September - 2007
My family and I were driving up to Lutsen for my 50 mile race at the Supeior Hiking Trail. We stopped at an aid station for the 100 mile races and watched a few come through. My wife said "that is absolutely crazy". I thought "I have to do this before I die". Even the thought put a knot in my stomach.
That started my road to 100.
Fast forward 1 year.
Date - Saturday September 6th
Time - 4am
Place - Somewhere between the Crosby Manitou aid station and the Sugarloaf aid station on the trail.
I am bubling around the trail. My brain is melting. My knee is killing me, not letting me go down hill like a normal human. I can't stay awake. I am looking for a comfy spot to take a nap on the side of the trail. I am on the verge of crying. I was thinking I should have reached the aid station by now. "this is absolutely crazy, why did I want to do this?"
The hardest thing at that point for me was realizing that if I was going to finish, I would have to go 30 miles on a bum knee. That was not going to happen. Looks like I am done. I am going to get to the aid station, take a nap, and feel sorry for myself. Turns out sorry is spelled "Saari". I will explain later.
Rewind 1 days
Gooseberry Falls visitor center. About 60 runners out to conquer this beast. Just to show up to this start takes a certain amount of Mojo, and this group had it. For me, it was surprisingly relaxing. The weather was perfect, 50 and low dewpoint. Looks like overcast for a while.
Larry Pederson said go, and the race began. Early on I said to someone "can you imagine that many of us won't get there until tomorrow night?" Sobering thought.
The first leg I planned to just keep it low and slow so I could stay calm. I found myself with Pierre Oster, "toughest man in Minnesota". Pierre is one of the most humble and quiet guys, but has more than most to brag about. He has completed Badwater, Arrowhead 135 (he is the race director), and Leadville just to name a few.
Early on Gary Sheets passed me. I would get to know this man very well.
The first two sections were rather uneventful. I was keeping it easy. The views were spectacular. I was comletely focused on making sure I did not screw up. I had to stay properly hydraded. I actually said after 3 hours "this is great! I have already peed twice!". This was a great sign. I was drinking more than enough (dehydration has been my downfall for months).
I rolled into the Beaver Bay aid station. Karen Gall was working it and said some great encouraging words. It was a quick stop. Lynn Saari (who was crewing for her husband) said some encouraging words.
I left the station with John Taylor and Pierre Oster. Not long after that, we pulled 100 yards ahead of Pierre and came upon some railroad tracks. I said to John "wouldn't that suck if a train came right now and cut us off?". I then heard a low rumble. As we were crossing a long Taconite train was coming around the bend. I turned around and yelled "Pierre, hurry up, a train is coming". He did not make it. Funniest thing ever in a race. That was a long train.
Somewhere in there I got separated from John, and then Molly Cochran caught up to me. We ran for a little bit. We were up on top of a mountain, coming down of a rock formation when we hit the hornets. We were both attacked. I don't know how many times they got me, but at least 3. I know Molly got more. I said "this sucks, but is not going to be the worst pain we experience in the next 24 hours". She said "good thing I am not allergic to them". I found out later that she was taken to a medical clinic after she broke out in hives. She ended up having to drop. That was sad as she is a super positive person. She woudl have been able to finish.
Wayne Nelso was at the Silver Bay aid station. He helped focus. Got my act together, and I was off. The next two sections blurred into one. I was walking the uphills, but crushing the down hills. I felt great. I felt on top of the world. I as not tired. It started to rain, but it felt good. The scenery was amazing. At one point we walk along a cliff overlooking a lake. I made me rather nervous as it was very high and steep. Spectacular views. I saw a female runner taking a picture at one of the overlooks. Turns out to be Susan Donnely (she came in second). She has a long resume of ultra finishes.
I came into Tetteguchi on fire. I felt great. I was happy, relaxed, and full of energy. Alicia Gordon and Jeffrey Swainhardt got me set and I was off. Hey, there is Lynn Saari again...
All I really remember of the next section is catching up to Gary Sheets on the down hills, and him pulling away from me on the uphills. Gary has finished this race before, so he knew the course....cough cough. He said at one point "I think this is the last hill before the aid station county rd. 6" We came down off it, turned a corner, and saw a sign which said "county road 6 - 4 miles". I turned to Gary with a smile and said "bastard!". 3 or 4 more times in that section he said "this is the last one". He was wrong every time. Before the aid station, the race runs along a high ridge, very steep, and you can see the station. I asked Gary, "is it a technical down hill, or easy". He said "easy, not technical, you will be down there in no time". 10 minutes later I said "easy and not technical my ass!". He was wrong.
Tom and Nancy were at County Rd 6 making their famous grilled cheese. They also made the best broth I have ever had in my life. I took the time to get ready for the night as it would be getting dark soon. After leaving this aid station, I was feeling tired. I could not really run, so I walked hard. I then was frustrated that I was walking so much. I was thinking "man, I am going to be passed by everybody". I just kept the charge going and walked hard. Nobody passed me. I remember walking across the famous "Beaver Dam" which is just a board walk across a lake/dam/lagoon. Turns out Gary Sheets helped built that. He said first time he went across it, a beaver slapped its tail next to him and scared him half to death. I heard a lot of splashing, but did not realize I was crossing beaver dam. Dam(n).
I got dark. I dropped my hat. I dropped my s-caps. Lost them both. I just wanted to get to Finland (mile 50.5). Kind of the half point, but just shy of it. I rolled in to it a little after 13 hours. Lynn Saari took charge and got me everything I needed. How did she know? Two weeks prior she did her first 100 at Leanhorse. The aid station had good food. I still felt good, but was feeling sore.
I was off to Sonju. People speak of the infamous "Sonju roots". For some reason, I thought they were after the Sonju station. About a mile into this section, it started to get rooty. I was feeling good at this point. What is interesting about this section is, the trail is subjective. It is hard to tell the trail, from no trail. Add night, and it became a game for me. It was kind of fun. It was peacfull, as I was alone. I did not take me long to realize "this has to be the Sonju roots". This section, while technically hard, was not bad for me beacuse I still felt good.
The Sonju station was peacfull. Campfire, nice people, great soup. The said "take your time relax, enjoy, but we kick you out in 15 minutes." I was good to go.
All I remember about the next secion is some dude passed me. I could not believe he was the first to pass since mile 43. Maybe this walking plan will get me there. I did some short math. If I walked hard, I could still break 30 hours! Bring it on. I caught up to Gary again, and he was not the happy camper he was 4 hours prior. I decided to hang with him and see if we could help each other. We rolled into Crosby together. His crew was there getting him focused. Doug Barton made me a cheeseburger! Maria Barton had the station cranking. The fire was great. But I had an idea of breaking 30 hours. We had to get walking.
I left there with Gary some time around 1:30 am. Right away I could tell Gary was at a different point than me. I did not want to, but I pulled away from him. I was on a mission. This next section is highly technical. Straight down to a river. My knee starting hurting bad, and would not let me put load on it, only transfer load. It was starting to hurt bad and lock up. When I got to the bottom, I thougth "what goes down, must go up". The next climb ruined my knee. Straight up. At one point, I could not find the trail. I knew it was within 10 feet of me, but could not find it. I took a chance climbing over a boulder, and there it was.
This is almost a 10 mile section. I kept going up and up. My spirits were going starting to fall. My knee was failing. I was now very tired. Good thing I am almost to the aid station (I was still probably 6 miles away!). Daryl Saari passed me with his pacer. I said thanks to him for having such a cool wife. I tried to hang on to them, but my knee would not let me.
This post started with where I was now. Time to dig down deep. I kept pushing on. Where was the aid station? Push on. My knee hurts. Push on. I walked off the trail because I was falling asleep. I can't keep my eyes open. The trail is morphing. I need to find a place to take a nap. If I do it on the trail, the next runner behind me will probably wake me up thinking I might be dead. Can't let that happen. Where is the aid station? That was a LONG stretch. Coming up to the aid station were tiki torches. I smiled. I was there! Nap time! I am done.
I rolled into Sugarloaf. I saw Lynn across the way. Don't make eye contact, maybe she won't see me. I did not even call out my number. I went to a chair by the fire and buried my face in my hands. Why did I pay money to do this? Someone took my pack and worked on it.
There were a few runners who had dropped there, and were wrapped up in a blanket by the fire, enjoying conversations. Pierre was there! How did that happen? Unfortunately, he had dropped. I guess the Leanhorse 50 mile two weeks prior was catching up to him.
I had some food. Some coffee. I was going to hang here for a while. Get comfy. Take a nap. Figure out what to do with my knee. I guess I am not cut out for the 100 distance. I was just happy at that point to be in front of a fire and not running.
Then a voice said, "time is up, get out there!" What? I am not doing that. No way. "All you have to do is get to the next aid station. 5 miles"
I saw Bill Gengler had just come in. Maybe I could hold on to him until the next station.
I don't know how it happened, but I left that aid station follwoing Bill. The sun came up shortly after, and I was a new man. All I remember about this section is it rained. But for some reason I did not care. It was great hanging with Bill. He is a tough dude.
Eventually we came to a road, close to Cramer road. I saw Larry Pederson marking part of the start to Moose Mountain Marathon, which starts at the next aid station, in half an hour! I said to Larry, "is it too late to sign up for the marathon?".
I was psyched to get to the station, thinking maybe I would see familiar faces who are running the marathon. Kel got this picture as I was walking in. I was still a little loopy.
Bill Parker and Wayne Nelson came to cheer me on. Thanks Guys!
I think I said to Bill Gengler "we are almost done!" (25 miles left). Aside from the incredible pain I felt going down and hill, I felt renewed. The Marathon runners blew by us, and gave great encouragement. Bill got ahead of me, and I just pressed on.
Temperance station came, and I felt victory withing reach. The next section is not long, but a hard climb up Carlton Peak. That destroyed me knee, again. My knee took turns working, then not working. Limping was not fun, but I thought I could get to the end.
At the Sawbill aid station, my new crew (Lynn) got me situated and asked "don't you have a hat?" I said I dropped it a long time ago. "is it white?" yeah. "Pierre picked it up, I have it". Funny how that works.
Gary Sheets came into the station as I was chowing on something. I wished hime luck and told him to catch up to me. I left the aid station, and shortly after, he caught up. I told him we were going to finish this thing together. He was on pace to PR. He did not believe he would, which gave me resolve to get us there for his PR.
I started seeing weird things in the bushes. Weird things in the leaves. Was I going nuts?
John Taylor caught us right before the last aid station. He was going to finish strong.
We rolled into Oberg, final aid station. I asked Kurt King what time it was. He answered with a time and I said "wrong, it is time for me to get my jacket and belt buckle". I went over to where Gary was and "chop chop, time is money, let's go get our buckle!"
We were off. I was a constant chatter of "we are going to get it, we are almost there".
I was worried about Moose Mountain as my legs and knee were trashed, and this is one heck of a climb. We go there. We were two pathetic babies climbing that sucker. We would go 40-50 ft. and rest. Close to the top, I saw my kids hiding in the bushes, waiting to suprise me! I can't believe they came up to cheer me on!
BOY WAS I LOOSING IT!
Turns out it was a buch of sticks and leaves. I was seeing faces in leaves, animals which were logs, and so on. We got to the top of Moose, and I could taste the finish.
Eventually, we made it to the trail head. Then crossed the river. I raised my hands pumping them. When we got to the dirt road, I turned to Gary and said "I can't believe we are about to finish this thing" We were walking. We said we would run from the Gondola to the finish.
I looked behind us. Another runner. Just a 50 miler passing us.
NO! He as a red bib. He is a 100 miler! Dude, we can't get passed in the last quarter mile! So we ran. This cat was closing on us. No way, not today. Gary and hit the fence to the pool by the finish line and I yelled with glee "100 milers coming through"
We crossed in 33 hours 39 minutes, only seconds ahead of that guy who chased us in.
I gave Larry a hug and called him a sick bastard. He laughed and said thank you.
Kel also caught a picture of us finishing
I was so high, I don't remember the next ten minutes.
I saw Carl and was crushed to hear he had to drop. Steve, Adam, Kel, Brent, Jim Wilson gave me congratulations. It was great.
There is so much more to say, but this has become too long. Stuff for posts later.
On the way home my foot started swelling, and by the time I got home, I was a little nervous. My wife made me go to urgent care. The hornet stings decided to swell now.
Not sure why this happened two days later. Swelling has gone down today.
All I can say right now is thanks to everybody who was so supportive in this mission. All of the emails I received, I took in my pack, and were with me all night.
Too many thanks to too many people. I will find a way to thank you all somehow.
It was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself, but most importantly I learned this.
When you dig down deep, eventually you will find you can't dig anymore. At that point hand the shovel to someone and they will dig deeper for you.
Thanks to Lynn Saari for taking the shovel.