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Hegge blazes through heat for second win at Voyageur ultramarathon

CARLTON -- It was a long Saturday for University of Wisconsin-La Crosse physical therapy student Jake Hegge. The 23-year-old from Onalaska, Wis. was scheduled to attend a wedding in the Twin Cities that evening, but first he rose with the sun to ...

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Jake Hegge runs down a slight hill about 20 miles into the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on Saturday morning. Hegge won the race. He had won it in 2012, placed second in 2013 and seventh in 2014. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

CARLTON - It was a long Saturday for University of Wisconsin-La Crosse physical therapy student Jake Hegge.
The 23-year-old from Onalaska, Wis. was scheduled to attend a wedding in the Twin Cities that evening, but first he rose with the sun to run the Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon.
At the instruction of his wife, he made sure it was a quick run by turning in the fourth-fastest Voyageur time Saturday, finishing in 6 hours, 49 minutes and 33 seconds to win the race for the second time in four years.
His last win came in 2012 when he finished in 7:34:52. He finished second in 2013 in 7:20:05 and seventh a year ago in 7:35:32.
“I’d say this was the most difficult year because of the heat,” said Hegge, who also won the 26.2-mile Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon on July 11, which covers a portion of the Voyageur course, going from Duluth to Carlton. “I knew it was going to be hot at the end so I tried to get out to the turnaround kind of quick. You know you’re going to run it slower on the way back.”
Hermantown’s Leslie Semler was the top female runner, crossing the finish line in 8:56:10. Like Hegge, she also last won in 2012, finishing in 8:39:32 that year. She was sixth last year in 10:14:25.
Semler said Saturday’s win was special because it came on the original Voyageur course rather than the revamped, post-2012 flood route.
“This is my only other time running under nine hours and this is pretty close to the original course, so it’s my fastest time on the original course,” Semler said. “When I won in 2012, that course was drastically different.
“I’m very happy with my time. It’s my best time on this course.”
Hegge is the sixth man to run the Voyageur in less than seven hours after fellow UW-La Crosse physical therapy student Michael Borst became the fifth person a year ago, finishing in 6:53:20 for back-to-back wins. Borst finished fourth this year in 7:22:28.
Roger Pekuri was the first to do it in 1987, finishing in 6:48:05, while Scott Jurek holds the fastest time ever of 6:41:16 in 1998.
“It’s definitely something you should never take for granted,” Borst said about cracking seven hours. “I definitely learned that this year.”
The readdition of Gill Creek - a winding, single-track path on steep hills  in Jay Cooke State Park that takes runners down to the creek and then back up again - was supposed to be the twist in this year’s Voyageur, bringing the race back as close as possible to the pre-2012 flood course.
Instead, it was the heat that did the most damage to the field of 256 runners that began the race at 6 a.m., traveling from Carlton High School, through Jay Cooke State Park and north to the Lake Superior Zoo in West Duluth before running the course in reverse.
Temperatures in Carlton and Duluth started in the low 60s before climbing into the high 80s by mid-afternoon.
“It just kept getting warmer and warmer,” said Nick Nygaard, 25, of Duluth. He finished second in 7:02:10. “The open sections were just radiating. Not much of a breeze picked up.”
Hegge - who crossed the finish line in Carlton just before 1 p.m. on Saturday before embarking on a two-and-a-half hour car ride to the Twin Cities - said the heat hit him hard after the turnaround at the Lake Superior Zoo as he was going back up the ski hill at Spirit Mountain.
For others, it was the wide-open, unsheltered Power Lines stretch between Grand Portage and Seven Bridges.
“They were pretty hot this year,” said Hegge, who is in his last year of physical therapy school.
“The power lines are tough,” added Borst, who just completed a physiology final Thursday as part of his first year of physical therapy school. “There is no shade, and everywhere else there is at least a little bit of shade for the most part.”

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