TL; DR: met all four goals – finished, didn’t get lost, didn’t get injured, didn’t get attacked by a bear. Success!

On Friday afternoon I headed out to meet Sara (aka Gingerfoxxx) near-ish her office, since she was working a half day and driving us up to the north country (in this case, northern lower peninsula Michigan). We got stuck in some traffic on the way (traffic that occurs outside of urban areas confuses me) and arrived at our cabin around 8pm Michigan time.

#GingerRoadTrip stuck in traffic yet we're nowhere near a city? Does not compute. #GingerRoadTrip is stuck in traffic in SW Michigan. @thereal_gingerfoxxx isn't taking it well. Lovely rest stop #GingerRoadTrip

We were shacking up in a couple cabins at Northwoods Cabins with Judy (friend from various south suburban group runs and races) and people she knew (and didn’t). Judy was able to pick up our bibs while we were driving up … and we got even more swag! This is on top of what was shipped to race participants earlier in the summer.

More swag from the North Country Trail Race #GingersInTheWoods

Total swag list for this race:

  • Tech tee
  • Tech tank
  • Unlined tech shorts
  • Personalized jacket
  • Visor
  • Medal hanger
  • Drawstring bag
  • Shot glass
  • Aid stations had water, gatorade, GU, fruit (blueberries, watermelon, cantelope, pineapple) and more
  • Post-race food included beer, burgers, corn on the cob, potatoes and pie
  • GIANT medals
  • $5 parking (we were at a National Forest)
  • $70 reg fee (for the half)

Our cabin included people running all distances – Sara and I were doing the half, Judy was doing the full, and Jeff (who came up with his wife and 4 [four!] daughters) was doing the ultra – 50 miles. Our cabin was nice but rustic. It even had a gun rack. (I assume hunting is a big activity up there.) We slept with the windows open, and I’m pretty sure I woke up during the night and heard both a small animal foraging outside our cabin, and smaller animals scurring in the walls. Yay nature.

Our race started at 8:10am, and our cabin was maybe 10 mintues or so from the start, so our wake-up wasn’t too bad. As soon as we got to the race site, I got in the loooong port-o-pottie line (and chatted with the woman who I believe came in 2nd for the half), as soon as I was done, it was time to line up.

My Garmin had a hard time finding satellites, and I wasn’t able to start tracking our location until maybe a quarter mile in, so I knew it would be off, but I wanted to know our time and monitor my heart rate.

The course was mostly single track. It was a little crowded at first, but I didn’t care – I was not running for time. Just to avoid bears.

North Country Trail Run

This didn’t last for long, and quickly the course was more like this – single file groups of maybe 10 runners. This was what it was like for us for the majority of the race. Sara set the pace and I just kept up with her. That jerk kept running up the hills though, even at the end …

North Country Trail Run

Everyone on the course was pretty friendly and polite, passing on the left or moving to the side. Even with the narrow course, we were able to get around each other when necessary.

I think we had four aid stations on the half marathon course and they were stocked. (See list above.)

North Country Trail Run North Country Trail Run

The photo below doesn’t do it justice, but the course was quite hilly. Lots of ups and downs, some quite steep. Steep downhills make me nervous. The course was also a little bit sandy, so very soft/loose footing in a lot of spots. Luckily it wasn’t super technical, and we only had to jump over one small tree trunk and had no creek crossings, rocky areas or sheer inclines. The weather was perfect – low 50s when we started, in the 70s when we finished, but mostly shady.

North Country Trail Run

It was really beautiful. I kept trying to look up and enjoy it, but you also want to keep looking down to avoid roots, rocks, etc. Luckily neither of us fell, but we both had plenty of moments where we stumbled slightly. We saw one guy fall, do a somersault and quickly spring up and start running again. I think he practiced his fall in advance. It was too perfect. But to balance it out, we saw another guy fall and lose a shoe (he was not hurt).

North Country Trail Run

You also want to look down because every few hundred yards were yellow flags marking our path. (Red marked the marathon and ultra route.) The course was very well marked. Between the flags and seeing other runners during pretty much the entire race, there was no real fear of getting lost. (There was maybe a quarter mile of no yellow flags and runners only behind us but not in front of us when we got nervous, but we were on the right path and the yellow flags reappared.)

North Country Trail Run

Around what I thought was mile 9 or so, I was like “damn, I could really use another aid station” and lo and behold, one appeared shortly after! And they even told us we were at 9.8!! It was like we magically advanced 0.4 miles. Sweet. The volunteers were all so very friendly. One even offered to take a pic of us.

North Country Trail Run

So yeah, we wore the same outfit thanks to our Ragnar duds.

The half marathon and marathon course were “loops” (the ultra was 2 times around the marathon course, which sounds awful). There was one out-and-back on the half marathon course which kind of annoyed me at first, until I realized it was planned that way so we could get a sweet view. (Kudos to everyone involved with this race, they did an amazing job with the planning and everything.)

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 11.42.56 PM

After that, it was downhill to the finish!! And I was so happy to finish. I’ve done a lot of half marathons (I believe this was #11 for me), but this was hard!! (Which I expected.) All the uphills and downhills and soft footing and close to 3 hours of staring at the ground looking for roots and other things that can trip me, etc. It was very challenging.

Our finish time was around 2:45. Three minutes faster than my personal worst! (My first half.) But I met my four goals (see beginning of the post) so I was happy about that. And it was time for beer and food.

And the post-race food was great! The beer was Archangel from North Peak Brewing Co, a race sponsor and I’ve actually been to their brewpub in Traverse City a few times. Volunteers were grilling beef and veggie burgers, and had corn on the cob, potatoes, baked beans and pie. All included in the race fee. Seriously, this race and everything they gave us was awesome. I added up what all the swag and post-race food would cost me if I purchased it on my own, and the value was more than double what I paid for the reg fee.

And the medals. Sweet baby Jesus. They are huge.

North Country Trail Run

Ran into speedy Erica after the race.

As for our other cabin-mates, Judy finished the full in just under 6 hours, and Jeff finished 50 miles in just over 11 hours. I’m so impressed by both of them. After running 13 miles on those trails, I personally would not want to do a single mile more. It was fun, but enough for me.

Overall, it was a fantastic expereince, especially for my first trail race! I definitely plan to do another (actually, I’m doing the Muddy Monk trail race on 9/21 thanks to Anne’s raffle) and I highly recommend the North Country Trail Run! I think I heard the race director announce that 2014 registration opens tomorrow.