Superior Trail 100 -- Race Report: Sept 11-12, 2004
We had a fantastic time and enjoyed almost every mile of the unbelievably beautiful trails. We owe all of it to our wonderful crew, Daniel's parents, Virgil & Verena. Without their help, we probably would not have finished. We can't thank them enough.
1) We sent in our application + $350 check in May. The race directors cashed our check immediately. However, when we tried to contact them, starting in July, to figure out if there were pre- or post- race activities so we could plan our flights and accomodations, we got no reply. Over the course of the 2 months prior to the race, we sent 4 emails (of increasing urgency), called many times and left 2 phone messages (both very urgent). We even sent a letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope, so all they would have to do is write a few lines and put it back in the mail for us. However, we received no reply. Furthermore, the race registration on active.com was closed in mid-August, weeks before the official August 31st deadline. We assumed the race had been cancelled due to low turnout, and that the race directors had just taken our $350 and run. Finally, a week before the race, we received a mass mailing about the race, which contained a print-out of the website (which we had already printed, although it did not have much information to begin with), plus some poorly xeroxed and impossible-to-read maps. No answers to any of our questions. We still had no idea if we were the only runners.
2) The pre-race meeting was disorganized and un-informative. It started about an hour late. It seemed that it was just a question-and-answer session, and if nobody had asked specific questions we would not have learned that one of the aid stations had been eliminated altogether and another would be water only. (They were even still accepting drop bags for the missing aid station!)
3) At the Crosby Manitou Park aid station, the course made a 5-mile loop around Bensen Lake and returned to the same aid station. At this aid station, the daughter of the RD sent the leaders out the wrong direction without doing the loop. All of these runners subsequently dropped out.
4) We were told that glow-sticking would start at mile 60, so our goal was to make it to mile 60 by dark. We barely made it, and we were in 4th and 5th place at that point. It turned out there were no glow sticks until mile 65. So pretty much everybody had a long stretch in the dark without glow-sticks. Some of the turns before mile 65 were unmarked, and we took a small detour ourselves, but it luckily only cost us a few minutes. Ironically, the glow-sticks went on to the end of the race, so 13 miles of trail at the end were glow-sticked even though nobody reached this section while it was still dark.
5) We were told there would be potatoes at the aid stations. I assumed this meant all of the aid stations. Actually the potatoes didn't start until mile 50. And they were canned and pre-pealed potatoes with the consistency of rubber. We weren't even sure if they were cooked, or if they had just been canned raw. I tried to eat one and couldn't (potatoes are usually my staple). How hard would it have been to boil a few real potatoes and put them at all the aid stations?
6) The crew instructions to the mile 50 aid station were wrong. The instructions directed the crews instead to another aid station for the concurrent 50-mile race, about half a mile further along the trail. Since it was illegal to accept aid from crews more than 100 feet away from any official 100-mile aid station, we had to pass right by Virgil and Verena without taking the body glide and potatoes I so desperately needed at that point! It was another 5 miles before we would see them again. For some people, this was surely their last aid station in the light, so they would not even be able to legally accept their flashlights from their crews! (And remember, there were no glow-sticks until mile 65.)
7) There was a 13+ mile stretch in the dark with no aid. One aid station was eliminated completely, and the previous one was an un-manned water drop only. Luckily we saw the water jug, but it was small and dark, so some people missed it completely. At least one person missed the water drop and needed water so desperately that he ended up drinking from a river! I think we were moving along at a reasonable clip for the darkness and terrain (at least we passed one person), but it still took us 5 hours to cover this section. That's a long time to go without aid in the dark!
8) Apparently (we heard this from another runner who DNF'd) the drop bags did not all make it to the intended aid stations. This runner DNF'd because his drop bag with warm clothes did not make it to the appropriate aid station in time for nightfall. He knew about the 13 mile stretch, and didn't want to set out for that long without his warm clothes.
9) As far as I could tell, there was no hot water at the night aid stations. Also, I don't think there were any race volunteers at any aid stations after mile 75. The only people there were runners' crews.
10) There was no food at the finish. There was going to be a barbecue starting at 5pm, but we finished 7 hours before that, so if we hadn't had a crew, we would have had no food for 7 hours!
11) The prize for race finishers was a nice red fleece vest with a ST100 logo. I was really excited about this vest. I asked for a size small. The race director said "oh, we never get size small, nobody is size small". I said runners are small people. She reiterated with absolute confidence that nobody is size small. Actually these vests were huge. Daniel is usually an XL, but size L fit him perfectly. I asked for a size medium, but it turns out there were no size mediums either. She had only L and XL. This is probably the most disappointing thing to me about the whole race. I worked hard for that vest, and I really wanted it. I ended up not even taking one, because two of me would fit inside a size L. And there was at least one runner in this race who was 35 lbs smaller than me!
12) When I went to check in, my name was on the starting list as "JULIE Hoffman". (My name is JENNY.) Somehow they got this wrong despite numerous phone calls, 4 emails, snail mail, etc. I managed to convince them to correct it. Then, on the results list, my husband DANIEL LarsOn is listed as "DAVID LarsEn", even though he was correct on the starter's list. You'd think that with only 28 runners to keep track of, they could get at least one of our names right!
13) I know that other runners thought the directors did a great job with "limited resources" and "not enough volunteers". However, it seems that the $165 race application fee would have been sufficient to purchase a few more edible resources. Also, I understand completely why there are no volunteers. If the race directors won't respond to email, phone calls, or snail mail, then how in the world would anybody be able to volunteer?
Good things about the race:
1) The first 95 miles of the trail are really beautiful. I mean really, really, really beautiful. Some of the most beautiful trail I've ever been on.
2) Some campers along the night section of the trail had brought drums and built a bonfire, and they were beating the drums and whooping and cheering for us. It was really heart-warming! (Unfortunately, I think the noise they were making was responsible for the loss of one of our night aid stations. Apparently, although they were not officially affiliated with the race, they must have done this last year too, and the campground director was so angry about the noise that he disallowed the nearest aid station.)
3) From the point the glowsticks started, they were really well done. There were certainly long stretches without them, but they were there whenever there was a turn or confusing section of trail.
4) The fires at some of the night aid stations were really great. I'm not sure who started the fires, but it was so great to have a nice warm fire suddenly appear in view after hours of cold & dark trudging.
5) The race ended at a high school, so there were locker rooms and hot showers right at the finish. (Unfortunately this meant that the last 5 miles of trail were pretty awfully ugly compared to the beauty of the first 95 miles, but I guess I still preferred to have the shower access at the finish.)
6) The other runners were really friendly. I think that's the advantage of a low-key event like this.
I'm really glad we did this race. We loved the beautiful trail, we met some cool people, and we were very pleased with our accomplishment. However, I don't think we could have finished without a crew. At least 4 people ahead of us, all crewless, DNF'd. The aid stations were too meager, undersupplied, understaffed, and the drop bags were too poorly organized.
I am still quite frustrated with the race directors. I would not recommend this as a first 100-mile experience, because it was way too nerve-wracking to have such an information void before the race. It is also frustrating to not get the finisher prize (the vest) for my first 100-miler, just because the race director cannot conceive that anybody might actually be size small. I also would not recommend this 100-miler to anybody, experienced or not, without a good trustworthy crew.
However, despite the frustrations, it was beautiful and a great experience for us. If you have a trustworthy crew, and if you are up for a good challenge and willing to be laid-back about the disorganization, then I would recommend this race. Make sure you buy everything you will want to eat at the grocery store beforehand, and make sure that your crew makes it to every aid station, because you cannot depend on the official aid station food, and you cannot depend on your drop bags. But most importantly, make sure you enjoy the beautiful trails!