Driving North and climbing out of the St. Louis River Valley you come over “the hill” and find yourself atop the high bluffs of Duluth looking down on Lake Superior, the greatest fresh water lake in the world – you not only see but you can literally feel that you have entered a very special place. Physics alone dictate that the sheer magnitude of Lake Superior has its own energy, its own gravity and a magnetic pull over the hearts and minds of just about anyone with a pulse – especially trail runners. Another hour up the shore and not only are you right next to the most beautiful inland sea in the world but you are smack dab in the middle of the Sawtooth range, surrounded by all of its natural wonders – by now you have likely decided that you never want to go home. Superior’s power captivates the hearts imaginations of just about all who visit, it is also powerful enough that it creates its own weather and Winter tends to hold on quite a bit longer in these parts – except for this year apparently. Ice melted off of the inland lakes abruptly, the frost came out of the ground weeks early and in the forest it is hard to find even the tiniest patch of snow – all of that said, forecast rain could look to play the spoiler.
Founded in 2003 as a companion event to the long-running Superior 100 mile trail race held each Fall, Superior “Spring” has grown to be “the” Spring trail race that everyone wants to do. Chalk it up to pent up demand from a Northern single-track-less Winter – we are all ready for some time spent running on the Superior Hiking Trail, the SHT. This years lottery went smoothly and has been the case more wanted in then we could fit in but an amazing number once again converted to volunteers (we have 110 this year), yet another awesome example of why Northern trail / ultra culture is second to none. As always, the field is flush with diverse talent, people of all ages and all walks of life – so lets run through it and tell some stories.
Maria Barton and Steve Hagedorn return both as 9 time finishers of the Superior 50K race looking to complete their 10th – wow, what a milestone! Our oldest registered 50K runner is Harry Sloan (68)… Harry just happens to be the founder and creator of the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race (circa 1991), how is that for lifelong passion for the sport. In stark contrast to what these races looked like just 10 years ago, there is no shortage of participants in their 20’s but Jaron Olsoe and Christopher Bigelow at 22 are the youngest in the 50K this year. On the competitive side of things the list of top talent is however absent the uber-fast 20-somethings that have been proving out over the last few seasons as the ones to take the top podium spots and crush the course records… so we will leave this years race to the old hands. On the men’s side an impressively deep field of 30+ year old runners (with no shortage of 40+ year old’s to boot) will make for an exciting and hard to predict race. If last years Minnesota ultra results are any indication a favorite might be picked in Kurt Keiser of Jordan, MN but with all of the experience in the field I am not sure that is a bet that anyone is ready to go all in on… someone like talented startup Neal Collick might have figured this on his calendar as a “W.” Dimitri Drekonja, Nic Giebler, Jacob Lawrence, Dylan Armajani – like I said, the collective talent and experience is deep. This years 50K is as deficient in women as the 25K is in men with only 30% of the 285 registered 50K’ers being women, correspondingly, the field is just not as deep but this is not to say there are not great runners in the mix. Last years winner Laura Albares from Hastings, MN returns to defend, while on paper Emily Gordon, last years 25K winner and 25K course record holder certainly has more speed and will certainly be contending for a high place overall in her ultra debut… but as we know ultras are about endurance as much as speed and races are not held on paper, they are held on trails. Jayna Tomalty, Kristin Rognerud and a few others could certainly make a run for it as well.
Ever present on Minnesota trails, Loren Albin looks to complete his 10th Superior 25KM this year. Kathy Schmidt finished the 25K with blood on her face last year, everyone else noticed, but she didn’t, she’s too damn tough – and when someone offered to help her clean it up she said “leave it, it makes me look bad-ass”, Kathy is the oldest competitor in this years 25K, 72 years old. Our youngest is Hadley Knight, age 9 – we have had a few other 9 year olds run in the past, their young, nimble legs seem specially equipped to handle the challenges of the rugged Superior Hiking Trail terrain. Just a month ago in an interview Mike Ferguson made the admission that he is going for the win and the course record – Mike is the CR holder at Zumbro 17 and a standout OCR racer. Last year at Afton, Matthew Berens showed us that he is, pound for pound one of the fastest to grace the local trails to date, running a new course record at the extremely well vetted Afton 25K of 1:34:58… while on paper Berens has to be the favorite we will sure be rooting for Ferguson as well. The course record has stood since set by a Minnesota trail great Eric Hartmark who ran 1:39:09 in 2008 – the next fastest time ever run at the Superior 25K was Greg Hexum with a 1:45:17. Just as the men dominate in numbers the 50K, women make up the majority of runners in the 25K and correspondingly, the women’s 25K field looks to be very competitive. Of the 368 runners registered in the 25K, 68% are women. Coming in with experience and momentum on her side not to mention the second fastest time ever run on the course is last years 2nd place finisher Katlyn Stout. Along with Katlyn is 2015’s 2nd place finishers Anna Lahti. The fast road racing convert Jillian Tholen makes her Superior debut while Rochelle Wirth who was winning races on these same trails as far back as 1999 will surely pick off any of these favorites if or when they make mistakes.
We covered the oldest, the youngest and those with the most finishes and we have previewed the competitive field – whats left are a couple hundred additional stories that will remain untold until race day when runners representing 17 states and Canada and all walks of life take to the Sawthooths, the SHT and Superior. Regardless of how it all goes down, it will go down on the the shore of the greatest fresh water lake in the world and memories will be made so more stories can be told.