Blissed Out. That is the title of this post. It is exactly how I feel and I just can't stop thinking about the day without smiling. I feel Blissed Out.
A little Voyageur history: the first Voyageur I ran was in 2002. The course at that time had a 13 hour cut off. I ran with my dear friend Marie and it took us 14:30 to complete. Paul Hasse was our sweep and he took us under his wing, allowing us to finish along with Tom, Marie's husband checking on us at each closed aid station. It was epic. I ate 25 Advil. I've learned much since then. There was hail/thunder/lightening during the whole race..in the powerlines lightening was hitting the wires and we just kept trucking. Crazy rivers of red clay was sweeping us down those powerlines as we tried climbing up. It was nuts. I learned to persevere. Every Voyageur since has seemed easier because of the difficulty of this one!
The next 4 Voyageurs were all finished in 10:47, 10:26, 10:55, 10:43, all exciting and all with great memories of people that I ran with along the way. So many of these people no longer run ultra. I was the new kid on the block, the newbie. They all taught me so much. I miss them all greatly. A dozen plus of them continue to run ultra and I connected with each of them on Saturday. I enjoyed myself so very much.
It had been FIVE years since I had run Voyageur! I met many new people to the ultra scene - they are who will continue to allow our sport to grow. I enjoyed meeting so many young new people to the sport!
Packed up my food and ready for the road.
I had intended to drive up the morning of the race, head home after the race as I did the past two Voyageurs that I have entered, so I didn't look up any hotel accommodations or the like. As race day grew near I thought it would be nice to sleep a bit longer than the 1 AM wakeup I'd have from staying at home. There were no rooms available and sleeping in my car didn't feel like fun again so I posted in the UMTR Facebook page to see if anyone had space. Just my luck Jenny responded to me and told me I could stay with her. She had reserved a room and had acquired two more roomies, Robyn and Harriet. I hadn't yet met Jenny but had met Robyn and Harriet previously. I felt so fortunate to have a place to stay for Friday night! We had many laughs before we turned in for the night-I slept well. We made a great foursome.
Jenny and Harriet chose the early 5 AM start so left before I and Robyn did. We were going to start at 6 AM. I arrived to start with 15 minutes to spare so had time to say hello and drop off a bag for mile 25. I had quickly jotted down the cut off times for the return trip - miles 25 to 50 so I would know if I was in trouble. It's been a long time since I've had to worry about cut offs. I assumed I'd finish in 13 hours, maybe 13.5.
The day was warm-high 80s were forecast, the high turned out to be 96F-I imagine that was the temperature in the sun.
As I headed to the start line the RD told us that a Mud Run was taking place on Spirit Mountain. We'd come across them at about mile 23. We could take part in the Mud Run for extra credit (just kidding!)
I sided up to Jim . We chatted a bit and then we were off! I was so excited. I began in the near back of the pack and thought about the year I began in the front with Jeffrey. For some reason we wanted to try the race from the front. I remembered flying through the first few miles of the rocks and roots to the bridge. I remembered falling down and quickly getting back up for fear of being trampled. That was my PR on the course. 10:26. You just don't know unless you try. I remember Jeffrey stating to me after the race "you were running UP the hills, out of the Zoo".. yup. More memories with good friends.
I had snapshot memories of each Voyaguer, all of my friends, all of the years that I had been running the race, all day long. I am so fortunate to have these experiences.
My plan was to consume a gel every 30 minutes. It has been working for all of my races this year, which have all been successful finishes, so I was sticking to that plan. Again, they worked beautifully. Energy was spot on. I had two pieces of watermelon and one orange slice in addition to the gels. 8 ECAPS. Water. That's it.
I had fun running over the bridge across the river to the first aid station. I don't remember if there was a photographer there, I'll have to look up the photos. I have 5 other photos of me crossing that bridge and each one came back to memory as I was running at that moment. I remember one with Steve Quick , two with Jeffrey, one by myself and one with Scott Wagner. Good times.
I was running with a pack for the first time. I normally use handhelds but after running out of water during a few training runs this summer on the Superior Hiking Trail I decided I better use a pack during the Superior 100 and figured Voyageur would be a good place to practice. It is the Nathan 70 oz that I purchased from TCRC. Thank you, Kurt! I really like it. The weight of the water is dispersed over the back, so much so that it didn't bother me AT ALL. There are more pockets than I needed. I had them filled with 28 (yes) gels, keys, advil, ECAPS, a plastic garbage bag (rain), windbreaker, foot potion, toilet paper. I had plenty of space.
At the first aid station I filled up the bladder so that I could get a grasp on how much I was drinking. It had only been about 4 miles and I drank 25 or so oz. Seemed good. I filled up and moved out.
As I was running along a young guy named Drew introduced himself. This was his first ultra, having just run his first marathon at Grandmas! Wow! He was a swimmer in college and was now trying to find a new sport. I gave him a few tips and told him to enjoy every step. As we were chatting along we came up on Bill. He began to ask Drew if he knew who I was, my history, my bio, etc. Oh my gosh, Bill! Stop! He told Drew what races I had completed, he said I was a 'legend' and went on and on. My face turned beet red and I just didn't know how to react. I felt like a hot menopausal sausage running next to these two. He told Drew that I was one of the most accomplished women runners in the area as I had finished over 15 100 milers and have run over 100 plus races, winning McNaughton 100 a few times and on and on he went. I was stunned and didn't know what to say. I can't imagine that is how anyone else would describe me? I win when there is usually a high rate of attrition and just don't want to quit. I love it so much. I have too much fun to stop. I just enjoy running, being with my friends that run, filling up my soul with the experiences. Wow. I'm flattered .. thanks, Bill.
We ran through the grassy, hilly cross country ski sections. The course is much more traveled that what it was when I was a regular here. The grassy sections used to be filled with holes and longer grass, I recalled moving along slowly and having difficulty seeing the ground because of the long grass. Not anymore. The grass was short, the trails were more covered with dirt than grass. It was easier to run. I enjoyed myself completely.
The aid stations were closer in distance than they have been when I ran previously. At first I was perplexed by this as I was running out, I was almost irritated. Maybe just because I didn't look at the course maps prior so I didn't realize how many there would be. It seemed that they were too close and I would just eat up time on the clock. On the way back I was SO thankful and grateful that they were so close together. It was awesome to have ice stay as ice aid station to aid station. It was so great to hear "JULIE BERG! COME ON IN! YOU ARE HERE!" cheering, over and over. I really enjoyed it so much.
The volunteers are top notch. They couldn't wait to help out. Ice, water, heed, food, whatever anyone could use. They were there to help us. Thank you so much!
There were new sections along the course. With flooding two years ago and mudslides taking out the course, it has been changed in areas. One of the coolest changes was this hill we climbed, a ridge of sorts, with mud slide on either side. It was tall and steep. They had ropes to help us climb up the hill-it reminded me of McNaughton 100. It was very cool!
As I came into the power lines I was anxious. I couldn't wait to see what condition they were in. I was last on this section of the course last year during Eugene Curnow marathon when I fractured my ankle. I was so excited to be running and feeling healthy and strong.
Shane Olson took this photo. Climbing out of a power line hill.
The power lines were in pristine condition. They had dried out, were even DUSTY is places! I've never seen them in such good condition. They were still work-lots of quad busting climbing and descents-but wow, it could have been so much worse. I was just smiling, ear to ear.
All day long, smiling ear to ear. I was so happy to be here again. So happy to be running on two strong legs, reliving the memories of past Voyageurs and looking forward to making new memories today. I felt like I was shining.
As I came into the UMTR aid station Ryan helped pull my pack off my back and began to fill it. This is just perfection. To walk into an aid station, not having to ask for help, to be waited upon. I took full advantage of it! He filled it up and I was on my way. Kudos to the UMTR aid station!
Zach Pierce took this photo
Somewhere along the trail I ran into Wayne and Deb. I ran my first 50 miler at Ice Age in 2002 with Deb. We go back to my beginning of ulta. She goes back to 1991 or so for ultra! That's so awesome. I met Wayne in 2008. It was so great to run with, talk with, reminisce with, Wayne and Deb. We ran from mile 20 to 50 together on and off. Mostly on. It was fabulous.
As we came up to Spirit Mountain we saw the Mud Run taking place. Participants were running up SM, covered in mud, then climbing the cargo net, sliding out of a water filled air contraption, then up the hill again. It was interesting.
The run downhill into the Zoo is steady. As I ran I could feel my side ache come back on. I struggled with it at Savage 100 and Afton 50K earlier this summer. I believe I breathe too shallow as I run downhill, causing the side pain. Ugh. I actually have to hold my side, slow down and try to breath from my lower stomach as I run downhill. I need to practice this all over again. The things that don't come naturally after a hiatus.
I came into the halfway point - the Duluth Zoo - at 5:50 or so. The cutoff was 7 hours so I had plenty of time. I emptied all of my gels wraps, refilled my pack with gels, lubed up my feet, filled my bladder and moved on out. I kept on hearing how radiant my smile was. One man said 'your smile is as radiant as your pack'. I felt radiant. I felt like i was glowing inside. Oh, I was!
The 2 mile climb out of the zoo was brutal. We climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed some more. It was hot as hell and the sweat just poured off of me. This section of the course goes across Spirit Mountain so it is quite exposed. We then hit some pavement for a while. I climbed with Wayne and Deb. We had so much to talk about! We yakked and yakked and yakked. It was so awesome!
Sweet, Beautiful Maranda Lorraine took this photo
After the 2 mile climb we came to the next aid station. I refilled my water, pulled the Afton buff from my pack and placed ice within it to put in my running bra. It stayed there, frozen, until the next aid station. I couldn't believe it! I then refilled it at each aid station with ice.
Every once in a while I'd lose Wayne and Deb, I'd have to slow down to potty, or they would. I usually left the aid stations before them, I just don't like to spend much time there, then we'd reconnect in a few more minutes. It was a great experience, running with both of them.
I found myself thanking God for being able to be on this trail again, for having a healed ankle, for having a strong body..for being able to run 50 miles today without a thought about dropping or any real discomfort. I've had a weak body, a broken body and it has taught me to be grateful. To give thanks. To feel real joy. I find myself sitting here with tears in my eyes as I reflect upon my run. My adventure.
I found myself thinking about the past Voyageur's and the people that I ran them with. I thought often of Pierre Oster, who I miss so much. We ran SO many miles together over the years. My last Voyaguer, we were running together and I was slowing down near the end. He would NOT let me fall in back of him. He demanded I finish in front of him. I told him I was tired, I didn't think we would finish in 11 hours, I swore at him. He laughed at me. He told me he I was strong and I was going to finish in front of him in 11 hours. I didn't think we were EVER going to hit the bike path. We did. He put me in front of him and we finished in 10:55. It isn't the finish time that is important---it is the time spent with Pierre, the friendship, that is important. The memory.
The second pass through the power lines was more difficult. Hot! The sun was blazing, there is no shade. I climbed the best I could, then walked the section to the next hill. Deb and Wayne ran through the section. I walked, steadying myself, coming to terms with the fact than a 15 pound weight gain due to injury and a menopausal body is not the best body I've had to run in. I can adapt to the menopausal body but this 15 pounds is going to hit the road.
As I was running into Forbay I heard this cowbell ring ring ring ring. It was so loud! A woman was there cheering and ringing! I laughed, thanked her profusely and then saw Kelly and John. They filled up my bladder, made me laugh and sent me on my way. It was so good to see them! I left the aid station smiling and feeling like 100 bucks.
The final aid station. I was ahead of the cut off at all check points so wasn't worried about time. It looked as if I'd finish under 13 hours. I was so excited. Nothing hurt, no blisters, my side pains went away once I began to breath deeply and with my lower stomach. I was happy.
At Jay Cooke I had to go to the bathroom. I asked Joe if there was one nearby, he told me Maudie used one at the building on the hill and pointed to it. Ugh. I didn't feel like walking up there. I figured I'd pee off the trail somewhere.
Deb, Wayne and I ran across the swinging bridge, I again thought about all of the swinging bridge memories. Next year I'll add this year's memory to my bank. We took in the beautiful view, were cheered on by the campers and hikers. I told them I was going to pee, would catch up later.
I detoured to the left of the trail, peed and looked up. A Forest Ranger was standing on the trail, looking at me, as I pulled up my skirt. Oops. I'm sorry! I had to pee. You wouldn't have wanted me to pee in my skirt? Oh man. Am I in trouble? Are you going to write me a ticket? Shit. No, I didn't shit. I peed. Can I finish my race? I have like 4 more miles. I couldn't hold it that long.....
He wrote down my race number and I gave him my name. Oops. What bad luck!
As I caught Deb and Wayne I told them what happened. Wayne tried to divert the Forest Ranger from my path by asking him a question but the Forest Ranger didn't break stride. I may have a ticket arriving in the mail. Is it agains the law to pee in a state park?
We ran along, smelling the barn. I have become so slow on technical stuff. Wayne and Deb went on ahead as I scrambled over the rocks and roots. I took the time to reflect on my day. To acknowledge the pure joy that I was feeling. To think about the last few years of injury, how difficult they were. It's made me more thankful, more grateful, more real.
I hit the bike path and began to cry with joy and gratitude. I stopped to wipe my eyes, blow my nose, knowing what would be around the corner. The road to the finish. The school. Maybe some friends would still be around. I looked at my watch. 12:30. Wow. I did it.
As I turned the corner I ran as fast as I could to the finish. I heard Bill yell Julie Berg! A chorus of Julie!! Cheering, clapping, yelling, it's enough to make a person believe in oneself again! A huge hug from Maria. My friends, my runs, me. How good it is to be back.