Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race Report

This last weekend I ran my 4th Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race.  In 2012, this was my first 50 miler. Every year I keep going back because it has become one of my favorite events.  It is a no-frills event, one of the oldest ultra marathons in Minnesota, and it has maintained a down to earth, small town feel. 

The race starts at 6am on Saturday, so Matt & I made the 2+ hour drive up on Friday evening, got my packet, and set up camp at Jay Cooke State Park, which is only about 10 minutes from the start/finish area at the Carlton High School.

We camped right next to my friend, Stephanie, and her family.  We swapped stories and hung out while my amazing hubby cooked a yummy dinner over a single burner stove.  We had prepped a few things at home to make cooking faster, and before long, I had chicken, roasted sweet potatoes & asparagus ready for dinner. 
My #1 fan, crew chief, head cook, best friend, and true love :)
About 9:15pm we decided it was time to make preparations for bed, and set the alarm for 4:30am.  The campground was a little noisy, but I didn’t stress about it, and actually slept ok for the night before a race.

At 4:30am the campground was very quiet, and we got up and got organized for the day.  I had my liquid breakfast of Vegan Strawberry Shakeology & a cup of coffee.  At 5:15am we head to the race start.

After checking in, using the bathrooms, taking a traditional pre-race selfie, and visiting with other runners it was time get this race started.
Pre-race selfie!
M. Leis photo

Excited to get going!
M. Leis photo

Stephanie and I ran together for the first ¾ of mile on a paved bike trail before the course made a right turn on to some technical single track.  We had both agreed that we would run our own races this year.  Within a few minutes, Stephanie had pulled ahead, and I told myself to be patient & run intuitively.  At 3.4 miles I came to the first aid station at Jay Cooke State Park, and the course opens up into some wide, grassy, cross country ski trails.  I arrived there in 42 minutes, feeling good, and sweating a lot already.  I passed through this first aid station without stopping, I was carrying enough water to get me to the next one which was only a couple miles up the trail.

As I left the first aid station, I fell in line with a guy named, Terry.  We would end up running much of the first half together.  We chatted and enjoyed having the company to pass the miles.  The second & third aid stations arrived quickly.  I was definitely sweating, and trying to make sure that I was eating and drinking enough.  I popped salt tablets every hour or so along with eating potato chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid stations.  I was still feeling pretty good. 
Hanging out with my new friend!
M. Leis photo

The powerlines are really what Voyageur is known for – you run through this section of power lines that are exposed and incredibly hilly – probably 200-300 feet straight up & then straight back down.  If they are dry, it’s tough but doable.  When they are wet, it is like a giant slip and slide.  On the outbound direction, they were wet this year.  On the first one going up you would step and then slide back, and grab onto whatever vegetation you could find – some of those bushes were thorn bushes, so I brought home some scrapes and scratches, too.  But I finally made it through the section without any falls and still feeling ok.

The rest of the outbound course is pretty runnable – some technical down hill switch backs, a creek crossing or two (enough to soak your shoes enough that they never really dry) and a nice downhill gravel section to the turn around at the zoo.

As I was approaching the turn around at the Duluth Zoo, I would count the women in front of me.  I like to know about where I stand in the pack, and I was looking for Steph to see how far ahead she was.  She is so strong on courses like this, I was confident she’d be in the top 10.  When I saw Steph coming up the trail, she was 7th or 8th woman and maybe 20 minutes in front of me, looking good.  I was sitting in 10th or 11th place.

I refilled my pack at the turnaround and quickly headed back up the trail.  It is a long up hill grind.  I ran-walked up the gravel trail & passed a couple women along the way.  This felt good, and I knew I had cracked the top 10.  I was feeling confident.

Leaving the turn around aid station at the Zoo.
M. Leis photo

Confidence in an ultra event can be short lived.  A short while later I was starting to crack – and needing to find that special place inside my head where I can grind out the miles and continue to move forward.  I had started to experience some chaffing on the inside of my left thigh.  At one of the aid stations I asked for vasaline, but it didn’t help.  I noticed a hot spot on the bottom of each foot.  I worked on keeping my feet dry through the creek crossings on the way back, but all I really wanted was a fresh pair of socks. 
Coming into the Beck's Road Aid Station 31 miles.
M. Leis photo
I saw Matt at an aid station at 31 miles, along with his friend, Jason.  That definitely made me feel better.  I got a 5 hour energy drink from him that I put in my pocket for later.  I knew I’d need a caffeine kick before the power lines a second time.  More uphill hiking.  My thighs were on fire. My feet were hurting.  And soon enough I was back in the power lines.  This time they were dry, but it was so hot. When you’d crest the top, I’d feel a breeze and that would offer a slight reprieve.  Onward.

As I came into the next aid station, I got some ice for my hat, potato chips & filled my pack with ice and water.  Keep moving forward.  Then I saw another woman just ahead of me, I passed her and offered a word or two of encouragement.  I knew I was in the top 10 now.  I had to keep moving and not get passed back.  Shortly after that I saw another woman ahead of me.  She was pretty far up the trail and moving well.  I told myself to be patient, and stay strong, and not worry too much about it.  My competitiveness got the better of me, and I was pushing hard.  Too hard for having 10 miles left to go.

I ended up catching and passing her and she told me I was now in 9th place.  I thanked her for the information & told her she was moving well.  I was thrilled.  I knew I wouldn’t run a personal best time, but to finish in the top 10, that would be awesome.

A lot can happen in the last 10 miles of a race…. Remember that chaffing I mentioned, I kept pulling my shorts down to cover it, but it wasn’t helping.  My feet felt like the bottoms of were disintegrating.  I was having a much harder time keeping my body from over heating.

I came into the 2nd to last aid station, 5+ miles from the finish needing water and ice.  As I arrived, and as the aid station volunteer was filling my pack, the woman I had recently passed, blew through aid station and was out in front of me.  I didn’t have my pack on to even try to chase her down.  I sighed and told myself that 10th was ok, too.  I knew I couldn’t catch her. 

I left the aid station not feeling great.  I knew the next section was pretty runnable, and to try to run what I could without over heating.  I passed a few guys along the way, and offered words of encouragement.  I had been running alone since 20 miles or so.  I was getting tired of the conversations in my head.  I was really wanting to be done.
Leaving the 2nd to last aid station.
M. Leis photo

At the last aid station, Matt & Jason were there, and a volunteer asked me what I wanted – “Ice & chips,” I responded.  Ice in my hat, and a handful of chips to go, I was on my way.  I wanted to be done and the only way that was going to happen was if I kept moving.
On the Swinging Bridge headed towards the finish line.
M. Leis photo
I crossed the swinging bridge and onto the technical trail.  I was struggling.  I was walking, and not power walking, just walking.  A few guys passed me, and then 2 women passed me… So much for that top 10 finish again this year.  I was starting to see things – rocks that didn’t look like rocks, trees that didn't look like trees, and feeling very much like I did at Superior 2013.  I just kept telling myself to keep moving, and the faster I move the sooner I'd be done. I was no longer having any fun.

My thoughts moved to my friend, Toni, who is fighting cancer.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit with her before I left for the weekend, and I wanted to dedicate this race to her.  I knew that her battle is so much harder than any chaffing, blisters or heat rash I was going to experience.  I thought about her a lot those last 3 miles.  I prayed for her and for her family.  I knew the last .7 mile was on a hot paved trail leading back to Carlton and the finish line at the high school.  I prayed for a breeze.

I finally got to the paved trail.  I told myself that I had to run.  Just get this over and done with.  I was running and all of a sudden I felt it – a cool breeze.  I looked up to the sky and said “thank you!” It was a magical moment.

Soon, I turned the corner and had the school in sight.  I didn’t have a finish line kick, but I jogged it in and received my finisher’s mug.  I finished in 11 hours and 25 minutes.

Almost there!
I had nothing left to give. 

Matt, Jason & Stephanie were all waiting for me at the finish.  I am so blessed to have such a supportive husband & amazing friends that support these crazy adventures.  And I can't wait to go back next year for #5!!
4 years of Voyageur :)
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!!
Until next time!!