On September 9th at 8am I was beginning a journey on the Superior Hiking Trail along the north shore that would take me 35 hours and 42 minutes to complete. 103.3 miles of rocks, roots, 21,000 feet of climbing and 21,000 feet of descending. Through heat, humidity, rain and cold. All to finish with a smile.
Don’t expect this to be very detailed or perfect. This is more of an story than a race report.
I posted not too long ago about facing demons at this race. There were struggles in it. It wasn’t easy, but I did not have to fight any demons. Instead I was reminded of how good people really can be. This is exactly what I needed. I have been extremely cynical lately and this race was my cure. I needed to be humiliated in order to be humbled. I needed people to lend a hand to pull me up from the hole I was stuck in.
The race started at Gooseberry Falls State park and ended at the Caribou Lodge in Lutsen, MN. This race is held almost entirely on single track on the Superior Hiking Trail and is known as one of the toughest races in the country. You can read more about it here – Superior Trail Race.
The moments before the start were awesome. I caught up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and prepared myself mentally for the race. The race came up quick for me, this was a good thing. I operate best under pressure. The race began in favorable conditions. Favorable conditions at 8 am means heat in the afternoon. I started out with a pace goal that would take me to the finish line around 34 hours but my only real goal was to finish. It was hot and heating up. By the time I hit Split Rock (10.3 miles) I could tell that the heat was going to be a factor. At Silver Bay (25 Miles) I was burning up. I felt like I wasn’t going to make it to the halfway mark. I decided to keep pushing and broke down the race by Aid Stations. My plan was to take it one at a time. Drink and eat as much as I could. Mathew Patten saved my ass at this point. He offered up a bandana looking contraption that his wife makes – it opened up and you could fill it with ice. He did that for me and told me to just take it easy in the next section. Then he asked me 1-10 how was I feeling? I said maybe a 6. I was lying. 1 would have been an accurate answer. I was in a hole… He said the only thing I needed to do now was concentrate on what I need to do to get to a 7, then find a way to get to 8. “Once you get to 8, you’re set” he said. Five minutes out of Silver Bay I felt great. My pace was picking up and I was starting to have fun for the first time all day!
Tettegouche was a blast! I saw people I needed to see there. The heat was still getting to me but the aid station was full of smiles and people willing to help. I refilled my bandana, ate and drank. I left feeling great again. But still hot. In this section I really started to see some carnage. People were overheated and struggling to get through it. When I came up to a peak and saw Jeff Goldstein sitting on a rock I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy finish to the day. Jeff is a veteran Superior finisher and he was having trouble. I felt terrible seeing this. Jeff is a great friend and you never want to see your friends in pain. Towards the last 1/3rd of this section I felt dehydrated. Eventually I realized I hadn’t gone to the bathroom for 12 hours so I thought I should try. What came out was brown. I decided that it was a good time to slow down and walk the rest of that section in. I was low on water and had 3 miles to go to the next Aid Station.
The next Aid Station was County Road 6. Here I would be able to pick up my pacer, Paul Schlagel. When getting into County Road 6 I saw my crew master Steve Anderson. Also Jamison who was Captain of this aid station and he had some amazing cookies that I still waiting on a recipe for! At this aid station I could lose the bandana now that darkness had finally arrived. I am a huge fan of night time on the trails and I knew I would be able to pick up my pace for this. First thing I needed to do was drink. I drank about 3 bottles of water, filled my two, ate soup, ate about half of a watermelon and some of Jamison’s cookies. Also I grabbed some Mike and Ikes for the trail.
From about 2 miles in of this section on I was steady. My pace was very very good throughout the night. I enjoyed the darkness. I knew without a doubt at this point that the race was in the bag. It stormed and poured on us. The sections dragged on but we kept moving, and moving strong. I had one low spot in the night and it was a short one. There isn’t much for stories from the night except I ate amazing pizza at the Tiki Party (Crosby) and Julie Berg put us in a super mood with her energy!!
The long section after Crosby brought us sun. After the sun came up we came up on a runner in need of caffeine. Paul obliged and gave him a pill. We came up on a runner in need of water as well. I had extra so I gave her half a bottle, I hope it was enough.
At Sugarloaf I ate an entire burger as well as some candy and left the Aid Station singing Willie Nelson’s hit “On The Road Again”. We picked up some pace and moved really well to Cramer Road. I had a drop bag here but had no use for it. We shuffled through here quickly.
On the way to Temperance we slowed. I stopped to check my shoe for rocks, only to find out I was having some skin issues. Finally at Temperance I was going to have to change shoes and socks, all for some small cases of trench foot.
After some foot care, a chocolate chip pancake and some smiles and well wishes from friends, we were on our way to Oberg.
Our trip to Oberg from Temperance was fun. We had a a guy and his kid tag along with us on the hike to Carlton. This was a great distraction and fun. Carlton was So Much Fun!!! I was dreading it but I really enjoyed the climb up and almost right after we peaked I saw my friend Joe Osterberg which was a huge boost. On the backside we started to run again. Getting into Oberg was a lot of fun, too, because this was the only section of trail I knew.
At Oberg we saw the TC Running crew which is always a joy. We were helped along through there and we decided it was time for Red Bull. Before this I had 2 cups of Coke and that was it for caffeine. This was huge. I knew we were in for a big climb on Moose but we were ready for it.
We walked for a while but again, we ran every chance we could. It felt so good to run. Once we peaked on Moose we ran at a really good clip (the fastest I had ran the entire race). This section was emotional for me. I knew the end was near. I didn’t want it to end. I also kept thinking back to the last time I was there for the 25k spring race. I even recognized a root that caused my brother to cramp severely in the race. This section was a victory lap.
Once we came to the last stretch before the Poplar River I told Paul that I would like to take it in alone from there. I needed to get the emotion out. I hugged Paul at the bridge and thanked him as I was fighting to not breakdown. I stopped on the bridge. Broke down and instantly remembered everyone that helped me along the way.
I took this picture and posted it on Facebook saying, “Savoring this moment, I will see you soon.”
After crossing the bridge I called my wife and kids. I promised I would call when I finished but knew I would get choked up and get bombarded by friends so I thought this would be better. She asked if I was finished, “No, almost.” was all I could say. I said hi to the boys and she asked how I was doing, “I am glad to done.” I said in a broken words. After telling the boys goodnight I needed to get off the phone. Once I hit the end of trail I started running and didn’t stop until I crossed the finish.
The finish was amazing. John, the race director, got two handshakes and a million thank you’s. I was immediately congratulated by friends. Jeff, Matt, Andy, Joe and even Wendi came over to congratulate me with a hug. All I could say to Wendi was “I’m sorry.” She had a rough day Friday but there is no doubt in my mind that she will destroy her next attempt at the 100 mile distance!
I can’t thank the Storkamp family enough. John and Cheri work very hard to put on these events for us. Also our running group the Northwest Suburbs Running group made this possible. Without them I wouldn’t be the runner I am today. Also my wife and kids for putting up with me gone every Saturday morning and coming home stinky and tired. All my friends and family that cheered me on, you have no idea how essential you were to this race. My crew master Steve Anderson for his jokes and great attitude and my Pacer Paul Schlagel who came out with me on 1.5 hours of sleep and hung out on the trail for 20+ hours and 63 miles!
If you have a chance please support the Superior Hiking Trail HERE
I was hoping to have some breakthrough battling demons on this journey. Thats not at all what happened. Instead I was reminded how good people can be. I didn’t fight demons. I found angels.