All things come to an end. Today, I just hope that end has me running around a pool with my sister by my side and a wooden medal around my neck.
All things must start as well. This year I start on Friday at Beaver Bay. One year ago I was in a chair here very close to giving up after puking for several miles. This year I am here supporting friends. I left home after the kids went off to school so I could get up in time to see everyone through. I park and haul in my pack of goodies and quickly find some recognizable faces waiting for their runners as well. Chit-chatting about this years race and races past, I notice a lot of people are coming out sweating like crazy. I notice the weather is eerily similar to last year. Mid-60s but humid and sneaky hot. I hope my friends mind the heat and hydrate and fuel properly. If they don’t they can find themselves quickly behind and in trouble like I was last year. It also reminds me that tomorrow I must pay extra attention to fueling early and often. Shortly after arriving I see Heimark going for his second star. He’s hot but good. The mud was bad as expected. He changes socks and moves on down the road. I can’t find Rolf who is supposed to be here. Then I see him with his crew. I sneak up to him and check in. He’s good. I move onto Silver Bay where I find Reid. Again, talking with friends I know and see at these events. The vibe is good and before you know it Heimark and Rolf are both through on the way to Tettagouche. Leaving Silver Bay after seeing some other friends, something crosses the road. It’s a small baby black bear. The first time Reid has seen one. I look for mom, and after a minute we proceed on down the road. The trail always suprises.
We spend a lot of time at Tettagouche hanging out with friends. Again Heimark comes through and again changes his socks. I could learn something from him. Rolf shows up and is in good spirits. He’s not going to have crew at CTY RD 6 so we make sure he has everything. I ask about his feet and he says they are “ok”. I say that’s not good enough and let’s take a look. Reid takes his kit with him and tapes him up. I could learn something here. We get him set up and move him down the road. He has done no harm and needs to continue to do so. I hope to not see either of them until tomorrow night at the finish with their sweatshirts.
I make my way back to the cabin Tanya and Marcus are staying at. As I pull up I immediately recognize it as the same place Reid, Kelly, Peter and I stayed at years before during a training run on the section I am about to run in the morning. It is familiar and feels like a good sign. I devour a huge plate of spaghetti. It is enormous. It is delicious. We chit chat about the race in the morning and logistics. I am amped. Seeing all of the energy at the aid stations and I can’t get calmed down. I am building Tanya up. She has reservations. They are warranted but I want her confident. She listens politely. I can’t wait for tomorrow and wish we were starting at midnight.
I decide to go to my room and try to read myself to sleep. My alarm is set for 4AM for the 5:15AM start and I know if I don’t start to settle down I have no chance at any decent sleep. I settle in and see that Heimark is through Cty Rd. 6. But Rolf isn’t. Weird, but there is time and maybe they simply missed his number. I read some more and as I’m about to go to bed before I decide to check once more. Suddenly an update. 28 minute miles per section. Oh no. I message Reid telling him to get to Cty Rd 6 as he is waiting for him at Finland sleeping in his car. He calls and says there isn’t much he can do. I agree and hope Rolf can just get to Reid. It is time for me to start worrying about what I can control. I read some more and try to sleep.
I toss and turn and eventually fall asleep. I am up at 3AM. I’m guessing about 3-4 hours of sleep which is enough. I get up and eat a PB&J. I hit the bathroom to clear the pipes and take a quick shower. I lube up and am ready to go. We are out the door and on the road to Finland. Marcus drives us and we check in. It is nice to only be a few minutes from the start. Tanya has planned well. We do the prerace meeting after checking in inside the building. It is warm inside and there is a buzz. We filter out after John’s nice words and make our way to the road. It is really cool out. You can see everyones breath in their headlamps light. The stars are out and beautiful. A fellow runner points out Venus. It shines impossibly bright. Tanya is ready. I’m ready. The weather looks good. We can do this.
This year’s start takes a different path. We start down a gravel road with Storkamp in the lead in his truck. We start running and it is so hard to not go too fast. I try to pull it back. This is a test. I joke with Tanya about some women in front of us talking about the “rough” terrain of the gravel and the potholes. I hope they are joking but fear they aren’t. The gravel road starts to trend up. I tell her to walk. She listens. Everyone is running. I like to think I know better. I think I do. Shortly after a man runs by and tells us we are the smartest people out there. I agree. Shortly after nearly everyone is walking as the small hill keeps growing and getting longer. We saved some energy that we will call upon later.
We run through the road and end up on a spur trail I have never been on. We are in the dark in the woods. It is fun. I am glad to be on the trail. There is simply nothing like it. There is plenty of climbing in here and we are behind some folks moving really slow on the downhills. We eventually make it past them and keep moving. We are drinking. We are fueling. It is 40 minutes into the race. I’m trying to set up good habits that we can harness through the race. I realize I am leading a pack of lemmings behind me. I haven’t seen a flag in a while. I start to worry as I don’t want to be that guy that makes us backtrack for a mile or two this early in the race. Shortly after I find the reflection from the glorious orange and white flag, but I am reminded to stay vigilant and pay attention. It reminds me that the mental aspect of these races is far more important than the physical.
We flow into Sonju where I know our friends Anne, Maria and Kathy are. They have a rocking 60’s themed aid station. It is awesome. Music is blaring. I give Anne a hug as she checks our numbers off. Maria has cookies. I take one. It is glorious. I hand out some scratch off lotto tickets. They win $3. They are happy and I take more cookies as thanks. They are also glorious. I’m trying and will continue to try to eat as much real food as possible. There is always time to eat Gu’s later. Tanya is ready. We leave on our way to Crosby giving thanks to the hippies as we leave.
Shortly after in the roots and rocks I have to pee, again. I have already peed once. This is extremely weird. In most races I can go 5-10 hours without peeing. But it isn’t normally 40 degrees out. I take this as a good sign but still continue to drink. I tell some stories to Tanya about previous runs through this section. It is nice to see it in the day and we mind the thousands of roots we go over. The terrain eventually subsides and we find some spots to run. We find a comfortable pace and motor into Crosby where we get to see crew for the first time. We are both in good shape. I eat some real food again. Pumpkin bread? Zucchini Break? Both?? It is phenomenal. I grab two more chunks. I drink some coke and fill up on water. I make sure Tanya has everything she needs. I pee again. What the hell is going on. I take what is given to me.
I have built the Crosby section up in my mind and Tanya’s. My goal as dictated last night to Tanya was to get through Crosby with no harm done. I tell her we won’t run until we get out of the gorge. She listens and we get moving down the hill. The down sucks as it typically does. Tanya’s knees already hurt so she takes it really easy. We have tons of time so there are no worries. We shortly start the climb up out of Crosby. I remember this being awful. We continue to climb. We reach a plateau and I tell her “don’t worry, there is more”. The trail flattens out. “That can’t be it. There must be more”. There isn’t. We dominated the climb and it’s time to start running. Over this 5 miles we run a lot. It is fun. We did no harm. Crosby has nothing on us. We come across my friend Carl doubled over on the trail resetting his stomach. I give him words of encouragement and hope for the best. But it is getting late and the clock is running. I am worried for him. He has fought hard all day and night. It is inspiring and heartbreaking.
We roll into Sugarloaf and eat tons more real food. Grilled cheese? Cookies? I don’t remember but I know it was good. Crew is here again and we are filling up water and I’m peeing in the woods again. I give Carl’s wife an update and she is just happy he is remotely close to the aid station. We move into the woods and I’m peeing. Again. Christ. I think this is good. I hope this is good. This is supposed to be an easier section. But the mud is strong. And it is uphill. Not a big climb, but we are hiking. A lot. I curse Reid’s name a dozen times as he gave me a report on this section years ago telling me it was dry and runnable. It is anything but. It isn’t his fault but I blame him anyway. I always will. Sorry Reid. First impressions and all that. As we get closer we find spots to run and we can now hear a road. We are able to run a bunch here which is great. There are some easy miles. It’s good as it is going to get a bit warmer and I’m worried the forecast will be wrong and it will sneak into the 70’s. Let’s hope it holds. We are 26 miles in. We are both in good shape. Tanya’s calf muscle pain she felt early on appears to be gone after some Advil. Our stomachs are handling food well. We are both peeing like crazy. It’s good. We see Dad on his bike a ways outside the aid station. He is all smiles. We are all smiles.
As we roll into Cramer Tanya peels off to pee, again. I make my way to aid. As I roll in I see Reid. I see Rolf sitting down. “RRROOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLFFF!!!!!!!!!!” He get’s up to greet me. I hug and kiss him. I am excited for him. I tell him he can finish. He agrees. Reid looks worried and I know the remaining time on the clock. There are precious hours left for him to complete his mission. They leave before us as Tanya changes out socks. I should learn from her. I retie my shoes for the descent down to Temperance. We make sure we are stocked up as we won’t have crew for hours. We are good and we move. I hand out more lottery tickets. The poor aid station worker has no idea what to do with it so she leaves it on the table for someone else. I hope they won.
We leave Cramer and we shortly see Reid and Rolf again. I encourage him but I’m worried at his pace. I can read in Reid’s eyes he is worried as well. There is 10 hours for him to finish. It is possible, but only if he moves. There is nothing I can say that Reid hasn’t yet. I simply give a word of encouragement as we pass by and hope for a miracle.
Tanya is at my heels and has been all day. She has been so strong. She is pushing me down the trail. I have been as focused in this race as any other as I am running for two. Every time I drink, she drinks. Every time I eat, she eats. If we can do those two things we will finish. These miles feel easier than they have ever been. We are running a lot. I have always loved this section but it has been years I have felt this good during it. We are running through campsites. We are running next to raging rivers that seem to be giving their energy to us. We take it freely and glide down the trail.
We run into a group of four with about two miles left before aid. They ask if we want by as we have been running much of the stretch. I decide we are ok and will just follow them in. They are worried about cutoffs. I give them a rundown of our plan for the finish and I am confident if we execute we will have time. They are impressed by my knowledge as am I.
I realize as I am talking this through with this new group that I am now a rather experienced trail runner in general, and specifically for these sections of the course. I have run in from Carlton’s peak about 10 times in the past few years and know every section extremely well. For things not easily named like Moose and Mystery Mountains, I know we have the sneaky hill in the Sawbill section. We have the “Fuck You” tree on a switchback that nearly blew up my race years ago. We have the wooden log followed by bridge followed by pine forest followed by the aid. And we have the last bullshit section before we get to Oberg that is always surprising as the aid station seems to appear out of nowhere. I know all of this and can map out our finish in extreme detail. I know this is a dangerous thing to do.
I then ground myself knowing that we have 14 miles left to go at 3.3 miles per hour. I try not to do math but realize that is likely 5 more hours of running which is longer than any training run I did this summer. Much can go wrong if we don’t continue to push aid station to aid station. I re-calibrate as we roll into Temperance.
My energy is extremely high. The crews at Temperance aren’t having any of it. They are waiting on their 100M runners who are all behind schedule. I scream “How’s everyone doing!!!!” at them as a greeting. I get some polite smiles but they are tired and concerned. I am primarily looking for Liv and Phil (Rolf’s crew) to give them an update, but they aren’t here. I start to eat the food. All the food. Pancakes. Good but I should have put syrup or Nutella on them. It is noted for next year. I am running low on lottery tickets and ask who has been out the longest. I hand one out. He promises to split the $10k if he wins it. I say that sounds great. I pee. I’m not $5k richer when I get out of the Biff but I hope to have some karma in my pocket for later. Tanya is ready, and we move towards Carlton.
I tell her we aren’t running a step until we get to the backside of Carlton. She says “OK”. No complaints. Just steadiness and resolve. There is a lot of runnable terrain here but I want to ensure we have fresh legs for the climb. As we cross the bridge I see John Horns. A group of us were speaking with him last night at Silver Bay and he told a moving story about his marathon win here a decade ago. It was his first trail race. I’m not sure what he is doing out here but he stops for us and asks how we are doing. We are doing great. He says that is awesome and ensures we know where we are going. I tell him I do. He smiles and says to keep it up. I am in awe. He has been supporting and sweeping the race for two days or more. He is a marathon and 100M winner. He takes time out to ensure two random runners on the trail are in good shape and know what to do. If we weren’t he would have fixed it immediately. I love this community and remind myself to continue to be an ambassador for it.
Shortly after the bridge I see a woman who is running. I’m questioning my decision to hike on this easy terrain. Then I see her walking. Then running. Then walking. We have yet to run a step and we are gaining on her. My confidence is renewed that my approach is working. Our hike is not slow. It is with purpose. We have a mission and the current milestone is Carlton’s Peak. There is a good climb prior to the bouldering and the sun is beating down. I feel sweat drip off of me. I drink. Tanya drinks. I pee. Tanya pees. I eat a Gu for the first time and it feels glorious. We get to Carlton proper and we boulder up. Carlton has nothing on us. We easily pick our way up and over to the cool backside. We take it super easy down the boulders. Then we are running. We run on the boardwalks. We run across the bridge. We run into Sawbill and we feel great.
It is so nice to see crew here. I see Phil and Liv. I don’t have an update for them. Tanya and I have instructions for everyone for Oberg. We are trying to get through aid quickly as we have spent too much time dicking around in them during the race. We need to hustle. A volunteer recommends head lamps. I listen but don’t take his advice. It feels like bad karma though I know that is nonsense. I have my phone if the wheels fall off. I’m going to keep the wheels on.
We make quick time through aid and move to the mud. My feet really hurt. I’m pissed I didn’t change at Cramer. It has been so dry but the damage is done. And Sawbill has to be horribly muddy with the traffic from nearly every runner on course passing through ahead of us. I tell Tanya we are hiking until the last couple of miles where it is runnable. She complies. We get to sneaky hill. I say hello to Fuck You tree as I pass by and remind myself I have not cramped all day. It is miraculous and my legs feel as strong as ever. I keep waiting for mud. It never comes. I am grateful and pissed at the same time. Sugarloaf is now officially the worst section on the course. Until next time. The section drags but we were completely prepared so we just grind. Grind. Grind.. Grind…
With about two miles left we start to run. We can still run. It feels good to run even with mashed feet. Different muscles. Different pain. Pain is fine. It is just a general thing and it doesn’t really increase. It is simply there along for the ride and I embrace it. Fueling is 100x more important than pain. I eat Gu’s every 30-40 minutes. Reid’s trick of lapping my watch at aid stations has worked phenomenally to this point. I will thank him later. And curse him for Sugarloaf. He must take the bad with the good. I check our watch and begin to do math. That is dangerous. I am convinced we have time. We can finish and Oberg can be our victory lap as planned.
As expected, the last half a mile feels like two. And then the aid station comes out of nowhere. I emerge from the woods and scream at the top of my lungs “OBERG!!!!!”. I love this aid station. Our crew is ready for us. I grab my headlamp. I grab arm warmers. I grab a buff. I grab a jacket. The sun will go down and it will get cold. These are precautions. I hope we need none of it. I don’t eat enough real food here. I am alone with mom. I am so proud of my sister. I tell mom “She is going to fucking do this!!”. She agrees. I leave a pile of trash. She cleans up after me for the ten thousandth time. I am grateful. Tanya is ready. I make sure she has her headlamp and we move out.
As has been the recurring plan through most sections we will conserve until we get through the difficult part. I dictate we will not run until we hit the ridgeline. Tanya agrees. She remains on my heels. A constant presence. She has not truly complained once. Sugarloaf doesn’t count. Fuck Sugarloaf. We make our way up and over Oberg and down to the swamp. There are mosquitoes. Shit. That will suck. Oh well. One pain to distract from the others for a moment. The stretch before Moose drags. Tanya is slow on the downhills but it does not matter. We conserve and prepare. I take off my buff and roll up my arm warmers. Still warm. It is many miles but we finally start climbing.
We don’t have headlamps on. We have not seen anyone. We are alone and isolated. In years past I had seen a slew of 100M’s and pacers in this section. As we go up Tanya is in awe of the view on the hill. The sun is setting and it is a glorious shade of orange. It filters through the trees and it is one of the prettiest images I have seen on the hardest climb of the course. It is a sign. I motor up the hill. The hundreds of Hyland repeats are called upon and they answer with my stutter steps to the top. I get to the stairs and turn right. I pass the stairs and turn left and climb again. I am at the top. Tanya is right behind me. We take a moment on the top to enjoy the sunset. I give her a big hug. No words are necessary. This is our finish. Nothing can stop us now.
We hike along the ridgeline. We could run but choose not to. The shadows are looming large and it isn’t worth the chance of tripping. There is enough pain to go around. We descend Moose. It takes forever and sucks as much as we thought. It doesn’t matter. We have yet to see a soul. Three years ago I have one of my most memorable experiences on the trail at the bottom of Mystery seeing dozens of headlamps snaking up the hill. I look up and see none. Tanya asks about when I decided to do a 100M. I tell her it was this climb. She laughs and says that if that is the case she will never in a million years do one. That is fine. I tell her those decisions should never be made in the moment. I laugh at the irony.
We slowly climb up Mystery and can hear the finish line booming on loudspeakers through the trees the entire way up. They are handing out awards. I wish we had moved a bit faster so we could finish during the ceremony but quickly pass that thought by as I know how lucky we are to be finishing at all. Mystery crests. I know we have a long time to the finish. I need to pee and want to wait for the campground. There is no reason. I can’t hold it and I pull off the trail. This is easily the 20th time I have peed today. I wish I could bottle this weather.
We pass the campground and now finally greet some 100 milers on the trail with their pacers. We give them words of encouragement as we slowly pass by. They are ready to be done but will finish. We hear water. The most glorious sound in the world. As we get closer it gets louder. By the time we reach the bridge the river is raging drowning out all other sounds. We climb up the from the Poplar River bridge and onto the gravel. Tanya wants to run. I am following her lead. As we make our way down the road I look up at the stars. They are so beautiful. We are so lucky. I am grateful.
We get to the end of the road and bend down the hill. We take it easy and there are groups of people cheering. It is officially the golden hour as we wrap around the pool and I grab Tanya’s hand. The lights are blinding as we finish. We get our medals and see our friends and family. We get hugs and give them. It feels good to finish. It feels great to see Tanya complete her goal and to be a part of it. I am proud.
I see Reid and give him a hug. “Rolf, how’s Rolf!?!?!”. He tells me he’s on Mystery. It makes no sense. I haven’t sat down in 17 hours and my brain is mush, so I think I misheard him. I had expected him to be at home in bed. He repeats he’s on Mystery and has a chance to finish. I sit down in disbelief. He tells me about this miracle. Rolf’s story is not mine to tell but he has risen from the dead. As I process this Reid tells me he’s on the road. There is 30 minutes left. He is going to finish. It will be glorious.
I take my shoes off. I take my socks off. It is a horror show. I have huge blisters on both heals and both pinky toes. The bottom of my right foot is also screaming. It was worth it. I am grateful for my parents. They have again come prepared where I have not. I get a winter coat and now look like the Michelin Man. I eat chili. It is not nearly as good as years past. Oh well. Tanya sees the group of four from Temperance. They finish strong together. I am happy for them and glad my advice was not a lie. We hear Rolf’s name. Reid and I lose our minds. I don’t get up but scream from my chair. He crosses the line and it is pandemonium. I am filled with joy and can’t wait to hear about everything. That will come later on Rolf’s terms.
We are winding down and everyone is tired. We give a final thanks to mom and dad as they head back to the cabin for some much needed rest. We stumble to the van and head back to Finland. I call Courtney and give thanks and love. She is a rock. I am ever grateful for her continued support. I can’t wait to run with her again.
We get to the cabin and Tanya takes a shower. I don’t want to for fear of chafing. I realize that is dumb and stumble down the stairs. The shower is good. The chafing is minimal. I caught it early enough. My feet hurt. I eat a bit and go to bed. Marcus is doing dishes. It’s 1AM. Why is he doing dishes? I pass out and wake up to pee again at 3AM. I have to walk downstairs. Everything hurts. I go back to bed and am up before 7AM. I wait for Tanya to check on her leg. It is likely a stress fracture but I hope it is just swelling. She is in good spirits.
I get in my car and begin the drive home. The drive gives me time to reflect on the race and life in general. These weekends continue to be some of the most satisfying adventures I have taken in this short life. The current national discourse seems to permeate everything and continues to drive narratives that are too often dangerous and cynical from all sides. Weekends like these remind me that there is so much good in people and joy to be had in the world if you simply look for it. I will continue to try to look for the good.
I look forward to what next year brings. It may be time. I want a second star.