It’s not for the faint of heart. In fact, the defending champion can’t defend his title because of injury. But over 350 hardy souls will take part in the 38th annual Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon starting in Carlton on July 27.

The race is a punishing 50-mile run from Carlton High School to the Lake Superior Zoo. That would in itself be a test, but the real grind comes on the run back – which you also need to do to finish.

The trail course is mixed. Some of the race is run on ski trails, other segments on a single path and some on asphalt.

“There’s even some creek crossings, which can be great on a hot day,” race director Samantha Carlson said.

Organizers warmed up for the event through the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon, which is a one-way race held last weekend over the same course, but note there are changes this time around.

“This year we have a re-route in place due to some power line pole replacement in our famous powerlines section,” Carlson said. “The re-route is more shady, but a harder course with more technical trail.”

That might be good, if daunting, news for the most hardcore runners, but Carlson said the allure of the race is undiminished.

“Our defending champ and new course record holder, Ben Cogger, is injured and volunteering instead of running this year. I think it really highlights our amazing trail community that our course record holder is choosing to volunteer at the race,” she said.

Jakob Wartman leaps over a pile of rocks on his way to the Grand Portage aid station during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on July 28, 2018. Wartman finished fifth. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Jakob Wartman leaps over a pile of rocks on his way to the Grand Portage aid station during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on July 28, 2018. Wartman finished fifth. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

Cogger broke ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek’s 20-year-old course record in the last event.

Women’s defending champ Lila Planavksy returns this year, as do two other top-five finishers from last year: April Anselmo and Tammi Braund. Carlson said other former champions are also expected to be in the fields.

And like Grandma’s Marathon up the North Shore, this event has its long-timers as well.

“This year we have two people going for their 20th finish (Glen Hill and Matt Long), one for their 15th and over 20 for their fifth,” Carlson said, “Harry Sloan ran the first-ever race in 1982 and will be coming back for his 22nd finish this year. People seem to like coming back."

The race also welcomes back one of its founders, Duluth's Jarrow Wahman, part-owner of the Austin-Jarrow running supply company, as part of its 12-person race committee.

The ultramarathon has grown through the years to the point where its 350-runner cap was hit in the spring. The race has a waiting list, which, through injuries to runners and other reasons, occasionally provides new competitors.

“The first year saw 36 finishers, so we’ve really grown,” Carlson said. “It wasn't that long ago that you could register the week of the race and now we're filling soon after registration opens with more people on the wait list than will get in.”

Former champion Michael Borst heads to the turnaround point at the Lake Superior Zoo during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on July 28, 2018. Borst finished fourth. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com
Former champion Michael Borst heads to the turnaround point at the Lake Superior Zoo during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on July 28, 2018. Borst finished fourth. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

The commitment of the Northern Minnesota Track Club, which helps run the event, is deep.

“We've held the race every year (since 1982), including the flood year (2012) when then-race director Kris Glesener pulled off a miracle to come up with a two-loop, re-routed course,” Carlson said.

The race also receives great support from the Carlton community.

“We time the race so that it occurs with Carlton Daze,” Carlson said. “Our packet pickup happens in conjunction with the spaghetti dinner and right after the 5K. Carlton High School generously allows us in their space for pre- and post-race. Magnolia Cafe has especially jumped on board in recent years, providing free coffee to our runners at the start and coupons for a free ice cream after the races.”

The Carlton County Sheriff’s Office provides road crossing support and Carlson also thanked neighbors who put up with a lot of people and equipment milling around their streets on race day.

More information on the race can be found at voyageur50.com.