Race Report: Superior 100 – 2013

As promised, here is my race report of the 2013 edition of the Superior 100 – run on the Rugged, Relentless, Remote Superior Hiking Trail. My first 100 mile race.   The trail was brutal and unforgiving, but i knew that going in.  The weather was…. well it was the weather.  And my crew was nothing short of amazing.  Here goes:

After 6 months of telling seemingly everyone that i met about this race, the time had finally come to make it a reality.  Time to put up or shut up as they say.  Since the race start was scheduled for Friday morning, the trip began Thursday with a drive to Duluth for some lunch at Burrito Union before my crew and I would make our way to Two Harbors for packet pickup and pasta feed.  Oddly, while at BU, we were constantly swarmed by bees looking for a taste of my root beer, hopefully this would not be a portent of things to come on Friday (after getting stung in the 50 mile last year, it was on my mind).  After grabbing my packet, stuffing my face with two helpings of pasta, and a speech by race director John Storkamp that detailed the history of this great race and covered the need-to-knows for race day, my crew and I were off to Lutsen to check into our condo at Caribou Highlands.

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Crew member Jason re-enacting his multiple bee stings from the 2012 race

The morning of the race seemed a bit surreal, but I guess that is partly (or mostly) due to the fact that a day i had been looking forward to for at least 6 months was finally here.  Things seemed to tick away like clockwork…. 4:45AM the alarm goes off… eat my favorite long race breakfast: maple & brown sugar oatmeal, peanut butter and banana sandwich and a gatorade… get the pack & race outfit ready  and before i know whats happening the crew and i are piling into the cars to make the long drive to the race start at gooseberry falls.  Did i mention the drive was long? i mean how could someone possibly run that far, on gnarly trail, it seems impossible…. what?  Nervous? no i’m not nervous, why do you ask?  Well, soon enough we are pulling into the Gooseberry Falls State Park parking lot and everything is starting to get real.  Although in a way it just feels like a normal race.  The other runners all seem to be milling around like we’re just out for a quick 10 miler before we grab some brunch.  I think this calm atmosphere helped calm me, and other than being extra vigilant with the body glide and bug spray, i was ready to get running.

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Before the race, perfect symbolism for the day with my crew carrying me.  L to R: Deb,Jaime,Steven,Madeline,Jason,Bryan & Elena (not pictured)

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We all howled like wolves, and then were sent on our way.

Well, lets get to the tofu & potatoes part of this RR:

Gooseberry to Split Rock – 9.7 miles

In June I (and two of my crew members) had made a trip to the north shore to to train/scout this section and it was much as i remembered it: pretty runable, not terribly technical compared to the rest of the SHT and lots of wide trails in the beginning giving everyone ample time to spread out and breath a little.  For a time, i settled in with a group that was unofficially being lead by (as rumor had it) a wily veteran with many finishes under his belt.  It felt good, but eventually i decided the pace just wasn’t right for me and pulled ahead of the group.  For the rest of this leg i chatted a bit with another runner as we were together for a while but eventually we aslo split, and finished up running on my own (which would last pretty much until i would be allowed pacers later in the race.  The  aid station was a quick refill of the water bottles some PB&J and back on my way.

Split Rock to Beaver Bay – 10.3 miles  (20.1)

Again, some crew members and other friends made a trip earlier in the summer for a training run on this section.  And again it was as i remembered:  quite a lot of climbing and quite a bit more technical than the first leg.  In all i don’t recall much about this leg other than the temperature starting to heat up a bit, finishing off my water a little earlier than i would have liked, and by the end, the toll of back-to-back ~10 mile legs between aid stations was beginning to make itself known. but when i pulled into the aid station i was feeling great and got a huge boost from seeing my crew.  They quickly refilled my water bottles gave what ever food i wanted and sent me on my way.  I also got a huge kick out of their homemade crew tshirts that they made with fabric markers, what a great bunch of folks.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay – 4.9 miles (25.0)

Finally, a nice “easy” one, only 4.9 miles, how hard could it be?  Well i guess that can be answered with a quote i heard from another runner during this leg “i guess this is why this one is only 5 miles”.   This leg starts off with a lot of easy running, but then there is quickly a lot of climbing, and some time on on exposed rock which was really starting to feel hot from the mid-day sun.  Though i approached the aid station still in great spirits and enjoying my day.

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my first sit at Silver Bay before heading off to Tettegouche

Silver Bay to Tettegouche – 9.9 miles (34.9)

OK, now its time to get tough.  9.9 miles but it feels a lot longer.  Steep climbs and Step descents.  The course challenges with a tough climb to the overlook of Bean & Bear lakes, rewards you with the amazing view, but then plunges you back down.  some more climbing and descending before sending you back up Mount Trudee.  Woo, now were really doing some climbing, again a very challenging climb with a beautiful rewarding view at the top, but then you are forced to pick your way back down the steep decent.  Yipes, the legs starting to feel those steep descents a bit.  I make my way to the famed “Drainpipe”, a SUPER steep descent where each step is picked with care. ok, now the legs are definitely feeling these descents.   Still feeling really good about the race, pace is staying pretty consistent, but i am definitely glad to reach the aid station and take my first real “extended” rest, as i remember it.  Spent a bit of time in the chair, ate a lot (my great crew was right on the spot with everything i wanted or needed.  And changed my socks for the first time (but stuck with the same shoes).

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Airing out the feets. I know i have a sad face in this pic, and i was definitely feeling the impact of the race at this point, but i don’t think my body or mind was as sad as that face looks!

Tettegouche to County Road 6 – 8.6 miles (43.5)

After quickly crossing the Baptism River, you do a bit of climbing and are rewarded with some really beautiful views.  The day of the race was the first time i had seen this section of trail and for the first half of it i was thinking wow, this is a really beautiful, runable section… i love it!!!  but then “a bit of climbing” turned into “a lot of climbing”.  And then we were teased…. as we ran along a high ridge we could see (and hear) the aid station waaaaaay down at the bottom of the valley when it felt like we should already be there (the Garmin was long dead at this point), and it turns out we were still maybe 30-40 mins away from it, with some steep descending (geez those are really starting to hurt) in our way.  The sun disappeared during this leg, and i approached the aid station and my crew with my headlight on.  I again spent quite a bit of time in the chair and my wonderful crew fed and watered me and gave me some delicious veggie broth from the aid station.  This leg i was really starting to feel tired, and maybe a bit lonely, so i was really glad it was time to start running with pacers. Not to mention my nervousness about running through an entire night after running all day!  My crew forced me up out of the chair and sent me on my way.

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Arriving at County Road 6.

County Road 6 to Finland – 7.7 miles (51.2)

We check out of the aid station and are on our way.  My pacers are Bryan and Jaime.  Another section i had never seen before race day.  Thankfully i found this section very runable, and as i recall we did quite a bit of running, well for me it felt like running i’m sure it was lot more like shuffling.  Couple this with the fact that i was now running and conversing with two great friends i was really in high spirits during this section.  We were even catching and passing some other runners!  Only sour moment of this section was hitting a branch (or something) with my left quad. i muttered a curse (rhymes with mothertrucker) and moved on.  Luckily it didn’t really impact the race at all, though a couple days later it is a great, multi-hued bruise of glory.  We pull into the aid station and things are feeling good.

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Photo Op during a quick stop to fish a Bonk Breaker bar out of my pack.  i didn’t want to eat any more at this point but my crew did a great job of making me.  Also, not enough brain functionality left to figure out that i could’ve just turned the light off for the picture rather than covering it up with my hand…

Finland to Sonju Lake Road – 7.5 miles (58.7)

Leaving the aid station with crew chief Jason, my main long run training partner for the past year. Time to break new ground as last years 50 miler was my longest run ever.  During this leg is when i started to really have my first low period of the race.  Looking back i think it can be attributed to two things:  1.  this leg is 7.5 miles and it is the shortest of last 4 legs i have done,  so the long legs are starting to take a physical and mental toll.  2. this section felt WAY more technical than i remembered it.  Maybe that was attributable to it being dark and the middle of the night, and maybe it wasn’t – hard to say.  Jason was a great pacer and did all the right things.  Didn’t push me to go too fast, made me eat when i fought him about it.  Every once in a while we would try do do a little shuffling/jogging  but the trail was just so gnarly (rooty and rocky) that it felt like we hiked most of this section.  I was really thankful to reach the aid station (which was not crew accessible).  I plopped down in the chair and Jason filled my bottles and gave me the food i needed.  I say needed because i’m pretty sure i again fought him about it, i didn’t want to eat any more, but he smartly made me.  I also kept begging for another minute in the chair, but he got me up out of and we set off down the trail, thankfully for a short one.

Sonju Lake Road to Crosby Manitou – 4.2 miles (62.9)

I thought this would be short and easy, but it was more of what i experienced during the last leg.  Technical trails, darkness, Jason prodding me to eat and drink when i didn’t want to and would fight him about it, darkness,  did i mention darkness, i’m really getting sick of plodding along on these super technical trails in the dark. i must have asked Jason for reassurance at least 5 times that the sun would come up during the next leg.  At one point Jason and i both turn off our lights and under the tree cover it is literally can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark.  We finally reach the aid station and i hit my lowest point of the race.  I haven’t mentioned yet that the weather at night was pretty odd…   while we were moving, if even at only a hike, it felt REALLY humid but not hot.  I suppose i can’t really complain about this, but when you stop at the aid station it immediately feels COLD until you start moving again.  so for the first time at an aid station i lay down, and because of the cold my crew gives me a blanket.  So here i am, lying down, under a blanket, at night, after two mentally tough sections… things are not looking good.  But my superhero-like crew worked their magic powers…. they helped my stretch my legs, rubbed my feet and massaged some body glide onto the large blisters forming on the balls of my feet, rub my shoulders and back, give me a scalp massage, make me eat, change my shirt, change my socks and shoes and somehow… defying all logic…  i am back on the trail.  Looking back, i have no idea how i got from being under that blanket to back on the trail.  I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but estimates are that i may have been at that aid station as long as 40 mins.

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Finally back up and at ‘em ready to leave crosby manitou

Crosby Manitou to Sugarloaf – 9.4 miles (72.3)

Madeline and I set off in a slow hike after my long break.  Another long leg, but i know the sun will come up during this leg so that gives me hope as we start off at a hike.  And we climb, and climb, and climb, lots of climbing, but then the sun comes and lights up the world, things start to look up… I MADE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT!  The second half of this leg my spirits start to rise, as Madeline and i hit some runable sections and really start to run for what feels like the first time in a long time.  the length of this leg takes a bit of a toll, but Madeline reminds me that this is the last really long leg and eventually  we make it to the aid station. Feeling a bit tired, but this race starts to feel within reach.

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A little tired, but things looking up at Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf to Cramer Road – 5.6 miles (77.9)

Steven and I set off on a short section.  I am feeling positive.  A nice short section and we’ll be at ~75 miles (75!!!!!)  And then came my second low point of the race.  My mind tells me that we continually did really steep descents, at least 4 of them, but the elevation profile doesn’t really agree with this.  The buzz from the sun rising had worn off.  I can’t really put my finger on why but the legs really kind of suffered during this leg and i continually whined to Steven about it.  But he kept a good attitude and prodded me to eat when i didn’t want to (do you sense a theme here).  As we pull into the aid station i am a bit down again.  but the crew makes me eat A LOT and i am back on my way, with the added ego boost from the fact that by the the time i reach the next aid station i will be at 85 miles!!!

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At Cramer Road (77.9 miles) The crew is looking positive, and i am looking… wait, what?

Cramer Road to Temperance River 7.1 miles (85.0)

With a full belly Bryan, Deb and I head off.  before long… i start feeling good.  you know what? eating is a good thing!! we start jogging, and we keep jogging, this is a really good leg.  there was a lot of really beautiful trail on this section and some beautiful rivers.  Bryan and Deb are great company and finishing this race really starts to feel like it may be a reality.  eventually we are hiking up a slight climb and my friend Tim Lupfer comes cruising up to us.  He is running the 50 miler, and while i had no doubt he was going to have a great race,  he looks so strong  that i get a big boost from knowing that he is really going to crush his race.  we continue hiking the climbs and doing quite a lot of running to the next aid station.

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Almost 85 miles in and  I’M ON A BRIDGE!

Temperance to Sawbill – 5.7 miles (90.7)

My spirits are pretty high, but my crew made another critical decision.  At the Temperance aid station they don’t let me sit.  They fill my bottles, make me eat and drink and send me down the trail.  I start to get nervous that something was wrong, that i’m not going to make cut-offs, but really they were just right.  Sitting would have been bad, and i am back on the trail with Jaime and Madeline.  The first section of this leg is very flat and we running along at a nice pace, the mood is light, the girls are singing pop songs and sometimes i join in, things are going great.  In the back of my head i know the climb to Carlton Peak is coming, but bahhh its not that bad, we got this thing the bag. then we finally see carlton peak in front of us and we start climbing.  i’m no longer laughing and singing, but we continue the climb methodically. eventually we complete the long climb and start picking our way around the mountain, trying to deal with tired legs we finally make it to the gentle decent that takes us down to the Sawbill aid station.  i’m feeling the effects of the climb, but overall still in a good mood, i mean hey, we’re over 90 miles into this thing!!!   Again, no sitting allowed at the aid station,   I go through like a racecar through a pit stop and we’re back on the move.

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The fun, laughing, singing, easy part before we climb to Carlton Peak

Sawbill to Oberg – 5.5 miles (96.2)

Steven, Elena and I are on the move.  Despite all assurances from my crew that we are good on time,  i am suddenly very nervous about the cutoffs.  mostly because i know first hand how the last 7 miles of this course can quickly turn to disaster, but also partly because rationality is not my strong suit at this point in the race.  So call it adrenaline, smelling the barn, or whatever you like, but the 3 of us are moving with a purpose.  we are running a lot, and when we aren’t running i am doing one of the most purposeful, quick hikes that i have done all race.  Steven and Elena are making great conversation,  i feel like i didn’t participate much, but found it really enjoyable to just listen and have something to occupy my mind.  This is a very runable section of trail and also quite beautiful. we make some really great time.  before i know it, we’ve passed all the familiar landmarks and we are approaching the aid station.   At this point, i’ve totally bought into the strategy of no more sitting.  I can not get out of this last aid station fast enough!!!  Lets go!!!!  Lets wrap this thing up and get that finisher sweatshirt i’ve been dreaming about since i saw the 2012 finishers wearing it a year ago!!!

Oberg to Finish!!!!!!!!!!! – 7.1 miles (103.3)

Jason, Jaime and i take off out of the aid station.  i am immediately jogging, and feeling great, can’t believe that finishing this race is within grasp.  I know we have three tough challenges:  1. the steep and long climb up moose mountain, 2. the steep decent down moose mtn, 3. the long gradual climb of Mystery Mtn.  First up is the Moose mtn climb.  the first time i ran the spring 50K in 2012 i experienced for the first time in my life “hitting the wall” on this hill,  just could not put one foot in front of the other.  Today i was too close to let that happen again and the three of us powered up the climb in a steady hike. 1 milestone down.  in short order we arrive at the steep descent.  it is slow, and hell on the legs, but really this one became a non issue.  2 milestones down.  time for the long slow switchback climb.  shortly into the climb we we switch on our headlamps and hike away.  this climb is long but really not that steep at any point so we work through it.  3rd and final milestone done!!!   Now, i’d like to tell you that we raced to finish line from here but really we had quite a way to go.  the footing was very rocky and we continued to do quite a bit of hiking for what what felt like a lonnnngggg time.  but finally, FINALLY we start to hear the rushing water that signals you are close to the resort, and we reach the end of the trail proper, we cross  the bridge, we do the slight climb to the road, and the end is in sight!  We start running it in on the pavement.   some random folks sitting on the side of the road start chanting “bunz bunz bunz”  a chant that my crew would often do at the aid station, i have no idea who these folks were but thank you!  at this point  i am literally all smiles and laughing, i high-five a 50 miler as she passes me with more energy than i have left.  i see Bryan and Elena cheering with glowsticks and and a few seconds later Jason, Jaime and I cross the finish line!!!  36 hours and 45 minutes after i started nearly 2 days earlier, and i could not be happier!!!!  WHAT A GREAT EXPERIENCE!!! I get hugs from all my crew, and my friend Tim who did indeed have a great race himself.

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Approaching Moose Mountain

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fighting the urge to stop at Papa Charlie’s for a celebratory drink BEFORE crossing the finishline

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Mere seconds after finishing

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one hell of a crew

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Earned my finisher’s sweatshirt and first finisher’s star!!!!

I hope you all enjoyed reading.  This was an unforgettable experience for me, and will be with me for the rest of my life.  I tried to make it obvious in this race report,  but my crew was truly amazing and i could never have done it without them.  They kept me company, made me eat when i didn’t want to eat, RAN to get whatever i asked them for at every aid station, made me get out of the chair when i didn’t want to get out of the chair, rubbed my gross feet, massaged my sweaty smelly shoulders and legs,  and boosted my spirits everytime i saw them or heard the “bunz bunz bunz” chant.  All the thanks in the world to them.

The details:

178 people started the race, 88 finished. i finished 69th.

Shoes:  New Balance 910 for first 63 miles.  New Balance 1210 for remainder

Shorts: 2 pairs of CW-X compression shorts

REI pack (no bladder) 2 handheld bottles w/ water in both

Food: lots of Bonk Breaker Bars, Diced Peach Fruit cups,  Endurolyte capsuls,  and from the aid stations: PB&J, pretzels, bananas, oranges, veggie broth….  It was my first 100 and luckily i had zero stomach issues.  i honestly have no idea if that was because of anything i did, or just dumb luck.

Thanks again for reading! If you have any questions please send me a message and i will happily answer it!

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10 Responses to Race Report: Superior 100 – 2013

  1. Ryan says:

    Wow – great race report and congrats on finishing your first Sawtooth in really tough conditions! Your crew for that race sounded amazing.

    I laughed at the papa charlies comment. It would be pretty awesome to stop there and then cross the finish line, beer in hand. :)

    Way to go!

  2. You are an absolute inspiration! Looking forward to your posts in the future, as I’m EXTREMELY interested in running my first ultra.

    Congrats again on an absolutely amazing feat of endurance!

  3. Coach Jen says:

    Mike, so much enjoyed reading your experience and so impressed that you had the fortitude, training, discipline, “craziness” to get it done! Have to admit that it’s in my mind to take it on but scares the hell out of me. Thanks for allowing me to post this on my blog site. The athletes will appreciate your story. Hope the rest and recovery has gone well!

    • mbunda32 says:

      Thank you Jen! I’m glad to share, reading others’ race reports prior to the race was so helpful to me, so I’m glad to pay it forward in any small way I can! I have no doubt you could have a successful race, best of luck to you!

  4. Scott Kummer says:

    Great report! It was a tough one!

  5. Aaron Larson says:

    Great report and great job. Thinking about doing this great race this year.

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