Marathon number 27 was the Grand Island Trail Marathon on 1 August 2010. The basic facts are that I finished in 3:55:39.7, 33 among 162 male finishers, 8th among 28 in my age group.

Logistics were a concern for this race. The 50 states challenge is a long term project, some years one is busier than others. This is a busy year. When I signed up for Grand Island last Spring, a trip to Michigan in August seemed like a good idea. I have gone to the upper peninsula several summer to run the Keneewah Trail Running Festival ( which is fantastic fun).  As the event got closer I learned that I would need to be in San Diego on 2 August, so I worried a bit about pulling this one off. I went to Michigan on Wednesday and spent a couple of days working with colleagues at Michigan Tech. I landed in Marquette, which is 1.5 hours from the home of MTU in Houghton. The highlight of my visit to Houghton was the opportunity to take out a very fast racing shell (I think that it was a Levator Torque) from the MTU rowing club on Saturday morning. Here is a picture Tim Schulz took of me on Portage Lake:

db on a Levator Torque

I flipped the Torque 200 yards off the dock. Much abashed, I got back in and took a careful row out into Portage Lake. It was incredibly nice of Terry Smythe, the head rowing coach at MTU, to let me take it out. The boat cuts the water like a samurai blade, but I had to mince my stroke to avoid going over again. I also went for a couple of great runs on the trails around Tim's house. Hougton in the summer is a blast.

I drove to the marathon site in Munising on Saturday, stopping to work for a couple of hours in the Peter White Public Library in Marquette. Peter White was the first post master. Marquette is the biggest city on the UP, iron ore is still loaded on the lake front there. I was glad to find a Target to load up on sunblock, petroleum jelly and munchies for the race. I stayed in the race hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Munising. It is a 10 minute walk from the ferry landing for Grand Island and has spectacular views out over Lake Superior.

Over the course of a 25 year project, fads and ideas come and go. The current big idea is that running shoes are a scam that has disconnected Man from his basic running nature. Vibram five finger foot gloves were on sale in the lobby of the Holiday Inn and at least one person ran the trail in them. Barefoot running and the five finger were popularized in the recent book Born to Run. I read the book last Spring and tried out the ideas. I started running barefoot, which I have occasionally done when in a beach town. Eventually I ran for a couple of weeks in minimalist 1970's design shoes. I stopped my longstanding tradition of buying new shoes every three months. I got terrible shin splits in late March and pulled a hamstring, forcing me to withdraw from the Kentucky Derby Marthon. Stupid book. Lesson learned: if something has basically been working fine for over a decade, don't mess with it.

The upshot of the Spring disaster was that I got busy with rowing and sailing, etc. and didn't run over 14 miles between March and August 1. Thus I was concerned about my fitness for Grand Island. I struggled through 12 miles in incredible North Carolina heat 8 days before the run and then tried planned to forsake exercise race week (although the temptations of Houghton got me out a bit). I ate a hearty meal of macroni and cheese with tuna the night before. My goal was to treat it as a training run but try and come in under 4 hours. As indicated in the GPS data below, the run includes major climbs at 4, 8, 16 and 19 miles. When the going got tough, I walked. It was a fabulous run. The views of the lake are incredible, it was a crime glance into the deep clear water and keep on running. The turn off of the trails onto the beach at mile 7 is breathtaking, although the mile on the sand is hard. The course returns to the beach in the 16th mile. I was tired enough to trip on a rock in the 19th mile, earning a red badge of courage on my knee. The last couple of miles are on a rutted path mown through grass, which was surprisingly wearing. On the whole, this was a fantastic and easy run. My biggest mistake was wearing sunglasses. The trail is mostly overgrown, the shades kept me from seeing both my footing and the larger scene.

Here are some photos at the start:
Grand Island Entrance
Grand Island Start Banner

The biggest logistical challenge was whether or not to try for a shower in the hotel. The door said check out at11, the race started at 7. I wasn't sure if I could run it in 4 hours, but I decided to risk it. I asked for a late check out at noon. Although the start was only half a mile from the hotel,  half of that distance was over Lake Superior. One had to take the ferry back. I finished at 11 and felt as miserable as ever after a marathon. Just as I came through, the ferry horn blew and the boat pulled away for the mainland. Rats! I staggered around a bit and followed many of the other finishers in wading out into the cool lake. After a few minutes in the lake I actually felt pretty good. The ferry came back and I got on at 11:20. Unfortunately, the ferry had a capacity of 120 and they waited at the pier until it was full. It pulled away at 11:50. I skipped the shuttle bus and, feeling unusually capable after a marathon, walked up the hill to the hotel. 12:05, I doubted that my key would work but there was no one at the front desk so I went to try. I got in, the beds had been made and the floor vacuumed, but the bathroom was still not cleaned. I took a shower, got to the front desk at 12:15 and checked out without even a scold! In short, nothing went wrong this whole trip.

I had even been worried about making the 3:50 flight out to Minneapolis and then San Diego, but I got to Marquette in time to relive my youthful experience as a bus boy by having lunch at Big Boy. Unfortunately they didn't have the old chilli mac on the menu, but the spagetti with marinara was great. I sat next to a dentist from Palm Beach on the puddle jumper to Minneapolis, Grand Island was her 35th marathon. She was from the south but loves to ski, I am from the west but love to sail. Her son was a brilliant mathematician in the Duke TIP program and has just graduated Georgia Tech at 18. He wants to go to grad school at Santa Barbara. She was amazed that I knew Santa Barabara was strong in theoretical physics. An older gentlemen in the seat in front of us asked about my Michigan Tech sweatshirt. He was a retired plasma physicist from Berkeley, a 1960 graduate of MTU. He knew the father of George Swenson, who was chair of ECE at MTU in the 50's. George was the great radio astronomer/engineer at Illinois. The fellow on the plane was going to his 50th MTU reunion next week, I told him to say hi to Tim. A person cannot make this stuff up, the world conspires to amaze us with connectivity.