"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

2008 Superior Trail 50K Race Report (final version)


Two weeks after spraining my ankle and a week after a tough 50 miler, I went to Lutsen to run on the toughest course in the midwest. I drove up the morning of the race, starting at 2 AM. I nearly hit a deer ten minutes into the drive and encountered a wrong-way driver near the Black Bear casino. With the sun in my eyes as I drove the scenic Highway 61, but enjoying the budding trees and the occasional glimpses of rushing water without tourists stopping to take photos, I was getting in the right mood. One of the things I love about small cities is that, instead of country music and Christian talk, there's an abundance of "meat rock." After singing along with Joe Walsh, I switched channels and did it again. If every station's playing "Rocky Mountain Way" at 4:30 AM, you're in Duluth.


Lots of familiar faces and familiar jokes. Yes, I brought a water bottle (thank goodness; I needed it). Brief explanation that my "first" at Ice Age was going to a Starbucks. I was a little anxious about what to wear, as it was 69 degrees in St. Paul, but about 40 in Lutsen, with temperatures expected to climb fast - and they did; I shed a long-sleeved shirt and hat at one of the aid stations, but later than I should have.


I told everyone that I planned to start slow... and then taper. I thought I was going in slow motion at the beginning, but I was ahead of a lot of people that I knew would finish ahead of me. How can you go slow on a wide-open gravel road?


There are mountains in Minnesota, though they'd barely qualify as foothills anywhere where there are real mountains, and the course goes over several. The path is very rugged, all rocks and roots and some muddy patches covered in corduroy (small logs placed side by side). After the run, I looked at Kate Havelin's book on Minnesota trails and her description is as good as any you'll see, so... buy a copy!

The first climb is on Moose Mountain, which had a lot of downed trees, some from an old blow-down, some just hacked into a passable state the previous day. I was running with a pack including some serious trail runners and feeling good; my fried quads from the week before had healed nicely, if not my ankle.

Oh, yes, about the ankle

I first rolled the ankle 25 minutes into the run (I checked my watch) and it wasn't bad. I rolled it again at 50 Minutes and it really hurt; I had to abandon any idea of running hard and let anyone pass who wanted. At 100 minutes (the evenness of time made it memorable) I fell and was slow in getting back to running. I rolled it again on some corduroy and now it was not stable, but flopped with a will of its own. I rolled it again. And again. And again. And then, with 5 miles to go, I rolled it and nearly passed out from the pain.

After the race, I was sure it was broken, because I could move something structural with my fingers that shouldn't move. Thanks to the army of people who fetched ice and anti-inflammatories and food and especially to the guy who asked for me to lean on him as I went up the steps to my car. I drove straight home, just ahead of storm clouds I could see in the rear-view mirror the whole way and arrived in the cities at the time the doors of the clinic where I had it examined were about to close.

Anatomy lesson

The bony protuberance on the outside of the ankle (lateral malleolus) attaches the smaller shinbone (fibula) to the heelbone (calcaneus) and anklebone (talus) by the lateral collateral ligament. This ligament has three bands: anterior and posterior talofibular ligaments and the calcaneofibular ligament. I have a small break in the malleolus, two large tears in the anterior talofibular (which is why I could move it) and a small tear in the calcaneofibular.

I'll be back. By FANS. Congrats to everyone else who had a good day up there, especially to Wynn, who flies over rocks unbelievably fast and to Matt, who is making a name for himself.

Ghosts on the path

Chuck Hubbard was stationed at the turn around. I hadn't seen him in almost a decade and though he recognized me, I wouldn't have placed him. Back in the day, he was unbeatable and I was slow and out of shape (and thinking anyone who ran ultras was an idiot), but we ran together at times on my home course. I really wanted to stop and talk a long time and had hoped to catch him after the race. All I really got to say is that I hoped to see him back racing some day; he probably didn't know that I've heard all about why he had to stop - at best third hand gossip - and know how hard a comeback would be. Still, if anyone knows about lowered expectations, it's me.

About the second aid station, I had a nice talk with a woman I met once before, Traci Amundson, about Texas accents, running with cows and grad school. When Matt Patten passed me, I told him I did actually pick a flower on the way (Dutchman's breeches); he was on his way to a great run - he was afraid he'd crash because of the previous week's 50 miler, but he looked strong.

Just past the turn-around, I saw Julie Berg and told her I thought she was going to beat me, but she wasn't so sure. It's always amazing that she underestimates herself so - when she caught me about 24-25 miles, she was still her ever-cheerful self. One thing I've learned from her is to exclaim to everyone on the trail "Isn't this great?" though she really means it and I'm usually trying to convince myself.

I ran a long section with a guy from Brainerd (Christian Hart) who was really a nice guy, but was just rubbing me the wrong way. We ended up sort of trash-talking and I remember telling him he was like a horsefly I just wanted to shake. Sorry about that. He did push me to run a lot harder and, when his hamstrings bothered him, I tried to put some distance between us. I could hear him after my last bad ankle roll talking to a 25K runner and, try as I might, I knew I couldn't hold him off. And I'd even tried telling some hikers going the other way on the trail, "when you see a guy without a shirt, tell him he looks bad."

I can be evil sometimes.

Lighter side

Be sure to check out the photo of the snowman on Wayne's blog. I think it's a different one than the one I saw at the base of Leveaux!

Final note

If the bum ankle weren't enough, I caught a cold, so it's forced recovery for me... as soon as I mow the lawn.


Kel said...

Yikes! I was worried about you being able to drive...

Take care of yourself and heal fast!

Wayne said...

Steve, as we briefly discussed while passing on the trail, when I said "Good job, keep it rolling" I didn't mean the ankle. I hope you heal up well and don't do any permanent damage.

Carl Gammon said...

Way to hang tough, Steve. Even the anatomical description sounds painful.

I'll be looking for you at FANS, and hope your ankle is feeling fine by then.

keith said...

You'll be 100% and fast as always soon. I'm just amazed you did as well as you did on a broken ankle. I would still be clinging to the side of the mountain.

Julie B said...

Oh geeze. I'm sorry, Steve. Hmmm...I guess a forced rest (you will rest now, won't you?) is a good way for a forced taper before FANS. You'll be healed and running quick in no time. See ya there.

phillip gary said...

Why did Chuck stop?
I introduced myself to him as I rounded the peak without knowing who he was before hand.k

Matthew Patten said...

I had no idea that was Chuck.

I have only seen him as he would lap me at Trail Mix. If he turned around and put on running clothes I might have recognized him.

Good luck at fans

WynnMan said...

Steve, nice finish despite the injury. Just take it easy and you will be ready to roll for FANS, which will require a lot less thinking about where your next step will be.

You have had some great one liners at races. Superior Finish: " DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY ICE!"

Chippewa Race half way mark: "DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY DRY SOCKS!"

sea legs girl said...

My husband and I find your blog extremely funny. It is fun to imagine your "12 foot step" and thanks to you we now know what an interrobang is.

Hope the foot heals quickly so we can see you out on the trails (again).