With another new layout from the wily mind of founder and race director, Jeff Winter (photo) — this time not from Shady Oak Road construction, but rather plowed snow covering its sidewalks — the 32nd version of this unique spring distance tune-up produced history with two 27-year-old athletes leading the way.
For the first time in records and the mental recall of all, Jennifer Houck (photo from 10/2010) with her elite feet stepped high for the first female finisher ever to nail a top overall spot in the Ron Daws 25 Km, commanding a second with 1:32:57. She also placed with the one percent of finishers since 1984 to complete the distance in less than six-minute miles, too. Her abilities on hills came in handy as this new layout, one that Winter may just continue to use, is full of them.
Aaron Beaber snuck to the front — leading some to ask, “Who’s that?“ — leading the entire distance with a commanding overall win in 1:30:14. Determination showed in his face as he steadfastly focused on each step, out by himself while pushing to the tape, this year on the Shady Oak Road sidewalk in front of the race’s headquarters, Cross of Glory church. A member of the Collegeville USATF Team, Beaber was joined by teammates Caleb Buecksler, Mike Mack and Steve Christopher in the event.
Beaber has a long history of racing in the region, and is a perennial competitor in fall’s City of Lakes 25 km, finishing in the top ten three of the last four years, winning his group and capturing two seconds in those years.
Afterward, he noted, “I didn’t know anything about Ron Daws or the race until one of my Collegeville club teammates suggested that we run it as a tune-up for Boston. The course was great. I really liked the low-key approach with the four-dollar entry, open roads, limited field, and no t-shirts or prizes.
What was your post-race analysis for Boston? “My goal is to run around 2:30, so I used the race to gauge if I was in that sort of shape. My half marathon time was 1:16, which is slightly slower than I hope to hit in Boston, but I felt very relaxed during the race. I expect the adrenaline and competition at Boston to help bring that time down.”
What about next year’s Daws race? “It was a great race . . . I look forward to running it.”
When not on the roads, Beaber co-authors U of M engineering papers with subjects like A new multiscale computational method that is capable of predicting solute strengthening of alloys without adjustable parameters . . . under NASA grants.
Plenty of rolling flat lands and only the first leg of the legendary “Puke’s Peak” comprised this year’s version, but as Winter said post-event, “It may be the variety of hills and climbs may make this the better test.”
The course follows its traditional Pioneer Rd route from the church start, cutting through the quiet Carleton residential twists to land on Baker and, further, the traditional left onto Rowland. Passing the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, Rowland cuts off to the right at Bren (formerly part of the course, the last two humps of the towering toss-ups of the Bren climb now deleted). Running over the Crosstown (“That highway wasn’t here when we ran back here in the ‘60s,” Winter said talking about the group including Daws who trained here) and snakes to the circle back with a new twist: a sharp left up the steep residential Cherokee Trail W, right on Old Shady Oak, connecting with aid station No. 1 right at the corner on Rowland.
Backtracking all of those downhills, now up, one does have the fun of two big runs down Rowland, exactly the half-marathon distance at its bottom on the second loop. A bit further, runners zip right on Jorissen, the quietest and most secluded section of the layout, then connects with its traditional route on Dominick. A left leads in one mile to the big split: to the left, start the second loop; to the right, one half-mile to the finish line. Both are covered by aid station No. 2 manned by Heidi Keller Miler (photo, holding course map), her children crew offering plenty of encouragement especially as Houck zoomed by.
A St. Scholastica grad, Houck gave all a peek of her 2011 Boston form (third American woman, 2010) and plans for the 2012 Houston Olympic Marathon Trials while racing the hills and roads of Hopkins — Minnesota, that is, not Boston. Perhaps it is only fitting she competed this day as a Houston prelude, working to earn one of those top slots out of more than 100 qualified, leading to the Olympics just as Ron Daws did in the qualifying requirement’s first year, 1968.
After the win and historic finish had settled in, Jennifer said, “I’m honored!”Her great attitude on the course is just a part of her, as she said, “I’m just smiling my way through life — that’s just me.”
I asked her to explain the day as she experienced it: “The course was exactly what I was looking for in regards to my final preparations for Boston. The 25 km was my final and longest time trial. My other time trials were flat, so I was thankful to have the opportunity to race on a looped course with climbs and hills comparable to Boston’s. I just moved to the metro and am still trying to figure out running routes. I am even morethankful to Heidi Miler Keller and the MDRA for getting me into the race last minute. By the time I registered it had already filled to capacity, but Heidi, a great supporter as always, insisted I still race the course and got me an entry
The weather, the course, the support staff were all perfect. My plan was to run marathon pace for the 25k, finish and feel as though I had enough reserves to complete a marathon. I feel as though I accomplished that. I hit all my paces and felt stronger on the hills than I anticipated — a great confidence boost going into Boston — explaining my smile at the end.
I do a lot of solo training so it was great to be amongst so many runners also again. It is impossible to not get fired up and excited when you’re surrounded by runners so enthused about training, running and racing. I also made some connections with some runners in the area after the race, so I look forward to having some company on future runs.”
With her smiling, pleasant demeanor, high stepping with perfect form to this day’s history, she has an opportunity to use her skill and some Dawsion strategy to capture a berth in that tiny three-person field.
Buecksler, 28, racing out of Columbia Heights, captured third overall with his 1:35 double-0 clock, followed by Brian Davenport, 36, at 1:36:12. Nick Engster, 36, finished 1:36:12. First master was tenth overall, Paul Brown, 53 in 1:42 on the dot. Second woman, Iron Man finisher, Thea Fleming, 27, crossed the line at 1:47:01.
A record number of entrants pushed the stated maximum of the field; Winter said, “The roads can only accommodate no more than 200.” (picture, Gale Marchon, after finish) Yet the beautiful day pushed some to miss the race much like rain might, but they missed much, much more: A throwback, this event celebrates running without theatrics except for those on the roads, today starring Aaron Beaber and Jennifer Houck.