Superior Sawtooth 100
September 10-11, 2010
First we need to start with a quick review of 2010. You recall I took a business trip on short notice back in February and decided to run Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas. Overall it was a great race for me – well up until about mile 97. But, I was still comfortably under my goal of 24 hours. I wanted to leave open the option of running The Beast Series again. Although I seriously doubted I would do the whole thing, I at least wanted to run the subset of the Beast, the Lynchburg Ultra Series.
That meant I had to run Holiday Lake 50k, in the snow, the following week. What a wreck of a race for me! I finished unhurt, but I’m not doing that again! I still had to train for my Spring goal race, Massanutten 100. After Holiday Lake I also ran Seneca Greenway and the monsoon ridden Elizabeth’s Furnace. Each event seemed more of a struggle until my body said “Enough!” and completely shut down. Terrapin Mountain 50k was a no go and the LUS for 2010 no longer an option. A couple weeks of dealing with bronchitis ensued and I struggled with the Chocolate Bunny in April. While hiking up Bird Knob with a heart rate approaching 5k race speed, I knew I was done – MMT was not going to be an option. I spent the rest of April recovering. The overtraing was so bad I didn’t even feel like running for the first time in my five year running career. But, I felt pretty good by May and ran Capon Valley 50k. I shaved a nice chunk of time off 2009. Clearly this training thing is way overrated. 😀
Then comes the record breaking Summer that the Weather Channel called the worst in the nation for Washington, DC. I just could not get the mileage up in this heat. I wanted to do a new three day event for 2010 – The Trilogy – in October. I think I could be ready by then so I did a three week “test” in July of three 50k’s in three weeks. The last was the 110 heat index Catherine’s Furnace 50k. I passed my test. 😉
Then later in the Summer I got a “bug”. I mentioned to Dan, aka Metal, aka Big Boi, that I wanted to run another 100. I didn’t mean “now” but sometime soon. His response was that he’d pick me up at the airport on September 9th. He too was running SS100 as his first attempt at 100 miles. That would be in Minnesota. Here I go again going into another 100 miler on a whim. LOL!
How hard can it be? :rollseyes They give us 38 hours. And look how cute the hills are on this 102.6 mile course with over 20k in elevation gain:
Okay…ask around about SS100 and I learn it’s more technical than Massanutten with more elevation change. I sure hope it’s more roots than rocks. Sean A, who holds the SS100 course record, said I’d love the course. I do love rooty courses, but rocks are a struggle for me. Well, they had been up until late Summer. While Trilogy training, I was spending some time running the rocks of the Appalachian Trail and doing mountain repeats at Maryland Heights. I got to the point where I could run every rocky section from Keys Gap to Harpers Ferry, something I couldn’t have imagined last year. My one “big” weekend was triple repeats of MD Heights Saturday then a seven hour outing up there again with double MD Heights in the middle. My quads didn’t blink. However, my midweek mileage was still pathetic. My body was ready, but I would like to have been in better cardio shape with more midweek mileage. I knew I could keep moving for a long time, so let’s go!
Off to Minnesota. Big Boi picks me up and we head to the huge Superior Sawtooth Expo! Okay, it was spaghetti in a little room with a bunch of trail runners. Another Dan was there. Dan K, the guy I spent most of 17 hrs running Laurel Highlands 70 in 2009. And, Adam Casseday, the Co-RD for The WV Trilogy was there. Hope he wins! We rode up with Tim and Angela and would do so again the next morning to the start.
Oh, I forgot to mention I hadn’t run for 10 days. My heel was hurt. This same thing happened the 10 days prior to those three 50k’s in July. I told people I’m going to need a good 30 miles to get back in shape! Let’s just hope the heel holds up as it’s untested. Look…it’s Dan and me all smiling pre-race. I’m the single car blue train. 😉
And, the other Dan, Dan K. Have you noticed that super ultrarunners have the initials DK? Yep, this DK from Ohio. There’s some guy from California with a marketing machine that tells how awesome he is. Then the most famous DK, the TrailDawggie from PA!! 🙂
8 AM Friday – Here we go! Let’s go ahead and address the mistakes. I definitely know how to execute a long race. But, there’s a big difference between knowing how and actually doing it. Mistake #3 – we stopped for some caffeine on the way up. Any sized coffee is the same price? Sure, I’ll take the big one! Wait, where are Mistakes 1 and 2?
The first section of the race is very runnable. I spent a little time running with Susan Donnelly who’s done SS and MMT many times. I tried to get a better idea of the course, and it’s just “different” we concluded. Finishing times are very comparable. So, I figured somewhere in the 32-33 hour range would be quite reasonable for me. Based on previous years’ times, that would put me at least top third. At a minimum, I wanted to be done before dark Saturday.
We make our first “big” climb and have spectacular views of Lake Superior.
Here’s a good representation of the early trail with Dan K running into an aid station.
Very nice trail and quite runnable as you see, but you generally have to pay attention. And, when I say “pay attention”, I mean to the trail. The scenery is awesome up here. We keep running next to and over fast running rivers and waterfalls the entire race. I could not help but look at them.
Oh l0ok, I’m a turtle! See, when you’re looking at a waterfall, and not the roots, you can instantly be on your chest. A little bit of skinned knees and hands, and the pack jabbing me in the chest – no problem. Look, the knees are just a little red rolling into the second aid station. I think this is the aid staition that had signs telling you the aid station was a few hundred yards away and this final sign said something like 5 feet…funny.
Another thing you should never do is mock the trail! 😉 On even the tiniest creeks they had cute little bridges. Clearly they’re afraid to get their feet wet up here. I’m just cruising along. Up, down, up down. This course does that over and over and over again. I was running with one guy and we were talking about the course. He said the terrain I’d been on so far was pretty much what I’d see the whole time. Then I learn he didn’t get past 50 miles his first attempt. One I knew it was false or sub 30 would be easy; two he lost all credibility with that one. LOL! Later we cross a bridge and run along a river for a while. Then I take a left and follow the trail up a hill. Umm, which way to I turn at the top? Here come other people. Uh oh, I shouldn’t be up here. Back down. Now it’s quite runnable for a while and I’m just cruising along. Then some more climbs and I’m up on a ridge. Let’s readdress mistake #3. I’m tired! It’s that after lunch time for me and I’ve come down off the caffeine high and I’m sleepy going through this grassy section up on a ridge. Then it’s wake up time as the course smacks you in the mouth. Roots? Umm, nope. These climbs may be a whole lot shorter than we see in VA, but some of them are very steep and extrememly rocky. One thing I notice is the big steps you have to take to get down some put a lot of stress on the knees. Check out Big Boi.
More ups, more downs. Some of the ridges were a giant, fairly smooth rock. Once section had to be pushing a quarter mile. It was neat. And, we also had spectacular views on the opposite side of the Superior Heritage Trail. Looking kind of cloudy over there huh?
The RD told us about markers to keep us from falling off the cliffs at night. Here’s an example. These things were practically flashing neon signs when your light hit them at night.
Up down, up down, rocks…you get the idea… I was right; it did take a good 30 miles to get going. I’m feeling great and moving along nicely. Well, moving as fast as the course would let me….
Rolling into an aid station. Mistake #4 and I didn’t know it. Woops!
Later I arrive at Tettagouch, mile 34.2. There’s lots of activity here with aid station workers and crews waiting for their runners. “Where are the drop bags?” I ask. “We don’t have drop bags here.” Oh crap! My little light is in there and it was at the previous aid station. I had a little one stashed just in case I don’t make it to the next aid station before dark. I’ll be fine, right? A crew member tells me to take his and drop it off at the next station. But, I can easily get there before dark, right? He said it’ll take three hours. Oh my… That was mistake number #1. You think after going down the switchbacks at Weaverton in the dark last year I would’ve learned to just carry my light. No, I had to choose to save a few measely ounces in pack weight. Off I go. Now I’m runing on a trail that reminds me of the Bull Run Run 50 miler course. Nice and smooth with similar trees. Very runnable. Three hours huh? I know how this works and I’ve said it in previous race reports. If it’s that easy now something drastic will change very soon. Sure enough the course gets extremely technical and steep. There’s one down that even had a railing. (I always wonder how they get the materials up there and who builds this stuff?)
I did have to break out the light for 30 minutes at the end of this section. And, I was really wishing I had my good light at this point. I was with about four other people and I couldn’t keep up with them the light was so weak. But, that wasn’t actually a bad thing because two of them would not shut up! I mean for hours I’d hear them off and on. And, I would continue to do so. Although I do have my chatty moments on the trail, this was excessive and loud. I did learn at Laurel Highlands not to waste energy and run away from that. Dan K remembers too well. LOL!
I then roll into County Road, 42.8. Here’s the drop bag with my jacket and “real” lights. Woohoo…my favorite part of the race, night running! I also break out the iPod. But, then there’s a panic moment. Where did my handheld light go, I just had it? Look around the grass…on the table…argh…Black, in a black bag in the dark. Somebody helped me find it after I sat down looking through the bag. There’s a first. I have never sat during a race. The closest liquid was ginger ale. That’s always safe, right? I chug a couple cups with some supplement that have helped solve some of the hip flexor issues I have last year and I’m off! Uh oh…I start one of my coughing fits. Damn…there goes the ginger ale and snacks. Not good. Shortly after it starts lightly raining. I had the visor for this and didn’t mind at all. I nibbled on an oatmeal bar. Typically I love those things. It probably took me a half hour to get a bunch of it down and it tasted like cardboard. Now it’s really raining, like a whole lot! It won’t last, right? Then I start to get cold. Here we are with Mistake #2. See, the jacket I had was simply a light, thin running jacket. It wasn’t meant for rain. The jacket I had for rain was at a drop bag for the morning. We dropped off the bags the day before and the last forecast I saw before that had the rain coming in the morning. Nope, it was 9PM and pouring. Remember, don’t mock the course. I’m soaked and running through puddles.
During the night, we crossed a lot of these wooden bridges and they were quite slippery. Some were covered in chicken wire which helped a ton by grabbing the shoe tread. I’m not sure what section it was, but we crossed a very long section of these bridges. I’m in the middle of what appears to be a big lake. It’s quite “spooky” in the fog and rain. This must be the beaver dam section people were talking about. The water was right up to the little bridge. I really didn’t want to fall off this thing. Not that I could’ve possibly gotten wetter or colder, but I’m pretty sure there are pirranah and alligators in there! And, I think I saw Nessie’s brother! O:o
Eventually I arrived at the “midpoint”, Finland, 50.5. I’m shivering and practically looking for a way out at this point. If there had been kittens I was done! (Let’s see who gets that reference…HA!) The solution? A trash bag. No, not the big black kind of trash bags, the white kitchen bags. Now, imagine that stretched over my 6’3″ frame. I had my elbows pinned to my sides waddling around like a penguin. The idea wasn’t to stay dry, but trap in as much body heat as possible. As soon as I left that aid station I knew there was nothing that was going to stop me. I also knew I was going to pay for this big time with a brutal recovery period. It was approaching midnight, so I was about an hour off on my projected 15 hour arrival. No problem, I still assume a two hour slower 2nd half and 34 hours is fine.
The next section is a blur. No iPod because it’s still pouring. Just keep moving and attempt to stay warm. Oh, I did have a cup of chicken noodle soup at Finland. That’s the only thing I could stomach. All I know is lots of ups downs, rocks, slippery bridges. At some point I fell going down a hill sideways and smacked my hip. Eventually I get to the Christmas Light lit Sonju Lake aid station, mile 58. Stand by the fire to keep warm, a little more chicken soup, and waddle off for more of the same.
Then up a long, gravel road to Crosby Manitou, 62.4. Where the heck is it? Eventually I get there. And, I had been looking forward to this all night because that’s where my waterproof jacket is! All three of my drop bags were at aid stations starting with the letter “C”. Easy to remember! 🙂 Didn’t work out not looking at the name of the one that had my little light though huh?
Off with the wet jacket and shirt and put on another short sleeve. Argh, it’s wet! Hmm, maybe it was me being soaked that got it wet. So, back off, shivering, and put on a long sleeve and the jacket. One thing that always happens to me in the long stuff is edema in my hands. It doesn’t affect my feet at all, just hands. Since my elbows had been pinned at my sides for hours now my hands were huge! I also had them in a fist the whole time trying to keep them warm. When I straightened them out I had a fold running across the back like a fat roll. Zero chance I could get my little knit gloves on and one of the many awesome aid station workers helped put them on. Then he kept asking me if I wanted my pit zips on my jacket opened and I kept telling him no because I’m freezing! I stood shivering for a while longer while attempting to down another cup of chicken soup. But, I had to wait as it was way too hot. Good grief I’ve spent more time at the last four aid stations than the total of any previous race.
Eventually, off I go. I get moving and finally I’m not freezing any more. Oh cool, a very loud waterfall! I couldn’t really see it in the dark rain, but it was obvious. Down, down a long set of stairs with some observation areas for the waterfall. Then I go along a little rocky trail and cross a creek. Wait, this is a real creek. No cute bridge?! Umm, no markers, no footprints. Sigh…back across, back up the long stairs. I read the signs again for the trail and sure enough, right next them was the course marker indicating I should’ve gone right not left. Once again, too mesmorized by the waterfalls!
This section is really long and wow it’s tough! I remember getting to the top of a steep down and stopping to figure out the best approach for getting down it. I think I went sideways on some and admit to grabbing rocks here. This is one of the most challenging sections of the course, but light’s soon coming!
Later some very fast people are passing me. The 50 miler leaders that started early in the morning were flying. I also had some 100 milers catch me. But, I’m moving at a decent pace I thought? Nope, I was going really slow and didn’t realize it. The effort was there, but it wasn’t working. It had now been over 12 hours and all I had was a little soup. I had no energy at all. I couldn’t even keep up with them at their walking pace! This isn’t good. A nice pacer offered me a gel and tells me I need electrolytes. I knew she was right but I didn’t want anything. I’ll force something down. eGel? I used to eat them exclusively for marathons. Sure, as long as it’s not cherry. She pulls out a bunch of cherry. Okay, fine. It went down okay. Then, it’s time for some magic!! Sugarloaf, 71.6. Got some more soup that was way too hot. So, the nice lady added water. Still too hot! More water. Now it’s pretty much just water. I look at all of the food offered. Blech! My stomach wanted none of it. But, there were these coffee cake muffin things. My “rule” is if it looks good I can eat it. Let’s try. Oh my that was awesome. I grap another and I’m off. The pacer was mentioning I was fine with the cutoffs. Huh? What do you mean cutoffs? I’ve never worried about a cutoff before, that’s silly. (Insert Jim Mora rant here and replace “Playoffs” with “Cutoffs”.) Soon I’m running and passing the people that passed me. But, now I’m having other issues. Wow my feet hurt. Not the type of hurt ankles and shins from past races, but the bottoms. It had finally stopped raining, but the trails were trashed. My feet have been wet for hours in previous races, but not constantly soaked like this for over 12 hours. And, they would never dry. It was just varying degrees of wet – wet or drenched.
Cramer Road, 77.2. “C” means drop bag. I had fresh socks and shoes. But, I wasn’t quite sure how much that would help since they’d just get wet again right away. Well, maybe a little bit of dry will help. I sat again, for a while trying to get this figured out. A crew member had stuff all set out for his runner and told me to put some of his powder in my socks. Wow the bottoms of my feet looked crazy! The were all white and wrinkly, and the skin was very tender. “Anybody have any duct tape?” Somebody gave me some. But, what am I supposed to do with it? Dunno! So, on with the new stuff and let’s get some food. A grilled cheese sandwhich was pretty good. Oh, there’s Tim and Angela. She said they were over a 1/2 hour behind me a few aid stations ago. Her goal was sub 38…uh oh, I really slowed down. I ran off and on with them for a bit and my feet just kept getting worse and worse. I’m now avoiding putting weight squarely on my right foot and was jogging/hiking on the outside of it. Do you know what that does to your little toe?
Tim and Angela left me as my feet were killing me. I caught them again at Temperence, 84.3. Oh look, there’s Big Boi! Umm, shouldn’t you still be in the race? Done at 50.5 with major foot blisters. Look, I have my jacket tied around my waist. Actually, to this day I still do. I’m never letting it go again. And, I’m carrying a flashlight 24/7. 😉
It’s not terribly easy to see, but if you compare my hands in this pic to the one of me taking off the pack earlier, it’s a big difference. No veins at all showing here. Big Boi noticed and laughed at them. Off I go. Here’s what the trails still looked like that weren’t covered in rocks.
Now I’m doing everything I can to avoid the “drenched” level of wet. Every time I’d get in a puddle it stung. So, I’d straddle the trail, or even bushwack around the larger stuff. It was very slow going, but it was either that or the sting. It’s a beautiful afternoon! Too bad my feet are gone. Then it’s Sawbill, 90.0. I made the cutoff easily, but for some unknown reason, the cutoff for the next aid station is only a very short time later. Yeah, I’m now talking cutoffs. Woops! I think the cutoff for this station probably should’ve been sooner. The aid station volunteer asked me what I wanted. “Gels!” Well, they don’t have any. But, she said she had a gel flask in her car and told me I could drop it off at the end since she was going to be sweeping the course. Okay. She ran and got it and told me it was espresso flavored. Thanks!
The next section is “only” 5.5 miles. The first piece is pretty easy. Then I see the top of a cliff. Surely we won’t be going up there, but around it. Wrong! That was serious climb. I caught Tim and Angela here only to lose them shortly after. This time I knew it was for good. I was going very slow now. 50 milers were passing me like I was standing still. So frustrating. Maybe a mile or so later my race was over. There was no chance I was going to make the cutoff for 95.5 and I was okay with that. Not only that, how was I going to get there? I could no longer even put any weight on my right foot. So, I just stood there wondering what to do until it quit hurting too much. I slowly hobbled through the woods.
Then all changed instantly. I felt a warm rush on my toes. It seems as if a giant blister just popped. More magic and I can move again. Plus, that espresso gel has kicked in big time. Nice, I’m on some of the sweetest single track anywhere. And, it’s gently downhill. Maybe I can make the cutoff? So I hauled ass and was running faster than any point in the race so far. I saw signs for a parking lot, that must be it! Run, run, run…cross a river. Huh? Where was the parking lot. Now I’m on a dirt road. No markers? I’m now bummed and walking thinking I’m off course and it’s too late. Soon I hear people. But, I know I missed the cutoff by a few minutes. I get there and they ask me if I had a light. No mention that I’m 7 minutes late. I’m sure I looked quite perky! Of course I had a light. Not one, but two! (Like I’m going to let that happen again!) They want to see it working. Okay. Then off I go. “Only” 7.1 more.
Now I’m flying. There are bunch of runnable stretches here. Run really fast, make a u-turn, repeat. It’s now time to turn on the lights and break out the iPod. This is the night running I was looking for the previous night. This was fun! Oh, and the best part about being out so long? Hallucinations of course! They’re like a game to me. I see something, but what’s it going to be when I actually get up to it. A few sticks and leaves. I also saw a bunch of big rabbits that glowed under the lights. (Those were real.) I had seen lots of fuzzy brown squirrells all day long. The fungus was also very different than what we have in the Appalacians. There are giant, yellow mushrooms with lots of colors mixed in. And, really cool fungi attached to trees.
Another neat thought was this would be my first DFL. (Dead F’n Last) That’s always a good story. But, there are lights up ahead. So, I couldn’t even get that part right! It’s Tim and Angela. I stuck with them a while and apparently Angela was not in a happy place. She wanted to stab me because I got chatty all hyped up on espresso gels. LOL! I wanted to go. So, I passed them. Then a bit later I go down a very steep, and long hill. I think it was Moose Mountain. But, there were no markers anywhere. Argh. I stop for a couple minutes to see if Tim shows up. Nope. So, I head back up then see him on top and yell, “Is this the right way?”. “Yes”. Off I go again.
Of course this high point cannot last and the feet start really hurting again. Oh, lights behind me. They caught me again. No, it’s somebody else. I didn’t turn around to actually look, but we started talking and I recognized some of the comments “Jeff” made. Wait, what’s your last name? It was Jeff I knew talking to and trading messages on Facebook. Funny! He was running the 50 miler and said the course was it’s slowest ever. I think I could’ve figured that out on my own…LOL! He shows me the lights of where we’re heading and we immediately to the opposite direction. His buddy catches up and said it was pretty cruel to tell me that. HA! I’m slowing down again as my feet are toast again and the caffeine high is gone. But, I’m still plodding along and eventually get to a road. Only a mile left! Of course that road seemed like a few miles as I passed buildings I thought this is the building to turn into…this…no this one…. Ah, there’s the turn, there’s the finish. Big Boi’s and Angela’s moms yell as I pass, and I’m finally done! Big Boi is there to snap a pic. Official time 38:02. Remind me I never want to be on my feet that long again…
This is the part that amazes me after a 100 miler. As soon as you’re done you can barely move. And, it gets way cold. Put that jacket back on. Dan helped me find my bags and get showed me how to get inside so I could take a shower. Wow look at those feet! Permanent dirt and a mess of blisters on both feet. I have never gotten a blister running one of these things before. My right little toe is a wreck. Soon we were headed off to Duluth. Very cool…we saw a Timber Wolf on the way home. Stunning animal. We stopped and Dan got me a quart of milk. I couldn’t eat the sandwiches at the end. That was the only thing I could stomach. I’m pretty sure all of that caffeine pre-race and in the gels destroyed it.
The rest of the adventure is getting up and down stairs, to and from the car, and through the airport the next day. I scored a bulkhead seat after I told the lady at check-in what I just did. 🙂 I had all of a part of a piece of pizza and some juice all day. I didn’t even want to eat the next day. That’s not good for recovery huh?
When I got home I wore my finisher’s jacket around the house. Not because I liked it so much, but I was cold and it was 73 degrees in there! That’s typically pretty hot for me. My electrolytes were completely out of whack and my immune system was gone. On came getting sick and no running for quite a while. A week later I was messing with the stuff that had engulfed my little toe and it just fell off. Oh look, it’s a brand new pink toe! How cute! 😉 Look how clean that toenail looks. Wait, there isn’t one. Woot! Lost my first toenail.
So, that’s how Not to Run 100 Miles. 🙂 There were some positives. I was really happy with the way my legs held up. I also didn’t have any of the lower leg and ankle issues that plagued me the year prior. I added something that I think contributed a lot to that over the summer. Two or three times a week I would lose the shoes for the last half mile of my run on concrete. It did wonders to build up the feet. And, I learned some things. Like carry a light from the start and have a jacket early. 😉 Actually, simply having somebody to crew would’ve saved me at least a few hours. I could’ve had the right jacket ready at any aid station, some Nesquiks – my “Go To” for long races which I didn’t have this time and easily could’ve gotten me through the night well nourished on an unhappy stomach – and figured out a way to deal with the feet.
I suppose we could argue another positive is I didn’t quit. Although the better argument for that may be stupidity and stubbornness because I really paid for it. LOL! Any one of the three bad things (stomach, freezing, feet) could’ve easily knocked me out of the race, but didn’t. They are also issues that I’ve never experienced. As they say, there are no two 100 milers the same…
Thanks to Dan and family for the hospitality! And, for some of the pics! I said I’m coming back even if it’s only to crew for him when he finishes next time. I really liked the course, and the people were great – even if they talk funny… 😉 It would’ve been far more fun with about 6-7 hours less on dry feet…