MARQUETTE - Miles of asphalt roads, painful joints and a lack of scenery can take a toll on even the most experienced runners. But for those jaded by endless concrete, buildings, cars and sidewalks, the easiest answer could be trail running.
In Marquette, with well-kept trails abounding and no shortage of people who are willing to meet up for a little run in the woods, trail running has seen a huge growth in popularity, with the inclusion of trail-running specific events and a larger community of area runners.
"I think it's all about just getting out there," Andrew Grosvenor, organizer of the Marquette Trail 50, said. "You have to be a lot more aware of your surroundings. It's a different set of skills watching for rocks and roots and the amount of hopping around you have to do.
Above, trail running can be particularly challenging because of obstacles like roots, rocks and elevation. However, the presence of such obstacles helps work muscles differently than normal road running would. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
A competitor in the Marquette Trail 50, the Upper Peninsula’s only ultra-marathon, battles up stair sets at Sugarloaf Mountain in August. The Marquette Trail 50, while only in its fourth year, had nearly 65 competitors this year and it is expected that there will be close to 100 next summer. (Photo by Roy Schmidt)
Of the many trails to run on in the Marquette area, the North Country Trail near Tourist Park is relatively flat, while many other trails, such as the bike trails in south Marquette, are much steeper and more challenging. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"It's not just a constant forward repetitive motion, you have to jump and jive which I like personally because I think it's good to use those different muscles."
Grosvenor, who has been trail running in the area since graduating from Northern Michigan University in 2000, is now the organizer of the only ultra-marathon in the Upper Peninsula, the Marquette Trail 50K and 50-mile event.
The race, which takes place in August and is in its fourth year, consists of a 31-mile race and a 50-mile race, and drew nearly 65 competitors this year. Grosvenor expects close to 100 next year as the sport grows in popularity in the Marquette area.
"We're growing by 20 to 30 percent each year," he said. "And it's still a small race but there are a lot of new people that are joining. Half the people running the 50K race are running 32 miles when they've only ever done marathons (28.2 miles) before. They're running another six or seven more miles (than usual), which is a good amount when you're tired. But it's really about exploring that new frontier."
And trail running, having grown quite rapidly in popularity over the past decade or so since Grosvenor was attending college, has found a home in areas like the south Marquette bike trails, the Noquemenon Trail Network and even the trails near Hogsback or Top of the World behind Harlow Lake. Where bikers and hikers were once the majority in the trail-use demographic, trail running is slowly making a name for itself.
And with this growth in the running community in Marquette, more events like the Noquemenon Trail Network Twin Peaks Trail Run, the Lake Superior Shore Run (which is happening Saturday) and the Marquette Trail Running organization's (also run by Grosvenor) six-event summer race series are being added every year.
But Grosvenor's personal favorite is this weekend's event, the 18th annual Lake Superior Shore run at Little Presque Isle.
"I started (running in Marquette) in college, which was one of the first things my wife (Stephanie Grosvenor) and I did together," he said. "It's a little bit of nostalgia (running along the shore of Lake Superior), because these are some of my favorite trails so to have the Shore Run on them is awesome. It reminds me of hiking and biking and camping out there back in the day in college. It's so beautiful compared to other places."
But trail running, being the more risky sibling of typical road running, does sometimes require more specific gear that can help runners in finding success on the trails.
"You might want to have different layers depending on when you're going to be out," Grosvenor said. "It's also a different kind of shoe that might grab the rocks or mud a little bit better, but you don't necessarily have to get these things. I think it's very easy to transition overall (from road to trail running), but it takes a little bit different set of skills.
"You'll also experience some climbing up and down, especially around here where there are some pretty good-sized hills; it won't usually be flat except maybe near the lake."
While most trails in the greater Marquette area are clearly marked, Grosvenor does suggest taking it easy on shore runs or mellow flat runs before progressing to the South Trails or North Country Trail, which, while clearly marked with maps and signs, can have rapid elevation changes and large rocks or roots to look out for. It's also a good idea to take precaution in case you do get injured while running, as injuries are somewhat prevalent with trail runners.
"It's much easier to trip and fall and get hurt (on trails), so it's good to run with a friend on trails if you can," Grosvenor said. "Either that or tell someone where you're going because if something did happen, the consequences could be a bit bigger when you're out there alone and someone either has to find you or you're going to have a hard time getting back."
Trail running events in the area will continue for the next couple of weeks, with the Shore Run half marathon and 5K on Saturday and the Silver Creek run on Saturday, Sept. 29.
For more information on running in the area, or for trail maps and race information, check out the Marquette Trail Running Facebook page.