Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Superior Fall 100, 50, and Marathon: Volunteer Report

Well, that was pretty awesome.

Ever since last year's Fall Superior trail races I knew I wanted to be involved this year. The Superior 100 is a classic, long-running, point-to-point hundred miler (actually 103.3 mi) on the Superior Hiking Trail. It is, as the motto suggests, Relentless, Rugged, and Remote. In terms of the number of runners, the scale of the operation, and the volunteer force needed to make it go, it's probably the biggest trail running event of the season around here.

I volunteered to work the overnight aid station at Sugarloaf, mile 72.3. Then, two weeks before the race, I ran with Travis, who needed a pacer for the final 18 miles. Well, sure, I could do that. Then we decided to all go to the North Shore, instead of me going solo. The schedule was filling up. In retrospect, the weekend was a bit overfilled, and we won't do it that way again... but every part of it was pretty great. 

This is the aid station volunteer report. The pacing report is here.  It really needed its own post. Apologies for the relative lack of pictures; it was dark, and then I was busy. It's still a good story, though.

En Route: Jay Cooke and the North Shore

Friday morning, we packed up and took off for the North Shore, stopping off for lunch and a hike/rock scramble at Jay Cooke State Park.
It was great to be back at the swinging bridge!
 The weather was unbelievably beautiful, with clear blue skies, sunshine, and crisp air. It was just cool enough that the fire in the Jay Cooke fireplace felt nice.
Rock scrambling on his 8th birthday
Wildflowers and wild mushrooms
Playing in the river channels
 We made the rest of the drive up to Tofte and checked into our cabin. After making some dinner and exploring the lake shore, we headed up to my aid station. The first runners wouldn't be through till after 10 pm, but the volunteers, headed by Jan and Joe O'Brien, were already setting things up when we got there at 7. We took a short hike up the Superior Hiking Trail. It was muddy and wild king bolete, lobster, and Amanita muscaria mushrooms were everywhere -- the first two delicious edibles, the latter a hallucinogen. The 8 year old loved running up and down the trail (yelling "CANNONBALL!!!"), and the 5 year old kept asking incredulously, "Do people really run on this?"

Overnight Aid Station

As darkness fell, the boys headed out and aid station prep continued. The tents and tables went up, the generator fired up Christmas lights, we set up camp stoves, and Karey and I cut up fruit and made dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As the sun set, the air cooled off, eventually reaching temperatures in the 40s. Runners coming through would be comfortable in a base layer and shorts, but standing in the woods with a little dampness in the air, we cooled down quickly. Everyone dug out more clothes.

I knew that if I was going to pace 18 miles the next day I needed some rest. At 9 pm, when preparations were well underway and no runners were arriving yet, I went off to the tent for a 3 hour nap. Surprisingly refreshed, I emerged at midnight to find that a half-dozen runners had come through. Two or three crews were settled in folding chairs with their dogs, waiting for their runners. There was quiet conversation, punctuated by cheers and excitement when a runner and pacer came into the aid station. (No cowbell; people were taking turns napping).

"Woohoo! Runner in! Lookin' good. What can we get you? We've got hot coffee, hot soup, bacon, lefse with sugar and butter..."
... and the usual aid station deliciousness, of course.
 Sugarloaf comes just after one of the longest, hardest sections of trail: 9.4 miles from Crosby Manitou, through a steep technical descent and climb out of a gorge, then a long run along a ridge. Runners looked relieved to be through and on to a new section. It was nice to be able to tell them, "There are no more sections that are that long. And the next sections's only 5.6 miles and more runnable!"

So many amazing runners and crews. After three minutes of chat, one pacer said to his runner, "Well, this has been delightful, but it's really time to be going now." And off they went. One frontrunner exclaimed, "This is harder than Badwater!" April beamed at everyone and looked like she'd started running about 10 minutes ago. Grant came through and gamely tried the lefse, and a bit of everything else. Several runners complained the course was poorly marked, then one came in and said, "I moved some of the markers so they're easier to see now." Lesley's crew ran down a printed checklist with her. She saw me goggling at this incredible level of organization and said, apologetically, "We're engineers." I said, "Will you come do that for me? Not at a race, just for my life?"

Marcus's dad hung out with us for a long time, chatting. So did Mike Jambor. Todd showed up, having paused in his pacing duties to escort a sick runner back to Crosby-Manitou. He gave us updates on who had dropped and who was still running well, then got impatient and headed backward on the trail to find Kathy. A runner who had dropped at an earlier station showed up and waited for a ride. We wrapped him in a space blanket and a sleeping bag and he crashed in a chair for a while.

A couple running the 100 cheerfully announced that they were dropping. Why? I asked. "This really isn't running. This trail isn't runnable." "You both look great and daylight is coming. Why don't you do one more section and think about it?" I suggested. "No, we're going to go get breakfast. Bye!"

Around 6 am, the sky began to glow in the east and runners told us about the incredible moon-set they had witnessed on the trail. With the brightening sky, everyone's mood lifted. The air began to warm.

Runners coming in now had been on the trail for 22 hours, and some of them were beginning to have difficulties. The leaders had all blazed through looking strong, but now we began to see a few runners who stared at the aid-station food as if nothing looked appealing, a few who collapsed into a chair and began stripping off muddy shoes hesitantly, as though they were afraid of what they'd find inside, one or two whose crew surrounded them and began intense resuscitation work.

The sun climbed. We shed layers, Joe cooked bacon and bratwurst, we made more soup, drank coffee. Now we had three or four runners at a time in the aid station and things were busy. I taped a few gnarly-looking feet, handed out Tums and Vaseline, dug in my own stash for ginger chews, K-Tape, and spare batteries. I made peanut-butter bananas for a runner who didn't know what to eat, mixed Tailwind for a few runners, put Tegaderm on a friend's chafed back. Gave hugs to friends who were coming through, and encouragement and cheer to everyone else.

Things got really busy once the 50-mile racers started showing up around 8 am. The front-runners looked so fast compared to the 100 milers we'd been seeing for the last 10 hours! We all woke up a bit more so we could do fast water-bottle refills for runners in a hurry.

By 9 or 10 am, the sun was warm and the aid station was in full swing, with crowds of 50 and 100 mile runners, crews, pacers, friends, kids, and dogs filling the station and the road. We went through water, ice, oranges, we even ran out of Coke by the end. Lots of friends came through, killing it in the 50 and 100 mile. I got sweaty hugs and big smiles. My runner, Travis, came in with Arika and we handed him off to Steph to run him the next 13 miles, where I would pick him up. Jordan, who's running Gnarly Bandit, came in looking a little rough, and Rick revived him with bratwurst and Cheetos. A few friends running the 100 came in looking like they were having trouble. Their crews descended on them and rendered aid. I was busy with blisters, queasy stomachs, and iffy ankles. I, then Lisa, then Joy the medic, spent a while with a runner who had unusual chest pain and tingling hands.

The tide was slowing by 11 am, and the station's cut-off time was 11:45. The sweep crew arrived and stood around looking ready to go. By 11:30, we were focusing on keeping runners moving through efficiently. "You can't stay here long, but let's pack you some food to take along. What sounds good? Sandwiches? Okay, here's a bag."

At 11:40, Beth rolled in, running the 50-mile. Her husband and kids ran to meet her and I heard her little boy say, "Mommy, you made the cutoff you were worried about! Now I KNOW you'll win!" It was the awesomest thing I had heard all morning.

At 11:42, a runner came in and asked if I could tape his ankle. Yes, but quickly. I taped, he taped some more. "You've got to go now," I said. "Shoes on? Great. Stand up. Hat on. Stick in this hand. Bag of sandwiches in this hand. You're set. Go!" He went. The sweep crew headed out. The aid station was closed.

After some clean-up and break-down work, part one of my 24 hour Superior adventure was over. It was time to get ready to pace.

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