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Houck using mile run in Duluth as speed work

One mile of Jen Houck's training will be faster than the rest this week. While preparing for the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 4, she's taking time to run along Superior Street at 10:20 a.m. in Sunday's third Grandma's Minnesota Mile. Some speed w...

One mile of Jen Houck's training will be faster than the rest this week.

While preparing for the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 4, she's taking time to run along Superior Street at 10:20 a.m. in Sunday's third Grandma's Minnesota Mile.

Some speed work for the Duluth endurance athlete before a run later in the day.

"I enjoy putting on my racing flats and running a race in Duluth that's pretty much all downhill," Houck said this week. "Each week of training has a different purpose and different focus, which makes it fun."

Most of 2009 has been enjoyable for Houck, 25, a former St. Scholastica athlete, who leads the Minnesota Runner of the Year women's open standings, as compiled by the Minnesota Running Data Center. She finished second in two races, in March and April, and has won five of the past six.

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Houck's victories have been in the Brian Kraft Memorial 5-kilometer race in Minneapolis; Midnight Sun Midnight Run 5K in Duluth; Lumberjack 10-Miler in Stillwater, Minn.; Park Point 5-Miler in Duluth (setting a course record); and the Victory 10K on Monday in Minneapolis. She was also the top woman from the area in the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon, placing 11th on June 20.

In two previous Grandma's Minnesota Mile runs, she's finished in 5 minutes,

9 seconds and 5:15. Defending champion Carrie Messner-Vickers, 32, of Carbondale, Colo., who is returning, won in 4:43 last year.

"At the Victory 10K, I raced off a high-mileage week and on tired legs and ran a personal best, so I'm happy with how things are going," said Houck, a physical therapist at Villa Maria Health Care Center in Superior, who is coached by St. Scholastica Nordic ski coach Chad Salmela.

Houck, averaging 75-80 training miles per week, hopes to run faster than three hours in her first serious marathon, traveling 26.2 miles from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

Christian Hesch, 30, of Morro Bay, Calif., returns to lead the men's field as defending champion, winning last year in 4:10. Jeremy Polson, 31, of Duluth, the top entrant from the area, ran 4:17.6 last month at the Wisconsin-Superior track and leads the men's open division for Minnesota Runner of the Year.

The winning man and woman will earn $2,000 from a prize money purse of $12,500. Two other mile races preceed the elite event, along with a children's race and wheelchair race starting at 8:50 a.m. Last year there were 413 entrants and 352 finishers.

-- Registration for the Grandma's Minnesota Mile races at Fitger's Inn, at 600 E. Superior St., is noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and 7-8:30 a.m. Sunday. The entry fee is $20. For information, call (218) 727-0947.

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