fantastic.  I found a chair, pulled out some Advil, tightened the laces on my shoes, and grabbed a warm cup of soup with Jason Buffington.  It was getting chilly, so I grabbed my jacket and loaded everything back up before deciding that the jacket was too warm.  As I was fiddling with everything, Aaron Buffington and April Cole rolled in to the aid station.  It was fun watching the Buffington-brother interaction (Jason is quite the endurance athlete himself, usually more of a cyclist, but setting the course record at Arrowhead 135 last year on foot).  April was confused seeing me at the aid station, not thinking I was ahead of her (I don't blame her--that girl can motor).  I gladly followed those two out of Sonju en route to Crosby, taking in the conversation.

The next two sections, Sonju to Crosby and Crosby to Sugarloaf, were a hilarious delight!  It was fantastic chatting with Aaron and April--they really made the toughest miles on the course fly by, especially Aaron and me chasing April the last few miles into Sugarloaf.  It was nearly impossible to keep up with her--or at least for slow folk like Buffington and me.

Aaron took off really quick out of Sugarloaf, though, followed shortly by April, as I was finishing up my second cup of soup.  I really wasn't able to take in any sugar at that point, and all I had with me, food-wise, were gels and whatnot, so the aid stations were the only places I was really taking in calories.  The second cup of soup here was necessary, but still not enough.  Just as I was setting foot back on the trail, Alicia and Naomi happened by.  I only had time for a quick hello, telling them that I was getting really tired and had to keep moving.  My stomach was gone.  The bonk was in full effect.

That next section to Cramer Road was a doozy.  The trail wasn't bad, I was just losing it.  It took me a few minutes to catch up to April, but no matter how fast we went, we couldn't seem to get Aaron back in sight.  Then the sleepies started to hit, and I had to let April go.  The rest of the way into Cramer Road I was fighting sleep--even stopping and sitting down on logs or rocks on the side of the trail to catch a few minutes of shut-eye, but nothing seemed to help.  Not music.  Not singing.  Not speeding up.  Not walking.  Nothing.   This is where Ben Sorenson and Steve Clinton flew by me--I wish I could have hooked on, but I had no shot.

Eventually, I made it to Alicia at Cramer Road and she got me a 5-hour energy, a cup of coffee, a cup of soup, a grilled cheese, and a baggy of chips and pretzels to carry with me.  Same as before, though, as soon as I set out from the aid station, I started dozing off while moving again.  I was stumbling over everything, and was just looking for a place to grab a few minutes of rest.

Finally, at sunrise, I started coming around again and was able to make up some time into Temperance.  My only calories in the last section had come from half of a king sized Salted Nut Roll, but still, I was moving well.  I saw Eric Forseth, Alicia, and Alicia Hudelson at the aid station, stopped for a minute for some calories, but took off as soon as I could towards Carlton Peak.

The climb up Carlton was lonely, but quick.  The trip down was a blast.  I even beat Alicia to Sawbill where I got stung by a poor honey bee trying to steal my Salted Nut Roll.  At Sawbill, they told me that I was only 10 minutes back from Ben Sorenson, so I took off as quick as I could.  I could run the flats and downs, but I had nothing on the ups.  Still, about a mile out of Oberg, I caught Ben.  This is where the first marathoners started by, too.

I pulled into Oberg just before the sky opened up and left in a full downpour.  The last section took forever, but I was in such a great mood, it really didn't matter.  I knew I had it in the bag after Temperance--nothing could have stopped me from the finish line at that point.  And unlike last year, there were no massive hallucinations during that last section.  I didn't have to convince myself that I didn't have feet just to keep going.  In that respect, it was calm, quiet.  I didn't have a pacer.  I didn't have anyone to run with.  I was moving as fast as I could through the rain.  Every now and then a marathoner would stroll through, but I didn't have a shot at staying with any of those people.  I just tried to stay patient and positive until Lutsen.

Crossing the finish line was great.  There are no easy sections at this race, just hard and harder.  It's amazingly technical and relentless, beautiful and challenging.  I finished in 22nd place overall in 29:05:46, a time that would have put me in 8th place last year, and much, much faster than my 34:35 suffer-fest in 2011. It was a great run, and I couldn't have been happier.

Looking back, this one was a bit different for me, the closest to self-supported I've done with my crew-person extraordinaire and lovely wife Alicia volunteering at the Finland aid station (mile 51.2) all night.  I saw her there on my way through right after sundown, but not again until a 5-second greeting at Sugarloaf (mile 72.3) as I was heading out.  She saved my bacon later in the race at Sawbill (mile 90.7), finding lunchables at a gas station after my stomach went south and I couldn't stomach anything sweet--the "turkey" and "cheese" (if that's what you call it) were just what I needed.  Aside from that, though, I finished the race with just my drop bags, learning the important lesson to throw in some emergency "real food" in the future, just in case.

I went without a pacer for this race, but I did have the unexpected pleasure of chasing Aaron Buffington for a large majority of the race and hitting the hardest sections of the course (Crosby to Sugarloaf) at night with Aaron and April Cole.

Gear-wise, I was in a tank and shorts for 90% of the race, donning a jacket as I was falling asleep for the Sugarloaf and Cramer Road sections, then again after the sky opened up at Oberg.  My Montrail Mountain Masochists were perfect, as usual, with a pair of Drymax socks.  I didn't take off my shoes even once the entire race, only tightening/adjusting the laces twice, and had no blister or feet issues during the race.  (I've still never lost a toenail and am convinced those that do just wear shoes too small--size up people!)  The Salomon S-Lab 5 pack was spot on, per usual.  For light, I used a Petzl Tikka XP 2 at night, stacked with a Petzle Myo RXP when I was alone for more light.  

Everything epic, indeed.