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Records tumble in Voyageur 50-miler

CARLTON -- Andy Holak and Helen Lavin etched their names in the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon 50-Mile record book Saturday. Both looked fresh at the Carlton High School finish line as good weather aided strong performances in the 28th an...

Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon
Brooks Williams of Colorado Springs, Colo., (right) nears the 30-mile mark of Saturday's race while Daniel Mattimiro (background) is about five miles from the halfway point at the Lake Superior Zoo. Williams was unable to finish the race and was hospitalized for observation. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

CARLTON -- Andy Holak and Helen Lavin etched their names in the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon 50-Mile record book Saturday.

Both looked fresh at the Carlton High School finish line as good weather aided strong performances in the 28th annual event.

Holak, 41, from Duluth, became a three-time champion with his best time on the course in nine attempts, leading a record field of 159 runners in 7 hours, 16 minutes and 28 seconds. The fastest time since Scott Jurek's course record 6:41:16 in 1998 made Holak only the fourth man with three or more titles in race history.

Lavin, 32, a native of Ireland who resides in Minneapolis, led from start to finish in setting the women's course mark in 8:06:56, breaking Kim Holak's 2007 record of 8:14:14.

"I took last year off from ultra running, after sports hernia surgery, and that reinvigorated me. I'm running pain free and it's so enjoyable," said Andy Holak, a St. Louis County forest recreation specialist who also won in 2002 and 2007.

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Runners faced high humidity but temperatures only in the low 60s at the 7 a.m. start with windy, overcast conditions.

It warmed to 70 by 3 p.m. along the rugged course through Jay Cooke State Park and Fond du Lac State Forest to the Lake Superior Zoo and back.

Lavin ran her first Voyageur a year ago, in 8:19:28, and set her sights on Kim Holak's record.

"I did want to run a bit faster, and I thought the experience [of 2008] would help me. My goal was 8:10," said Lavin, who works for Boston Scientific, a medical device company. "I went out a little too fast and was slower on the way back because of leg cramps, but the conditions were great. We got lucky."

The award for the fastest start belonged to former champion Dusty Olson of Duluth. He sped away with the idea of challenging Jurek's mark, but was felled by sore hamstrings. While he felt pain about 17 miles into the race, he did reach the halfway point first, before being overtaken by Holak shortly after.

Olson, 36, shortened his stride, tuned out the pain and finished third in 7:42:32, just nine minutes slower than his 1993 winning time. The self-employed construction worker spent much of last week, including Friday, finishing a roofing project. He had won the Minnesota Half-Voyageur Trail Marathon two weeks ago on the second half of the course.

"I was getting some jolts of pain. Especially on some downhills near Spirit Mountain, my hamstrings were throbbing," said Olson, in his first ultra race of the year and first Voyageur since 1994. "But I'm stubborn, and I wasn't going to drop out."

Holak said he couldn't match Olson's early speed, yet stayed on track and ate energy gels every half-hour to get a boost. His win continued a solid 2009 -- winning the Chippewa Moraine 50-Kilometer Ultramarathon in a course-record 3:59:40 on April 25 in New Auburn, Wis.; finishing second in the Superior Trail 50K in 4:16:09 on May 16 near Lutsen; and third in the Big Horn 50-Miler in 9:06:50 on June 19 in Dayton, Wyo.

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Lavin's win was the third of the season following a course-record 4:41:21 at the Chippewa-Moraine 50K and 4:41:12 in the Afton (Minn.) 50K on July 4. She also ran 3:18:07 in Grandma's Marathon on June 20 and has spent time on the North Shore as a volunteer working on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Defending Voyageur champion Joe Ziegenfuss, 34, of Minnetonka, Minn., was second, 23 minutes back, in 7:39:12. It was the third time in 2009 he has finished behind Holak in an ultra race.

"I knew [Holak] was so far ahead that he was out of reach. I just played it safe and ran my own race," said Ziegenfuss, who won the Trail Mix 50K in 3:37:15 on April 18 in Bloomington, Minn.

Brooks Williams, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was taken to a hospital for observation after being found in distress a half-mile from the finish line, race officials said.

Roger Pekuri leads the Voyageur winner list with six victories, while Holak, Jurek and Jarrow Wahman each have three.

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