Race Report by Tom Bunk...
The plans were made and the van was loaded with 5 guys heading to Carlton for the 30th running of the Voyageur 50 mile run. I knew the pressure was on when earlier in the week the Duluth paper called to get an update as to why I had ran 23 of the 29 races (editior's note: see link here). One of the guys that talked me into doing the first one had asked that same question after I had ran five of the races. His comment was (Bunk is there something wrong with you? Doing this race one time in the heat should be enough.) My excuse was always the same, keep trying and just maybe you will figure out how to run it.
The trip up was great with Robert Wehner driving, Jeff Mallach knapping, Dave Dehart with his great bag of back country comments, Marcel Uttech the newbie that soaked in all the BS. We stopped and ate lots of food on the way up and ate a double load of pasta the night before the run. We pounded down some pancakes sausage and eggs at the $4.00 per plate all you can eat pancake breakfast in Carlton about 6:15 AM before we headed to the start line a little on the over loaded side.
We lined up for a lapham Peak picture. Andy Holak lined us up and we were off down the road and bike trail to the trail. My game plan was to start slow and find a little gap in the group when we hit the trail. The first 3.5 miles or so is one ugly mother of rocks roots mud holes and I wanted to stay up right. I thought I was running pretty fast but people just kept going past me on the bike trail. I looked around to see how many more were behind me when I hit the trail head. To my surprise, all 160 runners were on the trail before me. This was perfect. I always wanted to run this ugly section without anyone pushing me.
I stayed into my new found pace for about the first hour and then decided to get back in the game and try to make the cutoff times. I passed a few people along the way and made it to the scenic power lines in good shape. The only issue was my shorts were dripping with water and it felt like my body was being drained of fluids. (As Dave Dehart would say, hotter than a well diggers something or other.) I walked up the power lines slowly and walked down slower. This worked just fine. The last power line has a stream crossing at the bottom of the hill and I decided to do some rock jumping across to keep my feet dry. There was mud on top of the rocks from others using this trick. I managed to slip and do a backward flip into the stream and fill my shoes up with water and stones. Thank God I landed on my knee with the steel joint. I wouldn’t want to hurt my good knee. I made it to the next aide station and cleaned out my shoes and got back to the pursuit of staying ahead of the cutoff.
Another hour or two went by and I was still in the game to make the 6 hour cutoff at the 25 mile turnaround. I thought I was seeing things when I caught up to Jim Blanchard crossing a stream. He was in a low spot for energy and I went charging right by at about a 14 minute per mile pace. Five minutes later a saw a runner coming down the trail running towards me with a number on. This couldn’t possibly be the leader already heading back. I wasn’t even 18 miles into the run and he was at 32 miles. This was just the start, one after another just kept coming. Hey, one guy hollered, you’re the legend on this course. I understand now when you are slow as I am that’s what makes you a legend.
The turnaround finally came and I made the cutoff by 10 minutes. My running was over but walking and eating was still working. I loaded up on food and headed up the trail to the next aide station. In this section there is an awesome view of Lake Superior and I soaked it all in. Things may change, but as I walked I thanked God for giving the opportunity to run on this trail for 24 years. I felt a cool breeze coming off the lake and soaked in the moment. I heard someone whisper to me that all good things must end sometime. I took a chair at the next aide station and called it a day.
I had some good runs at this race over the years. They were good to me, but not fast by the race standards. When I got a big head and thought I was something, the course would humble me and bring me to my knees. The DNF of the legend on this course was overdue. I watched my friends finish and enjoyed the look on their faces and their stories of struggle to finish. It was another great day at the trails. I will just live with 23 and 1.