Thursday, July 15, 2010

2010 Run the Keweenaw

This weekend I was fortunate enough to have been able to contest Run the Keweenaw held at the Top of Michigan in Copper Harbor. This small community with population of 75 people is best known for being the launching point to Isle Royale National Park, snowmobiling in the winter and as the northern terminus of 2000 mile US Highway 41 that begins as a tree covered tunnel-like road and travels south to Miami, Florida. If you have not seen the fall colors in the Copper Country, you have missed out some breathtaking sights. More recently, they have put themselves on the map as having some of the best multi-use trails around with help of the Copper Harbor Trails Club and the Keweenaw Trails Alliance.

It was these trails that hosted the 2-day, 3-event trail race held on July 10-11, 2010. This stage race starts with a 6km hill climb to the summit of Mount Baldy from Eagle Harbor at 9am on Saturday morning. Then just a few hours later at 5pm, is the 12km trail race held on the trails in Copper Harbor. The weekend reaches the pinnacle with final event, a 25km trail race on Sunday morning. The total mileage is just over a marathon in distance, not counting the 6km that competitors have to run on Saturday morning from the Summit back down to the start, as there is no crew access to Mount Baldy.

Photo courtesy of Greg Maino

Stage 1: 6km Hill Summit

The temperatures on Saturday morning were much warmer than I had anticipated. I warmed up in my Team inov-8 singlet but standing at the starting line I was dripping with sweat and passed my shirt off to Laura. The main competition for the weekend was Team Vasque athlete and friend Danny Dehlin. There are not many distance runners from Upper Michigan, let alone many trail runners so it was natural that we would become friends.

The race started fast with a short road section that lead into the trail. Due to construction in Eagle Harbor, this year the race did not start on the shore of Lake Superior, but equidistant away on an adjacent road. The trail began as a two-rut jeep road with tall grass in the middle over a flat section but quickly began to climb. The footing varied from soft beach sand to smooth rocks the size of soccer balls that were embedded in the terrain. I chose the mid-ranged inov-8 roclite 295 for footwear. They provided tremendous grip on the rocks and with their flexible nature, hugged the roots of the later portion of the course. I mistakenly wore sunglasses with dark lenses and with running directly to the east, we were facing the rising sun which would occasionally peak through the tree cover and make trail visibility tough.

The scoring for the weekend was based on a weighted system of finishing placement for each event, summed at the end of the weekend and the lower the total, the better. In the event of a tie, overall time summation would be used to determine the higher placement. I managed a 6:46 first mile and settled nicely into 4th place. I had a legitimate shot at 3rd place but knew that the effort to get there would not be worth it with two more events to go. With the scoring system in mind, I knew that I just needed to do enough to stay in 4th and live for another race.

Despite being in 4th, I did still want to put forth a good effort and I pushed the envelope in miles 2 and 3, though the splits were clearly slower at 7:08 and 8:12. This was mostly due to the increasing heat and the continued steady climb at a rate of 225' per mile or 5% grade as with a half mile, there was a false summit. After a short drop of 120', we would immediately make that back up in the last 1/3 of a mile before crossing the finish line at the summit of Mount Lookout.

My 24:15 for 5.8km (construction based adjustment) earned my 4th overall, though there were 5 people who finished within a minute of my time. The overall winner and 5th place finisher were not competing in all three stages, so the remaining 7 male runners would be the main competition for the rest of the weekend.

Top 9 Men

1 Walczak, Karl 21:01
2 Dehlin, Daniel 21:48
3 Waite, Matthew 22:52
4 Charette, Eric 24:15
5 Kinnunen, Skidmore 24:41
6 Keteri, Dean 24:43
7 Lovell, Timothy 24:53
8 Carn, Simon 25:00
9 Juntti, Jeff 25:19

After our recovery run back down the summit, Laura drove Dan and I over to the harbor where we took a swim in harbor where the water was a refreshing 65 degrees. We had just 6 hours before the next race would begin.

Stage 2: 12km Copper Harbor Trails Challenge

Staring at noon, there was an old-fashioned cookout that featured live music that preceded the awards ceremony. We stuck around for awards before walking over to the Mariner North for a sandwich. I enjoyed quite a restful nap before heading back over to the Copper Harbor Community Building for the start of the next stage at 5pm.

Just before the start I had asked Dan about the course profile. He said that the first half was "all climb" and then after a fast ride down, there were a few rollers before the finish. With the temperatures soaring into the mid 80's, it was bound to be a test of who could suffer the most that would prevail.

Photo courtesy of Greg Maino

After a short road section to thin out the crowd, we were quickly back on the trails. The pace was fast from the onset and crossing a field toward the thick north woods, we were in the very low 6's on uneven footing. We looped around a small lake and onto the Garden Brook Trail heading west. By the time we crossed the highway, Dan was long gone but I still had flashes of Matthew Waite, who was running in second.

Within minutes we were onto Woopidy Woo, which turned out to the be the climb that Dan referred to in our pre-race chat. The pace slowed in the second mile to just under 8, but the effort remained even as I climbed about 400' to the crest. I was exhausted from the summit but ready to attack the fast downhill and could no longer see Matthew but sensed the pack closing in on me from behind.

I really pushed the pace in the ensuing two miles and tried to create some separation from the pursuants. The trail was full of tight turns, hairpin corners and banked single track as it dropped rapidly down and crossed the river. The course turned back to the north and moved onto Garden Brook Trail, running in between the upper crest and the highway. I wasn't feeling great but was able to keep the pace in the upper 6's which was decent considering the hill beat down from earlier in the day.

Crossing the road back onto the stem of this lollipop course, I knew that I did not have far to go until the end. The course was advertised as 12km but if it was back on the same trail as the out section, the distance was going to be somewhat short; I was fine with this as I was running at my threshold and probably would not be able to hold that intensity for much longer. The footing was full of roots and loose rock which slowed me slightly but I notched up the effort to close it out.

Returning back to the lake, there was a small added loop around the field on the Copper Harbor Loop Trail, which provided some visibility of the runners chasing me. I was surprised at how close they were and if the course was true to distance, I was starting to wonder if I could hold them off. The difference in a single place (from 3 to 4) would mean that I would have to make that up on the final day and I was hoping to have more of a cushion in the 25km on Sunday.

The final stretch of the course was the same as what Laura and I had warmed up on, so I had new found confidence that the end was very near. I finally felt safe when I rounded the last winding corner entered the park where I could see the finish line ahead. I crossed with a final time of 43:10.

Top 8 Men

1 Dehlin, Daniel 39:11
2 Waite, Matthew 41:06
3 Charette, Eric 43:10
4 Juntti, Jeff 43:28
5 Lovell, Timothy 44:12
6 Keteri, Dean 44:58
7 Mullins, Corey 45:30
8 Carn, Simon 45:50

Series Points after the 12km (Runners in contention only)

1 Dehlin, Daniel 2+1=3
2 Waite, Matthew 3+2=5
3 Charette, Eric 4+3=7
4 Keteri, Dean 6+6=12
5 Lovell, Timothy 7+5=12
6 Juntti, Jeff 9+4=13

Stage 3: 25km Keweenaw Trails Run

Who wouldn't love a course that was run on trails with names like Woopidy Woo, Dza Beet, Here We Go, Say Hello, Paul's Plunge, Der We Went, Ma Maki and Rock n Roll?

Photo courtesy of Greg Maino

After tumultuous night of thunderstorms that began at 3am, I woke early to get in a decent cup of coffee and a poptart prior to walking over to the start. The entire town of Copper Harbor is 10 blocks long and 3 blocks wide, so driving anywhere is just plain silly. The night before we ate dinner at the Tamarack Diner and I had a great carb dinner of a pasty. For those that are not from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or familiar with mining communities or are descendants from Cornwall, England, it may sound strange but they are pretty damn good!

The rain managed to subside before the start of the race and while it seemed to cool the temperatures down a little, it also made it more humid than the day before. I knew the point situation to make a podium finish (Dan with 3 and Matthew with 5 and Eric with 7) meant that I would have to beat Matthew by 3 places (eg me in 2nd and Matthew in 5th) to move up into 2nd. Having ran with he and Dan for two days now, I knew that unless they went out too hard or fell and broke a limb, that they would be steady enough not to falter.

1 Dehlin, Daniel 2+1=3
2 Waite, Matthew 3+2=5
3 Charette, Eric 4+3=7

On the opposite end, I was also looking down at places 4-6 to see if they could possibly kick me out of the top 3. The gap from 3 to 4 was 5 so Dean or Tim would have to place 6 spots higher than me to move ahead, or 5 spots higher to tie and then break the tie with faster cumulative times. This didn't seem likely either.

4 Keteri, Dean 6+6=12
5 Lovell, Timothy 7+5=12
6 Juntti, Jeff 9+4=13

The start was similar to that of the 12km; a short road section before turning onto the Copper Harbor Loop trail section across the field. We spread out into a single file line through the field, but instead of heading toward Garden Brook Trail, we turned left and began the ascent up Stairway to Heaven. Dan had mentioned that you did not want to get stuck behind any slower runners on this section as it was a 1/3 mile of elevated (24" wide wooden plank) foot-bridge that was full of twists and turns and a general ascent of around 100' to the top, but would continue to climb after that. I was maybe a little more aggressive than normal into this section considering what Dan had said and as we began the climb, I found myself in second place.

At the top we turned onto Here We Go, Da Beet and Blue trail that lead to the highway crossing. I politely let Matthew pass me before the road by stepping to the side. I knew that we were going to climb again shortly and I wanted to be in full control at my pace when that started. The pace in the early miles was in the high 7's; something I knew I could sustain for 15 miles.

The second climb of the course was running the Garden Brook / Woopidy Woo section from the 12km but in the reverse direction. As I started the climb, I just remembered how on Saturday night during the 12km that this descent seemed to go on for miles and now I was in the middle of climbing it. On every turn or switchback, I would catch a glimpse of the pack behind me. It was Jeff, Tim and maybe Dean and they seemed to be running the hills very efficiently. They closed the gap to less than a minute by the top and that is when I made the choice to make a statement. Even though I knew that it was not likely for me to miss the podium for the weekend and I could just play it safe, I decided to pick up the pace and go for a top 3 in this race too. My leg turnover got faster as I was leaning slightly forward and attacking the downhills.

I really felt like I had made significant time coming out of this loop but on the last switchback I could still see the chase pack. They too picked up the pace on the way down and were about the same distance from me as they were on top of the hill. I refused to let this bother me and just kept hammering the pace.

Coming through the finish line (completing the first loop) and heading east now toward the flat section of the course, I made another push. The Lake Fanny Hooe Trail was flat to rolling with the width of a snowmobile trail and then returned along the lake on single track adjacent to the campground. I was running in the mid 6's now and really made up quite a bit of time as to where I could no longer see anyone behind me. For once a race tactic worked for me!

The final climb was up a rugged and nasty trail called Paul's Plunge. I am not sure what Paul was thinking but I had to take a few long walking strides and grab a few trees to climb this short but steep section. From there it was Red Trail, De Deet, Say Hello and Ma Maki trails. Nothing too eventful as I just tried to keep a steady pace in the high 7's to low 8's depending on how much roll of the terrain there was. I finished off the rest of a Honey Stinger Gold that gave me a little lift to make a final push to the finish. There had been kilometer distance markers on the course today which was a nice addition as my GPS didn't seem to be measuring quite right.

The final section was back down Stairway to Heaven. The skies had gone dark and opened up with rain, making it very eerie to run in the woods. Now I was barreling away down a wooden bridge without a care in the world because my inov-8 roclites had great tacky grip and never let me slip.

There was no cruising into the finish, as the rain was coming down in buckets and I wanted to be done. I started a sprint about 1/2 mile out and kept it up right to the finish. Standing there under a pavilion were Dan and my wife Laura to cheer me on. It was very refreshing, both mentally and physically to be done with this endurance event. My final time for the 25km was 1:40:58. I was surprised that I closed in on 2nd place so much in the second half of the race with the surges on the flats.

Top 6 Men

1 Dehlin, Daniel 1:31:18
2 Waite, Matthew 1:38:25
3 Charette, Eric 1:40:58
4 Lovell, Timothy 1:42:49.6
5 Keteri, Dean 1:42:49.9
6 Juntti, Jeff 1:43:25

Final standings for the RTK Weekend

1 Dehlin, Daniel 2+1+14
2 Waite, Matthew 3+2+2=7
3 Charette, Eric 4+3+3=10
4 Lovell, Timothy 7+5+4=16
5 Keteri, Dean 6+6+5=17
6 Juntti, Jeff 9+4+6=19

Thanks to Aspirius Keweenaw, Hammer Nutrition, Down Wind Sports, Vasque and othe sponsors for making this event possible. Lori and Dan were also very key in the overall direction, awards and making this a true destination event.

As a footnote, I had tons of questions of inov-8 from people seeing my trail shoes and my inov-8 team gear. They asked about how they felt, what I thought, where they could get them, etc. Most trail races I go to people are wearing inov-8 but this event was in an area where they were not as widely known. I was very proud to spread the word about inov-8 and hope that when I come back to the Keweenaw, that more and more people are wearing them!