If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” That is the State Of Michigan’s official motto, and it is very true.  I grew up in Southwest Michigan, but I have lived in the Upper Peninsula for the past 25 years or so.  Since I started running and racing, I have discovered many beautiful places in our “pleasant peninsula” that make getting fit even more fun.

One of my favorite places to run is right around the corner from my house, but for many years I didn’t pay any attention to it at all.  The North Country National Scenic Trail stretches approximately 4,600 miles from Crown Point in eastern New York to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota.  It runs across the Mackinac Bridge and right through my hometown of St. Ignace, towards Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Marquette, Copper Country State Forest, towards the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and exits Michigan near Ironwood.  I love running on the trail because it’s easier on the joints, and I like the peace and quiet of limited traffic. I also enjoy the forest creatures, the changing trees, plants and flowers throughout the year, and the moon, stars and meteor showers during my fall, winter and spring early morning runs.

As I mentioned, the North Country Trail runs across the Mackinac Bridge, which is another one of my favorite places to run.  What a view of the Straits from the bridge! There is nothing like it!  There are a few times per year that you can run across the Mackinac Bridge including the Labor Day RUN before the walk, sponsored by the Michigan Fitness Foundation, which is a non-timed  fun run. There are also races from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City on Memorial Day and in October, as well the awesome 11K Mighty Mac Bridge Race in September in which they bus you to Mackinaw City and you run back across the Bridge, through Straits State Park and finish at the Veterans Park in St. Ignace.

Another favorite place to run in the UP is Tahquamenon Falls in summer as well as winter.  The Tahqua Trail Run is a tough 10K or 25K trail run in August that is organized by Great Lakes Endurance LLC. I have only done the 10K race twice, but both times I went up a week ahead of time to run the course which is a loop at the lower falls and then the trail from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls.  There are tree roots galore, black muck, bugs, weeds, stairs that seem to go straight up and hills after the stairs, but it is a beautiful place to run and to explore after the running is done. It is a hard race, but definitely character building.  If you prefer winter, Great Lakes Endurance also organizes a 5K & 10K snowshoe race at the Big Pines Loop at the Upper Falls and you can walk down and see the frozen falls afterward.  I have done the 5K the last 3 years and it is a challenge also.

A little farther West is Munising, where they have a road race at the end of June.  Last year I did the 5K with some running friends and missed out on a beautiful polished rock trophy for my age group by 10 seconds.  They are changing the course and distance this year, but it’s a challenging, hilly race and well worth checking out Pictured Rocks while you’re in the neighborhood.

The Saturday before Labor Day, the Marquette Full and Half Marathons take place. I have been to Marquette many times, but had never been to the Iron Ore Museum in Negaunee before this race. It was our starting point, and then we ran along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail and into Marquette for our 13.1 miles.  It was unusually warm for Marquette on race day, but the spectators & volunteers were awesome and it was a wonderful experience.

In October, friends invited me to run the 10 Mile Grand Slam Race in Gladstone to benefit the High School Baseball Team.  I had only driven through Gladstone previously, but we ran partly on trails through the woods and partly on roads and it was a very peaceful fall day.

Last but not least is my workplace, Mackinac Island.  There are three major races put on each year by Gault Racing.  The Lilac Festival 10K in June, the 8-Mile Road Race all the way around the Island, the Saturday after Labor Day and the Great Turtle Trail Run Half Marathon and 6 Mile Races in October.  All challenging but beautiful places to run.

Still on my bucket list is to run one of the races in the Porcupine Mountains and there are so many more “pleasant places” to explore in our Upper Peninsula.  If you are looking for an excuse to take a trip and explore, check out races in the UP. Many have walking divisions or kid’s races also, so there is something for the entire family. Make it a fitness vacation!

Written by Susan Horn, 2016 Fitness Ambassador