Maybe it’s true – the third time is a charm.
Though my first two M22 Challenges – the first in ’11, my second in ’13 – were fantastic experiences, this year’s event proved especially rewarding. Not just because I made it to the podium – a first in my seven years of racing! – but because I felt so strong throughout this 22-mile run-bike-paddle race. Is there anything better than a race where everything just clicks?
I grew tired, and there were moments when my lungs and legs burned, but I wasn’t weary or fatigued—I just knew I could do this. And not just get through it, but power through with a determination that surprised me a little.
I’d wanted to do well, but I go into this race each year not placing too much pressure on myself—it’s too much fun, being out there on the Dunes, biking the beautiful roads alongside Lake Michigan and around Glen Lake, and I always want it to be that way. Fun. Joy-filled.
This year, though, I hadn’t counted on feeling so good and ready to tackle this challenge. I quickly realized my marathon training this past winter, coupled with several long bike rides and consistent core work on the Pilates reformer, left me in a pretty darn good position. Even the 2.5-mile kayak portion of this race felt good to me—I ended up shaving 5 minutes off last year’s paddle time. My 17-mile bike and 2.5-mile run times were also better than last year’s. Overall, I finished in 1:50 – a 7-minute PR. What a confidence boost, and I won’t lie: it felt good to know I had some fire in me after feeling I’d given my all during the Bayshore Marathon, just a few weeks ago.
About 780 athletes participated in this year’s M22 Challenge. It’s a wildly popular event – registration opens in spring and fills within hours. To keep with the fun theme, I’ve come up with 22 reasons to love the Challenge:
1.) It’s a one-of-a-kind triathlon. I’ve heard lots of people say one of the things they like best is that this event doesn’t include a swim. It’s true, the swim portion of a traditional triathlon can prove intimidating for many of us (myself included, though I hope to change that this summer…) So to have an event that allows you to get out in the water on either a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) is pretty awesome. And different.
2.) It’s a perfect start to summer in northern Michigan. I really like that this race is at the beginning of summer; my kids have just gotten out of school, everyone everywhere is excited to (finally) have warm weather on a consistent basis, and there’s just a great vibe among athletes about all of the outdoor adventures to be had in the next couple of months.
3.) Scenery, Scenery, Scenery. Not too many races take place in a national park. And one that is known for its awe-inspiring landscape of water and sand.
4.) It’s a beginner-friendly event. While there are some seriously talented athletes (i.e. elites and Olympians) who have participated, this is also a race that welcomes and encourages newer athletes. I’d never kayaked and barely biked going into my first Challenge, but I had a blast and learned a lot. Each year I’ve gained confidence.
5.) It’s family-friendly. While my family has yet to join me at this particular race – it’s been a girls’ day tradition for Jen and me – there are lots of kids out there with their families. I loved seeing all the cheering spectators at the Dune Climb and also at the transition area.
6.) It’s fun to see how you can improve (and do things differently). Like any endurance event, this Challenge allows for learning more about YOU. So many variables go into a race day, and you don’t always know how things might turn out, but you can take notice of what seems to work well for your own performance. This year I believe I improved upon my time because I’ve been even more focused on finding that just-uncomfortable-enough feeling while racing (it can hurt, but you’re not dying. You can maintain your pace or speed even in this uncomfortable zone.) I credit my last two road running races – Bayshore and Gazelle Girl Half Marathon – with helping me discover this particular feeling for myself.
7.) Equipment is Easy. Don’t have your own kayak or SUP? You can rent one from nearby Crystal River Outfitters. Last year I rented a kayak, this year I had my own. The plus side to renting: they’ll have it waiting at the shore for you – no need to worry about having it washed (a precautionary step to ensure invasive species don’t get into Glen Lake.) But bringing your own is just fine, too—it was easy enough to get our kayaks washed the night before and place them at the beach (race organizers have all-night security at the race start/finish/transition area for bikes and paddling equipment).
8.) You’ll most likely see plenty of people you know. Plenty of locals participate in this race, which I love. It’s great catching up with running and cycling friends. I also saw several MRG readers there – they were either participating or cheering on family and friends. SO great seeing you all!
9.) This event attracts groups. I’ve heard a few stories of families and friends making this an annual tradition. They all travel to the area together, do the race, and stay in the area for the weekend.
10.) Even an overnight is awesome. This year I joined Jen in staying in a cottage on Glen Lake the night before the race. I was so thankful to have this opportunity. Not only were we less than a mile from the start line – we rode our bikes there in the morning to make the 8 a.m. start time – having the time to hang around Glen Arbor the night before, to get our race packets and enjoy a delicious dinner on the deck at Boondocks, was a real treat.
11.) The race swag is sweet. Two T-shirts, including a technical tee that fits great, are part of your registration. I ended up wearing the tech one the (hot) day after the race, it was that comfortable. The packet pick-up process was smooth, too – it took place at the M22 store in Glen Arbor, and many items were on sale for 22 percent off that night only.
12.) The weather is pretty perfect. Taking place early in the summer, the temperature is generally pretty mild. This year’s weather was great. On the cool side to start, but it was sunny and I was fine wearing a tank, arm warmers and bike shorts. I also wore my calf sleeves.
13.) Volunteers and spectators are great. From ringing cowbells at spots along the bike route to yelling words of encouragement as we huffed and puffed our way up the 130-foot Dune climb, the volunteers and spectators located throughout the course were so supportive.
14.) Very nice finishers medals. This year’s bling was especially cool – they’re more durable than those of year’s past.
15.) Stellar photography. Northern Michigan photographer Beth Price (who is behind many of the images here) was among the photographers on hand to capture race moments. She knocked it out of the park, again.
16.) The Challenge gives back to the community. M22 and the M22 Challenge have donated a portion of proceeds to the Leelanau Conservancy from day one. It’s good to know that with every entry fee money is being used to keep our beautiful area protected.
17.) Award categories & prizes keep getting better. A category added this year was top 3 overall male/female awards in the all-new SUP division. Also, more awards were handed out, thanks to more age-group categories (last year I was in the 30-39 age group while this year groups were broken down in 5-year increments.) I placed third in my age group of 35-39 and as a result was given a super cool M22 medal. My friend Katie, who was third female overall as well as Queen of the Dune (fastest female in the run portion), snagged some seriously awesome swag, including a couple of necklaces and an M22 bike jersey.
18.) Race organizers are on scene, cheering on participants at the start and finish. This year one of M22’s founders – Keegan Myers – participated in his first M22 Challenge.
19.) Post-race (local) food is delicious. I’d even say this food is the best I’ve ever seen at a race finish. Sausage and beef jerky from Carlson’s fish market, slices of bread from Stone House Bread, and trail mix from Edson Farms. Also available: hummus, cream cheese and orange slices.
20.) The post-race vibe is fantastic. Along with great food, the post-race scene is laid-back, positive, and just a lot of fun. Everyone’s watching for incoming paddlers, who are assisted by volunteers who take their SUP or kayak at the shoreline; then it’s a short run through the finish chute amid a crowd of spectators. The awards are announced in a timely fashion – no long wait, wondering when it’ll begin – and plenty of people stick around to not only hear the winners but also to talk about their race with family and friends.
21.) Equipment pick-up is easy, too. Needing to get back to Traverse City to catch Alex’s final soccer game of the season, we hopped onto our bikes and headed back to the cottage. After loading things up I drove back to Glen Lake to get my kayak — again the volunteers were so helpful, directing the many vehicles coming in and out of the park to retrieve their equipment.
22.) I’m already thinking about how much fun next year’s event will be!
Did you participate in this year’s M22 Challenge? What do you like best about this event?