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Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra – Recap July 26, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps.

50 miles is a long way.  A real long way!  I thought I knew this before I started the Voyageur 50, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of this distance until I crossed the finish line on Saturday.  I would be going at this on my own, as I wouldn’t have any family or friends coming up with me.  I had been preparing myself mentally for this fact most of the week as I knew I was potentially in over my head on this one.

Somewhere near the end.

Believe it or not,  I managed to get myself to the start line on time Saturday (unlike the Afton 50k just a few weeks ago), even finding time to have a couple pancakes and get my drop bags in the right piles.  I planned to not carry any food or gels, instead using my Infinit Nutrition mix and then eating whatever looked good at the time and as necessary at the aid stations.   The most important items in my drop bags were stocked bottles of Infinit,  dry socks, dry shoes and brown sugar/cinnamon pop tarts. (my favorite)    I planned to have a bottle of Infinit at 4 drops and use the socks and shoes at the the 25 mile turn around and stashed the pop tarts at the mile 41.5 drop – all turned out to be timed perfectly.  My planning worked very well  –  my feet much appreciated the dry shoes and socks after the 4 hours of off and on rain and the Infinit bottles provided the bulk of the fuel I needed.  The only issue I really had is that I couldn’t manage to make my legs go faster!

The course was beautiful and demanding at the same time.  The first ten miles or so (and the final 1o) were mostly technical singletrack with a lot of rocks and roots.  The “Powerlines” were the next section, about 3 miles. These two sections together were probably my favorites parts of the course, in a masochistic sort of way I suppose.   The course in general contained wonderful overlooks of the St. Louis river, great sections of forests and more than a couple sections of “fern jungles” – one “jungle” in particular seemed to have 3 foot ferns as far as you could see – their scent has quickly ascended  to the top of my list of  favorite forest smells.  And on a random side note, ferns always remind of the 6th grade when I went to the movie theater to watch The Land Before Time – do you remember this Jenn  P? 🙂

I am still not sure the accomplishment of finishing a 50 mile trail race has hit me yet.  I felt like there were a lot of things that went right, but I also feel like I can do better than I did.  With more training miles and more hill repeats I am sure I can shave some time when I do this again next year.  For the most part I stayed injury free.   My left knee swelled up somewhere between miles 30-35 limiting the range of motion significantly.  I did get frustrated with this a few times, as I had to awkwardly hop over the taller rocks and roots.  Reminding myself to relax and recount the reasons why I was running – for Katelyn and St. Jude –  quickly snapped me out of the funks.   Other aches and pains can be attributed to all the tough miles.  All things considered, I think I am recovering nicely – even managed a light 3 mile run tonight with only the quads giving me any negative feedback.

I think in many ways, this event was more about the community I found myself a part of, rather than the race itself, although there was some overlap.  I spent most of the miles playing leapfrog with Tracy, who currently resides in Denmark and also happens to be pregnant – check out her blog for some good reading.  Tracy and I kept each other company as we passed each other quite a few times over many of the miles.  When we would hit a tough section of trail she often gave a quick out loud laugh/shriek that always startled me into a big smile.  I don’t think the race would have been as enjoyable had she not been there.

pic by Tracy

pic by HL

Another piece of the community puzzle fell into place the Thursday before the race.  I was perusing the blog of Helen Lavin – and noticed that she had a race on her schedule that I was interested in learning more about (I am not spilling the beans just yet as to which race that might be…)  I sent an email to Helen and over the course of the next 24 hours I had some info on my race and an offer from her to grab a campsite for me at the Voyageur (I think her intuition that I could probably use a little help kicked in:)  ).

This offer turned out to be quite significant as I got out of the cities late on friday and didn’t get up to Carlton until after 8 pm  – with the campgrounds full.   Once I had my tent set up and returned to the campground after dinner my education on how to run the race began.  Helen and two of her friends (Alicia and Alicia), all accomplished ultra runners, cheerfully answered all my rookie questions and calmed my nerves.  As I settled in my sleeping bag for the night I was starting to feel that although I had come to run a 50 mile race through the woods alone, I wasn’t at all lonely.

pic by HL

About a minute before the race started, I bumped into the wife of a friend that I play baseball with – Misty.  She hadn’t planned on coming up to the race but made the decision to run and came up last minute.  Misty and her husband Tony had been big cheerleaders for me at the Afton race so it was nice to see Misty again at Voyageur.    Helen and Alicia (a-lee-see-a) were volunteering at the race, while Alicia (a-lee-sha) was running.  As I saw each of them throughout the day they all had a smile and words of encouragement for me.  Alicia (running Alicia) tuned out to be pretty sick and she still managed to flash a huge smile and encourage me to keep up the good work, even through her own struggles.    And Misty is always ready to cheer everyone on – I was more than happy to share some of my peanut M&M’s when I

saw her at mile 30 after the turn around.  Again, I had come to the race alone, but I was far from lonely.

pic by HL

I finished the race in 10 hours and 10 minutes.  I don’t think there is a coincidence in that time, as my uneducated guess leading up to the race all week was that it might take about 10 hours.  I guess I should have guessed 8 hours instead – hah.   I settled in at the finish line with about a dozen  people  who all knew each other, among them were John Storkamp (the race director for the Afton Trail run – he remembered me as the guy that showed up late and gave me a little jeering for that) and Valeria, also someone I know from Afton and who finished 4th for the women.  Soon Alicia and Misty joined that group  – and we cheered every last runner through the finish line.   Make no mistake about it, most of these runners are “ultra” competitive – but more astounding to me is their endless desire to encourage every runner on the course – even the ones they often battle to the finish line.  Everyone I met the day of the race was genuinely friendly and for a few hours of their lives, let me live in their ultra circle.  Even before I finished running the race, I was thinking about the lessons I was gleaning from the experiences of the weekend.  I already felt the strong sense of community leading up to the race and during the race.  Experiencing the finish line area as an outsider that was taken in by the group, and participating with that group as they cheered every last runner through the finish line confirmed it for me – this race wasn’t about the race quite as much as it seemed.  And I didn’t have to go at this alone – there was a whole community ready to lend a hand or word of encouragement whenever I needed it.  And not only to me – the community was reaching out to everybody.   To experience this, witness this and participate in this outreach was a resounding reminder that whatever the challenge that lays before us, we don’t have to internalize and conquer it alone – there is always a community ready to lend a hand.

Thanks to everyone that contributed to this realization, and for encouraging me on to finishing my first 50 mile run.


Running down the stairs - pic by HL


1. Tracy - July 27, 2010

Chris, what an outstanding recap. You are spot on about the ultra community. I love the way people can be so competitive and yet so encouraging to others. I had thought this before but never put it into words. Must be that lots of ultra runners are very internally driven.

I think you did awesome for your first fifty miler and you paced yourself really well. I am certain you will continue to get faster at ultras for quite some time. Especially because you really seemed to enjoy the experience!

whereschrisscotch - July 27, 2010

Thanks so much for you comments and the encouragement! I really did enjoy the experience as I know you did as well! Safe travels back home and good luck with everything – can’t wait to run with you again!

2. SteveQ - July 27, 2010

Congrats on a great first 50! I ran with Tracy (for about a mile) on the course last year and you’re right: she makes it easier. Hope to see you on the trails some time this year – you’re already one ultra ahead of me so far.

whereschrisscotch - July 27, 2010

Steve – thanks for checking things out! hopefully we bump into each other!

3. shira granote - July 29, 2010

What an accomplishment Chris! Whatever the final time is or your self-thoughts and evaluations are, remember that what ever you do with your whole heart is worth more than the defined outcome.

Awesome pictures, love that you’re smiling through it all. 😉 ps. Cooper is a great pal.

whereschrisscotch - July 29, 2010

Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment. I appreciate your support and you always have a little nugget of valuable insight. 🙂


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