Rugged, relentless and remote, Northern Minnesota near the Canadian Border, is the home of the Superior 100 – a course that parallells the North-Shore of Lake Superior traversing the Sawtooth Mountains on the Superior Hiking Trail. Breath taking vistas and panoramas make this point-to-point race a ‘must-do’ on the USA 100-mile scene. It’s a race with history and is one of the oldest 100’s in the US.
This my third year on the race, my first experience coming in 2014, I missed 2015 and I was back in 2016 for some more Minnesota nice! Kurt Decker who works for TC Running was once again my host and a huge thanks to him and of course race director John Storkamp from rock Steady Running for once again allowing me the opportunity to follow and document such a wonderful race.
Gooseberry Falls State Park (Minnesota) is the start line for the race, the finish comes at Lutsen 103.3-miles later, just short of the Canadian border. It’s a tough race and as US trails go, a gnarly and often muddy one. Heading up and down those sawtooth peaks provides a surprising 6400m of elevation gain and descent.
Mud, tree roots, rocks and a never ending green tunnel of trees pulls runners to the finish line. The race is one of the oldest 100-mile races in the USA and with a capped field of just 250 runners it has a feel that is akin to Western States or Hardrock 100.
Founded in 1991 when there was no more than a dozen 100-mile trail races in the USA, back then if you wanted to run a 100, you had choices like Western States (’74), Old Dominion (’79), Wasatch (’80), Leadville (’83), Vermont (’89), Angeles Crest (’86), Mohican (’90), Arkansas Traveller (’91) and Superior (’91). Superior quickly earned its reputation!
2017 Race Photography
Day 1 HERE
Day 2 to HERE
The smell of coffee, a relaxed atmosphere and the constant chatter of nervous runners was very much the backdrop of Gooseberry Falls State Park as the 2017 Superior 100 was waiting to kick-off and get going.
Race director Storkamp, released the runners on the stroke of 0800 and the field immediately fragmented with podium contenders getting quickly into their race pace – behind others respected the 103-miles ahead of them and eased into a long day and night with a walk.
It soon became apparent that it was going to be a hot day and the forecast was good for the whole weekend with potential clear skies and a full moon for the night section.
At Split Rock River a stunning view of the surrounding landscape and Lake Superior is provided and with approximately 9-miles covered Neal Collick was leading the race by a substantial margin followed Matias Saari and then a strong group lead by Adam Schwarz-Lowe.
In the ladies’ race, it was a relaxed start but Kirsty McBride leading ahead of Gretchen Metsa. It’s worth mentioning here that Superior stalwart and running legend, Susan Donnelly was not only running her 17th 100 but if she finished the race it would be her 100th 100 – wow!
At 20-miles, Metsa had drawn level with McBride in the ladies’ race and Stephanie Hoff was moving up through the ranking along with Tina Johnson and Jamie Solberg – the race was starting to take shape.
Collick continued to pull away from the rest of the men’s field. It was a brave move setting such a fast pace on such a tough course. Saari looked comfortable behind and as did Brian Klug and Paul Shol. Pre-race favourite Schwarz-Lowe was looking ok but out of the top-5, he notably said, “The races hasn’t started yet!”
Silver Bay came just 5-miles later and Collick and Metsa pushed ahead of their respective fields.
At MT Trudee Collick was extending lead and was full of life, he had a spring in his step that defied the distance and terrain. Saari was 2nd and then Klug was following in 3rd. Metsa like her male counterpart was dominating the ladies race and McBride, Johnson, Hoff and Solberg looked to be running for 2nd place. But, it is 100-miles and anything could happen.
Finland at just over 50-miles is a significant marker of the race and provides an insight on how the runner’s are managing their day on the trails. The 2016 edition was a hot one and it’s fair to say that the heat and humidity was once again having an impact as runners struggled to stay hydrated.
The first men came through and no surprise it was Collick ahead of Saari, for the ladies, Metsa was like a machine spending little or not time at the aid stations.
Sonju Lake at 58-miles started to provide more information on how the night ahead would pan out – Collick was still looking strong but Saari was showing some fatigue and Klug complained of a real rough patch and the need for calories. Metsa arrived in the dark, didn’t stop and pushed on – she was on a mission. When Schawrz-Lowe arrived he was in 9th place, but the darkness switches something on in his mind and as he left the aid he said, “I am going hunting!”
It was a cold night, a really cold night and it impacted on the runners, some revered in it, others didn’t. Fatigue and cold brought an end to Saari’s race after he had run in 2nd for so long allowing Shol to move into 2nd and Klug into 3rd. The miles were ticking by and they were getting the job done. Metsa and Collick pushed ahead and in all honesty, they were know in a different race opening up huge gaps on the competition – Collick consistently hovering under course record pace.
Oberg is the final checkpoint and Kurt Decker and the TC Running RV was waiting – music played, pancakes were flipped and the closing 7-miles of the Superior 100 waited the runners.
Collick arrived at 2am – he was ahead of course record pace and was flying! He was relaxed, positive and despite the cold and dark was in a great mood and full of energy. It was over 2-hours later when Shol arrived and closely followed by Klug. Notably though, Schwarz-Lowe’s hunting was going well he was in 4th place.
Metsa arrived in the daylight and without little fuss didn’t stop and pushed on for the closing 7-miles. Her gap was huge over Johnson, Hoff and McBride who followed.
Collick won the Superior 100 2017 edition in 19:31:40 missing the CR by just 1-minute. The trails this year were super slippery in places no doubt sapping some of that speed that would have made a record possible. Shol finished 2nd in 22:12:46 and incredibly, Schwarz-Lowe had moved up from 9th to the final podium place, crossing in 22:14:40. Klug who had run much of the race in 3rd was 4th in 22:34:42 (a huge PR on this course) and Mike Ward rounded out the top 5.
Metsa crossed in 25:23:03 followed by Johnson, Hoff, McBride and Solberg, their times 28:19:14, 28:39:58. 29:53:50 and 30:44:19.
Full results HERE
Notably, Susan Donnelly finished her 17th Superior 100 and her 100th 100-mile race – incredible! Also, John Taylor also completed his 100th 100-miler, what are the chances of that happening?
As with any 100-mile race, the front of the race only tells a small story of the allotted 38-hours to complete the race. Highs and lows are followed by tears and laughter. The assembled crowd in Lutsen welcoming each runner home.
There was no failure… just undone business for those who withdrew or did not make the line in the cut-off time. I have often said running is a metaphor for life and Superior 100 never disappoints. It’s low-key, traditional and like a family reunion. It’s a special race and if the 100 is too far, a 50-mile and classic marathon distance takes place on the same course and concludes at the same venue. Roll on 2018.
A full set of images will be available at iancorless.photoshelter.com
Image upload should be available by Monday 11th September