The Superior 100 Mile Trail Race has been aptly described as the “Superbowl of Midwest Trail / Ultrarunning” – the point to point 100 mile trail race is paired with two of the most challenging and scenic 50 mile and 26.2 mile trail races in the country. Minnesota’s Superior 100 was established in 1991 as one of the original dozen 100 mile footraces in the United States and is considered one of the “legacy” 100 milers. The races reach goes well beyond the region having throughout the years earned a reputation as a national class event, drawing runners from 36 states and 5 countries. All available spots for the 2015 race were filled via a lottery over a 10 day span six months in advance of the September event. The race is frequently cited for its unparalleled volunteer support and for striking the right balance between refined management / execution while maintaining a fun, low-key atmosphere as can only be achieved when a race is passionately produced by ultrarunners for ultrarunners. Those that experience the “Superior Fall Trail Race” weekend once will almost certainly find themselves back year-to-year as runners, volunteers, pacers or spectators – as a result there is a very strong community and culture that has flourished around the event. The Superior Trail Race ardently supports and proudly donates hundreds of volunteer hours while making significant financial contributions to the Superior Hiking Trail Association annually. Following is a recap of the 2015 Superior 100, 50 and 26.2 mile trail races.
Superior 100 Mile:
Thursday nights 100 mile pre-race meeting and dinner in Two Harbors Minnesota saw (retired) race founder and 12 time Western States finisher Harry Sloan (along with his Co-Director Tami Tanski-Sherman) inducted into the Superior Trail Race Hall of Fame. What made this extra special was the fact that the following morning, at the age of 67 Harry was for the first time running in the race he created – hoping to make the Superior 100 his “swan song” or better yet, knowing Harry his comeback at the 100 mile distance. The “pre-race” is an event in itself with an electric atmosphere where runners have the opportunity to catch up with old friends before the race and a decent amount of humor and entertainment is injected into the runner briefing. As is customary, the pre-race meeting concluded by recognizing the total number of 100 mile finishes of those in attendance. The three that got everyone’s attention were Stuart Johnson of Shawnee KS embarking on his 18th, Susan Donnelly of Oak Ridge TN starting her 15th and Christopher Hanson of Nisswa MN starting his 11th – these three runners are the only living individuals with 10 or more finishes at the Superior 100 – notably, all went on to finish this years race and have stated intentions of returning in 2016. Superior Trail Race “hall of famer” Eugene Curnow (deceased) is the only other person to complete the race 10 or more times. As always a huge thank you was given to the races local / community partner, Lake County 4H for hosting the dinner and arranging for space at their building on the Lake County Fairgrounds.
The Superior 100 is a race that is characterized by and revered for its rugged point-to-point nearly all single-track format, however the 25th edition of the race was to see the first 5 miles of the race starting out on the paved (yet very scenic) Gitchi Gami State Bike Trail which closely follows the shore of Lake Superior. This change was due to a temporary closure pending reroute of a section of the Superior Hiking Trail between Gooseberry Falls State Park (the race start) and the Split Rock River aid station (first aid station in the race) – this change also shortened this years course by an approximate 1/2 mile. Cruising easily through these early miles, runners enjoyed the relaxed start of the race and the ability to run two and three wide across the path while chatting with fellow runners before hopping onto the notoriously rooty, rocky and steep Superior Hiking Trail. Frontrunners were anticipated earlier than normal at the first and subsequent aid stations this year for two reasons; certainly the quicker early miles of the race on the bike path would contribute but another record strong field made this an inevitability regardless of the course change. Jake Hegge (Onalaska, WI), Michael Borst (La Crosse, WI), Samuel Jurek (Oak Bluffs, MA) and Dylan Armanaji (New York, NY) presented as clear front-runners early if not on-cue. After pacing his friend and training partner Borst to a 2nd place finish in 2014 Hegge pinned on his own race number this year and onlookers expected more of the same from the two insanely positive, joyful and energetic running buddies and waited for yet another CR to fall. Following through those early aid stations were a couple of not insignificant small chase groups of very experienced runners who would gladly pick up the pieces should any of the early leaders / race favorites falter. Running neck and neck through 100K, Hegge and Borst looked like they could be so evenly matched that they would bring it in together as they have done in past races, but this time as soon as the cracks crept in, it did not take long for chasms to form and Hegge stretched his lead in the pre-dawn hours – eventually smashing the previous CR and leaving little doubt that it would have fallen by a fair margin regardless of temporary course changes – Borst would finish 2nd his second year in a row. Somewhere mid-way through, third place runner and one of the race favorites Samuel Jurek hit a bad patch and he went down, no not falling down on the ground, but to sleep and in what ended up being one of countless inspiring performances throughout the weekend Jurek got back up and made his way to the finish, anonymously in the middle of the pack with the humble disposition of a gracious ultra-competitor. Filling Jureks shoes in third place was Alexandria Minnesota’s own Brian Klug – early on Brian looked like he was going to take it easy and not press the issue and by doing so methodically moved his way up the field throughout the race for an eventual 3rd place overall finish.
Making it a little more challenging to write a compelling story, Canadian Mallory Richard was welcomed as the first woman through all 13 aid stations and went to convincingly defend her Superior 100 mile title earned in 2014 as the first woman and even notched a top 10 overall finish amongst the boys. A strong predictor of this performance was not only her defending champ status but that Mallory just months prior had won overall (against men and women alike) at the 2015 Black Hills 100. Tina Johnson of Milwaukee WI, impressively finishing her fourth Superior 100 took 2nd and her best time and place to date while first time Superior 100 runner Gretchen Brugman of Truckee, CA got to experience first-hand the difference between buttery California single-track and Minnesota boreal roots, rocks and unreasonably steep ascents void of switchbacks – she rounded out the top 3 with an impressive performance her first time racing on the uber-technical trail.
As for Harry Sloan… someone at the finish summed it up best when they said “you just can’t make this stuff up” – at the age of 67 Harry battled two days and saw two sunsets to masterfully finish “his” race in 37:58:38 – just one minute and twenty one seconds under the cutoff . The energy and emotion at the finish line was palpable as many waited for the man to finish – we now consider the circle complete.
Daytime weather ranging from the 50’s to upper 60’s and sunny with light breezes made for perfect daytime running weather. Overnight temps generally in the mid to low 40’s bottomed out to mid 30’s on some portions of the trail during the coldest hours of the Friday to Saturday overnight. Even with heavy August rains the trail was mostly dry and free of significant mud. Overnight, runners who were lucky enough to catch a break in the tree canopy or found themselves in a clearing at the right time were treated to a sighting of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) – which has not been an uncommon occurrence during the race over the years but special none-the-less. Great conditions and an exceptionally talented field led to one of, if not the highest finishers rate known for the Superior 100; STATS: Registered 250, Starters 217, DNFs 56, Finishers 161, Finishers Rate 74%
Remember Karate Kid? Well, John Horns is not as old as Mr. Miyagi but is just as masterful and like Miyagi, capable of taking on the entire Cobra Kai single-handedly. As the analogy illustrates… there are those that are younger and faster but nobody has the experience of or prepares as meticulously as Horns and everyone takes him as a serious contender on race day. Horns is only one of two men to have won both the 100 mile race and the marathon (multiple times at each) at the Superior “Fall” Trail Races – so when his name hit the 50 mile registration list again (whether he liked it or not) people were rooting for Horns to take the “W” and be the first to achieve the never before achieved “Triple Crown”. At first glance this might have been considered a manageable task for the master, that was until you scrolled the list of registered runners and saw that “THE Chris Lundstrom” was also registered for the race – where Horns has a trail and ultrarunning pedigree that is unmatched Lundstrom has bona-fide elite times associated with his name, the most tangible perhaps (and at risk of beating a dead horse) three times running the US Marathon Trials and a few untouched 50KM trail CRs throughout the region. Well, just like any major race there are surprises before the gun ever goes off; like the class act that he is Horns showed a few days prior, helped marked trail, volunteered and still managed to ready himself for the 50, but perhaps at a cost to his energy, “Lundo” never showed and an up-and-comer stole the entire show. Certainly not overlooked but just new enough on the scene to get obscured in the conversation but after cementing a new CR at the Chippewa Moraine 50k this past spring, analytical minds could have easily made the argument that Chase Nowak of Minneapolis MN would take the win. Chase ran unimpeded and mostly unchallenged to an absolutely elated 9:04 finish, Brent Loberg of St. Paul, MN took second and Horns took 3rd but like a master will no doubt keep doing his thing on the SHT both as a dedicated volunteer and a competitive runner. In the women’s race Stacia Broderick or Oak Bluffs, MA and Lauren Cline of Ann Arbor, MI had a much closer margin than did the men as they went “one-two” with only a 7 minute differential while last years defending champ Kristin Rognerud of Duluth, MN rounded out the top three despite a significant beating of her previous years winning time – a testament to this years “depth-of-field”. It should be noted that it is not difficult for the 50 mile race at Superior to get lost in the hype of the 100 but make no mistake, the Superior 50 has teeth and as we frequently correct runners – you are not “only” or “just” running the 50 – it is widely considered one of the most challenging 50 mile trail races in the country and we invite any 50 mile specialist in the country to come have a crack at this truly exceptional event. STATS: Registered 175, Starters 124, DNFs 18, Finishers 106 , Finishers Rate 85%
Besides “Horns” only one other man has the distinction of having won both the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race and the Moose Mountain Marathon – that individual is Wynn Davis of Stillwater, MN. Wynn arrived on the Minnesota ultra scene in 2005 and completed his first race in relative anonymity finishing just inside the top 20 at the Voyageur 50 Mile, another classic Minnesota trail ultra. Shortly after getting his feet wet he started dominating ultras races in the Midwest, then seemed to go silent… well, it depended upon what you were listening for as Wynn backed down on the distance and hit the roads for a few years he clocked some impressive marathon times, dipping into the low 2:30’s on more than one occasion – never have we heard of someone so impressively “back-in” to marathoning and pull out such high-level perfomances. With this foray onto the roads Wynn lost none of his trail prowess, instead he came back and started running what we will call the “mid-distance” trail races of 25KM to 42KM like they were road races and as a result has few rivals when he toes the line. Wynn was chasing his own course record this year and under perfect conditions still came up just 5 minutes short with a 3:39 – another top road to trail cross-over performer and former Moose Mountain Marathon winner Ben Kampf of Minneapolis MN took second with 3:46 – Kampf himself no slouch at the road marathon clocking a PR of 2:35. Having these two former champions back made for an exciting race but the early anticipation was for a three-way race as another former Moose Mountain marathon winner James Sorenson (yet another 2:30 guy) was registered to compete as well but after a fall and resulting injury at Hood to Coast just weeks earlier James was forced to withdraw – but as yet another example of all that is right with our sport James manned the finish line / finish area much of the day on Saturday as a volunteer greeting those that he would have been competing with at the finish line as a volunteer. Nathan Campeau of Minneapolis, MN rounded out the top three. On the women’s side it was again, a little harder to predict without past champions to bet on but certainly great talent would come to the fore by the end of the day. Kelly Johnson of Wayzata MN, Mandy Rupp of Cincinnati OH, Caitlin Reese of Minneapolis MN went 1-2-3 – with Mandy and Caitlin only a nail-biting 18 seconds apart after 26.2 miles of rugged trail. STATS: Registered 300, Starters 227, DNFs 7, Finishers 220, Finishers Rate 97%
The proposed date for next years Superior Fall Trail Races (pending final approval of all permits) will be on Friday September 9th and Saturday September 10th, 2016. Registration will be held via a lottery and administered with few changes from the 2015 race registration process. Registration is expected to open early in 2016.