Mark's Badgerland Blog
Greetings from my hometown of Saxon, WI! I'm going to write about running events throughout Wisconsin and the Western U.P. of Michigan; many of these events you may have never heard of but aren't too far away from the Twin Ports. I look forward to share my thoughts and experiences with you as both a recreational runner and race organizer.
July 30, 2011: Festival Ironwood Event and a Rare "Rant"
I had one of the more gratifying and fulfilling days of my life two weeks ago (Saturday, 7/16). In the morning, I participated in one of my favorite events, the Festival Ironwood Walk, Run, and Roll and held my last awards ceremony as points director of the “Run the Range” series. To top the morning off, I even won a medallion for placing second in my age group in the 2 Mile run! In the afternoon, I attended a family reunion in Saxon for my mother's family. Like any family, I've had minor differences with some of my relatives in the past, but all of that was forgotten over an afternoon of fun, food, and drink (non-alcoholic for yours truly). Man, did I have a great time!
I remembered in last year's blog that I had recommended the readers of “Northland Runner” to try the Festival Ironwood 5-Mile run some year. It would be a perfect tune-up for any half or full marathon. The course has major hills at miles 1.5, 2.5, and 4 near the Hiawatha statue. To balance out the course, there is also a major downhill past the statue where runners can pick up considerable speed. After taking a short left-hand turn, the last ¾ mile is a flat straight-away to the finish line at the big top tent. There is a also a 2 Mile run, in which I already mentioned I had won a medallion. Under the current circumstances, I was happy with my time of 27:35. I walked the first mile, and I tried to run the remaining mile once I got past the statue. I think my second mile was between 11:00 and 12 :00, which would be a big improvement for me. If I play my cards right, I may try to up my mileage by participating in one of the Fox Cities Marathon training runs before the end on Saturday, 9/10.
One of my best friends in the running community is race director Chris Bergquist, who has had the job since the race's inception in 1993. Her t-shirts always have a unique design, and she always go all-out on post-race food, door prizes, and awards. I usually try not to go out “on a limb” on my blogs, but I believe in this case it's warranted. The Ironwood-Hurley area has a pretty good number of active runners, with many of them participating in, and sometimes, placing in major half or full marathon events like Cellcom Green Bay, Journeys' in Eagle River, and the Paavo Nurmi in Hurley. However, when it comes to the Festival Ironwood, several of these runners are usually “no-shows.” I can't dictate other runners where to run or what to do with their race budgets, and yes I realize that sometimes a runner would want to be at an event but can't for a legitimate reason. However, the Festival Ironwood is most definitely a high quality event and should never be ignored or taken for granted. As a runner (now mostly a walker) who's been to his fair share of races, the Festival Ironwood definitely gives me the most bang for my buck.
Now I'll get off my soapbox and congratulate this years champions of the “Run the Range” series Leah Nikula and Alan Peterson. For Leah, this is her fourth series championship (2002 through 2004 and 2011). If there is a “comeback” runner of the year award, Leah would probably win that as well. She's overcome several injuries recently, and now is back in good form. Alan Peterson, who is currently running for Grand Valley State, has now won this third title (2008, 2010, and 2011). Two big highlights of his season were breaking the 16-minute barrier at the John Jarvi Jr. 5K run and beating perennial local champion Ryan Holm at the Sunday Lake Run. I also want to give a shout-out to series runner-ups Wil Andresen and recently retired Ironwood High School teach Eni Gregas. Finally, I want to congratulate the 16 women and 13 men who received t-shirts for participating in all four events. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is my last year as points director for the series. Fortunately, some people have asked about taking over as points director, so there is a good chance the series may continue in 2012 and beyond. Once I get some confirmation either way, I'll put a notice up on “Northland Runner.”
Finally, I want to wish everyone, especially Northland Runner's Sam and Leslie, good luck in today's Voyageur Ultra-Marathon. Also, I enjoyed reading Kevin Pates column about the race in yesterday's Duluth News-Tribune. Take care, and I'll try to write my next blog at the end of August.
July 6, 2011: 4th of July Weekend Running in the U.P.
Growing up just west of Hurley in Saxon and still being an avid runner/walker, two “must” events on my running calendar are the Bessemer (MI) Hometown 10K and 2 Mile Run and the Wakefield (MI) Sunday Lake Run. Both events have long-standing histories and are integral parts of their communities' 4th of July celebrations. The Hometown Run, held on Saturday, July 2, has been in existence since the late 1980's while the Sunday Lake Run, held on the 4th of July, celebrated its 34th edition. Since 1993, I've been at each event approximately 15 or more times.
In the past, I would always run the Hometown 10K Run as a 'tune up” for the Paavo Nurmi Marathon and other half or full marathons. The 10K Run is very challenging with several inclines and hills at miles 2, 3, and 5. Another factor that has to be thrown in is the weather, which is usually very sunny, warm, and humid. This year's event was no different with starting temperatures in the low to mid 70s under sunny skies. Fortunately, both the 10K and 2 Mile courses are very well-supported with several water stations and sprinkler systems for runners who need to cool down. Most years I've been able to finish the 10K between 50 and 55 minutes; my Hometown Run P.R. was 49:50 in 1994. I still remember having an ear-to-ear grin that lasted at least a day after I had broken the 50 minute barrier.
For the second straight year, I decided to run the 2 Mile Run. Although the distance is more manageable for me, the 2 Mile Run is no piece of cake. The course has a hill soon after the beginning and another one at approximately 1.5 miles, and we 2 Milers had to navigate through the same finish as the 10K people. To get to the finish, I had to run on a straight-away before making a right-hand turn to the finish line at Bessemer City Hall. I ran with life-long friend Sue Kaffine for the majority of the race and finished just behind her.
The Hometown Run drew 384 participants, including 220 pre-registered runners. I was especially happy for Race Directors Lori Bennetts and Kristy Recla, who went out of their way to accommodate me with my “Run the Range” series sheets by setting me up with a table. They and their many volunteers also went all out to make all the participants feel at home. On one final note, the winner of the 10K Run was Donny Sazama of Proctor. I think the only other Twin Ports champions were Gregg Robertson and Kari Beasley back in the late 1990's. I think Kari still has the woman’s course record.
Another group of people who go out of their way to make their participants feel welcomed are Sunday Lake Race Director Clarence Dalbeck and the Fire on Ice Women's Hockey Team. The Sunday Lake Run has always been one of my favorite events for two reasons:
It's relatively short (2.8 miles) course with one complete loop of the lake.
It has a big post-race buffet (plenty of juice, sports drink, and lots of fruit and doughnuts).
Despite its short distance, the Sunday Lake Run is probably one of the more intense runs around with plenty of passing and fast runners. The men's run had two of the better runners in the U.P. with eventual champion Alan Peterson of Ironwood and sub 3 hour marathoner and Wakefield native Ryan Holm. Other notable entrants at Sunday Lake included ultra-running legend “Fast Eddie” Rousseau of Minneapolis and wheelchair champion Dean Juntinen of Mass City, MI.
One of my favorite running memories happened at Sunday Lake. It was 2002, and I was running so-so (maybe 8:30 mpm, maybe slower). Well, I got just past the Citgo station and all of a sudden I caught “lightning in a bottle” going to the last straightaway. I proceeded to pass about 10 to 15 runners to finish 22:07 (7:54 mpm). You should have seen the dropped jaws and facial expressions of the people I passed. I still shake my head when I think about it.
Like at Bessemer, the volunteer support at Sunday Lake was exceptional. I especially want to commend the Jim and Diane Oliver family of Ironwood for operating the timers and manning the finisher's board. They were able to get the approximately 225 to 250 tags on the board in an expedient manner, and members of the Fire on Ice wrote the times on the tags shortly thereafter. Being a race director myself, running a finisher's board can be very hectic and intense. I was really impressed with their work while being most accommodating to me and my job of compiling “Run the Range” points. Great job!
Finally, I hope all the followers of Northland Runner had a great 4th of July weekend. My next blog will be the weekend of July 16 when I recap the Festival Ironwood Walk, Run, and Roll. Take care, and good running!
May 30, 2011: 14th John Jarvi Jr. Memorial 10K/5K Run
I've been telling friends that this year is “the spring that never got started.” Mother Nature has especially been hard on the weekends, and this past Saturday was no exception for the 14th John Jarvi Jr. Memorial Run in Ironwood, MI. Heavy rain fell in Ironwood from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m., and temperatures were very cool in the low 50s. I'll admit it; I didn't have the stomach or nerve to walk or run under those conditions. Fortunately, approximately 130 to 140 people braved the conditions to honor one of the great ambassadors of running in the U.P. of Michigan.
Although I decided not to run, I stayed pretty busy. Since the Jarvi Run is the first event of the 2011 “Run the Range” series, I set up my table and sign-up sheets and gathered names for the series. The numbers are comparable to last year's totals: 19 women and 14 men. I'm a little surprised and disappointed that we were unable to get more high school and college age runners in the series. On the positive side, we were able to get more beginning adult runners in the series. Also, I think most, if not all, of the participants should make all four events to get their series T-shirts.
After the start of the run, I helped Festival Ironwood Race Director Chris Bergquist and long-time volunteer Ron Eyer with putting up tags on the finisher's boards. What makes this job especially difficult in rainy conditions is the ink on a wet tag fades and becomes really hard to read. So to remedy this, the finish line people wrote the runner's finishing number on the back of the tag, and then I rewrote the number on the front before giving the tag to Chris and Ron. If you haven't been a finish line volunteer before, it can be very hectic and sometimes you have to improvise and “think on the fly” to solve problems. Fortunately, we got all the tags up around 9:40 a.m., and I was able to tabulate points for the series within ten minutes. I was on my way home to celebrate my nephew Bobby's high school graduation from Hurley High School by 10 a.m.
All of this year's Jarvi winners have ties to the Ironwood High School Cross-Country program. The 5K champions were 2010 “Run the Series” champion Alan Peterson and current Ironwood High School runner Jessica Gering; 10K winners were Ben Noren and current UW-Eau Claire cross-country skier Carolyn Andresen. I want to thank Ironwood High School Cross-Country coach and race director Ben Schamndt and his teams for putting on a great run under trying weather conditions.
Finally, I want to wish everyone at “Northland Runner” a safe and happy Memorial Day. My next blog will be around the 4th of July, and, hopefully, you will again read my blog from a runner's perspective. Take care, and good running!
May 14, 2011: 29th Sole Burner 5K Run/Walk for Cancer
Before I go into today's topic, I want to apologize to everyone for not being able to attend this year's Fitgers 5K Run. When I got up that Saturday, we already had two to three inches of snow in the Hurley area. When I found out from the National Weather Service website that the Twin Ports was under a Winter Weather Advisory, I had no choice but to cancel my trip. Although I hated to miss out on Fitgers, I also didn't want my car to end up in a ditch somewhere between Ino and Iron River. Hopefully, I can make a trip to a Twin Ports event later this summer.
The only positive I could take out of my cancellation was that it motivated me to enter an event that I never entered before: the Sole Burner 5K Run/Walk in Appleton held last Saturday, 5/7. If I didn't mention this before in one of my blogs, I always try to enter at least one new event a year. The main reason I've never been able to participate in the Sole Burner is that it usually falls on the same weekend as the Journeys Marathon events in Eagle River. Since Journeys has been moved to this weekend, my schedule was finally freed up and I sent in my entry two days after Fitgers.
The Sole Burner has a lot of things going for it. First of all, the Sole Burner has been running for 29 years now, making it one of the oldest running events in Northeastern Wisconsin. Also, it is also one of the larger events in the entire state of Wisconsin with this year's edition having over 8,000 participants. In addition, all proceeds go the American Cancer Society. It also doesn't hurt that Race Director Gary Akgulian is one the nicest guys you will ever meet. Finally, the Sole Burner has one of the tougher finishes I've ever run, the notorious “Hill of Hope.”
When I arrived in downtown Appleton last Saturday, I was able to park in a ramp reserved for all participants about two blocks from the Start/Finish Line at City Park. Despite the large number of participants, getting in and out of downtown Appleton was no problem. I was able to get my tag with attached plastic chip immediately, and I had enough time to talk briefly to both Gary and chief timer John Ebel, who is also the race director of the Time-Warner 5K Run/Walk (which is part of the Fox Cities Marathon weekend). I also had time to talk to some of my friendly “arch-rivals” including Lori and Duane Dissen of Little Chute and Oshkosh West Girls' Basketball Coach Nikki Sutter. However, it's hard to call them rivals when they are always beating me!
I decided beforehand to walk the course, and that turned out to be a good decision for yours truly. Although the course goes around the beautiful campus of Lawrence University, it is also very demanding with several inclines including the Fox River Bridge. The most difficult part of the course is the previously-mentioned “Hill of Hope.” What makes the “Hill of Hope” so difficult is that it is a double-deck hill that turns between the first and second levels. On the second level, the angle of ascent is very steep. Fortunately for all participants, the course flattens out for the last 1/3 of a mile. I was more than happy with my finishing time of 43 minutes. Even if I were in good running form, I would have probably finished no better than between 27 and 30 minutes. The post-race spread was really good with a variety of fruit, breads, and cookies. Hopefully, if my knees come around, I'll try to run the SoleBurner next year.
Finally, my next blog will be two weeks from now when I will write about the 14th John Jarvi Jr. Memorial Run in Ironwood, MI. Take care, and good running!
April 9, 2011: "Run for Home" Events and Fitgers Preview
As most of you who follow “Northland Runner” may know, April is my favorite month of the year. For many of us in the Upper Midwest, April is usually the 'kick-off" month of the race season for runners. Fortunately for me, I'm within driving distance of most of these races from either Saxon (my hometown) or Omro/Oshkosh (where I reside/work). I'm going to devote most of today's blog to the “Run for Home” events held on Sunday, 4/3 in Appleton, WI. Near the end of the blog, I'll write a little about next week's Fitgers 5K in Duluth.
If you read my previous blogs of the “Run for Home”, you may remember it strictly as a 5K run. This year, a 10K was added. Personally, if I were the almighty “Lord of Running,” I would have planned for a year before adding a longer distance race to a well-established existing race. However, despite the shortened timetable from the initial decision last fall to Sunday's race, everything went off pretty well. The one thing you can never prepare for as either a runner, volunteer, or race director is the weather, which to be blunt, was miserable.
To steal the classic line from the old “Matchgame” television show, “How bad was it?” The weather was so bad I had no regrets about being strictly a volunteer who got to watch race from the comfort of a nice, heated van! The weather during the race went from rain to a rain/snow mix to sleet and back to rain. The wind wasn't too friendly, either, gusting anywhere between 15 to 25 mph. I ran in two Whistlestop marathons that weather was a major factor (2001 – heavy rain; 2006 – very cold after a snowstorm), and neither day was as bad as it was on Sunday.
That's why my hat goes off to the 454 people (154 in the 10K; 303 in the 5K) who competed in the “Run for Home”. I was especially inspired by the “back of the pack” runners who persevered 6.2 miles despite the terrible conditions. Although they're not ready to take on a Ryan Hall or Kara Goucher, they showed the same type of heart and determination. That should be a reminder to me that, despite my travails, I still can go out there and put one foot in front of the other.
In previous years, the turnout has been anywhere from 600 to 800 people. Although weather played a big part in the smaller turnout, I think another factor was the fact there was a first-time race in Appleton two days before on April Fool's Day that had well over 800 participants. As a recently “retired” race director, I know how difficult it is to set a date that would make everyone happy but I think some advanced communication between organizers would've been helpful. Since most of us runners don't have “unlimited” racing budgets, maybe something can be worked out for next year and beyond so more people can attend both events. Hopefully, by next year, I'll be able to participate in both.
One event that won't be lacking for participants will be next week's Fitgers 5K. I've been lucky to be a part of several Fitgers 5Ks since my first one in 1998, and I still get cranked up about going to Duluth for that one race. Usually, Fitgers has one of the finest racing fields for a 5K in the Upper Midwest, bar none. I know several of my running friends in the Fox Cities (some who are Boston qualifiers) have asked me about the quality of the fields at Fitgers. I like to compare the fields at Fitgers to the ones you would find at a major ski race like the Birkie or Mora Vasaloppet, or in my case, a stock car invitational like the Silver 1000 or the Red Clay Classic. You know you will probably see the best of the best, and you also know the competition will be fierce and exciting.
Finally, I hope to see a lot of you next weekend at Fitgers. This may be my only visit to the Twin Ports for a road race this year, so be sure to stop over and say hi. Take care, and see you next weekend!