CARLTON — Shortly after Adam Doe crossed the finish line Saturday at the 38th annual Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon, race volunteer Gretchen Hedin shouted an order to onlookers lounging near coolers in the shade.
“Get that man a beer,” Hedin said.
Doe nodded his head in agreement while adding, “And a water.”
After running 50 miles in 80-degree heat, both were sure to hit the spot.
Doe, 31, a 2006 Cloquet graduate who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., doused the competition to win his first Voyageur in three straight attempts in 7 hours, 14 minutes, 39 seconds, more than 20 minutes ahead of runner-up Tony Hoff of Duluth (7:35:48).
Doe took the lead about 17 miles in and was never challenged the rest of the way. Did he ever look back?
“Oh yeah,” Doe said. “You’re running scared a little bit, so that on a smooth section, you got to take a look back, make sure there’s nobody right there. I took the lead so early, I thought it was almost inevitable that I was going to get passed at some point, but I didn’t see anybody the rest of the way. In a way I thought it’d be good if somebody came up and ran with me, but it just never happened.”
Margaret Ho, 30, of Onalaska, Wis., who was runner-up two years ago in her only other Voyageur, won the women’s race by nearly as much in 8:23:26, with her running friend Jill Wojta second in 8:41:35.
The course was altered this year due to Minnesota Power doing work on the powerlines section and was re-routed onto the Superior Hiking Trail. Most runners considered it about a wash, with the Superior Hiking Trail being more technical but also providing much needed relief from the sun, unlike the powerline section, where runners used to get baked.
Hoff, 34, was competing in his first Voyageur. He described the experience as “miserable.”
“I’m thinking ‘never again’ right now, but maybe I’ll change my mind in a couple hours,” he said. “It was just so hot. I’m not a good hot-weather runner, and once you start cramping, it’s tough. (Doe) was about two miles ahead of me at the turnaround and kept going. There was no contest.”
No pain, no gain
Ho led from start to finish but had company for the first half.
She crossed the line and was visibly spent. She immediately went and laid on the ground before being attended to by friend Andy Hutson, who asked her what she wanted.
“Water,” she said.
She was then asked how she felt.
“Terrible,” she said.
“You look terrible,” he said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it."
Ho had scrapes on her shoulder and her shin, and mud all over, the product of falling at least three times along the course. It’s obstacle course-like in spots, something Hutson said would have been easier.
“Why don’t you go fall in the river and clean yourself up,” Hutson said, laughing.
“That would feel pretty good,” Ho agreed.
Ho, who works as a career coach at Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wis., is having a great year. She is 3-for-3 on the season, winning the Eau Claire Marathon, an Afton 25K and now this.
“I know I slowed down a lot in the second, but you have to expect that everyone else is probably slowing down just as much as you are,” Ho said. “I went out pretty fast in the first half and was paying for it pretty quickly.”
Getting beat up like she did, does she ever ask herself if it’s worth it.
“Oh yeah, all the time,” she said.
Hurts so good
A record 469 were registered last year for the race from Carlton High School to the Lake Superior Zoo in West Duluth and back, but it was too much, so race officials put a cap of 350 on this year’s race, with 341 being registered and 306 starting.
Ben Cogger overcame bee stings to set a course record in 6:40:34 last year but was a spectator at the finish line this year, dealing with hamstring and knee issues. Last year’s women’s champ, Lila Planavsky of La Crosse was eighth in 9:46:46.
Duluth’s Jakob Wartman, who finished third among men in 7:36:36, was only about two minutes back at the turn, but Doe was gone like a deer in the second half of the race.
“People were hammering, trying to catch him,” 2017 champion Neal Collick said. “He basically ran a perfect race. He owned it from the beginning. Basically wire to wire he had it. He started with the lead pack and won it. He pulled away. I had to back off a bit, but he kept going. He never really looked back. He was just gone.”
Doe was part of a state-qualifying track relay in high school but wasn’t known as a star runner. He got more into it while at college at St Scholastica. He was never part of the Saints’ cross country or track teams but practiced with some of the runners.
“Then after college I kind of got into road marathons and ultras and just loved it, putting more effort into it,” Doe said, adding that he and his wife, Amber, moved to Colorado about 18 months ago in part to avoid Minnesota winters. He works at FedEx.
Running 50 miles can make one wobbly of mind and body. Doe almost appeared to be running sideways as he made his way down Fourth Street. He flailed around a little bit, trying to stay loose, and even had to adjust rudder a bit to make sure he came through the finish-line cones.
“I apologize,” he said. “I’m kind of out of it, and my hammys were cramping up a little bit.”
The Voyageur went without cups along the trail this year as part of a sustainability effort, cutting down on waste, so Doe filled his 20-ounce handheld water bottle wherever he could.
Still, he was in dire need of water when he crossed the line. And beer.
Doe was asked if a beer tastes even better after running 50 miles.
“Oh yes,” he said. “It’ll taste great.”
With Carlton Daze going on nearby, he came to the right place.
He said it
“I puked my guts out.”
Those were the words of two-time Voyageur champion Jake Hegge of Onalaska, Wis. as he described what happened to him 28 miles into this race, his eighth Voyageur. Hegge, who is Ho’s coach, was part of about a dozen runners from the La Crosse area competing on Saturday. He wound up finishing sixth in 7:46:20, carrying his 15-week-old son Liam across the finish line.
“That’s his first ultra,” the affable Hegge said with a laugh. “Parenting has sucked my training out, but this gives me added motivation for next year. I’ll be back. There’s just something about this race.”
Hegge’s buddy, Michael Borst, a three-time Voyageur champion, didn’t compete in the event this year as he is doing an ultramarathon in Colorado.
“Mike bailed on us this year,” Hegge said, laughing.
However, Borst’s father, the 53-year-old Michael Sr., did do the Voyageur, finishing 27th in 9:31:47.
38th Annual Voyageur
50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon
(Carlton to Duluth and back)
1. Adam Doe, Colorado Springs, Colo, 7 hours, 14 minutes, 39 seconds
2. Tony Hoff, Duluth, 7:35:48
3. Jakob Wartman, Duluth, 7:36:36
4. Paul Shol, Fergus Falls, Minn., 7:38:39
5. Benjamin Drexler, Minneapolis, 7:39:22
1. Margaret Ho, Onalaska, Wis., 8:23:26
2. Jill Wojta, Onalaska, 8:41:35
3. Jamie Blumentritt, Minneapolis, 9:14:28
4. Rachel Turi, North St. Paul, Minn., 9:22:22
5. Gretchen Metsa, Buhl, 9:34:17