Towering trees, winding paths, dirt beneath your feet … these are among the things that make off-road running such a treat — for your body and your mind. Though it seems (too) far away yet, spring will be here before long, and with it the opportunity to run — and race — on trails.

One of my favorite trails, as many of you know, is the Vasa here in Traverse City. It’s my go-to spot for off-road running, given its proximity to my house, and it’s also a popular spot for ski, bike and running races, including this spring’s Traverse City Trail Running Festival on April 17-18.

TCTrailFest-Logo-Square-1000MRG is happy to be partnering with Traverse City Trail Running Festival this year (be sure to check out the race discount code at the end of this article.) I ran the 25K in 2013 and it remains one of my most memorable racing experiences, not just because there was snow on the ground, making it quite the fun adventure, but also because race organizers know how to put on a quality race. (Endurance Evolution is also behind several other northern Michigan races).

The TC Trail Running Festival is described as “northern Michigan’s premeir celebration of off-road running.” The courses take runners through the Pere Marquette Forest on a variety of singletrack and two track trails. The festival begins with a two-person 10K relay (each runner runs 5K) on Friday evening, and the 10K, 25K, and 50K individual races get underway on Saturday morning. This running festival also features a free 1-Mile Kid’s Run on Friday.

“Runners can expect a laid-back atmosphere that trail running brings as well as a level of professionalism that Endurance Evolution brings. We are all runners ourselves and strive to put on world-class events,” says Jason Whittaker, race director. “There is a distance for everyone from the free 1-mile kid’s race to the 50K for those who seek an ultimate challenge.”

The Trail Running Festival is a family-friendly event with its Friday evening kids run.
The Trail Running Festival is a family-friendly event with its Friday evening kids run.


MRG recently caught up with Jason to learn more about his running and this year’s TC Trail Running Festival:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your running journey.

My running journey probably began in the 4th grade. My teacher at the time had set up a wonderful program where you could run a mile instead of participating in recess. I was hooked and never looked back.

Running has brought many positive experiences in my life. My wife and I started out as running partners and what we think was our first date ended up being a 12 mile run. Neither of us wanted to stop or admit that we were tired. Since then the rest is history and we have ran many marathons and a few ultras together.

This is your first year serving as race director of the TC Trail Running Festival — how did this all come about?

Joel, Eric, and I all ran together in high school 20 years ago. We are still friends today and Joel was the best-man at my wedding. “Endurance Evolution is growing and we need your help!” is what Joel had mentioned. They were looking for someone to help with their timing services and a few race directors for their events. I told Joel I would love to help and the TC Trail Running Festival would be a great fit. I love trail running as well as the people it brings.
MRG-EE-TrailRunningYou’ve run this race yourself — the 50K — so how would you describe the race experience? 

Yes, I ran the 50K distance with my wife Arianne in 2013. Joel, Eric, Arianne and myself had signed up for our first 50-miler, the Ice Age Trail Run, which was held in May. This seemed like a good “tune-up” to get ready for the 50 miles. As some know, the snow that year was staying around a little longer than normal. They had made a last minute change on the course which involved several shorter laps (I think 10?). It ended up being longer than 50K (or 31 miles.) I believe it was more like 34 miles. The great thing about trail running is that no one seemed to mind. We were all going through the same experience and encouraged each other as we passed by. It was cold, snowy, and the footing was not ideal, but it was still a great experience! I was handed a Short’s beer when I was finished so all thoughts of pain had been remedied.

Jason Whittaker, this year’s race director, enjoyed a cold brew from Short’s after completing the 50K at the 2013 Traverse City Trail Running Festival.

How is this year’s event shaping up? 

This year the main change is the date. In April the snow seems to melt at a rapid pace and a week makes a huge difference. I wanted to maybe have a little less of it for 2015. Another change is going to be the course for Saturday’s events. There is a 10K and 12.5K lap that the runners will run on. There will also be two add stations out on the course as well as one at Timber Ridge.
Jason and Arianne, running the 2013 50K at the Trail Running Festival.
Jason and Arianne, running the 2013 50K at the Trail Running Festival.

Any training tips to offer?

I would suggest running a few trails ahead of time. The stride is usually a little different with the varied surfaces and conditions. Its always good to get a little simulation in as opposed to all pavement or treadmill work.
Timber Ridge, located on the east side of Traverse City, plays host to a number of races, including the TC Trail Running Festival.
Timber Ridge, located on the east side of Traverse City, plays host to a number of races, including the TC Trail Running Festival.

What should people know about Timber Ridge? Are there any lodging specials for runners?

Timber Ridge is an absolute perfect venue for the TC Trail Running Festival. They host several events and are very accommodating! They are offering some great lodging deals for all the runners that weekend too … The race starts right at their back door so you can’t get better than that!

  • Site: $25 a night if cable $30 a night
  • Basic cabins: $45 a night
  • Deluxe cabin: $55 a night
  • Cottage: $78 a night
  • Park homes: $98 a night
  • Bunk house: $109 a night

(Some fine print to keep in mind: must stay 2 nights in all cabins, $15 cancelation 14 days prior to check in. Two-night deposit. Must call in to get discount rate.)

Anything else you’d like to add, that you’d want runners to know about?

Don’t forget about the Short’s Brewing Company beer! They will be on-hand with some great refreshments to help the recovery process that trail running demands.

Ready to sign on? Use the code MRG-Loves-Trails to receive $5 off any race when registering on or before this Saturday, Feb. 28. Register here »

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