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Borst beats the heat to defend Voyaguer Trail Ultramarathon title

Participants in the 2014 Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon run across a bridge over Kingsbury Creek in Duluth near the Lake Superior Zoo on Saturday morning. (Clint Austin / / 4
Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon participant Doug Kleemeier of Oakdale, Minn., runs on trails near the Lake Superior Zoo on Saturday morning, July 26, 2014. (Clint Austin / / 4
Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon participant Marcus Taintor of Duluth pauses to cool off in Kingsbury Creek near the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth on Saturday morning. (Clint Austin / / 4
Michael Borst4 / 4

CARLTON –– Kyle Pietari knew he’d have to be way out front of Michael Borst at the turnaround of Saturday’s Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon to have any chance of dethroning the defending champ.

So when the 27-year-old Pietari was a close second through 25 miles, he knew he was finished. Borst, he reasoned, is simply too strong of a climber, which bodes well for the second half of the 50-mile out-and-back Voyageur course.

“I knew that unless I was way ahead of him I would never have a chance of beating him because he’s so strong on the uphills,” said Pietari, who calls Denver home.

Borst, a 21-year-old Wisconsin-La Crosse student, won this race a year ago in 7 hours, 1 minute and 34 seconds. He vowed to run even faster Saturday, going so far as to drop a casual mention of Scott Jurek’s 16-year-old course record (6:41:16) during a midweek interview.

Alas, steamy temps derailed those plans. Still, Borst carved a path through the woods between Carlton High School and the Lake Superior Zoo, and back, in a blazing 6:53:20. He got to the midway mark, right behind the zoo, in about 3:12.

That was just after 9 a.m. It only got hotter from there, ultimately hitting 81 degrees when Borst finished in front of the high school in Carlton.

“That’s where the heat really started,” Borst said of the halfway point. “And it seemed like more uphill to me because when you leave the turnaround you have to climb (up Spirit Mountain) for quite a while.”

Even had Borst eclipsed Jurek’s 1998 time, it wouldn’t have counted as a Voyageur record because the course for Saturday’s race was different than the traditional one — the flooding of 2012 is to blame. Breaking seven hours, though, has kind of become the gold standard at one of the country’s oldest trail ultramarathons.

Pietari was second at 7:01:43. He admitted to falling out of running before rediscovering his love for the sport a few years back while delivering the Duluth News Tribune for about six months — his girlfriend is from the area. He did so in the dead of winter, and said the sub-zero temps he worked in were all the motivation he needed to run fast and get papers on doorsteps.

Now, he’s preparing for Harvard Law School in the fall.

Asked what will be tougher, studying at Harvard or running 50 up-and-down miles amid debilitating heat, Pietari was quick to respond.

“They’re both endurance sports,” he said.

A record 256 runners signed up for Saturday’s race; 235 were at the starting line.

Incredibly, the winner, mere minutes after finishing, already was talking about returning to the area in early September for the Superior 100-Mile Trail Race through the Sawtooth Mountain Range. In fact, Borst even plans a quick hike along that course today.

“But there’s a two-hour limit!” his girlfriend, Allyson MacPherson, chimed in.

Pietari, too, is considering doing the 100-mile September race. Like Borst, he looked impressively strong coming across the Voyageur finish line, with a quick thrust of his arms into the air.

Nonetheless, he admitted talk of running 100 miles was a bit premature Saturday.

“Running, period, is the last thing on my mind right now,” he said.

Duluthian Chris Rubesch was third for the second straight year at 7:23:26. He was fourth in 2011 and 2012, meaning he has experience on both the traditional course and the altered ones of the past three years.

Last year, the Voyageur was run under cold, wet conditions. Despite the rain making the course more treacherous, Rubesch knows what he prefers.

“I like running on the course in any conditions, but if I had to choose, definitely the cool and the wet,” the 28-year-old said. “That heat really takes it out of you.”

2012 champ Jake Hegge, second last year, was seventh at 7:36:32.

St. Paul’s Christi Nowak, 26, won the women’s race with a time of 8:36:20.