June 2019 saw the second running of the Voyage North 5 K & 10 K Race in Grand Marais, Minnesota. My husband and I ran it last year during the inaugural run. Both runs were fabulous. Who doesn’t love free smoked salmon and craft beer at the finish? But let me tell you more about why this race should be on your bucket list of little gems.
We drove to Grand Marais the morning of the race
My husband and I drove down from Canada the morning of race day. The race starts a bit later in the day, at 11:00 AM to accommodate travelers. Its a good thing too, because many of the participants are from other places. Almost half of the runners this year were from Canada.
Grand Marais is only a 1.5 hour drive south, so is a perfect mini-get-away for us.
Grand Marais is a trendy little tourist town
The town is nestled between the shores of Lake Superior and the Northern wilderness of Cook County, Minnesota. It is a funky little tourist town and boosts so many different outdoor activities. Sailing, kayaking, cycling and hiking are among the favorite summer activities. Winter is just as active with skiing and snowmobiling.
Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Grand Marais where there are ample quality hotels and campgrounds for this small town of just over 1000 inhabitants. The restaurants are top notch. We have eaten at a few of them now and have not yet had bad food or bad service.
There are also many little shops in Grand Marais, including some unique art and specialty gift shops.
The drive along the coast of Lake Superior is breath-taking
The drive along the coast of Lake Superior is beautiful. We always really enjoy this drive, with the rolling hills and views of Lake Superior.
The Java Moose was our designated meeting spot before the race
We arrived around 9:00 am to pick up our race kits. Then we headed over to the Java Moose to meet our friends for coffee. Java Moose is a little coffee shop just off Highway 61. The place is always busy and serves delicious coffee and specialty drinks. We always stop here to fill up our coffee mugs when we travel south towards Duluth. It was the perfect place to meet up before the race.
Now, let’s talk about the race
Having run it last year, I knew what we were in for and was prepared for what was ahead. It is a fun, but challenging race.
The race starts along the lake shore in the downtown area. We all gathered in on the small peninsula near the Coast Guard Station. This area over looks Grand Marais Harbor and Artists’ Point. It made the perfect backdrop for some pre-race photos.
Pre-race warm up in Grand Marais Harbor
The pre-race warm up was on the grassy area next to the shore of Lake Superior. It was a routine of dynamic stretches lead by a local fitness trainer. The routine was nice an light and warmed up all the major muscle groups used in running.
Race Start was near the Coast Guard Station
Next we lined up at the start line. The gun went off and we were running. We did a short loop around the Coast Guard parking lot before heading out towards the down town.
This is where I noticed my shoelace had become untied. I was very reluctant to stop so soon in the race, but I didn’t want to risk tripping. So I moved over to the side and tied my shoe.
Free donuts for racers on course
Just before heading along the road by the shore of Lake Superior, the World’s Best Donuts handed out fresh made donut holes to the runners. While I can’t eat them due to a wheat allergy, other runners told me they were delicious. The donut bakery has been in business for 50 years and always has line ups to enter the store. There is a delicious reason it is so popular.
Free coffee shots for racers too
The next turn was up 3rd Avenue by the Java Moose. The cafe was handing out coffee shots to the runners here. Not one to pass on coffee, especially free coffee, I stopped yet again for a shot of their delicious brew. It was a brief, but much appreciated stop.
Oh, those many hills to climb
I was glad to have the caffiene boost as we rounded the corner, heading for the dreaded hills. Well, actually, I don’t dread hills. I am one of those crazy runners that actually likes to run hills. This is why I love this race so much. There are a lot of hills to climb.
The 5 K race zig zags through business and residential streets. You climb one hill going west, then turn north to run flat before turning west again to climb another hill. And repeat this pattern a couple of times to equal many hills to run.
The 5 K and 10 K runners split up after the first water station
At the water station located on the corner of 5th St. and 8th Ave, the course splits. The 10 km runners continue up the very long climb towards Fall River Road. This is approximately 350 meter elevation to the top. One runner commented that it was the toughest 10 km she has ever done. Her face said it all at the finish line. She looked exhausted.
While I would have loved the challenge of the 10 km hills going up, a previous ankle injury made me hesitate. The downhill section is what worried me. Last year, I ended up aggravating the old injury and compressed the tiny bones in my ankle on that descent. It took 2 – 3 months of chiropractic care to help me recover. So this year, I opted for the 5 km race. I didn’t want to do double the downhill distance and wreck my ankle again.
The 5 K course has a fourth and final hill to climb
After the long climb of the third hill, runners doing 5 km were pleading for that to be the last hill. But, no, it is not the final climb. The 5 km route teases you by going briefly down hill on 8th Ave before turning onto 2nd St. Second street is the fourth and final climb in the 5 km race.
There is a total of 3 km of hills, over half of the 5 km course. And THEN it is, finally, down hill from there.
The 10 K course has 5 km of hills to climb
The 10 km course is a grueling 5 km of uphill running. Half the course is uphill, and half is downhill. The first part of the down hill is fairly steep on gravel road. Many runners took this area a bit slower to prevent from sliding on the tiny rocks.
Then it is downhill to the finish
Both the 5 km and 10 km routes exit onto the side of Highway 61. There is a sidewalk descent for the remainder of the run. It is tempting to just let loose and fly down the hill. I did that last year and it was tremendous fun. But it was at the cost of my ankle. This year, I slowed to a controlled descent taking extra care to not damage my poor ankle, yet again.
With about 500 meters left to go, I felt the the twinge in my ankle. I knew I was going to pay for the down hill part this year too. What is a runner to do though. The race was worth a little bit of pain. The Brewery staff gave me some ice after I finished, and that made all the difference.
The race has great community support
I crossed the finish line to the loud cheers of a local crowd. The community support for this small race of about 225 runners is tremendous. Some local residents had even set up little water and snack stations of their own on the route, which was greatly appreciated and enjoyed by all the runners.
When they were announcing the local business sponsors at the start of the race, I remember thinking that the announcer must have listed most of the business in Grand Marais. I was impressed by all the support. It is fantastic that this town promotes outdoor activities such as running.
Finisher’s medal, smoked salmon and beer at the finish line
I received my finisher medal as I crossed and noticed a large platter of smoked salmon on the finisher’s medal table. This was very exciting indeed. Most races provide the usual bananas, granola bars and oranges. It was really good to see some decent protein at the finish. The smoke salmon was provided by Dockside Fish Market and it was delicious. I couldn’t help but take a second helping.
The finish line and post-race celebrations ended at the Voyageur Brewing Company. Each runner was given a free drink coupon in their race kits. While I don’t drink beer, my husband had a couple of glasses of craft beer brewed locally. He enjoyed it.
First place age category finishers won a growler of beer
My husband also won a growler of beer from the brewery for winning first in his age…the old man category (male 50 – 59). Our friend, Linda also won her age and received a growler. These were fantastic awards.
Much to my surprise, as I stopped multiple times on course for various reasons and to take photos, I won third place in my age and received a ribbon.
Did I mention that the finisher’s medal is a bottle opener? Well, it is and it is pretty cool!
After the race we went for lunch
After the race, we joined our friends at the My Sister’s Place restaurant for lunch. On the menu was a burger called the Canadian Dave. Well, my husband’s name is Dave and he is Canadian, so guess what he ordered. I ordered the Bacon Cheese Burger. Most of our friends also ordered burgers, which were delicious and highly recommended.
Grand Marais restaurants are one of the things that keeps us coming back to this little town. The food is always delicious.
An afternoon hike out to Devil’s Kettle finished off a perfect day
The other thing that keeps us coming back is the outdoors. There are several State Parks surrounding Grand Marais. This time we decided to explore Judge C.R. Magney State Park, which boosts the Devil’s Kettle.
After saying good bye to our friends and Grand Marais, my husband and I headed north to hike along side the Brule River out to Devil’s Kettle. It did not disappoint. It was worth the effort to climb over 175 stairs out to the waterfall and back.
We went a little beyond the Devil’s Kettle to explore a bit further up the Superior Hiking Trail. I was glad we did, as I found a bunch of White Trillium nestled beside the trail. White Trillium is Ontario’s official flower, and I have never seen it in the wild. Now I have and it is beautiful.
We had a fantastic day
I hope you enjoyed my story about the Voyage North 5 K & 10 K Race. If you ever want to run a challenging course and have a great time, I highly recommend this run.
If you want to read about some of my other adventures, check out Races & Places here at pinkribbonrunner.com. Enjoy Running!