Photo Credit – Scott Rokis | Photo highlights from the 2022 race can be found HERE https://www.superiorspringtrailrace.com/photos-2022-highlights/
For those of you that don’t need another dissertation from me, I totally get it. I will just say thank you for being part of a unique event and an unexpectedly incredible experience. Making the tough decisions we did last weekend and pulling off a safe and fun event was only made possible with your trust and support. For those that would like a glimpse behind the scenes leading up to the ‘Plan C’ race and a recap of the day, please see the section after “Housekeeping”.
Results can be found HERE https://www.superiorspringtrailrace.com/2022-results/ please keep in mind that due to the very unique format that we put in place at the last minute, timing the race was a little more challenging than normal and there could be errors / anomalies in the results here and there. If you see something out of place please let us know and we can reference the data from our two backup systems in order to correct. A huge thank you to our fantastic timers.
A huge thank you to all of our photographers. Photos can be found HERE https://www.superiorspringtrailrace.com/photos/ a couple of galleries are in, and there is at least one more on its way.
Folks always ask where can they purchase t-shirts, hats etc. after the race, those items can be found HERE https://www.rocksteadyrunning.com/shop/
If you would like to join, we have a really great online community (not social media) https://community.rocksteadyrunning.com/
Please support our outstanding sponsors, they support us, and in turn support you https://www.superiorspringtrailrace.com/sponsors/
Did you appreciate all of the volunteers this weekend? Are you not running the Superior Fall Trail Race? Please consider volunteering, more info can be found HERE https://www.superiorfalltrailrace.com/read-first/
A reminder that due to the change in format this year, we will guarantee that anyone who was selected in the lottery this year will make it through next year should they choose to register. You will need to pay the full 2023 entry fee once selected. All you have to do is enter during the 15 day registration period using the same name and email address as you used this year, we will match it and you will get in.
As always, should you have any questions, please reach out.
Superior Trail Race
Superior 2022, Plan C – An Odyssey:
I am going to start from the beginning, the very beginning. In 2003 my friends Rick and Linda Lindquist founded the Superior Spring Trail Race as a companion event to the Superior Fall Trail Race which had already been going on for 13 years, circa 1991. Rick was a three time top six finisher of the Superior 100 (1995, 1997, 2001). Rick also directed the 100 mile race for one year. He says that directing the 100 for one year took ten years off of his life, but that is a story for another time. The Superior 100 Mile Trail Race is the 10th oldest 100 miler in the country, something that we can all be very proud of – thanks Harry, Darlene, Rick, Larry and your spouses for your direction during each of your tenure(s). This new Spring race provided an opportunity for those not ready to tackle the Superior 50 Mile or Superior 100 Mile an opportunity to run a shorter race on the rugged single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail or simply get a Spring training race in on the trail (the Moose Mountain Marathon was not founded until 2004). The race was then and still is very intentionally held the weekend before Memorial Day weekend before the Summer tourist season goes into full swing; when lodging, trails and trailheads start to get really busy. Rick and Linda directed the race for a few years and it was eventually passed off to Mike and Gretchen Perbix (formerly Haas). Gretchen born and raised in Hastings Minnesota, same as me. After volunteering a number of years and having already taken over the Fall race, Cheri and I took over the Spring Race in 2012. Part of our vision was to eventually offer an even shorter / more accessible race distance as part of the larger event. We ultimately landed on a 12.5K race on one of my favorite sections of trail, Caribou Trail to Lutsen – the inaugural year was 2018. Coincidentally this is the first section of trail I introduced Cheri to on her first ever backpacking trip in 2002, the year before the inception of the Spring race. Over the Spring Races 20 year history and the Fall races 30 year history, the races have always been held on the Superior Hiking Trail. The Fall race course was tweaked a few times over the years, the Spring race has been the same, aside from the addition of the 12.5K. Thousands of runners from all 50 states and many countries first introduction to Minnesota, the North Shore and the Superior Hiking Trail has been through the races. One of the primary goals of the race has always been to benefit the trail; financially and through volunteer trail work. A high tide raises all boats. Another way of saying it is that an active and engaged running community organized around responsibly managed events are good for trail systems and a local economy that relies on tourism.
Believe it or not, 150 inches of snow in a Winter is not all that uncommon on the North Shore. While there is some true “lake effect” snow that does happen, it is mostly just by the magic of being so far North and being on the big lake, Superior. This past winter, pockets of the North Shore received as much as 180 inches of snow. What was unique this year is how cold the temperatures stayed right through the end of April, cloudy and low 40’s by day and in the 30’s overnight. More new snow continued to fall right up until the end of the month as well. By the time we got to May 1, there was still feet of snow on the trail, this would typically be inches and ice, if any. Those of us that know the North Shore well, could recognize starting fairly early how unique the conditions were and how the thaw was setting up, read; very late. While I was not concerned about snow on the trail come race day (May 21) I was concerned about the “frost out” conditions we might experience just prior to or through the week of the race. There is a transition period that takes place each Spring, once the ground is mostly snow free and the frozen ground starts to thaw. During this time, the upper layers of the soil thaw first and become saturated with moisture from the melted snow and new precipitation, while the lower layers remain frozen. As a result, these saturated soils do not drain well during this period, and can lead to widespread deep muck in the upper thawed layer. It is very important to note that these conditions are significantly different than the normal / superficial mud we would encounter during a normal Spring race. On an average year the snow has melted many weeks in advance of the race, the frost has come out of the ground and the trail has had the opportunity to drain and “set up”. On a typical year there is generally miles and miles of “good” trail, yes, perhaps with some superficial mud, and then pockets of very memorable mud in the low, inappropriately sited, poorly maintained or degraded areas. After a couple of particularly muddy years, I have gone out and measured the extent of these “bad” spots and on the worst year in the 25K of trail between Lutsen and Carlton peak observed about 1500 LF of what I would consider to be “bad trail”, the other 80,340 LF in good shape. Due to the way the melt and frost-out was shaping up, for the first time in the Spring Races history we went to work proactively identifying an alternate race course that would take us off of the Superior Hiking Trail if absolutely needed. I started working on this about the third week in April and notified participants on May 5. The route we identified would primarily make use of minimum maintenance gravel forest roads to the North and Northwest of Lutsen and the Superior Hiking Trail. Both the 50K and 25K courses would remain out-and-back(s) from Caribou Highlands and the 12.5K course would remain a point to point – participants bussed to the start just as they would be for the normal 12.5K course. I knew all of those roads well, and I was excited about this as a backup, but one I had hoped we would ultimately not have to use.
Typically for the Spring race we can start getting out on the race course sections the last couple weeks in April to start clearing down trees and working on the trails. That was not possible this year. The below average temperatures persisted. It would warm up slightly a day or two then drop right back down, that was until Tuesday May 10, when we had a 70+ degree day and the remaining (feet) of snow melted extremely fast – I heard this described as a flash-thaw. This was immediately followed by heavy rain on May 11 and 12, with totals in inches. This combination of a flash thaw and heavy rains ultimately led to significant and historic flooding on the North Shore. Important bridges over rivers, on trails and roads alike were damaged or washed away completely. Roads flooded and so did some sections of trail, including a 1/3rd mile stretch of our 12.5K course, the water ranging from knee to chest deep (yep, we cleared and scouted that section too, carrying our chainsaws above our heads through that stretch). Starting on May 13 myself and several friends started getting out on the trails all day, every day; clearing, doing basic trail plumbing, scouting and continually evaluating conditions. We not only did this on the traditional Superior Hiking Trail race course, but on our alternate course. Between May 13 and May 18 we had warm, sunny and windy conditions and the trail conditions started to significantly improve on the 25K and 50K courses between Carlton Peak and Lutsen. I was working all day on the trail and doing all of the normal final packing, planning, coordination and communication for the race in the evenings, an hour to eat and relax, a short night of sleep and repeat. But it all ended up being too little too late. On Monday May 18 the United States Forest Service made a decision and asked us to not hold our race on the Superior Hiking Trail and instead we were to make use of the alternate minimum maintenance forest road course we had previously identified.
“The Forest is asking that you use the alternative route rather than the SHT for the Spring Race. This decision was not made lightly and is considering a number of factors including the trail’s current physical condition, the upcoming weather potential, record flooding in the county, as well as messaging from the Superior Hiking Trail Association asking people to limit their use of the SHTA given the conditions.”
A small and infrequently used footbridge over the Poplar River was the crux of our out and back course, the bridge needing to be crossed 1.25 miles into both the 25K and 50K race and again 1.25 miles from the finish of all three distances; 12.5K, 25K and 50K. Throughout the initial melt, heavy rains and flooding I had been over the bridge several times and the condition of the bridge and its abutments remained unaffected even though other bridges on the Poplar river had either been washed out completely or had been severely damaged. This particular bridge sitting nice and high above the river on abutments built nearly 100 years ago. Ironically, both in the weeks leading up and in years past, each time I crossed the bridge I would spend some time ‘geeking out’ on the construction of the abutments. How did they stack those massive stones so perfectly on that riverbank nearly 100 years ago? My tasks on Tuesday and Wednesday were a combination of the final readying of the alternate course, (re)coordinating volunteers, bringing vendors and emergency services up to speed on the alternate course and notifying participants of the change. Normally, I turn our marking volunteers loose on the Friday morning before the race, but being the one with the most firsthand knowledge of the alternate course, I decided I would do some of the marking on Thursday evening by myself, and then mark the balance of the course with the team on Friday. So on Thursday night I went out to where the gravel road portion of the course transitions to snowmobile trail, left my vehicle and started marking the last 5KM of the alternate course in to Lutsen. I was pleasantly surprised, the snowmobile trail conditions were pretty good. As I approached the bridge over the Poplar River I could immediately tell that the water had come down quite a bit since I had last crossed it about 48 hours earlier. As I crossed over the bridge I could see a sliver of the abutment on either side, and I could tell something wasn’t right / had changed since I had last been there. I got to to the South side of the bridge and peered over the side, then I climbed down the river bank to take a closer look – my heart sank. We had lost our alternate course.
“Late yesterday when we were out marking the alternate course I saw that the level of the Poplar River had gone down significantly from its peak a few days ago. The footbridge that crosses the river is the gateway to the majority of what was to be our alternate race course. While crossing it I found that the recent high and fast moving water had stripped away the rock armouring that protects one of the abutments that the bridge sits on. The rock armouring consists of massive stacked stones that have been there since the 1930s, protecting the river bank and thus the abutment. As a result of the loss of the armouring and an unknown amount of new erosion to the river bank from its pre-flood state, the bridge’s integrity is unknown. This bridge spans over 30’ and sits fairly high above deep and fast moving water. Given this extremely short timeline there is no way to get structural engineers from the managing agencies out to assess the bridge before tomorrow’s race. I had been over this bridge several other times in the past week and ironically noted each time how the bridge and abutments had remained unaffected from the floodwaters – this damage appearing sometime in the last 48 hours. While there is a chance that it “could” be fine, I cannot in good conscience put runners on that bridge.”
I returned to race headquarters at Caribou Highlands, huddled with some of my closest, most experienced volunteers and trusted advisors and called others on the phone. I made after-hours calls to our permit administrators from the land managing entities. It got late, we couldn’t fix the bridge, I was spent – the only thing to do was to try to get some sleep and make the next best decisions in the morning. I laid there for a few hours staring at the celling, I couldn’t sleep. I vacillated between anxiety over the situation, contemplating how I would explain this to everyone, how I would go about canceling the race and brainstorming a backup to the backup, a hail Mary, later known as ‘Plan C’. At 1:00AM I got out of bed and sat down at my computer. First I wrote an entire cancellation email to our runners, anticipating their questions, and laying out its mechanics. Once that was done I started conceptualizing a race. It needed to be something short, something safe, something we could control, that would present no further surprises. It needed to be something that couldn’t screw up, a “steel ball”. I did not have to think about it long. A lifetime scouring every inch of the North Shore came in handy. I have been up to that old mine site countless times over the years; Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, I knew it well. In 1902 a little company called 3M (you may know them from their sticky-notes) was founded in Two Harbors, just an hour from where our races are held. One of their first big ideas was to mine corundum, a material used in sandpaper. However, they found that their deposit contained the mineral anorthosite rather than corundum, and the mining plans were abandoned and so was their pit. This would prove fortuitous for a bunch of wayward trail runners looking for a last-minute race course 120 years later. The sun came up and it was about 24 hours until “race start” and just 9 hours until Friday evenings runner check-in. Surely runners had taken Friday off and were already heading to the North Shore. This is where you would type ‘gulp’. I started making calls. We needed approval from the Forest Service to use the road on the bottom half of the course and permission to use the Tofte Ranger Station for volunteer parking. We needed permission from Temperance River State Park to go to the top, as that is technically in the park, and we needed permission from the DNR Division of Parks and Trails since they manage the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail, a short stretch of which we would have to use. I had to get in touch with the fabulous folks that run the Birch Grove Community School and they in turn needed to get permission from the Township of Tofte. Our sanitation company had a full day booked, after Thursday having already delivered toilets to our original alternate course that would ultimately never get used, but they stayed late on Friday and got ten toilets delivered. Our bus company had 6 drivers that were only supposed to work a couple of hours in the morning in order to bring the 12.5K runners to the start of their point to point race, amazingly all six agreed to work the entire day in order to shuttle runners between Caribou Highlands and the “Plan C” race course. We had to bring local authorities and emergency services up to speed. We had to communicate all of this to the volunteers and get everyone rowing in a different direction. Most importantly, we had to get all of this information to our runners, without creating a mutiny – the later part relatively easy since our runners are so awesome, but as always concise and transparent communication would be key. Check-in started at 4:00PM. We told check-in volunteers to ask runners “have you ever heard of Plan-C?” If they got a blank stare in return, runners were handed a printout of the email that had been sent just a couple hours earlier explaining the situation. I hung out and answered questions. There were very few questions, mostly just gratitude. Again, our runners are amazing.
Hopefully you don’t notice, as it’s a mark of good design, that all of our events are meticulously scripted and carefully produced, there is a reason behind every detail. This is mainly for safety, but of course for runner experience as well. The races have been put on year after year, the systems have been well vetted, and volunteer tasks well defined. “Plan C”, essentially being a brand new race with no pre-planning, had none of that history to lean on. What it did have was a cohesive group of highly experienced, supremely qualified, multi-year volunteers that have practiced in each of their respective areas for a long time. On Friday afternoon I gathered our timers, aid station captains, communications and medical folks, logistics people, markers and sweepers, bus liaisons, all volunteers I remind you, and asked them to “make our runners a race” (subtext, a kick ass no compromises race), and they did exactly that. Friday evening as some volunteers checked runners in and I answered runners questions, the team converged on Birch Grove School, and the race course, and figured out how to make it happen.
The following is an understatement. What ensued on the Plan C race course on Saturday was special. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation talking, but this day, that on paper could only be a compromise or even a disappointment, was one of the most inspirational and high-vibrational days on a trail that I have ever witnessed. The normal linear energy of small pods of runners going from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ or out-and-back on a trail, was now a unified group running in a harmonious loop of gratitude, positivity, encouragement and spirit-conjuring throughout the day. 12.5K runners with 50K runners, young with old, all connected in this movement. Religious or secular, the concept is available to all – if you have never had a spiritual experience or knew what one was, now you have, and now you do. I have put together a page of thoughts, experiences and testimonials from our runners from this years race HERE https://www.superiorspringtrailrace.com/testimonials-2022/
This last concept is a hard one to explain. You need to know that this would not be possible without our runners. And I don’t mean just because there wouldn’t be anyone to run. What I mean is that none of this would be possible without who our runners are, what they value and how they comport themselves. As a leader and a race director you must balance what is safe, what is right, what is possible and what people want or ask of you and your organization. When serving a community of people that are pure of heart, what can in many instances be competing interests naturally align, making this balance easy to achieve. I am grateful for who our runners are, their trust and support. I don’t take it for granted. Finally, I cannot emphasize enough, none of this would have been possible without my team, my friends, you know them as volunteers, and of course my wife Cheri who is an absolute soldier. Thank you all. Lets see what happens next, I bet we can handle it too.
Superior Trail Race
PS. We had to ask a lot of folks throughout and extra at the last minute because of this years changes. So many went above and beyond. Besides everyone specifically named above or tangentially referenced, I want to specifically thank by name the following: Every last one of our volunteers. Caribou Highlands Lodge. Visit Cook County / Cook County Tourism. Lutsen 99er. Cook County Highway Department, Sheriff and Ambulance. Lutsen EMS. Minnesota DNR. Birch Grove Community School. Township of Tofte. G&G Septic. Voyageur Bus Company.