It seems that not many runners from the Twin Cities area are doing the Marquette Trail 50 yet. I understand this to some extent. It is a pretty long drive, about 400 miles, from the metro area to Marquette, and with so many great races closer to home, it may not seem worth the hassle.
Let me start by trying to convince you to add this race to your calendar at least once.
First, the course is beautiful. A couple of climbs give rise to absolutely spectacular views of Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula. I was not the only runner to sacrifice some minutes off our finishing times in order to take a moment and gather in the scenery from these peaks. There is also a rather long section that follows the Lake Superior shore line where you are about 20 yards or so from the water. On a hot day, I'm sure it would be tempting to take a quick dip to cool off mid race. The race also offers a nice mix of terrain: rocky, rooty, technical single track, soft pine, sand, horse trails, and old logging roads.
Best of all, though, is the low key nature of the race. There were only about 25 people registered in each of the two available distances, the 50K and 50M. As it turns out, however, more than half of the 50M registrants switched to the 50K before the start. This turns out not to be a bad choice. All of the beautiful scenery is offered in the 50K. The 50M follows the same course with an additional nine miles out and then back. The nine miles out were a gradual, but continuous climb; about 1000 feet over the nine miles and then you get to work your quads on the way back. Unless you need the distance, stick with the 50k.
For those of you who are fleet of foot, the race director offers $100 for setting a new course record. For the men's 50 mile race this is 6 hours and 53 minutes. Not. Going. To. Happen. Still, with such a small group of participants, perhaps placing was a realistic possibility even for a middle of the pack runner like myself?
The race starts at Tourist Park in Marquette, which offers camp sites for as little as $18 a night. Together with the reasonable $65 entry fee, this is a pretty affordable race. Our camp site was about 200 yards from the start/finish line. The course is very well marked, except for the first mile or so that loops onto some of the nearby roads and though that section isn't marked, you are led by a biker to make sure no one takes a wrong turn. That is, of course, assuming you get to the race on time and leave with the pack, which gets me to the story of my race.
I was excited to be camping so near the starting line, as it meant I could get a good night sleep before the start. This was to be a welcome change after Voyageur, where I woke about around 3AM to make the drive up to Carlton. I set my alarm for 5:50 AM, this would give me plenty of time to prepare for the race and walk the 200 yards to the starting line for the 6:30 start. I even remembered to adjust my alarm for the fact that Marquette is in the eastern time zone. I did forget to turn up the volume, however.
My wife woke me up in a panic at 6:25. Crap! Five minutes until the race was to start. I quickly applied body glide along with some band aids to the appropriate places, changed clothes, put on my race number and grabbed my hydration pack. As I left the tent, I could hear the gun go off and see the pack begin to leave. As I took off to catch up, I realized I didn't have my Garmin on. Double crap! I did a quick cost/benefit analysis and decided to go back to the tent for my watch, which I had to dig for a bit. By the time I left the tent again, the group was no where to be seen. I ran to the start, got a quick overview of the starting loop from the race director and took off. As soon as I did, I heard a "You're going the wrong way". I hadn't had my coffee yet and was obviously having a hard time concentrating on the directions. I went back and he repeated the directions, and I took off again in the right direction. Needless to say, I took another wrong turn and ran into the lead group coming the opposite way. I retraced my steps, found another race volunteer, and finally got on the right track. I ended up passing a pair of 50K participants who were walking the race at around 2 miles. I think I ended up doing an extra mile thanks due to my miscue, probably costing myself a total of about 12 minutes or so with the late start.
I knew the 12 minutes wouldn't be a big deal. Over 50 miles and what turned out to be only 10 participants, twelve minutes means almost nothing. More concerning were the fact that I hadn't done any of my usual pre-race routine; no food, no hydration, no bathroom time. I didn't even get my shoes tied until the four mile mark. It wasn't until the first aid station, at about 10 miles, where I found my wife and got my breakfast, a Red Bull and a Cliff bar. By this time I had started to catch up with the other runners and managed to settle down a bit and began to enjoy the race.
It is after the first aid station that we began a climb up a seemingly endless series of steps to the Sugar Loaf peak, one of the fantastic vantage points I mentioned earlier. Taking a moment to gather in the view, and then descend to the lake side trail, I caught up with a group of four guys running the 50 mile race. In this group I met Marty, one of the Lapham Peak Runners group, who I ran with for the next ten miles or so. At the finish I would also meet Kevin and Angela from this group. What a great bunch. It is almost tempting to make the six hour drive across the state to run with these guys some Wednesday night.
The second aid station was at about 18 miles, just in time for me to refill my hydration pack. After this, the aid stations were much closer together and were all well stocked with the usual: water, Heed, Fig Newtons, gels of various flavors, potatoes and watermelon. Really everything you need for a 50 mile race. Aid station three marked the entry into the Top of the World loop. I really like this loop. Except for the climb up the peak, it is fast and offers a view worthy of the name.
It is at the 27 mile mark that the 18 mile out and back begins for the 50 milers. I met my wife here again, and she had another Red Bull for me as well as a bagel and cream cheese sandwich. I don't normally eat much in the way of solid foods when I run, and wanted to see how I handled it, knowing this would be a necessity for the Sawtooth 100. I wasn't hungry at all, but ate it anyway, and had no problems.
I've already mentioned that the out and back offers little to recommend it. This section was long, boring, hot, sunny, and mentally tough. Perfect prep for a longer run. This was also my first chance to see where I was in the race. About 4 miles in, I met Kevin coming back who would go on to win handily. About 15 minutes later, number 2 came by and not too long after, number 3. And then...no one. Was I number 4? I didn't think that was possible, even with the small number of participants. Sure enough, I reached the turn around and began the long stretch back, now downhill, in 4th place. I saw Marty and Andy running together about 2 miles behind me, in 5th and 6th place. This gave me the little bit of oomph I needed to finish strong.
I hope the reader understands that I don't care about my place in a race at all. The thought of placing never occurs to me. I also understood that this was clearly an example of small sample size, but I wasn't going to not take advantage of my good fortune. I pushed as much as I could for the final 12 miles or so. There was a difficult stretch of a few miles where this was pretty slow, but I still was able to average under 12:45/mile over the last 10. Pretty good for me.
Finally the finish. Just under 10 hours 30 minutes on my watch, and a few minutes over on the official time. A nice ceramic bowl as my reward for 3rd place master awaited me. Better yet, a nice evening out on the lovely town of Marquette with my wife.