Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Superior 100: Mechanical redemption

My four attempts at the Superior 100 have now produced to two buckles. After one finish rooted in sheer dumb luck and two ugly DNF's for separate reasons, I am redeemed. Two Thousand Fifteen's race was executed with a mechanical calmness. Buckle now firmly around my waist, the monkeys from 2013 and 2014 are off of my back.

My village

These races are never accomplished alone. Everything takes a village, and 100 milers are no exception. 

My wife deserves top billing for granting me the early mornings, late nights, toddler nap times, and not sleeping in on weekends that have allowed me to get in runs of hours and hours upon end. She hears me chatter, type, and brainstorm. She checks in on me, making sure that I run if I tell her I am going to do so. She plans birthday runs, attends fatass events, and does it all with a supporting smile. 

She had company in this race from one of two best friends from college, a woman who now calls Duluth home. Lauryn kept her company from CR 6 through the rest of the race, and she opened her house to us as base camp for the weekend. 

I had two pacers. Kevin pulled the overnight shift, running/walking/hiking 20-plus miles in eight hours from 9:10 PM at Finland to 5 AM the next morning at Sugarloaf. It was his first time at an ultra and his second trail run ever. He performed admirably. 

Mark finished the 100 last year, and he took over pacing duties when we left Sugarloaf. He was cool, calm, and collected. He always kept me in good spirits. He made sure encouragement came in light, appropriate doses, advised the (faster) runners in the shorter distances to give me a wide berth when they tried to pass. He and Kevin listened incessantly as my watch's timer went off, and each prompted me to plug away on my calories and fluids when it did so. He took care of himself and needed little, if anything, from my crew or the aid stations when we arrived at each oasis.

How it played out

I ran with Rob Henderson from almost the beginning to CR 6. He graciously let me lead for most of those 43 miles. My ultra shuffle is slower than his, we agreed, and it allowed me to run my race and allowed him to take it nice and easy, thereby allowing him (particularly later) to run his. 

On a few occasions, we separated - I tended to be in and out of aid stations faster. I got out of Silver Bay first, and he caught me a few miles in before we got to Bear and Bean Lakes. We left Tettegouche together, and separated at again CR 6 when I was ready to roll and couldn't find/see him. He caught me again shortly before the Sonju aid station with his pacer Peter Schnorbach. And when he and Peter came by just before Sonju, Kevin and I let him go, his natural cadence faster than mine. We performed the same swapping of places after Sonju because we cleared the aid station faster than they did. 

Kevin and I ran functionally solo for the balance of our time together, save a few times we passed a runner or were passed. We plowed down into the Manitou Gorge and marched firmly back up. That wasn't so hard, was it? The issue with Crosby is that the first six-or-so miles is very tough to run consistently, the section as a whole feels longer than its already-long 9.4 miles reveal. Add to that me forgetting - again, for likely the fourth time - that the Caribou River must be crossed before the swamp and birch forests are reached. 

Mark and I did the same, only I started out too jittery when leaving Sugarloaf. The Coca-Cola was setting in, me thinks, and I broke a cardinal rule: nothing new on race day. I took my poles, thinking that they would be helpful as I marched more. I was wrong, if only because they didn't have mud baskets. The trail was full of mud, and pushing down/back on the poles to make effective use of them required more energy that I anticipated. I abandoned them at Cramer Road. 

And with the exception of a few difficult sections - particularly getting up and down Carlton Peak and the slow march the followed it to Sawbill, Oberg, and finally Lutsen, everything went smooth with a cool and cold mechanical precision to it. Minimal drama, just consistently putting one foot in front of the other until I was done. Oh, and eating consistently to the sound of a watch's beeper. I ran continuously and hard in every section, including bounding down the hill into Temperance, and I never experienced muscle soreness or tightness in-race. Any soreness I did have was gone by Tuesday following the event. When I could not run, I was still able to power hike at a good clip. 

I do not know the source of this calmness. I can only chalk it up to experience and attitude. I went into this race with a positive, confident attitude bolstered by adequate rest in the 90 prior days, a solid eve-of relaxation (of Karnazes's account of his first Western States finish and Trason's battle with the Tarahumara at Leadville a la Born to Run plus some single malt to enjoy), and the sole goal of finishing. Solid weather, good training, and excellent company made for a perfect race. 

Mark Smith saved my race

A good pacer can save your race. Mark Smith saved mine on the climb to Carlton Peak.

I knew something was wrong. I was exhausted, hot, dizzy and starting to fritz in and out. I was drinking, eating, and walking. But I was wearing down, withering under the coming heat and blasting sun. I confirmed the same when I spurted water on by back, and perked up briefly while it dried. 

Mark realized my issue and took action. He grabbed his Buff and soaked it in water. Where that water came from, I don't know. He called my name and told me to put it around my neck.

It was too wet, and my mind flashed to the dripping red bandana Matt Patten donated to my cause at Kettle. I would not repeat that experience. Like my mile-48 breakdown at Kettle, my core body temp was too high. But I needed to control it without dousing my shorts or causing collateral damage. And so I squeezed Mark's offering, and brown water flowed out. I put the moist tube of fabric on without comment. I felt like Ian Sharman, only slower and mortal.

This cycle repeated as we slowly humped up, around, and down Carlton Peak. I walked slowly, methodically, head down not saying a word, just alone in my head and what was five feet in front of me. 

But for Mark, I may not have been able to save myself. The death march from Sawbill in to Lutsen would have been uglier than it already was (going to be).

What matters in 100 milers is what goes on between your ears

Ed Sandor's Lesson for 100 Milers put me in the right mind frame for this race. Go read it, right now, especially numbers 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 12. How did I apply them? 

I promised my wife that I would be cheerful and smiling the entire day - numbers 7 and 8. And save a brief snap at my wife when she, not knowing my mental status, went against my train of thought - see next item - I was happy, cheerful, and grateful. Even when my head was down and all I could do was walk and push, I was present and could crack a smile if asked. I also learned just how hard and exhausting smiling is when you've been running overnight. 

Each section was a point-to-point run to the next aid station - number 3. I never allowed myself to think about the race in its totality. I talked myself, often out loud, out of thinking about the whole race. I had a minor freak out at Sawbill when my wife said that I had only 15 miles left. "Don't say that!" I snapped. "You're 75 percent done," she replied. "Don't say that. I have 5.6 miles to the next aid," I replied. My wife took my two bottles and walked away to fill them, something she hadn't done all day. 

Everything that happened in the race was accepted as it was - number 6. "This just is," I said to myself over and over again. Nothing on-course got to me, even when I banged the crap out of my toe and yelled loud enough the next day's marathoners could hear. It just was. It's sunny and we're exposed. It just is. Deal with it, get over it, keep moving on. 

And when the going got tough and I could barely run, and realized I may have to walk it in, I knew that was enough - number 2. "Only one-hour miles to go," Brian Woods said to me as we refueled at Oberg at 3 PM. 

Lastly, I refused to allow myself to do math - number 12. I never tried to calculate my pace, and I kept splits on my watch only to give myself an idea of how long a section took (or how much likely remained). 

Other amazing performances and random observations

John Mass walked the entire course, and finished in 31:33:XX. Walked. He started way in the back, and was in 209th place at the first aid station. He finished 54th, having moved up steadily all day - and making a big jump of 46 places to 73rd between Finland and Crosby. Of all of the runners there, John may the only one who has the discipline to attempt such a feat and the physical fitness and walking cadence to pull it off. He caught me on the Cross River and we stayed together until he passed me on the climbs toward Temperance. I passed him again while bounding toward the aid station, and he passed me for good on the climb up to Carlton. 


Harry Sloan created the Superior 100, then called Sawtooth 100, in 1991. He modeled it after Western States, where would rack up 12 finishes. He ran this year's Superior 100 well, and sported his silver buckle - how gorgeous they are in person - at the pre-race meeting. He finished in 37:58:32, a mere 88 seconds before the 38-hour cut-off. It was his first finish in what was his first attempt at the course (regardless of iteration). You can't make this stuff up. 


A marathoner passed me on the climb up to Carlton Peak. "Hundred miler? I'll say a Hail Mary for you," she said as she passed. A quarter mile up, she stopped and put her stuff on a bench - likely while she was relieving herself. She passed me again. "Matt? Another Hail Mary!"


I won the "Fastest Matt" division. 


At least two wolves treated Mark and I to their howls at 5:20 AM shortly after we left Sugarloaf. 


I actually saw - noticed? - very few volunteers at aid stations. At most aid stations, I needed to sit down for one reason or another. Early on, it was to handle foot issues. Later, it was just because I needed to get off my feet to more effectively pound calories. And all of this occurred at the chair my crew set up for me. Where did I notice who was volunteering at what aid stations? Lisa Messerer (Wild Knits) drove up the gravel hill toward Crosby as I was marching and running forward. I introduced her to Kevin, told her I was feeling awesome, and most importantly, relayed that I wouldn't need her to scrape me out of an aid station. She was pleased and drove on. 

I also overheard Robyn Reed's voice at Sugarloaf. "Is that Robyn?!?" I yelled. "Yes!" she replied. Nothing more, but I was pumped to get that brief reply. 

And of course, Maria Barton's tiki-bar-inspired aid station that was Crosby was something I was looking forward to all weekend. I told Doug Barton that I was beating him, and he said something appropriately snappy back. 

(Shout-out to Brian Klug here. The dude took third, ran sub-24, and was at Oberg at 1:50 PM when I showed up. He was wearing Luna Sandals and his feet (or just his left foot?) were (was) taped. An outline of red something poked around the tape. In my exhaustion, it looked like a fist-sized blister had been popped, exposing the delicate layers beneath the immediate epidermis. It looked like it hurt but I could not focus on it any more. In reality, I was merely looking at a tattoo.)

Finally, when I ran out of Oberg, Ed Sandor gave me a high-five so hard my hand hurt until I hit the trailhead. The man exudes positivity and happiness, and I was excited to see him when I rolled out. 


I had a semi-elaborate training plan this year, and I more-or-less followed it until Zumbro. Zumbro whalloped my ankle, and it took longer to recover than I expected. I probably began running again too early and I was in great shape for Kettle, but the time between the two races isn't really enough to recover, do some training, and then taper for a 100 miler.

Post-Kettle, my training was spotty: I ran about 48 times over those 90 days and racked up approximately 310 miles. I would have liked to have run more than twice that. I think the result of this lower mileage is that my body had time to recover from running-related issues from Zumbro and Kettle so that Superior could really be run well - even though it sure didn't feel like it at the time. The downside is that I couldn't properly peak or periodize for Superior 100. Whatever it was, hindsight is 20/20.

The end result is that since 10/19/14, I have done the following: 
  • Ran 257 times
  • Ran in 235 out of 327 days
  • Ran about 1,875 miles
  • Ran for 306 hours and 25ish minutes
  • Finished three ultras and DNF'd from a fourth
  • Volunteered at three ultras
Of course there is room for improvement. I'd like to boost the number of running days up in 2015/16 season and get closer to a 1:1 run/day ratio. I also felt that I was gaining a tremendous amount of fitness when I was consistently running 60-plus miles per week. I'd like to get there more often next year. 

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