The 2013 Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon was held on 13 July. Formerly called the Half Voyageur Trail Marathon, the race covers 1/2 of the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon course. This year the race was renamed to honor a former race director and running supporter who passed away this last spring. And again this year the course was revised due to the continued trail and bridge reconstruction from the damage caused by the flooding of 2012.
I had prerace thoughts of skipping the race due to a severe lack of training the last couple of months. But I figured that if I was mentally tough enough, I could at least finish. Slowly, but at least I would finish. Besides, this race is run through some beautiful country.
The forecast for the race was early rain and then overcast skies. At the race registration there was a few lightning flashes and a short downpour. By the time the sun came up and the start time was approaching it was only grey with misty wet air. And it stayed kind of grey all day. It never seemed to really get light in the forested sections.
Promptly at 6am, Race Director Kris Glesener sent us off with a “Ready? Go!”
The first section of the race descended the Spirit Mountain ski slope and then joined the Superior Hiking Trail. Most of the runners were long gone by the time I got off the ski slope.
There were a few rocky creek crossings and then the trail joined the wide grassy snowmobile trail in the Magney-Snively Park. Mostly uphill, this trail provided an open running path through aspen and oak forests. A mix of snowmobile and ski trails brought us past the first aid station at Skyline Boulevard.
At about 4 miles into the race we came to the section called “Jarrow’s Beach” Named after a local running legend and 3 time Voyageur 50 winner, this section is not anything like the beaches I am used to.
The Jarrow’s Beach section is slow and technical. Lasting about a mile it ends on a gravel railroad bed near a tunnel carved out of the rock. It ends just about the time you are tired of scrambling over wet slippery rocks.
The next couple of miles were along the railroad bed and over a few bridges until reaching the Beck’s Road aid station. It was smooth and flat. I knew that the next section was going to be one of the tougher sections, so I was sure to top off my bottle and grab a few snacks from the well stocked aid station.
After the Beck’s Road aid station we had a short paved section of the Munger Trail before dropping down onto some great single track. The single track was fun and fast. I had to control my pace on this section because it ends at the infamous “Power Lines”.
Something about the power lines makes them harder that they really should be. The section is a couple of miles long with steep slippery climbs and descents. My Brooks trail shoes did a pretty good job of maintaining grip and the wet grass at the top of the climbs allowed me to wipe off the extra heavy mud. This year I made it through the section in good shape. I will admit to being glad to see the trail sign exiting the power lines though.
After the Power Lines the trail rejoins the Superior Hiking Trail. This single-track trail joins up with the Grand Portage Trail and then the Oak trail. All of these are nice single-track and all seem to be mostly uphill. At about 11 miles I came into the Peterson’s Aid Station. A great place to refill and restock.
The next section of trail was mostly downhill for a mile or two, with part of it following the St. Louis River. This downhill was a very fun and fast single-track through hardwood forests. After an enjoyable run along the river, the fun ended abruptly when I encountered another section of power lines. This was a new section this year and proved to be a mental challenge. Shorter than the first power line section, this one still had a couple of steep climbs with the required slippery mud. At the top of the last power line hill was a great view.
At the top of the Power Line section I gave my brother a call to tell him of my progress. He advised me to quit stopping to take so many pictures and run.
Leaving the last of the power lines, the trail enters a pine forest and then descends down to the intersection of Highway 210 and Highway 23 and the Chambers Grove aid station.
After filling up at the aid station, I crossed over the St. Louis River and followed along Highway 23 for about 2 miles. This was a tough section for me since it came between 17 and 19 miles and was uphill all the way. My legs were starting to feel the strain of no training and a long uphill. Mentally I started to doubt if I would be able to finish. Turning off the highway I entered a forested section where both my legs cramped up. I had to stop and relax my legs. A few minutes later I regrouped and started to just try and get to the next aid station.. A half mile or so later, I came to the Bull Run aid station. This aid station was great. After a short break, I didn’t feel the tightness in my legs and without even thinking about it I started back down the trail. I was finally heading to the West, it felt like the end was getting closer now. But I was just at 20 miles.
Just after leaving the aid station I joined up with another runner and spent the next 6 miles running, walking and chatting about all the things runners talk about on the trail. It made the miles go by faster and made for a pleasant encounter and new friendship. This section was a mix of forest and river flats.
We jogged into the Leimer Road aid station and stopped for a quick bite to eat and a chat. Then it was off for the final section. The trail along the St. Louis River was rough and technical with a few spots where the trail was hanging out along a steep drop to the river. A couple of climbs and it was back out on the paved Munger Trail for the last part to the finish line.
My young son ran out on the trail to meet me and ran with me to the end. That, my friends, was the highlight of my running.
The 2013 Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon was a great run through some beautiful country. It has brought me many memories and a renewed ambition to train and run more races. My challenge is to run this race again. I realize that the race course will be different again next year, if the trails and bridges are repaired in Jay Cooke State Park. That fact is good and bad for me. I will want to be able to see how much I have improved since this years finish , but getting back to the original course will be best for the race overall. I will have to run the race for the next several years to get a sense of any improvement. Thank you to everyone involved in putting on this years race. Job well done.