Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.
Originally published: April 2019
Talking Tourism: Superior Trail Races – How an event extends beyond the weekend | by John Storkamp, Race Director for the Superior Trail Races
In 1991 an ambitious group of volunteers created the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. The concept was pretty simple, yet would prove to be forward thinking and well ahead of its time. The idea was this; runners would run continuously, day and night, through Lake and Cook counties, through several Minnesota state parks, on the newly minted Superior Hiking Trail and would cover 100 miles in the process. As a result, the North Shore lays claim to the 10th oldest 100 mile trail running race in the country. Today, there are nearly 200 trail races of this distance in the United States and their rise in popularity over the last decade can only be described as meteoric. Look at what the marketing-types now call “adventure tourism” and the boon that it can bring to the economies of small outstate communities and the creation of the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race by those volunteers all the way back in 1991 looks downright prophetic.
The first year that the race was held, there were 27 finishers, today we have more people volunteering at a single aid station (aid station; think water-stop like at a half or full road marathon but with a lot of good grub for famished runners and perhaps an impromptu dance party breaking out from time to time). But for all of the growth and changes over the years, the motivation of our runners remains the same. People want to get out and challenge themselves in one of the most breathtakingly rugged and beautiful places in the country; The North Shore, Lake Superior, Cook and Lake Counties, Minnesota state parks and the Superior Hiking Trail.
Today, the Superior Trail Races consist of both Spring and Fall editions with Caribou Highlands Lodge on Lutsen Mountain acting as race headquarters – all races finishing in the shadow of the unmistakable Moose Mountain. The Spring edition of the race is always held the weekend before Memorial weekend and features 12.5KM, 25KM and 50KM races while the Fall edition is always held the weekend after Labor Day weekend and features a 26.2 Mile, 50 Mile and 100 Mile race. The field limit for both the Spring and Fall editions of the race is just shy of 1000 participants and due to the popularity of each event, not everyone that wants to race can get in, so registration is held via a lottery. It takes about 200 volunteers to pull off the Spring race and nearly 400 to pull off the Fall race and volunteering in many ways has become an equal draw on event weekend. While we do have many great volunteers from the North Shore, the lion’s share come from Duluth, the Twin Cities and many other Minnesota communities – some folks even traveling from out of state just to volunteer! In a given season we will host runners from nearly all 50 states and multiple countries. Runners more often than not travel with friends and family and plan a vacation around their race. Add up the runners, the volunteers and the spectators and we get to introduce, or share again, our beloved North Shore with a lot of really great, like-minded people.
Trail and ultra runners are pretty low key individuals and often times like to fly under the radar, likely a function of how tough the sport is – they put themselves out there with their actions and often times not their words. For many years the races themselves flew under the radar as well but with increased interest and popularity things have evolved over the past decade. Hotels and motels reach capacity, restaurants and cafe’s along Highway 61 bustle… today, people know when the races are happening. Given the increased size, scope and overall footprint of the races we rely on more volunteers, more sponsors and a core group of local partners – significant among them Visit Cook County. These relationships and the contributions of our partners help us keep the Superior Trail Races operationally and reputationally strong not only in Minnesota but nationally and internationally.
While it may sound ambitious, through the grace of our runners, volunteers and partners we have been quietly achieving our mission for quite some time: To provide fun, challenging and life-changing experiences for our runners, their friends, families and our volunteers alike. To deliver maximum benefit to the area and communities therein. To drive interest, members, volunteers, donations and funding to the Superior Hiking Trail – the conduit that runs throughout and ultimately makes all of these good works possible.
/// John Storkamp is the Race Director for the Superior Trail Races. He and his wife Cheri spearhead the events which are only made possible through the efforts of an extremely committed group of their friends, referred to in the above story as “volunteers”. John took his first backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail in 1996 and has been on the trail ever since. John and Cheri split their time between Hastings, MN and Silver Bay, MN.