I had a great time running the Wild Duluth 50K this last Saturday. This is a friendly, old-school trail race with options for 100K (the final event in the 5-race Gnarly Bandit Ultra Series -- incredibly, 8 people completed it this year), 50K, and half marathon distances.
I had decided not to run the TC Marathon two weeks ago, reasoning that with spotty training, I could probably do it or Wild Duluth, but probably not both. And I wanted to do Wild Duluth. So on marathon weekend, I opted instead for a solid 6 hour, 24 or 25 mile run at Afton, then 5.5 miles the next morning, just as the TC 10 Mile was starting. Looking at my training schedule over the summer, I think this was the right choice: I had gotten in a number of good long trail runs, but nothing on roads longer than 11 miles since July. Hard to imagine that 26.2 road miles would be a Good Idea.
Wild Duluth 50K is a point-to-point race, starting this year at the UMD outpost (previously started at Jay Cooke State Park, but last year's massive floods washed away road access and trails) and ending in the heart of Duluth, at Bayfront Park. The 100K is an out-and-back, starting and finishing at Bayfront Park.
There's a total of 3400 ft of climbing and 3800 of descending on the 50K course -- much less than at the Spring Superior or Afton 50K courses, but finish times are generally 45-60 min longer. The reason seems to be the character of the trail -- lots of big blocky rocks and a fair bit of steep rocky climbing and descending makes the trail less "runnable", especially from miles 11-22.
My Superior finish time was 8:00:18. My "A" goal for this race was sub-8 hours, my "B" goal was sub-9, my "C" goal was to run happy and feel good.
I was up at 3:45 to drive to Duluth, and drove through spotty rain showers and a little bit of sleet coming into town. I felt bad for the 100Kers, who had started by now and were experiencing semi-frozen rain in the dark while climbing rocky trails. After a brief panicky driving-around-the-harbor interval, I found the buses just in time and scrambled aboard, forgetting my gaiters but managing to grab my other essentials -- hat, gloves, socks, hydration pack, camera.
By the time we reached the start/100K turnaround, the sun was reluctantly coming up and the rain had mostly stopped. It was about 35 degrees, but not much wind. I knew I'd warm up once I got going.
|Keeping warm before the start|
|112 runners started the 50K, and 110 finished. Not bad!|
The very first section followed a rocky trail along the Saint Louis River gorge. Beautiful! The roar of the water was loud and the woods smelled damp and fertile. The trail was narrow (RD had warned us about the bottleneck), but it was okay to hike it and get a feel for the traction on damp rock.
|A crowded start, but hey, I'm not going for the course record.|
|A beautiful day for a run!|
The course left Munger trail and headed onto the Superior Hiking Trail.
|The trail started wide and well graded, and narrowed to singletrack in a few miles.|
Near AS2, the first 100K racers came by, moving incredibly steadily and fast. I think there was a new course record set? It was great to see them looking so strong.
AS2 was staffed by the Upper Midwest Trail Runners -- my people -- and they were having a great time. In no time, my water was refilled, my trash disposed of, I had been offered Swiss Cake Rolls ("Don't worry, they're paleo!") and instead taken a hard-boiled egg and some salted potatoes, and I was on my way.
The next leg summited Ely's Peak. Shortly after the aid station, there was a steep, rocky climb, blending at times into a class III/IV scramble. The rain had stopped early in the morning, but the rock was still pretty slippery. The sun began to break through and I was definitely glad I'd gone with shorts instead of tights.
|What a view!|
At mile 17.7, we reached Spirit Mountain, near the start of the half marathon. This was another super friendly and helpful aid station. The volunteers at Wild Duluth were really excellent.
|Happy at Spirit Mountain|
|Lots of rushing water, but all the crossings had good bridges|
Sure enough, heading out of the aid station, the trail climbed, but not so steeply, and we were on a ridge overlooking Duluth. The views gradually unfolded. First the lake in the distance:
|See the sunbreak? It was turning into an amazing day|
The last 3 miles of the trail climbs up to the watch tower in Enger Park in Duluth, then descends steeply to finish along sidewalks, across the interstate and the train tracks, at the park. In Enger Park the route goes right past a huge Japanese peace bell hanging in a pavilion. A few kids were ringing it as I passed and it deep resonance went on and on, for a long time. Then I plummeted down the hill into Duluth, and before I knew it I was rounding the corner coming into the finish line.
|What a great day!|
My finish time was 8:05:51 -- 82 of 110 finishers. I'm thrilled with this time, and I feel like it's an improvement on my performance at Superior. Which, considering my wonky summer of iron-deficient training, is pretty awesome.
Just as important, I felt really good the whole run, and three days later, I seem to be recovering well from the race. I'm really glad I did Wild Duluth and I think it'll stay on the schedule in the future. It's a rugged, challenging, and beautiful course, and it was well marked and well supported. It was fun to meet many local Duluth area runners, and inspiring to see the 100K runners on the course (including the Gnarly Bandits -- congratulations, you guys!). I came away from the race energized, inspired, and more in love with trail running than ever.