It was a beautiful day on the awesome SHT. I was a ragged and beaten runner on the Spring Superior 25K. I knew coming into the run that it was going to be tough as I gaged my readiness at Battle Creek two weeks earlier. Form that run, I expected about a 15 minute pace in good trail conditions and an added minute to 16 min/mile pace given the expected spring conditions. Turns out, I was nearly spot on.
The race day was beautiful with low temps in the morning and blue skies. The mountains still had snow on the ski trails reminding of remnant snowpack in the Rockies. The soil as thawed to about 9 inches bit still frozen below that which turned long sections of runnable trail to over-ankle deep mud and water hiding jagged rocks, at times, beneath. Add that to the typical SHT big climbs, rocks and roots (with a little ice slope to boot) and the course stayed exciting.
As I tried to get my head around running in a massive group of runners for the first two or so miles (I have only started officially running sanctioned races this year) a couldn't help but want to blast past everyone. Though I was not racing anyone, I reminded myself to slow down and let the others do their thing while I got into my grove. At about he top of Mystery Mountain things spread out and the running got easier. I worked my way up and over Moose, then Oberg and into the aid station in 1:57'ish which was a nice surprise given the slow start. Would it be possible for me to come in sub 4? I hoped for 4:00 so I filled bottles and headed out immediately.
All was fine as I met Nora Compton on her way to the Oberg Aid Station looking really happy and excited to be ahead of schedule on her first SHT run. The run down Oberg below beautiful rock buttresses and a perfect prow/arete (must TR it some day) was terrific until the beginning of the climb back up Moose Mountain's south side. The jog became a slog...the slog became a drudgery. I let several 50K and 25K'ers pass on the iced slope and then the stairs. By the time I was to the top I was officially bonked. I trudged the rolling ridgeline that would otherwise be a dream trail run section en route to Mystery Mountain.
I managed to run/walk and regain some small bursts of lightness here and there, but, all in all, the climb down Moose then back up Mystery was a real low point in my day. For the first time since my first 50-mile run I experienced self doubt and the beginnings of loathing. I worked through the challenge as best as I could manage then trotted down the mountain with Lutsen's ski runs trying to fool into thinking the end was just around the corner. I allowed myself a little guard-letting once I turned out of the woods and onto the bridge crossing the Poplar River, knowing that I was within about a mile from the finish. The easy pavement section to the lodge, the easiest section of the entire day, was demoralizing as I felt nauseous and fully fatigued. I managed to feel some happiness (relief) however as I turned off the tarmac and onto the last couple hundred yards to finish at 4:09, which came as a big surprise as I was fully expecting 4:30-45.
Nothing too surprising happened this day. I knew I was not in the same fitness as 2+ years ago before nearly completely stopping running. I knew my pace was going to reflect this. I knew conditions weren't "optimal" and also knew that this is a relative term. I knew my mental fitness wasn't where it can be. Coming in within 6 seconds of my predicted pace and within 9 minutes of the resulting finish time did provide confidence that I can objectively assess my skills and abilities.
I have an enormous amount of work to do to get ready for Afton 50K in early July. The trail is not quite as hilly, the footing is substantially easier, which both bode well. The heat and distance, however, are a concern. Superior showed my, very clearly, what I need to do. I am trying to focus on this rather than being tempted to say the trail showed me what I DIDN'T do over the past two years.