The Superior Sawtooth was an epic day and one big pendulum swing for me. Normally I have several ups and downs, but this day I would only really have one up and one down. It was a hot day, but I had great support and a stellar race overall, coming in second with a 24:20:57, a mere 7 minutes behind winner John Horns, who was an hour and twenty-five minutes ahead of me at 50 miles. To cap it off I had the fastest final 50k ever in the race and possibly the last 50 miles.
In the beginning...
Amy and I drove up the day before the race to set up camp at Gooseberry Falls State Park, so we could sleep just a couple minutes from the start. The weather promised to be beautiful, and certainly didn't disappoint. There were several straight days of clear skies, temps around 80, and a nearly full moon. We had a pleasant dinner with our friends Sarah Jurgaitis, who was also running, and Ben Willis who was taking care of his main squeeze Sarah. These two are very experienced runners and took care of me during my Kettle Moraine run back in June.
The pre-race briefing in Two Harbors was a blast. It was fun getting there and seeing all the familiar faces, shaking a lot of hands, and chatting up everyone. Imagine my surprise when I checked in and was awarded the #1 bib. What an honor, thrill, and some immediate pressure to perform.
This was the handover year from Larry Peterson to John Storkamp, and Larry was inducted into the Sawtooth hall of fame for all his hard work over the years. With a lot of humor we got the course instructions and many jokes about how hard this race was going to be. In turn everyone stood up in groups, from first timers, through each finish until a guy who had something like 13. The we were dismissed, and everyone off for their last minute prep and some rest. Amy and I were bushed, so we drove back to camp and were in bed by 9:30.
A not so early morning...
I managed to sleep the entire not, probably the first time ever before a big event. It was pretty nice going into the day fully rested. When I got up at 6:00 it was probably around 60 degrees. I got my breakfast, taped the toes and headed off to the start. This year we'd have to pick up chips and bibs at the start area, and I like to get there early and socialize a bit and relax. Since this was my 4th attempt at a 100 mile this year, I had everything wired and was all set.
There was already quite a few people gathered around, and more arriving, and the energy palpable. I picked up my bib and headed over to Ben and Sarah to take some pics and pin my number on. With #1 you can really fold that guy up small. I spent the next 45 minutes cruising around talking to Zach, Jordan, Ed, Matt, Don and anyone else I could spot. It was going to be a long hot day, in the 80s, and I wouldn't see most of these people until the party at the finish line. It wasn't long and my mom showed up, making my crew complete. My dad was planning on coming, but with my brother in the hospital, he had to stay behind. My brother, even though he was in the hospital, was worried about me getting enough sleep since I was camping...what a guy.
Soon, John called everyone up to the starting area. I'd been training hard and feeling good, so I wormed my way up to the front. Andy Holak came over for a quick handshake then stepped back to watch. We had a quick review of the trail markers...a countdown...and we were running.
John Horns, another TCRC runner, and I ran off the front, but it was clear that he wanted to go out pretty hard, and I didn't try to hang with him, and within a mile he was off and out of site. I ran with a small group for a while, one of which was Kevin Grabowski, and we chatted for a couple of miles on our way to Split Rock, the first aid station. A couple of guys went on ahead and I ran back in 5th or so about half way to Split Rock before passing them and soon enough Kevin and I parted as well. Before long, I hooked up with Garret Peltonen and ran all the way to Split Rock and then some with him. On the way there was a spot where a lot of folks hiked in to line the trails and cheer us on.
It was definitely turning into a hot day, and we had some extra mileage with S.R. down at the end of a spur trail, where last year they had hiked it in. Garret and rolled in to cheers (I think I knew people at every aid station) and I quickly filled up and was out. It was another 10 miles until Beaver Bay, the next AS and first crew point. Things went pretty well along here, Garret dropped me, but I was cool with that and running my own race. Man, was it getting hot, though.
I pulled into Beaver Bay in 3rd and starting to feel the heat, the next few hours would be hard. It was great to see Amy and my mom, and they swapped my gear, and I did a quick shoe change since I was getting a hot spot, and my plantar facitis was acting up. I was soon on my way, this next section taking just over an hour to Silver bay, where I saw them again, got some more gear and was again kicking down the trail.
This next section, to Tettegouch, was relatively uneventful, other than being hot and slow. I made the big mistake of only running with two water bottles and had to run the last half hour without any water. That's a note for next time when it's hot out, always run with more than you think you need. It was 20 degrees hotter than last year and I was moving slower. Luckily, I made it in fairly good shape and still in third. I was not having fun and my crew sure knew it the way I was bitching. They did and awesome job, and made me an ice bandana to wear around my neck, doing a great job of cooling me off. The also quickly got a third bottle for me to carry and pushed me back out into the woods.
Somewhere in here I managed to get off course, just running with my head down and didn't check out an intersection. I don't know how much time I lost, but it could have been those seven minutes. When I got back on course I hooked up with Matt Aro, who was running in fourth just behind me. We ran together for the next 20 miles or so until Finland. He was having just as hard a time with the heat as I was and had also run out of water in the last section. We did a lot of short back and forth running, with him doing better at times and me at others. In due course we crossed over Sawmill Creek Dome and down to County Road 6. This is a great spot for the crew since the runners come out on the road a quarter mile from the aid station and they can watch you run in.
I came into County 6 feeling lousy, not like quitting, but like the body just wasn't working right. I took a chair and pounded some Nuun down and had a few orange slices while I gathered myself. They say beware the chair, but I've never had trouble getting out of one, and this was no exception. Matt had come in just behind me and gave me a ginger chew when we couldn't find any. And I walked on out toward Finland. Last year I didn't need a headlamp here, but I was so far behind that time that I had to pick one up. It turns out I wouldn't need it, but it was close.
The sun was was starting to get lower and that felt a lot better, but it was quite a while before I started to come back online. I don't remember much about the way to Finland other than I was starting to feel better later on, though not faster. I eventually pulled in at 7:29PM, 50 minutes behind last year, but this was as far back as I'd get. I needed to change socks quick here, to a more cushy pair, but I kept the Hokas on. Jim Wilson was here and took good care of me, getting me some ginger ale and making sure I was ready for the night.
Off I went, for what was to be the most incredible chunk of night running I've ever done.
The pendulum swings...
I was just coming out of Finland and Matt was coming in, we traded 'good jobs' and that was the last we'd see of each-other.
I started running and feeling good on everything, I wasn't sure how fast I was moving, but I really didn't feel bad. I was able to run up some inclines and only had to walk the really steep stuff. A lot of rocks and roots later, I worked through the longest section of the trail and came into Crosby Manitou, where Garret was taking some time getting himself ready for the cooler night. My crew and Lynn Saari met me and got me out of there quickly. I gave Garret some props and hit the trail again. I'd made up some time, and was now only 34 minutes down on last year. I'd long since given up on chasing John, and was just starting to think about working on breaking 25 hours, as long as I didn't melt down.
This chunk to Sugarloaf was now my longest stretch remaining, and Amy was going to run with me from Sugarloaf to Cramer Road. I hammered this section, just waiting for the shoe to drop and be reduced to a walk, but it was like I was on autopilot, and the body just took over. I got through here in 2:29, ending up only 1 minute behind last years pace. Amy was all set and we jumped out on the trail, and she just as soon turned around to get the water bottles I left behind. I thought I felt light! It was fun running with her when she caught back up, and she was having a blast on her first night run. She did great talking to me and keeping me focused, only losing me for a bit on a steep downhill when I pulled away.
Shortly after getting to the bottom of the hill, I heard her shout “Adam! Yell, I need to know you're on the right trail.” I hollered back that I was, and she soon found her way back to me, cracking jokes about what a great pacer she was to lose her runner. 1:24 after leaving we were at Cramer Road and I was restocking and leaving Amy with my mom.
Cramer to Temperence is a hard section with a lot of climbing early on. This is some super steep stuff that you need to use your hands at times to keep pulling yourself up. It seemed inconceivable, at 3AM, that there could be more climbing than descending. The payback would come with a long long decent down to the Temperence River, followed by a short climb to the aid station. I did get worried for a bit in here, since there was about a mile with no flagging, but this time I said hell with it and just forged on eventually coming to some glow sticks that the AS crew had put out to lead us home. It was here, last year, that I had to sit by a fire for 15 minutes to take the edge off the cold and hypothermia I was flirting with. This year was much different, and I spent just a few seconds swapping gear and heading back out. I was tired, and on a good pace for sub 25, and starting to smell the barn. It took me 1:53 to do the last hard 7 miles, but I was 57 minutes ahead of last year at this point.
I was through Temperence AS in a flash and headed up Carlton peak, a great rock climbing area. Last year this was a long hike at dawn, but this year in the blackness of night I ran the entire thing. I had no idea where my legs were coming from, but it was sure a fun ride. I had forgotten how many twists and turns there were going up, but staying on course wasn't a problem, and even with a blow up I could easily hit 25 hours. It was really neat running under the cliffs by headlamp, finally broaching the top and gliding down the decent to the penultimate aid station at Sawbill. I popped into Sawbill after spending 1:14 on the section and was now 1:37 ahead of last year.
I don't even remember anything from the Sawbill AS, as it was just reload and keep moving. Dawn was on the way now, it was still dark, but at about 5:30 AM it would be less than an hour and I'd have some really good light on the trail. At this point, I hadn't asked about John in a while, and was still just running for my time. This section is pretty runnable and I did just that, enjoying the bright moon which was setting and the cool light of dawn breathing some new energy into me. About 45 minutes into this section and I didn't really need the headlamps anymore, though it was still dark under some of the trees. Soon, it was the bright light of day, and I was hitting some flats, and knew I was getting close to Oberg. I was having fun, but ready to be done, too.
Finally I was on the last grassy run into Oberg, when soon I met up with Paul Holovnia on the trail. I was really hammering now, then he mentioned that John was here about nine minutes ago. Holy crap, I had no idea that'd I'd been closing at all. I all of a sudden found another gear and blew past my mom, who was just walking down the trail, not expecting me for a while. Soon Paul and I came out into the parking lot where the AS was, and I was saying where's Amy, where's Amy, I'm going to have to leave her. Since she was set to pace me this section. It was 6:41 and I'd run the last 5.5 miles in 1:15. Fortunately my gear was laid out and Paul quickly got me outfitted while I ditched my headlamps. There were a few other guys milling about, and Kurt came out of the RV just I was heading out and I only had time to say hey to him. Just as I started running, Amy came out of the biffy just in time to head out with me.
Amy and I blasted out of the Aid Station (actually 14 minutes behind John, a big margin, but it's been eaten up before) and I just as quickly dropped her. I yelled back to her that my pace wouldn't hold, but I never saw her until after I finished. I spent the next several miles running absolutely as fast as I could looking behind me to see if Amy was catching up and ahead, hoping to see John and Brian around every corner. Alas, I never caught John, but I doubt I would have run this fast if he was hopelessly far ahead of me, he made a nice carrot out there to bring me home. Up the the steep climb of Oberg, across the top, down, up the switchbacks and the last high trial. I was just at the top of the long hill that descends to the road and river when I heard cheers and a car take off. Shoot, no chance now. Still I kept the hammer down, just now to see how far under 25 I could make it. Soon I was crossing the bridge and up the short climb to the road. I felt like I was flying down the road, but the other people walking around probably though I was out for a slow jog. This felt much shorter than last year, and soon I was circling the pool at Caribou and across the line. 24:20:57, and a full 2 hours 38 minutes faster than last year with a closing 50 miles of 12:49.
I was more than happy with that finish, and went straight up from the line to shake John's hand and give him a hug. He ran a great race and spent it all out there, too, coming in just 7 minutes ahead of me. The following hours were spent with much reminiscing, cheering other runners, and perhaps some beer drinking too. This is such a wonderful event it would be easy to do it every year. It's kind of like a big family reunion for all the trail runners in the area and the finish area is nothing more than one big party.
Major kudos to John Storkamp and all of his volunteers, many of which stayed up all night giving aid so the rest of us could have our fun.