Ben LaVigueur, 43, of Nikiski made a triumphant return to ultrarunning by winning the Little Su 50K on Saturday in Big Lake.
LaVigueur captured the Little Su 50K for the third time in three tries, with the other victories coming in 2010 and 2011.
Those victories were part of a brief and successful ultrarunning career that abruptly came to a halt in 2012.
Over the course of two years, LaVigueur also won the Frosty Bottom 50-mile run in 2011 in Anchorage and the Fuego y Agua 100K on the Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua in 2012.
LaVigueur had decided to do the Fuego y Agua while biking from Cancun, Mexico, to Costa Rica with his brother, Gabe LaVigueur, also of Nikiski.
Ben then got married in Costa Rica in March 2012 and would not do another ultra event until Saturday.
“Once that transpired, I laid everything down,” Lavigueur said of the marriage, which ended in divorce. “I did what I felt I had to do, what society tells us our responsibilities are once we get married. Get a job, get a home, be a husband and start a family.”
LaVigueur did more than stop competing in ultramarathons. He stopped running, period.
“All of the running was put to the side,” he said. “That was my ultimate passion. That was where I hoped life would take me as a professional. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
“Through all these years, there’s always been something in me that I truly missed. I had a want and desire to make it a part of my life again, but I never could find a way to do it.”
In late 2019, LaVigueur had a number of surgeries and was not at his job in oil field for close to six months. He got to spend a lot of time with his partner, Stephanie Stillwell, and their five kids.
“That really shed a lot of light on where I felt my life belonged,” he said.
Then came the giant life quake that was 2020. With the kids home from school and LaVigueur frequently gone at the oil field, life-probing conversations with Stillwell increased.
“We talked about what we can do to pave the way for ourselves to create the life we all want to be happy with,” LaVigueur said.
In August 2020, LaVigueur quit his job of eight years.
“I decided to start my own business and get back into running full time,” he said. “That’s where I felt complete, that’s where my passion and drive came from.
“Adding that back into my life has done so much for my relationship and it’s allowed me to see my kids more. It’s made me a much stronger, better man again.”
LaVigueur had done some hiking, but it wasn’t until October 2020 he started running again. He decided the Little Su 50K would be the perfect race to launch his career again.
LaVigueur was 42 at the time, having spent some of his prime years on the running sidelines. When asked if he is surprised at how quickly he found success, LaVigueur’s answer falls in line with the mindset of a successful ultrarunner.
“No, I’m not surprised,” he said. “That may not sound right. I knew I was capable of doing it.”
LaVigueur said his cardiovascular system responded well to training.
“I did have doubts about my musculoskeletal system,” he said. “Physically, my body struggled at times. Here I am, 10 years later, and throwing the workload at it I did is pretty tough. I did face injury a couple of times, but I was able to get on top of that pretty quick.”
LaVigueur said pushing his body as hard as he can without pushing it over the edge is what he loves about ultrarunning.
“That’s where I find my strength at, being able to push my mind and body to those limits,” he said. “That’s where I feel whole. That’s where I feel alive.”
With successful training behind him, LaVigueur said his goal was to win Saturday. After the first 5 miles, LaVigueur said, a front-runner broke away from the pack. LaVigueur was in second place at the halfway point, with another runner right behind him.
“Two or three minutes after leaving, I caught sight of the first-place runner,” LaVigueur said. “This guy was walking at this point. I did not expect to see him at all. I thought I was destined to get second this year.”
LaVigueur said the temperature at the start of the race was minus-10 degrees. The day warmed up and the trail started to deteriorate.
With all the runners, bikers and skiers from the Susitna Half 100 tearing up the trail, plus all the bikers and skiers from the Little Su 50K doing the same, LaVigueur said the going got tough.
“It was basically like running on the beach,” he said. “There was hardly any solid track to run on.”
LaVigueur and Siddharth Rajan of Anchorage passed the first-place runner and stayed within 100 yards of each other until 5 miles remained in the race.
“I could tell this guy was hurting just as bad as I was,” LaVigueur said. “He didn’t seem to have the desire to really push himself beyond his limits to get first place and that’s what I really wanted.”
LaVigueur said he could hardly walk after the event.
“After literally not running going on 10 years, it meant a lot to prove to myself I had it in me,” he said.
LaVigueur said the next race on his radar is the Resurrection Pass 50 Miler in late July or the Drew’s Angel Creek 50 in Fairbanks in early July.
In addition to training for those races, LaVigueur will be working on getting his business — Pathways Alaska — up and running.
So far he has a website, blog and YouTube channel, but he said the business is still in its infancy.
“The business was created to help people connect with their true selves through the true spirit of Alaska,” LaVigueur said. “If people are afraid, if they don’t know how to start backpacking or running, I’ll help them go from zero to 100 if they want to.”
LaVigueur said he has taken a wilderness first responder course and is working on getting certified as an ultrarunning coach. This summer, LaVigueur and Stillwell, who also runs her own business from home, will check out potential wilderness sites for retreats.
“I hope my story, even at 43 years old, shows people they can take charge of their own lives and do things they want to do even if they haven’t done them in so long, if that’s what makes them truly happy,” LaVigueur said.
Little Su 50K
Women’s bike — 13. Alicia Driscoll, Soldotna, 4:36:00.
Men’s bike — 23. Nathan Kincaid, Soldotna, 4:35:31; 24. M. Scott Moon, Kenai, 4:38:35.
Men’s run — 1. Ben LaVigueur, Nikiski, 5:31:15.
Susitna Half 100
Men’s run — 11. Derek Bynagle, Fritz Creek, 13:50:00; 12. Brian Burns, Fritz Creek, 14:28:00.
Men’s bike — 14. David Seramur, Kenai, 5:42:39; 30. Marc Romano, Homer, 8:17:01.