Sunday, July 25, 2010

Voyageur 50 Mile - Race Report

The Minnesota Voyageur has got to be up there with the best 50 mile trail races in the country.  Now I know some of you are probably thinking, "There goes Brian believing everything in Minnesota is the best again.", but this time I don't think it's just my excessive love of the state.  It's 29 year history certainly makes it among the oldest, the trail is beautiful, the people are incredible, and there's something about that course that leaves me wanting another shot at it as soon as I'm done.  

It was a great weekend and a really fun time on the trails on Saturday.  It's always fun to see and spend time with fellow trail runners, meet new people, and I even got to spend a couple days with my parents who made the trip over from Crookston to watch and crew (thanks Mom and Dad!).  I made a weekend of it and headed north to Carlton around mid-day on Friday to meet up with my parents that afternoon who were hiking at Jay Cooke State Park.  We hung out by the visitor's center and swinging bridge (around mile 3 and 47) which I knew would be a welcome sight a little under 24 hours later.

And the Race is On:
Saturday's race was all in all what I set out to do, finishing in 4th place with a time of 7:52 and change.  I knew quite well that there were faster runners than I am in the race, so I set out with a pretty good frame of mind and the focus on a steady race and enjoying the trail.  For a guy who loves the competition of the race, its hard not to worry about what place I'm in.  However, I also have just barely enough experience now to know what pace isn't sustainable, and what a second half blow-up feels like if I try to run that pace.  So in this my last race before Superior Sawtooth 100, the goal was a steady race, strong second half, and a good time.  While I was about 15-20 minutes off what I was hoping for a time, I do feel like I ran a steady race and finished strong.  And I definitely had a blast out there on the course which is what makes it all worthwhile.

The race started at Carlton High School right at 7 am.  The first half mile or so is on pavement where everyone sort of falls into the position they want to start before hitting the trail.  It was Dusty Olson and Chris Gardner who went out in front, and John Storkamp, Chris Rubesh, Chris Lundstrom and I who settled in relatively close to each other but quickly out of sight.  The first few miles of trail are quite rocky and rooty, much like most of Superior.  I'm wondering now since I tripped and fell in both the first two miles and last two miles, if that means I will fall down about 50 times during Sawtooth...sounds about right but hope not.  

After the first aid station in Jay Cooke though the trail really flattened out for a while and was really runnable.  For the next five or so miles it was Storkamp, Lundo and I running pretty close in 3-5 place.  It's always nice to have some company out there at least in the beginning.  Although after Storkamp asked me somewhere in here whether or not this was suicide pace, I thought maybe I would be best just letting those two guys keep each other company for a while.  I think we separated out a bit around mile 8 or 9, before the first trip though the powerlines.  

I really forgot how steep those powerlines hills those are some tough ups and downs.  I was already starting to not feel quite right before I even got there, which worried me a bit since I usually start off races feeling great.  Between the powerlines at around mile 10 until probably a few miles before the turnaround, I had lost a lot of time off my planned pace.  The legs felt good, but the body just wasn't moving as fast as I wanted.  I told myself if I kept it steady things would come around...always does, right?

Coming to one of the aid stations between the Powerlines and the Zoo.
Picture: Gregg Robertson
I saw Gardner, Dusty, Lundstrom and Storkamp all real close together on their way back.  They were flying through the course and had a tough second half ahead of them, but it was looking like there would be some crazy fast times posted.  I started feeling pretty good by the time I got into the turnaround at the zoo at about 3:40 or so.  I was not too excited to be 10 minutes off the plan, but was feeling good and shifted the mindset away from the race and just focused on a steady run.  By now I was already 20+ minutes back and had a solid lock on 5th, so didn't have much to worry about in terms of place anyway.  

Other than crossing paths with the other runners and friends on the trail, I was pretty locked in from around 25 to 37 or so when it was back to the powerlines.  It had been cool all day probably in the 60s and rained for a while so knew it would make for some muddy climbs back up through powerlines.  It was slick and slow going, but the vegetation on the side was good traction and trees and bushes came in handy to pull myself up those hills.  

By around mile 42 or so, I was told at the aid station I was 8 minutes back from 4th place, which was some progress and encouraging since the legs still felt pretty good.  It wasn't too long after that I caught up with John, who sort of had the wheels come off a bit with some leg cramps.  He was still positive as always and told me to just keep running and I gradually moved on ahead.  

From here on to the finish, I knew the top three were way ahead, so I was just running for time.  I thought I had a chance at sub-7:50, but just couldn't move my feet quick enough over that rocky last few miles.  I hadn't been so excited to see a paved bike path since last year at Voyageur, which means the finish is about 5 minutes away.  I cruised into the finish line in 7:52:51.

Chris and I talking just after crossing the line. 
Picture: Gregg Robertson
Hanging Out at the Finish:
After showering up at the school, the few hours after the race were a blast, visiting with the runners and volunteers and seeing people finish.  Duluth got the best of us once again, with Gardner absolutely rocking it and tearing up the course with a 6:55 - I think the fourth fastest time ever and just 14 minutes off Jurek's record...incredible run and real happy to see things all come together for him.  My fellow TC Running teammate and friend Chris Lundstrom had a great race as well and came in 2nd at 7:13.  It was also great seeing Val come in 40 minutes faster than last year as 4th woman.  And perhaps one of the best highlights of the day was seeing my friend and training partner Jeff Denney finish his first 50 miler...and he even went a couple extra miles with three wrong turns!  Pretty impressive for a guy who signed up two days before the race.

Many thanks to Race Director Andy Holak for all the work in putting on a perfect event, and to the many volunteers who made it possible.  We missed Andy in the race, but I've got a feeling he will someday find a way to both direct and win that race at the same time.

Already looking forward to next year!


  1. Congrats Brian - it was a lot of fun seeing you (and your parents!) throughout the day. Nice job staying positive and having a good second half. That's the sort of approach that'll see you finish Sawtooth equally strong.

  2. Hey Brian!
    I like the blog. You are a fantastic writer and I thoroughly enjoyed your Voyageur race report.
    Great finish up there with some outrageously fast company. Should be a great tune-up for Superior 100.
    Stay healthy and prepare well!

  3. Wish I could've been there!

    If you take to blogging like you've taken to the trails, I'll end up reading your blog with just as much envy.

  4. Great job last weekend, Brian!! :) Val

  5. Helen, it was great seeing you at the aid stations...thanks for all the help!

    John, good luck training for Superior yourself...going to be fun right?

    Steve, this may have been the first MN trail race I've run that you were not at...

    Val, thanks and great job to you too!

    See you all on the trails soon I'm sure.