The inaugural Keyes Peak Trail Marathon was held on June 19, 2010, just outside of Florence, WI. Florence is about 10 miles west of Iron Mountain, MI, has a population of about 2000, is the county seat in Florence County, and its primary industry is logging. Florence County boasts the largest ATV trail system in Wisconsin.
The first thing we learned when we arrived in Florence, is that Keyes is NOT pronounced keez, but kize (rhymes with ties.)
The second thing we learned was that the river crossing, which I had imagined would be about like crossing a road that had flooded – 10 yards long, and maybe mid-calf deep, was truly a RIVER crossing – about 50 yards across, and depths up to 12 feet, and a strong current.
The residents of Florence warmly welcomed the marathon, and many residents helped out at the aid stations. Local Subway restaurant owner, Dwayne Drewa, and owner of the land on either side of the river crossing, helped blaze new trails near the river, and served as runner-goalie in the river, catching runners who attempted to swim, and guiding runners attempting to walk through the strong current.
The marathon was put on by Great Lakes Endurance. They specialize in environmentally friendly race practices. They also use locally grown and/or organic food for the post race meal, and local products and/or artists for finisher medals/race perks.
The race starts and ends at the Keyes Peak Ski Lodge. When a race starts and ends at a ski lodge… expect a big hill at the beginning and end of the race.
Most of the course was run on ATV trails and gravel access roads. The biggest hill was near the start/finish, and the rest of the course was pleasantly hilly. There were a couple short steep ones, but the course was very runnable. Footing ranged from soft sand, to firm gravel, to sandy trail, and about 3 miles of rugged, tough technical grass trail that felt like running on bumpy moguls.
Only 38 runners accepted the marathon challenge, and all 38 finished.
At mile 18, we were treated to a river crossing – the Pine River. We were told that about 2 weeks ago, the river was about knee deep where we crossed. Due to recent rains, it was now chest deep, and a strong current. Runners had 2 options for crossing. The short way, which was labeled ‘Swim’ and the long way, which was up to 12 feet deep, was labeled ‘Run’.
Webmaster Bill was there to see the first 25 people cross the Pine River. About 10 runners attempted to swim across the shorter route, and about half of them were immediately swept down to the rope that marked the longer shallower route. Bill saw one woman jump in at the ‘Swim’ route, the water went up to her neck, she immediately turned around and got out, and went down the short trail to the ‘Run’ route.
I opted for the ‘Run’ route. I hopped in to the river, and the water immediately came to my waist. It was just cold enough to feel really good on the legs. The air temperature was about 75 degrees. I took a hold of the rope, and started to make my journey across. The bottom was gravelly, and I could secure my feet on the bottom until the depth reached my chest. Then the current was too strong, my feet could only flirt with the rocks on the bottom. I held the rope tightly. Duane held on to me, and guided me across. If he hadn’t been there, I would have drifted down about a hundred yards to where it was only knee deep. There is no way I could have crossed this unassisted. As I approached the shore, the current weakened, and the bottom surface got a little mushy. A temporary boardwalk brought us from the river to firm ground and an aid station with towels, and the optional change of shoes/clothes. I didn’t bring extra shoes/clothes, so I just refilled my bottle, and continued on feeling very refreshed.
The finisher medal was hand made out of local hardwood, and made by the father of a student of race director, Jeff Crumbaugh. The ‘ribbon’ that the medal is on was crocheted by the race director’s mother-in-law. The post race meal was BBQ bison, coleslaw, baked beans and cookies.
Race perks included a nice technical short sleeved shirt. The men’s small is a little big for me, but wearable, and the colorful logo is displayed where a front pocket will be.
About 20 minutes after I finished, I learned that I was the first female, so I won a free pair of Montrail running shoes from Pemba Serves.
I think every trail marathon should have a river crossing. It was a blast.