We awoke early on Saturday to get up to Sawbill so Lisa could resume her role as the Pancake Queen of Mile 90. I would be pacing a runner, Josh Henningson, later in the day, but since I would be at the aid station I decided to pitch in and help where I could. The morning was nice and quiet with the 100 milers coming through looking as you might expect them to look at 90 miles. We got them freshened up as much as possible and got them on their way.
One of the unique things I was able to provide at the aid station was a tablet with a single bar of Verizon LTE coverage. I was regularly helping crew by letting them know when their runners had left the previous aid station and helping them determine when they should be ready. It also helped me keep track of where Josh was in the course so I could make sure I was ready when he pulled in.
We saw the first 50 miler, Micheal Borst at around noon, blasting through about as fast as Jake Hegge did in the Marathon hours earlier. Soon a steady stream of marathon runners rushed through and the pancakes started flowing fast. I helped with the water area while some of the other guys dealt with parking issues down on the road, but soon enough it was time to get myself ready for pacing.
I’ve never paced a 100 miler before, but I’ve helped friends through races we’re doing together, and I’ve spent a lot of time with really good pacers as they do their job. I was excited to do what I could to help someone reach their goal, as this was Josh’s first 100 mile race. Josh came into the aid station with his previous pacer around 2:30pm. We got him refreshed in about 5 minutes and we hit the trail again. Josh was moving REALLY well as we started the next section. No running, but his power hike was solid and I was able to move behind him at a really nice cadence.
The section between Sawbill and Oberg aid stations is relatively easy, for SHT trail, so I knew we could move well. I was afraid to push any running at this point though, as I was unsure how much his legs had left in them. Moose and Mystery Mountain were still to come, and I wanted to ensure we got up those without issue. As we approached Oberg we did break into a nice jog, and the rush of adrenaline coming into the aid station pushed us even faster.
Josh’s family was at Oberg, and he got to see his wife for the first time that day. I grabbed him some solid food while he used the bathroom and his crew refilled his supplies. I grabbed a couple wontons for myself and pulled us out of the station as quick as I could. My goal was sub-3 hours on the last section, and I was confident we could nail that or better based on how we came into Oberg.
We spent some time hiking to give his stomach time to settle and digest, but as we climbed up Moose Mountain his stomach starting having a few issues. At the top of the mountain we stopped to take in the view (and take a selfie) and he took a ginger pill. My plan to have us run the spine of the mountain took a back seat to making sure we didn’t end up with any stomach issues that would slow us down even further. I wanted to keep us moving at the clip we were going (at least), and if running induced puking, that would slow us down even more.
We made it to the bottom of Moose and another 100 miler joined us for the long switchback climb up Mystery. I took the lead and set the pace that I wanted everyone to do up the switchbacks. I knew that the back and forth could be incredibly disheartening at the end of the race so I kept the conversation going, and was happy that the other 100 miler was talkative. It gave them both something to keep their minds off of the pain. At the top of Mystery you get a brief peek at the finish line, before heading back into the woods for the long switchbacks down the hill.
It always feels like an eternity before you hear the Poplar river, but soon enough, there was the sound. I kept telling Josh that we were almost there, and when we hit the bridge over the river we were in full run. We had to hike up the final hill to the road, but then we got back to running, and there was no way that I was going to let him stop running the rest of the way down the road. He crossed the finish line right around 7pm, with me hanging back a few yards to pick up anything he wanted to drop before crossing. His family was there and he fell into a ton of hugs as he collected his belt buckle.
He did an absolutely amazing job for his first 100 mile race. He moved with determination and strength for the entire time I was with him, and had a great attitude all the way through. He could have certainly finished this race without pacers, but it was an tremendous honor and privilege to do what I could to make that last section work as best as it could. Seeing him cross that line makes me wistful for the day when I might consider making an attempt at this craziness as well.
Lisa and I hung around the finish line for a short while as we did our Minnesota goodbyes, that always take forever. I got to see so many great friends who had achieved their victories, and encourage others who had a bad day and couldn’t finish. There were many hugs and high fives as the sun set over the party. After about an hour of slow goodbyes it was time to hit the road for our drive back down to Two Harbors for the night. We made one quick stop at Castle Danger Brewing before a quick shower and collapsing into bed.
Superior weekend is special. Trail folk are special. The Storkamps put together the most amazing group of people to put these races on. These are genuine people, doing amazing things with humility and courage. I am humbled, and honored, to have been able to take part again this year. Being able to give back to such a great community is a reward unlike any other. I know I’ll be back next year, most likely at County Road 6 again, doing whatever I can to help great people create amazing memories.