An interview with Neal Collick (NK) post Superior 100, 2017 in which he won the race coming within 63 seconds of the course record and now owning the 2nd fastest time on the modern day course. Interview conducted by Kevin Langton (KL)
KL: Neal, congrats on an incredible race. Please tell us how your race played out.
NK: My race plan was to run within myself and to not let anybody else dictate my pace. I wouldn’t focus so much on racing that I went out fast with somebody. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be too conservative because that was the pace everybody else was running. I didn’t expect to be in the lead so early on, or necessarily at all, but that’s what happened. I ran the pavement section with Mike Ward. We just cruised along and chatted about randomness, which was a lot of fun. It was around mile five when I noticed I was all alone. I ran the out and back to the Split Rock aid and fully expected to see somebody not far behind. When I didn’t, I questioned my pace a little as I realized I was going quite a bit faster than everybody else. It was only my second hundred….was I being dumb? I paid attention to my body and effort over the next few miles to answer that question. I was feeling great, taking the hills easy and having fun, so I was doing exactly what I had intended. A lot of the middle miles were more of the same. I constantly evaluated my effort and tried to run by feel. I took in calories when I could and made sure to stay hydrated. I was sweating quite a bit and didn’t want to get behind with fluids. It was nice to have a pacer after Finland. Going into the race I wasn’t sure if I would have one or not. My crew consisted of Rylie, Andrew and Tim. Rylie has crewed for me at most of my races, but Andrew and Tim were added a week or so before the race. They were ready to pace if needed and I’m sure glad they were there. I would see some of the other runners’ crews as I’d come into aid stations. As the night went on, I noticed that they weren’t there yet and I tried to estimate how much of a lead I had. I knew how strong the field behind me was, and how some thrived at night, so I resisted any temptation to let up. Andrew and I took on the last leg from Oberg and I knew there were a few climbs left. I remembered how tough they were during the spring 50k, and just focused on a steady pace forward. Counting down the single digit miles helped a lot. Andrew was very familiar with this section and was able to tell me what the upcoming terrain would be like. We hit the blacktop coming in to the Caribou property and opened it up a little. There were a few friends along with my crew waiting at the finish.
KL: You finished hours ahead of a really deep field and came within a minute of the course record. You were coached by the course record holder, Jake Hegge. Do you think he somehow added that minute in to protect his record? Just kidding. Jake has a history of pacing great performances here. What’s it like to have him coaching you? What was it like to be chasing that record and how aware of it were you?
NK: I’m really impressed with Jake’s coaching. Not only did he train for and race this event from scratch a few years ago, but now he applied his knowledge to another athlete to produce similar results. Of course I’ll always joke that he built the beaver dam to slow me down, or that I intentionally ran a bit slower so he wouldn’t have to make new flyers for the race packets, but in all honesty, setting a CR wasn’t really on my radar. Jake mentioned the possibility when we talked before the race. I tried to set aside any time goals and just see how it all ended up when I ran by feel. I tend to perform my best when I run this way and just try to have fun. It wasn’t until I had three miles to go that I compared my time to the CR and realized I had exactly 33 minutes to get there. Andrew and I moved pretty well through the last few hills. We hit the blacktop and immediately picked up the pace. We saw Jake with about a half-mile to go. I was thinking, “Oh cool, Jake’s gonna run in with us.” But he was way ahead of me sprinting and screaming to get me to run faster. Jake’s a real class act and this isn’t the first time he has coached me like this in a race. He did something similar at Voyageur around mile 35 that motivated me to run my hardest and pull off the win. It would have been cool to break the CR, but I have no regrets about how the day went.
KL: This is your second time racing on the Superior Hiking Trail (3rd place at this year’s Spring 50k). What are your thoughts on this course? I’m assuming your home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan provides similar running terrain?
NK: We have a lot of similar trails in Marquette so I think this sort of course suits me well. There were times during the race where it actually felt like I was back home running our Four Peaks route. The views during the 100 were spectacular and something I made sure to take in whenever I got the chance.
KL: How are your feet feeling?
NK: I was surprised at how well my feet held up. I train on a lot of rocks in Marquette and try to watch how I navigate through/over them. Although I’ve never had a problem with blisters in the past, I knew Superior is relentless and could change that. The mud and multiple water crossings didn’t seem to cause any issues at all. I swapped shoes at Finland as more of a precaution than anything. We made that plan at County Road 6 and my crew had everything set when I got to Finland. They did a great job of making it a quick transition.
KL: What is something besides running that helped your race? How did it help?
NK: I really try to focus on nutrition throughout the year. I think a quality diet can help you train and race at your best, and it’s something that’s needed more than just the week before a race. I pay attention to my body and try to give it what it needs. Jake also designed a strength-training program for me that really compliments my running.
KL: What was the lowest point of your race? What helped you get through it?
NK: I hit my low a little before County Road 6. I didn’t expect to be running alone for so long and I was trying to keep things fun. As I ran along the road to the aid station, I flashed back to my first race in 2011 where some friends and I jumped cones along a section of road. Of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to do it again! I don’t ever want to get so focused on performance that I stop having fun. I told my crew what was up and that I would be taking Tim as a pacer at the Finland aid station. Everything was great from there on out. Having some company on the trail to laugh and share stories with is what I really enjoy. Andrew also paced me for a few sections and we reminisced about the course from 2015.
KL: What’s something we should know about you that doesn’t have to do with running?
NK: I was in a motorcycle “club” back in 2012. My handle was Gut because I was constantly eating. I would hang giant Slim Jims out of my saddle bag on long rides so I could grab one whenever I needed a snack. Weight lifting combined with an unhealthy diet and excessive drinking had me weighing around 190 pounds. I have plenty of crazy stories so feel free to ask the next time you see me.
KL: Bonus question! Please make up a question you think we should know about and answer it.
NK: Other than working an aid station at the MT50, my first experience at an ultra was the 2015 Superior 100. I crewed and paced Andrew Grosvenor and tracked Jake’s record setting performance throughout the day and night. There was a good size group from Marquette who had run various distances that weekend all staying in the same room. They gave me a pretty hard time (all in good fun) about never having run an ultra. I made a deal that I would switch from roads to trails the next summer and see if it was something that I enjoyed.
KL: Neal congratulations on a great race. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
NK: A big thanks to John and all of the volunteers. This race takes a lot of work throughout the year and it’s very much appreciated. The aid stations were fantastic! I hope to see you all again next year.