There comes a time in every ultra when the only thing you want to do is quit. I didn't expect that to happen at mile 15 of the Superior 100.
The shirt says, "Rugged, Relentless, Remote" and it is absolutely right. From mile one it was like running an agility ladder. Every step was dodging roots and rocks interspersed with the occasional balance beam or teeter-totter of a bog-bridge. And those bog-bridges were the only flat spots. The trail was always headed steeply up or down. Sometimes it was steep enough down to make you want to turn around and face the hill. So much for the "easier than Arrowhead" run I was expecting.
However the real fault for my failure at Superior lies with me. I was overconfident and under-prepared. By looking at the numbers it seemed like I should have no problem and so I wasn't thinking of the race as it is.
It is a day-and-a-half race and I was mentally prepared for a half-a-day race. In a race like this you have to think through it and plan for the long haul. "How will I feel in the middle of the night and what will I do about it," is a question that has to be remembered in training and at the start line. At AHU I knew I was going to be out there a long time and I was ready to camp or slow way down if I had to. I had no such plans for Superior.
Because I was thinking of it as a half-day or training race I started off far too fast. I was running at 50k pace. Part of the reason for that was starting at the front of the pack. I often make the mistake at short races of starting near the rear. At Superior I made the opposite mistake. I started at the front. No one likes getting passed so I ran at the pace of the people around me. Some of those folks finished. Most didn't. There is a marathoner's saying: Start off slow and then slow down. I forgot that one.
I knew that the aid stations were about 10 miles apart and that didn't worry me, but I am still fairly new to supported runs. I carried just a few gels with me and had no solid food. I expected to eat at the aid stations. 10 miles is too far to go without food, at least if you want to keep running afterwards.
The heat surprised everyone that day. No one expects record highs of 84f on a September day on the North Shore of Superior, but it happened. I, and just about everyone else, ran out of water on the second section of the trail which took us from Split Rock to Beaver Bay. I thought that 2 liters would be enough, but five miles in, 15 miles into the race, I found myself out of food and water, standing atop an exposed granite cliff, overlooking a picturesque lake. All I could think about was how nice and cool that water looked and how great it would be to dive off into the water hundreds of feet below. I didn't, but I suspected that my race was over.
Five miles later as I stumbled into the Beaver Bay aid station I knew I wasn't going to make it, but I resolved to keep going until I couldn't anymore. I was already walking everything. I sat down ate, drank,and recovered a bit. In the next section to Silver Bay I was able to run a little as I belatedly formulated a plan for the night, but it was too little too late. I picked up my drop bag at Silver Bay feeling good, but the nearly 10 miles to Tettegouche humbled me once again.
I thought about dropping out at Tettegouche, but, thanks to Don Clark and Vicky Begalle egging me on, I started moving again. For a little while my walking pace was good and I as I crossed over the Baptism River I thought I might make it to the 50 mile mark at Finland. But before long the sun set and I was barely stumbling along. Lots of folks started catching up and passing me. I imagined every one of them to be the sweep runners shepherding in the slowest of us. At one point two runners passed me and mentioned that since we had descended quite a bit we must be getting near the County Road 6 aid station. I wasn't so sure. I've learned to be pessimistic about distances on the trail. Sure enough, before long I came to a cliff overlooking the aid station far below. I spent the better part of an hour switchbacking down to the level of the road and aid station. I dropped out as soon as I got there and no amount of cajoling was going to get me up again.
Looking back I can see that I could have gone the next eight miles to Finland, but I had just given up. Sure I would have gotten there slowly and past the cutoff, but it seems to me it would have been the honorable thing to do (if there is honor in trail running).
As far as under-prepared I have always poo-poohed long runs. I figured that long runs were just confidence builders and that really, if you can run 10 miles you can run 100. I'm rethinking that. Sure, fitness wise that might be true, but how else are you going to learn pacing, but from running 20+ miles. I guess it's time to stop being lazy and step it up.
The Superior 100 is in no way harder than Arrowhead, but it is so different that it is hard to compare. Next year I'll know better. I won't underestimate it again.
It was good to see all my ultra-friends (better than the Super-Friends) especially Kurt Neuberger, Matt Long, and Anne Flueckiger who all found me places to sleep when I was tired. It was actually hard for me to leave on Sunday morning. I really wanted to stay up there with the good folks of the Northshore. I'll be up to visit soon.