Last updated: 04-Mar-16
By Ian Corless
‘You must be Ian?’
I replied with a ‘yes!’
‘So great for you to join us out here in Minnesota, we love our trails and the Superior 100 is our gem. An unknown gem.’
And so it began. It was my first time in Minnesota and in all honesty, I knew very little about this area and more importantly, I was somewhat ignorant about the proximity to Canada. Extensive travel can sometimes make one a little complacent. Don’t get me wrong, I love new places, I love the opportunity to travel and more importantly I love to find a new race and the people that are connected to them. I research the race but sometimes not the place. You see; too much information can lead to disappointment and more importantly, it can cloud judgement. I like to be a canvas, primed and ready but without the stroke of a brush. Like any painting, I like to lay down a base, build up the layers and finish it off with a frame. The end result may well be a masterpiece but in the early stages, who knows?
Off the bat, Kurt Decker, my host and on-hand guide whilst on my voyage of discovery was a welcoming and bubbling knowledge of local running. Decker has been involved in running for 20+ years and is currently working as a manager at Minneapolis run store, Twin Cities Running Company. ‘Dude, it’s so great to have you join us,’ he wasn’t ruffled or angry at my extensive 3-hour delay at passport control. ‘You are going to stay with my family and we have a ‘RV’ all lined up for you to make your stay easy and provide you with some privacy.’
‘You are going to love this race Dude, Superior 100 is a real tough race and we are so happy to have you come and see it for yourself.’ Decker was enthusiastic; no, he was passionate. He brimmed running and when we entered his Minneapolis store I was somewhat treated as an arriving celebrity, ‘we listen to your podcast Talk Ultra all the time, thank you so much for joining us!’
Kevin Langton Photo credit: Ian Corless
Running brings people together, together in a way like no other; it crosses boundaries, crosses countries and binds like a harmonious family. I’d been in Minneapolis for just over an hour and I already knew that I was going to love this place.
The journey down to the Superior 100 start and registration was going to take 3-hours. After a 1-hour flight to Paris and then a 9-hour flight to Minneapolis, not to mention the 6-hour time difference, I was more than welcome for a day of transition.
Aaron Ehlers is a young guy with a family, new to ultra he has a fire within. Last year he bailed at Superior and this year he was going back, unfinished business. More miles, more focus and an understanding of what’s required to complete 100-miles. He picked me up at 0900. On the roads to Duluth we chewed the fat. He knows the sport of ultra, ‘I just want to learn, soak up the sport and become better. Even my wife, Mary has found the passion. At Superior she will run her first 50-miler.’ A new friend, Aaron feels like an old friend. A bond made in sport but ultimately a great guy to hang with. Selfless and giving, Aaron is a true Minnesota guy.
Photo credit: Ian Corless
Two black spiral earrings, Mohican haircut, black ‘T’ with a huge artistic print and cargo shorts, John Storkamp looks like a rock star. He greets me with a hug and the shake of hands, ‘It’s great to have you here man.’ Storkamp is the RD for the Superior 100, a runner himself; he has a resume that deserves respect. Modest in approach, he welcomes each and every runner as they arrive for packet pickup (collecting race numbers). ‘Welcome to the Superior 100, the rugged, the most relentless and remote 100 miler in the USA now let me hear you howl like a wolf…’ The response is loud and spine chilling. Without wishing to bore everyone, Storkamp provides a brief history of the race, the journey of 100-miles along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). ‘This race follows the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior, a ridgeline of the Sawtooth Mountains. It’s gnarly, tough, rutted and many of you won’t finish.’ Storkamp has a twinkle in his eye, the challenge he and his wife Cheri provide is tough, the runners know it. But they want everyone to achieve and as he says, not all of them will, however, they need to be on the journey with a chance of completing and if they make the finish or not, lives will be changed. Storkamp knows the enormity of the task and the responsibility he has. Like a father, the runners are his children; if possible he will nurture them to the line.
You can’t run without aid stations and volunteers. It just can’t happen. Those who are passionate about the sport often pay back with a volunteer stint at an aid station, marking the course or manning road crossings. After all, we are all runners’ right? Imagine working an aid for 16 consecutive years… Mum, Dad, Son and Daughter. A family enterprise! The selfless task of helping others and asking nothing in return, that’s the Immerfall family. An inspiration to all and believe it or not, they are not runners. They just want to give and have pleasure in the act. In 2014, Storkamp welcomed them into the Superior 100 hall of fame. An award that stirred emotions, many shed a tear when the award was given, a standing ovation somehow feeling inadequate.
Arguably the happiest runner and most grateful runner I have ever witnessed, Kevin Langton illuminated the trails. ‘Thank you for being here guys and supporting.’ Running with a smile and grin, whenever he passed he repeated, ‘Thank you for being here guys and supporting.’ You’ve got to love this sport… despite the difficulty, despite the fatigue, despite sore legs and being mentally tired, Langton’s smile never slipped, the positivity never waivered. Oberg, 93-miles, Langton’s family welcomed him with a hug and high fives, ‘let’s get this done’ he said.
‘Great job man you are looking so good,’ I shout.
‘Thank you for being here guys and supporting.’
Bridesmaid at Superior 100 twice before, in 2011 and 2010, Adam Schwarz-Lowe really wanted a win at Superior, would 2014 be the one? A sub 20-hour running at the iconic Western States earlier in the year showed the form was good. On the trails of the ‘SHT’ Schwarz-Lowe bided his time and eventually made his move with three quarters of the race covered. Buckle in hand the victory was his.
‘Congratulations Adam, you had a great run today’
‘Thank you, thank you for coming and being here, it means a lot.’
Racing is racing; only one man and one lady can top the podium. So why run? Superior 100 provided many answers to this question; the race provided a collective gathering of many individual passions that came together to create one wonderful whole. Each runner, from first to last; a welcome warrior who achieved greatness on the trails of Minnesota and the SHT. Storkamp told them all the experience would change them, it did, I am sure of it. It not only changed them, it changed me.
Photo credit: Ian Corless
Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behaviour of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency towards understatement, a declination to make a fuss or stand out and emotional restraint.
Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is located in Northern Minnesota. Running parallel to Lake Superior, the trail is 296-miles long. Renowned for beig tough, the path travels through forests with constant tough terrain and constant small hills. The lowest point is 183m and the highest 558m, however, it’s the Sawtooth profile that makes this trail tough.
Starting in Duluth the trail runs to the Canadian border. Created in the 80’s, the Appalachian Trail (AT) has been attributed for the inspiration. In 1991 the Superior 100 was created and hosted annually, the races have become a fixture on the USA’s running calendar and the 100-mile event is considered to be one of the key events in the USA’s ultra history. A point-to-point race, Superior 100 starts at Gooseberry Falls State Park and is run entirely on trail, the race finishes in Lutsen.