Brittany Peterson and Cody Lind had been hoping to race Western States this coming weekend. Brittany earned herself a Western States spot with an impressive second place finish at last year’s race. Brittany’s boyfriend Cody — fresh off a win at The Coastal Challenge — was planning to run a Golden Ticket Race to see if he too could qualify for Western States. When Western States was cancelled, Brittany and Cody set their sites on a new goal: setting a “Fastest Known Time” or “FKT” on the Superior Hiking Trail.
The 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail is located in the boreal forest of Northern Minnesota. The trail begins at the Minnesota / Wisconsin border — very close to Carlton, Minnesota, where Brittany grew up — and runs north along Lake Superior. The trail is rocky, rooty and technical, with 43,000 feet of elevation gain. Since construction of the trail was completed in 2016, runners have been competing to see who can run the entire 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail the fastest.
It was Brittany’s idea to attempt the Superior Hiking Trail FKT. She wanted to show Cody the beautiful trails where she had grown up running. However, attempting the Superior Hiking Trail FKT felt like a “pipe dream.” A multi-day FKT does not fit into a normal race season. A multi-day FKT requires different training from race training and months of recovery afterwards. When it became apparent that 2020 would not be a normal race season, Brittany and Cody saw an opportunity.
Brittany and Cody’s goal was to stick together and both beat the overall Superior Hiking Trail FKT. Just two weeks prior to their attempt, they watched Michael Koppy lower the FKT — by 28 hours — to 5 days 4 hours; he “showed us what was possible.” To break Michael Koppy’s 5 day 4 hour record, Brittany and Cody’s plan was to sleep more and run faster than those who had come before.
On June 17th at 9am, Brittany and Cody set off on their Superior Hiking Trail FKT attempt. As they stood at the Southern Terminus, they felt prepared and perhaps just a little undertrained. When asked what their mindset was at the start, Cody said that that he was focused solely on the 60 mile goal they had set for the first day. He wasn’t thinking about the entire 300-mile trail or the FKT. Brittany concurred: “That was critical because otherwise it would have been incredibly daunting and overwhelming.”
Day 1 was extremely hot — particularly by Northern Minnesota standards — 85 degrees, with 90% humidity. Day 2 was not much better. Brittany became dehydrated; she was peeing blood for over six hours and vomiting. She was concerned that she was damaging her body, and she seriously considered dropping and heading to the hospital. Instead, Brittany focused on drinking water and turning things around.
By the end of Day 2, despite the heat and dehydration, Brittany and Cody were on track — if not slightly ahead — of FKT pace. However, they were already suffering quite a bit.
On Day 3, Brittany and Cody awoke to cooler temperatures and overcast skies. On one hand, the cooler temperatures renewed their energy. On the other hand, the incredibly technical Superior Hiking Trail was taking a toll on their bodies. “I kept thinking, this is just relentless,” said Brittany. “It does not cease. Sure, the Superior Hiking Trail doesn’t have prolonged climbs, but it’s just constantly up and down.”
Cody agreed: “So many people from the West and East coasts talk about technical trails and big mountains. People don’t realize that the rocks and roots on the Superior Hiking Trail are never-ending, and it is legit. This trail is also never straight. It’s just a slow moving trail. You can’t open up on it.”
Brittany and Cody’s plan from the start had been to complete 60 miles per day, and they were sticking to this plan. However, their bodies were breaking down, and each day it was taking them longer to complete 60 miles. Something had to give. On the third night, they switched from sleeping four to five hours per night to sleeping closer to two hours per night.
On Day 4, they awoke at 1am, bright and early. They headed out along the beautiful Temperance River, which cuts a deep, meandering gorge into bedrock, and ran up and over Carlton Peak. Brittany led for 35 miles. She was hammering the pace, and Cody was following Brittany’s feet and hanging on. For Cody, this was the highlight of their FKT attempt. It was inspiring, knowing how terrible Brittany had felt 24 to 48 hours prior, to see her running super strong. It was especially inspiring, given that she and Cody were 200+ miles into their FKT attempt.
On the fifth and final day, Brittany and Cody once again woke at 1am, this time to make their final push to the finish. Their bodies had held up remarkably well throughout their FKT attempt, but they were about to hit the “Lake Walk.”
The Lake Walk is a one and a half mile stretch where the Superior Hiking Trail butts up against the shore of Lake Superior. As Cody ran along the Lake Walk, running on the beach irritated his knee. With 50k left until the finish, Cody’s knee became so painful that he could no longer run downhill. Brittany was also spent, and she struggled to keep up with Cody on the uphills. Exhausted, their focus during those final miles was not on the FKT, but rather on moving forward and finishing before sunset.
In a moment that they described as “surreal,” “dreamlike” and “a huge relief,” Brittany and Cody arrived at the Northern Terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail. They stood atop 270 Degree Overlook and looked out over Canada. They could finally stop pushing.
On June 21st at 6pm — 4 days and 9 hours after they had started — Brittany and Cody completed the Superior Hiking Trail. Both Brittany and Cody broke the overall FKT by 18 hours! In addition, Brittany broke the women’s record — set this past fall by Alex Elizabeth — by 2 days 3 hours.
While both Brittany and Cody found their FKT adventure rewarding — “an amazing way to experience this part of the country” — they don’t plan to try for another multi-day FKT anytime soon. Cody explained: “This type of multi-day FKT is hard on the human body, and we both plan to be in this sport and run at a high level for a very long time.” Instead, Brittany and Cody look forward to returning to the Superior Hiking Trail to explore some of their favorite sections — Temperance River, Carlton Peak, Devil’s Track River and Bean and Bear Lakes — at a more leisurely pace.