Written by Race Director John Storkamp
The Tribute to Jon:
The 2018 / 16th annual Superior Spring Trail Race was run in the memory of, and dedicated to, Jon Mathson. At the Friday evening pre-race meeting we read the following statement which was jointly crafted between myself and Kevin Langton…
“We run this year’s race in memory Jon Mathson; a father, a husband and a friend to many, who passed away at the age of 41 from cardiac arrest during last year’s race. Jon was a three-time finisher of the Superior 25K race, loved trail running and mountain biking with friends, and was an avid birder. Jon taught Earth Science and Chemistry at Eagan High School and was revered by his students and co-workers alike. Jon is survived by his wife, Becky, and his son, Dylan. May we use this year’s race as an opportunity to consider Jon’s zeal for life, his energy and love. May we remember the void his absence has left his friends and family and support their grief, but also share their joy when they remember all the awesomeness that was Jon. May we consider the efforts of the volunteers, medical workers, and fellow runners who worked to save him. May we use his memory and passing as a reminder to love without restraint, to live life to its fullest, to run with abandon, to share experiences, and to love today with all we have, remembering there are no guarantees of tomorrow. Tomorrow we run for Jon.”
The dedication to Jon was not just a pleasant thought or an obligatory gesture, anyone that was at last years race consciously or subconsciously carried some of the weight of what had happened for the entire year – as the race director, I know I certainly did and so did many of our volunteers. Over the course of the last year, sometimes it felt like we were holding our collective breath, knowing that before long we would be back to this place, on this day, to see if in fact everything could or would be OK. Jon’s college buddies who have made Superior an annual get together were with us again, although this time in larger numbers – they felt like they needed to be back in this place on this day too. Some of the first volunteers I interacted with on Friday for setup were Ben and Jeff, two of Jon’s closest friends – it is hard to articulate what that gesture meant to me, to the race and to our entire community. The day before the race a small group of Jon’s friends made a pilgrimage to the site where Jon spent his final moments and hung a simple and subtle memorial, nothing grandiose needed, as Jon’s memory and this beautiful place were he spent his final moments are larger than life all on their own. Race day arrived and it was to be a good day – a day of purging, closure and joy.
Given some really tough race conditions at Minnesota races at the end of last season (the mud at Wild Duluth) and some impossible race conditions at the beginning of this season (the blizzard at Zumbro) it is safe to say that everyone was also holding their breath regarding trail conditions and weather for this years Superior Trail Race. A reality of the North Shore and the Superior Hiking Trail is that when the fire danger is high (meaning that it is very dry due to a lack of precipitation), the trail is correspondingly dry and in good shape, and this was certainly the case for this years race. Warm, windy and sunny weather the weeks prior had things pretty well dried up except in the lowest and muddiest spots and the trails were in stellar shape by Superior Hiking Trail standards – overnight we had some light showers and more of the same in the morning, but the rain was never heavy and had little effect on the trail. The temps were cool if you were running and cold if you were standing around – near perfect conditions for early season trail running and the performances and finish rates indicated as much.
In 2003, the inaugural year of the Superior Spring Trail Race, Minnesota Ultrarunning Dog Pack legend Charlie “Turbo Dog” Hubbard clocked a 3:56:09 – his win was no surprise at the time as “Chuck” was winning and owned course records at most of the states trail and ultra races, heck, at one point Charlie held all three course records at the same time at the competitive and mountainous Big Horn ultras in Montana – course records at the 100M, the 50M and the 50K at the same time! Charlie still owns the 9th and 12th fastest times ever run on the Superior 50K course and today is retired from racing on the trails. As is usually the case, along came an even more accomplished runner with an even better pedigree. Chris Lundstrom was a Standford alumn who raced on championship teams there. Chris was a road runner by trade and a one time pro who had participated in three Olympic Marathon Trials with a Marathon PR in the 2:17 range. Chris’s first run at the 50K came in 2009 and even after five times racing it remained his best time at 3:48:56 but it should be noted, that the course changed a few years later to being just a touch longer longer – the course used to turn around at the Carlton Summit Spur and today goes all the way to the summit which at those paces is worth a few minutes. To this day Chris holds the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest times on the course! Chris being a founding member of Team USA Minnesota, an elite distance running development squad based out of Minneapolis Minnesota is now the coach of that organization and puts more focus on others running than on his own. In 2017 on his fourth go at the Superior 50K, Ben Cogger of Duluth, MN broke Lundstrom’s course record, clocking a convincing 3:45:28 – if it would have been anyone else but Cogger, I think everyone would have been shocked but Ben does one thing and one thing only on the trails, runs fast and wins. While Lundstrom came from a road racing background; the requisite high mileage and structured training, Ben’s gift seems to be in that he excels when training is exclusively on trails, not overly structured and the weekly volume stays moderate (we interviewed Cogger after his 2017 win at the Afton Trail Run you can find that interview HERE https://www.aftontrailrun.com/trail-specialist-an-interview-with-2017-afton-25k-winner-benjamin-cogger/ . Coming into this years race, Cogger was the heavy favorite and with excellent trail conditions and near perfect weather for running a fast time, Cogger lowered the record again to an astonishing 3:42:09. For perspective on that performance, 2017 Superior 100 mile winner Neal Collick placed second in 4:07:41. In the men’s masters division, the early favorite, Dimitri Djrekonja clocked a 4:32:50, this in his 7th participation at the event. As is customary Dimitiri finished out the day volunteering for the race as a race MD. On the women’s side, with the current course record holder (4:30:32) Emily Tholen (formerly Gordon) volunteering this year at the Oberg Aid Station – Michelle Pratt of Albany NY cruised to a win in 4:53:07. 2016 50K champion Laura Albares was second while 2013 25KM champion Heidi Skildum was 3rd. The most experienced Superior Spring Trail Race runner of any distance / Superior Trail Race martiarch Maria Barton took 1st in the Grand Masters division in her 11th time running the 50K! Maria has also run the 25K twice. Registered: 290, Started: 243 (84%), DNF: 11, Finished: 232 (95.5%)
Having gotten a later start to his season than he had hoped for, trail racing phenom of the last few years, Chase Nowak of Minneapolis, MN opened the door, for others to challenge him and while he would normally be gunning for a course record and running clear in front, it was clear that on the day he was seeking only the win as he allowed masters runner Luke Nelson an opportunity to catch him in the last flat mile, but at the finish Chase did end up taking it in 2:00:51, Luke finishing just 40 seconds behind. Cassie Pratt, from the trail running hotbed of La Crosse, WI was the first woman across the finish line and was impressively fifth place overall in a time 2:05:41. Having run the 11th fastest time ever at the more competitive Afton Trail Run 25KM last year, she follows up with the second fastest time ever run on the Superior 25KM course, just minutes behind the extremely accomplished Emma Spoon. The masters female title went to Sarah Hill in a time good enough to be the fourth fastest time run on the course for a masters female. Registered: 361, Started: 298 (83%), DNF: 1, Finished: 297 (99.7%)
As everyone who participated quickly learned by experiencing the newly added 12.5KM (7.75MI) race distance at the Superior Spring Trail Race, it may now be considered the darling of the Superior Spring Trail Race weekend. If the hype of the new distance was not enough, two Superior Trail Race giants would be duking it out in this stunning arena. Superior 100 mile course record holder Jake Hegge (19:30:37 set in 2015) would be going head to head with longstanding Midwest speedster Wynn Davis who is 11 years his senior – Wynn having won the Superior 100 all the back in 2007 when Jake was only 15 years old. While the Race Director teased the younger Hegge on several occasions leading up to the race that Wynn would get the best of him, it ended up not being by much at all. Running mostly stride for stride, the younger Hegge who was likely more nimble on the technical flats and and downhills could not answer Wynn’s road speed once they hit the final stretch – Davis finishing in 54:48 and Hegge in 55:45. On the women’s side, Bayli Maliszewski took the win in 1:13:30, but the headline is probably in the fact that the first three women were only separated by 4 seconds and that the third place finisher, Hadley Knight is only 10 years old! Being a family affair, both Hadley’s Mom and Dad participated in the 12.5K race as well. The entire Hadley family are oft volunteers for RSR events, Hadley literally growing up in our trail community. As we had hoped it would, the 12.5K opened up racing on the Superior Trail to a wider audience generally as nicely highlighted with new records for both the youngest and oldest ever finishers for any of the Spring and Fall trail races with 8 year old Sonya Shyrshova and 76 year old Burgess Ebehardt both reaching the finish line! Registered: 276, Started: 228 (83%), DNF: 0, Finished: 228 (100%)
Well after all the front runners had come and gone and even after the youngest and oldest ever to finish had crossed, the clock struck 4PM, which is the official finish line cutoff for all distances – but those 25K and 50K runners that make the cutoff at Oberg are allowed to continue. All but one 50K runner had finished, who the sweeps had since caught and had happily taken on as their their personal project for the day. With a few opportunities to bail along the way, the runner, now with a team around her were determined to finish, their journey a roller coaster not only due to that last hilly section but due to the range of emotions that young lady experienced as she pushed on. After a completely overcast day, the clouds cleared and the sun shone in full force and shortly thereafter cheers could be heard from those that remained around the finish line, the requisite yelp of “sweeps are in!” could be heard and one last emotional runner would break down in tears on the finish line, first in the arms of strangers and then again when passed into the arms of loved ones. It was a day for purging, closure and joy and I think it is safe to say that we don’t have to hold our breath anymore.