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Running: Cogger makes a bee line to Voyageur finish line

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Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com Race winner Ben Cogger makes his way up a steep hill during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on Saturday. Cogger finished in third place in 2017 but on Saturday broke a course record that had stood for 20 years. 2 / 4
Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com Former champion Michael Borst heads to the turnaround point at the Lake Superior Zoo during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on Saturday. Borst finished fourth. 3 / 4
Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com Jakob Wartman leaps over a pile of rocks on his way to the Grand Portage aid station during the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on Saturday. Wartman finished fifth. 4 / 4

CARLTON — Ben Cogger was about 15 miles into the 37th annual Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon on Saturday when he and another runner crossed a bridge.

They must have stirred a nest of hornets as Cogger was stung in the left calf. About two miles later, Cogger was stung again, this time in the mouth, causing his lip to swell like he was hiding a marble.

Sorry, hornets. You stung the wrong guy.

Cogger, who keeps bees at his Duluth residence, is used to being stung, and as an ultramarathoner, he’s certainly used to pain.

“He’s tough,” fellow competitor Jake Hegge said.

So tough, in fact, that Cogger overcame all the obstacles to break local legend Scott Jurek’s 20-year-old race record to win in 6 hours, 40 minutes, 34 seconds, topping Jurek’s 6:41:16 from 1998.

“Records are meant to be broken, right?” Cogger said. “I’ve got it today and I’m sure someone will break it in the near future, but it feels good, especially one that’s stood for so long.”

Lila Planavsky of La Crosse, Wis., held off Emilia Cameron to win the women’s race in 9:12:40.

First-year race director Samantha Carlson predicted Jurek’s record would fall as conditions were rather ideal, the course was in good shape and the field strong. The temperature climbed to near 80 degrees as the crowd hunkered in the shade of the finish-line tent or the sprawling Noble fir tree nearby. They stood up and began shouting at first sight of Cogger making his way down Fourth Street.

“He’s going to break it!” one man yelled.

“Just don’t fall!” shouted a boy.

Cogger didn’t. In fact, he cruised across the line not looking like a man who had just run 50 miles up and down hills, navigating creeks and scaling the infamous power-line stretch.

“It’s been really dry, so the rivers were all real low, so I managed to keep my feet dry crossing the rocks,” said Cogger, 33. “Last year was hotter and I really struggled with the heat and humidity. I couldn’t stay ahead of the hydration. This year, I ran smart and never felt like I was running out of gas. I saw the clock coming in and heard the crowd, and that gave me a little more spring in my step to just go for it.”

Connor Matheson of Chicago finished second in 6:56:56. Hegge, a two-time Voyageur champion, was third and his buddy, Michael Borst, a three-time champion, was fourth.

Matheson was taken aback by the area’s beauty and said he wanted to race it again.

“But right now, I just want to take a nap,” he said, laughing. “I hurt, but it’s a good hurt.”

A record 469 registered for the race from Carlton High School to the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth and back.

To give you an idea of how stacked the men’s field was, Patrick Jenkins and defending champion Neal Collick were leading more than 13 miles in before missing a turn just after the Seven Bridges aid station and then dropping out (Collick, by the way, also was besieged by wasps).

While the course has been slightly altered, mostly due to the 2012 Duluth flood, Hegge, who had Cogger as a biology assistant instructor when he was in college, said Cogger’s record is legit. Hegge and Borst ran the Boston Marathon this year and went up to Jurek, who was doing a book signing.

“Mike asked him, ‘So when you going to come back and run Voyageur?’ ” Hegge said. “And his response was, ‘Are you Jake and Mike?’ So that was pretty cool.

“We’ve been going at that record for seven years, and Scott pretty much gave us his blessing. We’ll be back again. The new record is still within reach.”

Cogger agreed.

Cogger was only running his second 50-mile race, with his first being the 2017 Voyageur, where he finished third. The former Minnesota Duluth runner and 2003 Washburn (Wis.) High School grad clearly has the talent. Cogger and his wife, Sara, have three young children, including a newborn, and he’s a stay-at-home dad. He said that leaves little room for running. Apparently, he saves it for race day.

“I don’t really run for records, but the experience. This is a good community and I like being part of it,” Cogger said. “I don’t imagine this record will stand for 20 years, but it will stand for now.”

Second time’s a charm

While Cogger looked like he could have run another 10 miles, Planavsky was visibly spent when she crossed the line a couple hours later. After 50 miles, could you blame her?

“I was really happy to be done,” Planavsky said, laughing. “When you put in all that hard work, it’s an incredible feeling for it to be your day.”

Planavsky, 37, came in sixth last year in her first Voyageur, when temperatures pushed 90 degrees. She lopped five minutes off that time. She certainly had plenty of support, with her family and Hegge, her coach, greeting her at the finish. While Planavsky has finished second before, a title had eluded her. Not this time. Friend Andy Hutson said it was just a matter of time.

“No surprise to me at all,” he said.

After finishing, Planavsky enjoyed a light rain that gave way to a short downpour.

“This really is one of the best races out there, just everything about it,” she said. “The volunteers are so amazing. The aid stations are frequent and awesome and everyone is so super supportive. I love this race.”

37th Annual Voyageur

50 Mile Trail Ultramarathon

(Carlton to Duluth and back)

Saturday’s Results

Men

  1. Ben Cogger, Duluth, 6 hours, 40 minutes, 34 seconds

    2. Connor Matheson, Chicago, 6:56:56

  2. Jake Hegge, Onalaska, Wis., 7:00:46
  3. Michael Borst, La Crosse, Wis., 7:01:34

    5. Jakob Wartman, Duluth, 7:06:18

Women
  1. Lila Planavsky, La Crosse, 9:12:40

    2. Emilia Cameron, Madison, 9:13:28

  2. Jennifer St. Amand, Dexter, Minn., 9:16:51
  3. April Anselmo, Hudson, Wis., 9:20:07
  4. Tammi Braund, Cushing, Wis., 9:26:11
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