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Trail marathon offers muddy challenge

Carlton’s Erika Fox runs through the woods a few miles from Esko, followed by friend and former Nordic ski teammate Franny Slater of Cloquet. The pair ran most of the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon together Saturday, July 14, finishing in just over 5 hours and 45 minutes. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Tiny fans of Baxter's Tim Miller rang cowbells each time their father came into a different aid station. Pictured are Miller’s wife, Amanda, and kids: Logan, 7; Cooper, 4; and Reagan, 3. The race was a family affair; Amanda’s father and brother were also running. Jana Peterson / 2 / 4
Cloquet’s Tim Krohn grins as he begins the first hill of the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com3 / 4
Cloquet’s Jeff Leno arrives at the Beck’s Road aid station, 7.4 miles into the race. The Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon was Leno’s 25th full marathon. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com4 / 4

Running a marathon is one thing — running a trail marathon is another beast entirely. Challenges like scrambling up and down muddy hills and navigating through rocks on single-track woodland trails add to the already difficult task of running 26.2 miles.

But Carlton County was well-represented in Saturday's Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon, with at least 45 people from seven different cities racing from the start near the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, to Spirit Mountain, Becks Road, out to Fond du Lac village and back to Beck's Road and through the backwoods to Jay Cooke Park and Carlton.

Many of the runners (and a few walkers) emerged from the challenging "power lines" section of the race muddy and exhausted, but not former Carlton cross-country runner Erika Fox, who looked fresh and fairly happy at almost every stage of the race.

When asked why she ran the Curnow, Fox said it was better to ask, "Why not run it?"

"It's fun to go and challenge yourself and find out exactly what you're capable of doing," said Fox, 19, who was running the Curnow for the second time. "This course is especially nice because there are some particularly difficult and technical sections that keep it exciting."

Although conditions were good at the 6 a.m. start time, by finish time, it was a hot and humid day, at least by Northland standards.

Cloquet runner Jeff Leno had his "jorts" (denim shorts) to get him through the heat.

"I didn't choose the jorts life; the jorts life chose me," the Cloquet chiropractor and runner quipped on his Facebook page, after some good-natured ribbing before and after the race.

Overall, the Curnow racers were a merry crew. As supporters shouted words of encouragement at each of eight different aid stations, most of them said "thank you" or gave a thumbs up.

As they made their way in fairly large packs of the first hill of the race, one walker advised another with a smile: "Only the elite and knuckleheads run the hills."

Certainly, running the hills was overall and men's race winner Don Laplante, 34, of Minneapolis, who finished in 3:33:45. The women's race winner was Kaelyn Williams, 24, of Golden Valley, Minn., in a time 4:12:52.

The average time to complete the race was 6 hours, 15 minutes and 52 seconds.

With 416 finishers, that means more than 10 percent hailed from Carlton County. Esko had nine residents in the race and seven runners hailed from Carlton. Cromwell had one, while Moose Lake and Barnum each had three residents.

Cloquet had the most of any Carlton County city entered with 18. Tim Krohn was the oldest of those participants, running the Curnow for the third time while carrying a pair of ski poles.

"I learned from every race, and I don't try to keep up with the young ones," advised the 68-year-old, who has run a marathon on every continent, including Antarctica.

The top local finisher was Brian Narum of Esko, who took 12th place in a time of 3:58:55. Wrenshall's Sam Jacobson came in 30th at 4:21:35. Barnum's Brandon Johnson took 34th and Moose Lake's Nicholas Allard took 43rd.

Many runners were just happy to finish the race, and receive their medals and T-shirts at the finish before they collapsed.

And then there's Barnum resident Bill Helwig, who did the Curnow as a "training run" for the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon. The ultramarathon covers mostly the same course, but twice, there and back.

Founded in 1982, the Voyageur is one of the oldest trail ultras in the country. It will start at Carlton High School at 6 a.m. Saturday, July 28. A strict 14-hour finish cutoff is enforced. The area around the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park is a good place to get a glimpse of the runners.