2016: Run The Keweenaw

Each of its three previous editions — 2013, 2014 and 2015 — this festival of trails has gone on to teach quite a bit about myself, our trail systems in Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor (I am no mountain biker and so, I don’t ride them at all) and the trail running etiquette, and brought me closer to a fairly large number of friends — from around and outside the region — that are competitive while being the kind, cooperative, caring and the very embodiment of the said etiquette.

So, in more ways than one, this festival has become a homecoming of sorts — to hang out with quite many of the aforementioned friends I don’t otherwise get to see (with the notable absence of Christine Van Asten, Claire Luby, Gus Lang, Jim Vendlinski, Maggie Turnbull, Phat Huynh, Riccardo Tortini, Scot Van Asten, and more), a retreat away from the grips of electronic communication-overloaded civilization and nudging us to have humane conversations, and a lovely little platform to learn from the immovable mountains and never-stop-moving runners alike.

A part of the preparations for the 2016 edition started about four weeks after the completion of the 2015 edition: chatting casually with the race director (and dear friend) in KBC, I inquired training methods with which I could move up the standings … you know, from being the Average Joe to potentially cracking the top 25% for the epic weekend. The response was quick and very very practical: it’s quite difficult to predict the number in and the calibre of the field, and working to improve personal times by some X% is more feasible (and within one’s reach) than making the top Y%. Another part of the preparations started in October 2015: securing the cabin reservations for the Keweenaw Running Group (KRG) in Mariner North and ensuring that they stayed reserved. It took a couple drives up north but the time and drives were totally worth the second chance my friends afforded me to redeem myself from the last year’s screw up.

So, as in previous years, registering for the 2016 edition and preparing for it wasn’t at all a difficult decision. Since cracking the top Y% wasn’t a practical option anymore, I figured I should at least be in the top 5 to sign up for the event. And I am happy to report that I did!

Since the last race

A not so glorious outing in Titletown in May, brought along in its aftermath, a fair number of valuable lessons/reminders: attention to (minor) details, compounding and long-term effects of lack of such attention, the need to let things (not in my control) go, mark a poor performance as a bad datum in these experiments, and to focus more on the present. My dear friends in KRG were quick yet kind enough to remind of me few other things as well:

  1. I had made sufficient progress over the past two years and the plateau effect in this learning curve was a naturally expected phenomenon. I knew of this effect from other studies and studies of the learning curve itself but just was arrogant/cocky enough to assume that it wasn’t going to happen to me. More about this in detail in a year-end entry … in about a few months.
  2. As a result of the above, I couldn’t possibly push the body by racing every other weekend — in a local event or in some other exotic location, and expect an improved performance without risking temporary or worse, long-term injuries.

Taking these free and caring pearls of wisdom into account, the decision to treat much of the remaining races in 2016 as just training runs was both a bit difficult – thanks to my super-massive ego, and easy – knowing that my friends have all been athletes for lot longer than I have and that they knew what they were talking about.

The difficult part became a whole lot easier after the completion of Lake Trout Festival Half Marathon in L’Anse, MI, on 11th June 2016 (with Amy Aldrich, Christopher Schwartz, Erin Kaupplia, Kate Thayer, Laurie Keteri-Smith, Sarah Hoy and Shannon Lee Mattson). The first half of this half marathon was pleasant and as planned — a consistent ~8 min/mile pace. But the second half was consistently plagued with inability to deal with heat, muscle cramps, fatigue, etc. even after pouring cold water over my head at every aid station, and took nearly 90 minutes. The mentality was more of a long training run instead of a race but not paying any attention to nutrition while recovering from sickness over the previous 7-10 days did not help the cause at all — a point brought about by Christopher following the event.

About halfway through what seemed like an innocent bike ride a few days after the Lake Trout Festival Half Marathon, Ray, Rob and Shannon helped understand the cause of recent poor performances: lack of iron (Runner’s Anemia: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5) and protein in my diet. Not only that, they also provided what I needed to do to fix: taking iron supplements and adding more protein to the diet (read: a trip to the local GNC store). Staying on schedule with intake of the iron supplements and protein (thanks be to Stephen Eles for pointing out that I needed vitamins as well to absorb the iron and for recommending Accelerade), realizing that I couldn’t possibly do two hard workouts each day but needed more sleep/rest/down time and less stress (and consciously working towards it) showed first signs of progress/improvement two weeks later in Pictured Rocks Road Race Half Marathon in Munising, MI (with Lisa König, MaKenna Stelpflug and Ruth Oppliger). I didn’t experience any fatigue, muscle cramps, etc. over the course this long training run and was able to complete it in about two hours that included the last mile at 8 min/mile pace — about 15 minutes slower than my best time for this distance in 2016.

From a comparison perspective, I was fortunate enough that all three events (Green Bay, L’Anse and Munising) had nearly identical weather conditions: 65+ F starting temperature and increasing throughout the day, near 100% humidity, muggy, sweaty, and such. I tested the impact of these changes by working out more than once on several occasions, and the results seemed to be holding steady and/or steadily improving.

Taking the day off on Friday of RTK weekend from work didn’t really keep me from working, and delayed the start of my smooth and uneventful drive to Copper Harbor by over 90 minutes. Courtesy of dear friends in Mariner North helped check into the cabins to complete the preparations for Saturday evening potluck a few hours ahead of time. The evening ended with packet pickup, a quick trip to the Brickside Brewery to say hello to a few good friends, and a rather long but lovely dinner with friends in Mariner North (second year in a row — must be a tradition, right?).

Mt. Baldy Summit Run (6k)

Waking up a few hours before the start time gave Christine and yours truly plenty of time to go through the pre-race rituals and drive down to Eagle Harbor. Fourth time was indeed the charm, and unlike three previous attempts, I was able to stick with the goal of running up the entire course. For the first event in a long long time, probably the first time ever in 2016, it was a blissful experience to just let go of certain worries (about people or projects or saving my legs for the next stage) and just enjoy the mostly shaded course lined up with a variety of wild flowers.

I caught myself grinning on more than one occasion … especially once the distant tree line in the adjacent mountain range was at eye level. Recalling the ups and downs to appropriately pace myself also seemed a lot easier compared to previous attempts. I was a little slower to cross the finish line compared to 2015 (and something I knew would happen a few strides earlier, thanks to Ray announcing the time) but people across and around the finish line were just as friendly and cheerful as I can ever remember.

3.55 mi, 0:37:56, 10:41 min/mile, 5.62 mph, 172 bpm (83.90% of max)
Splits: (1) 9:49 (2) 10:14 (3) 11:54 (4) 5:59
Garmin fenix 3 HR and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Post-6k included walking/jogging down to Eagle Harbor with Christine and Julie Springsteen, participating in food (courtesy of Keweenaw Co-op) and awards ceremony with most of the participants (Kelly Higgins and I shared the Average honors for this leg; Kelly would go on to be the women’s champion for the weekend in about 24 hours while I would drop well below the eventual Average Joe on men’s side), and an uneventful drive back to Copper Harbor.


Pre-14k activities included re-fueling, hanging out with friends around the cabin, a trip to the Keweenaw Adventure Company and the General Store to pick up a few supplies, a chat with the Weathers family, an easy bike ride to the end of US41 with a pit stop on the way back in Fort Wilkins Historic State Park Campground to chat with Ray, Kim and Greg Green, and Shawn Oppliger, and watching the kids’ 2k race.

Copper Harbor Trails Challenge (CHTC; 10k)

A completely new course and distance, tailor-made for the speedsters amongst us, had attracted a larger than usual (?) number of participants. Starting where it usually started (and on time), the course snaked through previously unknown (to me) trails before merging with one that runs the length of US41 to its end. It was an utter yet lovely surprise to see Whitney and Adam along the course holding up a sign to cheer me on (I had absolutely no idea that they were even in Copper Harbor) — first of its kind ever in my so far short athletic career!

Right around the bridge over the Garden Brook overflow from Lake Fanny Hooe, the course crossed over to the other side of US41 and hugged the ever so beautiful but rarely used (it was first time for me too) Lake Superior shoreline for about one half a mile before returning to US41. Next one and one half a mile were familiar territory — to the end of US41 and into the Mandan Loop. It was somewhat surprising (and mildly worrisome too) to see my Garmin show low 8 min/mile pace for the first half — over two minutes per mile faster than the intended pace.

Using the aid station at about mile 3.1 on the run and entering the recently completed portion (Phase I: Manganese Road to Mandan Road on the south of Lake Fanny Hooe) of the Keweenaw Point Trail removed any such worry. The pace naturally slowed down and made way to enjoy the sheer beauty of the trail and everything that surrounded it. A lovely and long boardwalk and the ups and downs and curves with a consistent view of the greenery followed by the majestic blue of Lake Fanny Hooe followed by a green strip followed by even more majestic blue of Lake Superior on the right side … so pretty that one could just cry in happiness. But since the teary eyed vision could potentially land my face on the rugged rocky course, grinning was an easier and practical proposition. So, I chose the latter instead — for the second time on the same day.

6.29 mi, 0:57:53, 9:12 min/mile, 6.52 mph, 178 bpm (86.83% of max)
Splits: (1) 8:14 (2) 8:16 (3) 8:16 (4) 10:33 (5) 10:28 (6) 9:54 (7) 2:10
Garmin fenix 3 HR and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

As I managed to keep a pretty decent pace while hearing every single breath and heartbeat loud and clear and the (full sleeve) tee clinging on to my body as a second layer of skin, half a dozen or so women quietly came from behind, politely asked if they could pass, made running up and down the course seem as if they were effortlessly gliding (there was no sign of sweat on their forehead either) and ever so gracefully just disappeared into the wilderness ahead of me … the story of my life, as some would say 😛

Before I knew it, I had gone down the Paul’s Plunge with relative ease, was passing by Manganese Falls on my left and a short a ascent later, I was on the road for the home stretch. It was somewhat disappointing to see someone drive their automobile (even more disappointed to see it have a Michigan license plate) past a stopped truck into the opposing lane in spite of the easily visible cones and runners on the road. I had a relatively hard time to stay focused on running instead of stopping to give the driver of the said automobile some sane advice. Finishing this leg, as with any other in this event, with plenty of cheerful friendly faces is a delight that gets the blood pumping a little faster, heart thumping a little harder, and a little high stepping too — one just has to experience it to experience it.

The overall time taken to complete the 10k course did surprise me a bit — a full minute per mile faster than what I had hoped and planned. Post-10k activities included awards ceremony with most of the participants, a hearty potluck with friends at the cabin (a brainchild of Christine and Andi), a short walk to Brickside Brewery with Stephen, and calling it a night around 10:30 or 11 pm … although it took another hour or two to actually fall asleep.

Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run (COMA; 25k)

Pre-25k activities included a walk through the town an hour or so before the start to stretch the legs, and a drive down US41 towards the Garden Brooks crossing with Rob and Shannon to stash some bananas as well as a bottle of protein shake to refill the hydration pack — a Christine and Rob idea that would go on to serve very well a couple hours later.

Having started on time, the course led us through the usual field surrounding a pond but did have some newness to it. Unlike last year’s trail to get us out of town, the course snaked through the mostly sleepy Bernard Street and onto the Hunter’s Point Trail before crossing M26 to the bottom of The Flow. I had consistently good company of at least three fellow athletes (David Berry was one of them) to occasionally chat my way up this trail and then down On The Edge until crossing US41 on Garden Brook. Experience of having done this portion once before, and the collective wisdom graciously bestowed upon by dear friends in 2015 — Jim, Mark, Mike, Rob and Stephen — came in quite handy to take it easy and be slow but disciplined during ascents, and make use of the flats and descents to achieve the desired overall pace. A plethora of wild flowers — sometimes occasionally and some other times in bounty — lined up on either side of trails making it a real joy … even when running up the hills.

A minute or two pit stop to eat a banana and refill my hydration pack with protein shake (and chat with Stephen, Sarah and the Sheriff) at our personal aid station, I did slow down the pace approaching the real aid station on Garden Brook. Taking into account the miles I had run so far and the recent poor performance of in Green Bay/L’Anse (and knowing that I’d be a loooong way from help if I did end up experiencing muscle cramps or hamstring pull or something worse), I cautiously slowed down my pace during my ascent up the Stairway To Heaven towards the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Somewhere about two hours from start and shortly after the 10 mile mark, my Garmin chose to freeze. All it would have needed was a hard reset but I chose to treat it as something that was beyond my control at that point, and as such, just let it go (or be as it was).

14.66 mi, 3:02:58, 12:28 min/mile, 4.81 mph, 164 bpm (80.00% of max)
Splits: (1) 9:28 (2) 10:31 (3) 12:12 (4) 11:24 (5) 11:36 (6) 10:12 (7) 11:08 (8) 11:17 (9) 12:44 (10) 15:32 (11) 2:02
Garmin fenix 3 HR and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress
Garmin fenix 3 HR froze shortly after mile 10 around the two hour mark
Track completed using the GPX file from 2015 and using Garmin BaseCamp to identify common coordinates

Much of this ascent, and then descent via the fairly technical Red and Ma Maki Trails was solo, and was rather enjoyable — even though I had no clue what time (of the day) or my pace was. With Manganese Road within a stone’s throw, Christine passed me while letting me know about the time (we were about 2:47 into the start). A bit of road led to the usual lap around the field before approaching the finish area. And as I have grown accustomed over the past many legs of few editions of this event, I crossed the finish line shortly after the three hour mark amidst the cheer from friendly faces, and recent fond memories of Young Kyle playing Waldo with me!

Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)
## Goal Result
01 Limit walking to aid stations Yes; Yes; No
02 Finish within +10% of 2015 times Yes; Not applicable; Yes

Post-25k activities included a refreshing quick shower in the cabin before returning to attend the awards ceremony with most of the participants. To have completed all three phases in this festival without any kind of muscle cramps or hamstring pull was a certain blessing and provided much needed hope for what remains in the 2016 running season with re-scaled goals. To have done so with friends, to have put faces to names (or profiles in activity tracking websites) and made more friends (Minnesota and Wisconsin contributing a majority of them) and having had the opportunity to hangout with many of them was an even better one. Post-event activities included checking out of the cabin, grabbing a quick bite to eat in Mariner North, uneventfully driving back to Houghton and hanging out with the lovely Madison folks for one last time — this time — before they hit the road.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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