|At the dock about to go over to G.I.|
The race was an adventure. As we lined up, we were told the route had been altered between miles 17 and 22, so you could throw your race plan out the window. Apparently a Forest Service vehicle or something was stuck on the trail, and there was no time or way to remove it, so the call was made. The island is mostly uninhabited, except for the Feds, the few old homesteads, and the bears. The race was pretty neat. It was, of course far hillier than even a hilly road marathon, with a wide variety of surfaces to contend with. There were small sections of singletrack with some usual ruts and rocks, there was a lot of old Forest Service road, and there was a good long section (a mile?) of beach. That was wild, given that the only acceptable place to run was along the waterline, which condemned you to running on a steep slant and dodging the crashing waves. Hindsight being 20/20, I may have taken a few minutes to peel off my shoes and socks and run in bare feet, just for the refreshment and novelty of it.
|A unique reward|
All that said, it wasn’t a technical course at all. Rolling dirt roads, gentle trails and sand. Pleasant conditions underfoot for a long trail race. I wore Saucony Peregrines and they performed very well, although any road shoe or minimalist shoe like the Merrell Trail Glove would do well.
The rest of course featured some slow, long climbs. Nothing acutely steep, just mile-long, slow slogs at probably 3-7% grade. The dirt roads were sandy, though, so that kind of sapped your energy a bit. I would estimate that the course only robs you of a minute a mile for an average runner. Also, there are only five aid stations, so you are required to start the race with a water bottle, so you lose a minute or so taking a gel and topping off your bottle at each for another net loss of 3-5 minutes (although the aid station volunteers were fantastic and enthusiastic!)
Moira and Leo were with me on the boat ride over at just after 6 a.m., as there was no other option if they wanted to watch. The boats only went over a few times near the beginning, so if she had not come with me she may have not been able to get over there to see me finish. Then, after the race we had to wait for three boats to get back, which was kind of tough given that I was tired, Leo was cranky, and it was really hot (85 degrees) and we were made to wait out by the beach.
|Ice cream afterwards|
It is a small trail marathon and an adventure. It is on an uninhabited beautiful island. It is a challenging, exciting race with dedicated volunteers. The finishing medal was made of wood, which was cool. A few observations, up and down, just in case you are considering this race:
- The race doesn’t really have an expo, and they don’t claim to have one…they just have a meeting room at a Holiday Inn Express with a table to get your materials and a table to sell their old shirts from past events for $5. They did have socks, too. Freebies include a few packs of vitamins and stickers. You can be in and out in ten minutes.
- The boats and shuttles and their limited schedule are frustrating if you are not really in the spirit of the thing. We were OK, but I think it was a lot for Moira to entertain Leo and keep him fed, hydrated, and cheerful…I know it is a long slog for a little guy. There were lots of other racers with family support there, though. Maybe bringing little ones is not a great idea.
- The on-island transportation for the supporters was a disaster. The bus driver dropped Moira and Leo and bunch of other people off 8 miles from the start line at an aid station at Mile 17. After the runners went by, the 30 or so folks waited and waited for the bus to come back. Only after a very angry lady went back to talk t race officials did the bus return (with a grumpy driver who explained that he wasn’t supposed to come back and get them). How would a gang of 30 moms and dads and little kids hike 8 miles back through an uninhabited island? Bizarre.
- The race materials promised a Mountain Hardware shirt, but we got a very cheap, ill-fitting, poorly constricted freebie-type shirt from a company called Greenlayer. I know Greenlayer is all about eco-friendly, and that they do sell very nice stuff at market rate, but this freebie shirt was a disappointment. The half-marathoners got a better looking organic cotton shirt. I would not have cared if they hadn’t promised something from Mountain Hardware, one of my favorite brands.
- While the race volunteers are great, the race officials seemed angry about having to be there. There are strict rules about leaving trash on the island (justifiably so!). That said, the guy on the loudspeaker kept threatening to DQ racers before the race ever started unless they picked up a Gatorade bottle, water bottle etc. That was a bit over the top.
- The aid station volunteers would take a bullet for one of the marathoners. I felt like an elite athlete as they offered me any resources they had at every opportunity.
- Grand Island is a nearly undiscovered jewel of Michigan. See my last post about how much we enjoyed the entire Munising Bay area, but Grand Island takes the cake.
- The course is a challenge, but not so challenging that it would not be suitable for a first-timer to trails or marathons generally, for that matter.
- The camaraderie of a trail race like this is second-to-none. I ran alone, with a small group, with a partner, and with a big group all in the same race. There was enough room to spread out, it was quiet and peaceful enough to chat, and the race draws some really fun an interesting folks who care more about a day in the woods than a fast finish.
- Logistics aside, you get to take a boat to the start line, which is awesome. It is a short ride, but adds a sense of adventure to the enterprise.
- I had a big PR for the marathon…I knocked 20 minutes off my former marathon PR, and that was set on the roads of Chicago. I will always love a race where I set a PR, right?
- Lake Superior is about 20 yards from the finish line. Almost every single runner goes straight into the drink for a natural ice bath. That feeling of enormous relief was worth the effort.
|At the motel after, with Grand Island beyond|