Monday, August 1, 2011

Voyageur Trail 50 Recap

Last week I predicted that while I would finish the 30th annual Voyageur Trail Run, it would be slow and painful due to my recent low mileage. While slow and painful are subjective terms, I can say that it was neither as slow nor as painful as I expected. In fact, I finished about 25 minutes faster than last year and felt far better despite the conditions being significantly less friendly.

Last year I finished in about 11 hours and 16 minutes, so there was clearly a lot of room for improvement. Still, as I have only been running about 45 miles/week with very few long runs I really didn't have any hopes of bettering that time. I ran a rather slow five and half hours at the Half Voyageur marathon a couple weeks back, so I was conservatively expecting a 12 hour finish.

I ran the course with my new Garmin 310xt. I have had the Garmin 405 for a couple years, but with a battery life of only 6 hours, it was of limited use during ultras. I set the autolap to 10 miles, since it is easier for me to think of a 50 mile race as 5 ten mile segments rather than one 50 mile whole. Since I was expecting a 12 hour finish, I set the Garmin pace monkey to 14:23. Knowing it would be impossible to run even splits the whole way, this would allow me to see how I was doing compared to my prediction. Here is how those ten mile segments broke down.

Miles 1 through 10. Those who are familiar with the course know that besides a two mile very technical portion near the beginning, this is one of the faster sections of the course. While the humidity was high (100% according to Weather Bug), it was relatively cool and only going to get warmer. Knowing this, I intentionally went out faster than the 14:23 pace a 12 hour finish would dictate. In fact, my Garmin buzzed after 1 hour and 56 minutes letting me know that I finished the first ten miles at an 11:36 pace. A quick check told me I was about 25 minutes ahead of my pace monkey. Nice. That meant I could slow down to the predicted 14:23 pace and still finish well ahead of 12 hours. Or more likely, give me some room to run even more slowly on the return trip.

Miles 10 through 20. This segment starts with the infamous power lines, a three mile section of multiple and relatively steep hills. They are steep enough that the down hills are not much faster than the uphills. Not surprisingly my pace through the powerlines was a very pedestrian 16:00. Still that gave me seven more miles of relatively easy, albeit mostly uphill, running to get my pace down to the desired 14:22. As it turned out, I ran the ten miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes, an average pace of 14:03. Almost right on what I needed. I was now 30 minutes ahead of the pace monkey. I was feeling relatively good still, though I was conscious of the increasing heat. It would have been hard not to be aware, as it was already becoming the topic of conversation with most of the runners. Around mile 20 I started to see the leaders on their way back already, meaning they were already a good 10 miles ahead of me. They all looked very strong despite the heat.

Miles 20 through 30. The first 5 miles of this section are mostly downhill, bringing the runner down Spirit Mountain into the Duluth Zoo turn around. I got to the half way point in 5 hours and 15 minutes, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I figured this was just about right, as I expected a melt down on the return leg. In fact, I told my wife here that while I was still feeling pretty good, I was expecting things to get ugly as I was now at the limit of my lone long run over the previous eight weeks. Even so, I was able to go back up the hill at a pretty strong pace and finished these 10 miles in just over two hours. It was on the way back up the hill that a weather boundary passed, failing to bring any rain or relief. In fact, now that the clouds had passed, things were going to start heating up pretty quickly. Also, since I blogged about my New Balance Minimus trails a couple of weeks ago, it is worth pointing out that the loose gravel on the road down into the zoo played havoc on my feet. I'm not sure why it didn't bother me during the Half Voyageur, but it was now. Ouch!

Miles 30 through 40. I was now a full hour ahead of my pace monkey. If I good manage to only slow down to my originally planned pace of 14:23, I could finish in 11 hours. I hadn't even imagined finishing faster than last year, but I was still feeling pretty good so this became my goal. Since the last three miles of this section would be a return trip through the power lines, now in the heat of mid afternoon with a full sun overhead, I knew I had to take advantage of the mostly downhill seven miles that lead into the powerlines. I was definitely starting to feel the heat now, and was running along that fine line that when crossed leads to overheating. Fortunately the aid stations were well organized and had great volunteers. Plenty of ice and salt was available at every stop. If this had not been the case, I would have had some serious problems. Kudos to the race directors and volunteers!!! Thank you for saving my race! As predicted I slowed significantly through the powerlines and finished this section in 2 hours 22 minutes, a 14:15 pace, only 10 sec. per mile slow that the way out. Perfect.

Miles 40 through 50. With only 10 miles to go, I was starting to feel relatively confident that despite the low mileage, my legs would hold up and I would be able to finish faster than last year. I still had two concerns, however: I was still concerned about the heat as I saw many around me begin to succumb, and I was worried about the return trip through those last technical miles before Carlton. My race really fell apart in that section last year and I couldn't be sure it wouldn't happen again. The first couple miles of this section are mostly uphill and single track. It felt good to be back in the shade. I starting filling my hat with ice at the aid stations and was keeping the heat in check. I got to the last aid station still feeling strong, and knew that I could powerwalk through the technical stuff and still finish ahead of last year. In fact, it was starting to look like if I pushed things a bit, I could actually break 11 hours, so that became my new goal. Fortunately I met up with another runner here, and we were able to push and encourage each other through the most difficult portion. I finished the last ten mile section in 2 hours, 12 minutes. A finishing time of 10:52. Not fast by any means, but it certainly felt like an accomplishment to me. Kim Holak was greeting the runners at the finish and she handed me my very sweet finishers mug, and as a 30th anniversary bonus, a nice finisher's tuke! A great group of early finishers, including most of the leaders were still around and giving encouragement to the late comers like myself. Thanks everyone.

Post race. One last note. I was sure that even though I was lucky not to have lost my legs totally during the race, that the low mileage would at the very least lead to some very sore legs after the race. In fact, my legs were quite sore for a couple hours. However, a couple Aleve, some chocolate milk, a pair of compression tights, and a good night's sleep later I was feeling surprisingly good. In fact, I was able to get in a comfortable five miles the day after the race. Who needs mileage?


  1. Congrats on the finish! It looked like everyone was dropping this year.

  2. I was working the Grand Portage AS in the afternoon and the ham radio operator at my station measured the air temp at 106! Only 114 of 154 starters even made it that far.

    Great run on a tough day!

  3. Steve - Thanks for the support. You are the king!

    Kel - I'll repeat what I said in my post. THANK YOU and all the volunteers for being out there. I can't imagine what the drop rate would have been without your help.