Monday, July 11, 2011

Run the Keweenaw 2011

Adam Sullivan's Race Report...Now THIS is what every Midwestern trail run should aspire to be.  This is the second year in a row that I have run this two day running festival and I will continue to come back for years to come.  The race starts with the 6k Mount Baldy Hill Climb on Saturday morning, followed by the 12k Vasque Trails Challenger on Saturday evening and finally the 25k Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run on Sunday morning.

So first a little background on the event: The races are held in Copper Harbor, MI which is the farthest north you can go in the state.  The trail running festival used to be operated by Great Lakes Endurance but when they decided to “retire” the event some locals decided that this great event needed to live on.  The race has a very low-key grass roots feel to it with all the proceeds from the race being put back into the trail system there in Copper Harbor.  The 12k and 25k are run on the world famous mountain biking trails located in town.  And world class is not an exaggeration.  A few years ago the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) named the Copper Harbor trail system an “Epic” ride making it 1 of 50 in the WORLD.  So these trails are fun.

So we’ll start with the first race of the day:

The 6k Mount Baldy Summit Run

This is the first race of the weekend and the only one that is not based out of Copper Harbor.  This race starts 15 miles south in the town of Eagle Harbor.  The first half of the race is on double track that continuously narrows until it hits pure single track.  Like the name of the race, it’s up and up and up the whole way of the race.  Not too un-similar from the start of our black loop, just a lot longer and steeper.  Once you get to the top there are some great views of Lake Superior and Eagle Harbor but it was pretty windy so I didn’t linger.  There are no roads or cars at the top so to get back to the food (delicious granola from the Keweenaw Co-Op) you have to run back down the trails you just came up!  I’m not sure where overall I came in but it was an age group win for me so for my efforts I won a bottle of Thimbleberry Jam (it’s amazing).

The 12k Vasque Trails Challenge

Shortly after the hill climb finish it started to rain and continued to rain for the rest of the day so needless to say the race was a wet and muddy one.  This race is one loop on the Copper Harbor mountain biking trails, it’s not a full 12k but it’s somewhere between that and a 10k.  Either way it’s a fun race.  The first 4-5k is a pretty consistent climb to the top of a ridge along the Whoopidity Doo trail.  From there it’s pretty much either flat or down hill to really cruise to the finish.  I ran a great race and came in 1st in my age group and about 10 minutes faster than last year.  After the race was another awards ceremony for age group awards and random grab bag items.  This time I wound up with one of those hippie hemp bracelets.  The RD is a very big proponent for having local artists or stores provide the prizes.  The bracelet was made by a local in Copper Harbor while the Thimbleberry Jam is huge in the UP.

After the race it was off for dinner and a beer at Zik’s then off to my campsite for a fire, some ice cream, and my tent.  I woke up a few times that night because of the rain so I knew the next day would be a wet one.

The 25k Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run

While this is called an Adventure Run, it is in name only.  Evident the name for this race comes from a classic memorial race that had jumped around the peninsula over the past few years.  This race starts in town again and hits up the incredible single track almost immediately.  This route consists of two different loops that passes through the start/finish area at the halfway point.  There is an immediate steep climb when you head up the “Stairway to Heaven” trail.  This trail is a great one if you’re on a mountain bike and going down as it is almost made up of all bridges and walkways.  Running up is fun, but steep at times and hard!  So you run up and up and up until you get to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.  From here you cross over Rt 41 to hit up Whoopidity Doo again, this time running in the opposite direction.  At this point I was pretty much already hurting, I had run quite a bit harder on Saturday than I had last year and my legs were feeling it on this course.  Everything I had ran up on Saturday I now got to run down back into town at the just over halfway point.  From here we had the only flat section of the course where we ran north to loop around the Fort Wilkins State Park.  After looping the west campground you head south to loop around Lake Fanny Hooe and hook back up with the MTB trails.  This section is incredibly muddy, wet and filled with roots.  There is one monster climb that seems straight up (pretty close to the climbs on the Superior Hiking Trail).  All I could think while hiking up was that the people who ride their mountain bikes down are crazy!  From the top of the climb it’s about 6k left to go on the beautiful winding single track.  You finish running down the “Stairway to Heaven” which when wet with muddy shoes is scary to say the least.  While in perfect conditions you could hammer this down I took the safe option and was a bit timid on the wood bridges.  I cruised into the finish with a time a couple of minutes slower than last year which I pretty much expected after the races on Saturday which was again good enough for a 1st place age group finish.   The age group win netted me an awesome print of a framed photograph of the trails from a local photographer.  Another awesome, local prize.

The race is finished up with a breakfast at Zik’s with some good greasy sausage, eggs, and fruit (not greasy) served up for all the runners and spectators/family.

Final Thoughts

I really cannot say enough about these races.  I am very biased though, I have some very strong emotional ties to the UP and Copper Harbor as I think that this part of the country has played a huge part of the person I am today.  It’s the first place I ever saw a bear (and probably the only time I’ll see one in a church) and it’s where I’ve spent countless summers swimming in the lake and taking the ferry to Isle Royale.  It’s probably the only place outside of the mountains that I right now would want to move to and never leave.  But I really do think that everyone needs to experience this awesome race experience and see an amazing part of the Midwest.  It’s not an Ultra but over the course of the two days you wind up putting around 30 miles on your legs so I’m feeling it for sure on Sunday night.

Plus, we were just told that the state just recently purchased a huge chunk of land north of Copper Harbor that includes 17 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.  The Copper Harbor Trails Club (which has 3 full time employees by the way) have over 30 miles of single track planned for this area and the thoughts of holding a Copper Harbor 50 or 100 miler are in the works.  So keep your eye out for that one.

I love the small feel of this race but I know it needs to grow more to continue to be sustainable.  And while I know that will mean no more age group awards I’d rather have the race to run at every summer.  


  1. I've run this race twice (once as the old Keweenaw Trail Fest, once as the Run the Keweenaw), but had to skip it this year. I agree that this race should be on everyone's calendar. Despite the long drive, it is a wonderful event, at a wonderful venue, put on by wonderful people. Besides -- you aren't driving 6hrs one-way for a single race, but rather 3 RACES!!!

  2. Would love to pick your brain on this race. Running it as my 40th birthday present. I can be e-mailed at

    Went to Tech, proposed to my wife on Brockway, coach cross country.


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