Running up, over and through the cogs

Meet the Meat Grinder: The 2013 Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra 50 Mile Race Report

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

In this year’s comeback from last fall’s IT band injury, I have been doing a lot of sparring at the gym. It’s a good thing I have been doing so, because the only thing that properly prepared me for the type of beating I would take at the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Race on July 27, 2013 was getting punched over and over again by dudes bigger and stronger than me.

And just as it goes in the ring, sometimes getting your bell rung can be the most beautiful thing in the world.

Pre-Race, Friday, July 26, 2013

First thing in the morning and my heels hit the ground pain free.

This is good. This is very good, I say to myself.

I haven’t run a step since Saturday and the extra rest has given me full motion in my ankles and heels, something I am going to need as I mentally and physically prepare myself for Minnesota Voyageur. The Achilles pain that scared me most of the week seems to be absent and with this added rest I feel confident about tackling the tough, gnarly course.

My friend, Kirsten, who I met last year at Clinton Lake, shows up at my house with Jim, another ultrarunner from central Illinois, and all three of us exude excitement with a hint of anxiety as we load the car and begin the 8-hour trek north towards the Minnesota wilderness.

The drive is long and confusing — long because it’s 480 miles from my house to Carlton, Minnesota; and confusing because it’s 55 degrees and pouring rain most of the way. Between the spry conversation and the giddy storytelling of ultra-adventures past, I make sure to look at my watch every now and then just to remind myself that it really is late July.

We arrive in Carlton and walk to packet pick-up shivering in the cold, wet rain.

The high for tomorrow is 57, says Jim as I pinch myself hoping to wake up in a warmer state. Supposed to be 42 at the start.

Wow.

With our race shirts and bibs in hand, we get news that this year’s course will be different than the original one. Due to some washed out areas and bridge construction, the course has been modified from the one that made it famous, but we are assured that all the familiar Voyageur sections will still be there, including the infamous power line section of steep, brutal climbs.

We head back to the hotel, eat dinner and then commiserate on the less-than-summery skies mother nature will provide us tomorrow. We all agree that the cooler temps will make for nice running weather, but the chilly rain will make things quite sloppy. This isn’t going to be an easy fifty (are any of them really?), but the good news is: we are all prepared for a fight.

Jim, you ready to finish your first 50 miler? I ask.

Yes, I am, he emphatically replies.

More than satisfied with his confident answer, I wish he and Kirsten both a good night, turn off the lights and fall fast asleep.

Pre-Race, Saturday, July 27, 2013
3:45 a.m.

*BEEP BEEP BEEP*

WAKE THE HELL UP, JEFF! says my brain to my body as I desperately reach for the “off” button on my smartphone’s alarm clock. I look around to see Kirsten and Jim are rising along with me.

Who thought it was a good idea to run 50 miles this morning? Jim asks.

Excellent. We’re cracking jokes well before the crack of dawn and that’s a great sign. Unfortunately, the weather report has jokes too, unwavering from its estimated high of 57 degrees. And right now, as I shove two bananas and a Clif Bar down my throat in the black of morning, it’s a balmy 43 degrees.

Armed with this bit of irony, the three of us ready ourselves with our own pre-race rituals. I take some time to get my head right, to focus my mental game on pushing my physical.

There is no question that I am stronger, right now, than I ever have been before. This increased muscle mass was born out of less miles and more rounds in the gym, so while I know the body is there for a full-on physical adventure through the woods, I still have questions about my endurance, especially over the course of a demanding, difficult race like I will face today.

The only other question mark entering my psyche this morning is whether or not my heels will hold up on this challenging terrain. I won’t know until I get going, so it’s no use worrying about it now.

Instead, I focus on being confident, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to get my stubborn ass moving the way I want.

5:30 a.m.

After a 25-minute drive and some nasty, watered down gas station coffee, Jim, Kirsten and I find ourselves shivering together in the Carlton High School parking lot, still scratching our heads at the unorthodox July chill. It’s 47 degrees as we prepare to toe the start line and I overhear another runner say it was 80-something last year.

What a difference a year makes, I say as I stick my hand down my shorts to slather Vaseline all over my nether region, further exemplifying why I love the ultra community so much. Here I am coating my crack with grease mid-conversation and no one seems to notice, or care. It’s just part of the game.

So too is putting yourself in arduous predicaments. In fact, THIS is what I live for — the challenge of NOW — and I know that, no matter what, this entire day is going to be an adventurous exercise in taming doubt and experiencing the present, through every possible channel.

We pose for a final pre-race picture before the race director gives his speech.

Jim, Kirsten and I pre-race. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

Jim, Kirsten and I pre-race. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

A couple of good-luck fist bumps later and…

WE’RE OFF!

Miles 1-3

Slow, slow, slow.

Let’s go slow.

I repeat the above mantra as I settle somewhere in the middle of the pack.

My goal for today is to FINISH, of course. That’s always my first goal of any ultra distance race. But I would be a liar if I didn’t admit my sincere desire to run a sub-11 hour race today. After my dreamlike Western States pacing experience last month, I really want to start putting my name in the Western States lottery, and to do so I need to qualify with a sub-11 hour 50 miler. Because I plan to focus on Chicago Marathon training after this, I likely won’t be running any more 50s this year, so this is my one and only shot.

But considering how tough this course is, combined with the elements of rain and chill, I know that it is going to be nothing short of a fight to achieve that.

I’m also unsure about my heels. And as we start the short jog on paved bike path toward the trail head, my left Achilles starts giving me that wonky, sharp-YOW-YOW-give-out sensation. It’s not as serious as it was before, but it’s there, so each step seems like a question mark. For now, I try to be aware but not obsessive.

Once we turn onto the trail, the conga line of runners keeps my pace in check. Here there are jagged rocks and technical terrain alongside the gorgeously flowing St. Louis River. My heart rate is low. I’m just getting warm. Enjoying the slow.

You have all damn day out here, Jeff. No need to waste yourself now, I tell myself.

By the time we reach the multi-track leading to the first aid station at Leimer Road, my heels are all warmed up and won’t be an issue the rest of the day. Halle-ultra-lujah!!!

At the aid station, I grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips that I wash down with a half-water-half-blue-Powerade mix. My most successful fueling strategy for ultras thus far has been to go on the “see food” diet, eating whatever I see that looks/sounds good at the time, favoring savory over sweet as much as possible. Yesterday I made sure to avoid all dairy products (they tend to make my gut a crap-shoot *rimshot*), so as long as I eat a little bit of real food at every station, supplemented with the occasional gel when I need it, I should be okay.

The aid station personnel kick ass with their awesomeness and before I head out, I tell them I can’t wait to see them again, some 44 miles down the road.

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

Miles 3-8

The Minnesota Voyageur is a wild, picturesque out-and-back course from Carlton to Duluth. I know I need to average 12-13 minute miles the best I can to finish under 11 hours; and while this seems like it should be no sweat for a three-hour marathoner who averages 7-minute mile pace in a road marathon, maintaining a 13-minute mile pace over this rugged terrain is going to be tough.

There are going to be spots along the course where running is just not possible. Hell, after hearing grizzled vets talk about what was in store for us this morning, I know that there are going to be spots along the course where even power hiking will be impossible — spots where we’ll be lucky to put one foot in front of the other without breaking something!

This is why instead of darting up ahead and through the conga line of mid-packers like I normally would, I just stay right here, somewhere in the middle, letting the natural pace of things rule. I am in no hurry. In fact, at Ice Age and Howl at the Moon last year, I suffered greatly from running too fast too early, so I know better and do my best to keep my heart rate low and my smile wide as I take in the beautiful forest all around me.

In every direction I see the greenest green. Luscious leaves of birch and pine soar high above me, the woodsy waft of nature fills my nose. This section out of Leimer Road is quite runnable, so I find a nice, easy, comfortable gear and just ride it steady, happy to be alive. I cruise along with other runners until there is a sudden halt in the line.

What’s going on? I ask, leaning my head to the side to see if I can see what the hold-up is. Before anyone can answer I see we have reached a shin deep stream crossing and some people up front are trying to figure out how to best get across.

It’s drizzling, it’s chilly. The trail is soaked, soggy and sloppy. It’s an absolute given that the feet are going to get and stay wet all day, so I bust out of the line and charge to the front, happy to jump in and out of the stream, off and running on the other side. Besides, my feet are protected with 2Toms BlisterShield Powder and Injinji socks, a combination that hasn’t let me down yet, so YEEEEEE HAAAAAW!

After another good stretch of running on flat, grassy trail, I cross another stream in much the same way — banging on through without a care in the world, happy to be a part of this lovely forest. I am leap frogging with several friendly faces, but unlike most other races, I am not in a real talkative mood. I’m feeling more introspective, happy to live this particular adventure with my thoughts to myself.

This is pretty suiting, since I’m thinking about a lot of people today, especially my friends running the Burning River 100 Mile Race in Ohio. Thinking of them doubling the distance in similar rainy conditions motivates me to move along the best I can, to pace myself responsibly and to enjoy the experience.

During an ultra, it’s pretty common for me to question myself, to wonder why I keep going out on these long, time-consuming, muscle-busting journeys that test my physical and mental abilities unlike anything else. When such doubt enters the mind I remind myself how much my face hurts from SMILING.

I absolutely love it. What other reason do I need?

The Bull Run aid station greets me at the 8.1 mile mark. I grab some more peanut butter and jelly, some bananas and an orange slice before I kick out down the road.

Miles 8-11

And yes, it is a road. A long, welcoming downhill, road. My instinct is to bomb down it, but I’m working smart today, so I just take it easy, chilling on the ride down.

What’s really cool is that I can see, about a mile down the road, all of the runners ahead of me. What’s not cool is that I know I’ll have to traverse UP this damn thing later in the race, with 39 miles in my legs.

But today we’re working with the NOW, and that’s all that matters. Right now, I’m having a great time. Legs feel good. Heels feel good. Head feels good. Out on the open road it’s a bit chilly with the breeze, but otherwise I’m quite comfortable in my long sleeve technical tee and trademark short-shorts. Best of all, I’m right on time with my splits as I reach the end of the road and say hello to the good folks at the Chambers Grove aid station. More peanut butter and jelly. More half-water-half-blue-Powerade mix. More bananas and oranges.

Nom nom nom.

A quick thank you and cap tip later and I’m off to tackle the first of the infamous power line sections.

Miles 11-16

Now begins the climbing. Seriously.

Minnesota Voyageur and the power lines might as well be synonymous, because in my course study before the race, I couldn’t find any source that didn’t mention them both. Notoriously steep climbs equipped with the loud background buzz of high voltage, these hills test my patience as much as my body. But I am ready for both.

After I crest and coast down the last one I turn back to the nice woman behind me and say, Well, that wasn’t so tough.

Ha! she replies, we haven’t even gotten to the big ones yet.

Before we get there, we still have to travel through some more winding up-and-down trail. The ground is wet. It’s still drizzling off and on. But the footing is still pretty good and I make sure to take the downhills easy as opposed to trucking right down. With the grade as high as it is on some of these downhills, bombing them just isn’t possible and my quads probably couldn’t take it later on, even if I could. Caution ain’t a bad idea.

Several times we reach a point where the trail has been “closed” for “our safety”, except that the course markings lead us right through said signs and accompanying fence blockage, not bothered by whatever possible danger may lurk beyond.

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

(Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

The race director has jokes too! Ha! I love it!

As I reach Peterson’s aid station (where they have Ginger Snaps, holy-effing-YES!), I notice my right hip is aching pretty loudly. I stuff my face with cookies, bananas and oranges while I gently massage the bursa sac that likes to get inflamed sometimes during these crazy outings. It’s a nuisance, yes, but a nuisance I can and WILL overcome.

Miles 16-21

I go through more runnable, grassy trail before I hit the second section of power lines. I know I’ve reached the second section because I’m now looking straight up at the beasts I have to climb and my neck is not a fan.

Here’s where all those pistol squats are going to pay off, Jeff. Here’s where Kettle Moraine and Western States and Big Bertha repeats are going to pay off. Keep your head down, your confidence high and just get the job done.

Up, up, up.

Gingerly. Carefully. Slow enough not to tumble and break my face… down, down, down.

Up, up, up. Down, down, down.

Repeat.

Over and over.

One of the power lines. See that thing in the middle of the picture? Yeah, that's a runner. Image still doesn't do the steepness any justice. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

Here is one of the power lines. See that thing in the middle of the picture? Yeah, that’s a runner. Image still doesn’t do the steepness any justice. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

As I cautiously crest a climb, clinging to some foliage to keep from teetering back towards my death, I hear off in the distance RUNNER COMING THROUGH!

What the —

It’s the youthful race leader, coming towards me, blazing by with ease and the most patriotic red, white and blue short-shorts.

Stars and stripes forever!!! I holler as I wave him through. He smiles and thanks me. Wow, the dude isn’t even sweating. He’s 10 miles ahead of me and not even sweating!

TEN MILES! HOLY SHIT! I’M NOT WORTHY, I’M NOT WORTHY!

I will say this to myself again as the rest of the leaders come through behind him. Meanwhile, it’s all I can do to keep moving forward, up and down the last power line before I make it to the Beck’s Road aid station at mile 21.

I have a drop bag here, and while the idea of changing socks and clothes sounds good right now, I’m going to wait until I get back at mile 28 to consider any of that. I still have to get to the turnaround before 11:30 a.m. to be on target with my sub-11 goal, and I have lots of hard work to do before that so I can’t waste any time.

I grab some grub, refill my handheld bottle and boom, I’m off.

Miles 21-25

Here is a mile and a half section that is flat as a pancake. From studying the course beforehand, I know that this is a place I really gotta push the pace because it’s the calm before the storm that is Jarrow Beach (pronounced JAH-row) — a section I’m told will “chew me up and spit me out”.

I try to run fast, pumping my arms as hard as I can to see if that will get my motor running. The problem is, I’ve been stuck in low gear all day long and now anything more than a steady jog seems impossible. Just as I work myself up to feeling good and speedy, I reach a defunct railroad bridge reminiscent of a Stephen King novel.

Cross me, if you dare! But I advise you not to look down, bwahahahaha! (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

Cross me, if you dare! But I advise you not to look down, bwahahahaha! (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

As I cautiously tip toe my way across, all the momentum I just built up on the flat ceases. The rain starts to come down a little harder too, further insulting my efforts.

But as soon as I get over the bridge, I have more fast moving terrain to spring me forward, making me feel pretty confident as I cruise along, taking in the sights and sounds. I’ll be at the turnaround soon and it looks like I will get there before 11:30.

My head is filled with happy thoughts.

I’m having a blast.

I’m enjoying the ride of life…

Until I find myself at Jarrow Beach.

Jarrow-effing-Beach. Where the hell is the sand? Where are the bikinis? Can’t I even get a mai-tai?

This ain’t no damn beach, this is a bone-breaking ankle trap intent on taking me down! If the power lines slowed me to a power hike and the dilapidated railroad crossing slowed me to a tip toe, the jaggedly edged boulders protruding through the earth at Jarrow Beach force me to a crawl.

No hyperbole here. I’m definitely crawling over the rocks. Sometimes I can stand enough to tepidly place one foot on another rock while I desperately search for a place to safely put the other, but it’s raining and the rocks are all covered in slippery moss making this traverse quite a challenge on my entire body.

Two guys I’ve been yo-yo-ing with in the race have caught up to me now and the three of us curse like sailors as we try to get through Jarrow without killing ourselves. I can’t help but slip and fall a couple of times. I twist an ankle — not badly, but enough to notice. I slip and land on a jagged edge, bruising my arches, toes, elbows, wrists and heels.

There is no running here. There is only surviving.

For the first time all race, I am extremely hot and sweaty. But we must soldier on.

Together, the three of us — me and two strangers who must like pushing themselves just as much as I do — fight through this section, one rock and misplaced foot at a time.

Our reward for getting through Jarrow Beach is some more flat terrain before the turnaround. I try to bust out with some speed, but my bruised and achy feet aren’t so excited about that, so I just move the best I can.

I reach the Magney aid station, halfway through the race, at 11:15 a.m. Right on target, but not without damage.

Most of all, I’m feeling pretty tired — an all-body tired, the kind you get from being on your feet all day climbing insane hills and picking your way through a boulder laced killing field. But my left arch is particularly achy from a poor landing and my right hip bursitis is really aggravating now. Besides that, both of my piriformis muscles are inflamed, causing that all too familiar butt ache to pulse to the rhythm of my heart.

But my stomach is doing well. I’m pissing clear and often. And I’M HALFWAY DONE, HUZZAH!

Miles 25-29

Off I go, knowing that I have to go through that damn Jarrow Beach again. Having done it once, I now have the confidence that I will get through it no matter what, and that my reward will be another mile and a half section of fast, flat terrain where I can really make up some time.

Jim posing on Jarrow Beach, sans bikini. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

Jim posing on Jarrow Beach, sans bikini. (Image courtesy of Kirsten Pieper)

While I make the second pass through the boulders, I start to see all the other runners coming back towards me on their way to the turnaround. This offers me some delight. It’s always nice to see friendly, encouraging faces on the trail during a long effort. It’s even nicer to know I don’t have to do the boulder field again.

I get through with just minor scrapes and bruises this time and bust ass over the railroad crossing and back onto the long stretch of runnable trail. I’m moving much faster this time, despite the aches and pains, because I can’t wait to get to Beck’s aid station where I have the ultra-cocktail of Ibuprofen and Red Bull waiting for me. I also plan to change socks, shirt and hat, because the ones I’m in now are disgustingly soaked.

Sometimes, just putting on a dry shirt can make all the difference.

I reach Beck’s and as soon as I locate my drop bag, the sky opens up and, as if to laugh at my plan of getting into drier clothes, it begins to POUR RAIN!

What can I do but laugh?

Haha, you got me, Minnesota Voyageur. I know this wasn’t ever gonna be easy. Trust me, I get it. I get the joke now.

I’m in the middle of changing socks anyway, so I complete the change as planned and top it all off with my ultra-cocktail and some Icy Hot on my hip. I kick out down the trail as the heavens continue to rain down.

Miles 29-34

I don’t really mind the weather since I’m under canopy for the first part after Beck’s. But when I reach the bottom of the first power line section on the way back I realize what kind of test I’m really in for.

Mud, mud and more mud.

How could we possibly make a terrifying climb harder than it already is? Add pouring rain and a slick, muddy surface so that with every step forward you take at least two or three slip-and-slide ones back.

At first, I move forth daintily, trying to avoid a complete fall into the mud as I cautiously attempt to climb along the best line I can find. The problem is, mother nature don’t give a shit and before I know it I’m falling face down in the mud, clinging to the slanted earth with my fingers deeply embedded into the mud.

The nozzle on my water bottle is all but caked over in the rich, red clay and my new, clean (ha!) shirt is a pretty shade of filth. I’m lucky that one of the women I’ve been leap frogging with today is alongside for this section, because multiple times she has to push my ass up while I attempt to pull myself forward.

The pouring rain makes each step a dangerous one. And once I finally get to the top, I still have to go down.

Only way but one, the woman says as she butt slides her way down ahead of me. She’s totally right. I try to take soft, easy, calculated steps, but the ground is so sloppy and loose that it just gives way, sucking me down with it.

With mud on my face, in my ears and up my ass crack under the pouring rain, I wonder if I’m in an Oliver Stone film or in a 50 miler. Either way, this is the path I chose.

How often do you get to play in the mud? I ask myself.

Obviously, not often enough! YEEEEEE HAAAAAW!

Miles 34-39

Like a prize fighter just off his stool for the 12th round, I stumble into the Peterson’s aid station, rain and sweat streaking down my body.

Boy, am I happy to see you! I shout. I’ve been thinking about those Ginger Snaps for longer than I’d like to admit!

I grab a couple of them, even though they’re soggy and gross, and I force them down my throat while I get my bottle refilled. I look at my watch and know it’s going to be a struggle. I lost a lot of time on both Jarrow Beach sections and this last set of power lines. What’s worse is that the steepest climb of them all is yet to come and the rain is not letting up. If I want to get in under 11 hours I’m going to have to run all the runnable stuff as hard as I can.

At least the Red Bull and Ibuprofen are kicking in. My left arch and right hip are quieting, but my quads and butt, neck and shoulders are all taking a beating now too. In this tired, downtrodden state, the rest of the run will be an aid-station-to-aid-station test, and I won’t know if I can make the time until I inch a bit closer.

For now, all I can do is get through the aid stations as quickly as possible and give my best effort no matter the terrain.

I bust out of Peterson’s and take advantage of the rolling hills where I can, but once I get to the last power line section, I can’t help but think my time goal is doomed. Under all this rain, on top of all this slippery mud, there is simply no footing. I have no choice but to lie flat on my belly, in a leaning bear crawl position, and dig my hands into the side of the earth to pull myself up the hill.

The last and steepest of the climbs does all it can to knock me out, to put me out of my happy-misery. But it can’t. I signed up for this and I don’t care how much things hurt right now, I’m getting over this hill.

On the peak of the last climb I take a second to stretch my arms out wide, head pointed up towards the pounding rain. I laugh in the face of hardship and beat my chest before I mudslide down on my butt like a little kid.

IMG_20130727_194320_784

I look at my watch and know I need to get to Chambers Grove soon. There, in my other drop bag, is another Red Bull. That, combined with the knowledge that I’ll only be 11 miles from the finish line might be enough to get me under 11 hours. But I gotta hurry.

Miles 39-42

Ahh, yes, but stupid me forgot about that ROAD CLIMB!!!

What was a long, happy, stretched out downhill coast the first time around is now a dooming, massive, impregnable power hike up what looks like forever.

I won’t make eleven hours. Shit. It’s just too much at this point.

*BIG FAT DEFEATED SIGH*

Oh well. I’ll still finish…

I’LL STILL FINISH.

Up, up, up I go.

Waaaaay ahead of me I see the silhouette of a girl who passed me around mile 5. I’m going to go catch her. I’m coming for ya, girl who passed me at mile 5! Here I come.

Head down, arms pumping.

Forget about the rain. Forget about the aches. Forget about the discomfort. You’re going to finish this thing and you’re going to feel so good about it for so long so just… keep… MOVING.

After what seems like forever, I’m finally at the top of the road and back on trail.

Oh yes how I love you, sweet, sweet trail!

I run as fast as I can (which, let’s admit, ain’t that fast really), taking advantage of every single downhill, despite the poor footing, while power hiking my ass off on every significant uphill section. It’s all or nothing now, only 8 miles to the finish.

And I have… (looking at my watch) an hour and thirty minutes to get in under 11?

Miles 42-47

Hot dog! I holler as I push through the pain and concentrate on high cadence and lots of arm pumping.

I quickly grab some grub at the Bull Run aid station, thank everyone there and move quickly through the rolling terrain. The rain continues to fall, but it’s less violent now and almost undetectable considering I’m nothing short of a muddy, soggy, sweaty mess.

A muddy, soggy, sweaty mess with a SMILE on his face and a pain in his ass! Ha!

She eluded me on the road, but ironically now just five miles from the finish, I see that same girl who passed me at mile five up ahead. I decide I have to pass her now.

Head down, arms pumping.

A few minutes later I’m cruising on by, exchanging happy salutations with her as she keeps her slower pace. I look down at my watch again and know that if I can get to Leimer Road with at least 40 minutes left, I might be able to break 11 hours. I say, “might” because the last three miles include a lot of technical terrain and another jagged rock field that will definitely slow my pace.

You’ll never know if you never try, I tell myself, and we know that the only thing worse than missing your goal is knowing you didn’t give your best effort.

HEAD DOWN. ARMS PUMPING.

Miles 47-50

I whiz through the Leimer Road aid station, falling just short of telling the volunteers I want to make love to you all! I don’t have time to tell them exactly how much I appreciate their being out here today, so a quick “THANKS I LOVE YOU” will have to do. No doubt, this race features grade-A race personnel. Every single volunteer I have come in to contact with today has been as helpful as he/she has been kind.

And let’s not forget, standing outside in the cold, pouring rain isn’t very fun if you’re not running over gorgeous terrain. I blow them all a kiss and charge down the multi-track trail which turns left and back on to the technical stuff along the St. Louis River.

I have about 30 minutes to get to the finish line now as I slowly and deliberately pick my way over rocky trail. I haven’t been using the GPS function at all today, knowing it would kill my battery, so I have no clue really how far I have yet to go. My body throbs and aches with each slowed step and when I squat down to go under a fallen tree blocking the trail, I realize just how seriously messed up my body is.

Getting back out of the squat takes all the effort I can find — serving as one final joke from mother nature and the Minnesota Voyageur before I am able to push on towards the final stretch.

Ha! Too bad the joke’s not on me today!

I bust out of the trail and onto the paved bike path in Carlton. The finish line is less than a mile away. I have fifteen minutes to make it there.

Oh boy, here it comes.

The tears.

Why this happens to me so often on the longer, more spirited efforts I’ll never know, but I do know that I can’t fight it anymore.

Fucking cry, who cares. You deserve a good cry every now and then anyway.

I follow the yellow ribbons toward the right hand turn to Carlton High School.

And there it is.

There is that beautiful, glorious, triumphant finish line.

I did it.

I ran the Minnesota Voyageur 50 in 10 hours 51 minutes. I open up my arms, point my head to the sky and enjoy every last drop of rain falling on my face.

I.

AM.

ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!

Post-Race

After the race I grabbed a quick shower inside Carlton High School (a great race bonus by the way!) and changed clothes so I could wait outside for Kirsten and Jim to finish. Seeing them on the out-and-back section was a real boost to my morale and I wanted to be sure I got to see them finish.

They came in at 12 hours and 40 minutes and we all shared a good hug, especially celebrating Jim’s first 50.

In fact, I hugged just about anyone who would hug me as they came across the finish line. There’s nothing quite like being witness to one’s ultra victory. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, spend some time at a finish line and watch the range of ecstasy flowing through the faces. You won’t regret it.

That night, back at our hotel, celebratory beers in hand, the three of us reminisced over our individual battles. Every single muscle in my body ached. For two whole days! Including muscles that have never ached during a run before (forearms, biceps, neck!)

Admittedly, I’ve never been beat up so badly by a race. But I was doing the Frankenstein walk like a champ.

As every enlightened sage and holy man has ever attested, to be whole, you must be broken.

Right now I’m about as whole as I can get.

Or at least I am until…

The next adventure…

Kirsten standing proud on one of the power lines.

Kirsten standing proud on one of the power lines.

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16 responses

  1. Dan

    Badass, Jeff. Another amazing 50-miler in the books. It seems like you have so far been lucky with weather, at least in terms of where the mercury peaks. Didn’t last summer’s 8-hour run end up being super cool? Or am I confusing that with another race? Either way, you’ve come up on the cooler side of things despite all statistical evidence pointing to July being, you know, summer.

    It’s inspiring to read stuff like this, especially since Otter and I are less than four weeks away from our first 50-miler. Temperatures like the ones we’ve experienced recently are encouraging, but no guarantee for what late August will have in store for us. Glad to see you were able to overcome the myriad challenges you faced before and during the race to cross that finish line in under goal time.

    That said, I do not envy the terrain you had to face. Those boulders and power climbs sound like they would humble the strongest runner and I’m in no shape to tackle such unforgiving terrain. Here’s to hoping my maiden voyage isn’t as ruthless (though, as you said, no 50-miler is easy, so I guess I’ll just have to man up, right?).

    Bravo, good sir.

    July 30, 2013 at 09:24

    • That’s right, Dan. Head down, arms pumping. It’s gonna get tough at one point or another (possibly many points) but you just keep moving, go aid station to aid station, and you will be just fine.

      Most of all, remember to have fun!

      You’re right, I have gotten away with summer running in cooler temps the last couple of years (our Peapod Half last year was equally cool during late August), but I would have taken an extra 10-15 degrees of warmth on Saturday if I could have had it. Still, much of the race experience is seeing how one deals with adversity, so I’ll take whatever I get.

      July 30, 2013 at 12:08

  2. michelehartwig

    Great race report! Your enthusiasm and fight is always inspiring! Thanks for sharing~

    July 30, 2013 at 14:08

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  4. Inspiring tale, well done Jeff. Your day in Carlton reminded me of the quote, “Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.” You definitely made some kick-ass lemonade out of the lemons that Mother Nature rolled in front of you.

    Congrats too on qualifying for Western States… look forward to reading that knock-down drag-out race report when the day comes!

    August 1, 2013 at 02:28

    • Thanks, Mike! Much appreciated. And that’s a great quote! I will keep that one with me next time out.

      August 1, 2013 at 09:31

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  8. Loved reading your blog. I cheered on three friends on Saturday during their first ultramarathon. I would love to know where you bought the bumper sticker, “I love the powerlines”. It would be great to purchase three of them for the friends who finished. If you have that information, I would love it. Thanks.

    July 28, 2014 at 11:17

    • Hi Becki! Thanks for reading. Isn’t it an awesome race? Hope your friends had a good experience. I hear it was hot this year. As for the bumper sticker, it wasn’t mine. I saw it on a parked car at the high school near the start/finish line last year. I just snapped a photo of it because I thought it was pretty cool. You might have some luck asking around via the race Facebook page though.

      July 28, 2014 at 15:12

  9. Thanks!!

    July 29, 2014 at 12:52

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  11. Hello mates, how is everything, and what you would like to say about this piece of writing,
    in my view its really awesome in favor of me.

    August 11, 2015 at 21:59

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