Superior 100 has created an elite club of finishers awarded the sought after black sweatshirt where each year the finishers earn a star patch to be placed on the arm of their single lifetime hooded sweatshirt. It's quite incredible to be able to say that one has finished this particular race. Unlike the stars in the Dr. Suess story, these stars are earned with sweat, perseverance, and sometimes blood. The director, John Storkamp, referred to the stars during the mandatory check-in meeting as a "sticker collection."
The day before the race, I had been all nerves the entire day even though we took a brief hike and played tourist around a small town. I felt like I was hopped up on caffeine and jittery. We had ran into some of the trail markers at dinner at our hotel. They didn't exactly give us a reassurance of making it through this race. Instead, we felt judged by the looks on their faces and disbelief that we were in this race. HMMM didn't I have a qualifying race already? Did I really need to prove myself just to be here? One guy called us "trolls" because we lived below the Mackinac bridge in Michigan. Yep, that is all he had to say to us. So I am just going to have to say it…I thought he was a prick. And come to find out he is a bit of a running celebrity in Minnesota. Bravo! Feel my sarcasm. While the other gentlemen had some insights to the race course including where the 2 feet of water was, John Horn had more words to share. I listened up to any advice he had to give. He's legendary having won the 100 and marathon distances in previous years and was going for the 50…which he did win the Grand Master's and take 3rd overall this year as well. Wow, just wow. He said, "This race is a character builder. That's for sure." His apprehension didn't settling me at all. I had never anticipated a race in this way before. 100 miles is a big deal, and Superior is a beast.
As the Director took a pole of past DNF runners coming back to finish this raise, it revieled a 7-10 person field of hands being raised. Some had multiple attempts at Superior 100 in the past, as I met one on the course who would finish it this year after two previous years of stopping half way and past mile 60. And why do they come back after such an ass kicking? I wish I had asked him his reason. And then asked what it felt like when he knew he was going to make it. I think that would be one of the most revealing and exciting insights of an ultra runner's mental strength.
|Right before starting with the sun coming up.|
The Starting Line:
The starting line was completely different from the check-in meeting. People were very socialable and one mother approached me and said she wanted my name on her shirt because her daughter was running it and she was rooting for us women. What a cool way to support your daughter and female runners.
My mother was in Michigan hoping I wouldn't start, maybe get lost on my way to the start line, or at least drop out early. I'm just speaking the truth here and this is what I have dealt with all my life.
I spoke with several experience 100 miler finishers and a couple first time attempters like myself. It's all very exciting. I was glad I brought my own coffee, because the coffee that was suppose to be there had a coffee machine malfunction. So I think some people were hurting.
Note: For the first time ever there were no restroom lines for ladies. There are that few of us.
Starting out in the race I met a woman from Holland, Michigan. We cruised and chatted thru the first few miles until we hit the trail where I was immediately was aware of her trail skills that were superior to mine, and I fell back. I wasn't even going to try to keep up with that! She had finished this race before and her trail experience was evident. I was much more cautious on the loose plates of stone and running up and down large loose rocks. I watched the foot work of other runners and could tell that their shoes were sticking surprisingly well on the curved larger boulders on mountain tops.
|Examples of the trail and views. Not all of these are mine as my mind was busy. I wish I had photographed the triple "XXX" glowing signs at night that my headlamp would catch. "Don't go off that ledge!"|
|Not one of my photos but |
illustrates one of the many
hillside, rocky trails down
that need careful attention.
Descending down the rocky sides was nothing that I could just run down. I purposely left space between myself and any other runner. One man with poles, fell behind me down a rock decent. I asked how he was and he assured me that me was okay. Although, he looked like a rag doll sprawled on the rocks.
On the trail, I met runner who had hired an elite coach to get thru this race. He said he had DNF-ed another race, but made it thru another 100 in June. But for this race, he hired a coach. Training food for thought.
|L-R: Aid station equipped with a bowl of salt tabs | Running along the slate plates | My husband crewing me at mile 20 and my run buddy Evie as well. I was feeling nauseated at this time and that didn't go away.|
I waited too long to wear the Calavera INKnBURN singlet this year. That shirt deserves a party!
It was at about 40+ miles and in the dark that I started to lose faith in making it thru the cut-offs. I made a few mistakes. I had been making the cutoffs, yes. And had read enough reports that I knew not to be going any faster than a 17 minute pace. My goal was to just finish this. I had some miles in the dark that were getting quite a bit slower and I didn't keep in mind that they take that into account thru the night. I then thought about the time goals I had set, which were based on an individual that knew this course. That became silly in that moment. I was alone in the dark looking for the trail and reflectors. Although I enjoyed the dark running, the slower speed was playing games with my mind. So mistake number one, was that I lost my faith and did math on the course. Later the next day Robyn, a fellow INKnBURN Ambassador, point that out. "Never do math on the course." Uhg! She was right.
There was a frost advisory and I did not change my clothes before dark. I added layers but that wasn't enough. I should have changed at Tettegouche where my husband had met me. That was a HUGE mistake. I was soaked through and freezing every time I slowed or stopped at aid stations. There really should be a changing area or sheet hung. Women especially need to change. There's something that isn't talked about enough. Wearing a wet bra and underwear froze-me-out with the frosty temps. By the time I reached mile 51 at the Finland aid station, I just felt like I didn't want to go on between the burning in my legs, nausea, and feeling absolutely frozen. Hand warmers would have been a key item to pack in hindsight.
My legs were burning from the knees down. Not that I didn't expect pain, but I was going with the thought of do no harm the first 50 miles….well harm was happening anyways. I really couldn't tell if I was injured, causing injury or what. I knew I had trained for a 100 miler—but not this one! I met people in the dark on the trail pausing on the fallen trees or larger rocks—resting and just breathing. One guy moved as though he had hurt his arm badly as he shuffled along. The constant up and down stepping is nothing like running on a padded path or road running—different muscles in. I had not use the restroom all day. I couldn't tell if I had to go or not. At one point I thought, "Great, now I am peeing myself." I later found I had started my period.
The number one reason I stopped at Finland 51.2 miles (17 hours): I lost my "why". I lost the ability to talk myself "IN" to going on and seeing how far I could go. The suffering for another 20+ miles and then getting thrown off the course, didn't feel worth it. I became reliant on seeing my husband which I wouldn't have seen for another 11 miles. That would have been hours away. Never having a crew before, the support was overwhelming, yet I needed them. Maybe it was just easier for me to stick my heels in and stop because it was him. He was in a bit of shock to hear me say, "I'm done"—words I have never said when it matters. He did everything he was suppose to do in pleading with me to keep going because I was still running and others were dragging and limping. I was frozen, and when he told me to sit in the heated vehicle, it was all over in my head and physically. It's all on me.
Several runners I conversed with along the course were strongly motivated by the thought of the sweatshirt. It wasn't motivation for me at all—not in conversation and not at the moment I dropped. I let go of all the 4 a.m. wakeup calls I had all summer that said I could do this. I questioned whether I had enough baggage to overcome the suffering and if I wanted that baggage. And I felt for what ever reason that I had learned everything I could in the moment. I felt fulfilled in the moment. The worse part was I felt like I really let my crew down and anyone that had believed in me. Guilt. Never having a crew before I was overwhelmed by the assisted love. Even one of the Ragnar BAMRs I met in D.C. showed up, and I was touched. I was disappointed in not being able to run with her in the morning.
This was a butt kicker: the course and mental let down.
The next day I phone my kids and talked to my mother, and she was rejoicing that I DNF-ed. THAT annoyed me to no end. I thought, "Geese, if I had talked to her last night. I would have kept going!" Nothing motivates my like proving people wrong. I was pissed at myself. Cue cards for ALL next time!
Later that morning we went to meet Evie to support her on the course. She was running the 50 miler and we joked that between us we would have the course 100% covered, but she was already getting bumped at mile 26.7 Cramer Road. She wasn't making the cut-off. She was moving along, but on this course, you have to move faster. It was a kick in the teeth. She wanted to go on, but was swept. It's the just another reality of this race. She has finished many ultras, so it isn't like she isn't capable. While waiting I watched Robyn work the aid station and talk a man back into the 50 mile race that thought he had a broken rib. OMG, broken rib guy went on! I instantly wish she had been at Finland last night.
This DNF may be just the baggage I need to come back. It burns on long after the race is over. Superior has left a mountain of rock in my heart. I think every runner will get "their one that got away" experience. This ONE is mine. I knew going into this that if I could finish it, I could do anything. So the race and work goes on. Afterwards with the experience fresh in my head, another runner friend with more experience messaged me and told me she had DNFed one time and she came back to show that trail who was boss and that's what I would too. I told her, "not this race." But less than a week later, I knew she was right. I can't let go of that mountain that Superior left in my heart. Character building? Indeed. I'll be back—rock solid, amnesia and all.
|Hiking views of Lake Superior and trail falls|