Seeing orange: Two former Gremlins find success in Canal Run

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Mohawk native Nick Wilson, a graduate of Houghton High School, finishes the half marathon during Canal Run Saturday in Hancock.

HANCOCK — With mostly cloudy skies and temperatures ranging in the high 60s, the weather seemed ideal for the 44th Annual Canal Run Saturday. In a return to form after last year, the races ran a traditional path from McLean State Park to Quincy Street.

Despite the final mile’s climb, two recent Houghton High School graduates, Nick Wilson and Clayton Sayen, won the half marathon and the 10-mile Bob Olson Memorial Run, respectively.

However, the return to normalcy for racers was the big story of the event. Last year, due to the Father’s Day flooding, the course had to be altered at almost the last minute in order to hold the races.

“Last year, Angela Luskin showed incredible leadership even just having the race, but also finding an alternative course to make it work,” said Mike Babcock, Director of Marketing and Communications at Finlandia University and 10-year participant and volunteer. “It was incredible, but it was exhausting. Our racers did a great job of adjusting as they needed to.”

This year, the course was returned to its traditional finish in downtown Hancock, where participants finish by climbing a hill over the course of the final mile before reaching the finish line in front of the old Hancock High School building. There is nothing that compares to the downtown finish line and the enthusiastic crowd cheering and waving cowbells.

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton native Clayton Sayen closes on the finish line during the 10-mile Bob Olson Memorial Run as part of the Canal Run Saturday in Hancock.

“I think it is magical to finish downtown like this, where we need to be,” Babcock said. “It feels really nice.

“I love that last mile. It’s part of what makes the Canal Run a unique run. Even the most advanced runners, when they turn that corner and they look up that hill, they know it is a challenge.”

For Wilson, a Boston College student, the cooler temperatures helped him feel comfortable, especially once he got past the opening miles.

“I don’t do too well in real high heat and humidity,” he said. “So it was nice to be in the 60s.”

Finishing with a time of 1:20:35.6, Wilson was both surprised and happy to finish as strongly as he did, nearly six minutes faster than Atlantic Mine native Ray Sharp, who posted a time of 1:26:05.2 to finish second.

“I was really just trying to go out and see what kind of time I could get, and just have fun,” said Wilson. “I probably went out too fast and just tried to hang on to the pace.”

Wilson also echoed a sentiment heard throughout the morning as finishers crossed the line and celebrated with friends and family after.

“It feels really great,” said Wilson. “There’s no place like home, no place like this area. It feels really great to be able to come out here and do a really fun event like this.”

The 10-mile race, which came with a cash prize this year, saw an influx of racers who have, in the past, run the half marathon, including last year’s winner, Stephen Eles. Eles held the lead with just over two miles to go before Sayen found another gear and was able to find a way to beat one of the most consistent runners in the area in Eles, who took second with a time of 55:19.1.

“I caught up with Steve at about the 8-mile mark,” said Sayen. “I ran with him for about another mile. Up the climb that last mile (is) where I took him.”

Sayen came into the morning with a goal in mind for his mile splits. At one point during the race, it occurred to him that he was actually doing better than he had hoped.

“I didn’t know that my fitness was quite at this level,” he said. “My average pace is about 5:30, but I was shooting for 5:45s. I took it pretty conservative out front so that I could close hard.”

Sayen, who finished with a time of 54:55.5, said that he used a familiar strategy from his high school days to get him through the race.

“I pretty much took my typical cross country race strategy,” Sayen said. “I took it pretty conservative out front and then do a gradual cut down throughout the race. A gradual progression throughout is my strategy I would say.”

On the girls’ side of the half marathon, Victoria Harris-Hoogenboom, an Iron River native who runs for Northern Michigan University, knew running the Canal Run would be a great way to keep an eye on her training before she returns to school in the fall.

“I’m preparing for my last season of running cross country at Northern,” she said. “I went into this like I am going to do this as a nice training run over distance run.”

Harris-Hoogenboom, who was running the Canal Run for the fourth time, admitted that she took her time getting into the race. However, by the time she finished, she had set a new personal record (PR) for herself.

“I went out very conservatively, which I usually don’t do,” she said. “I started with my friend, who (carries) about the same pace as me. I continually built my way up and I didn’t see anybody behind me, so I decided that I might as well try to PR, and I ended up PR-ing by about about three minutes.”

Samantha Saenz of Concord, Michigan, was the top female finisher in the 10-mile with a time of 1:04:02.8. She finished ahead of Christina Mishica, Kristen Monahan, Kate McCloud, Laura Mlynski, Kate Kuntze and Tara Aho, who all finished within six minutes of each other.

In the 5-mile run, Branden Peterson finished first with a time of 30:27.2, beating out Davin Evans, Thomas Knewtson, Miles Brown and Chris Gipp.

Alaina Eles was the top female finisher with a time of 36:54.4, which was over two minutes faster than Kylee Kuntze, who took second with a time of 39:24.1.

Diana Obermeyer won the 10-mile walk with an overall time of 1:47:40.7. She beat the top male finisher, Chuck Girard, by over 14 minutes (2:01:43.8).

Lindsey Anderson and Amy Hughes finished 1-2 in the 5-mile walk. Anderson finished in a time of 58:45.8, the only competitor under one hour. Hughes crossed the finish line in 1:01:50.3.

Robert Haase was the top male finisher, completing the course in 1:01:59.4.

Robert Kuntze (14:46.1) and Stella Wickstrom (16:17.2) were the top two finishers in the 2-mile run/walk.

Jake Jackovic finished the course in 48:52.2 in the 5-mile blade run. In the half marathon wheelchair race, Dean Juntunen finished with a time of 54:44.4.