Love running? Love biking? Love to share that feel-good endorphin surge with like-minded folk? Get physical on a weekend away Up North this fall with these Northern Michigan races in St. IgnaceTraverse CityEmpireHarbor Springs, ThompsonvilleMackinac Island, and Gaylord.

A peaceful stillness hovers all around as our shoes touch the soft, barely-there trail. We’re running, our feet coming down on grassy dirt and moss and intertwining tree roots, but it’s quiet save the sounds of our inhales of fresh, forested air and, as we climb a steeper switchback, ragged breathing. I’m at home here, on this single-track trail in the middle of what truly feels like nowhere. I’m at mile 6, or is it 7? I may even be closing in on mile 8 of this 25K race on the North Country Trail near Tahquamenon Falls State Park. I’m not sure, though I could glance down at my Garmin to see my pace, my distance so far. I don’t bother.

Endurance races like this one make my heart quicken, literally and figuratively. I’m navigating this pathway with complete strangers who somehow become friends as the minutes pass and miles tick by. We’ve formed a small pack—just five of us, spread out enough that we’re not too close to one another—and we don’t say much, or really anything at all. We’re all on our own journeys.

But what we all have in common is this: a desire to push ourselves physically and mentally, whether it be while immersed in the woods or on a country road. This individual quest connects us. And come autumn, when the sun shines and the air cools, I swear there’s nothing quite like breaking a sweat during a long, hard run or by hopping on my road bike, my quads on fire and the cold wind on my face.

Each year there seem to be more running and cycling events to try. Our region’s landscape calls for this kind of play. Autumn’s vibrant colors are reason enough to wander and explore Northern Michigan; sign up for one of these eight endurance events to make your fall travel all the sweeter.


Mighty Mac Bridge Run
Saturday, Sept. 24, St. Ignace

There are just a few opportunities to cross the Mackinac Bridge by foot each year, and this late September 10K is one of them. Runners meet at the Star Line Railroad Dock in St. Ignace, then are shuttled to the start at Fort Michilimackinac State Park in Mackinaw City. The route takes you across the Mackinac Bridge and back to the Star Line Railroad Dock. Post-race festivities include a light breakfast and awards ceremony. Runners also receive free drink tokens to use at St. Ignace restaurants. Race organizers plan to convert the event into a triathlon in 2017, giving athletes the chance to run and bike across the Mighty Mac and swim in Moran Bay (with a view of the Bridge). A directory of B&Bs, cottages, hotels and campsites is available through the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce.

Ragnar Michigan
Friday, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Muskegon to Traverse City

Grab a group of your best running friends for this all-new Michigan endurance race that takes teams of 12 on a 200-mile adventure starting in Muskegon and ending in Traverse City the weekend of Sept. 30–Oct. 1. Numerous Ragnar relays are held on trails and roads throughout the country each year; this is the first time it’s made its way to the Great Lakes State. Here’s how it works: teams of 12 pack into two vans, and members run anywhere from 12.8 miles to 20.36 miles over two days and three legs. (Feeling especially crazy, er, ambitious? Six ultra runners may sign up and tackle the distance together.) The scenic route promises plenty of water views of Lake Michigan and myriad inland lakes, orchards and small towns. Ragnarians, as participants are called, have seriously fun bonding moments with teammates along the way. You’ll definitely want to celebrate and re-live the adventure over great food and drink once you arrive in Traverse City.

Dune Climb Sleeping Bear Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K
Saturday, Oct.1, Empire

Meandering paved pathways, towering trees, rolling hills, rich autumn color—this is what you can expect at the Sleeping Bear Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K, held the first weekend of October. The courses place runners on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, starting in Empire and, depending upon the distance, continuing to the Dune Climb and into Glen Arbor. All three distances are out-and-back routes. Race organizer Endurance Evolution in 2015, switched the race date from Sunday to Saturday to coincide with the annual Empire Hops Festival, which features local brewers and restaurants. Friends and family can cheer you on as you make your way through the village of Empire, and later watch you cross the finish line at the town’s picturesque Lake Michigan Beach Park.


Cheer Friends Little Traverse Half Marathon & 10K Run/Walk
Saturday, Oct. 1, Harbor Springs

Help restore a historic hiking trail at Petoskey State Park and support local watershed awareness efforts when you take part in this fall’s Little Traverse Half Marathon & 10K Run/Walk. The point-to-point run around Little Traverse Bay (half-marathon starts in Bay Harbor/10K starts in Petoskey State Park) is set for Saturday, October 1, offering runners scenic views and a small-town race feel. This is a spectator-friendly race—organizers highlight best spots to cheer on runners on the race course—and top three overall finishers walk away with lake-inspired hand blown glass awards by artist Harry Boyer. Runners finish at Zorn Park, on the water in downtown Harbor Springs. A food tent for runners and walkers is available, or picnic with family and friends at the park (bring your towel, sand toys and a Frisbee for more outdoor fun). The farmers market and downtown restaurants are steps away.

Devils Dive Half Marathon & 5K
Sunday, Oct. 9, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City

This Traverse City Track Club race should put you in the Halloween spirit: along the race course of the half-marathon and 5K on Old Mission Peninsula, you’ll be greeted by devils, witches, cats, clowns, zombies, minions and more. Runners are encouraged to dress up as well. This race, formerly known as the Lighthouse Half, took on a new name after changing its start line to Devils Dive Road. Post-race food includes typical runner fare of bananas and bagels, as well as caramel apples, candy, apple cider, pumpkin donuts and homemade cookies. Expect gorgeous fall color during your run—the out-and-back courses take you along orchards and rolling hills. Wander over to Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant & Brewery, near the start/finish area, to celebrate post-race. Try the White Pizza, featuring Leelanau Cheese’s fromage blanc, ricotta, bacon and spinach.

Peak 2 Peak Mountain Bike Race
Saturday, Oct. 15, Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain and the trails nearby create the perfect venue for endurance events—the North Mitten Half Marathon & 10K takes place each Memorial Day weekend at the resort—and come fall, the Peak 2 Peak Mountain Bike Race attracts cyclists from across Michigan and beyond. Athletes start and finish at Crystal Mountain, with the course featuring gently rolling terrain surrounding the resort. The trail system, which includes both Crystal Mountain property and state land, provides some of the most fun riding in the state. The hardwood and pine forests, along with rambling two-tracks and flowing single-track, keep things interesting. The course is fast and challenging, but not so difficult that racers new to the sport won’t have a great time. Enjoy pre- and post-race festivities at the Mountain—there are cold adult beverages aplenty amid a family-friendly atmosphere. Make a weekend of it by staying at Crystal Mountain (book a condo if you’re coming with a larger group of friends).


Great Turtle Trail Run
Saturday, Oct. 22, Mackinac Island

Up to 3,500 runners will take part in the 21st running of the Great Turtle Trail Run this October on Mackinac Island. Events include a half-marathon, starting in front of the Mission Point Resort, and a 5.7-mile run and walk that begins in front of the Straits Lodge of the Mission Point Resort, at the corner of Wendall Street and Mission Street. The finish line for all events is in the park just off the main road, in front of the resort. This is the last open weekend of the season on the island, providing participants with great end-of-season sales along with glimpses of Mackinac’s slower pace and beauty come fall. All ferry lines offer discounts to runners and walkers. Save even more when you book a room at Mission Point Resort (800.833.7711 and use the discount code TURTLE16RACE. Discounts also are accepted when booking online.)

Treetops Trifecta
Saturday, Nov. 5-6, Treetops Resort in Gaylord

This all-new weekend of racing at Treetops Resort in Gaylord is the stuff of trail lovers’ dreams. The Treetops Trifecta is a micro-stage race with 5K, hill climb and half-marathon events spanning two days. The weekend begins on Saturday, November 5 with a morning 5K on the newly crafted single track at the resort’s main campus. This is followed by the 1K Hill Climb on Treetops’ alpine ski area that afternoon. A pasta dinner is offered to participants and guests in the evening, and the weekend wraps up Sunday with a half-marathon on the north campus—runners will navigate a single track through Headwaters Conservancy land and Treetops Project Nature, a landscape that offers stunning views of the Sturgeon River Valley. Mention Great Lakes Endurance— the race management company organizing the event—when booking lodging at Treetops to receive special rates.

Traverse Magazine September 2016


This “Race North” feature was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
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Photo(s) by Erik Olsen