October 16th, 2019
Superior Mud at the Superior 50
Saturday September 11th, 2010
Jeff Mallach, RD of the Ice Age 50, pretty much summed up the day within minutes of crossing the finish line at the Superior 50:
"That is the longest 50 miles I have ever run."
He was right not only by time on the trail, but by distance as well. Curiously, when one leaves the last aid at station at Superior one is told that s/he has run 45 miles. Let's see, 50 minus 45 leaves five. Five miles to go. But exit the station and take a look at the trailhead sign and one notices that there are actually about seven miles before coming out on the dirt road that leads to the finish.
Is it just the new math, or does 45 plus seven equal something closer to 52? Whatever, it's a trail race. No need to be picky.
Before I go any further and whine about my measly little 50 mile event, a hat off to the 100-mile finishers of the Sawtooth. By the time we 50-milers joined them, the 100-mile studs and studetts had already been on the Superior Hiking Trail for almost a day, a day that included a night of cold, brutal rain.
I and my fellow 50-mile finishers whimpered a lot about the brutality of the trail this year, the miles upon miles of ankle deep (and sometimes deeper) mud; the trails that had turned into raging rivers and the usual hills of boulders that never seemed to end. But, we tried desperately not to do any of this belly-aching within earshot of a 100-miler. Our event was nothing in comparison to theirs.
It's hard to think that after spending 14+ hours on the trail that you took the easy option. "Only" the 50 (or 52?).
Like Jeff, this was the longest 50 miles that I had ever done. I'd run Superior before but I've never taken SO MUCH time to do Superior. Part of it was me, not the trail. I started the day with a pair of hip flexors that seem to have lost their interest in flexing so I knew it wouldn't be a PR day. Yet even the best of legs were struggling in the incessant mud. Runners would huff and puff their way up and over a difficult climb, looking forward to what used to be a runable section of the trail only to find themselves stuck in what can be best described as a river of lumpy, chocolate pudding.
After 20+ miles of slogging through the pudding I thought that I'd treat my feet to a clean pair of socks. It was a two-minute treat. Once out of the aid station and back on the trail my feet (and new socks) quickly returned to their original state of sludge.
But again, we in the 50-miler had it easy. The rains had just about stopped in time for our 6 a.m. start. Fog had dispersed enough that we could see the person in front us instead of simply sensing his or her presence by grunts.
When the fog lifted we were treated to what makes the Superior Trail so darn superior to most others in the Midwest -- the scenery. Miles from the nearest paved road runners crisscrossed (on bridges -- one of the luxuries of the trail) powerful, raging rivers. The thunderous pounding of the water often drowned out all but the loudest of voices (often a runner yelping after yet another belly flop in the mud).
Fall colors were ahead of schedule. We saw an autumn pallet of golds, oranges and reds. And on the top of each peak was a view worth enjoying while catching your breath. Lake Superior could often be seen in the distance.
So I was out there a little longer than usual. But every cloud (or fog patch) has a silver lining. This is the first time that I have done the last five to seven mile section in the dark. It was beautiful to see the stars pop out, and to look down from Moose Mountain to see the lights of the finish at Lutsen. Unfortunately, after seeing those finish area lights runners turn in the opposite direction and follow the path a mile or two away before heading back home.
"There's the finish, right?" said a 100-miler as I caught up to him at the peak.
"Yeah, we're finally getting close," I said.
"But the trail goes in the opposite direction? We are going to go AWAY from the direction of the finish?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"That kind of pisses me off about now. How about you?"
"Well, you have a point," I said as we muddled down the trail, away from the direct route down the mountain to the finish.
We all grumbled a bit in those last miles, but all of us in the last section knew that we were going to finish. And even a slow finish is a finish that perks up the spirit.
Sometimes the toughest days can make for the sweetest finishes. And this one -- even the "mere" 50-mile, was a sweet one.
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September 13th, 2010 1:44 pm
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