When runners speak of tough mountain races or hot desert courses, we sit back with our quiet Midwestern stoicism and consider the unique challenges that await us at Superior. Those runners who say, This race can’t be as bad as (insert any mountain race name here), so I’ll be fine? We’ve seen them stumbling wild-eyed and feral into the County Road 6 aid station at mile 42, traumatized by the rocks, the roots, the lack of rhythm to the ups and downs, the slow, soft punches to the ankles and spirit. We’ve seen them refusing to go back out into the shadows. I’m not questioning the difficulty of other races here. I’m simply saying Superior is its own breed of animal, one not well-represented by comparison. Don’t underestimate this beast. Make it your friend. If you’re like me, you’ve been obsessing since last year’s race about what Superior may throw at us this year, and how our feet, legs, lungs, mind and spirit will respond. Perhaps you’ve been breathing Superior. Its drum of waves against rocky shores has been beating through your veins. The best running party around becomes a part of us, like an itch on a phantom limb that we’re forced to scratch. And now, it’s finally here. The A Race is upon us. The Big Dance has arrived. It’s Superior time y’all!
Started when there were less than ten hundred-mile races in the country (1991), Superior was conceived by Harry Sloan as a midwestern Western States, with a boat crossing, a track finish and other details taken from the iconic race. It quickly became its own unique Great Northern Happening, much like the aurora borealis (example: aid stations handed out lefse to reflect the Scandinavian culture of the North Shore, a favorite food choice among those early runners). A 50 miler was added because the race director’s wife wanted to try running the trail, but didn’t want to run 100 miles. Later a marathon was added. Today people like Tom Kurtovich, Brian Poepple, Tony Banks (and Crew), the Immerfall family have been volunteering since the beginning, Under its fifth director, the current version is a point-to-point 103.3 mile race from Gooseberry State Park north bound though several state parks, a national forest, many aid station buffets, past countless waterfalls, stunning vistas of Lake Superior and inland lakes and forests, to the place where all races finish together at Lutsen Mountains.
Expect wet feet early—the Split Rock bridge is out. Expect hornets, wasps and bees and please bring appropriate medicine if you’re allergic to stings—they’re the most common injury throughout the years. Expect mud—the trail association website currently reports knee deep mud in the Crosby Manitou area, although conditions can change dramatically in a short time. Expect climbs that require hands. Expect technical descents. Expect roots like fingers coming out of a grave to grab your feet. Expect rocks that leave those feet looking and feeling like ground meat. Expect the possibility of oppressive heat and cold rain. Expect the best marked and uniquely scenic (don’t look up!) trail. Expect waterfalls and rushing rivers, and a primal and uncontrollable emotional response to cry when you hear that angelic singing of the Poplar River near the finish. Expect an army of volunteers who know this race and are willing to do anything short of carrying you on their backs to help you find Lutsen. Expect the unexpected. Expect epic.
While we discuss potential leaders below, let’s be clear: it takes big ones to start any of these races. Congratulations to all those who make it to the starting line.
Combined stats: Field size: 851. Male: 561 (66%), female: 290 (34%), oldest entrant: 72 (Kathy Schmidt – Marathon), youngest entrant 9: (Hadley Knight – Marathon). Average age: 41. 34 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and 3 countries represented. One or more finishes: 284 (33%), zero finishes or first attempt: 567 (67%).
Starts 8 am Friday at Gooseberry State Park. 103.3 mile point-to-point. 95% single-track. Elevation gain 21,000 FT, elevation loss 21,000 FT. 13 aid stations. 38 hour cutoff. 273 entrants from 27 states, Canada and Denmark. 218 (80%) males and 55 (20%) females. Oldest entrants: 67 (Allan Holtz & Farouk Elkassed); youngest entrant: 19 (Kevin Chem), average age: 42. One or more finishes: 110 (40%), zero finishes or first attempt: 163 (60%). A traveling party all the way to Lutsen.
Adam Schwartz-Lowe: Five finishes, all of them with top five results, including a win, two seconds, and a third place finish. The general knows the distance. He knows the course. He knows what the podium looks like. He may be running with a target on his back, but he runs smart, and he runs strong at night when the distance is taking its toll.
David Hyopponen: Ultrasignup ranks him first with some impressive performances. He’s a speedy road racer, though he doesn’t race trails often, and he’s never run a hundred.
Matias Saari: This UP native and Alaska resident and writer (I recommend his book about the Equinox Marathon) should do well. While he hasn’t raced 100 miles on foot, he’s done the distance on skis many times. Great pedigree of wins and performances at footraces up to the 50-mile distance.
Neal Collick: A top prospect who just crushed his coach and current Superior course record holder Jake Hegge for an impressive Voyageur win.
Mike Jurynec: He won The Bear 100 the last two years and has some other incredible performances. He will shine at Superior.
Tommy Doias: He has at least eight finishes at Ozark 100 including two firsts, two seconds, two thirds, and one fourth place finish.
Others: Mike Ward has the FKT for the entire trail and is a strong triathlete. Steven Graupner has multiple finishes here, runs with women’s course record owner Mallory Richard and is always a contender. Paul Shol, Brian Klug, and Adam Takacs will run well too. Doug Kleemeier had a strong win at Zumbro this year and another win at FANS. He and Jeff Miller and John Maas and Paul Schoenlaub will argue over top old guy, but will also give the young guns a battle too.
April Anselmo (formerly Cole): She’s back! In 2013 she was first lady and second overall. In 2014 she led the women’s field most of the race. She has had some epic battles on this course.
Tina Johnson: This Gnarly Bandit is having a great season with an impressive win at Zumbro and second place finishes at Black Hills and Kettle Moraine. She has five finishes at Superior and she’s a smart and tough runner.
Jennifer Doias: She hasn’t run Superior but she has lots of ultra experience and experience matters here.
Gretchen Metsa: Her third place finish at Voyageur and experience on this course make her a contender, although she hasn’t run this distance before.
Stephanie Hoff: She’s always solid and centered and she finished third last year. She has three finishes here. She knows the course and has put so much volunteer work in on this course that trail karma should shine its light on her.
Kristy McBride: She’s coming off a sub-24 hour Western States run (13th woman). She also won Kettle 100 in 2016.
Kristin Rognerud: This Duluth runner is probably the SHT specialist of the women’s field, with loads of SHT and Superior Trail Race experience. It’s her first try at the 100 mile distance.
Others: Janelle Gomez just won the Marquette 50. Bekah Metzdorf is always strong but it’s her first shot at the distance. Jennifer St. Amand will do well. So will Susan Donnelly (always reliable with 16 finishes) and Janet Haugen, both competing for the Grand Masters trophy with Shelly Groenke, the toughest runner I know.
Finishes (if anything, experience counts here)
19: Stuart Johnson (can we paint his name atop Carlton Peak yet?)
16: Susan Donnelly (and she just finished Bigfoot 200!)
11: Chris Hanson
10: Daryl Saari and Jerry Frost
Field Size: 177, 123 (69%) males, 54 (31%) females. Oldest entrant: 65 (Twyla Anderson). Youngest entrant: 20 (Alex Kasparek). Average age: 40. 17 states represented, 2 countries represented. One or more finishes: 45 (25%); zero finishes or first attempt: 132 (75%). Elevation gain 12,500 ft, elevation loss 12,500 ft, net elevation change 25,000 ft, 7 aid stations, 16.5 hour cutoff. Note the 5:15 am start, 15 minutes earlier than last year (don’t be late).
Men: This is a fascinating race. The 100-mile record holder (Jake Hegge) meets the marathon record holder (Wynn Davis) in the middle. On paper, this is great entertainment. After winning the marathon last year, Hegge would love to have that triple crown, a win from each distance here, but he’ll also be fresh off the CCC (UMTB’s little brother) in Europe. And he’s running against Wynn Davis, who’s an incredibly strong runner with lots of course experience. Wynn also won the 100 in 2007, five years before Hegge ever ran an ultra. Keep a close eye on this one. Brent Loberg and Forrest Tracy are possibilities too.
Women: Rochelle Wirth, second place last year, returns as a favorite. She has lots of experience. She’s a tough runner and placed second last year. Kelly Johnson-Runions was third last year and also has loads of experience. Molly Pennings has lots of solid performances, but none on the Superior course. Erika Lohn wil also do well here.
Finishes: Scott Rassbach will be going for his fifth finish. He’s a metronome and nephew of former race director Larry Pederson. He’s in great shape and could be a top five or ten contender.
Moose Mountain Marathon
Field Size: 401, 220 (55%) males, 181 (45%) females. Oldest entrant, 72 (Kathy Schmidt), youngest entrant 9 (Hadley Knight), average age 42. 21 states represented and 2 countries represented. One or more finishes: 129 (32%), zero finishes or first attempt 272 (68%). Elevation gain 5,500 ft, elevation loss 5,500 ft, net elevation change 11,000 ft, 3 aid stations, 14 hour cutoff.
Men: This is a fast field. Mike Borst is also running the CCC in Europe the week before, but he won the 50 here last year and has placed second in the 100 twice, including the fourth fastest time ever run. He wins races. But look who else is on this list. Shane Steele knows the last miles of this course well, and knows what it’s like to win those miles from his successes at the Spring 25k, including a smoking 1:47:15 at this year’s 25k. Adam Doe won the Superior 25K in 2016 and won the Afton 50K this year. Kurt Keiser (former 2:17ish marathoner) was 2nd at the 50-miler last year (behind Borst) and was 2nd at Afton this year (behind Doe) but won Afton in 2016 with the fourth fastest time ever. James Sorenson was 2nd in the marathon in 2014 with the 11th fastest time ever and won the 50 miler in 2012 and still owns the 2nd fastest time ever for that distance. This stacked field is the cage match if Superior was professional wrestling.
Women: The women’s field isn’t as deep but will be fun to watch. Emma Spoon is as local as it gets (Grand Marais) and is a favorite with multiple wins on this course in the Spring 25k, including a course record run this year. But it’s hard to not consider Stephanie Sathre, who won last year’s marathon. Jenny Wilcox is a favorite for masters and could hit the overall podium.
10: Bruce Anderson
8: Jim Hagedorn and Jim Keyes
7: Lonny Beck, Keli Cristofaro, Monique Welbourne
6: Gordon Ryan and Steve Tollerun
5: Tim Betlach, Travis Brouillard, Wally Goettl, and Barb Zeches
Final Invocation for directors, competitors, volunteers, pacers, crew, family, and dogs
May we all reach Lutsen standing. May we find the joy of camaraderie and teamwork and create lifelong friendships among strangers and may we make memories together. May we discover or renew our love for this course that many consider a sanctuary. May we freely take what the trail offers, the smooth down hills, the ridgetop breezes, the soft rains, the sky thick with stars, the night-time chatter of owls and spring peepers, the sunlight slowly pulling over the horizon. May we accept the gift of humility this trail brings forth. May we find what we need when the conditions of the day or night pull away our masks, when we explore the boundaries and limits of our bodies, spirits and mind and we ask ourselves what’s left inside. May we find humor in the pointlessness of it all. May each of us have a freaking blast out there. Woo and amen.
Don’t forget to buy the Superior book for more race stories and history. It’s available at Amazon, from me, and from the race merchandise tables.