Sunday, September 10, 2006

Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile Race Report

I didn't realize how nervous I was until I left all four of my drop bags and home, after I had left, for Lutsen. I had decided to return home, as I left my vitamins and hair conditioner behind. I walked into the laundry room, and there were my drop bags. Oh. No!

Thursday night was wonderful. I met Doug and Maria at their lodge cabin to head over to Two Harbors for Larry's race briefing and pasta dinner. It was so great to meet the other 30 runners, eat pasta, breadsticks and salad and see the awesome swag for completing the race. A Brooks red jacket and belt buckle that had color, plus all race entrants received a very nice tshirt.

Larry told us that because the group was small and intimate, he'd like to do something he used to do at his earlier races. I am thinking 'what the hell is he going to have us do?'. He had each racer get up and introduce themselves, then state a bit of their running background. It was a real nice ice breaker, a way to put faces to names and a great introduction.

Back to Lutsen, I phoned phone to check on the boys' football games and then headed to sleep. I actually slept very well, only waking a few times to make sure it wasn't 5 AM. The race began at 8 AM so we had plenty of rest time.

Doug and Maria picked me up at 6 and off to Gooseberry Falls we went for the start. It was cool and misty, but not raining. The forecast was getting better each day with only 20% chance or rain during the race but very cold. Lows in the low 30's for Friday night. I was glad I had my winter clothing packed in a drop bag.

We had a good hour to mill around, go to the bathroom too many times, visit and take pictures. Then it was show time. We were off at 8:00.

Even though I and Maria had been training on the Superior Hiking Trail together quite a bit, we never made a commitment to run the race with one another. That's a tough commitment for me to make. I was very pleased though when it became apparent that we were going to run this race at the same pace as our training runs.

We ran together for 65 or so miles!

The first aid stations were spaced far apart. 9.9 miles, 10.1 miles, long hauls without food. The trail is so primitive that car access isn't available in many areas. The aid/supplies for station 1 had to be hauled in by the volunteers. You would have never known that, they had everything very well stocked.

I saw Don Clark, a mentor of sorts to me, a very experienced ultra runner. I was so excited. I gave him a big hug and said "it's here Don, the race is finally here." I was super stoked. Had my 3 bottles filled with Hammer Heed, grabbed a sandwich and a Salted Nut Roll to put in my shorts for later and headed for aid station 2.

The trail is relentless up and down, rocky and rooty and just plain old damn tough. But beautiful. So very beautiful. We covered the rocky section that I hated most of all sections during the training, but while picking our way through it this time it didn't seem so bad. It was raining last time I ran through it, that is probably why.

Maria and I picked up two other runners that we ended up running most of the race with: Jerry from Missouri, it was his 51 Bday, and his 4th attempt at Superior. He had 1 finish but got his second yesterday in 31 hours! Awesome. Also, Stuart from Kansas City was with us, he was attempting his 10th finish!! 10th! He got it too. Amazing!

We made a train through the woods, running, talking, just enjoying each others company. I felt very lucky to be running with some experienced runners.

Darkness fell upon us, we turned on our lights and man, it was a whole different race. Maria asked if all the roots and rocks would go recess into the ground now that the sun went down. I wish!

We reached 50 miles only 40 minutes faster than our training time. I don't think we ran any faster, I think our aid station time was less. We were very pleased with our pace.

Larry had told me that a section near Sonju Lake was what he thought the worse section would be. Now I agree. We ran - no walked - through it in the dark. It is a low cedar tree area, just full of millions of tree roots. Some spots I couldn't find foot placement, so walked upon the roots and could feel my blisters on the bottom of my foot pop.

Yeah. The blisters were back, with a vegenance. They made up for the lost time, when I didn't receive any from Superior 50K through Voyageur 50 Mile. My feet are raw on the bottom and a few toes.

There were miles of this cedar tree root crap. We just kept plugging along. We noticed that we were all feeling tight in the shoulders/neck and realized it was from looking down at our feet so intensely, and holding the light downward to see. You couldn't stretch out while walking or you would go down immediately. Stop to stretch. Stop to take a drink from my bottle as my head had to tilt back and I couldn't see the roots. Crazy. I would love to watch the winners go through this area. I know they go a lot quicker than we did! It would be great to see how they do it.

Eventually we made our way through and man did it get cold! We were told by Mike and Shelly at an aid station that Larry went through at 11 PM and said it was 36F. We saw Mike and Shelly after midnight and I think it was cooler than that by then!

I put on long pants, another jacket, gloves and a hat. I was still freezing! At another aid station I grabbed a pair of my socks and put them over my hands but was still shaking uncontrollably. This made me so angry. I was afraid I'd become hypothermic due to my own stupidity of not packing enough warm clothing.

During the walking of the night time hours, Chris and Bob hooked up with us. Chris led our merry train of runners through one section, telling us rhymes such. It was a lot of fun. We now had a train of 6-8 runners. It was wonderful not going through the night alone, one of my fears before the race began.

The walking and cold took it's toll on my legs. I was thinking that maybe all of the walking would restful, that went the sun came up I'd feel well rested. Not. I felt worse. The back of my knees became sore; something I'd never felt before. Then I could feel that pain extend into my hamstrings and down into my calves. I tried stretching at each aid station and I just wasn't loosening up.

I and Maria stopped to pee and our train went up ahead. I and Maria were slowing. Chris was still leading us, but she was waiting for us to catch up quite a bit. As we came into the next aid station our train was just leaving. I knew we were in trouble. I re-lubbed up my painful feet. A heel blister popped so I salved up that, the arches were popping. I didn't look very closely. There was nothing I could do about it. I tried stretching out and my legs were like cement.

Bob switched with Chris and headed out with I and Maria. We had the Manitou River crossing ahead of us. It was still dark, we would be crossing in the darkness, in the water as the bridge had been removed for replacement the week prior and no new bridge was yet constructed.

Bob and Maria were moving better than I. I was taking mincing steps, 2 inches in stride, moving from my hips as my knees would no longer bend and my calves and hamstrings were cement. Shit. I've never felt this before! Go away pain! The blisters I can handle, this I was having a hard time with.

Bob felt concerned about leaving me in the dark. He came back to me and explained that he was there to pace Maria, that he told her he would get her through months ago. I knew that. I was lucky to have had Maria most of the race. I told him I totally understood, please don't feel responsible for me. He was so sweet. As they left me he would yell out : 'See my light, you take a hard right at the bottom of the curve' It was very nice of him.

It was dark. Total darkness. Lucky for me it was about 430 AM so I knew daylight would be coming soon. Thank god. It took me forever and a day to get to the river.

I came to the river crossing and there was a guy there to help me out. He took my hand and guide me across the dry rocks. But I couldn't bend my knees. He did a good job for me and I feel into the river anyway, hitting my head on a rock. Shit. Maybe it'd knock the leg pain away? Not so. He apologized, I apologized, told him it certainly wasn't his fault!! Thanks and I'm on my way..

As I was going up the relentless climb out of the river I saw Bob and Maria. They didn't see any markers so thought maybe they went the wrong way. Maria was sure they must have taken a wrong turn. I was too tired to worry about it. I heard Bob say that he thought they were on track so I just kept on trucking. Bob once led me out of Superior 50 mile through the dark. I would have never made it without him. I'll do whatever he says!

I followed Maria and Bob for a while, then took some more Advil, even though not even 4 hours had passed, and felt some pain in my legs subside. I was able to shuffle a bit, so went out in front and didn't see them again. The sun came up so at least I could see where the hell I was going. I wished my energy would come up too. Not to happen.

As I came across Caribou river I could smell pancakes from the aid station. They smelled good, but then my stomach turned as I though about eating them. I puked. I've never been sick during a race. Great. Just what I need. I'm finally shuffling and now I'm barfing and I'm doing the frankenstine walk again. Damn.

When I got into the aid station the pancakes still looked good so I had one, and it wasn't a good thing to do...

The next aid station was another 2.5 miles. I tried to shuffle but was reduced to walking with my hips, straight legged. I couldn't get down hills, I had to drop onto my butt and scooch down the rocky hills. I was trying to figure out how long I could do this.

I came into the next aid station, with a shuffle, I didn't want them to see my gait. I put some lube on one foot, I couldn't get the other shoe off, my foot was too swollen and sore of the blister fiasco. A very kind woman gave me a peanut butter sandwich in a baggie and I was on my way. I forced out a shuffle, a smile and laugh and hobbled across the road. 6 miles to Cramer Road.

Longest 6 miles of my life. I went 1.5 miles in 1 hour. I was on my butt scooching down the rocky hills when a woman out for a trail hike found me. She was very worried about me, asked if I had broken my leg, I tried explaining what I was doing..she couldn't figure out why I was trying to RUN a 100 mile race and I just gave up. She asked if she could help, I told her no and continued to scooch down the hill. Joe Lovett came across me next. He had DNF'd at Superior 100 last year and was out for retribution. He looked great, he passed me like I was standing still. Oh, I was! He finished too!

Eventually the sweeps, Don Clark and his son Joe, came upon me. Apparently Don had been behind me for a while, watching and assessing my condition. He helped me to stretch and told me I had to decide what I was going to do about continuing this race before the next aid station. I couldn't believe I was contemplating dropping from the race. I had never ever ever thought that I would quit. Until the last few hours, it was all I was thinking about. Was I going to be able to resurrect myself? Would my legs get energy back? This was one of the three 100's that I wanted to do this year. Was I willing to give up that goal? I put on my sunglasses and tried to cry quietly and I was thinking out all of these thoughts. God, I was a failure!! I didn't have the mental strength to push my broken body through another 23 miles. Could I do this walk thing for another 23 miles? I figured this race may take me the whole 38 hours but never did I think I would drop.

I did. 77 miles in. It took so long for me to get to the next aid station, I was dead last and I was dead. My legs had given out on me. Maria had dropped a few aid stations before. Shit pie. 1.5 miles an hour was not going to get me to the finish. Would it get better?

Neither of us finished.

It's the hardest decision I have made. But it was the right one. I was afraid I'd injure my knees, calves or hamstrings and not be able to run again. What if I couldn't go for the 5 mile runs with Topaz each day? That's what I love. That's what I love more than a finish of a hundred mile race. I love to run. I couldn't let Superior stop that. Or, is that a cop out I kept asking? I didn't know. I still don't.

It was awful to come into the aid station where many of my friends working the station were at. John, Alicia, Maynard, Rick, Linda, Bonnie; they were all there. I was done. I was stunned. This race beat me.

There was another guy there, from Minneapolis, that dropped as well. Rick and Don and Joe drove us back to the hotel. We felt like we were going to a funeral.

Back at the hotel I collapsed in my room. I couldn't move. I pulled myself to the shower and tried to clean up. Everything ached. I was afraid I pulled everything in my legs. They are dead.

I sat out at the finish line and watched the runners come in from the marathon and 50 mile and then later in the evening, the 100 miles. It was wonderful to see them cross the finish line.

Kudos to Al Holtz - who just ran CCC 100 two weeks ago! He was in our train for a while and he finished in fine form. And Kathy Weix, who only decided at the pasta dinner to run the 100-she finished too.

I spoke with the winner woman, Kerry Owens, from Washinton, DC. She ran Massanutten and came in third there. She told me Superior was more difficult that Massanutten. The winner male finished in 21. He won Massanutten in 20 hours. Amazing. It was wonderful to watch everyone finish the race.

I think 34 were entered and roughly 18 finished the race. I was getting too cold to watch the last finishers come in but I was there in spirit!

As I was packing my stuff this morning I began to wonder how in the world I was going to get my stuff up three flights of stairs to my car. I put everything out in the hallway and began the trek. Much to my delight, Scott and John appeared. John carried all of my stuff to the car. And I sobbed on Scott's shoulder. I couldn't help it. He gave me a hug and all of my emotions came pouring out. How embarassing.

This morning we all gathered at Betty's Pies for breakfast. I saw Kathy and began to cry. Again. I'm way to emotional about this. I was so happy for her, so had happy tears for her, and so sad that I didn't finish. She was just kind and began to cry and said she was so sorry I didn't finish. She has 6 100 finishes now.

I had a difficult time driving home. I needed to use my hands to move my leg to press upon the gas or break. My knees still don't want to bend. It's not all bad though. I have to take this as a learning experience and turn the negative into a positive.

I need to rest, regroup and lick my wounds. I'll be fine. It isn't everything. But damn, it's much better to feel this pain when there are buckles and finishing jackets in the mix!!

And next year..I'll finish that race!

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Julie,
You did Awesome for the amount miles and hours you put on to the trail. I am very proud of all of your accomplishments this year. I will forward your story to Donald, I know he will be happy to read that he is your mentor.
Stay Strong,
Your Friend,
Bonnie R

Jen said...

Julie, Go easy on yourself...if it is possible. You were out there trying to complete a REALLY hard 100M race. You are still an inspiration for just showing up, because all too often we don't. Lick your wounds, plan your next attck and don't look back with shame but pride for showing up. Jen

nancytoby said...

Congratulations on gutting it out for 77 miles. I know it wasn't your entire goal, but ... every race is just training for the next one. Good luck on your recovery and rebound!

marathonP said...

Dear Julie,

Just another step forward for you girl...nothing stops you.

I'm really glad you didn't let your iron will injure your body. There is no doubt that the joy of running everyday is more important than any single utra-running goal. You made the right decision.

You trained as hard as you could, you prepared thoroughly, andyou gave it your all until you couldn't give anymore; that is what this is about, but I know you don't feel that's enough...none of us do.

I have been training for my first 50 miler, no where near what you are trying for, and just as I have gotten in the best shape of my life and have knocked out a few 35 mile training runs, my foot has stopped me. I have plantar fasciitis in my left foot and have to rest. I could keep training and find a way to do it, but I love my 5 mile cliff run every morning and I want to run that the rest of my life. I cannot complete the training for my 50 miler and heal, so I'll heal. But next year!!!!

This is the disappointing and right decision. So was yours.

Goals are the joy of life, and you are chalk full of em. That will never change. You'll keep going forward, and keep chasing them, and I know a big part of you knows you can do this one if you adjust. I am really glad you stopped this time so you can keep running and try again. Besides, 100 miles is something you've already conquered...this distance didn't conquer you...maybe tree roots every inch of 100 miles did. You'll just adjust to that too.

I am really proud of you Julie. I really admire you. I come here for the best mentoring on running and life on the net. Get better and we'll both keep chasing the goals through little setbacks. You are great.

:) phil

Cathy said...

Oh Julie
I was so certain you would make it. I was fully expecting a 31 hour race report. I am so sorry you didn't reach your goal this time. However, I am glad that you did not risk permanent injury even if it meant giving up this goal this year. I know you will defeat Superior in the future. I hope your legs, knees and poor abused feet recover quickly.
You are such an inspiration to me!

olga said...

Shoot. I won't lie,and you don't need it - it's sad. But I also know - it happens. It happens to everybody, training, tough, fast and anything you want. And it hurts. And you make sense out of it, and in your head you're ok, but it hurts for a bit longer still. But then it numbs. And you realize hwta happened was exactly what you needed to happen - however stupid it sounds. At that particular moment of your life. And it doesn't make you any less of a runner, and more importantly - any less of a person. And you get up, dust off and come back. To racing or not - you come back.
I wish you well, Julie. I know you'll be fine. You fought. And you didn't quit. Your body did. And it happens sometimes, and, in theory, may happen again. But you won't be scared to start because of it. Because you are who you are.
Get rest. Heal up. You are great.

Anonymous said...

Julie,
I am so proud of you - your attitude and determination over the last few years, your positive encouragement to others on this journey, AND the way you fought for so many miles at THIS race. It might be the toughest 100 this side of the Rockies! I learned more from my DNF at the Kettle Moraine last year than any other event I've completed, and its just part of the ultra-running experience. Some people say they the reason they climb mountains is because they can. But maybe we run ultras in part because maybe, we cannot. Its definitely all part of the adventure and allure of running. Take care of yourself,
Brent

William said...

Keep on it. You win some, you loose some. The courage is getting to the start line. After that, a lot is up to your body and sometimes it just doesn't cooperate.

Chin up.

Cliff said...

Julie..

u did great. This is 10 times harder than an ironman.....

u will definitely finish the race next year.

Sheila said...

I almost cried there right with you while reading your report. The stuff you put your body through, it is amazing at what you DO accomplish.

When we win, we feel great. When we don't win, we learn something about ourselves. You haven't written about what all you learned from this experience, and it may be too personal to do so. I do know the feeling of supposed "failure" caused by a DNF, but it's mostly just a deep sadness, because we've seen something in ourselves, perhaps some naivete, that we've now lost. All will be illuminated in due time, and you will come back to knowing just how strong you are.

You did great, and you have much future greatness in you!

Marathon Maritza said...

I am proud of you for persevering for 77 miles on a difficult course...especially for continuing after you had to start the scootching moves. You might not have a finished the race, but you ran a smart race and that's a triumph too!

I've been enjoying reading your blog...look forward to continuing.

Kim said...

I never know what to say when a race report is a DNF...it's almost like when someone dies, what do you say? I'm sorry?
Your race report was awesome, I was almost late to work because I had to read the whole thing!
That was so tough to read, but it doesn't sound like you had any choice. I'm a newby to ultra running myself,& have been reading your blog for quite a while for inspiration-you and your training ROCK!!!! It sounds like the tree roots and cold were so very tough. What a great effort you put forth.

robtherunner said...

Olga and I talked about you on our run Sunday morning and were wondering how things went. I am sorry to hear about the outcome, but I can certainly empathize with you.

Most of us never plan according to the possibility of failure, but when it happens we must carry on. We cannot let our failure, or what we consider failure, stop us from returning to the start line and I know you will not let this happen.

Take care of yourself and get some rest.

Anonymous said...

I think you did great considering how the day was playing out for you. I know that my dnf (dropped to 100km) at Kettle didn't invole the gusto you showed and thats why I was so ashamed of it. You on the other hand went down fighting right till the bitter end and that's all this sport asked us to do.
I know you'll finish this race next year and most likely a few more before it so heal up and get ready for the next assault.
dallas

Zoey said...

Thank you so much for posting this blog...I just had my first DNF in cycling this weekend in NM-the Enchanted Circle Century...I was totally ready, smoked for 20 miles, then couldn't eat or drink for some reason. Of course, I bonked, but made it to mile 70 before I gave up. My body just couldn't cooperate...anyway, I'm so with you in spirit on this one...and yes, next year you will rock it!!!!

Joe said...

Julie, wow...you gave it a great run and your goals really moved you to some amazing length.

I'm sorry for you at the DNF...that feels awful, I know. As you said, it is right. But it can take a while for the heart to catch up with the head.

Take your healing seriously over the next couple of weeks and keep writing...that will help gain clarity. Thanks for such a super, well-written report!

Ryan said...

Awe-inspiring race report! What an unforgettable experience, 77 exhilarating miles at 100% you can't do any better than that! I'm looking forward to hearing what's on the horizon. Keep on keeping on!

jessie_tri_mn said...

I'm sorry you were unable to finish those last miles, but you ran 77... so much more than most people are capable of ever even dreaming about.

You'll get 'em next time!

jalans said...

Damn Juls, I'm misty. You tried so hard and frankly I was surprized when you didn't finish. It certainly wasn't lack of effort or training. The legs thing is sure a mystery.

For those who don't know, the Superior Trail has to be experienced to be understood. The rocks and roots are as much (or more) a challenge than the frequent steep climbs and decents. Added together... well, words are inadequate.

Just know that your friends are all behind you...

Susan said...

I'm catching up on my reading, sorry I'm so behind.

Julie, you are always an inspiration to me. Whenever I need some motivation I always come to your blog.

Yeah, I know the DNF really sucks rocks, but still you are my hero. Be proud, very few people are capable of what you are. You're a very strong woman. And because of you, I now have my very own Donkey - he's too young to run yet, but someday he'll kick ass. (Hee, get it. Kick ass.)

Jack said...

Congratulations on knocking out 77 miles, that's still an awesome accomplishment. Good experience for next year when you finish!

Phillip Gary Smith said...

What a terrific tale, Julie. I really felt like I was right along beside you. We havn't met but I know Larry, Donny, Maynard, and Scott and in 2006 did the Superior 50 mile. I was also privleged to have Donny catch me, too, on his sweep. From that came a story that I wrote and published a book about the Superior Trail Races titled ULTRA SUPERIOR (see web site). You'll recognize a lot of people in the book. The proceeds go to the SHTA. 2007 is my attempt at the 100 and Maynard has already told me of the trail 'demons' (I have a chapter titled 'On Becoming Maynardized'). So, again, thanks for you story, I plan to read and reread it for all the nuggets of info you provided. And I look forward to meeting you at these events. Best Regards, Phillip Gary Smith