Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Superior 50K Race Report

"The Superior 50 KM Trail Race is an extremely hilly, rugged and technical out-and-back (100% trail) ultramarathon which traverses the Sawtooth Mountain Range on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches of northern Minnesota .  The course parallels Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world, climbs to near 2000′ peaks with breath-taking vistas of the lake and inland forests and crosses whitewater rivers and serene streams while meandering through mystic Boreal forests.  The race starts and finishes at Caribou Highlands Resort in Lutsen Minnesota." Superior Spring Trail Race website

With a course description such as this, how could I NOT register for this race?  Ever since moving to Manitoba, I had heard about the iconic Superior Trail Races.  This spring I figured it was time to check the course out.  Note: somehow a large part of my pre-race rambling has disappeared.  This is likely fate saving you from my long diatribe.  So let's just cut to important stuff:

PC: Amy Broadmoore

Start - Oberg: 7.5 miles
The race started on a very short stretch of road before crossing a footbridge and narrowing to a rocky and technical stretch of single track on which I found myself in a congo line heading up Mystery Mountain. Straight off the start you immediately climb the tallest mountain of the race (just over 200m), immediately drop down into a valley, and then climb Moose Mountain (another 200m) before dropping down even lower.  
PC: One of the race photographers

The mutterings on the trail from other runners thus far revealed that the course was likely "in the best condition it had ever been" this year.  Although there were some muddy sections in the valleys, it wasn't as wet as I had prepared for.  This was a relief because it was definitely technical enough to make up for the lack of mud.  Roots, large rocks, small rocks, and slippery mud all made for some spectacular trail dancing and required a very mindful presence with every step.  Although I was making sure to check my pace and run easy off the start, I still ran quite aggressively in this section and made sure to pass people who were not running my natural pace.  I needed to see that trail in front of me to plan 3-4 steps ahead and following too closely in someone else's footsteps was a sure recipe for tripping or spraining an ankle, especially on the downhill sections where I LOVE running wild and free with feet that react without thought.
PC: Fresh Tracks Media

After the beautiful flowing single track off Moose Mountain there is one more shorter climb before reaching Oberg aid station.  I came up 1/2 mile short at this aid station on the way out but with all the turns to force tangents and forest to hide satellites, I knew that GPS tracking could have a large margin for error in terrain such as we were running.  I ran through this aid station feeling strong and still light on my feet.

Oberg - Sawbill - 5.8 miles

This section was more undulating with more mud, some planked boardwalks over low areas, and still lots of roots to keep you on your toes.  The runners had spread out more on the course by now and I was enjoying running my own pace, focusing on short strides, light steps, and easy breathing.  Although the trees were still mostly waiting to bud out in the cool north shore climate, the forest floor was starting to green up and I caught my first glimpse of ferns this season!  One of my process goals for this race was to "savour the forest," and I made sure to breathe deeply, appreciate the delicate nature of the forest floor, listen to the streams rush by, and glance up as the wind made the trees sway.  The forest is my happy place and I felt I could run forever in this place.  Coming into Sawmill I needed to change out my water bottles, restock fuel from my drop bag, and deal with a nasty hot spot under my left big toe from all the prancing and slipping in the mud.  My sock was fine, no dirt in my shoe - oh well - if I blistered it was only 50K right?  Onward and upward!
PC: One of the race photographers

I should also say that is was near the end of this section that I was already seeing the front runners on their return, with our very own Steven Graupner in a solid 3rd place looking very strong.  He ended up holding onto that podium spot - way to go Steven!

Sawbill  - Turnaround - Sawbill - 4.4 miles
This section was pretty darn technical with a sweet climb up to the summit of Carleton Peak where we turned around and headed back to the Sawbill Aid Station.  During this section we of course started passing more and more people either coming back or still head up the climb.  I hit the half way point at almost exactly 3 hours and I was very pleased as I still felt really good and that is a good pace for me on this type of terrain!  I paused for a moment to take a selfie at the summit and headed back down with views of Lake Superior to the south.  Before very long I found myself back at Sawbill where my husband and kids were waiting for me!  I felt bad that I didn't need to stop at all and was solidly in race mode.  I kissed them all on the cheek, thanked them for coming and headed on out with their shouts of "see you at the finish!"  Their presence meant a lot to me as this was the first ultra that I've ever done in which my family met me at an aid station.  Special moment that was over all too quickly.
The Turnaround - Halfway There!
Sawbill - Oberg - 5.6 miles
Distances in trail ultras are always qualified as being "approximate."  The distances in the Superior 50k were no different.  I actually had more mileage on the return legs of the race than going out, contrary to published race splits.  This is further evidence that GPS tracking error rate is high in the forest even at 1 sec updates.  This was the toughest section for me. After leaving Sawbill and my family, my stomach started to go bad.  I had been drinking quite a bit and my face was super salty even in the cool weather, so I took a few salt tabs which usually helps.  It didn't really.  I had switched to Tailwind instead of water and even at a dilute concentration the sweet liquid made me feel sick.  Although I felt like I was running just as fast as on the way out, getting to Oberg seemed to take FOREVER.  I did spend a lot of time stepping off the trail for runners still headed out to the turnaround which slowed things down, and the trail was getting pretty chewed up with large mud pits forming that were difficult if not impossible to get around quickly.  I was warned I might lose a shoe somewhere along this course, and it almost happened as I stepped into some mud and heard that sucking sound as my heel came right up out of my shoe.  But I managed to keep my trusted Salming T3's on my feet and keep moving.  Despite my best efforts I was slowing down and I pushed to keep moving as efficiently as possible.

At Oberg I forced myself to stop and take stock.  I had barely paused at the aid stations thus far, but this time I grabbed a ginger pill, ate a pretzel and some potato chips, and switched out one of my bottles from TW to water.  Within minutes of leaving that aid station my stomach settled.  Was it the ginger pill?  Pure water?  Not sure, but I was grateful.

Oberg - Finish - 7.5 miles
Two more mountains to cross and the race would be done!  These climbs were no joke and as my legs got heavier it took all my mental energy to stay focused on lifting up my feet and not catching a toe.  I pulled out my phone to turn on my tunes for the final leg only to find it dead.  Hmm.  Not a big deal - I needed to stay fully present and not tune out.  I stumbled many times, but never badly and I never pulled a muscle!  Yay!  I was terrified of another Iron Legs torn hamstring repeat performance and my mantras through the last part of this race were simply "pick up your feet", "run like a deer, and "DON'T FALL."    
 I was literally saying to the photographer at this point: not fair, you can't take a picture of me here!
PC: Fresh Tracks Media
I was pleasantly surprised how well I was handling the hills given that I had had very limited training on hilly terrain thus far this season and more road running than I've EVER had in an ultra training period.  I can thank my coach Sarah Seads at ELM Health for getting me perfectly ready for this race.  My legs were holding up and another one of my process goals was to save my legs for the downhills in this last stretch. I LOVE downhill running and I wanted to run it in strong.  I happily let go and flew (that's what it felt like at least) down the last long perfectly graded section of Mystery Mountain before hitting the road to the finish line.
PC: Jamison Swift

My kids met me just before the finish and we ran it in together in 6:30.  My husband snapped a photo and when I tried to hug them they all told me I had to take a shower.  I couldn't understand why?!  I had only run 50K and only had a little mud on me lol!

Some post race chili, a soak on the hot tub, a swim in the pool, and a good supper with several friends rounded out the day perfectly.  I went to bed smiling - completely satisfied with a happy heart and a contented soul.  I went into this race exhausted from work, stressed, mentally struggling to focus.  In the last hours before I arrived in Minnesota I managed to get my head in the right place.  I needed this race.  I needed to feel great after.  Thank-you Lord...ask and you shall receive.

Post Race Notes

The race organizers and volunteers at the Superior 50K (Rock Steady Running) were simply awesome.  At Sawbill they had my drop bag ready for me.  I had people filling up my water bottles, offering me a chair, shoving my fuel into my pack and zipping me up.  There were photographers all along the course and I have more race photos than I've ever had in a race!  I felt like a rock star and I thank you all!

We stayed onsite at the Caribou Highland Resort and we were so glad we did.  We may have paid a little more, but if you have a family with you, it's worth it.  To have the race start and finish right outside your door next to the pool and kids playground?  Priceless.  The kids enjoyed the pool, hot tub, ping pong table, and we had an awesome fire for roasting marshmallows one evening.
Lake Superior
Caribou Highlands Resort
I'd like to thank Salming Running for supporting me and providing my shoes and clothing for the race.  I can't say enough good about my shoes - this race I chose to wear the T3s - an older model but a shoe that works really well for me.  I had placed the OT Comps in my drop bag incase it was SUPER muddy, but I didn't feel I needed them as the T3s cleaned off quickly and provided enough protection from the roots and rocks so that my feet didn't blister and weren't sore after!  If you want to try a pair of these awesome Swedish shoes, use my code senechal20 for 20% off!
Caribou Falls
Finally, I already feel amazing and am recovering very well!  Two days after the race I felt completely normal with no muscle soreness or pain.  I'm happy that my training seems to be spot on.  Not much down time needed before the next big push!

Next race report: Canadian Death Race!  Yahoo!!!!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

CONTROL-ALT-DELETE: North by Scott & Jenny Jurek

Few people captivate me as Scott Jurek does. Few books hold my attention like his do. Six years ago, the year before I ran my first ultra, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and then immediately moved on to Eat & Run by Scott Jurek.  While Christopher piqued my interest in the sport,  I planted my roots firmly in ultra trail soil with wisdom and inspiration from Scott "Jerker" Jurek. He is a running legend who is considered one of the greatest ultra runners of all time, winning many of the sport's most prestigious races multiple times, including winning the Western States 100 seven years in a row. It has been almost a decade since he retired from racing.

Sunday morning I woke well before dawn for my last long run before the Superior 50K.  I was feeling appropriately exhausted after a hard training block and needed a mental boost.  A quick search for a good book produced newly published, North.  I felt my pulse quicken, immediately hit download and tapped play as I headed out to the trail head.

North is a book written by Scott and Jenny Jurek about their successful FKT (fastest known time) attempt on the Appalachian Trail in 2015.  Scott completed the 2189 mile trail in 46 days, 8 hours and 7 min.  It was the first time someone snagged the FKT heading north.  This book is about finding direction when you've lost it - about trusting and following your internal compass even when it leads you to places you aren't sure you want to go. It is a book about coming face to face with your humanity for 46 days, about both suffering and finding peace and contentment, and just a little about midlife crisis.

I experienced this book in audio format, most fitting and convenient for a person who spends hours on the trails.  Although I have since downloaded the print version for reference, I truly believe hearing the voices of Scott and Jenny narrate their book makes it that much more poignant and meaningful.  I constantly have an audiobook or podcast on, and in doing so let a lot of people into my head.  In North, Scott immediately draws you deeply into his headspace with a crystalline sense of self-awareness that can only come after a 25 year running career such that he has had and 46 days of nearly constant running.  His introspective, honest description of his experience on the trail and the people whom he shared it with make you wonder if he should have pursued a degree in philosophy rather than physical therapy.

The only way to review a book this powerful is to share some of my favorite quotes.  As I ran my Sunday morning away, these are some of the parts of the book that burned themselves into my flowing mind.

On Luis Escobar:
"El Coyote had the ability to laugh when he wanted to cry, the secret to longevity in ultra running."

On a through hiker who criticized Scott's irreverent treatment of the trail by going too fast:
"Would he have understood if I had told him that, though man's soul finds solace in natural beauty, it is forged in the fire of pain?"

On pain after 7 days on the trail:
"...I was beginning to realize that there were two types of pain.  There was the kind that I'd known for decades: the catalyzing kind, the pain that's fierce and angry, that kicks you in the ribs as you're scrambling forward and slaps you across the face as you get to your feet. The kind that starts screaming at you as you approach the impossible - and makes you want to scream back. The pain that fills you up. It weighs on you.  It makes you big.

And then there's the pain that does the opposite.
This pain was taking from me.  It was emptying. I felt like I was leaving pieces of myself on the trail. I was disintegrating.  Very simply, I was failing, fast."

On his regret for neglecting to work on his why in preparation for the AT:
"You rarely ask why when you win. It's a word you can outrun and outperform. Applause makes it hard to hear yourself. But just because you ignore it, doesn't mean it's not there. And why doesn't get old and tired. It catches up, and it gets louder. It churns up thoughts that are best kept down in the dark."

Scott's mantras:
Sometimes you just do things.
This is what you came for.
I'm tough, I'm tough, I'm tough. ~ Lynn Jurek

David "Horty" Horton's motivational mantras:
This is who I am.  This is what I do.
It never always gets worse.
I love the fight, and when things are easy, I hate it. ~Ernest Shackleton

Over and over again Scott describes the people and the places he encounters along the Appalachian Trail with paradoxical adjectives that only serve to compliment rather than conflict.  Although it's possible, I don't believe he does this intentionally. His perspective is one that is unfiltered, intuitive, and in perfect harmony with other elemental concepts such as yin & yang,  and Newton's third law of physics (every action...)

If Born to Run and Eat & Run were for the young, energetic, the focused and the driven, then North is for those who have been at the peak and who have lost their direction.  It's for those who have found their why is catching up and getting louder.  It's about one man's journey to redefine himself, to reconnect with himself, to get to know himself as he is now.  It's about suffering and the uniquely crazy human need to suffer in order to become more...human?  And it's a beautiful love story about two people who are both complementary and contrasting, who summate to accomplish great things...each one sometimes the shadow and sometimes the light.  This book was their masterpiece.

You may not be an ultrarunner or an endurance athlete, but if you need a control-alt-delete and are not sure where to begin, start with reading North.  Then grab your inner compass, point it in the direction that your soul tells you to,  repeat

This is who I am.  This is what I do.

and start moving.  You'll figure it out on the way.