Packet pick-up was as bustling and busy as usual. It was s series of high fives and hello’s as the runners entered the hall to collect numbers ahead of the next day’s Superior 100. Traversing the Sawtooth Mountains on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches Northern Minnesota near the Canadian Border, the Superior 100 course parallells the North-Shore of Lake Superior. The race rolls along a series of sawtooth peaks with breath-taking vistas.
It’s a race with history and a race that is unique, very unique.
I was last at this race in 2014 and I was blown away by the experience. Believe me, folks down in Minnesota are some of the nicest you will ever meet. I wrote an article on my last trip called Minnesota Nice. I had wondered if my 2016 experience could live up to the 2014 experience.
The simple answer, yes!
As in 2014, I was looked after by Kurt Decker who works for TC Running. TC is the ‘go-to’ place for running shoes and apparel in the Twin Cities area and Kurt, well, Kurt is the ‘Godfather of Trail’ in this area. Kurt and the TC Running crew man an awesome aid station at Oberg (95-miles) on the Superior route and as the last aid before the 103-mile finish line, it’s a really important one. Music, fresh food, open fire, incredible crew and an abundance of chairs make this an oasis that is difficult to leave for that final 7-mile push for the line.
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. 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.
As race director, John Storkamp says,’ it’s Rugged, Relentless and Remote.’ It is. Taking place on almost 100% single-track, Superior 100 is a special race of mud, tree roots, rocks and a never ending green tunnel of trees that 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!
Superior 100 is old school.
You can view the runners portraits from the 100 HERE
You can view race images HERE
You can purchase race images HERE
The 2016 Race
The 20% chance of rain was looking less and less likely on the start line of the 2016 edition of the Superior 100. Fresh coffee was free flowing and the 250 runners who would toe the line milled around chatting and talking about the day, night, day and possible 2nd night that lay ahead. It was chilled, calm, relaxed and un-cluttered. At the stroke of 0800 Storkamp released the runners and almost 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.
Joe Uhan, Jeff Vander Kooi, Adam Schwarz-Lowe, Doug Kleemier, Ben Vanhoose, Joshua Nichols, Brian Klug and Timbo Jenkins amongst others dictated the early pace. It soon became apparent that it was going to be a hot and humid day. Timbo Jenkins arrived first at Split Rock River where a stunning view of the surrounding landscape and Lake Superior was provided. With approximately 9-miles covered Jenkins started to walk. He looked us in the eye and said, ‘this is not where I am supposed to be… how did I end up leading the race?’ It was Timbo’s first 100 and as is often the case, he was feeling good in the first 10-miles. Schwarz-Lowe, Uhan and the other main contenders followed and at aid 1, Frank Pipp was 6-minutes behind Jenkins.
In the ladies’ race, it was a relaxed start for two-time winner (2014 and 2015) Mallory Richard and three-time winner, Susan Donelly (who was running her 16th Superior 100, yes, 16th). I have a simple rule for long races, watch what the experienced runners do and copy it, if you can. In this scenario, it was relatively easy for the other ladies to copy as experience was saying, taking it nice and slow and steady!
Carla Goulart lead the race followed by Mallory Richard 5-minutes later. Amy Broadmore, Tina Johnson, Janet Hausken, Tracy Denbleyker and then a group of 4 or 5 followed within a 30-minute window.
At 20-miles, Richard had drawn level with Goulart in the ladies’ race and Janet Hausken was trailing 20-minutes later – the race was starting to take shape. Jenkins despite his comments at 9-miles had somehow continued to pull away from the rest of the men’s field. It was a brave move for a rookie ‘hundo’ runner and his 7-minute gap over Kleemier, Schwarz-Lowe, Peltonen and Uhan was looking good.
Silver Bay came just 5-miles later and any hard work by Jenkins was undone as 2014 champion, Schwarz-Lowe drew level along with pre-race favourite, Uhan. The writing was starting to appear on the wall. Importantly, Frank Pipp, also running his first 100 had closed to 4th and trailed the front group by just 5-minutes. In the ladies’ race, Richard was opening up a gap and the remaining ladies could only see her run off into the distance. Goulart was still holding a strong 2nd place over 30-minutes ahead of Janet Hausken and Tina Johnson was another 8-minutes back.
At MT Trudee it was all change, in just a short section of trail, Pipp had caught the front men and passed them. No easy task! Uhan followed 6-minutes back and Schwarz-Lowe was another 2-minutes later. Early leader Jenkins was 4th 28-minutes behind Pipp and it was looking like he had made the classic rookie mistake of going out too fast – ‘I’m feeling rubbish; I may quit’ he shouted as he went past. Kurt shouted, ‘keep plugging buddy, it’s a 100-miles, anything can happen!’
For the ladies’, Richard was in the form of 2014 and 2015 and was grabbing the 2016 race by the scruff of its neck. At Tettegouche her lead was 12-minutes over Hausken. Early raced leader Goulart was cooked and had now dropped back to 5th lady over 30-minutes behind the leader. Crystal Hutchings and Tina Johnson had moved into 3rd and 4th with the experienced Susan Donnelly in 7th.
Finland at just over 50-miles signified in the midway point of the race and it was soon becoming apparent the impact a day of sun and humidity was having on the race – exhaustion, dehydration and fatigue was the order of the day! Richard was now in a race against herself and ultimately the other men in the race, her lead over 2nd place was 2 hours and 12 minutes. But guess what, early race leader Goulart has found some inner strength and closed the gap from 5th to be back in 2nd 8-minutes ahead of Johnson. Was this going to be one of those incredible comebacks?
In the men’s race it was a similar story for Jenkins. He was still running in 4th but he hadn’t dropped and he was closing the gap on Schwarz-Lowe in 3rd and Uhan in 2nd. Pipp was still leading the race by over 30-minutes now and many thought he was either on for an incredible first 100-miler victory or a potential detonation over the next couple of hours.
Darkness was now upon the race and the 20% of chance of rain came… the only problem being that 20% became 100% and for a good 8-10 hours the heavens saturated the Superior 100 course making what is already slippery and challenging terrain even more challenging.
Pipp pushed on at the front of the race with no pacer. At Crosby Manitou his lead was 50-minutes over Uhan and Jenkins had had one of those great comebacks to be sitting in 3rd level with Schwarz-Lowe. Richard was now not only obliterating the ladies race but she was lying 6th overall level with Steven Graupner. Johnson, Hausken and Hoff were all now running for 2nd.
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. Despite this being a first 100, Pipp was showing no sign of flagging. On the contrary, he was looking strong! He arrived with 14:49 elapsed and believe it or not, early race leader Jenkins was back in 2nd with 16:09 elapsed and Uhan back at 16:23 and Schwarz-Lowe was 4th in 16:41. If Pipp didn’t blow up the race was his, but the fight for 2nd was wide open. Richard arrived in the ladies race with 17:37 elapsed and I am sure she had eyes on the men in-front of her. Johnson was still in 2nd but 4-hours back and experienced Superior runner, Donnelly had moved all the way up to 3rd, her 16th finish was looking guaranteed.
Kurt was waiting at Oberg with his TC Running aid station. The pancakes were cooking, the music was playing and at 02:45 Pipp arrived like a train. It was 3-hours later that Jenkins arrived still in 2nd. Remember, he nearly dropped at 30-miles… anything can happen in a 100! However, Uhan and Schwarz-Lowe had closed the gap and the trio left together. With just over 7-miles to go, this was going to be one hell of a finish.
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.
What followed was a long day and night of struggle and strife. Some achieved their goals, others failed to complete the challenge that they had set themselves. There was no failure… just undone business. You see, Superior 100, more than any other 100 I have witnessed is so much more than a race, it’s an experience. It’s a low-key traditional race experience and one that I encourage anyone to participate in. 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. I have often used this quote and having witnessed the highs and lows of the 2016 Superior 100, I am going to use it again for all those who have unfinished business.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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Race Images are available HERE