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Jul 29, 2015

Grand Island Marathon race review

Short Version
Finished in 5:33:58 (official time); no new PR
Overall Place: 115/175
Overall Men: 96/110
Men 40-49: unknown - I'm not listed in the AG listing

Race #95 - Marathon #7

This race was a personal worst when it comes to marathon times but it was an incredible course.  Don't let my time fool you.  This is a very runnable course.  The winner came in under 3 hours so most of the course you can run fast - really fast!  It's not an extremely technical course which makes it easier even given a few larger hills.  The area is really fun and it makes for a great weekend away.  If you have not run this race yet, it's something you need to put on your list.  This is race #3 in Michigan for Great Lake Endurance (with Tahqua Trail and Porcupine Mountains still to follow) and once again, I am extremely impressed with the locations and courses they have chosen for their races.

Long Version
Registration/Packet Pickup
Registration is very simple via the Great Lakes Endurance website.  Sign up is through Active(dot)com and really easy.

For this race, I went up to Northern Michigan with my running buddies, Kevin and Dave.  We were all signed up for the marathon.  We picked up our packets on Friday evening at the local Holiday Inn Express in Munising.
Holiday Inn Express packet pickup
We saw more literature about their races along with seeing our friend, Susan, on the papers.  It's cool to see someone you know on the race information.
Our friend Susan everywhere!
As with all of Great Lakes Endurance races, packet pickup is very simple.  They log you into the system via an iPad and assign a bib number for you.  You get your tech shirt and you are good to go.  They also offered last years shirts as well as this years shirt to choose.  A nice option if you wanted a different color.

We talked to Jeff, the race director, for a few minutes and he told us a little about the course and where to get some great pictures.  That was certainly no issue on Grand Island as the scenery is spectacular!   He gave me a particular spot at mile 15 and boy was he right - it was awesome!
The race company had all the literature out for the maps of the race as well as the shuttle schedule.  Included in your race entry was pickup and drop off of runners from their hotels or campgrounds (not all but most in the area).  It made things very easy in the morning since we didn't need to drive to the boat launch.  We literally waited a minute each time and the shuttle was a nice touch.
Race Area
As I mentioned, we started our day on Friday morning to make the seven hour drive to the area.  The car was packed and we were ready to go camping for the weekend.  An awesome camping and running weekend!
Kevin, me and Dave
Since our buddy, Kevin, had never been to Hartwick Pines State Park, we made a slight detour on the way up north to see the park.  It really is a nice gem and I'd love to go back and camp there.
Hartwick Pines
There was a logger museum there as well as huge trees to see.  It was a nice side trip but added about an hour to our drive up.
Logger museum
Soon we were in Mackinaw and crossing over into the Upper Peninsula.
Mackinaw Bridge
We made a quick stop after the bridge to a rest stop and it happened to be the Northernmost Point of Lake Michigan.  It was a great view of the water.
Rest stop in UP
Rest Stop on the water
A few hours later and we were in Munising.  We made reservations at the Munising Tourist Campground back in February which is just a mile down the road from packet pickup and the boat launch to Grand Island.
Camping at Munising Tourist Park Campground
We actually ended up with a really great campsite (Site K) which was right on the water of Lake Superior.  The views were awesome and looked over to Grand Island.  We had incredible weather the entire weekend except for a huge thunderstorm on Friday evening from about 1-4 am!  It was crazy being in the tent with as much rain as was coming down but we stayed dry.
Nice night before the race
We also made a stop at Dogpatch after the race to eat lunch which was a good place to get a beer and food.
Dogpatch after the race
As you can see, we had a nice firepit as well as a large tent and a covered canopy to stay out of the sun since our site was all in the sun.
Tenting it
After the race, we also made our way over to Munising Falls to see it.  It's one of the best falls in the area in my opinion and didn't require too much walking after just running a marathon.
Munising Falls
We also went to Sand Point Marsh and walked around that area on wooden bridges.  It was a beautiful area and also had a really nice beach.
Sand Point Marsh
A few miles up the road, we also visited Miner's Castle.  Personally I think it's one of the best sites in the area.  Kevin and Dave planned to run 10 miles the next day of the marathon (yes, they are crazy!) and since I was not joining them for this, we went up there by car.  While my legs didn't like the walking, I knew they would feel better the next day, the more we walked.
Miner's Castle
We got another fantastic sunset the evening of the race as well and being at the campground was one of the best places we could have been to enjoy the weather.
Another beautiful night
The Sunday of the race we stopped at Muldoon's for a Pasty.  I got chicken and it was delicious.  Yoopers eat theirs with ketchup but many also like gravy.  I used ketchup and it was so good!
Pasties in the UP (chicken)
We also made a stop on the way back for some smoked fish.  This stuff is expensive but so tasty!
Smoked Fish
The place we bought it also had some beer for sale that I was happy to see.  The company is Upper Hand Brewery and it's new and a division of Bell's.  I've had two of the three already and they are incredibly good.
Upper Hand Brewery in the UP (made by Bell's Brewery)
Start Area
The morning of the race was a really early morning.  We had to start running at 6am so we needed to be on the bus at 5:30am!  Yikes, we ended up getting up at 4:30am to be ready for the race.  Because of the storm, I only got about four hours of sleep.  Ouch!

You can see the picture below shows a little light on Grand Island.  The volunteers needed to be there at 5:10am to be ready for us runners and they were ready!  There was also a 7am start option but since Kevin and I expected to be over 5 hours in the race, we opted for the early start.
The sold light on Grand Island from our campsite
We also had an opportunity to meet Dave H, one of Kevin and my Twitter friends, who was up here running his first marathon.  He killed it with a sub five hour time!
Dave H and Kevin on the boat over
As is tradition, we took a pre-race picture.  It was still kind of dark out so the picture didn't come out perfect but it will have to do.  We are standing behind the drop bag area as the race had an area to put our stuff to keep it dry during the race.
Dave, me and Kevin before the start
Before we knew it, Jeff, the race director, was doing his announcements.  We were to follow orange flags and always on the right.  I joked with Kevin to watch carefully since he got lost at Two-hearted 50k.  Fortunately, the course today was well marked so no worries of getting lost.
Announcements before the race by the race director
Runners behind me
The course is a loop around Grand Island with a small approx. four mile out and back.  We started on the South end of the Island and went counter clockwise around the island.
Course Map per Garmin

While you can see that we encountered some hills on the course, it was not relentless hills but you sure had to give it your all when you got to mile 19.  By that time, I was pretty tired and the hills were killing me by then.
Elevation Gain per Garmin (over 1,494 ft)
Unfortunately, it was not my day, and by the time I got to mile 15, I was pretty much out of steam.  The running on the beach really killed me and my foot started to hurt which really slowed my pace down.  The good thing is that I was able to recover this week pretty easily.
The sun was just starting to come up with the 6am start and the sky was full of color.  We passed a few cottages on the water and ran on a dirt road.
A nice start but humid
Frankly, the first four miles with the out and back was not that exciting.  Don't get me wrong, I completely loved the course but the first part of it had me worried it would be all on dirt roads and dark trails.  Fortunately, the race just got better and better and better as we ran more.
Dirt roads to start
Kevin was looking strong this morning and I knew he was going to have a great race.
Kevin looking strong
As mentioned, part of the start was on the dirt roads.  We didn't see any cars except for the forestry people doing some work.
Into the island
We actually passed a nice beach near this area that was beautiful as the sun was coming up.
Signs we passed
Two track
The half marathon followed the blue flags with marathon runners following the orange flags.
Well marked
Because it had rained so hard, some of the course had water on it.  Frankly, I was really surprised that we didn't see much water as the island seemed to drain really well even after such a hard pouring rain from last night.
A little wet from storm the night before
Then the climbing began already and this first hill was a killer too!
Little mud
It was not only muddy but hilly.  Haha!
Out and back section
I took a picture from behind me so you could see what we were climbing once on the top of the hill.  The good part is there were really only four large climbs so it made the course very enjoyable.
Heading up the hill!
This is the out and back section and it was somewhat difficult to see as the sun was still coming up and there were lots of tree branches on the ground to trip over.  Fortunately, I did not fall once the entire race.
Dark forest
Getting sun
Soon we were heading back as there was a turn around on the out and back section.  The race did a great job making sure we had directional signs so we went the correct way.
More markings
It was also nice to see the fallen trees and, if they didn't get in the way, were left alone in their nature habitat.  A really nice road to run down.
Fallen tree
Before we knew it, we were heading towards the beach.  While the beach had some of the best views of the entire course, it made for a really difficult run since you were not running on a level surface.  Fortunately for us, the rain helped keep the sand impacted so it was a little easier than it would have been had it not rained the night before.
To the beach
 How about that view?
On the beach
We could also see some of the rocks on the cliffs too as we made our way down the beach.
There was also a photographer on the beach taking photos of everyone.  I hope she got a good photo of me.
More beach

Great markings
Just about when you were tired of running on the beach and sand, we turned off and headed back to the dirt roads and trails.  I stopped a second to knock the sand off of my shoes to make it easier to run again.
Off the beach
I wanted to get back to the single track and this was where it really started.  It was great except for another hill to climb.  Haha!
Back to woods
Wide track
As we continued, we started to see caution signs on the trails.  You will see from the pictures below why, as much of the trail was right next to a cliff so you needed to be careful.  I also didn't feel the bugs were too bad.  Yes, there were mosquitoes and, if you stopped, they would swarm you, but as long as you kept moving, they didn't bother you at all.  Also no flies or deer flies that I saw anyway.  I had more on my recovery run today at home than anything I saw on the island.
Mile 9
Then the split for the half marathon and marathon came.  Decisions, decisions.....okay, I guess I decided to stick with the full marathon so I made the turn right to follow the marathon course.  It was the right decision.  While I'm sure the half was also a fun route, I believe the views would have been better on the full course considering we were running around the entire perimeter of the island.
Half or full?
And I was right, check out that awesome view we were rewarded with after a nice climb up a hill.
Beautiful view from the trail
Once again it was back to a nice wide trail to run which was fairly flat.
Dirt roads
 As well as flat two tracks along the way.

Mile 10
Mile 11
Once I hit this sign, I knew that the views were going to become awesome.
It appeared the island is set up to drain quite well into the lake as you can see below.
Drain to the lake
The picture below is right on the trail.  It was seriously amazing!  This is actually about three steps off the trail.  Yes, the caution signs are real and you needed to be careful not to fall down but I just had to have some pictures.
Yes, cliffs
 Before I knew it, I was at the half way point.  I was thinking to myself, maybe I should have run the half?  Not!
Half way!
Not with amazing views like the one below.  I could not believe it but the views kept getting better as we ran longer.
More views and cliffs
Soon we were seeing the sides of the cliffs on the island.  It was hard for me to continue running and I just wanted to stay and enjoy the views.
To give you an idea of how far up we were, I took a picture looking down of the height.  It was really high up!
Big drops
This is the shot the race director told me about at mile 15.  It was worth it to take the 10 or so steps off the trail in order to see this view.  It was one of the best views on the island and I'm glad I took the time to see it even though it cost me some time on the race.
Stunning view (I went off course a little to get this shot - it was worth it)
Mile 15
From here the cliffs just started showing up more and more like the one below.  I could not believe that we were right on the trail with these amazing views.
More views on the trail
This cliff almost looked like a little Miner's Castle but this was actually still on the island.
Incredible views
The marathon was worth the views
The trails were equally nice as you can see below and we had a beautiful day for running and were really lucky with the weather being so nice.
Back on trails
Eventually we started a decent down to where the water and beach was.  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go off course anymore but you get the idea of what you could see from the trail.
Near the beach
Below is actually taken from a bridge that we passed on the trail
Great bridge view
More climbing at mile 16 as you can see the running in front of me is much higher than I am.
Mile 16
Of course, it was the only way you could get more awesome views like the one below.
More on the trail - wow!
We also got to a point on the course where there was a little more mud but it still was not bad at all and you could avoid any bad parts on the course.
Keep going
Mile 17
Below was also a very nice area and one of the best views that I think we saw on the island.  I can see how the race director feels this is one of the best places he's run.  It really is a special place and seeing the island on foot was the best way to be able to see it.
One of the best on the trail
 It was jaw dropping and I still could not believe that I was standing on a trail.
I'm seriously on the trail!
Mile 18
Awesome again
And more!
Below I took a picture of the gate that shows where the picture above was taken.  It shows how we are on the trail yet the views are right there too.  I even had a girl running offer to take my picture but I didn't want to stop her from her run so I said no.
Where I just took the above picture
Mile 19 was a really tough mile since it was all up hill.  It seemed like this mile went on forever.  I guess it did since it was almost my slowest mile at over 15 minutes.
Mile 19
I was happy to be at mile 20.  I know that I had much to run but at least the course was at a point where it was mostly downhill from the 20 mile marker.
Mile 20
Long views
The woods side of the trail was also equally nice.
Woods side
Mile 21
The view below was another of my favorites.  I love seeing the tree roots with the pine needles overlooking the water.  That is my perfect trail to run.
So nice!
Mile 22
I was following the guy ahead of me with a run/walk by this point but I kept going and going even though the top of my foot hurt and my IT band was starting to hurt from the downhill.
Great trail to finish
Stairs to the beach
More markings
Almost there
The end of the race also didn't disappoint and had some more incredible water views.
Did I mention the views
Seen on the traln
We were back to a little mud but I would guess that this area was probably the worst I saw on the entire course.
More mud
Continued views
A pine tree was on it's side which made for a really nice picture.  The sun was out and the birds were chirping.  It could not have been a more beautiful day to run a marathon but I was happy it was almost over.
Tree down
Step by step
The views don't end
We were almost back to the start area and there were also some really nice campsites on the island.  I wish I had thought to take a few pictures.  By this time, all I wanted to do was finish and get something to eat.
Yeah!  Mile 25 and we continued to run.....well, for me it was more walk/run.
Mile 25
Next to water
 The trail was very pretty with the sun shining on the ferns next to the trail.  There was no place else I wanted to be than right here running.
More water on 2 track
Mile 26 came and went.  My watch showed a 26.5 mile course for the finish.
Mile 26
It was the final stretch of the race and you could hear people as you were coming.
Final push
As you came through near the finish, people were cheering you in and giving you thumbs up to finish strong.  It was nice to have that last bit of motivation.
Almost there
I made it!  Not my best time but I thoroughly enjoyed the course and was so happy that I was able to finish and enjoy the views.
Aid Stations
There were several aid stations.  As with all of Great Lakes Endurance races, the volunteers had water and HEED to give us as well as Gels at a couple stops.  You needed to carry a water bottle or hydration device and they would fill them up as you stopped.  You also needed to carry any garbage that you used since we needed to keep everything off the island.  You can see they had on mosquito masks in the beginning since they were standing still and needed to be covered.
Mosquito masks
Later in the race, the masks were not needed for the volunteers as the bugs were not as bad as the sun came up.  The volunteers did a great job and were very helpful at each aid station shouting out water or HEED so you knew were to go.
Volunteers were great
More water
Finish Area
The finish area had water, HEED, cherry juice(my favorite of the race) and bananas, pretzels and fig newtons.  I had a couple fig newtons and cherry juice and walked around a little to get my legs to stay loose.
Food water
There was already a line forming for the boat back to the mainland.
Runners getting in line for the boat
I could not think of a better way to see Grand Island than running a marathon around the island.  The race is in a very unique location with lots of logistics that need to go into this to make it a successful race.  Great Lakes Endurance did a great job on that.
Welcome sign
The beach was also right there and many runners finished the race and ran right into the water.  The cool waters of Lake Superior could help give you some relief from all that running.
The timing company was there and had instant results on a print out they give as well as on a TV screen.
Immediate results
After a little bit of stretching, it was time to make our way back to the campground.  We had probably a 20 minute wait for the boat as it only held so many people.  The boat ride is only an 8 minute ride over to the island.
Boat line
While we waited in line, we watched as runners got into the cold waters of Lake Superior.
Lots of runners
Once back on the mainland, we waited a few minutes and a shuttle showed up to take us back to the campground.  From there, we enjoyed the rest of our afternoon resting at the campground and doing the site seeing that I mentioned earlier.
Shuttle bus
For your race entry, you received a custom big with a timing tag.  The race also included boat tickets to and from the island for runners and your family could buy tickets if they were not running.  The entry also included the shuttle to your campground/hotel.  For what was included, the value of the entry was really good in my opinion.
Race bib
A nice tech shirt was included with no sponsors on the shirt.  I love several things about the shirt.  I love that it's tech material and that it's a small chest logo as well as a small logo on the back of the shirt.  As with all my Great Lakes Endurance shirts, this one will get used frequently in training.
Tech shirt front
You also received a wooden medal for finishing and they were a great design with the typical rope ribbon that Great Lakes Endurance is known for.
Medal close up
If you were fast enough to win your age group, instead of a wooden medal, you received a hand blown glass medal and these were awesome!  I might need to train hard to get one of these!
Age Group award
The organization of the race was excellent.  Communication is clearly planned out on Great Lakes Endurance's website.  They answered any questions you had a packet pickup.  There was Facebook posts with any changes(which there were none) and the course was well marked so you didn't get lost.  The shuttles were one time and you didn't need to wait for them.  Registration is very simple via online.  The start and finish area was well laid out and everything had a place that fit well to keep things in order.

Overall, this was a spectacular marathon and weekend.  My buddies and I had a great time the entire weekend.  The area is so fun and the camping was great.  The race experience was one of my favorites and the course was one of the most beautiful that I've been on.  While it seems a lot to drive over seven hours to get to the area and back, it was well worth the drive.  If I had one suggestion, I would suggest taking off Monday as well so you can enjoy more of the area.  I would have been happy to stay an extra day and do some more site seeing even though my legs were tired.  My buddies even ran 10 miles on the North Country Trail the next day!  I was not up for it the next day but wish I was as it sounded like they had a great time.  I would highly recommend that if you have not run this course, that you put it on your list for a future year.  You will be really happy you picked Great Lakes Endurance's Grand Island Marathon.  Next up is the Tahqua 25k for them in two weeks.  I hope to see you there!
Kevin, me and Dave all finishers!
Back at the campsite
Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Disclosure:  I received a discounted race entry in exchange for this review.  All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a particular opinion other than an honest one.