Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kicking the snot out of the Superior Hiking Trail

Or was it the Superior Hiking Trail that kicked the snot out of me?

Last Saturday, I spent 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 39 seconds running a 25k. Yes, you read that right. It took me 3:20 and change, my slowest race ever by a long shot. But also the most difficult because I was dragging my butt up and down Moose Mountain at the Superior Trail Race 25k.

The race is run on a section of the Superior Hiking Trail along the North Shore of Minnesota. What we have is an incredibly beautiful trail system that offers fantastic views of Lake Superior and the surrounding wilderness. And it is challenging enough to hike, much less to try and run!

I stayed with my folks, so they served as my transportation to and from the race. And this would also mean I would have my own cheering section, which almost never happens, but it is always appreciated! The day was sunny, yet incredibly windy. Temperatures were pretty mild at the start, so it would be a comfortable day for the race.

The course for the 25k went from the Caribou Highlands resort to Oberg Mountain and back. It is comprised of rocky, rooty, and hilly single track trails almost entirely, and there were a few substantial climbs. By "substantial," I mean that I was better off walking them, as they were too steep for me to run up efficiently. The interesting part is that they were also too steep for people of limited trail running ability (i.e., yours truly) to run down without risking life and limb. Throw in more than a few blown down trees to hurdle or crawl under, and this is one crazy and challenging course!

There were some fun, as well as some interesting moments on the trail.

One of the truly exciting things I experienced was running down Mystery Mountain before the ascent up Moose. Here, the downhill was not quite as severe, so I felt like I was flying through the woods. (Of course, this was probably only a couple of miles into the race, so I was still feeling pretty spry!)

Meeting the leaders was also interesting. I am sure I was probably a couple miles from the Oberg Mountain turnaround point when the 25k leader went screaming past me the other way. How can someone maintain that pace on this terrain? That guy was a rock star!

Yours truly, approaching the finish

I managed to get a few nicks as well. Each of my shins have a good sized scrape from the underbrush, and I somehow raked a branch across my left ear, which started bleeding. My face felt almost windburned afterwards, as the stiff northwest winds pelted the runners where the trail ran along the north side of the ridge. My quads were absolutely burning from all the uphills and downhills. ("Flatlanders" such as myself are not used to this sort of thing!)

All throughout the course, I heard the buzzy call of the recently returned black-throated green warblers, no doubt mocking my every step. :)

But the runners I encountered were friendly and of good cheer. People chatted about the difficultly of the course, lamented not having a chain saw handy for the fallen timber, and cracked plenty of jokes. Just after coming off of Moose Mountain on the way back and beginning the long ascent up Mystery Mountain, a young lady who was running/walking with me at the time said, "Do you think once we get to the top, it will be all downhill after that?" My response; "Gosh, I hope so!"

Shortly after the, was that tough!

So I ran where I could and hiked where I had to. Basically, I just tried to keep moving forward. I thought 3 hours would have been a good target time based on some past results I looked over. So it took me 20 minutes longer. No big deal! Even at 11 miles shorter, this was way tougher than the Walker Marathon I ran last fall, no question about it.

If you look closely, you can see blood dripping from my ear!

My prize for finishing? A hanky proclaiming that I kicked the snot out of the Superior Hiking Trail. Pretty cool. This might need to get framed.

To the victor goes the hanky

Despite the difficulty of the race, I still had a lot of fun. The race directors and the volunteers were fantastic (especially those manning the big tent at the Oberg Mountain aid station). The scenery was gorgeous, and the course immensely challenging. I am happy to say I finished.

Still wondering who kicked the snot out of who,

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