100 miles and counting

Nate Rylander runs in the Superior Sawtooth 100 ultramarathon in September. Submitted photo

Runner gets his buzz from nature and endurance tests

With heavily blistered feet and more aches than he knew his body had, Burnsville’s Nate Rylander joined a special class of runners on Sept. 8.

Rylander was one of 89 who ran day and night along the north shore of Lake Superior to finish the annual Superior Sawtooth 100. These self-punishing but fulfilled nature lovers are known as ultramarathoners.

“One of the main slogans they have is, ‘Any idiot can run a marathon, but it takes a special idiot to run an ultra,’ ” said Rylander, 23.

He can’t wait to do it again. The 103.3-mile Sawtooth was Rylander’s second try at an ultramarathon distance and first at 100 miles. He completed the 50-mile Minnesota Voyageur Trail Run in July. At next year’s Sawtooth, he hopes to shave seven hours off his finishing time of 37 hours and three minutes, which earned him 77th place among the 89 finishers.

“I would like to run it in around 30 hours, which is a huge step,” Rylander said. “But I’ve been running and training, so I think it’s doable.”

Distance running is a relatively new sport for Rylander, the son of longtime Burnsville residents Jim and Mary Jo Rylander. Jim is pastoral minister at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Savage.

Nate, a 2007 graduate of  the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, ran cross country his freshman year but turned his attention to lacrosse for the rest of high school.

He still ran for fun but didn’t get serious until last year, “as kind of a stress reliever for college,” said Rylander, who is studying wind turbine technology and photovoltaic systems at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea.

His girlfriend, Jenny Rogers, a graduate student and cross country star at Minnesota State University, Mankato, pushed Rylander to up his game.

“Dating her, we went on long runs and really challenged each other,” he said. “We’d go into the woods for hours at a time and just keep running, kind of challenging each other.”

Rylander ran his first marathon, the Mankato Marathon, last October, and ran it a second time on Oct. 21.

“I got 19th,” Rylander said. “I ran in three hours and 21 minutes. I’m trying to qualify for Boston (the Boston Marathon). I’m getting down there, but I’m more of a trail runner. I like to do long distances at a slower pace.”

He’s run seven distance events in the past year, ranging from 13.1-mile half marathons to 26.2-mile marathons to the 50- and 100-mile ultras. For him, it’s the scenery that sets them apart.

Rylander previously attended St. Mary’s University in Winona, where he founded the school’s outdoors club and led rock-climbing, kayaking and mountain-biking trips. He’s a an outdoor counselor certified by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Two years ago he spent two months on the Mississippi River, kayaking 2,100 miles from Lake Itasca to New Orleans.

The green ethic of long-distance trail running and many of its like-minded participants suits him.

“They’re all kind of hardcore runners and live kind of a hippie-ish lifestyle,” Rylander said. “It’s fun to talk to them.”

The Superior Sawtooth ultramarathon follows the Superior Hiking Trail from Gooseberry State Park to Lutsen.

“When the sun goes down, you turn on your headlamps,” Rylander said. “If anyone knows the Superior Hiking Trail, they know that it jogs all over. There’s one point during the night where you cross a beaver dam. You’re going over a very narrow fjord with your headlamp on.”

The course includes a 1,500-foot climb at the 90-mile mark, Rylander said. Rogers met him at the 50-mile mark to pace him and help bring him home in under 38 hours, the cutoff time for finishers.

Four- or five-minute stops at aid stations — where juicy watermelon is a popular sustenance — are about all you get, Rylander said.

“You’re constantly moving,” said Rylander, a member of the Upper Midwest Trail Runners.  “There’s no time for sleep or anything like that.”

Having finished the Sawtooth, he hopes to get through qualifying and a lottery process for what Rylander said is the nation’s most prestigious ultramarathon — June’s Western States Endurance Run in California, also known as the Western States 100.

“You just want to push your body harder,” he said.