This weekend’s trek north for a snowshoe race in the U.P. was amazing. And I know this is a word we all probably throw around a bit too much, but I think it really does best describe our experience. I’m sure it’s a combination of things, not the least of which is the feeling of utter rejuvenation that comes when you carve out time to actually get away — away from work deadlines, the house, the laundry — and soak up some different surroundings.

And while some may scoff at a colder destination as a weekend getaway with your spouse this time of year, I think embracing our icy-cold winter in one of Michigan’s beautiful places is a rather fantastic idea.

Tahquamenon.jpgOf course, there’s the snowshoe race itself, a super fun event which took place at Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Lake Superior. This was the reason Joe and I drove the three hours north and were what appeared to be the only people staying in the small town of Paradise not spending their days and nights on snowmobiles. (“Are you snowmobilers?” the woman at our motel asked when I booked our 2-night stay. “No, snowshoers!” I said, probably a little too excitedly. Her response: “Oh…Ok.”)

The Tahquamenon Snowshoe 5K & 10K is one of several events organized by Great Lakes Endurance. I’ve been impressed with this eco-friendly race management company ever since I ran the Tahqua Trail Run a couple of years ago. Last summer I ran Great Lake Endurance’s half marathon on Grand Island on Lake Superior in Munising. Both races were incredible trail running experiences, and Jeff Crumbaugh, Great Lakes Endurance race director, is a great guy who cares deeply about the areas in which his races take place.

Beautiful year-round: the Upper Falls. Before the race we walked down to the path overlooking the Upper Falls. I'd never seen the falls frozen like this since we'd only ever been at the park in the summer and fall.

Beautiful year-round: the Upper Falls. Before the race we walked down to the path overlooking the Upper Falls. I’d never before seen in person the falls frozen like this since we’d only ever been at the park in the summer and fall.

Why snowshoe?

Racing the 10K this weekend marked my third snowshoe race. My first was a couple of years ago, the Big Foot 10K race here in Traverse City, and I again tackled this same event earlier this winter. When Jeff contacted me with information about the Tahquamenon race, an event I’d thought about trying at some point, I suggested to Joe we make a weekend out of it. Tahquamenon Falls holds a special place in our hearts — we honeymooned in nearby Paradise, Mich. 15 years ago, and we’ve since camped with our family at the state park campground on several different occasions.

I’ve also really come to enjoy snowshoe racing. It’s a different kind of running challenge — just how tough varies depending in large part on the amount of snow on the trails — and I believe it’s a sport that can seem a bit intimidating yet is easier than you may think. Joe, who didn’t run in the race (he rang a cowbell and cheered me on in the cold, God love him), even admitted afterward that he wanted to give it a try, that it seemed more do-able that he’d imagined. While there certainly were skilled runners/snowshoe racers at the event, there also were plenty of everyday runners, of all ages and abilities, who had signed on.

There’s nothing quite like the peacefulness and beauty of running on snowshoes on a snowy, tree-lined path, especially when you’re in the middle of a gorgeous state park where the trails have more than a 2-foot snow base. Add to this scene big, fat flakes falling softly and it’s nothing short of magical.

About to start my second 5K lap.

About to start my second 5K lap.

This is what we encountered on Saturday during the sixth annual Tahquamenon Falls Snowshoe Race. We also lucked out with glorious 20+-degree temperatures. What a difference that made after days of sub-zero wind chills.

Race morning

The race starts late morning Saturday, at 11 a.m., which is another plus in my book. We had arrived in Paradise the night before, staying at the newer Tahquamenon Suites Lodging in Paradise. This motel was renovated in 2014; each vacation suite features a queen size bed and a separate living area with a full kitchen. These are fully furnished and outfitted – sleeper sofa, linens, dishes, cookware, utensils, coffee maker, etc. – which was very nice. We just felt very comfortable; it definitely provided ample space for the two of us, and we could also see it being a great fit for our family of five for a short getaway.

There aren’t many breakfast options in the Paradise in the winter (our normal spot in the summer and fall wasn’t open until lunchtime, which we figured was a seasonal thing) but you’ll find all that you need at The Berry Patch. We ate there both race morning and on Sunday morning, the day we left. On race morning, Joe ordered the restaurant and bakery’s signature breakfast, the Lumberjack, while I kept things neutral with a bowl of oatmeal and English muffin with peanut butter. (I went for it on Sunday, though, and ordered the Lumberjill — bring on the eggs and sausage and hash browns.)

With the late-morning race start, we had time to go back to our motel Saturday morning so I could change into my running clothes. I was so incredibly happy to not have to worry about bundling up in many layers; it was cold but not FRIGID, face-freezing cold.

We then drove south about 12 miles to the Upper Falls, where the race starts and finishes. Another major bonus to this race: it’s small enough that you can park right next to the start line. Packet pick-up is right there and then, and there’s a public bathroom next to the start line. Seriously, it’s all so very easy. What a treat.

Both the 10K and 5K started at the same time — the 5K is one loop while the 10K is two — and just before the start Jeff announced a few things we all should keep in mind: watch for the orange flags on the right, take note of the road and snowmobile path crossings (volunteers were out on the course to ensure we all stayed safe).

Plenty of snow in the U.P. -- the base on the trail was more than 2-feet deep.

Plenty of snow in the U.P. — the base on the trail was more than 2-feet deep.

My new race mantra for 2015 has been “steady.” It came to mind during my last race, the Big Foot snowshoe 10K, and it’s stuck. I have even used it during training runs. This helps remind me to go my pace, push myself just enough, and to maintain. This is what I repeated to myself several times as I ran through the woods. It also helped me in not going out too fast at the beginning — I reminded myself that I was running alongside 5K’ers, that I had a distance to cover that the person in front of me may not necessary have.

The first 5K lap wasn’t exactly crowded, but there were others around me as we navigated the mostly flat, freshly groomed path into the woods. One woman in particular caught my eye — she was wearing a pink top like me — and I could tell we had similar paces. She was staying strong and up front, even as I passed a couple of others and maintained my steady pace. I didn’t want to pass her; I wanted to keep her close. As it happened, as we neared the 5K mark, she sped up some and I couldn’t help thinking, “I hope she is a 5K runner.” She was. Joe was still there at the start/finish, chatting it up with 5K finishers and with Jeff, and he yelled for me as I passed through and began my second lap.

This time, as I made my way through the same terrain I’d just covered, I tried to memorize my surroundings. I glanced up at the gray-smudged sky, I felt the snowflakes fall on my face, I remembered to look a little closer at the sign stating this was the oldest and tallest pine tree in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. I smiled a lot. I thanked the volunteers out on the course.

I had my moments, as I seem to do in each race, when I wondered, ‘Can I finish this race strong?’ I’m not sure why these thoughts come to mind. I banish them quickly as I can. This is where “Steady” comes in handy.

I passed a mother and her son at one point, and I heard her say, “She’s the first female in the 10K!” Joe had mentioned this to me at the 5K mark, too. “You’re the first female! Go, honey, go!” Well, there’s a first for everything! (How fun is a small race?!)

My legs and lungs felt strong throughout, but I also was growing tired — the snow on the trail was on the mushy side in parts — and I began thinking about what I’d eat after finishing. The great thing about laps is you have an idea of where you’re at on the course the second time around. This felt good as I powered through the final miles, pushing myself along the edge of the parking lot and knowing the finish was just around the bend and through a short stint in the woods.

Race swag.

Race swag.

I crossed the finish line in 1:12:33. First female overall finisher in the 10K. For this I received a lovely ceramic bowl from Open Wings Pottery in Munising and a pint of Cheboygan maple syrup.

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The onsite brewery and pub is open year-round.

While we’d planned to grab lunch at the on-site brewery — Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub at Camp 33 — we decided to avoid the lunch crowd (plenty of snowmobilers had arrived by this time, too) and instead come back for dinner later. After a quick change into dry clothes, we opted for a stop at the market in Paradise, where we grabbed snacks and a six pack of Keweenaw Brewing Company beer (Widowmaker, one of our faves) and headed to Whitefish Point. It’s always fun to see the lighthouse, and we were curious about Lake Superior’s ice coverage.

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Whitefish Point Light Station.

 

 

On Lake Superior ice at Whitefish Point.

On Lake Superior ice at Whitefish Point.

With the exception of a few snowmobilers, we had the place to ourselves. We wandered through the lighthouse grounds — the buildings, including the shipwreck museum, are closed for the season — and onto the path leading to the beach. Mounds of snow and ice greeted us and we decided to walk out and explore a bit.

We spent the rest of the day napping (is there anything better than a nap the afternoon following a race?) and having dinner at the brewery and pub back at the Upper Falls. We contemplated going on the lantern-lit guided snowshoe, a one-mile trek through the park, but ultimately decided to enjoy our long dinner and come back the next day for our own snowshoe hike before heading back home. (Cool fact: a limited number of snowshoes are available to use at no charge for these hikes in the woods. Details here » )

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Joe had a pint of Falls Tannen, a red ale, while I went with the Black Bear Stout.

Single-digit temps returned on Sunday, but we still wanted to snowshoe together. We headed back to the Upper Falls and enjoyed trekking through the woods, going off trail in a few parts, but mostly sticking to the path that winds through the park. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and a perfect ending to a weekend I hope we can replicate again next year for the Tahquamenon Snowshoe races.

Joe on the one-mile loop trail at the Upper Falls.

Joe on the one-mile loop trail at the Upper Falls.

So much snow!

So much snow!

Have you ran a snowshoe race? What do you like most about it?

Have you been to Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the winter? 

 

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