Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Beautiful Day for the First Wild Duluth Races

A common occurrence usually takes place ten days before an ultramarathon for many ultrarunners.  They flock to to check the ten day forecast.  As first time race directors of the Wild Duluth 100K and 50K races, we did the same thing.  The ten day forecast didn’t look good.  Forty-two degrees with a rain/snow mix.  Fortunately, as is the case for most ten day forecasts, it was wrong.  Race day dawned with starry skies giving way to bright sunshine.  It would be a beautiful day for our inaugural Wild Duluth Races.

[caption id="attachment_398" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="2nd Place 100K Runner Chad Brackelsberg"]2nd Place 100K Runner Chad Brackelsberg[/caption]

At 6:00 a.m. the 100K runners departed from the start/finish line at Bayfront Park located right on the Duluth harbor of Lake Superior.  They would run the Superior Hiking Trail, which traverses the entire length of the City of Duluth, from East to West, turning around at Chambers Grove Park and returning the same way to the finish line at Bayfront.  For the 100K runners, the out-and-back course would begin with a relatively long climb to the top of the ridge at Enger Park where runners had the opportunity to ring the Peace Bell.  While the Wild Duluth course does not have any really long climbs or descents, the climbing and descending is relentless.  For most of the course the trail runs up and down along the ridge above the City of Duluth with many great views of the Lake Superior Harbor, Duluth neighborhoods and the hills that runners will traverse strung out before them.  Runners will find rocky gorges, waterfalls, clifftop running, open meadows above the city, boulders and rock outcroppings, towering red and white pine trees, pine needle laden trail as well as rocky, rooty trail all within the city limits of Duluth and its 80,000 residents.  It truly is a wilderness trail within the city, living up to the name Wild Duluth.

From the start of the 100K race, it was clear that Sean Andrish from Virginia was in great shape and ready to run a fast 62 miles.  Chad Brackelsberg from Park City, Utah hung with Sean through the early aid stations and was also looking strong.  As the race progressed, Sean began to build a lead that he would never relinquish, finishing with a super time of 10:52.  We figured anything around 11 hours on this very challenging course would be very good.  Sean exceeded those expectations while telling us that he absolutely loved the course.  Chad stayed steady to finish the 100K in second place and local ultrarunner Matt Long came on strong to close the gap on Chad finishing a solid third.  Julie Treder from St. Francis, WI ran a very good, well paced race and overcame an acrobatic fall off a rock to finish first for the women and fourth overall in 14:45.  Alicia Hudelson finished second for the women and Shelly Thompson Placed third.

[caption id="attachment_399" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Morning Sunlight on Trees Across the St. Louis River from the 50K  Start"]Morning Sunlight on Trees Across the St. Louis River from the 50K Start[/caption]

Fifty-kilometer runners began their journey from Chambers Grove Park finishing the point-to-point course at Bayfront Park near downtown Duluth.  At the Chambers Grove start runners and spectators were stunned by the golden sunlight shining brightly on the autumn colored trees on the other side of the St. Louis River.  As the runners left the park and immediately climbed steeply up the bluffs, they were again bedazzled by the beautiful pine needle covered trail beneath huge pine trees and colorful maple trees which produced an almost unearthly glow as runners filed along the steep ridgetop.

[caption id="attachment_407" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rick Bothwell on Trail Above St. Louis River"]Rick Bothwell on Trail Above St. Louis River[/caption]

Midwestern speedster Wynn Davis immediately took the lead and, like the 100K race, never looked back.  It was clear that Wynn was going to set a solid standard for the 50K course.  Would he also exceed our expectations of what we thought would be a fast time on this course?  We felt a 4 hour 30 minute winning time would be a great time on this course.  Wynn smashed those expectations, finishing the race in 4 hours 11 minutes.  Both Sean and Wynn set the bar very high at our inaugural race.

Local runner Ryan Braun from Superior, WI ran a super race to finish second in the 50K, hanging close to Wynn for the early part of the race.  David Worley, another local runner from Duluth, MN ran a superbly paced race just edging out local Darrin Johnson from South Range, WI for third place and the Master’s title.

The women’s 50K may have been the most exciting race of the day.  Leslie Semler from Hermantown, MN led local running champion Rochelle Wirth of Duluth, MN through the early aid stations before Rochelle overtook Leslie, relying on her ultra experience to win the 50K with a super time of 5:13 and place 5th overall.  Leslie finished a very strong 2nd just over 5 minutes behind Rochelle and 7th overall.  Duluthian Anne Flueckiger placed third.  The women were really moving fast over the rocky course throughout the day and also set strong standards for others to try to match in coming years.

[caption id="attachment_401" align="alignright" width="225" caption="Climbing Ely's Peak"]Climbing Ely's Peak[/caption]

No ultra is complete without a few special stories of runners persevering in the face of adversity.  There were many stories on the trail at Wild Duluth, but two stand out in our minds.  Both involved first time ultrarunners.

Until recently, 100K finisher Phillip Watson, a 27 year old from Inver Grove Heights, MN, didn’t know what an ultramarathon was.  He had heard about the sport at some point recently and decided to Google ultramarathons in Minnesota.  This led Phillip to the Wild Duluth races.  He told me at the start that he thought he might as well go all out and run the 100K when he decided to sign up for his first ultramarathon.  Phillip chose a very challenging race for his first ultra, and despite not knowing a lot about the gear and nutrition most ultrarunners use while racing, he remained strong and cheerful all day, overcame blisters and motored to his first ultra finish in the Wild Duluth 100K.  Phillip provided a great example for all of us that what truly matters in an ultra is our attitude and putting one foot in front of the other all day for a long time.  Great job Phillip, and I might put one of those hooded sweatshirts with the big pockets in my race wardrobe soon.  You were pulling food out of those pockets all day!

[caption id="attachment_397" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Finish Line at Bayfront Park"]The Finish Line at Bayfront Park[/caption]

In the 50K, first time ultrarunner Juliana Bertelsen finished behind everyone and took home the Taconite in Your Pants Award.  What makes her finish truly special is that she got off course for an extended period of time and still persevered to the finish.  We received a call that a runner was off course and we began trying to track that runner down.  Shortly after beginning the process of tracking the runner down, we received another call that the runner was back on course and heading for the finish.  In the true ultrarunner spirit, Juliana never gave up and ran strong to the finish despite the extra miles she ran.

Many thanks to all of our tremendous volunteers who endured a long day but remained cheerful throughout.  The runners truly appreciated your efforts.  We’re looking forward to next year and hope to see many of you at the 2010 Wild Duluth Races.

Thanks to Zach Pierce and Rick Bothwell for the above photos.


  1. Thanks for such a well-written recap that captures the beauty and challenge of long-distance trail running! And also for giving recognition to both the amazingly speedy and to those who persevered through unanticipated challenges.

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