By DAN HOLMES

For the second consecutive year, the Traverse City Trail Running Festival attracted runners who love trekking through the forest.

For the second consecutive year, pesky snow intruded on that festival.

For the second consecutive year, participants ignored the frosty elements and had fun.

Fun and challenging. Those are the two words that best describe the trail running festival organized by Endurance Evolution that attracted dozens of competitors last weekend in Traverse City. And even though Mother Nature once again made it a white April, spirits weren’t dampened. In fact, for some, the challenge of running on snowy trails was a bonus.

“Make the trails tough, bring it on!” wrote one runner on Endurance Evolution’s Facebook page.

It was tough. I ran the 10K relay on Friday evening, joining 27 other two-person teams to kick off the festival. I ran the 10K individual race last year and it was snowy, but at least the snow of 2013 was packed down. This snow was loose, muddy, and slippery. It was like running in a dirty Slurpee – wet, slushy, mud-filled snow that had the consistency of sand. It felt at times like I was standing still even though I was striding forward. The few open stretches of ground were muddy and wet, often featuring mud puddles. Wet feet were mandatory. But as tough as the conditions were (the toughest I’ve ever run on), I appreciated the chance to measure my strength and stamina. Running on slippery, snowy trails over uneven ground requires toughness and it leaves you with sore muscles just about everywhere. Even the anchor runner for the overall winner Sebby Kucera, a stud who has ran 15 minutes and change in the 5K, suffered a bit in the un-springlike conditions. “I was cursing the snow as I came toward the end [of my leg],” Kucera told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

My partner was Eric Nixon, a young 20-something runner who deserved a quicker partner than me. I ran the first leg and came in sixth at the transition, just behind a female high school runner who was paired with her father. Eric cruised past her and another runner and we finished fourth in our category. If you’re trying to set a PR, trail running is probably not where you want to do it. The 10K relay was a tad more than a 5K loop (organizers said it was about 3.4) and most runners were several minutes over their typical time for that distance.

The venue for the weekend is the Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort located south of Traverse City, smack-dab in the middle of the trail system of the Pere Marquette Forest. Race organizers Joel Gaff and Eric Houghton do a bang-up job, and in the first two years they’ve shown the ability to adapt to the unpredictable weather and still put on a great event for runners. Each entry receives two drink tickets good for local beers, a performance tee, and awards are given to top finishers. Some of the proceeds from the event go to support TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trails).

Prior to the relay there was a free run for kids, which attracted a slew of little runners who were very happy to slosh through the snow for about a half mile. A blonde-headed little gal won the race and after a short rest the little trooper went out and ran the relay too. That a girl!

On Saturday, runners toed the starting line for the 10K, 25K, and 50K races. Due to the wet conditions, it was impossible for the original course to be used – the trails just weren’t in good enough shape. As a result, runners were required to run the same 5K loop that was used for the 10K relay. That meant 10 loops for the 50K runners. Even so, 15 runners took to the challenge of the 50K, ranging in age from 21 to 62. Erik Potere was the winner, coming in at 4 hours and 27 minutes for the 32+ miles.

In the first two years of the TC Trail running Festival, it appears the physical challenge of the longer events have been most attractive to runners. Eighteen runners ran the 10K this year, while 47 braved the 25K and 50K distances. As one runner told me when I was grabbing some fruit from the post-run table after my race on Friday, “Out here, it’s go big or go home.”

The Traverse City Trail Running Festival made progress in its second year. There’s room for growth and the organizers may need to consider pushing the date back a few weeks to avoid snow. (There was some grumbling about running the loop over and over and over…) But the event is special because it’s the only one in this area that specifically celebrates the joy of trail running at this time of year. Many of the participants are different types than you may see at a traditional road race. You get the sense that they might not run that many races on pavement, but they relish the notion of running under a canopy of trees with leaves and sticks kicking up under their feet. With a relay on Friday and three distances on Saturday, there are opportunities for runners who love the trails, who want to challenge themselves to a marathon-plus distance, or take on a more manageable 25K distance.

There’s something for everyone, even if it snows.

163844_1792663977490_1249247_nDan Holmes is a MRG contributor, freelance writer and content marketer, and owner of Boone Digital, a web development and content company. He’s ran 5 marathons and several smaller races. He’s faster than some, slower than others, but mostly he loves the feeling and freedom that running brings to his life. He lives with his two daughters in Northern Michigan.

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