To be perfectly honest, as I sit here right now, I could probably sum up the Voyageur in one word; Ouch! But as you'd expect from a 50 mile race, there are many things that occur and many things that one has to go through from start to finish.
I started out my morning with a 4am wakeup. A little bit of coffee an english muffin, and three M&M's (one red, one orange, and one yellow) and I was ready to go.
The forecast called for temps in the 80's and a 50% chance of rain in the afternoon. When I got to Carlton at 6am it was obvious that it was going to be a very warm day and eventually the forecast proved to be right.
We got going at 7am and as I did last year, I hung towards the middle of the pack, keeping things slow and easy for the first 3.5 miles. This first section of the race is mostly single track trail, filled with roots and rocks, it's great fun to run on this challenging terrain when you're fresh. Not so much after you've already ran 47 miles however, as happens upon your return back to Carlton.
After crossing the swinging bridge, it's there that I often feel like the race actually starts. We swing onto some open ski trail in Jay Cooke. It's a chance to run a bit quicker if you like, and to chat with runners. I ran with fellow DRC Team Member, Ron Hendrickson through a good chunk of Jay Cooke.
For me, the first 10 miles or so went by very smoothly and I was feeling great. Then, the power lines. It's in the infamous power line section that the first introduction of hurt begins in the Voyageur. Many of these steep hills are simply un-runnable, you work your way up and gently tread your way down them, over and over again, all while being exposed to the sun and heat of the day. I got behind a couple of guys who were probably going a bit slower than I wanted to at the time, but I decided to hang back with them and move ahead a little later.
I got through the power line section rather easily and moved on down the trail, still full of running and feeling very good. For most of the rest of the first half of the race, I was feeling great. I was passing runners and moving smoothly. I began to imagine who I would catch, could I move in to the top 10? Either way, I just wanted to stay consistent and prepare myself for the voyage back.
Running the long downhill into the zoo, I started to see some of the lead runners making their way back. Another fellow DRC Team Member, Chris Rubesch was looking solid in 5th place at the time, we wished each other luck and continued on our respective ways. (Chris would end up running a great race and finishing 4th)
I got to the Zoo in 4 hours 3 minutes, which was a bit slower than I had hoped, but not too bad. It was great to see everyone there, helping out and chatting. Kandi, Paul, Shane and Dave were awesome and really lifted my spirits. It was tempting just to stay there and hang with them for the rest of the day!
However, I still had the second half of the race to go, so I started the long climb out of the zoo and over Spirit Mountain. It was there that I started having trouble. It was very, very hot down by the zoo and my stomach started cramping. I was experiencing some difficulty and decided to take things easy for a while and hopefully I could get through this bad patch and start moving better again soon.
There comes a time in every 50 mile race when things are not going well and having the experience of being through that before comes in very handy. Also, having run the same race last year was of great help to me because I knew what to expect and what parts of the course would be more runnable than others given my state of discomfort.
So I was able to locate some strength and locate some motivation and once the long climb was over I was able to start pushing again. I had been passed by quite a few people between the aid station and my slow climb but I knew that there was a very good chance that I'd see some of them again as the second half of the race is a totally different thing than the first half of the race.
Things started improving as I made my way out of Magney and down Skyline. I got to the Becks Road aid station and I was starting to feel better. It was obvious to me that I'd worked through the bad patch and I was able to start moving more fluidly again.
Moving through the rest of the course on the way back was still a lot of work. As you'd expect, my legs were heavy and sore, my stomach was still not 100% but it was getting better. It's in these times of the race that you simply move forward, running when you can and walking when you need to. And when I say "running", it's really more like a shuffle, nowhere near the kind of running that one does for the first part.
Often, for the trip back, you're running by yourself and things can get lonely but as you come into an aid station, you hear human voices and your spirit magically lifts! This happened to me at the Peterson's aid station. I had just turned a corner and slowed to a walk, my head was down and I was hurting. Then the aid station volunteers spotted me through the trees and started cheering! Instantly a smile came to my face and I was running again and there, at the aid station, I discovered a magical food; salty bananas!
I can only describe salty bananas by saying they taste just as bad as you'd expect! I watched as another runner took a bit of banana and rolled it in a bowl of salt. "Brilliant!" I though to myself and since she was doing that, and was ahead of me, I figured I'd try it too. Plus with the intense heat, I had been loosing a lot of salt and my stomach couldn't really handle my Heed/Whey drink I had left in my drop bags, so I was only taking water at the aid stations.
I rolled a chunk of banana in the bowl of salt and took a tentative bite. Yuck! It tasted exactly like salt on a banana, which is not a tasty combination. But it worked! I started running again out of the aid station and though my stomach complained a bit later, my energy level returned and I was able to run much quicker and more consistent.
Two more aid stations came before the end and I went with the salty bananas the rest of the way. I was certainly dead tired and ready to be done, but I knew that I'd finish fine and knowing that really improved my mood.
It was great to see familiar faces, friends of mine at the last aid station at Jay Cooke. Lisa, and Ron (who unfortunately had to drop out) and Shane really brightened my spirits and helped make the last 3 miles along the river more tolerable.
I moved along through the roots and rocks as best I could, walking through some of the more rocky sections and some of the ups but mostly just trying to get the damn thing over with! After what seemed like a long 3 miles, I came to the Munger Trail. I was nearly home!
It's such a relief coming back to the Munger and making that turn into town toward the school. It's funny how you can be so incredibly tire and still locate some strength to run hard, to finish strong.
So it was another successful Voyageur for me. I ran a little slower this year than last year, but I feel like I ran better. I certainly ran tougher and smarter. It helped having some inspiration from so many volunteers and friends that came to watch and those who were in my heart and mind. Thank you all!
*(Photos courtesy of Paul Behrens)