Running this race to cross Michigan off the 50 state list, Aaron and family battled swarms of mosquitoes to successfully complete another marathon.
A Flat, Small Town Race in the “Yooper” Penninsula
Having an affinity for smaller races, I had been looking forward to this marathon for quite a while. Using this trip as our official family summer vacation, we would be driving to the Upper Peninsula (known as “Yooper” by the locals) of Michigan. There we would stay in the town of Paradise, located close to Whitefish Point on Lake Superior.
With a population of around 300 or so (with only a handful of year-round residents), Paradise is definitely a small town, and the marathon looked to have roughly 85 participants. Yet many of these participants planned to come from all over the country as the marathon is attractive because of the flat course and the fact that it is a Boston Qualifier.
With the marathon on Saturday, June 8, 2019, we would spend a few days in town afterwards to enjoy the lakeside area and take a drive over into Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
Having run my last marathon three weeks previously and feeling a little bit of pain towards the end (Colfax 2019 Marathon in Denver, CO), I kept my running mostly easy during the three weeks leading up to Whitefish Point. My goal for Whitefish Point was to run by feel, but in the back of my mind I wanted to achieve a PR (under 3:43:56). This marathon would be the first pancake flat marathon I had run since December 2017 (2017 Run for the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri), so to me it seemed like a realistic goal.
Driving Up to Paradise
Looking at a 12 hour drive from Winchester to Paradise, we spread the trip out over two days so we could take our time getting there. I will add here for those interested that the drive was a very easy one with hardly any major traffic (driving on a Thursday / Friday towards the west is much different than driving along the East Coast towards the beaches during the summertime).
There was nothing spectacular scenery-wise until we reached the Mackinac Bridge, which takes you from the mainland of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula area. Crossing this bridge you can see the northern end of Lake Michigan to your left, and Lake Huron to your right. This was my first time seeing any of the Great Lakes and it is mind blowing as to how big they are.
Once we reached the Upper Peninsula and made our way towards Paradise, we realized we were pretty “far out there”. Driving along flat roadways through the vast Sault Ste. Marie State Forest Area, there was pretty much non-existent cell phone service, and only a handful of very small towns along the way if you happened to run out of gas. We reached Paradise, MI shortly after around 3 p.m. where we would be staying at the Magnuson Grand Hotel. (Sidebar: Within Paradise town limits there is actually amazing cell phone reception as there is a service tower right in-town.)
Meeting the Mosquitoes for Packet Pickup
With the marathon the next morning, packet pickup would be held until 6 p.m. that evening so I still had some time to kill. We decided to walk over to a local sandwich shop for dinner not far from our hotel. That’s when we noticed a mosquito. Then another one. Then a few more. Soon we realized that Paradise was swarming with mosquitoes…everywhere!
Come to find out this is something the locals deal with every summer. Depending on the amount of rainfall and when the warmer weather comes into the area, eventually there will be a mosquito infestation period. As luck would have it the mosquitoes decided to hatch just a few days prior to our arrival for the marathon. I’ve grown up and lived in the woods pretty much my whole life and am used to bugs…but the volume of these mosquitoes were on another level. They would swarm over you wherever you would go…and even a few would manage to sneak inside to the buildings.
After our visit to the sandwich shop and a gas station for some groceries (the gas station is the grocery store in Paradise)…I drove down to the community center to get my bib for tomorrow’s race (a nice t-shirt was also included). There were only a few volunteers in the building, but they were incredibly friendly asking where I came from and why I chose to run the Whitefish Point Marathon. The race director was there and also assured me that the mosquitoes would only serve as incentive to run faster (haha).
Race Day Morning: Runners vs Mosquitoes
I got up at 4 a.m. to prep for the marathon which would start at 7 a.m. After having my traditional breakfast and doing some leisure reading, I got dressed, ready, and headed on my way to walk to the starting point of the race. Our hotel was only 1.2 miles from the race starting point by the Community Center, with the walk serving as a nice pre-race warm-up. During my walk I could hear several mosquitoes buzzing around me but they didn’t seem to be that bad…yet.
While walking a car driving along the road pulled up next to me. It was one of the race volunteers and he offered to give me a ride the rest of the way, which was super nice of him to do. However I declined stating the walk was my warm-up for the race, and continued on until I reached the community center.
As I passed a group of race volunteers receiving a briefing on the race, I noticed most of them had long clothing and netting for mosquitoes over their heads. “That can’t be a good sign.”, I thought. Now that I had stopped walking I noticed that the mosquitoes were now awake and were swarming over any and everything around the race starting area. Because of this nearly all the runners were inside the Community Center building, so I joined them as well. I had placed a few bug repellent sheets underneath my hat in hopes it would keep away the little buggers while outside, but they proved to be futile.
I did my race warm-up routine inside until about 10 minutes before the race starting time when I decided to head back outside and just deal with the mosquitoes. The pre-race scene is something I will never forget. With all the runners gathered around the starting area, nearly everyone was moving, shaking, dancing, and doing anything possible to keep the mosquitoes away. One runner I noticed had her face covered in mosquito netting. I said to her “You must have run this race before!”. She said it was actually her first marathon but she went out the night before to purposely by the netting to protect her from the pests. Smart!
The national anthem was sung A cappella by a local resident (and it was quite good). After a short speech by the race director (who also would be running the marathon with us) thanking us all for coming, the signal was given to start and we all set off. I was never more happy to start a race, as once I found myself moving, the mosquitoes left me completely alone!
A Fast Pace to Start (Too Fast)
With the mosquitoes in the past (for now), it was time to focus on the race. With a completely flat course with not much scenery (save for a few spots where you passed along Lake Superior), I knew the race was going to be more of a mental than physical challenge. Still I was going to let my body dictate the pace it felt it could run for 26.2 miles.
Right out of the start I felt good and ran the first few miles in the low 8 min / mile pace. This was probably too fast to start…but I figured I felt good so I would just see where it would take me. There was not much to keep your mind entertained on the course aside from a few runners in front or behind you. The mile markers on the course were gallon milk jugs filled with sand, with the current mile indicated on them in black tape. With the course being very flat, you could be a good 1/4 mile from the next marker…yet you would see it in the far distance. This is what I used to motivate myself through most of the race.
Passing by the early aid station without grabbing any fuel since I carry my own (they provided water and gatorade), I found myself right on the tail of another runner around mile 5. She was running pretty much the same exact pace that I was (around 8:00 / 8:05 min / mile). I hated running right behind her feeling like I might be a distraction, but worried that if I tried to pass her I would be moving much too fast and would pay the price at the end of the race.
Despite that thought, pass her I did, around mile 8. I continued along with a pace in the low 8 minute range knocking off the next few miles one at a time. The course continued to be flat with not much in between. Luckily the road was aligned with tall trees which provided plenty of cool shade.
A Slow Down After Halfway
As I neared the halfway mark which is the actual Whitefish Point area on Lake Superior, the course made a turn-around at a large rock and I continued on in reverse to re-trace my steps on the other side of the road for the 2nd half of the marathon. Around this time I knew I was not going to be able to keep my pace going this fast for another 13.1 miles. I tried to distract my mind by shouting some encouragement to the runners on the other side of the road where I had been not too long ago, but I could feel my body losing energy.
With no other runners around me my pace started to slow. 8:17 for mile 15…8:39 for mile 17…9:30 at mile 20. With 6 miles to go I was really feeling it. Around this time the female runner I had debated on passing and eventually did, returned the favor and passed me. She encouraged me to pick the pace back up but my energy was gone. I decided to pull back and run the last 6 miles very easy in the 10 minute / mile range reassuring myself that I had just run a marathon three weeks ago. The PR would have to wait for another race.
I passed the last aid station and the volunteers shouted some encouragement through their mosquito netting attire and I entered the last 2 mile stretch towards the finish running through the town of Paradise. Nearing the finish line I could see Christie and the girls standing there cheering me on (Caitlin was ringing her cowbell). Knowing I was not close to a PR, I was still happy to cross the finish line with at time of 3:51:47…running my 6th straight road marathon in under 4 hours time. I was given a very unique and memorable finisher’s medal…a simple cord with a stone attached to it that was taken right from Lake Superior.
Mosquito Post-Race Attack
After the race we went inside the community center where I cooled down with a refreshing soda. We took a few photos afterwards and then I decided we should walk back to our hotel (even though the race organizers offered all runners a free pasty…a meat / potatoes dish wrapped in a pastry). My stomach didn’t feel in the mood yet to eat something heavy, so I declined the pasty.
Before leaving, I visited the rest room where I dropped my soda spilling it all over my legs. This proved to be a huge mistake for as we began our 1 mile walk back the mosquitoes instantly swarmed all over me. Walking fast was futile as they seemed drawn to me thanks to the sticky soda I had spilled on me along with all the gel residue I had on my hands from fueling during the race. Caitlin continually swatted at the mosquitos to keep them from biting me on the legs. They were so bad that despite being very sore from just finishing the marathon, I started up a slow run again just to keep from being bitten.
Thankfully we made it back to the hotel and were relieved of the mosquitos once inside. I was rewarded for another marathon completion with a long hot tub soak at the hotel pool with the family and a celebratory lunch at the restaurant next door (The Inn Gastropub and Smokehouse)
Post Race Reflections and Lessons Learned (Bring Bug Spray!)
The Whitefish Point Marathon in Paradise, MI is a small town race that is well organized and full of many friendly local volunteers. While it does not have the excitement or fanfare of a large city marathon, it is run smoothly by the wonderful race director and an excellent, flat course to attempt a BQ (Boston Qualify) or a PR.
My word of warning is that if you plan to do this race bring deep woods bug spray! The mosquitos will most likely be out when the race is held. Thankfully they only ate me alive when I was standing still at the start and walking back at the finish (they left me alone while running). However I did hear stories of some of the slower-paced runners really fighting with the pests. I might even suggest carrying a small portable container of bug spray with you when running if possible.
Yet despite the mosquitoes we really enjoyed our time in Paradise, MI (be sure to see the Shipwreck Museum and visit Tahquamenon Falls). I’d recommend the Whitefish Point Marathon to any runner looking to cross Michigan off their marathon state list.
Official Race Results
Overall: 21 out of 86
Male: 14 out of 45
Male 30-39: 5 out of 8
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.