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Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra Marathon

25-Jul-2020 Carlton and Jay Cook State Park, Minnesota, USA


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Trail Race Race Terrain
81KM / 50Miles
12 Days - 50 Runners

DIFFICULTY Race Difficulty Expert  

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Elevation: Very little change < 500 metres. Benign running terrain, not technical.

Suitable for: First ultra runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running in the last six months.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed at least one ultra distance race (or similar event) or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat) and or technical terrain

Suitable for: Experienced runners who have completed at least regular ultra distances in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude) and or technical terrain.

Suitable for: Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.

Endurance - Multi-activity

Type: An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for: Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.

Global - Virtual

Type: A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for: For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Review Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra Marathon

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08:43 01-08-17

Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra

Weather: Starting temp 53, high temp 82 (1:15 p.m. peak), average humidity 64, max humidity 94

There is something special about the Voyageur 50. Personally, my heart is in this race. And I use the term “race” quite loosely. Honestly, the atmosphere seems more like a fun run. Don’t get me wrong, a large portion of this race is not fun. In fact, Voyageur serves up healthy portions of pain and suffering. But that comes with the ultra-marathon territory. What I mean is that this old trail run (first run in 1982) has a friendly, family-like feel to it. I believe there were 375 starters this year. This is what running an ultra-marathon should feel like.

The very first time I ran the out-and-back trail race, I was inexperienced and supremely naïve when it came to running. But that first race holds so many memories. And every year I come back I find that it hasn’t lost that feeling. Friendly faces, warm welcomes, fantastic volunteers, well-stocked tables at the aid stations, smiles all around—it’s all good.

I had several goals for this race. A) I wanted firstly to run this year’s Voyageur easily. With my first 100 mile race a mere 3 weeks away, the last thing I needed was a hard day of racing. B) I wanted to finish. Anything can happen during this race. C) Of course, I wanted to run faster than last year, which would give me a personal best. D) The 10:30 mark has also been in my sites since the first of the year. Each of these goals would have been good to meet. I kept telling myself that I had no real expectations of the day.

We all lined up and heard the verbal “go!” I started my watch. My usual watch broke and has continued to break is several interesting ways, so I ended up buying a $20 Casio from Walmart. It has a 24 hr stopwatch. Good enough. I started it, and off we went.

It seems like every year each runner opens it up wide on the road and paved trail (less than one mile on paved) before the single-track hits. This year was way worse. Everybody had the same idea: get in the front so we don’t bottleneck at the single-track. My efforts were well met and I ended up in the first half of the field. It was a good year for newbies. In the first 3.4 miles of the course, before the first aid station, I talked with half a dozen runners who had never run an ultra before, much less a 50 mile ultra. The highly eclectic array of ultrarunners only adds to the buzz of this race.

As I mentioned earlier, it was not my intention to run hard that day. I realized early on that this was not going to be the case. The trail felt good under my feet and I cut the technical 3.4-mile section into ribbons. I leapfrogged with a faster friend and kept each other company for about 2 hours, all the way through the power-lines which is aptly named for the 3+ miles of difficult, hilly trails that run beneath the power-lines that run to nearby Duluth, MN.

My hydration felt a little loose and my stomach felt just a bit uneasy for most of the day. The weather started out beautiful and held for about the first 3 hours. But after that the heat took over and the sun beat down. It was not the hottest run I’ve had at Voyageur, but it was a close second.

The power-lines were in great shape heading to Duluth. The single/double track was covered in full sun, but it was early enough in the day that it didn’t matter. It was still around 70 degrees. The trail was dry but tacky—perfect. We chewed it up.

Unfortunately, I was not able to hold my friend’s pace and let him go. I dropped back and coasted from aid station to aid station. By this time, I realized that it was going to indeed be a long day. The heat was starting to take its toll and I was having a hard time keeping hydrated. Nutrition-wise, I took only two gels all day and stuck to easy solids like watermelon, PB&J, and pickles. I carried ice-water only and drank Powerade and Ginger Ale at the aid stations.

Between the Skyline aid station and the 25-mile turn-around, the mix of single-track, double-track, and dirt road carries runners steadily downhill—a good opportunity to make up time. I ran most of it pretty hard. It felt very good to get to the turn around and I did not spend a lot of time there. This was also the first year that I did not leave a drop bag on the course. The only item I could have wanted was a pair of socks. Turns out I didn’t need them. I borrowed a pair of gaiters earlier in the week. They may not have keep my feet dry, but they did keep debris out of my shoes. I will be using them in three weeks at the Lean Horse 100 in South Dakota.

Unfortunately, since the trail to the turn-around was completely downhill, the trail from it is completely uphill (no kidding, right?). The long climb up Spirit Mountain was abysmal. Everybody slogged, including myself. The sun was in full roar and there wasn’t a breath of wind. As I ran under the chairlifts at Spirit Mountain Ski Resort, I made sure to run through the sunlit sections and walk through some of the shaded parts.

By this time, I realized that the way back was going to be pretty tough. Every time I run this race I think to myself, “just get past the power lines, then you’ve just got ten miles left.” Between miles 28 and 32 have historically been good miles for me. The trail is a mix of mountain bike track and Nordic ski path. It tends to slalom and have a nice roller-coaster-y feel to it. I did make up some time, but the heat was taking its toll.

I struggled with hydration and eating, but did make it to the power lines. We were blessed with minor cloud cover for quite a bit of time along the dreaded power line hills. In the past years, I have not struggled with this part of the race—the way there or back. This year was the exception. My downhills flew beneath me but my uphills shriveled my heart and pulled my soul through the back of my head (minor exaggeration). I actually had to stop at one point halfway up a hill and literally lay on the trail. I heard what I thought was a helicopter above me. Turns out it was my heart beating. My heart raced and I knew I was overheated. I finally finished my death-march through the power lines and a section of trail literally called “purgatory.”

As I came into Grand Portage Aid Station (I think that’s the name), onlookers immediately asked if I was okay. I assured them that I would be fine, but that I needed to cool down. A little time in a chair, ice water over my head, and some food and drink, and I was on my way (but not before they radioed ahead to the next aid station to check on me there).

The trail dipped into forest and tree-covered single-track, a welcomed change. Another welcoming site was a stream crossing. There are somewhere around 6 crossings during the race (depending on your opinion of what constitutes and stream and a stream crossing). This crossing required me to walk through the water. But this stream was also deeper in sections, so I peeled off my shirt and laid down. Glorious. I could feel my heart rate come down as well as my body temp, and I was off.

As I came into Peterson’s Aid Station, I heard the crew ask for my name and bib number. A member of the medical team came over and asked questions and quickly assessed me. I put on my biggest smile and tried my hardest to appear in tip top condition. Reassured, they let me go and on I went.

I’ve heard from friends and co-runners that everybody’s got ten more mile in ‘em. And so I did. Some of the climbs were hands-on-knees hills. But not once did I vomit or have any serious abdominal discomfort that would have meant game over.

At the beginning of the race, I always have great intentions of running the last 3.4 miles of technical trail as hard as I can. But each year I stammer and stagger around like there’s an earthquake happening. This year wasn’t that bad. I was able to run some, but not as much as I wanted.

The foot-bridge from the single-track to the paved trail was a beautiful site. All the time I was looking at my watch. Probably not under 11 hours, but for sure a new PB. Good enough. I think there’s always a time during a race when an ultra-runner says that something is good enough. Not because of complacency, but from shear exhaustion.

I dug deep and found a little extra energy to run it in to the finish at a descent pace. There’s something surreal and transcendent about crossing the finish line at this race. Everybody who had already finished was sitting on the grass nearby, cheering and clapping. They don’t run to beat each other. They run to beat the distance. The only competition is the trail.

They crew at the finish line handed me my trophy, a locally handmade pottery bowl with the Voyageur 50 name and logo. Worth the run. I looked at my watch and at the clock, 11:02—I’ll take it. A new PB and 121st of 289 finishers, certainly not too shabby for a course this difficult.

Overall, this year’s running of the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultra was my hardest to date. I worked harder this year than any other year. But you know what they say: leave it all on the course.

I highly recommend this race. It is difficult and trying, but it embodies what we do as ultra-runners. I'm looking forward to running it again in 2018. That will be my 4th year.

AFM 8-1-17

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09:07 02-06-15

As a 50 mile, out and back event, the Voyageur is a challenging race with many rewards. The route is predominantly trail and offers some great views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forests. While the scenery is a reward, the best part of the race is actually the people who staff it. The organizers do a great job at keeping the costs low, the food plentiful, and the smiles visible.
I think another reason I am drawn to the race is the contestants it draws. There seems to be a great range of runners from elites to grizzled veterans who run year after year to show they aren't getting any older.
The Voyageur is a challenging race but one you want to keep going back to.
Years I have run the Voyageur, 2011 and 2012.

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