Finished. 5:40 (by my watch). And the big surprise: 9th woman overall!!!!
I thought Gene was kidding when he said I finished in the top ten for women, then they handed me the mug with my place on it.
I still have a hard time believing it. First marathon ever, first Half Voyageur and in the top ten for my division (visualize me shaking my head).
The start was at 6:00 am and the weather was perfect. Chilly at the start due to the strong winds, but that is good on this course and in July. Left the parking lot at the Lake Superior Zoo and headed up hill towards Spirit Mountain. The grade is not too terrible and I was able to run it, then once we turned onto the DWP (abandoned railroad) it was easy going. The early morning light was beautiful over the St. Louis River Bay.
From the DWP onto Skyline for about 1 mile until Magney - Snively and the first aid station. Grabbed a cup of water (stopping long enough to dispose of it properly) and headed onto the ski trail. This trail gets a lot of use by horses and had the holes to show for it. Pretty dry for Magney though.
This year the course included Jarrow's Beach (the Full Voyageur is 50 miles, so they add on to the Half to get a full marathon distance). Yeah - beach, only in someone's nightmare! To start off I, and three guys, missed the turn into this section. I did notice the trampled grass, but didn't think much about it. Luckily the folks behind us, who caught the turn, included someone who knew me, otherwise we would have probably ignored the yelling and gone on our merry way. This section is almost entirely composed of lichen and moss covered stones. Large, small, medium; sharp; and mostly on their edge. Not runnable by us mere mortals. We got an inch of rain in Duluth last night so they were slick. I was not the only one who resorted to all fours to get through this section without breaking a leg.
Made it through that section and the rest of the additional loop was pretty easy going on an old railroad grade. Though there is a pretty sketchy bridge in that section. As I was nearing Skyline I caught sight of Jon and Porter. Porter is pretty entertaining when he greets his family - lots of "wooing" (does not howl, rarely barks); ears back, and the goofiest grin on his face. They joined me on the road until we got to the aid station at Beck's Road.
From there it was downhill towards Fond du Lac. Parts of this section are on abandoned bits of Skyline Parkway (road washed out years ago) and are pretty rutted and slanted. There are three creek crossings through here - shin deep, murky from the rain and runners, full of rocks... Did clean the mud out of my shoes though!
Fond du Lac is another aid station and the drop bag site. Stopped long enough to grab some Cliff Shot Blocks and headed back up the hill to Becks. It is about two miles of pretty steady uphill. All but the very beginning runnable. After reaching the Munger trail, seeing Jon and Porter again, it was off to the Powerlines.
This part of the course has changed a bit over the years and now starts off with a narrow winding trail before getting into the hilly section of trail. The rain swelled the rivers, but the clay wasn't too slick. Still, it is a challenge climbing these hills. Steep, steep, steep - only 300 feet or so, but did I mention steep? Another section where making it up requires using your hands. I ended up slipping early on and sliding down on my right side - marking me for the rest of the race ;->
There is a nice section in the middle of the hills that is pretty flat and fun to run, then two more steep hills and you are out on Hwy 210. Aid station here, then up onto the Grand Portage trail. Knowing this was essentially an uphill section I was prepared for a lot of walking, but the first part is pretty runnable and even downhill at times. The Grand Portage trail joins up with the Oak trail and after more uphill running takes a right turn(edit: apparently my mind was a bit addles yesterday - it is a left turn into Peterson's Aid station) to head back down and towards the Gill Creek trail. Peterson's aid station is in here, run by Ed and Linda. I have done a lot of running with Ed and he was one of the key people to convince me I could do this race. It was great to see them, stop, chat, and let my heart rate come down a bit.
I love single track trail and the Gill Creek trail gives you lots of it - narrow, twisty, lots of ups and downs. Connects up with the Triangle trail, which then connects to the Greely trail. The toughest part of this section is the part of the Greely that is shared with the Munger trail. Paved and flat. Felt awful! I was happy to get back onto trails and headed down to Forbay. Jon had missed me at the Grand Portage aid station and I had told him to skip Peterson's so I was really hoping to see him at Forbay. There he was - with Porter (who was being spoiled by some girls) holding out a bag of pretzels. Nice! Grabbed a few, drank a cup of water and headed out.
By now I knew a five hour finish was out of the question and was thinking six would be just fine. Seeing Jon and Porter, eating the pretzels, or the combination was just what I needed. I had hit that aid station with legs that were feeling pretty tired so a second wind was wonderful. I felt reenergized at that point and it lasted through the Jay Cooke Headquarters aid station and onto the Carlton Trail. Interesting to run across the swinging bridge along with families. Little kids are not the most reliable when you warn them with a "passing on your left" - they often just stretch their arms out to both sides ;->
The Carlton trail is very rooty and rocky and hilly. But also has blueberries - ripe even. What a gift! I grabbed two and kept on going. I was really feeling good at this point and took every opportunity to run. This trail ends on the Munger Trail and it is a quarter mile or so (less?) into the finish.
Did I mention the winds today? 15-20 mph gusting to 30. Out of the west. I turned onto the Munger and it was like hitting a wall. I felt like I had enough left to be able to run well into the finish, but the wind made it feel like I was hardly moving and it was a struggle to keep going. But I did. Finished. Jon and Porter were there to greet me (Porter even ran in with me a bit) as were some other friends who were in the area picking strawberries. They had just walked up minutes before I finished. Nice to see them and have so much support.
So - next year the route will not include Jarrow's Beach...