In general, trail and ultrarunners are in the sport to push boundaries.
Alex Elizabeth of Minneapolis has set some.
Elizabeth, 33, put down the fastest known time, or “FKT,” by a woman on the North Shore’s Superior Hiking Trail. She finished Sunday at the route’s southern point near Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, Minn., covering the route in six days, 12 hours and 32 minutes — the speediest time, with support, by a woman on the 310-mile path. Austin Nastrom of La Crosse, Wis., set the overall supported mark Sept. 3, in six days, eight hours and 37 minutes.
Elizabeth had a stable group of four crewing for her, including her partner Jared VanderHook and good friend Tim Lupfer, at all times along the journey. Some helped on the front end and would overlap with others who arrived in the waning days to help her persevere. Elizabeth started the attempt at the Canadian border in brutal conditions about 6 a.m. Oct. 21. She dealt with rain and mud, downed trees and cold on arguably some of the most-grueling parts of the path.
“I didn’t realize the extent of that storm, the damage it had done,” she said.
She overcame other barriers, too: the memory of a failed FKT attempt on the same path in May owing to a severe left ankle injury. But after a promising recovery and a return to running, she circled late October on her calendar for another FKT attempt. And there was this: Duluth closed trail sections coursing through the city because of wet conditions while Elizabeth was on-trail. She and her crew scrambled to come up with a reroute Oct. 25 that paralleled the closed sections, and covered the many paved sections, in her final push to the end.
“The Duluth sections ending up looking probably the best and were the driest of the whole trail,” she said, “but I didn’t want to challenge (the closure) and just wanted to respect what went into that.”
Elizabeth said she found herself embracing the joy of adventure and adapting to what the trek threw in her way. The FKT became almost secondary.
“We just had to do something at that point that we felt good about. We were having a good time and just wanted to finish together,” said Elizabeth, a public health department analyst for Washington County.
Elizabeth said she was glad the FKT-keepers acknowledged her record after her and her group’s work “to make it as legit as we could make it.” Equally gratifying was the trail running community’s excitement around her record.
“That was a big driver for me, too, getting a female time up there,” Elizabeth said, “so hopefully more people go out and go after it.”