Race Report: 2011 Spring Superior Trail Race 25K

(Image from STR Website, without permission.)
What a blast!  For my first trail race, I couldn't have picked a more technical and beautiful trail to run!  Jason, a friend and runner, and I agreed ahead of time that we would try to run the race together, just enjoying the experience and give each other support along the way.  The plan worked beautifully, and I believe I am fully hooked on trail racing now.

The weekend started with me leaving work early on Friday to head home and pack.  I was to meet my parents at 3:00 PM in Hinkley, MN to drop off my car and carpool with them up to Grand Marais.  I had made good time in the car and was only a couple of minutes late.  We stopped by Dairy Queen for a late lunch and headed North.  We did catch an outstanding meal in Beaver Bay at a little place called Northern Lights Cafe.  I had the Norwegian Salmon with a mango fruit salsa, greens, bread, and garlic herbed butter.  Yum!

We continued North and stopped by the Onion River Road, where the Oberg mountain turn-around was locate, and at Caribou Heights to scope out the Start and Finish lines for the race.  They were very close to each other by car, so Mom and Dad would have no problems driving to Oberg to meet me at the half way point during the race.

It was a lot of fun spending time with my parents on the road.  We hadn't "road tripped" since I was probably in college or even high school, so we were able to catch up on all matters of old and new family news.  We crashed that night at the Best Western, right on the lake for a somewhat restful night.  I tossed and turned a bit, but I managed to sleep through most of it.

Jason and I met up at the starting line the morning of the race.  We both debated with ourselves about what clothes to wear and equipment to carry for the trip.  Jason tried a jog test on a new waist belt he had just purchased, but it bounced around like crazy.  He opted to simply carry his water bottle as I had planned.  I put on my fuel belt to carry my phone, which I planned on taking pictures with and perhaps stuff some gels into.  I had two additional water bottles, small ones, just in case my large one ran out.

Jason and I have similar plans for pace, and we set at a comfortable speed, if not a bit optimistic.  My legs felt fresh and strong for much of the first half of the race, and we fell into pace with a small group of runners: Kelly, Kim, Ed, Jim and Steve.  Things went well for our group, as we called out branches, trees, rocks, and other hazards for those running behind.  Positions shifted more out of courtesy and safety than competitive spirit, but at some point, I found myself out front.

The next thing I knew, I had picked up my pace and was flying along the trail.  What a feeling!  We had come off of a long ascent and were on the back side of the hill, running down some long switch backs and into to some boggy areas with plank bridges.  Whooosh!  The scenery flew by, and I believe I yelled some profanity comparing the hell that is road racing verses the beauty of the trail.  I whooped and hollered, and had another runner doing the same in short order!  I made some drastically good time, and even though I walked up Oberg Mountain, my legs still felt pretty strong.

I ran in to the Oberg Mountain aid station feeling fresh, but I took my time there, eating potatoes in salt and grabbing some more water.  Jason wasn't far behind, and he saw that I wanted to get going again.  He loaded up on a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich and a banana.  In hindsight, I should have fueled up more, but I wasn't expecting two and a half hours of running to sap me out badly.

My parents were waiting at the aid station, and they were having a great time talking to other parents and spectators.  They told me of a woman they met who was crewing for her boyfriend, a pacer for the famed Scott Jurek.  They didn't catch his name, but I'll take a look at the roster to see if I can't figure it out (could it be Dusty Olson?).  She asked about me, and Mom and Dad filled her in about my Grandma's race.  When she learned that this was my first trail race, she declared that I would be hooked.

When I saw them, I quickly handed them my coat and fuel belt. I wanted to take on the second half without them.  When Jason entered the aid station, he left his coat with them, too. They didn't realize it, but I had just enlisted them as my crew. :)  They told me about the declaration, and I grinned affirmation.  Yes, I think I'm hooked.

Right away on our return trip, I recognized my mistake in pushing it so early in the race.  My legs were drained.  Jason, Steve, and I plodded on and back into the woods, up the hills that I had just blasted down.  My left hip was starting to fatigue, followed a few miles later by my right hip.  Jason was tired and trying to look around at the scenery to enjoy himself a bit, but each time he let his mind wander, he would trip. He had dropped back at one point, and I thought I had lost him for a while.  Steve and I talked some more, and he was kind enough to share a Hammer gel with me -- since I had forgotten to grab some for the run back.  It definitely helped.

Jason soon rejoined us, and Steve went off ahead shortly after Jason tripped badly one more time.  Jason and I slowed down to a walk for much of the switch backs in the last three miles of the race.  Better safe and slower than fast and broken.  We stopped at a summit overlooking the hills and valleys for a picture, and Ed joined us for the picture.  We again stopped at the bridge right off Poplar River that runs past Caribou Heights.  I tightened up the laces on my shoes, since they were feeling really sloppy.  I was beginning to feel the heat of blisters forming and lamented the fact that I should have done this adjustment back at Oberg.

The last half mile of the run was all road, and for some reason, my body was giving up.  I just couldn't keep going.  I wanted to stop and walk, but with Jason's encouragement, I kept going.  One stride at a time, we kept on jogging right up to the finish line.  We held our hands up and crossed the finish line together in 2:55:20!

At the finish line! (Photo courtesy of Jason Tintes.)

We hung out at the finish line, and my parents went to the lodge to get some food.  There was chili, fruit, and water for the racers, and I downed an entire orange in about two minutes.  I was so famished!  I had laid down in a grassy patch in front of the conference room with my water to let my body recover, but when I tried to get back up, my hip flexor cramped up, twice!  About fifteen minutes later, my thigh cramped up!  I definitely left all my energy out there on the trail!

Would I do it again?  Hell yes!  The wheels in my head are now turning over the new data as I start to plan trail training runs and camping!