Race Report – Gerard Cramer

Race Report – Gerard Cramer

Not sure where to start in writing a race report on my Superior 100 race.  A journey and experience might be a more appropriate description, so I’ll describe both the journey and the race. Some people have wondered or asked why I run trail ultras and why I wanted to run a 100+ miles race. To be honest, the best answer that I have is that it humbles me. I love the ultra community and atmosphere, and ultras feed my curious mind.  There are lots of variables that continuously change that either need to be figured out during training or be dealt with during the race. That experience and the journey it takes to get there is what I enjoy, and the race then becomes the “test” where failure is a real possibility but without any real consequences. So maybe a better word is a celebration. 

I didn’t always feel this way about my races and it has pretty much taken me until this year to get to that frame of mind mentally. I started my ultra career back in 2012 with a 50K on the roads and that experience was truly one of the best experiences I have had and ignited a spark.  I stuck with marathons for a few more years chasing 3:30 but ultimately got tired of the marathon grind and started looking for ultras. I did my first 50-mile run in 2016 and that is where my learning began. I still remember Robbie meeting me at one of the aid stations (a complete surprise!!) and dragging me around for a loop telling me to walk with a purpose and keep eating. That race, while eventful and relatively successful, was meant to be a test for my ultimate goal of running a 150K on the roads in Calgary in celebration of Canada’s 150th year.

In prep for that race, I got an ultra trail-focused coach and ran another 50 miler in the spring. But the sole focus for me was running this 150K race. Well, there’s a saying in ultras that if you haven’t DNF’d you haven’t tried enough hard things. I DNF’d that race after running out my mental capacity to push through the lack of nutrition and pain after about 71ish miles. That DNF crushed me and caused me to question many things yet I made it a goal to run a 100 miler in 2019 and this started the journey to Superior.  For good measure, I followed that DNF up with another DNF in the mountains in 2018 as my nutrition once again failed me. The 2nd DNF wasn’t as crushing as I was beginning to realize that these races are really learning experiences. I feel I can almost fake my way through a 50 miler but after that distance, you need to have learned a few things about yourself. To speed up my learning I hired a dietitian for race day nutrition and I shook my DNF streak in the fall of 2018. From there I applied and got into the Superior 100 and planned my 2019 around that as my A race/celebration. As part of the journey, I ran a 100K in June and it left me pretty scared for the Superior 100 as it was on a much easier (though still really hard) trail. After that race I had some fun runs in the UK that cemented the realization that what I really enjoy about ultras is the structure and people I get to run and workout with during my training.

My Superior training was relatively uneventful after my 100K and I was able to manage most of the little niggles that came during training.  I would have loved to get on the Superior hiking trail more during the training but 2 runs around Jay Cooke state park were all I was able to squeeze in. This left me feeling prepared but quite uncertain about the trail leading up to the race. My taper week was eventful from a mental perspective yet after deciding to ignore some medical advice (with blessings from Mandy and my coach) I started the 100 miles at 8 am September 6th.  The race actually starts on a paved path leading out of Gooseberry falls state park for about 4 miles and I ran this slow to not get burned up in the first few miles. Once we got on the trail, the fun started. And to be honest, the trail for the first 20-30 miles was actually “easier” than I had expected. Sure there was lots of climbing (~21,000 feet gain for the whole race) and some sections were technical, but other sections were quite runnable. This pattern continued for the rest of the race except the technical parts became extremely technical with roots and rocks/boulders and steeper climbs. The runnable sections became not so runnable for me for the last 50-60 miles and my goal basically became to stay around the 20 minutes/mile pace as that would ensure a finish.

In this race, the distance between aid stations varies from 5-11 miles and the focus for me during the race was always just to get to the next aid station. At the aid stations I’d see my amazing crew chief, Julie, who was extremely organized and put up with my whining. I also had the help of her husband Matt who paced me and got to experience how ultra runners run downhill on technical terrain, and my brother Wilco who came from Canada to crew on the first day and pace afterward.  Mandy surprised me and showed up in the middle of the night when I hit my first low point. Without them all, I would have struggled more and I’m not sure I would have finished as they got me to continue to try and eat some solids to keep up my calories. After about 30 miles I had a hard time swallowing and had to rely on mainly liquid nutrition that by the end was acting as a diuretic due to the electrolytes included with the carbs. After running for about 24 hours I began to “see” things in the clusters of coloured leaves in the trees. Things that I remember are a 77-mile marker, a TCRC sign, and a purple shirt. Other than the shirt, there was a context for all these hallucinations and I knew they were hallucinations as soon as I said them out loud. A lot of the race is actually a bit of blurry mess in my mind as it all kind of fused together. I do remember telling my pacers to go faster up Moose Mountain and then running a bit afterward on the smoother sections. That high was quickly followed by bouts of dizziness going up Mystery Mountain and I had to back the pace down to ensure I didn’t pass out. Eventually, I got to the river and the long hike into the resort was an amazing and surreal feeling.

The highlights of the race definitely include the scenery. I love the mountains but for those of you who have never been on the Superior hiking trail, the views are absolutely stunning at times, and I know I missed a good portion of them as got to run in the dark twice. There were multiple times where a group of us runners would get to an overlook and just pause to take in the views of the trees, lakes, and rivers. It was amazing to see the colour of the trees change as we headed north. Another highlight where the amazing volunteers. The ultra community is truly amazing and the volunteer spirit that exists for Rocksteady races is not one that I have found to be matched anywhere else. Other highlights include getting messages from Robbie via Mandy as he was doing his “truck boys” duties and I know we just missed each other several times.  Similarly, seeing friends out on the trail either telling me to suck it up and get moving or their smiles at the finish was amazing. As I crossed the finish line I did not know what to think other than I think I might have told Robbie that this might have been peak suffering and I didn’t need to do that again. Like a true runner I no longer think that way and on my drive back Sunday I was reflecting on sections I could do much better at next time.

As I reflect on the race and the journey I learned that a good coach, strength training, and a good PT are crucial as I get old, my nutrition has improved but is still a weak link, and good crew/pacers can do a lot for you. 

To wrap up this likely too long of a race report I want to thank all you Northstars who joined me on runs, put up with my constant attempts to get you to join me on a trail run and in general the support of team “poor decisions.”  THANKS!!