Traverse City runner Eric Houghton snagged his second Grand Island Trail Marathon win—in rainy, cool conditions, and after taking a fall in a puddle. Eric is an active member of the northern Michigan running community—he and business partner Joel Gaff are behind race management company Endurance Evolution, and he also helps coach high school cross-country. After learning he was running this race, and that his wife Jessie was running the half-marathon, I asked if he’d be willing to share how it all went. Here’s his recap of running this year’s Grand Island Trail Marathon, near Munising, as well as some great detail on how he and Jessie spent the rest of their weekend away (biking and brews are involved–how fun is that?). By the way, Eric finished in 3:03:37 to capture his second Grand Island Marathon title. He won the race in 2011 in 2:49:59.

The 9th Annual Grand Island Trail Marathon, near Munising, took place July 27.

The 9th Annual Grand Island Trail Marathon, near Munising, took place July 27.

We decided to run this event a number of years ago at the suggestion of some running friends, Bryan Burns and Jeff Gaft. Both had competed in the past and said they thought we would enjoy it. They were right.

On Friday July 26th my beautiful wife Jessie and I (on our 11th wedding anniversary no less) headed off to the Upper Peninsula for the fourth time in the past five years to spend a weekend away and to complete in the Grand Island Trail Marathon and Half Marathon.

Shortly after crossing the bridge into the U.P., torrential rain began pouring down, so much so that some cars actually pulled off U.S. 2 to wait it out. We remained among those who continued despite the conditions, albeit at a slower pace. After a little more than four hours, we pulled in to Munising at the Superior Motel. Conveniently located off M-28 at a very reasonable $70 per night.  The rooms were clean and comfortable and if you were a fan of whitetail deer you would never want to leave.

After unpacking and resting we headed over to packet pick up at the Holiday Inn Lakeview (sold out at $199/night). We grabbed our bibs and t-shirts and looked at the course maps, bus and ferry boat schedules and headed off to dinner. One of the many nice things about Jeff Crumbaugh and the team at Great Lakes Endurance is that they value a “green” event.

Dinner consisted of the $12 pasta feed in the upstairs of Sydney’s Restaurant. Once again this year, a really nice pasta (veggie option), bread, cookies and a really yum salad. We spent part of the meal speaking with a couple from New Mexico, which kind of made our trip seem puny by comparison. We left feeling full and spent a couple of hours walking through Munising, hitting the coffee shop, gift shop, wine shop, harbor, etc. a small, friendly town. It was interesting to note all the runners in their fancy technical running gear and shoes throughout the town.

Saturday morning, July 27th at 5 a.m. in Munising, Michigan: it’s 48 degrees. (Not a typo, it was cold.) But at least the rain has subsided. After a cup of coffee and some light breakfast we start to walk over  to the Days Inn where we need to catch a shuttle bus to the ferry… Just our luck, as we walk out our door, the bus pulls in to the Superior and we climb aboard. Is this a sign? Luck on our side? After a warm ten minute shuttle ride, we arrive on the west end of Munising at the ferry docks to wait our turn to head out to the island. One year I think I would like to kayak out before the race, but this year I am thankful we are taking the ferry. It’s only a five minute boat ride out to the island and it’s a beautiful morning .

After a warm-up and some conversation with some trail running friends, we are off. Marathon starts just after 7 a.m., there were about 40-50 early starters that left around 6:15. It is at this point that Jessie wishes she would have slept another half hour and taken a later boat, the half marathon doesn’t start until 8 a.m.

Eric Houghton and Ed Roginski pushing the pace at mile 8, Trout Bay, Lake Superior./photo courtesy Great Lakes Endurance.

Eric Houghton and Ed Roginski pushing the pace at mile 8, Trout Bay, Lake Superior./photo courtesy Great Lakes Endurance.

A summary of the race:

Miles 1-4 are flat open two track dirt roads, then from 4 to 7 you head out and back on the thumb of the island, muddy and uphill on the way out. From 7 to  8 you run along the shores of Trout Bay, yes, on the beach. Cold wet feet for the next 19 miles, but what a spectacular view. After we pop off the beach we get a mile reprieve before a nice hill leading up to the ten mile mark. Miles 11-15 roll by pretty quickly for me on the north side of the island but it is beginning to get muddier. Somewhere between 15 and 16 I totally spill in a mud puddle. I am now dirty, wet and bleeding slightly from my right elbow. I love trail running! Miles 16-20 alone and the pace slows back down, but then the final six miles cruise by along the east side of the island which also some amazing views (of which I don’t take the time to really enjoy). There at the finish is Jessie, having finished her half marathon about 15 minutes before I roll in. Quick food and some talking and then we are off, need a warm shower before we hit the road to camp.

Last year Jessie and I headed south and stayed just north of the Bridge at St. Ignace at Straits Park. A lovely place but we didn’t think it was the best for cycling the next day and we ended up heading south to Harbor Springs.
So this year we booked a two-night stay (Saturday and Sunday) at the Petoskey State Park, located halfway between Petoskey and Harbor Springs on M-119. Before setting up camp, we stopped for a quick beer at Petoskey Brewing Co. and then grabbed a Jet’s Pizza. The perfect post-marathon diet!
Jessie, post-race at Petoskey Brewing Co.

Jessie, post-race at Petoskey Brewing Co.

After setting up camp, we got the fire rolling and dried our muddy shoes from the race. The camp is lovely and I recommend it to all.

Petoskey State Park

Petoskey State Park

After a night sleeping in the tent, Jessie and I set off on our road bikes for a little ride up M-119 to Harbor Springs and on the “Tunnel of Trees.” I think we saw as many cyclists as we did cars. What an amazing place! Then we grabbed some breakfast in downtown Harbor Springs at Mustang Wendy’s and finished our ride.

What a great time to connect and enjoy northern Michigan. While we had intended to stay Sunday evening, we headed out late in the evening when the rain rolled in. We love the outdoors, but it just wasn’t worth it and since we were less than 90 minutes from home, it was time to head home, shower and sleep in our bed.
Overall a fantastic weekend, combining trail running, hanging out in beautiful Pure Michigan and spending time with my wife. Will we do it again? Yep.

Anyone else run the Grand Island Trail Marathon or Half Marathon? Sounds like a must-run race — it’s on my bucket list, for sure. Pretty sweet swag, too: this year overall male and female winners in each race were awarded new Patagonia Trail Running Shoes. The top five in each age group for both races won hand blown glass medallions by artist Rick Shapero. All other finishers received custom made maple hardwood medallions by craftsman John P. Wilson.

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