Traversing the Sawtooth Mountains on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches Northern Minnesota near the Canadian Border, the Superior 100parallells the North-Shore of Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world and rolls along a series of sawtooth peaks with breath-taking vistas.
Gooseberry Falls State Park (Minnesota) is the start line for the race, the finish comes at Lutsen 103.3-miles later. A 38-hour cut-off, 13 aid stations and 6400m+ of elevation gain and descent make this race one of the toughest in the USA. The race is, ‘rugged, relentless and remote.’ Superior 100 is a special with an incredible history, the man at the head is John Storkamp of Rock Steady Running, he is a charismatic guy and puts on a great event! Normally a race of mud, the 2018 edition had the trails in the best condition ever. Little rain saw the mostly single-track route as dry as a bone and fast! Of course, tree roots, rocks and a never-ending green tunnel of trees had to be overcome before the finish would arrive.
Founded in 1991 when there were no more than a dozen 100-mile trail races in the USA, Superior has a great reputation. Back in the day, 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!
At the stoke of 0800 Storkamp released the runners and immediately the race fragmented with the podium contenders leading the race. At the rear, many participants were already walking with a full understanding of the task ahead – better to ease in and finish strong and not the other way around. The weather forecast was excellent, with blue skies, warm temperatures and no chance of rain. It was going to be a great edition!
It soon became apparent that it was going to be a hot day, not only from a weather perspective but a running pace perspective. Neal Collick, champion in 2017, was back and arrived first at Split Rock River setting an incredible pace. Here, stunning views of the surrounding landscape and Lake Superior are provided. With 9-miles covered Neal was already opening up a considerable gap. In the women’s race, much of the talk was about the return of Mallory Richard, winner in 2016. Gretchen Metsa winner in 2017 and Ashley Nordell. It was Nordell who dictated the early pace and all the usual contenders were close it’s 100 miles, with just a tenth covered the race was wide open
At 20-miles, Collick and Arnold were setting the pace and much of the talk was about course records, with weather favorable and conditions excellent, would we see new benchmarks set? Silver Bay came just 5-miles later and any hard work was being consolidated by the duo up front, they were looking really strong. The writing was starting to appear on the wall.
At My Trudee, in just a short section of trail, Collick had really started to pull away, his gap was just becoming larger and the question was, could he maintain this pace? Behind him, the race really was on for 2nd place with 5-6 men all separated over a 30-minute window that included Mark Emmons, Matias Saari, Adam Schwartz-Loew, Coree Woltering, Jake Milligan and Mick Jurynec, it was all to fight for.
For the women, Nordell was still out front but 2016 champion, Richard was hutting her down. The duo looked calm, relaxed and to be having fun, essential with a third of the race covered and such a long way to go. Unfortunately, one of the pre-race favorites, Gretchen Metsa, was having a tough day – she had struggled with nausea and sickness and couldn’t keep anything down.
Finland at just over 50-miles signifies in the midway point of the race and it is here that the impact a day can be seen on the runners; exhaustion, dehydration and fatigue! None of that though for Collick, he was flying and well ahead of course record pace. His lead over the 2nd man now 60-minutes. But the men’s race was changing and in particular, Mick Jurynec, was showing great strength moving his way up through the field. Nordell was still leading Richard but with the night section coming, anything could happen?
Darkness was now upon the race and a warm day became a chilly night with clear skies. The stars shone, and the Superior Hiking Trail was illuminated by a line of ants with glowing head torches.
Collick pushed on at the front now joined by his pacer. At Crosby Manitou his lead was over 60-minutes over Jurynec and Milligan.
Nordell relinquished the lead in the women’s race to Richard who was handling the darkness and technical trail in a more accomplished manner. So strong was her running, she was making an impact on the overall positions in the general classification.
Cramer Road at 79.9-miles signified a significant marker with the final 25% of the race ahead, it’s here that places can change as a full day of running takes its toll. Collick and Richard were on a mission. Collick’s pace was so fast that aid stations were having to re-think their plans to be ready for his early arrival.
Oberg at just over 90-miles is the final aid and on a normal year, the first runner can be expected to arrive after 0200, Collick arrived close to 0100 and suddenly a sub 19-hour run looked possible, incredible on this course! He showed no signs of fatigue, he was focused, relentless and keen to push on. He and his pacer left for the challenging final 7-miles, they arrived at the line in an incredible 18:56:02 obliterating the old course record.
Jurynec was 2nd at Oberg showing incredible pacing and strategy to have slowly moved up through the field and now be consolidating a podium place. Milligan rounded out the top 3 and Woltering and Schwartz-Lowe placed 4th and 5th men. It was Mallory Richard though who achieved 5th overall!
Richard, like Collick, was unstoppable, the excellent conditions of the trail and the superb weather also resulted in a superb course record 22:36:39. Nordell battled through the night but held on to a solid 2nd ahead of Kelly Teeselink with Barbara Roman 4th and Tina Koplinski 5th.
What followed was a long day and night of struggle and strife concluding at 2200 hrs, 38 hours after the start! Some achieved their goals, others failed the challenge that they had set themselves. There was no failure though… just undone business, they will be back.
Superior 100 is so much more than a race, it’s an experience. A low-key traditional race experience far removed from the European extravaganza that had taken place in Chamonix just one week earlier. Superior is a race I encourage anyone to participate in, it’s a special race and if the 100 is too far, a 50-mile or classic marathon distance takes place on the same course and concludes at the same venue.
Beers flow into the night, fires blaze and each runner are welcomed home. Year-on-year, runners return to do battle with Superior Hiking Trail, they make new friends and meet old friends. Superior is steeped in tradition; long may it continue.
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