Up North: Carlton ultramarathon legend now capturing champions’ winning moments

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In June hundreds of athletes put their legs to the test racing in Grandma’s Marathon.

Over a month later a pack of extreme runners took it many steps further, undertaking a 50-mile ultramarathon in Carlton.

On the morning of Saturday, July 4th, trail conditions across the Northland were far from ideal.

"All the rocks were pretty slippery [and] the trail was kind of muddy," described Ben Drexler.

142 determined athletes didn’t let that rain on their parade, which was actually the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra. The 39th annual event is ultra long and durable. It recommenced after both the 2012 flood in Duluth and the coronavirus pandemic.

Race director Samantha Frey said it has, "a lot of history. So [there’s] a lot of shoulders that you’re standing on to keep this going."

Running from Carlton to Duluth’s Lake Superior Zoo and back it, the course crosses many unique trails. To avoid getting tripped up runners have to stay focused on the less beaten paths.

"You can look up and look at the overviews and it’s gorgeous, beautiful, but you got to go straight back to your feet," Drexler warned. "If not, you’re going to be tripping, falling, there’s too many rocks [and] too many roots."

Drexler’s feet would not fail him. He finished in 7 hours and 9 minutes to take home his first Voyageur crown. Coming in about 1 hour and 20 minutes later Gretchen Metsa earned the women’s title.

Snapping their championship candid photographs at the finish line was an Ultra legend himself, Jarrow Wahman.

"I was there the year where we had perfect conditions, and we had Scott Jurek here," Wahman recalled. "He and I were together for like 49 or 50 miles before he pulled away, and had the course record."

In that 1998 race, Wahman finished 1 minute and 42 seconds behind Jurek’s time of 6:41. Wahman would take second place and become known as the event’s "fastest loser".

Five years later he earned a new title: "slowest winner".

"Under really, really bad conditions [I] won the race in like 8 hours and 18 minutes. Won by about an hour, so between the two of them that’s my claim to fame," Wahman said.

Not only that, he also helped found the race in 1982, before going on to finish it 11 times. He hung up his sneakers this year, but may crash the course once more.

"I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be able to do it again. I just turned 60, but there are people older than me out there right now running it, putting me to shame. Maybe I’ll come back next year for the 40th."