2023 Back 9 Endurance Run Recap

Memorial Day Weekend brought runners from across the region to Copper Harbor to challenge themselves on the wilderness trails that surround the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The weather was nearly perfect for the endurance runners that participated in the 3rd annual Back 9 Endurance Run. Capped at 40 runners in order to provide a quality experience, we have 39 individuals participate this year.

Everything came together smoothly the last few days with the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge team marking the course and getting the staging area set up. The course was well marked with reflective flags every 40 feet. We plan on keeping the course the same so the race times can be compared year to year. However, we did make a few minor adjustments including not using glow sticks as part of the course markings for the nighttime part of the run. Using the plastic, disposable glow-sticks didn’t align with our core value of Value our Environment. Instead we spent our lighting budget on some solar lights which we were able to put out on the course every 100 feet. Glow-sticks and solar lights Lights like these aren’t powerful enough to have participants run without lights but they are more of a reassurance that you are on the right track, as one runner described them, “friendly beacons of the night.”

The new solar lights on the racecourse.

Another issue we wanted to address was the exact distance of the race course. Over the last few years there had been some debate; Strava was stating one distance while other gps units were saying another. This year our team was able to get out and measure the racecourse with an analog measuring wheel and we determined the course is 3.68 miles. I am sure that varies a little bit with where people run on the trail, however we now have an official number to calculate the total distances of people’s accomplishments.

Measuring the course with the “analog” measuring wheel.

The race format stayed the same where individual runners or teams chose to run for either 12 or 24 hours. In that time, they run as many laps as they can. Each lap started and ended at the gazebo next to the historic Lodge building. As runners completed each lap, they recorded their lap time, and then either headed out for another lap or X out on the board and called it a race! This race is designed to let individual runners and teams push their limits and see how many laps they can go around the course. This is where our slogan for the race “Just One More Round” comes from.

Near the start and finish line, the timer was set up to reflect the actual time and as runners completed a lap, they recorded the lap and time on the white board. It’s cool to see the board progress through the day and into the night, watching lap after lap recorded with dry erase markers. An indication that this was an endurance run, the handwriting became sloppier throughout the race!

The Gazebo (where the race board is located), the timer and the moon around midnight.

The race started right on time at 8:00 AM on 27 May 2023. The sun was shining and spirits were high. Most of the group stayed together for the first part of the first lap, but with each stride from each runner the group slowly broke apart and the runners were soon on their own.

The start of the 2023 Back 9 Endurance Run with the historic Lodge in the background.

Throughout the day, as the runners worked their way around the course, the temperature continued to rise. Temps briefly reached into the mid 70’s in the afternoon, which had everybody monitoring their hydration, but then dropped into 50’s as night approached.

Runner Isaac Kangas feeling strong!

A few years ago the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge installed an Ambient Weather Station so our team and guests could have accurate weather information. This is a great resource for individuals planning on visiting the Lodge to check what the current conditions have been. Memorial Day weekend has been nice the last few years but you never know what kind of weather the Keweenaw can have during this transitional month. In fact Keweenaw County received a foot of snow on May 1st and 2nd, just 25 days before the start of the race.

“I can’t wait for the good food items – the anticipation keeps me going,” I overheard one runner say to another. At the Lodge we are working to build a culinary experience for our guests that is built around a Rustic Worldly Food concept. We apply this food concept to all of our offerings and events. The day started with mini quiches baked in cups and a sweet muffin with zucchini, nuts and dried cranberries. In the afternoon runners replenished calories with a turkey wrap and a pasta salad (made with roasted sweet potatoes, beans, corn and feta) and finally in the evening a warm soup (made from chicken, vegetables and pasta in a tomato broth) and served with a homemade, herbed naan bread. Throughout the day and night the kitchen team replenished the food table to the delight of the runners. “We wouldn’t have been as successful without all this good food”.

Some of the delicious food served throughout the event.
Runners making laps in the late afternoon.

Between 7:00pm and 8:00pm runners of the 12 hour race finished up their final lap and headed to the finish line. I could see the look of accomplishment on their faces as they examined the lap board and discussed the results. Yes there is a winner of each race category but these types of events are more about personal accomplishments. These individuals and teams rose to the top for 2023:

  • 12-hour solo: Austin Gongos (bib 106) – 14 laps – 51.5 miles
  • 12 Hour 2-Person Relay: COVID Cavaliers: Nicole Justa (bib 97), Kristen Peterson (bib 98) – 12 laps – 44.16 miles
  • 12 Hour 4-Person Relay: Snow Dancers: Craig Hughes (bib 102), Lis Wilson (bib 104), Tom Wood (bib 105), Bobbi Wood (bib 110) – 20 laps – 73.6 miles
12-hour solo winner: Austin Gongos

[ see the results ]

When you are as far north as the Keweenaw Peninsula nighttime comes late in the early summer. At 10:30pm the blue of twilight hour engulfed the Lodge with the moon high in the sky.

A crystal clear night – The moon above the Lodge around 10:30pm.

Our team frantically was out on the course getting the rechargeable lights hung in the trees and the solar lights on the ground. The air was calm and the forest was quiet except for the gentle sound of runners’ feet hitting the dirt. As darkness settled in, runners got out their lights and started another time around the course. On this clear night the moon offered an additional light source.

A runners headlight lights up the bridge crossing.

Morning came quickly with the sound of birds singing in the morning sun. Around 7:00am runners are deciding if their tired bodies can handle another quick lap. When the 8:00am end comes all runners are off the course. Partial laps do not count so that is always part of the last decision of whether you and your team can make it another time around. These individuals and teams rose to the top for 2023:

  • This year the 24 solo course record was set by Ryan Modders (bib 74) with 23 laps for a total of 84.6 miles!
  • The 24 hour 4 person relay was won by the Keweenaw Running Club: Shannon Handler (bib 88), Cory McDonald (bib 81), Robert Handler (bib 83), Ana Dyreson (87) – 33 laps – 121.44

[ see the results ]

Ryan Modders was this years winner of the 24 hour solo event.

More detailed results and pictures from the race can be found on the Back 9 Endurance website.

It was wonderful to see the runners meeting and exceeding their goals, running their farthest distance yet, cheering each other on, and having fun.

We are looking forward to the 2024 Back 9 Endurance Run, and hope you are able to join us!

Runners sticking together in the late afternoon sun.

Last modified on August 14th, 2023 at 4:07 pm