This week I attended a conference for work. Even though I just do IT work, it’s nice to spend time with the people I’m working for and learn more about what they do. Even though a lot of the conference wasn’t relevant for my job, I feel like I learned something very important this week… the system to support people stuck in the justice system sucks.
At our conference we got to hear from some key people in the judicial system, including one of our state’s supreme court justices. I also got to attend sessions by some justices who work with sex trafficking, as well as a former inmate, turned artist. All of these people told a story of a system that in many cases is failing to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is no fault of the many hard working people within the judicial system who are trying to follow a myriad of laws that have been handed down to them by politicians who may or may not understand the issues that are plaguing the system.
A few facts and figures
80% of the people in prison have a history with Family Court. This means that they’ve had a childhood that has already been touched by the justice system. Perhaps they were removed from their parents, or they’ve spent time in foster care. No matter the issue, it’s obvious that many problems start young.
65-85% of all girls in sex trafficking were formerly in the foster care system. Sex traffickers pray on the lonely and those with low self-esteem. Growing up in a system that makes you feel like you’re not worth more than the paycheck your foster family is getting for you, speaks volumes to these young people’s psyche’s.
Prisons aren’t doing enough (if anything at all) to prepare convicts for a new life after they’ve paid their debt to society. Many prison programs are in place to simply give inmates something to do, and keep them out of trouble. Sometimes felons can learn a trade in prison, but they don’t learn the practical skills of how to survive in a society that doesn’t trust them. Persons on parole have to behave perfectly. Imagine if jaywalking or getting in trouble at work because you left 5 minutes early meant that you spent 6 more months in jail.
These are just a few of the things that I learned this week. My role with the judicial branch doesn’t affect any of these areas, but as a citizen of society, I weep for what is happening to many of these lives. These are individuals who, many times, have had to start life at a disadvantage. They haven’t had the family support that they’ve needed to become productive members of society. This leaves them susceptible to making very bad choices with their lives, and then entering a spiral that they can never escape.
This is what’s on my mind from this week, and I felt like it was something that I needed to share. Maybe the next time you see or hear about someone in your circle who’s had to come in contact with the judicial system, cut them a little slack. They’ve possibly been struggling with life for a long time, and the best that we can do is try and support them in trying to rebuild what they’ve lost (or never had).
When I put on my shoes to go pace my friend at the Superior 100 trail race, I noticed something a bit more “air conditioned” about them. After 275 miles of hard trail work they had developed some blow-out holes on the upper. Those 13 miles at Superior were the final journey for those old Brooks Cascadias, but thankfully I had recently returned from TC Running company with something new.
Although the Brooks Cascadias have worked for me, I wanted to branch out. I was disappointed in their traction on wet surfaces, and they’re a bit of a bulkier/heavier shoe. After about 45 minutes of sampling different shoes I settled on the New Balance Hierro v3. They felt really comfortable running around the store, and I loved the bootie like construction that acts like you always have a gaiter. My wife has these shoes and they work well for her, so I took the plunge.
I took them out for a short 3 miler last week and things seemed OK, but I was immediately struck with how HOT the shoes are. The rubberized upper means that the shoe holds in a lot of heat, which I see as a benefit in the winter, but during the summer it was very noticeable. I decided to give them another shot with a 14 mile run this past weekend on my regular Elm Creek horse trail loop. This is where things took a turn for the worse.
On my first 7 mile loop I started to notice how much my foot was sliding off the footbed. I had heard that this could happen with this shoe from time to time, but my wife found it to not be a big deal (she has wider feet that are more snug in the shoe). However, I was finding myself feeling like I was sliding around a lot, despite being the proper size for my foot. Every downhill or piece of slanted trail gave me the sensation that my foot was leaving the shoe and entirely sliding off the footbed. I felt the edge of the midsole on multiple occasions, and I knew this wasn’t going to work for me. I adjusted the lacing three different times in that first loop, which helped somewhat, but not enough to get rid of the sliding sensation.
A little bit in to my second loop I started to really notice that something wasn’t right. I’m not sure if the unsteady feel of the shoes was causing me to tense my foot, but about 2 miles in to my second loop I was starting to feel a great deal of pain. When I finished the loop and arrived back at my car I was in tremendous discomfort, specifically along the outside-bottom of my right foot. I crawled in to the car and let my wife drive me home. I took off the shoe and immediately felt some relief, although not as much as I hoped for.
Once I was home and cleaned up, I took some pain killers, and laid down to get pressure off my foot. The pain had become very intense and I didn’t want to put any more weight on it than I had to. After an hour or so of lying around things seemed to settle down, and I was able to move more normally. I still felt like I had a large lump under my skin on that portion of my foot, but the pain had ebbed enough to get on with my day.
I was scheduled to sweep the O’Brien 10 Mile Trail Race on Sunday morning, and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do much more than stand at the finish line in my condition. I messaged the RD, and he said to show up and we’ll play it by ear, depending on how my foot was feeling. I went to bed that night feeling OK, and by morning things had seemed to return to about 85% of normal. I headed to the race, this time wearing my regular road shoes, and decided to give sweeping a go.
Myself, and two other sweepers (John and Rick) headed out and I was immediately convinced that the issue had been the New Balance shoes. I was able to power hike, and occasionally jog, the entirety of the 10 mile course with none of the discomfort I had experienced just the day before. After three hours on my feet I wasn’t any worse for wear than I would expect after 6 hours of total trail movement over two days. I’m still a bit stiff and sore today, but the acute issue is no more.
I’m not totally sure what the issue with these shoes are, but it’s obvious that they don’t work for me. Last night I went online and ordered some Cascadias and Peregrines, in models that I know both work for me. I’m sad that the New Balance experiment didn’t work, but when push comes to shove, I need my feet to feel good. Hours and hours of trail time requires feet that are functional, and despite all the other cool features of the Hierro, I can’t risk doing damage to myself.
That’s my shoe story for today. I know that the Hierro’s work great for other people, so perhaps this whole blog entry is a long-winded For Sale advertisement for a pair of 9.5 mens NB Hierro’s. However, for myself, it’s back to things that I know are tried and true.
Coming back to reality after a big trail race is a struggle. My social media feeds are filled with people talking about their post-Superior hangover. As I sit here typing this, I too am feeling sad, longing to be back among the hills, woods, and trail family that I adore. I’ve long since learned that when I return from weekends such as this, I need to take Monday off of work, if at all possible. This year I also went down to the truck unloading party at the race director’s house on Monday for a couple of hours, and that also helped to ease the transition.
It seems that every year at Superior is special, but this year was different for me. As usual I was captaining the aid station at County Road 6. This is a job that I enjoy, and am good at, so I love coming back to do it year after year. I’ve also ended up finding myself on the photography and social media team, therefore much of my free time was spent taking photos up and down the race course. What made this year different for me was what happened on Saturday.
This year I had the honor of being able to pace my friend and trail mentor, Mike B. to his first 100 mile finish. I offered to pick him up at mile 90 (of 103) and pace him into the end. I’ve paced this exact same stretch before with another runner, and it’s an area of the course that I know well and love. Based on how I’ve been performing this year I probably could have paced even more, but it’s always good to be conservative when your weekend schedule is already packed, and you don’t want to get dropped by a runner with a second wind at mile 95.
I got a chance to see Mike the day prior at County Road 6 and he was looking well. The section before my aid station is one that is frustrating for many people. It’s a long 9 mile section that ends with a beautiful view of the aid station from on top of a ridge line. The problem is that the aid station is still a good mile and a half away, down a rocky descent. Many people come in to my station feeling frustrated and annoyed. I could tell Mike was a little bit of both (though not too bad).
County Road 6 is also the station that sends you off into the long night. Almost everyone, except for the leaders, has to bring a headlamp with them when leaving my station. Once you pass through us, you know that you’re entering into the darkest stretch of the race. It’s also the spot where pacers can first be picked up (after 6pm), and so we sent Mike into the night with his first pacer Shannon.
Eventually Friday night ended and we broke down the aid station. I managed to head back to the house for a few hours of sleep, and then drove to another aid station to see how Mike made it through the night. He arrived at Sugarloaf smiling and happy, despite being solidly behind his “A” goal pace time. He was nowhere near hitting cutoffs, so there wasn’t much to worry about. It was also here that I got to see a couple other friends who were also putting down strong performances, and were recovering from a long dark night.
After checking on Mike, I headed to the Sawbill aid station to work for the day until my pacing duties started. Sometimes it’s nice to be the one in charge, and other times it’s nice to just do work and let someone else deal with being in charge. At Sawbill I got to just do work, helping runners, filling water, etc.,. Soon I got a message the Mike was leaving the previous aid station so I took some time to get myself ready and waited. He arrived right at 4pm, with his second pacer Heather, and my evening of fun began.
Mike was in great spirits. He was moving well, eating well, and power hiking with purpose. We left with just under two hours before cutoffs at Sawbill, and 3 hours and 10 minutes to get to the final Oberg aid station. The rule in the Superior 100 is that as long as you can get out of the final aid station before the station cut-off time, you’ll get an official finish (even if you’re slightly above the 38 hour time limit). However, I didn’t need to worry. The section from Sawbill to Oberg is only 5.5 miles long, and it’s mostly flat. There’s only one big hill, and one other climb that’s noteworthy. Otherwise, you can power through it without much issue.
We also didn’t need to worry because Mike was on fire. He kept a solid 18-19 minute hiking pace through the entire section, and any little hill we came across wasn’t even an issue. Part way through the section I asked Mike, “So how do you feel about running?” He said he felt fine, and so we decided that we would try and run through the final half mile in to the aid station. This section is flat, buffed out trail, and goes through a beautiful pine forest copse. As soon as we hit it we started picking up the pace and before we knew it we were rocking a 10 min/mile jog into the final aid station. We arrived at 5:45pm, LONG before the final Oberg cutoff at 7:10pm.
Despite being well ahead of cutoff, I was also aware of Mike’s “B” goal, which was to come in around 8pm, or slightly after, during the award ceremony. It’s an awesome time to finish the race as the finish line is packed with people, and every time a runner headlamp appears from around the building the award ceremony stops and everyone goes bananas. I did some quick math in my head and knew that if we could keep moving strong, and maybe get in a bit more running, this goal was completely attainable.
Mike’s crew took care of a couple of his quick needs. Due to the massive energy boost we got from the crowds, we RAN out of the aid station. Mike is chugging along the road out of the station (uphill) and I turned to him and said, “You know we don’t have to run this, we can start hiking again.” He wasn’t hearing it though and kept moving. The road into the station is only 100-150 yards, so soon we were back on real trail, which forced us to move back down to a solid hike. The energy boost coming in to Oberg was intense and we were still talking about it the next day.
The final segment of the trail is 7 miles, and it is one of the tougher parts of the course. It includes climbs up Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain, before dumping on to the final road sprint to the finish. Some of the trail in this area is very, very technical, and so we moved as fast as possible, considering Mike in his very depleted state. However, something that kept Mike fresh was coming across other 100 milers on the trail. He seemed to feed off of their energy, and as we approached each one he got a burst of speed. In this final 13 miles I think we passed over a dozen people on the trail, not counting folks that were taking longer to leave at the Oberg aid station.
Finally, the long climb up Moose Mountain was upon us, and we powered up with as much determination that Mike could muster. In the end, we managed to climb faster than I did when I did the marathon a couple years ago. We arrived at the top, in pretty good shape. It was here that we took the requisite selfie over the big lake before tackling the mile long spine of the mountain. We had talked previously about this section, and decided that we would run it as much as Mike was able. We got in some solid jogging time before reaching the other side and the technical descent.
At this point in the race downhills were much, much tougher for Mike than uphill or flat. It took a little bit of work to surmount some of the large steps down the mountain, but soon we reached the valley below. Due to the perfect weather conditions there was virtually no mud anywhere on the course. This meant that the boardwalks in the valley were dry and not caked with slippery slime from hundreds of runners walking over them all day. It made for a quick passage before coming up to the switchbacks of Mystery Mountain.
By this point it was starting to get dark and somewhere on the mountain we had to turn on headlamps. Every 100 miler hopes to get in before darkness sets a second time, but I don’t think it phased us much at all. Mike was feeling great, and had managed his race well. The previous time I had paced someone on this section they came in before dark, but they also were pretty trashed and couldn’t move nearly as fast as we were going this year. These events are about being smart about your endurance.
Although we had held a conversation during much of these sections, the final pull to the finish was done quietly. The night was dark, and the air was filled with the sound of the Poplar River, and the cheers from the lodge in the distance (2 miles away). The Poplar is the final marker that denotes that you’re done. From there, it’s a quick climb up off the trail and a run down a road to the finish. We hit the start of the road and Mike started running. We were actually hitting a sub-10 min/mile pace at times and I could tell that his energy and adrenaline was spiking. I cranked my headlamp up and ran along side Mike to give him more light on the road, as this was a very unfamiliar surface for him after 36 hours. We rounded the final path to the lodge and I fell back behind to make sure Mike got a great finish line picture.
We crossed the finish line at 8:23:02pm… right in the middle of the award ceremony. Mike briefly sat in a chair before the overwhelming desire for the coveted Superior sweatshirt made him walk a few more steps to the tent to receive his prize. The rest of the evening is a blur of people congratulating him on his finish and stories of hardship and struggle on the trail. We stuck around to the end, and got to see other friends cross, many of them finishing their first 100. Soon though the finish line was being broken down and it was time to get Mike to bed. Though, not before a quick stop off at a local hotel bar that was still serving food so that we weren’t going to bed hungry.
The next day we began our journey back to civilization. We opt’d for a quiet breakfast at a local bakery and hitting the road sooner rather than later. A nice meal at OMC Smokehouse in Duluth capped off the adventure of the weekend. Mike had done something incredible, and I was humbled to have gotten to be a part of it. He’s been a key part of my trail running journey, and I feel like I maybe was able to pay him back, just a little bit, in this last 13 miles.
Now we’ve arrived back at reality and the cold harsh world of work and responsibilities. I’m still having some type of allergy or cold issues bugging me, most likely from depleting my immune system over the weekend. I’m anxious to get out and run more, but can’t really manage more than 3 miles right now with my head stuffed. I know that there are still more races this fall, and that I’ll be a part of many of them. But, there’s something special about Superior. People talk about how amazing Western States 100 is, or Badwater 135. Yet, much of what makes them special is the community that surrounds them. Superior is like that. It’s a community that comes together to experience the best “Minnesota mountains” we can muster.
In the end, it’s not the height of the mountains that makes for a memorable trail race. It’s not the insufferable mud, the ankle bruising roots, or toe-stubbing rocks. It’s the act of being present with those roots and rocks, surrounded by nature and those that love it as much as you do. We learn about ourselves, and how to accept ourselves in success or defeat. We learn what we’re capable of and how much we can overcome. Being a part of the Superior tribe isn’t about just finishing a race. It’s about being the best that we can be, both on and off the trail. Discovering the beauty of our world, and of humanity, one small mountain at a time.
Today I head out for a long weekend on the North Shore. It’s Fall Superior 100 time, and around mid-day my friend Mike B. and I start our journey. For Mike, this is his first 100 mile race attempt, and I have the honor of pacing him for his final 13 miles of the run. For me, it’s a long working weekend doing photography, social media, captaining an aid station, and working at another, as well as chauffeuring people around to where they need to be. Despite all of this, more than anything else, this weekend is trail family reunion time.
Certain events have become the markers of the start and end of the race season here in the Minnesota. In the spring it’s the Zumbro trail race, kicking off the year in style with unpredictable weather. In the fall it all wraps up with the Fall Superior races, capping off long months of summer training as people try to achieve new goals, or simply repeat past success. It’s some of the times where we all leave behind the craziness of life, and come back together as a trail family for one big hurrah.
Fall Superior is also the kick-off to the autumn race season, which is a wonderful time of crisp air, falling leaves, and anticipation of finishing another year of great running fun. It’s a time where we gather, reminisce on what we’ve done, and look forward. We come together as a people of shared purpose, with a love of the outdoors. We do hard things because we love it, but we love being together in community even more. We’re a tribe of crazy people and no matter our differences, this is a time for us to be a people of the trail.