Pair crushes trail speed record
Runner comes home, creates history
July 10, 2020
It's high and dry in Idaho. When she felt the humidity here, Brittany Peterson immediately knew she was back home. The Carlton native and elite trail runner was trying to take advantage of a COVID-19 pandemic break in her race schedule to fulfill a dream - running the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail that cuts right through her old stamping grounds.
As a cross country runner in high school, training runs were taken along the trail in Jay Cooke State Park. It was all coming back to her in the third week of June when she and partner Cody Lind began what would become the fastest time recorded for a through-hike on the trail.
But it was hovering close to 90 and something else brought Peterson back. "The humidity," she said with exasperation 10 days after finishing the SHT. "I grew up with it, but never really knew what it was about."
It's suffocating and something she realizes now she doesn't handle well. She's used to her home in the mountains around Pocatello, Idaho, where it can be 100 degrees but dry as a bone. It's out west where she has shone as a professional trail runner.
She finished second last year in the most competitive annual race in the sport, the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in northern California.
But the race was canceled this year, and a notion began stirring in the 2004 Carlton graduate's brain.
"It was always a pipe dream," she said of taking on the trail. Because of the couple's race schedules, visiting Minnesota in the summer hasn't really been possible. And trying to run a 310-mile trail and recovering from it would take weeks out of their regular training regimen for much shorter endurance races.
"It wasn't a reality that I'd do it," she said.
Then the pandemic changed everything. Now she was entertaining the notion of showing Cody where she grew up, during the summer. They'd visited in late fall before. Now the trail run could be part of the visit.
Her brother Mike and his girlfriend Shannon Hogan said "yes" to being part of a support team along the trail. And so was Brittany's dad, Steve Peterson, who would document the run in pictures and finally be part of one of his daughter's adventures rather than just a spectator.
Still, he "thought she was a little crazy" to take on such a long trail. "When she sets her mind on something, she follows through."
The trio did well despite having no experience in aiding athletes during a run, Brittany said. Steve knows the areas along the SHT and where aid stations could be set up. They helped keep the couple in good spirits no matter the highs and lows during the four days.
Peterson and Lind said there is nothing in their racing past that compares to the Superior Hiking Trail.
"You can never get in a rhythm," Peterson said. "It's rocky and rooty and takes all of your attention."
"Holy sh*t, that thing was hard," Lind later told an interviewer on the TalkUltra podcast. He said it was "way more technical than I thought."
They are used to big uphills downhills in the mountains or long road sections. The up-and-down of the SHT means a runner "can't get a groove in," Lind said.
They were going in as a couple but agreed that if one of them faltered, the other would go on to try to get the record. "In 300 miles, so much can go wrong," she said. "And we had four legs to take care of."
A regular trail race is 100 miles, now they were attempting what would be three races in a row, in under five days.
They decided to chew the trail off on 60- to 75-mile chunks, sleeping as they could in the very early morning hours. They had some four-hour rests at the start, but as the body took the trail punishment, the rests got shorter, one to two hours.
At first, Peterson thought she'd be the one to drop out. She thinks she took in too much energy drink and struggled with an imbalance in her system. It worked itself out and by the middle of the trail she was feeling strong. Then Lind started having a knee problem, finding downhills painful.
"We knew what was ahead of us," Peterson said. "You deal with the challenges. It's a mental thing."
Having her family as the support crew certainly helped. "They pulled together and made me feel proud," Peterson said.
"It was certainly more hands on for me," Steve said.
Father and daughter share a favorite moment of the run. Near the end, on a road section, with both runners just begging for the finish, the crew rode in the supply van alongside them and cranked music.
"They needed a little pick-up," Steve said.
"We had low morale," Brittany said. "The music, and my dad, who isn't a runner, ran along with us. That lifted us up."
"They got heart," Steve said.
It wasn't just a family reunion weekend for Peterson. Like an episode of "This Is Your Life," people from her Minnesota past showed up.
Amy Broadmoore, a professional photographer from Duluth, "ultimately joined our crew and aided us," Peterson said. "She ran 10 miles with us as well toward the end."
Joe Stromsness, a 2003 Esko graduate who ran with Peterson at the College of St. Scholastica, joined the pair for a section in Duluth. Adam Whelan, a fellow Carlton and Scholastica graduate, met the couple at Spirit Mountain with his wife, Amy Nelson of Proctor, who also ran with Peterson at CSS. Liz Kolquist (Palkie), another Carlton grad and superb high school and college runner, saw the couple in Duluth. Other college friends saw Peterson along the way. It was a unique experience that Peterson doesn't get when racing.
"It all made it super special," she said.
They finished in a stunning four days, nine hours and 27 minutes, shattering a record set only days before by nearly a day.
The Western States had been scheduled for the weekend after the couple finished the SHT. Peterson said she was asked if she was sad about the canceling of a race she had a real shot in winning.
"I wasn't sad," she recalled in describing her response. Her trip to Minnesota was a balm and the best thing to fill a void in a year of pandemic upset. "My body is tired. I'm too tired to be missing it. My heart is full. I did something else that filled my spirit.
Whose record is it?
Carlton native Brittany Peterson and partner Cody Lind are currently listed on the Fastest Known Time website under a very specific category when it comes to their June run on the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail — mixed-gender, supported. They would like to see their record-smashing completion time of four days, nine hours and 27 minutes to be split into the male and female categories.
The couple’s finish on June 21 eclipsed the FKT set by Michael Koppy of Hermantown just 18 days before on June 3. The 69-year-old received a lot of media attention for his then record-breaking time of five days, three hours and 44 minutes. The record for a female through-runner was set last fall at six days, 12 hours and 32 minutes.
The times are for supported runs, meaning athletes met people along the trail for food and medical supplies. Other categories on the FTK site include those who run unsupported with either all of their gear on their backs or self-supported with needed items taken from caches along the trail.
It’s debatable whether running in tandem is discernibly different than a solo trek and whether separating the couples’ times into gendered categories would be unfair to soloists. Steve Peterson of Carlton, Brittany’s dad, said running as a couple could be deemed more difficult because both athletes have to keep pace.
With trail running on the rise as a sport, the FKT website is driving athletes to seek and break records. The Superior Hiking Trail has seen a rash of record times set and then broken in the past two years.
However the Peterson-Lind run shakes out, a spirit remains, Peterson said.
“It’s about who will set the bar higher,” she said. “It’s the nature of driving people.” She said she got support from other SHT runners and record holders.
The couple studied Koppy’s plan as part of their own, she said, setting up mileage and sleep charts.
“We felt kind of rude,” Peterson said of stealing some of Koppy’s thunder, even though there has been little fanfare about the couple’s feat outside of trail running circles. “He’s the known expert. He’s the grandfather of the trail. What he did is amazing. He shaved a day off the record time. We only imagined what we could do.”
Koppy said he isn’t worried about his record, especially since it currently sits alone in the male category. He said the best thing he got from his run was raising more than $14,000 for the SHT.
Koppy expects even more attempts at record times in coming months as the pandemic continues and regular races for runners are canceled.