I was so inspired by the location for the 2013 Tahqua Trail Race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls, that I skipped the step of reading the course description. I recruited Chuck to run with me without too much fuss but my running buddy Jeff, took a bit more convincing. He sent many frantic text messages, “Did you see the course map? Did you see the elevation changes? Or the reviews?” No I said and quit looking at them? I then asked if he was going to wimp-out and stay home?” Within minutes we were all registered for the Tahqua Trail Race. It was at that point I took a peek at the course description that sent Jeff into a panic. I felt mild fear. What was I thinking? Perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew. But I’d completed the Potawatomi Trail 1/2 Marathon in April, survived the 2011 Woodstock Race, and I was registered for Dances with Dirt in Hell, Michigan again this year, it couldn’t be harder, right?
Training for the Tahqua Trail Race
I launched into training a couple weeks after the 2013 Bayshore Marathon. My plan was to run a lot of hills and trail. I threw in some cross training for an added bonus. Sadly my training plan was interrupted by 4th of July parties, the Michigan Summer Beer Festival and a trip to Chicago. My miles were not adding up and my time spent running trail was laughable. I was wishing that I’d registered for the 10K and not the 25K. I looked into switching but didn’t want to be accused of being a wimp. And besides my friends Anne and Lynda had just finished the Great Lakes Relay and I skipped-out on them partly because of the Tahqua Trail Race. There was no backing out!
Packet Pickup and Pre Race Dinner
Runners collected their bibs and race shirts from the Whitefish Township School in Paradise.
Chuck was wondering if this was an omen? We hoped not! Love the kid in the background that stole the shot!
There was a spaghetti dinner and I heard from another runner there was a pre-race meeting where tips and instructions were provided. We skipped both and headed to Upper Falls to check out the finish and have dinner at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewing Co.
It is best to not drink alcohol or eat food you typically don’t the day before a race. I did both. In hindsight, we should have had dinner with the other runners and attended the meeting.
We were up early to drink coffee, eat breakfast and use the facilities before catching the bus to the start for the 25K. Things were falling into place. No hangover and issues with the bathroom from the crazy pre-race dinner at the brewery were minimal.
We arrived at the school with plenty of time to catch the bus and snap a few pre-race pictures.
There was some chatter on the bus about the race and how the drop bag worked. The bus driver left us about a mile from the race start. Runners were darting into the trees to use the facilities. I was so glad that I used the facilities before we left the hotel. We picked up our chips and checked-in with a race official. That was the first time in my many years of running races that I had to check-in.
More fear was seeping in, did they loose runners on this course?
Bug spray was handed out. Did I mention that 2o Oz water bottles were mandatory and aid stations were only during the first 9 miles? We were told, “You’ll understand once you are on the trail!” WTF?
Lots of nervous chatter amongst the runners before the race director finally announced that there was a race meeting in 5 minutes and the race would start at 8 am.
Another race meeting? What didn’t I know? He ran us through the course, how to follow the flags and reminded us about having enough water before we left the 3rd aid station near the campground. He said something about a boggy area, dodging a beaver damn and the last 6 miles were the hardest. My brain was stuck on the beaver damn and having wet feet. We were off!
The First 3.6 Miles
We ran down a sandy road for about ½ mile before we picked up the North Country Trail. It was single file. The trail was kinda spongy but it wasn’t too tricky to run. We quickly encountered our first water crossing and mud. For a nanosecond I scanned the marsh for the beaver dam or maybe a moose, nothing!
It was during the first few miles of the race that we encountered the NPR Radio girls. Every race has a set, they chatter along like no one else can hear their banter. At one point the NPR girls passed a runner in front of me by saying, “passing on the left” and the runner they passed said, “Oh no, I’m losing NPR!” It was good comic relief.
That would be my final sighting of the NPR Girls as they climbed a steep hill into the wilderness. Yes it was straight up. Jeff accused me of being a chatter-bug prior to the race. He ate his words after that encounter! Ha.
After the NPR girls encounter, the trail split to the left where it the trail went straight up but the little orange flags were directing us to the right! I said to Jeff, “I’m so glad we didn’t have to take the trail up the hill.” That delight quickly evaporated when he said, “A switchback! No one mentioned any switchbacks!” The runner ahead of us laughed, not a good sign. We killed the switchback and we found our 1st Aid station.
The Aid Stations
I filled my water bottled during the 2nd aid station mostly out of fear. What if I got lost? I heard from another runner on the bus that it was almost impossible to get lost in this race but Jeff had almost taken us off the trail once already.
After negotationing another switchback, the trail ran along a ridge and we had an incredible view of a lake. I made a Jeff stop as it was picture opportunity.
We were quickly back on the trail and headed towards our third and final Aid Station.
We had one more switchback that took us down the side of a hill before finding the final aid station.
The Race Director mentioned a campground during the pre-race meeting, we finally found it. Yes you could smell breakfast cooking but I was focused on the bathrooms.
The Final 6 Miles
The final 6 miles were also the route for the 10K race. It was the reason the runners arrived. We’d driven 340 miles but there were runners from Alaska and Florida. The final 6 miles looped along the Tahquamenon River starting at the Lower Falls.
The Race Director said the final 6 miles were the hardest. He wasn’t kidding. I tried to imagine the shin-high roots during the first 10 miles, but gave up. My toe caught a shin-high root and I ended up face first on the trail. Roots!
Sometimes there were mud and roots!
Steps! These were referenced during the course description but I thought at the time, “How hard can a few steps be?”
You cannot underestimate the roots, the steps or the mud. It reminded me of running a triathlon. Your muscles just don’t want to make the shift from running to hiking up or down steps. I think the most were 30 or 40 but I could be wrong. It felt like 100! I forgot about the burn in my quads from the steps and the bruises from the fall when my toe caught the shin-high root, by the amazing beauty in Northern Michigan.
Hearing the falls and running long the river made it all worth it.
Chuck and Angie greeted us on the trail about a mile from the finish. They said, “When you hear the cow bells you are done!” I almost cried when I heard the cowbells!
We enjoyed blueberry muffins and beer in the parking lot. We supplied the beer 🙂
I finally got my moose sighting.
You can view all of the pics from the race and our trip in the photo gallery.