2019: Run The Keweenaw

This marks the seventh year of being a part of this festival of trails (I call it, affectionately and with all due respect to the 100 mile version in the Golden State, the Mid-Western States Endurance Run). It certainly has taken on the flavor of a family reunion of my trail running friends. Even with a good number of familiar faces missing in action this year, the weekend offered a lot of what I’ve come to learn: trail running etiquette and friends that are competitive while being the kind, cooperative, caring and the very embodiment of the said etiquette. It’s 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. The weekend also almost always offers something new, and with lessons about my own self and new friendships, this year wasn’t any different.

A recap of the 2018 edition

2013 was my first year of participating in this event and 2018 was my fourth consecutive year participating in its entirety. This also marks the third year in a row that we (Keweenaw Running Group, KRG) called the fine cabins of Mariner North home for the weekend. It’s an understatement to say that this event – Shannon calls it A Running Camp For Adults, I may have referred to it as the (Mid-)Western States Endurance Run – is one of my all time favorite trail running events. RTK has come to be a family reunion of friends in a mystical land a bit beyond the reach of technology’s grip. Knowing the course helped strategically save some miles my legs for the weekend.

I drove to the start of Mt. Baldy Summit Run (6k) with Julie and Kelly, and ran the initial parts with Shannon Mitchell and rest of with Andi. For the first time in quite a while, I experienced some side stitches but used Christine‘s uneven breathing technique cured it on the go. I ran Copper Harbor Trails Challenge (10k) starting out with Shannon M, some behind Jan, most of the rest solo and some at the end with Angela. For the first time in quite a while, I experienced some dizziness around mile 3.5 and came close to twisting/rolling my ankle once or twice. So, I decided to take the pedal off the gas and go easy rest of the way. The 2nd Ever RTK Post-Race Potluck was a wonderful way to wind down the day – sharing meals and conversations with good people. I chose to make parts of the week’s pace run over the first 5-6 miles of Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run (25k) and switched over to LSD mode for the final 9-10 miles. I ran portions of it, before crossing US41 on Garden Brook, with Andi and Shannon, and rest of it solo.

It was a heartwarming experience to be wished for my birthday (I share it with Shannon M) by the race director (Mike Young; Cheryl and Christine Young had something to with it the night before), volunteers and fellow participants before the start and then by every volunteer/participant along the course. My time for the weekend was good enough to earn the Average Joe award for the second time in 3 years (Andi won the Average Jane). Having been an event that had commanded its own full-on race report in previous years, it took a lot of mental effort to give it its deserving attention while keeping the bigger picture in mind. An additional mini-goal I had for this event was to just run the mile (or the kilometer, for fanatics of SI Units) I was in – instead of worrying about how many were behind or ahead – turned out to be lot harder than I had imagined. It’s not far fetched to claim Shannon‘s timely medical magic not only got me ready for this event but likely saved rest of the marathon training season.

It’s an understatement to claim that I was deeply married to the training plan this time around last year … aimed towards the 2018 Chicago Marathon. Coming off of what I was coming off from, I didn’t really know how much I could tweak the plan and I wasn’t sure how my body would react to such changes. So, it was the correct decision to stick with the pre-made plan and get through the weekend. This year, I think/thought I have/had a slightly better idea as to how the training plans are structured, how to tweak them and how my body would respond.

I did take the Friday off from work and uneventfully drove to Copper Harbor with Ray Sharp. Checking into the Mariner North cabin was a breeze and so were marking portions of the 10k course as well as picking up my race packet. Having not run for a couple days, I was feeling a little antsy. To get over it and to get a better understanding of the 10k course – learning to use the shades (you see, I didn’t pack a hat like I normally do for this trip) counter the angle of the sun during ascents in the second half – I ran it from about the same scheduled start time. The evening ended with lovely dinner with family of friends in Mariner North.

Mt. Baldy Summit Run (6k)

A full night of sleep led to comfortably waking up an hour or so before the Sunrise. In turn, it gave us all plenty of time to prepare and make our (Jim, Ray, Rochelle and myself) way down to Eagle Harbor. After the usual warm-up and such, I started with Shannon mid-pack. 9:20 for the first mile didn’t surprise me as a good chunk of it was on asphalt. 9:20 for the second mile, however, was a different story. Initially, I was more worried than surprised about the pace in light of an entirely uphill portion on trails and in spite of cordially overcast weather with a gentle breeze. But corroborating the higher pace with manageable HR and absence of ragged breathing helped put my fears to bed. Third mile was as expected and the final ascent to the finish line came quicker than expected. The official finish time, 0:34:21, was good enough for 10/35 overall, 9/18 in gender and 3/5 in AG (official results), and it was the first time ever that I made the podium – AG or otherwise – in RTK festivities.

3.73 mi, 0:34:21, 9:13 min/mile (5:43 min/km), 6.51 mph (10.47 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 935 and Tempe Sensor, and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Post-6k activities included walking/jogging down to Eagle Harbor with Shannon, Rob and Mariana, participating in food (courtesy of Keweenaw Co-op) and awards ceremony with most of the participants, and an uneventful drive back to Copper Harbor with Ray, Rochelle and two little Vendlinskis.

Copper Harbor Trails Challenge (CHTC; 10k)

Starting near the front of the pack and behind the elites, I followed Ray’s suggestion and used the first half of this 10k – which is a combination of asphalt, wider trails and non-technical single tracks – as a tempo block. It was a good idea and I am glad I did it – averaging 7:46-7:47. As a result, HR was expectedly higher and breathing was quicker. Early portions of Point Trail Phase #1 provided some relief and the experience gained from running the course 24 hours before helped keep the ascents fresh in memory … in turn, helping me strategically ration my efforts. Going down the Paul’s Plunge was nearly a breeze – except that with a step or two to go at the very bottom, the left foot got stuck between roots and got stretched (or hyper-extended). With plenty of pliability workouts over the past 12-14 months to prepare ligaments/joints to stay ahead of exactly these type of scenarios and with the finish line so close, I opted to let the hint of pain take care of itself and just focused my efforts on completing the run. The official finish time, 0:52:32, was good enough for 7/34 overall, 7/19 in gender and 2/6 in AG (official results) – making the podium for the second time in RTK festivities.

6.22 mi, 0:52:33, 8:27 min/mile (5:14 min/km), 7.10 mph (11.42 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 935 and Tempe Sensor, Stryd Power Meter, and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Post-10k activities included awards ceremony, a 3rd Ever RTK Post-Race Potluck with most of the participants, acquiring a few critical supplies from the General Store and calling it a night around 10 pm.

Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run (COMA; 25k)

Another full night of sleep led to comfortably waking up an hour or so before the Sunrise. In turn, it gave us all plenty of time to prepare and make our (Rob and myself) usual trip to the Garden Brook crossing to stash some essentials. Memories of sprained/hyper-extended ankle still fresh in my mind, I started mid-pack and kept the pace fairly easy – to ensure that I had enough gas in the tank when the race really begins 8 miles in.

One intermediate goal was to be at the The FlowOn The Edge cross-over (~4.50 miles) in about 50 minutes. Having achieved that with a minute or so to spare and having spent sufficient time re-hydrating at the aid-station, I got to run and worship Mother Nature in the company of Hannah (she would go on to be the overall women’s champion for the weekend) and Lawrence for several miles. Consuming one half of a banana and three-fourths of a pickle took at the Garden Brook crossing took me to the second formal aid-station – the point where the race officially begins as the trail takes us up the Stairway To Heaven.

15.54 mi, 2:36:44, 10:05 min/mile (6:15 min/km), 5.95 mph (9.57 kmph)
Garmin Forerunner 935 and Tempe Sensor, Stryd Power Meter, and WP GPX Maps Plugin

Another intermediate goal was to reach the final aid-station at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge (~11 miles) around the 2-hour mark. Having achieved this as well, albeit a minute or so slower, Mother Nature’s worship over the last few miles went by in a hurry. Once on the asphalt and on the final stretch home, I opted to pick up the pace every few hundred meters or so in fartlek-style and pleasantly live music (courtesy of Kim and Greg Green) provided that extra surge to keep increasing the pace through the finish line. The official time, 2:36:32, was good enough for 8/31 overall, 7/15 in gender and 2/4 in AG (official results) – making the podium for the third time in RTK festivities.

Progress report
Time in h:mm:ss (Average pace in min/mile; Average speed in mph)
6 km / 3.73 miles
14 km / 8.70 miles
COMA 25 km
25 km / 15.54 miles
45 km / 28 miles
2013 0:50:00 (13:24; 4.48) - - -
2014 0:47:36 (12:46; 4.70) 1:58:48 (13:39; 4.40) - -
2015 0:36:48 (9:52; 6.08) 1:28:08 (10:08; 5.92) 2:46:48 (10:44; 5.59) 4:51:44 (10:25; 5.76)
6 km / 3.73 miles
10 km / 6.22 miles
25 km / 15.54 miles
41 km / 25.49 miles
2016 0:37:56 (10:10; 5.90) 0:57:53 (9:18; 6.45) 3:02:58 (11:46; 5.10) 4:38:47 (10:56; 5.49)
2017 0:38:55 (10:26; 5.75) 0:59:17 (9:32; 6.29) 3:01:00 (11:39; 5.15) 4:39:12 (10:57; 5.48
2018 0:39:11 (10:30; 5.71) 1:01:18 (9:51; 6.09) 3:11:39 (12:26; 4.86) 4:52:08 (11:28; 5.23)
2019 0:34:21 (9:13; 6.51) 0:52:33 (8:27; 7.10) 2:36:44 (10:05; 5.95) 4:03:38 (9:33; 6.28)

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 – being in the zone for a vast majority of the kilometers, by running within myself and improving my time in each phase instead of worrying about placement (thanks, Mike, for this idea 3 years ago), by running the mile I was in (thanks, Andi, for this idea – also 3 years ago) and with just a hyper-extension – was a blessing. Post-event activities included checking out of the cabin, stopping at the Fitz for a quick bite to eat and uneventfully driving rest of the way back to Houghton.

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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