Trail Review: SHT Cramer Rd to Temperance River

I haven’t done a trail review in awhile, since many of my runs have been either on the same portions of trails I run over and over again, or they don’t have definitive starting/stopping points.

Over the weekend, I ran the first 8 miles of the Moose Mountain Marathon course, starting at the Cramer Rd trailhead in Schroeder, MN.

cramerrd

The trail starts off with some rocks and roots, but nothing overly technical, and remains fairly runnable for several miles. There are a few ups and downs in the first 2 miles, but nothing exceptionally tiring. There are a few places where the entire width of the trail is rock (as in, one single slab, not as in many small rocks), which I don’t like, due to the lack of traction. If the course is dry and mud-free, it’s not a big deal, but I did find it slick in spots since it rained while I was out running. Some of the plank bridges also got a little slippery, in fact I nearly twisted an ankle sliding sideways off of one. I am sure in drier conditions they are fine, although the wood is well-worn so I did find I was struggling with traction even on drier boards.

After about 3 miles, the trail starts to follow the Cross River, and that is some of the most pleasant running I’ve ever had. The trail is relatively flat and easy to traverse along the river, with a few tough spots, but the sound of the river rushing by is heavenly. The trail crosses the Cross River at a bridge 5.3 miles in. The ascent out of the river is a bit steep at first, with a ladder to climb, but it is not overly difficult after that point.

The descent down to the Temperance River, which comes about a mile and a half after the Cross River bridge, is fairly steep and lasts for about a mile. The next trailhead is at the end of the descent, but I continued along the trail down to the bridge crossing the river, which is about 3/4 mi past the parking lot. The trail follows the Temperance River fairly closely, with lots of great views that I did not photograph, I am very sorry. It’s worth seeing in person. It is a pretty popular spot along the SHT, so I had to dodge a few groups of hikers as I went along, and then encountered all of them again when I turned around.

Speaking of turning around: taking this hike in reverse is much, MUCH more difficult. The long descent to the river turns into a long, steep climb that seems endless. I tried not to think that it was almost over, that it couldn’t keep going, but at times I got frustrated. I didn’t stop, which was good, but I lost all energy and will to keep moving once I got to the top. Or what I thought was the top, which wasn’t, because after maybe 0.2 miles, I had another little climb. It was a little blip, but for someone already beaten down by the trail, it felt like a lot. There seemed to be more uphill than I thought there would be, since the descent coming out had been more gradual. I was feeling it on the way back, that’s for sure. I pulled it together for the final 3 miles, after eating some food and catching some easy sections of the trail.

Despite the frustrating climb, this is a new favorite section of the Superior Hiking Trail, thanks to the 2 miles along the Cross River and the portion along the Temperance River. Running from Cramer Rd to Temperance was significantly more enjoyable than running the opposite way, but there was no way to avoid that, since I was running alone.

Regarding the Moose Mountain Marathon in particular:

Here’s the race elevation profile, with the section I ran highlighted. (The image is from the Superior Fall Trail Races site):

MMM1

So, it’s the easy portion of the race. Look at that ascent out of Temperance heading toward Carlton Peak. Great googly moogly, that will never end.

This is the actual elevation captured by my GPS (remember the first 8 is the marathon course, the second 8 is my return trip, not the next 8 of the MMM). I think the narrower scale of the map gives a clearer picture of the “feel” of this section of the race, although it sure doesn’t make that climb look any better. There’s a slight error in the data on the descent into Temperance River – the profile in the ascent is much more accurate. Yes, it does feel like going straight up, although I’m sure other races have steeper sections than this.

MMM2

Superior Fall Races Recap

“That was harder than Wasatch.” – a 100 miler at the finish, to the race director.

I will do this race someday. The 100 mile race, I mean. But volunteering was a perfect place to start.

Emily and I arrived at our communal townhouse at Caribou Highlands around 9:00. We scoped out where we needed to go in the morning, and then attempted to get to sleep before our 2:45 am wake-up call. I am pretty sure I slept maybe an hour and a half, non-consecutively. Ah well, I was going to greet runners who hadn’t even had that. (Well, except for one, who took a 3 hour nap somewhere along the way before continuing.)

We missed the first place runner for the 100 mile race as we were helping up at the lodge with the 50 mile racers. Jake Hegge finished in 19:31, destroying the course record by an hour and a half. We returned to the finish line just a little while after Jake came in, but were too late to cheer him on. There’s little fanfare for the winners of the 100 miler, since it happens so early in the morning. We didn’t have much to do for awhile, as the next runner didn’t come in until 21:03. We waited around in the cold for him to come in, cheered him on, took a picture at the finish since his girlfriend’s phone died just then, and then went back to the townhome to warm up and relax until it was time to help load up the marathoners. I wish I’d been able to sleep for a little bit, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to wake back up again. Instead, I wrote a tiny bit of this recap!

I was hooked on the atmosphere of the race, even in the early morning when few people were out. I missed the 3rd place runner’s finish (I was getting stuff out of the trailer to bring to the finish area at the time), and by the time I got back he was sitting at a picnic table drinking a beer. It was like 7 or 8 in the morning. I don’t think you see that at road marathons too often! It was COLD at the beginning and I was wearing tights under pants, a tshirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a bandana, a ball cap, and was wrapped in a blanket. I never really warmed up fully, so I was in the sweatshirt and both pairs of pants (mostly because I didn’t want to bother with removing my pants) while children were swimming in the pool.

My job for most of the day was to hand out finisher’s medals and belt buckles (for the 100 milers only) as people crossed the finish line. Sometimes there were very long lulls, although once the marathoners started to come in, it picked up a bit. I answered people’s questions (“Did so and so finish?” “What was my time?” “What was my place?” “Is there a lost and found?”) as best as I could. I talked to crew members and learned about their runners, so I was a fan before by the time the runner came in. I fetched lemonade and water for a few people whose crews weren’t readily available. Mostly I just clapped and cheered and talked with people. And I ate a small bowl of chili, which to me seems like such an odd food for a post-race meal. Oh, you just ran for 100 miles? Here’s some chili, that’ll sit well in your stomach!

I ate my chili while talking to one of the early finishers. I really hope I wasn’t bothering him, but he seemed interested in talking, or at least very good at faking it. He was from BC so maybe he was just being polite? I asked him a few short questions about the race, which he seemed to really like, and he loved the location. I tried to avoid looking at his toes. Or anyone’s feet, as there were a lot of feet on display that looked like they had been run over by an ATV while barefoot. Is there a way to avoid this or is it just something I’ll have to accept when I finally cross the finish line of my future 100s?

So many interesting people came through the finish line, some with their pacers, some with their family, one 100 mile finisher came through with his kids, carrying one of them. How is that even humanly possible? The power of love, I guess. I tried to hang back and let people have their moments with family and friends before handing off the swag, but that sometimes resulted in me chasing them down. 100 miles does something funny to the brain, understandably. The women’s masters winner and I were talking, and she said something like “It’s really bright out, and kind of bothering my eyes.” I told her to put on her sunglasses, which were on her head. It genuinely had not occurred to her, and she thanked me for reminding her, and we both laughed. Everyone was so happy and friendly! Only one person crossed the finish line looking genuinely upset (he seemed annoyed with his time), and even that didn’t last.

I enjoyed this race so much. I am hooked. I WILL be back, both as a volunteer and as a runner. John, the race director, was such a cool, genuine, down to earth guy. He was at the finish line greeting runners as they crossed (when he was available, I handed over the medals and buckles to him) and so many people complimented him on a great race, thanking him for the 103 miles of torture (or 50 or 26.2) they just endured. Some people even hugged me! I watched John and how he talked to people as they finished, and I thought man, I want him to shake my hand at the end of a 100 mile race someday. When a volunteer or a multi-finisher came through, he made a huge deal of it and made sure everyone knew.

Oh! NO ONE puked on me! Or even in my vicinity! So that was great. It is my understanding that most puking occurs at the aid stations or somewhere along the trail, but it was still a concern of mine.

I don’t know why this race isn’t ridiculously popular. It started in 1991, so it’s one of the older ones out there, and the course is beautiful and challenging. There might even be wolves. There were a lot of out of state people running (including the entire city of Thunder Bay, ONT) and I hope they go back home to their running communities and sing the praises of this race. Although maybe it could wait to get too ridiculously popular until after I’ve had a chance to race it? They already have a lottery in place… I suppose I need to hurry up and get stronger.

My First Ultra

I have my first ultra this weekend!

…Meaning that I’m volunteering at an ultra this weekend. My friend Emily and I are volunteering at the Superior Fall Trail Races, starting at 3 AM on Saturday. Yes, 3 AM, loading 50 milers on the bus, then working the finish line in whatever capacity we are needed. We are driving up on Friday night and staying in a communal townhome graciously provided by the race director for volunteers.

I would like to run a 100 mile race someday. Right now that seems like an impossibility, since I haven’t run in almost a week. (I am feeling better but am not sleeping well, so I have prioritized additional rest over pushing too hard.) But someday it won’t be. I won’t be winning the Western States Endurance Run or anything like that, but I would still like the experience. More than once, preferably. Before I start training for a 50k or trail marathon, I want to see what ultrarunning is really all about. I assume volunteering is probably a pretty good way to figure that out. For a novice, plodding runner like me, it’s better than showing up underprepared to a race I end up DNFing. Which I guess I could probably end up doing anyway.

The 100 mile race starts Friday at 8 AM at Gooseberry Falls, the 50 mile race starts Saturday at 5:30 AM at the Finland Rec Center, and the Moose Mountain Marathon starts Saturday at 8 AM at the Cramer Road Trailhead. All races are on the Superior Hiking Trail and finish in Lutsen at Caribou Highlands Lodge. It’s not mountainous like many of the popular races are, but it’s pretty relentless, from what I hear. I definitely want to try this race series someday. We’ll see if I feel that way after getting vomited on at the finish line or something.

I look forward to learning a lot, taking some notes, having some fun, and giving a “race report” next week. And I hope I’ll be able to get in a long run (double digits) on Sunday, if I’m not a zombie.

Speaking of the Superior Hiking Trail, this man is planning to set an unsupported Fastest Known Time on the SHT, starting today! He’ll start at the tip of the Arrowhead and head south, and plans on doing the trail in under 6 days. Other FKT attempts can be seen here. Good luck, Steven!