State #24: Michigan
The Charlevoix Marathon
Michigan was state #24 in my conquest, and ended up being another great choice. I’ve really been enjoying traveling to and running small town marathons. We spent a few days making our way up to Charlevoix, and we drove up almost the entire peninsula in the process. We camped in state parks and took lots of back roads. It’s a beautiful state with lots of character.
In the days leading up to the race, everything about this marathon screamed “disaster”. I was sure it was going to be a tough experience. Every single run since Eagleman was rough: I couldn’t hit my interval paces on my final track workout (and it was just a few 800s), and my last long run took everything I had. My final key workout before the race (a 7 mile run with a few marathon paced miles) felt much harder than it should have felt. I woke up on Thursday morning with the nastiest case of poison ivy – including a cute patch right on my face – and it kept spreading. I wasn’t eating my usual pre- race foods, and I thought it would be a great idea to go camping on Wednesday and Thursday as we made our way up to Charlevoix. I LOVE camping but we were a little ill-prepared, making sleeping uncomfortable. During a shakeout run on Thursday, I tweaked something in my left hamstring. By the time I woke up Saturday morning, I was just excited to run the race and take a little break afterwards!
Charlevoix is a charming town in northern Michigan and sits on Lake Michigan. It’s tricky to get to, particularly if you choose to fly. We drove, and it took about 13 hours. We chose to camp on Wednesday and Thursday but once we got to Charlevoix, we spent the night in a hotel. We ended up staying in Petoskey, which is the next town over. Word to the wise: book your hotel early for this race. By the time I was looking for a room, I ended up staying in the next town over. Many of the hotels in Charlevoix wanted a two night commitment, which I was unwilling to do since we already planned to make our way through Ontario in the direction of home after the race.
For a small town race, the expo was decent. There was your usual bib pick up and t-shirt distribution, and they had a table set up with some free items (like toiletries). There was a tent set up with merchandise for purchase.
It was drizzling, and my left hamstring was feeling a little strange from my shake out run the day before so I opted to walk around the town to shake my legs out. We explored the shops and restaurants on Bridge Street and a stroll along the water to see the lighthouse and Lake Michigan. Walking and along Lake Charlevoix (which feeds Lake Michigan via the Pine River) showcases the boats that the locals dock in the water. We took a drive to see the beautiful lakeside homes – some built by famous architects.
The Pasta Dinner
The pasta dinner was held at a local Methodist church and the entry fee was donation based. It was held from 4:30 pm on, and I like to eat early (especially because the race started at 6:30am!). I wanted to get off my feet so we showed up early. There were other runners already there, and the women and men preparing the meal welcomed us with open arms and let us start eating early. This pre-race dinner is not to be missed. It’s not really the quality of the food (though it was pretty good) but the quality of the company. The church parishioners take pride in hosting the event and absolutely love having the runners. At dinner, we sat with another couple from Pennsylvania – Dave and Cathy. Dave was running the race and we had a blast chatting with them.
The gun went off at 6:30am, which is the earliest I’ve started a race. I was thankful for the early start as I was finishing the race and it began really heating up. There was also a half-marathon, 10K and 5K – they all started sometime after the marathon.
The marathon route is an out and back, which I’ve never done in a marathon. It was mainly run along route 31, on a path off the road so we weren’t near any traffic. I thought it would be completely flat since it was next to the lake, but it wasn’t totally the case. It certainly was NOT a hilly course, but there were a few hills that got me (particularly the one at mile 10 and 25). The course started by weaving through some residential areas and the town, until hitting the path along route 31 somewhere between mile 2-3. Once on the path, the entire path was paved with the exception of one mile – it was a wooded path and felt great to run on. The whole run gorgeous, and every so often the trees would clear and you’d get spectacular views of Lake Michigan. There were frequent water stops – I’d guess every 1.5 miles or so – and friendly spectators. Not a lot of spectators: the ones that we saw were basically the same ones each time tracking their runner, but very fun and energetic. It’s an out and back, and the race has an uphill start, but that means the finish line is downhill.
Personally, I went into this race with three goals: My “A” goal was to simply finish the race, “B” was to run a Boston qualifier, and “C” was to shoot for a 3:08. Based on the days leading up to the race, I was thinking it would be a “B” goal kind of day but I wasn’t really sure until the race got going. I lined up at the start and went closer to the front of the pack, and off we went. I held the first place female position for about a mile, when a girl passed easily passed me. I looked at my Garmin and already knew I was going out fast and told myself not to follow her. I was planning to start in the 7:30 range, but as my watch beeped it was telling me my first mile was a 7:01. Too fast. But I could already tell that I felt REALLY good, so I made a decision: it was my last full marathon until the fall, so I was going to go all out – even if it meant walking it in.
For miles 1-9, I was a little scared every time my watch beeped: each mile was somewhere between 6:54-7:06. I thought it was all over when I hit the hill at mile 10: it was steeper and longer than I’d anticipated and that mile ended up being a 7:17. I feared that I’d used my energy up in the first nine miles, and now I was going to pay for it. But after the hill, my pace continued to stay consistent – mainly 6:56-7:05. One mile that was a 6:45 – when I cruised back down the hill that slowed me down on the way out. It was kind of a dumb move, because the last six miles ended up getting the better of me: 7:10, 7:32, 7:21, 7:15, 7:38, 7:29 and a 6:30 pace for the last .2. My slowest mile was mile 25 – it was slightly uphill and I’d had enough by that point and just did everything I could to keep moving. My official finish time was 3:06:56, which was good enough for 2nd overall female!
The award ceremony was just a few blocks from the finish line, and on the same road. It’s also where the post race food spread was set up, and where the expo took place the day before. The awards for the 5K and 10K had already been given out, and they were working on distributing the half marathon awards when I made my way over. The marathon awards began around 11 am. Overall finishers got a slab of granite in the shape of the state of Michigan and inscribed with the place you finished. Age group winners got enormous beer mugs.
After the Finish
The church that held the pasta dinner offered free post race showers. It was about two blocks away from the finish line, fully stocked with clean towels and toiletries, and free! The best part was it seemed that no one knew about it so there was no wait.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this race to anyone looking to check Michigan off their list, but also as a good Boston Qualifier. While it’s pretty flat, there is some variation in the terrain and a few hills to keep it interesting and to get different muscles working. The race is well organized and offers a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon to get more people involved. The setting is unique and beautiful. Check it out!