Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Superior Sawtooth 100 - Race Report

Distance running is such a perfectly simple sport - we just put one foot in front of the other for miles and hours on end, day after day…  It’s a sport that rewards patience, hard work, and one in which you get out what you put in. On the surface, most people out there would probably think from this description that running is about as individual of a sport as there is. I realized more than ever last weekend that at least for me this belief couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You see, the story of finishing my first 100 mile race is not one that began at Gooseberry State Park on Friday morning; the race is just the culmination of much more. Throughout all of the training, ups and downs, and the race itself, I have been lucky to have great friends who have inspired and motivated me every step of the way. I couldn’t have imagined the race last weekend without three of them – Joe, Arley, and Dylan – who were there to keep me taken care of, encouraged, and moving forward. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world out there to have such great support from my crew and all the absolutely incredible volunteers and race directors who are truly unsung heroes of the race.

I realize that there is a whole lot that can go wrong in 100 miles no matter how hard you work, plan, and prepare. I am very fortunate that most things went right and couldn’t have been happier to have it culminate in a great race. I was the first across the line in 22:35.

The Play by Play - The Race is On:
The night before the race was a good time all around. After the pre-race meeting, Joe and Arley argued about Brad Childress during the miserable Vikings game while I did some final prep getting some food ready for the race. I was really optimistic about these PB & J mini bagels and my mom’s banana bread…turned out they just didn’t quite hit the spot the next day though. I got stuff organized, went over the gear and game plan one more time with the guys, and even managed to get a bit of sleep. 
The first few steps at the Gooseberry.  Sheryl on the left edged out
Val at the end as the first woman! Both had a great race!
After anxiously waiting for the start at Gooseberry State Park the next morning, Larry the race director finally said go and we were off. From the very beginning, it was always about getting to the next aid station. In the early sections this wasn’t so bad at all on fresh legs, but proved to be mentally much more overwhelming as the race went on. I couldn’t possibly wrap my mind around the whole distance at once, so just focused on one section at a time and putting miles behind me in the daylight. In hindsight maybe I went out a touch too fast, getting out of Beaver Bay at mile 19.4 in around 2:57 or so, but that was right according to the plan to the minute and the legs still felt pretty good. 
Running into Beaver Bay on schedule at 19.4.
Stocking up the Nathan I think at Tettegouche.
The next three sections through Silver Bay, Tettegouche, and into County Road 6 came with much more challenging trail and ended with a really low spot in the race for me there at mile 42 or so. I was a bit slow but felt real steady into Tettegouche, and then the dreaded 8 miles to County 6 once again took its toll on me. This section beat me up pretty bad on a training run back in August, and it was out to get me again in the race. Between a little accidental HEED debacle and much more so just letting that section get to my head again, I was in pretty rough shape coming into County 6. 
I'm happier than I look to be done with that section.
I got some fruit there, reloaded on water and Gatorade, and left that station frustrated with myself and still over 60 miles to go. It didn’t help that about a minute later I threw up, and about 30 seconds after that I tripped and fell down pretty hard. I laid there for maybe 20 seconds, calmed down a bit, picked myself up, and right then decided that would be a turning point of sorts. I knew I had Joe waiting to pace me at the next aid station at Finland (mile 50.5).  All I thought about the whole first half is that once I got to Finland I would be in the clear with the guys pacing the rest of the way.
Eating at the Finland Aid Station halfway.
No Longer Alone on the Trail:
The run into Finland and the next 12 miles with Joe was really great and I think the most encouraging point of the race for me. The trail was very runnable here and Joe was incredible at being positive and encouraging the whole time. I was feeling great, making good time, my head was in a good spot, and I was having fun. We cruised through Sonju and got into Crosby Manitou at mile 62 just in the final minutes before the darkness completely took over and the lights went on. 

I picked up Dylan as my new pacer for the next 22 miles here at Crosby Manitou. I knew all along this section was going to be really hard with one heck of a steep descent and even steeper climb out of the gorge there, so was mentally prepared. I’d have to ask Dylan again, but I recall the most challenging part of this 10 mile stretch going pretty well…it was actually the last few easier miles that took a toll on my mind and just seemed to never end. 

The Skies Open Up:
And then the rain began, and continued, and never did stop until after the race. And the fog! I thought for a while it was just me not seeing clear but the guys insisted that it was indeed unbelievably foggy to the point where the trail was a blur. We got through Sugarloaf at mile 72 and into Cramer Road at 77 without it all really bothering me too much. I still just had a t-shirt on and for some reason insisted I was ok when I left Cramer Road when I could have put on a dry shirt and rain jacket. I obviously wasn’t thinking straight, because within about a minute the real downpoor began and I was freezing cold and shivering. Maybe it was a good thing since keeping on running to the next aid station at Temperence was the only way I would stay warm enough. I was a bit of a mess coming into Temperence at 84, but that dry shirt and rain jacket made a world of difference and I felt like a new man heading out of there. 

Arley and I took off from there for the last 18 miles and soon I was feeling pretty good…it’s crazy how quickly things turned around once I got my core warmed up. On that section up and over Carlton Peak, we ran steady the whole gradual part of the climb until hitting the boulders on top where we hiked. The rain was still pouring down the whole time and the fog was getting so dense that we could hardly see the ground at our feet, but we kept it moving steady enough to the extent that they weren’t even ready for us at the Sawbill aid station when we got there! Most of that next section we spent trudging through ankle deep water on trails that became streams…but we kept on moving.

The Home Stretch...Kind of:
I had thought about what it would be like to run that last 7 mile section before and during the race…and it was nothing like I anticipated. I thought by then the adrenaline of nearing the finish would kick in and would be able to power through it. In reality, it seemed to never end. I remember telling Arley that one of the few things I could do to screw this up would be to fall down and injure myself…then I proceeded to repeatedly fall down probably 5 or 6 times in the next couple miles. It was so frustrating, and each mile seemed so daunting. I knew I had to get over Moose and Mystery Mountains, but those climbs just took forever to get there. For some reason I wasn’t taking anything for granted until I got off that trail. I was convinced that Adam Casseday who was putting together a great race behind me was right on my heals, and I knew that as long as you’re out there, the Superior Trail will chew you up and throw everything it has at you. I was looking forward so much to reaching the road and cruising in those last final steps. Tony told me before the race to cherish those last steps because they go by fast and before you know it they are gone. He was so right. In a flash it was over. 

Post Race with Friends:
I had a great day on Saturday. After a long shower, a delirious breakfast with the guys, and a few hours of sleep, I spent most of the rest of the day hanging around the finish line. It was a blast to see old friends and new friends cross the finish line after persevering through the tough course in all events – 100 mile, 50 mile, and marathon. There are too many great stories to cover them all here, but a good reason to go run or volunteer next year and see it all for yourself! 
The 100 Mile Awards were on Saturday Night at the Finish Line.
Thank you Volunteers:
One of my goals going into the race was to try and thank all the volunteers no matter how bad it got. Well, I think some of them maybe got overthanked (Joe said I told some of them I loved them), but I am sure some probably got shortchanged when I was in a rush.  You all were incredible and whether it seemed like it or not at the time, I truly appreciated all your endless hours of work to make it all possible. 
Race Director Larry Pederson watches over one of 13 amazing aid stations
set up and staffed by volunteers!
Strengths, Weaknesses, and Lessons Learned on the Trail:
I’ve decided that running in a 100 mile race is a really good way to learn a lot about yourself, running, and life. My strengths were mostly physical and definitely the result of the training volume, long runs, and hill repeats. To my surprise, another strength was also my biggest concern going into the race – Nutrition. I had enough bad experiences with nutrition this year to be paranoid about it and to have learned what works and doesn’t. I kept a good variety of sources of calories going and did a really good job of staying hydrated and getting at least very close to the goal of 300 calories per hour.

My biggest downfall out there was by far my weak mind. I am a bit disappointed in how negative I was getting for much of the last 30 or so miles. My good friend Tony has taught me a whole lot about running 100 miles when I crewed for him at Western States and Leadville, but I mistakenly failed to learn the valuable lesson from him of positivity and emotional steadiness…he is so good at that and I will be very focused on being much better next time. I’m thankful Dylan and Arley put up with all my illogical and I’m sure slightly annoying complaining out there for hours on end.

Overall, I realized that life should be filled up with great adventures with friends. I am lucky to have something I absolutely love in running, and luckier to be able to share it with great people. This is just one adventure of many more to come…some of the most amazing and challenging trails in the country await, and I can’t wait to get out there and explore.


  1. Great report Brian - to go with an awesome race. I love how you describe the team effort - it's what makes these races special. We all have a lot to learn but I suspect more than most you'll put all the ups and downs from the experience to good use - in running and in life.

    Looking forward to more long training runs with you next season - maybe we'll start at Tettagouche and see if that section seems any kinder!

    Recover well.

  2. Nice Report, Brian. I understand a lot of what you were going through out there, well, minus the puking :) I was running scared that last section to the finish too, as well as being desperate for it to just end.

    The mental aspect is pretty hard, but it'll be easier on your next hundred with the lessons from this one.

    Hopefully I'll see you around this fall.


  3. Well written younger. More to come..

  4. The mental game is a huge part of the 100. As I was watching runners late in the race, I was amazed at how upbeat most people were - everyone has low points during the run, but you know they don't last (unless you haven't been eating and your crew is less than helpful). I'm betting that you didn't sound like you were complaining for hours on end to anyone else.

    The hundred just might be your distance!

  5. Great race and great report Brian! Congratulations.

  6. Hello Brian,

    WOW! Totally awesome! We are so proud/impressed with you & your accomplishments, not only on the trails but on life's journey as well. You are a very special young man & we wish you much continued success in your endeavors.

    Tom & Terri Noah

  7. Excellent result of your combination of talent, preparation, and focus. Couldn't be happier that it all came together for you for such a great race. Don't forget to sit back (or sit down) and savor the experience in these days afterwards.

  8. Great run out there Brian! I kept up on your progress as much as I could via aid stations.

    Ended up not getting to the island and headed up to pace a friend in the 100 instead. You are right - the aid station folks are the best and deserve our love!!

  9. Brian,

    Great race, and great race report. It's so interesting to see and hear about the peaks and valleys that people go through in the longer races...especially a 100 on such a tough trail.

    Rain and fog cannot have made it any easier -- I think you can complain a little bit and still consider yourself mentally tough, because that's one thing that you definitely are! Congrats.

  10. Congrats again and great race report!! The report will be awesome to look back on in the years to come. Your dedication and ability to mentally push your physical limits far beyond most makes you one of the strongest minded people I know!

  11. Brian,

    Great race! Very happy for you. All your hard work and dedication to the distance has paid off.
    Enjoy the time down and really soak in the victory.

    I hope to see you out on the roads next year as I can see one hell of a ripper coming from you in the marathon.


  12. Younger what else can you say. Race by race you learn and grow stronger. Congrat's on a super race and great way to cap the year off. I look foward to seeing you keep growing as a runner.

    p.s. If you where not tuff upstairs you could not have done what you just did.

  13. Thanks everyone for the kind words and congrats. Been taking time off this week but getting the itch to get back at it.

    And Gregg, I have actually been thinking that the next goal race will be a spring marathon...roads and trails are so different, but I've had fun doing both.

    Good luck to everyone in any fall races coming up...see most of you out there!

  14. Hey Brian
    Wow, what an amazing journey, you had. Love your journal and your thoughts. Best of luck in future runs. May God keep you safe. God Bless,
    Sarah Gerads

  15. Brian,

    You are a rockstar of a person - and a pretty decent runner as well! Great race!! I am happy to see you do so well - I know you worked your arse off for the race.
    Funny thing about that little stretch to County Rd. 6 - As I approached it I couldn't stop thinking about our training run this summer and the kind of shape we were all in (and mostly you as you had done 25 more miles)!

    Thanks for the support you always give me on my own little running journey and hope to see you soon.

  16. Brian,

    Nicely done--I'm glad a stumbled across your blog and read this report. It totally scared me away from the 100 miler--and yet...

    I'll get ahold you soon and try to join you and your gents at Hyland on Friday mornings. It should be fun and a challenge...I'm very much looking forward to it.

    Kirk Walztoni