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.
This is Episode 119 of Talk Ultra and we have a 1-hour special interview with Speedgoat Karl Meltzer on his incredible record breaking FKT on the AT. We also have interviews with the male and female winners of the Superior 100, Mallory Richard and Frank Pipp. We have the news and Ian is going solo!
KARL ON THE AT
On Sept. 18 at 3:38 a.m Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer emerged from the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Ga., and set a new Appalachian Trail thru-hike speed record with a time of 45 days 22 hours and 38 minutes. Meltzer started his supported run at 5 a.m. on Aug. 3 from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, and averaged approximately 47 miles per day at a pace of 3.2 miles per hour. Meltzer’s time beats the previous record by more than 10 hours, which was set by Scott Jurek in 2015.
The project, in planning for more than two years, was accomplished with a small core crew consisting of Meltzer’s father, Karl Sr., and crew chief Eric Belz. Others joined the crew to support Meltzer for short periods throughout the hike, including Meltzer’s wife and fellow ultrarunners. The crew traveled alongside Meltzer every day, providing him with food, water, medical attention and logistical support. Meals were prepared and taken in a van, which also served as Meltzer and Belz’s sleeping quarters.
00:09:39 INTERVIEW WITH SPEEDGOAT
RUNNING BEYOND BOOK well I have a first copy in my hand and I have to say I am somewhat pleased and happy. It’s taken a couple of years and at times it never felt quite real. The book in my hand confirms it is real and Spanish, German, Italian and UK versions will be available in the coming months. I believe Spain is first (September) Italy is October and the UK November. I don’t have a date on the German edition yet! – HERE
Pipp crossed the line in 20:24:00 a superior, Superior 100 champion. His run for a rookie 100-mile runner was incredible. Uhan had run a clever and smart race, he had saved something for those closing challenging miles and he pulled away from Jenkins and Schwarz-Lowe. His finish 22:46 was a solid 8-minutes ahead of Jenkins who had no doubt had the race of his life… he had managed to pull ahead of Schwarz-Lowe and take the final podium place by just 1-minute. But this only tells half the story. In the closing miles, under darkness, tired, fatigued and lacking focus, Jenkins had run into a head height true branch that cut his head open sending him flat to the ground. Somehow he managed to pick himself up and find the effort and pace to hold off a charging Schwarz-Lowe.
Richard finished next, first lady and 5th overall with a new course record 23:51. Her performance was stunning and almost looked effortless. It was impressive! Tina Johnson finished 2nd and Stephanie Hoff 3rd, 29:50 and 30:52 respectively. Queen of the Superior 100 finished 4th in 31:07 and in doing so, achieved her 16th buckle.
02:20:22 INTERVIEW with MALLORY RICHARD
RUN RABBIT RUN
Alex Nichols runs his first 100 wins in 17:57 and takes home 12,000 dollars. Nice! Mark Hammon 2nd in 19:19 and Kyle Curtin 3rd 19:27. Incredibly Jeff Browning was 4th… he is having some year!
Courtney Dawalter won the ladies race (not a nam I know) ahead of Alissa St Laurent and Nicole Kalogeropoulos. Their times 21:23, 22:38 and 23:10.
Notable drops were Nikki Kimball who has won the race in the past and Sage Canaday dropped in the men’s race.
Darcy Piceu came from behind to win in 23:15 and Trevor Fuchs 21:13
DEVILS RIDGE 70K
Yun Yanqiao run 6:30 to finish 11 minutes in front of Francois D’Haene. In the women’s race, Lucy Bartholomew pipped Sally McRae.
I knew very little about Minnesota and the Superior 100 in 2014 when I first came over to experience the most rugged, relentless and remote 100 miler there is. The area and the race was a revelation. You see, too much information in advance can lead to disappointment and more importantly, it can cloud judgement.
Running brings people together, together in a way like no other; it crosses boundaries, crosses countries and binds like a harmonious family. I’d been in Minneapolis for just over an hour in 2014 and I already knew that I was going to love this place.
The Superior 100 race follows the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior, a ridgeline of the Sawtooth Mountains. Race director John Storkamp said in 2014 at the race briefing, “It’s gnarly, tough, rutted and many of you won’t finish.” He was correct. It’s a tough race.
John Storkamp – race director
But like any race, a runner needs to be on the journey with a chance of completing and if they make the finish or not, the experience will be remembered because Superior 100 is so much more than a race.
Founded in ‘91’, Superior 100 is one of the oldest 100-mile trail races in the country. Way back in the day it was one of an elite band of 10-12 100-mile races in the US. Founded by Harry Sloan, the race did have a name change some time back when it was called, Sawtooth 100, however it was changed back to its original name and that has stuck to present day.
A point-to-point ultra-marathon that is 100% trail! The race route traverses the Sawtooth Mountain Range (hence the old Sawtooth 100 name) on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches northern Minnesota. Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world provides a stunning backdrop to a race that climbs to near 2000′ peaks with breath-taking vistas of the lake and inland forests. Crossing countless whitewater rivers and serene streams the 100-mile route meanders through mystic Boreal forests. Gooseberry Falls State Park Visitors’ Center, MN hosts the start of the race and a welcome finish awaits each and every runner at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, MN.
The 2016 edition of the race, like in all years has some notable starts and you’ll have to forgive me here if I maybe miss a few potential podium influencers… this race is a long way from the UK!
With 2015 winner and course record holder, Jake Hegge running the marathon distance race, this opens the doorway for the 2014 champion, Adam Schwarz Lowe. In 2014 he had his race dialed and he ran with tunnel vision controlling his pace until the last marathon when he broke away to a solo victory.
But the presence of Joe Uhan is no slouch and when one compares Schwarz-Lowe’s Western States time to Uhan’s, there is a considerable difference. Uhan was 4th at Bandera 100k in 2015 and recently was 2nd at McKenzie River 50k and 3rd at the Elijah Bristow 24 hour.
Ultrasignup founder, Mark Gilligan is also running. He placed 9th recently at Salt Point 50k and 22nd at Cruel Jewel 50.
Joe Fejes has a string of top results over a variety of distances – 100 miles, 24 hours, 6 days and so on… For example, in 2014 he ran 580.3 miles in Anchorage at ‘Six Days in the Dome.’ His most recent 100-mile result came at Desert Solstice where he placed 6th in 15:50.
Gary Davis has had some good results recently with a victory at Kat’cina Mosa 100k and 2nd at Salt Flats 100 and Skyline Mountain Marathon 50k.
Brian Klug was 3rd in 2015 in 23:07 and his last race was Minnesota Voyager 50 where he placed 55th.
Scott Hoberg and Marcus Berggren recently placed 2nd and 3rd at Arrowhead 135 (Scott won in 2014) and in July Marcus went on to run and finish Badwater 135.
Other notable mentions are for Frank Pipp, 3rd at Quad Rock 50) and Stephen Graupner who was 5th at Minnesota Voyageur in July.
Mallory Richard was 10th at Superior in 2015 and overall First Lady. Winner of Blackhills 100 in June 2015, pretty sure she will be looking for a victory again. A recent win at the Falcon Fatass 50k in August shows good form.
Tina Johnson is a favourite after placing 2nd last year. Recent results also show Tina is in good form, 4th at Bunk House Trails 50k in May and in August 2015 she won Marquette Trail 100k.
Casey Ullman is running Superior for the first time I believe and is coming off 4 solid results in 2016 at Capt’n Karl’s Colorado Bend, Mulshoe Bend and Pedernales Falls 60k and Hells Hills 50k. In 2013 Casey won and placed 8th overall at Mark Twain 100.
Crystal Hutchings placed 32nd at Zion 100 in 2015 in 32:29 but recently won the Yankee Springs Trail Run (104 miles) in 29:40, so, an outsider for the podium?
Susan Donnelly is the most experienced lady in the race with 15 finishes, yes, 15! 2016 is hopefully the 16th. In 2015 Susan was 11th lady in 33:03. This lady races a great deal and has been running ultras since 1994. In 1999 she placed 3rd lady at Superior in 29:48.
Janet Hausken has 3 good results in 2016 with 2 2nd places and a 13th at Zion 100. In 2015, Janet was 7th at Superior in 31:15.
Finally, Shelley Groenke was 9th at Superior in 2015 and recently placed 3rd at Zumbro 50m.
The action will unfold on Friday but in the spirit of Superior let’s give a nod to some key elements of the race… Runners can’t run without aid stations and volunteers. It just can’t happen. Those who are passionate about the sport often pay back with a volunteer stint at an aid station, marking the course or manning road crossings.
“If you get to the Crosby-Manitou Aid Station this year and you are feeling a little down and thinking you might want to drop out, consider this… the volunteers comprising that aid station have 17 Superior 100 finishes amongst them, you may not get a lot of sympathy – instead a good motivating kick in the butt!” – John Storkamp
Despite the difficulty, despite the fatigue, despite sore legs and being mentally tired, only one man and one lady can top the podium. So why run? Superior 100 provided many answers to this question on my first visit. Staff, volunteers, supporters, each runner – first to last, all came together to make a collective gathering of many individual passions to create one wonderful whole. Storkamp repeatedly touches on this and on the race Facebook page and just recently he said:
Tom and Nancy have been with me since the beginning, from the beginning of my ultra-running and from the beginning of race directing and they are still here now, heading up the Beaver Bay Aid Station with their great friends the Stocco’s – Jim Stocco was on the original Superior Trial Race Board of Directors circa 1991. These guys have volunteered at and run more ultras than most and they still love it. Friendship, history, tradition, togetherness – these are out values – this is what makes us great. Thank you being there for me, for the race and for our awesome runners!
Minnesota the Superior Hiking Trail, Superior 100 and the amazing people involved were all told by Storkamp before the race in 2014 that ‘this’ experience would change them, it did!
I am pleased to say that after missing 2015, I am back in 2016 to experience another dose on Minnesota nice!
Course records are 19:30:37 and 24:49:06 for the 100-mile race, held by Jake Hegge and Kristina Folcik set in 2015 and 2012 respectively.
Stuart Johnson and Susan Donnelly have an incredible 33 100 mile finishes between them, 18 for Stuart and 15 for Susan.