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VoyageurQuest Recap September 7, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps.

VoyageurQuest – A 4 day (plus prologue) stage race covering 100 miles from the northern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail to Tofte.


Prologue – 1 mile 700 foot Hill Climb

Stage  1 – 29 miles (with Cooper)

Stage 2 – 24 miles

Stage 3 – 30 miles

Stage 4 – 17 miles

This was the inaugural year for VoyageurQuest and I suspect it will be the first of many years to come.  Adventure Running Co, owned by Andy and Kim Holak, created this event and provided and first rate experience.  Leading up to the race I was intrigued by the concept of a stage race, as well being able to participate in the very first edition of this event which was taking place in my own back yard.  While I knew coming off Where’s Waldo and the Portland Century just a few days before VoyageurQuest would mean I wouldn’t be at full strength, I wanted to give it a go anyway.  The first two days my legs were quite sore and I walked most of the uphills as well as the downhills.  My legs started to feel better the third day and by the fourth I felt fairly strong, even winning Stage 4 which included some good climbs and a few lengthy downhill sections.

I experienced a pretty full gamut of emotions throughout the 5 days.  The prologue was a short but steep mile to the top of Mt. Josephine and amazing views of the lake superior, the coast and even Isle Royal in the distance.

View from the top of Mt. Josephine - Chris

View from the top of Mt. Josephine

Prologue Finish - Mt. Josephine

Stage 1 was 29 miles and Coop ran with me. Typically running with Cooper means that I move at an overall slower pace, but this was just fine as I was experiencing significant soreness. Thanks to Andy and all the other racers for letting me run with Cooper. When he gets to run trails with me his eyes light up and his tail wags a million miles an hour – both signs I will take that he is having a blast. Cooper and I ran with the eventual 1rst (Mark) and 2nd (Bill) place finishers the first few miles but I knew I couldn’t keep pace with them so Cooper and I just settled in at a nice easy pace. Coop was feeling strong that day and spent most of it running ahead about 20 yards, turning around and waiting for me with a priceless “what’s taking you so long” look on his face. 29 miles took a bit over 7 hours, but it went by pretty quickly. The views of Lake Superior from the section were really great and overall was a very pleasant and enjoyable day on the trail.

Stage 2 was 24 miles, from Judge Magney park to Grand Marais. I had run this section in the reverse direction about a month previous, so I felt comfortable that I knew the stage well enough to add a bit of strategy to the day. This was an interesting change in my approach to my events this year, as I have been more focused on competing only with myself and just completing the events as they have grown in distance. I think one of the unique features of a stage race is that you can approach each day with a plan to compete with the other runners and it added a great twist to the event for me. I knew if I had any chance of competing with Mark and Bill, Stage 2 would be the day I needed to make my move. I shadowed them the first 7 miles or so through the singletrack, noticing that on the more technical sections I seemed to close the gap on them, but in the smooth flat sections they pulled a way a bit. When we approached the “lake walk”
section of the trail I ran with Mark and Bill to the aid station and then planned to try and take the lead though the next section which ducked back into the woods and was fairly technical. I jumped ahead, Bill was happy to let me go, but Mark wasn’t about to let me go alone. I found myself playing the part of the rabbit next 6 or 7 miles as Mark stayed right on my heels. I eventually had to slow down as I started tripping over roots and rocks as I was going to fast and tiring quickly. Mark and Bill ended up finishing before me, while I took third for the stage.  I realized I wouldn’t be able to reel them in for the overall time, but I wasn’t far out of third place at the end of Stage 2.

Morning of Stage 3 - Grand Marias

Stage 3 was 30 miles and the temperature was heating up a bit. We would be leaving from Grand Marias and finishing at Lutsen Ski Resort. It was going to be a long day for sure. I especially realized this when I woke up in the morning, took a drink of water, and immediately threw up. My stomach was in revolt, and even drinking water was upsetting it. The strategy of the day included running with Mike and Connie, who were both ahead of me in the standings, but within striking distance if I could have a good day. I ran with them for a good portion of the morning and really enjoyed the conversations and company they provided. Mike is a machine – 60 years old and steady as a rock when he runs. Connie is quite a hill climber and it was a challenge to stick with her and Mike as they reeled off the miles. Eventually I had to drop back at Cascade River State park (about a third of the way through the day) as I wasn’t able to eat any food and was tiring quickly. I found myself running mostly alone the next 10 miles, only seeing people as they passed me. I went through some tough times during this stretch. I was frustrated with my body. I was angry I couldn’t mentally overcome the physical condition I was in. I started to ponder the possibility that I wouldn’t ever be competitive in ultra running because I wasn’t able to push myself to run faster. While I don’t think I would have done actually done it, I considered dropping out of the race at the next aid station. I also thought about why I was running this race in the first place – undoubtedly, Katelyn and the campaign I am on, brought me to ultra running in the first place. In addition to Katelyn’s inspiration, I found that I enjoyed ultras and the community that I had found. The beauty of trail running. The triumphs of running further than I ever thought I could. The feeling of sheer joy when tearing down a technical section of trail. I brought myself back the real reasons for running – it wasn’t to be the best runner on the trail, it was to enjoy the time on the trail and all that comes with running ultras. I decided to slow my pace, stop fighting the pain and frustration, and enjoy the run. There was an aid station around mile 20 and I planned to get there and wait for Alicia, who I met at the Voyageur 50 mile race in July and who I hadn’t been able to chat with much at this event. I looked forward to running the last section of 8-9 miles with her and catching up with her. I reached the aid station, where I had a drop bag with pop tarts and fig newtons. I tried eating a fig newton, and to my surprise my stomach seemed to appreciate the nourishment.   I sat down for a few minutes and ate a few more. I noticed on the check in sheet that Mike, who was ahead of me in the standings and who should have been ahead of me today, hadn’t checked in. I asked Doug Barton, who was volunteering and helping with the event what had happened. Apparently Mike, and then Alicia, had wandered off course a bit and were quite a ways behind me. I let this sink in, as well as a few more fig newtons. If I was ahead of Mike, and could finish the stage strong I could close the gap he had on me. The only other issue I getting to third place was Connie. She had pulled ahead of me 10 miles ago, and she also was leading me in the overall standings. I wondered how much she was adding to her lead and if it would be too big to close on Stage 4 the next day. I don’t know exactly what it was that perked me up, but probably a combination of resting for 15 minutes, eating some food and then realizing that maybe I wasn’t quite done competing for 3rd place all energized me. I set off down the trail with the goal of running as fast as I could for the next 8 miles, and getting back some of the lead Connie was building. I was able to finish strong, only 8 minutes behind Connie for the stage, and 30 minutes behind in the overall standings for 3rd place. The stage was set for Stage 4 – I had 17 miles to make up 30 minutes.

VoyagerQuest Stage 3 from Shelly Thompson

Stage 4 left Lutsen and would finish at the Tofte Town Park on Lake Superior. The strategy for the day was simple – do whatever I could to keep pace with Mark and Bill, who were far ahead of the rest of us for 1rst and 2nd place, but were still close enough to each other that they would be running hard. I guesstimated that their pace would get me to the finish line just over 30 minutes ahead of Connie and I could sneak into 3rd overall. I sandwiched my self behind Bill and in front of Mark. Bill was setting a fast pace to try and close time on Mark for the overall lead. Running with both of them, as well as with all the other runners in this event, was a learning experience. Their experience and willingness to offer advice and suggestions is invaluable. We enjoyed each others’ company for about the first 14 miles, and then with only a couple climbs left on Carlton Peak I jumped ahead – I correctly guessed that the climbing was about to be over and that I could push through the final climbs and settle in to the long down hill stretch that led to the shores of Superior. I was able to run the downhill section fast and I managed to build a slight lead over Bill and Mark, winning Stage 4.

Stage 4 Finish at Tofte

I felt strong and very happy that i executed the plan I had set out with for the day. Now I just had to wait and see when Connie would come in. But a funny thing happened while I was at the finish line – I was hanging out with Bill and Mark, Andy and Helen, and the other volunteers just talking, laughing and enjoying the day and the company. We cheered the other racers as they finished and somewhere in all the fun, I forgot about time, in all senses of it. I didn’t realize that 30 minutes had passed since I finished and that meant I had taken third place. I hadn’t started running or enjoying ultras to win them. Why should VoyageurQuest be different? The focus has always been on Katelyn and St. Jude and pushing myself into an area of discomfort and overcoming my own perceptions of what is possible. And in venturing into ultras, I had discovered rewards beyond competition and winning. There is something spiritual about running, and especially for me – running on trails. And there is something amazing about feeling a part of the community that discovered me as I have stumbled through the 4 ultra events I have completed the past two months. VoyageurQuest offered a unique venue to develop these rewards further. I continue to experience the euphemism for life that ultra running is for me, while getting to better know a pretty awesome group of people.

Finish of VoyageurQuest


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