HOUGHTON -This weekend's Run the Keweenaw event puts a competitive spin on an activity already thriving on the peninsula.
The event will take place Saturday and Sunday on trails around Copper Harbor, already a scenic and challenging terrain.
"It's unique in that Copper Harbor has one of the best trail networks that there are in the country. The terrain is phenomenal, the trails are always in fantastic shape and the courses are set out to show the best of the best of what Copper Harbor has for trails," said Dan Dehlin of Marquette, who took the lead in setting this year's Run the Keweenaw courses.
Dehlin is an avid trail runner who said the activity can take on an almost-primal quality.
"It's nice to get away from cars and cement and even sometimes other people. Even in a trail race, you can end up kind of on your own at points. Someone could be 15 seconds ahead of you, but they could be around a corner."
Though they are both run outdoors in an off-road environment, trail running is designed to be much more technical than say, a prep cross country race, as more rocks, roots, twists, turns and changes in elevation are incorporated into the course.
"You can run the same trail over and over again and almost every time get a different experience," Dehlin said.
To account for the many challenges in a trail-running course, Dehlin said many runners will use shoes specifically designed for trails that offer more protection and comfort, though road shoes are acceptable.
In constructing the Run the Keweenaw course, Dehlin said it is a challenge to determine how each of the trails can be knitted together into a whole that is both challenging and that actually matches the set distance.
"There's tons of trails, but making one that acutally comes out to 25-K Is maybe the task," he said.
The event, sponsored by Aspirus Keweenaw, is now controlled by a local co-operative between the Keweenaw Trails Alliance and the Copper Harbor Trails Club. To make a positive experience for the more than hundred individuals expected takes an effort from more than just the organizers or the runners themselves.
"The biggest thing from an organizational stanpoint is just recruiting the volunteers. You need a pretty good staff of volunteers to man intersections and prep the course," Lori Hauswirth of the Keweenaw Trails Alliance said.
The entire U.P. is a hotbed of great trails for running. Besides those in the Copper Country, Marquette was named by Trail Runner Magazine as one of the top five places for trail running in the country, and Grand Island near Munising hosts a well-known trail running marathon.
"Our trail running that we have here is among some of the most technical because of all of the shoreline we have and because of that we get some pretty decent recognition among the trial running community," Dehlin said.
For those who want to experience the trails without the pressure of competition, a non-competitive 12-K run/hike will take place Saturday afternoon.
"It gives people an option that really want to get out and see the trails in a controlled atmosphere," Hauswirth said.
Meanwhile, the 25-K Keweenaw Trails Run and Team Relay events Sunday morning will be a pinnacle for the weekend, even for the people who set out the course. Dehlin said he's looking forward to getting out of the busy working world and taking to the trails himself.
"This is my favorite weekend of trail running for the entire year," Dehlin said.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com.