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Superior Trail 50 Mile Run Race Report

Race bib Superior Trail 50 miler

Last Saturday I joined 43 other pain enthusiasts for the Superior Trail 50 mile run. The race headquarters and finish line was in Lutsen MN at the Caribou Highlands lodge. This was a great place to enjoy a few days in nature. Exactly how much enjoyment was yet to be determined.

Lake Superior Duluth Fam Pic

Pic on the shore of Lake Superior with my fam.

Superior Trails Pre-race Meeting

Pre-race Meeting (I am the closest red dot!)

This was my second 50 miler and first time on this trail. I was told it was a tough point-to-point course, with plenty of rocks and roots. I never could find any information as to the accumulated elevation change throughout the course. It’s Minnesota, how much elevation change can there be? Apparently more than I thought! Post race, my Garmin 305 had ~14250 ft of ascent and ~14500 ft of descent.

Race Morning Pic

4:45am – Game-face on! (or something stuck in my teeth)

Race morning consisted of a nice orange school bus ride that left the resort at 5am to take us down to the race start. Have buses gotten smaller? There didn’t seem to be nearly as many rows or as much leg room as I remember.

After arriving to the race start we had about 10 mins until race start. I was stuck in an authentic outhouse (not a Spiffy Biffs or Jimmy’s Johnny’s) while the final instructions were given. I barely made it to the start area (spot on the road) when the RD told us to go. After about a quarter mile on the road, we started our journey on the Superior Hiking Trail.

I quickly tried to turn on my Garmin 305 as we began to trot along but the satellite synch-age was not happening. After about a half mile of the watch “thinking”, I finally decided to stop so that it could finish its thing. I had another 49.5 miles to go so I figured standing in place for one minute was the least of my concerns on this epic day.

Superior Trail View 1

Superior Trail bridge 1

I cruised along with the main group till the first aid station at Sonju Lake (7.5 miles). It was a fairly relaxing pace that introduced me to the local terrain of roots, rocks, and undulating elevation. As the sun rose, the forest began to light up and its beauty was on display wherever you looked. It was nice. My nutrition consisted of HEED, Perpetuem, and Endurolytes. My stomach had no issues and I was feeling good.

After leaving Sonju Lake aid station, I ran with a small group of five until I decided to pick up the pace a bit more and left the group behind. This was probably not the wisest decision in hindsight but I was having fun so I went for it. Mental note – this is a 50 mile race, not a marathon. I repeat, not a marathon.

Before long I was running alone without another person in sight. I was basically in no-mans-land. The front runners were out of sight and sound, and I left the group I was running with behind. All I could hear was my rhythmic breath, my shoes grazing a root once in a while, and small animals of some sort moving in the bush as I ran by. This feeling was peaceful and uncomfortable all at the same time.

Eventually some of the greater climbing/hiking began with amazing views of the rolling landscape, rivers, and lakes included as a bonus at the top. I just had to pause a bit and look around. This also prevented me from “toe-pickin” a rock and going off the edge. No hang gliding or clif diving today!

Superior Trail view 2

Superior Trail view 3

The main critters I encountered throughout the run were little chipmunks (I believe). These little rust-colored critters would scurry across the trail and up trees as I passed by.

The most interesting sounds I heard throughout the run was the flow of streams and rushing water. Many times you could hear it in the distance but not yet see it. The sound was fascinating to me. It spurred my imagination and anticipation as to what the creator of this sound looked like. I was never disappointed.

Superior Trail stream 1

Superior Trail stream 2

Superior Trail stream 3

Superior Trail Stream 4

Superior Trail Stream 5

Eventually things got a bit ugly for me during the ~20-30 mile stretch. This was where the internal mental chatter began. First my right knee became a bit tender on the downhills. My legs began to get a bit heavy and I started scraping the roots a bit more frequently and even took one “digger”. I was getting concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I was seemingly all alone in the middle of a 50 mile trail without another person remotely close by. Tree stumps were starting to look like bears. I freaked myself out a few times. This was the biggest struggle section of the day.

As I tried to keep my body moving forward along the trail I heard some serious thrashing through the brush on my right and decided not to take a focused look because it required too much energy or the fear that it actually was a creature much bigger than I. It was probably both.

Then suddenly this female runner (the brush thrasher) catches me and we chat a bit and I say how wonderful it is to see another person. She says the same. As we walked a hill, she asked if I wanted to pass and I said, “No, I am in a pretty bad funk right now.” She said she was also going through a tough patch.

I kept thinking to myself – Is this an angel here to help me through this tough patch? Where did she come from? It was as though she appeared out of nowhere. I also noticed her race number didn’t have the bottom name portion on it like the rest of us. The only thing I could conclude – she IS an angel. That was the only logic I had at the time. As I gimped my way down the steeper portions, she would angelically glide over every root and rock.

Eventually we reached the next aid station and my angelic-friend said to “drink some cola, it will help”. I had two dixie cups worth, some grapes, and a fig newton. I refilled my bottles with HEED and was off. Gradually I started feeling better and the knee pain dissipated. I was bonking and my “angel” brought me out of it by telling me to get in more calories at the aid station. Thanks angel-friend! We eventually parted ways as she picked up the pace as I gradually brought myself back to life. I was alone again but feeling much better and I knew I was going to finish.

After many more hills, rocks, roots, and amazing scenery, I finally reaching the last aid station at the base of Oberg mountain, I was excited to get to that finish line. Of course, I had to climb this local “mountain” first. So up, up, up I went. After reaching the top, I figured it would be a nice gradual descend to the finish but instead I was teased with many turns back up the mountain. I just had to start laughing to myself after a while. I also passed a couple 100 milers in this section as we wished each other well.

Oberg Mountain

Oberg Mountain (MN style)

Finally with 2 miles to go, I got on a dirt service road and eventually a paved road that brought us back to the resort and finish line. It was a bit of an emotional last mile as I thought about the last 50 miles.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 12:13:57 (9th place OA) to a small but loud set of runners and supporters hanging around the finish area. It felt quite amazing to have completed my toughest 50 so far and to share this event with my family and parents was also special.

Superior Trail Finish

Sub-sandwiches, cookies, chips, and drinks were waiting for all of the runners.

What can I say, this was a great event and I would definitely recommend it! The RD and volunteers made the entire weekend; one that will be hard to forget.

Things I need to work on:

  • Pacing: I still haven’t figured out proper pacing for this distance. Patience. Patience. Patience.
  • Nutrition: After about 3-4 hours of racing I need to increase my caloric intake. Bonking is no fun.
  • Keeping a positive attitude: Know it will get better.

Included Race Goodies:

Superior Trail Run Race Goodies 1

Race Bag and Hammer Nutrition Samples

Superior Trail Run Race Goodies 2

High Quality Long Sleeve Sweatshirt

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

4 Responses to “Superior Trail 50 Mile Run Race Report”

  1. on 13 Apr 2009 at 8:24 am How (howard)


    Really enjoyed your race report… you have a great sense of humor!

    Was wondering how hilly is the course? I’m a flat-lander living in the Hoosier (Indiana) and am trying to train on the small hills we have in our area. I’m not sure yet if I want to do this race or something closer to home and later in the year?


  2. on 13 Apr 2009 at 7:22 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey How-(ard) 🙂

    Thanks for the kind words on the report.

    This event is a good one! There is something unique about a point-to-point course especially being a first time on the course as I experienced. It made it quite an adventure and your weren’t 100% sure what was coming next.

    The race finished right at the back of the host lodge which was kind of nice as well. People just hanging around and cheering on incoming runners. A nice vibe.

    It is not an extremely flashy race but extremely high quality, well marked, great aid stations, and beautiful terrain.

    To your question – It is definitely hilly but it is not Colorado. My Garmin recorded ~14250 ft of ascent and ~14500 ft of descent.

    The course was somewhat broken up into sections of more climbing and then sections of more flat areas. I am a flat-lander as well so this event is definitely doable. I never did training to simulate this kind of terrain.

    Knowing what I know now, my training would include some stair-stepper, walking/hiking on treadmill at 10-15% grade, walking multiple sets of stairs in a building, or something that assists in strength building for a hiking/steady walk pace.

    I am not sure what your trail experience is but conservative pacing would be recommended at least through the 25 mile mark to get a feel for the course. Then you have a fairly good idea for what you are up against.

    If you decide to race it, let me know how it goes.

  3. on 28 Jun 2012 at 2:40 pm Steven Moore

    Gonna have to keep my eye out for those bear trees!

  4. on 03 Jul 2012 at 12:10 pm David Hanenburg

    Steven – …and attack squirrels.