6 runners. 1 point-to-point course. 7 Michigan cities. 62.2 miles. Plenty of sweat. Lots of laughter.

That’s what a group of up north runners experienced at this month’s Top of Michigan 100K Relay, which starts in Gaylord and ends in Mackinaw City.

Boyne City runner Trisha Ager, a longtime friend of mine who helped me cross the finish line of my first marathon, recently told me she’d again be running this race with a group of girlfriends. Their group name: Running Moms Rock. “We are all busy moms, but we all feel the same about taking time to run and enjoy what we take serious in life. And that rocks. So, running moms do rock,” Trisha says. Agreed!

They trained together for the past several months and cheered one another on as they each took turns running legs of this event put on by Top of Michigan Trails Council. They indeed rocked this race. (There is an ultra option, too, for runners interested in taking on the whole course). The course the hard-packed, crushed limestone North Central State Trail. In addition to Trisha, the team included: Lisa Maginity, Emily Wilmont, Deb Brown and Christina Calcaterra,  all from Boyne City, and Jennifer VanderWall of Petoskey.

There are six individual legs, with each team member running one leg. The shortest leg is 5.6 miles, while the longest is 16.3 miles. Deb ran the first leg of the race, from Gaylord to Vanderbilt, which was 7.3 miles; Trisha ran 10.9 from Vanderbilt to Wolverine; Emily ran 9.6 from Wolverine to Topinabee; and Christina ran 5.6 from Topinabee to Indian river. Jennifer ran 11.9 from Indian River to Cheboygan, and Lisa ran 16 from Cheboygan to Mackinaw.

The hand-off...

The hand-off…

Here’s how the race went…

Working as a Team

Trisha: We signed up for this race because we enjoyed it last year, but we also saw it as a neat opportunity to work together as a team. When I ran track I would want to do my best for a PR, but my focus was also about finishing well for the team.  This race feels the same. You want to finish well, but even more you want to do well for your team.

Lisa: What drew me to this race was the fact it was a relay. I have been running for 28 years – since I was in 6th grade and I had never participated in a relay. To run such a distance and depend on your teammates and to share the joy of running together was the best part. Last year my team fell apart weeks before the race and that was stressful. It is easy to find runners, but difficult to find runners that are trained to long distances on short notice. So this year I vowed to secure a team of ladies that I could depend on! What a great group of women that I have found to run and share life with right her in Boyne City. For years I was too busy raising young children to find other women to run with, but now they have become an important part of my life.

Christina: I was reluctant to sign up, as I am the “honorary team member,” i.e. I sign up for some events with the girls, but no longer do my training runs with them (they are too fast/competitive for me).  Somehow they always manage to convince me into these events, usually after a glass of wine or two! Why they always drag me into these things I have yet to understand. I think it has something to do with the comic relief I provide.

Jennifer: The challenge and accomplishment of running as a team from Gaylord to Mackinaw City intrigued me from the beginning. The start was unique to me because it was still dark and the whole first leg of the race was in the dark. It was fun to see runners coming down the path with their headlamps guiding the way. It was windy and rainy but somehow it wasn’t miserable. I ran the 5th leg of the race, which started in the tiny town of Topinabee. The hand-off point was next to the cutest old train station that they restored and now use as their library.

Lisa, having fun on the course.

Lisa, having fun on the course.

Gorgeous surroundings

Trisha: It is a great race—a beautiful course stretching from Gaylord to Mackinaw. It is like being on a fall color tour with girlfriends while at the same time doing something you love.

Lisa: The trail itself is an awesome asset for our communities. I have ridden my bicycle along 75 percent of it, and it takes you away from the world and into nature. It is such a nice running surface, too. Throughout the day, the runners get pretty spread out so by the time my leg of the race came—I had the 16.9 mile section, the longest—there were no runners in sight. The fall colors down the long straight and narrow trail were so beautiful. Running many races throughout my career, I am used to running in crowds of people, pacing myself and navigating around other runners. With this race you entirely pace yourself and run in serenity.

Jennifer: The tree-lined path with beautiful fall colors took me along Mullet Lake all the way up to Cheboygan. This stretch was nearly 12 miles and my husband, children and teammates cheered me on at different points along the way. When I could see the end of my portion on the race my children spotted me coming and ran down the path to finish with me. My daughter Ahna said “Come on Mom, don’t let me beat you!” I said “I can’t my legs are too tired.” Her response was “There’s no such thing as I can’t! You can do it Mom!” This was priceless to me because she has learned that “you can do it” just put your mind to it!

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Four of the six team members at the finish.

Lisa: It was a blast all being at the starting line together and supporting each other throughout the day. Between each exchange we would find roads to drive down and cheer on our teammate as they made their way down the trail. All day long the car was filled with laughter and stories as we would drop one teammate off and pick up our tired runner. It was fun seeing your teammates pop in and cheer you on at different intervals. This experience really brought us closer together and made a cool memory! It is neat to be surrounded by such fun strong women!

Christina: For me it was nice to be part of the team event without the pressure of training for the distances above 10 miles. On a positive note, I do have to say I tried to push myself more on this run than any of my other races, I think the team aspect motivated me more.  I didn’t want to let my team down.  On my sarcastic negative side, for myself as a more casual runner I do have to say I felt a little out of place. It was not like the Bayshore where there are thousands of people, and hundreds that are at a slower pace like me. No, this was definitely a more competitive group. I am sad to say I lost us a lot of time during my leg of the race, but I think my teammates were prepared for that, given my running history … The event was more fun than I expected. It was a bonding experience to be part of a team, not just running for a personal goal.  I had a great time in the support vehicle, sharing the anticipation of the race, finding spots to stop and cheer our teammate on, comically trying to find them during hand offs on the darker legs, and making up excuses to use the restroom at all the gas stations along the way (I bought lottery tickets, hoping that if we didn’t win the race at least we’d win the big $$$$ – no luck either way).

Jennifer: Running a race is so often an individual event, but this race brings a team element into it. Everything from cheering on my teammates during their portion of the race to doing my part to further our goal to the beauty of the course far exceeded my expectations. Our team of moms was amazing. We all have crazy busy lives with jobs and children who are involved in athletics and events of their own, yet we were able to accomplish this goal of 100K. We all run for different reasons but I find that I am a calmer, happier, more motivated mom when I have taken a little time out of my day to just run. I need it to manage stress and it sets a good example to my children in regards to being active and setting goals and striving to reach them.

Have you run a relay with friends before? What did you like most about the experience?

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