Runners reach ultimate goals at Voyageur

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CARLTON—Hours, minutes, seconds passed as spectators, volunteers and race committee members anxiously waited for runners to trample through the finish line of the 35th annual Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon Saturday afternoon.

Race champion Michael Borst of La Crosse, Wis., was also feeling anxious. He had a goal to meet.

Speeding to the finish at Carlton High School, Borst completed the rugged course in 6 hours, 47 minutes, 23 seconds, clocking the third fastest course time in the history of the race, and just missing Proctor native and internationally-known ultra runner Scott Jurek’s 18-year record by a minimal 6 minutes.

Upon finishing Borst said that breaking Jurek’s record is his ultimate goal, something he said he would pursue forever.

As one of the oldest trail ultramarathons in the nation, the Voyageur travels over varied terrain running from Carlton High School to the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth and back to the high school, attracting runners from many locations and of various ages from all over the country.

At only 23 years old, Borst has run the Voyageur five times now. He won the event three of those five times, in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Runner up, friend and training partner Jake Hegge has also done the race five times.

One could say the Wisconsin natives trade off the champion title. Hegge — who won the event in 2012 and 2015 — has led at the halfway point all five years. This year he set a halfway-point record, racing from Carlton to the Lake Superior Zoo in 3 hours, 4 minutes.

“My goal was to stay behind Jake until the turn around,” Borst said.

As part of a unique Voyageur tradition, Borst and Hegge both received hats to celebrate finishing the Voyageur five times. After 10 finishes, racers receive a singlet, at 15 a duffle bag, 20 a tracksuit. For 25 finishes, they get a jacket.

The tradition gives runners a great reason to come back year after year and it may be one of the reasons the race continues to grow. A record 313 runners started the race Saturday morning with a record number of finishers as well.

In 1982 when the first Voyageur was held, only 36 people finished the race.

In fact, race director Kris Glesener mentioned that four of those racers participated in this year's Voyageur: Bob Frawley — who is the only person who has finished the race more than 25 times — Joe Winch with 19 finishes, Harry Sloan, finishing 22 times, and Jarrow Wahman, who has finished 10-plus times and holds the second fastest course time of 6:42:57.

The female course record holder is Helen Lavin, who ran it in 8:06:56 in 2009.

This year’s female champion was Stacey Buckley of Omaha, Neb., winning the women’s race in 9:12:51, with Jamie Blumentritt of Eagan, Minn., second in 9:19:13.  Full results were not yet available for the Voyageur when the Pine Journal went to press.

Cloquet Native Mary Binsfield said this year’s Voyageur is her first 50-mile race.

Also participating in this year's Eugene Curnow marathon (half of the voyageur), Binsfield used the marathon as a training run and a gauge for the full Voyageur. Binsfield finished the half in 5:22:34 placing 30th.

That's not all. Binsfield actually used the Voyageur to prepare for the Superior Fall Trail 100-mile race in Lutsen, Minn.

“It just keeps getting crazier,” said Binsfield, who hopes to finish the Superior 100 to get a lottery ticket for the Western States 100.

The Western States 100 is the world's oldest 100-mile trail race. It starts in Squaw Valley, Calif., and presents itself as the ultimate endurance test, finishing in Auburn, Calif. Scott Jurek has run the Western States 100 as well and holds the male title for the greatest number of consecutive wins.

“My heart is really in trail running,” Binsfield said.

Considering how many hours and miles marathon and ultra runners log, they have to love it.

Binsfield had trained for the Boston marathon for two years before racing it this past spring. And when asked how she trained for this ultra she chuckled and said, ”Wow, it's a lot!”

“Over the years I've utilized my training for other races and really it's a building up of all of that,” Binsfield said. “As a runner you set goals and I've wanted to do my best to reach those goals.”

That's part of the reason why I ran the Boston marathon,” Binsfield added.

The Voyageur was also a goal Binsfield set after running her first marathon, the half-Voyageur, in 1998. Now her ultimate goal is to run the Western States 100.

“Each race I do is a piece-by-piece, step-by-step goal to meet that ultimate goal.”

And it seems that is the ultra ticket to completing these endurances races: setting goals and running after them.