Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Voyageur 50 mile - July 2010

The short version - 50 miles of wet, mucky and then hot, sunny trails in 11:03, one wipeout in the mud and a stretch of shuffle-puking. 

The long version...
I've had this race on the radar for the past couple years now, but timing, training and life have never aligned to make it a possibility. This year, however, two others, Murray & Dale, were also onboard, so we made a weekend road trip out of it and off we went.

Located just outside of Duluth, MN the terrain is not flat. Various friends warned me about the powerlines and the nasty hills, but I just trained like I would for any other ultra; lots of long runs, hill workouts and some solid strength training.

On the morning of the start it was near perfect running weather, overcast with temps around 15 C. Of course nobody ever sleeps properly the night before a race, and in this case, three guys all awake before the 4am alarm, ready to go 15 minutes before the appointed time. We got to the start area before just about anyone else, got rock-star parking then walked the couple blocks to the pancake breakfast.

Back to the start area, I started recognizing faces I'd seen at other races, including one of the co-race directors from Kettle; had a quick chat with him before the start.

The first mile or so was on the road then a paved bike path before jumping onto the trails. Murray and I ran together, Dale tailing behind a bit. It was Murray's first kick at an ultra, but his extensive marathon history and grit would serve him well. The first section of trail was relatively technical singletrack, and it seemed that as soon as we got grooving the people ahead would slow down for something. We managed to make quite a few passing opportunities and got clear of the crowd after a while.

Aid stations were quite close together which was great, but also a potential to kill lots of time. We blasted right through the first one at 3.3 miles, back onto the trails after crossing a lock structure. The rest of the course, other than the powerlines, was either ski trails, road or wider dirt trail that for the most part was quite runnable. 

We managed to keep a pretty solid pace until about 2 hours in when we hit the powerline section. Our pace dropped from about 10 min/miles to almost 14! Joanne had told me tales of the powerlines and how she dreaded them. At first it didn't seem too bad. There were two steep, but relatively short ups and downs. Almost hands on the ground digging in steep, but not quite. At the top of the second, I was out of breath, but I thought, 'not so bad, Joanne must have had a bad day' as I sauntered off into the woods on a nice runnable trail. A few minutes later, the reality of the powerlines was in front of me... All I could see was a rollercoaster of up and down, steep and deep! The surface was not that great either, it was deeply rutted, three ruts in fact, in red clay. I found myself with one foot in the rut, the other on the ridge 8 inches higher trying to control gravity as I plunged down the slopes. It was challenging, but we got through it. Knowing this was an out & back course, the one thing I tried not to think about was how nasty these hills would be hours later when I would be a bit more tired.

After getting past the powerlines, we stocked up at the next aid station, I started with the rocket fuel coke and continued eating as much solid food as I could. Other than one long climb, we ran a pretty decent pace of around 9 min/miles until we got to the turn around at 25 miles. We hit the turn in about 4:38 which had Murray & I feeling we could get pretty close to 10 hours. The one potential problem with this plan was that it had started to rain and I knew this was going to slicken up the trails quite a bit, especially the clay on the powerlines.

The nasty thing about this course is that the turnaround is at the bottom of a substantial hill. So after some food, clean socks and more bodyglide, it was time to start climbing the ski-hill we had just descended. It was a long enough of a climb that it took 9 minutes longer to go up than it had to come down. After that, the next 8 or 9 miles were pretty decent, with some sections even going by faster than on the way out. 

It was at about 34-35 miles or so that my stomach started to feel a bit off. I switched to water from Heed and took an s-cap to see if that would help settle things; it helped a bit, but as we got to the aid station before heading to the powerlines I was starting to really feel the agony in my gut. 

The rain had indeed made the clay on the powerlines greasy. At one point on a descent I thought I was going to lose control and slide into the bush. Somewhere along the way I managed to break off a sturdy stick and started using that to maintain some control, mainly on the slick muddy downhills. I do love my North Face Rucky Chuckys; the tread on them seemed to dig in quite well on the uphills, but the stick kept me upright on the descents.

He was waiting for me at the aid station, but knowing his quest to make 10 hours I told him to keep going, I was fine, just needed to settle my stomach. More water, some potatoes and off I went. The real puking started about a mile later. I was hoping it was going to be a case of get it out and I would feel better, but it just seemed to linger for much too long. I continued to shuffle and heave along, being passed by way too many people for my competitive spirit to handle :-)

When my stomach did finish with its festivities, I actually managed to get some decent enough running in for good parts of the last 5 or 6 miles. I did have to slow down and take it easy on the technical section with lots of rocks and roots as a blister on my heel was making the rough stuff a bit painful to go too hard. 

Busting out of the trail onto the last section of bike paths on the way into town was a great feeling! I had long given up on any sort of goal other than finishing. I thought at one point I could break 11 hours, but I couldn't remember how long the paved section was back to the finish, so I just kept plugging along and ran it in.

Another ultra done, not the prettiest, but rarely are they. At the finish area, I found Murray, busted a beer out of the cooler and settled in the grass to wait for Dale to finish. I managed to get some food in me, but I just couldn't finish the beer; a bit of a shame actually, but my stomach wasn't back to 100% yet.

A great race, kudos to Andy Holick on his first year as RD for the 29th running of this long time race. This will be one to return to, now knowing what to expect and hopefully break 10 hours if the stomach holds together.


wow! It does sound like a tough one... you made it sound worse than Dale did, lol. Sorry that you had a rough race, but I guess they can't all be stellar! Hopefully Stormy is better.
Good Job Buddy! I've been waiting for an update on your blog for a while. Nice to see you had another race to talk about. Hope you post something about your trip to BC.

Chuck H
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