I picked the Grand Island Trail Half Marathon in Michigan simply because it looked and sounded beautiful. I'd never ran a trail race and really all I knew was that I should expect it to be a bit more challenging and I'd run slower. I knew we'd have about a 5 hour drive from Milwaukee on Friday night to get up to Munising where packet pick up and our hotel were located. What I did not know was that we'd lose an hour of driving time... silly me! Packet pick-up ended at 9 pm, so leaving at 3 was already going to make that trip tight. Then there was road construction, stopping for gas and food, and GPS going out when we got to this beautiful but scary deserted windy road in a state park... during a rain storm.
We arrived to packet pickup with 10 minutes to spare. Ten minutes! It was a very small packet pick-up with only one or two vendor booths. We went straight to the hotel knowing the next morning would be early. We had to be up to catch the bus to the boat to be shuttled over Lake Superior to Grand island. It was about a 10 minute bus ride and 20 minute boat ride to the island.
Once on Grand Island, Thayne and I walked around a bit before hiding in the welcome center from the mosquitos and rain. As the start time loomed closer, I went to grab my anklet that would keep track of my time as I ran over the timing mats and made sure my water bottle was full. This race series is a "green" race where every runner has to carry their own water system. There are aid stations, but no cups! You would have to stop and refill your bottle or pack from a large cooler. Right before the race started, the race director came forward to have the national anthem played, make usual announcements and to let us know that this half marathon is actually 13.35 miles! "But trail runners don't care about distances, right?" Well, I'm glad I knew it was long going in!
The race started on a nice hard packed dirt trail before turning into a gravel road. Even though Grand Island is a national park, there are a few homes allowed. We followed the road past a small body of water called Duck Pond which led to a heavily forested area for about a mile. After that mile we had beautiful views, but had to run on the beach! The beach was very thin making passing anyone nearly impossible especially if you didn't want to run in deep sand or get your feet wet in Trout Bay. This was a very tough mile, but the view made up for it!
Right after this mile, when your legs are heavy from sand running, you have the only hill in the race. But this hill was more like a very rocky mountain! I walked up part of it and was not alone in doing so. This led us inland where the race was heavily forested from there on out.From about mile 9 to the finish we were still running in the forest, on single track trails, flattened grass or soft packed mulch trails. Again, the views were beautiful as we were atop the island slowly losing elevation but able to see Lake Superior to our right the entire time.
The finish line was hard to see until the last 200 meters, but you could hear the announcer from about a mile away. What a tease!
Thayne was not able to track me through the race at all, and couldn't get around to other areas of the island to watch so it's definitely not a spectator friendly race. After meeting back up with him at the finish he said he heard other spectators mentioning that they saw bears! I'm not sure what I'd have done if I'd have seen one while racing... keep running I guess!
The finishers medals were beautiful! They were hand carved by a local artist. After receiving mine, I got my official results and saw that I was 2nd in my age group! This meant I could turn in my wooden medal for a hand blown glass medal instead!
My official finish time was 1:58:23 (8:51 avg) for the 13.35 miles. Not too bad!
This was an absolutely beautiful course that also offered a full marathon and 50k for anyone looking for longer races. The weather, while humid, was nice and cool making it a great summer race in mid July. Munising also has a lot to offer as a small town in Michigan. I'd definitely suggest this race if you're looking for something unique.
Michigan was state five, half marathon number 6. We're getting there!
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