Sunday, August 12, 2018

Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Run (MVTR) A Guest blog by Melissa Budd

Please enjoys another fabulous guest blog race report from everybody's fave ultra-runner, Melissa Budd.  I'm publishing this blog overlooking the ocean in Nova Scotia... view's amazing, the vibe is is chill, running shoes stowed somewhere in a heap, grill's warming up.

It's a good day to be alive.


The Voyageur is one of the oldest ultra marathons in the nation. It's a  beautiful run that starts in the small town in Carlton (during “Carlton Daze”) through Jay Cooke State Park, alongside the St. Louis River, through woodland trails, ravines and creek crossings, and power lines to the Duluth Zoo and then back again.

It’s rugged, scenic and exhilarating. All for $60 you say? Not if you get the early bird price of $50. At only a dollar per mile, you really get your money’s worth. That doesn’t even include the spread at the end AND free showers to remind you where you chaffed the hardest.

I ran the Voyageur in 2014 and was excited to do it again 4 years later. There really are so many good reasons to love this run.

1. It is challenging, yet doable. The rough terrain is periodic and is easily forgotten when you have so much stunning nature to look at.

2. It is well supported. There are aid stations every 3-4 miles with so much variety. Potatoes, pickles, fruit, candies, ice, sandwiches etc… The volunteers are second to none. You are greeted with cheers no matter what place you are running and you get individual attention.

3. The course is widely varied. There is single track, rugged rocks and roots, lush trails in the forest, dusty steep power lines, muddy ravines with creek crossings, a little bit of pavement, a climb up Spirit Mountain, views of Lake Superior. You are never bored.

4. The history. This is MVTR’s 37 year running. It is where Scott Jurek did his first ultra. His course record that has held for 20 years was broken this year by Ben Cogger. Ben was bit by wasps not once, but twice while running the first half of the race. His lip swelled up, but apparently didn’t slow him down.

5. The comradery. Almost everyone who was ahead of me (and on their way back) either gave encouraging nods or smiles or comments of “looking strong”, “way to go” – even the elites.

The race started Saturday, July 28th at 6 am. Right away the Hawaiian shirts that some of the organizers and runners were wearing were noticeable. Before the anthem, we were told why. It was to honour Shane Olsen. He was an ultra runner and photographer for the MVTR that had died recently (and he had a penchant for Hawaiian shirts). There were a few moments of silence, then the anthem and then we were off.  

* ED. See Mike Run honours the memory of Shane Olson by displaying a stylish Hawaiian Shirt in the side bar for one month.  

There was a little pavement in town before hitting the single track on the Jay Cooke State Trail. If you are talented and fast, it is imperative to sprint this portion. I was not, so I settled into the “conga line”. The reason for the line back up is that the first part of the trail is rocky and root covered – somewhat like the Hunt Lake trail if you have ever done that. With 469 entered (I’m not sure how many DNS) there were points when the line stood still. I took some pictures to pass the time. 

By the time I got to the first aid station (3.5 miles in) I looked like I jumped into a lake with all my gear on. This run is notoriously humid…make no mistake, you will get chaffing.

There is an iconic swinging bridge you get to cross over the St. Louis River and it is one of my favorite spots of the race. Foolishly I stopped to take some pictures – but it was worth it.

Miles 4-8 brought some soft grassy trails through the woods. Uphill, downhill, never quite flat but at this point in the race, it didn’t seem difficult. I would describe the scenery as “Fern Gully”. Beautiful and lush. After mile 8 came some steeper ascents and descents into the ravines and creek crossings. I came across runner #294 at the bottom of a particularly steep ravine.

 He looked like he needed a sandwich. I glanced enviously at his shoes sitting beside him. The shoes I was wearing were not a good choice. I had never worn them for runs over 9 miles. They have no cushion but great grip. I made the rookie mistake of “trying something new for the race”. It wasn’t panning out for me. I had to leave #294’s shoes as I am a recovering Mennonite that can’t live with guilt.

After the ravines came the power lines. You have to work hard on these but they are not impossible. I like going fast on the downs but I’m slow on the climbs. I passed people going down and got passed going up. Some year I have to work on getting better on my climbs. I’m not sure why I think that it will “magically” happen…

After the power lines there is some trail, some pavement and more trail. Getting to Fond du Lac aid station, there was nothing really to report except the fact that I wasn’t going as fast as I anticipated. I don’t know if it was my shoes, or the half iron man I did recently – but I already knew I wouldn’t be breaking 12 hours. At Skyline Parkway (mile 21.6) I dropped my pack (I could get it on the way back), picked up a cold Coke and kept going.

I regretted dropping off my pack because, after a little more uphill, I was at the top of Spirit Mountain and had the most beautiful view of Lake Superior. It is also entertaining to see the chair lifts with mountain bikes on them and the Alpine Coasters on their way down.

Got to the turn around in 6 hours. I spent a few minutes getting Vaseline for some nasty chafing going on in several places (despite wearing compression shorts under my regular shorts). I knew I would have an uphill climb to get back to the top of Spirit Mountain. I took the time to walk a bit as I was feeling an energy low. Felt nauseous as well. I was probably lacking electrolytes. Back at Skyline Parkway I grabbed a 750 ml bottle of Gatorade. I walked and drank the whole thing. It took about ½ hour, but I started to feel better and started to run again.

Time and miles passed. Around mile 35, I heard loud thunder. I was hoping that I would get through the powerlines and ravines without heavy rain. The powerlines aren’t horrendous, but when wet, they would be an entirely different story. I was under a lot of tree cover and just felt sprinkling.

Mile 37 I hit the power lines. No rain and it didn’t seem too bad. The trail was definitely wetter and made it slow going, but I was happy that my mind had conjured up a worse fate than what reality was. 

As I hit the ravines, I could tell that Carlton must have got hit pretty hard. The ravine section was slippery. There were a few points where I got partway up and slid down. Later, I found out that it hailed in Carlton around the 9-10 hour mark.

At 47 miles in, I knew that the last 2 miles would be slippery on the rocks and roots. I looked at the time and it was already over 12 hours. The first 2 miles took at least half an hour on the way out, I knew it would take at least 50 minutes on the way back. Add another mile onto that and I knew I wouldn’t even break the 13 hour mark. There wasn’t much I could do about it except keep going.

The rocks and roots were difficult to navigate when wet. I was incredibly happy once I was over that section. Running into town I increased my speed. Finishing, I was happy, but spent . I was kind of looking forward to a shower, but with all of the chaffing, I knew the shower would hurt more than I was hurting now. Finished in 13:30, certainly not my best time, but happy to just finish. I will come back again!!

Melissa Budd