TRAVERSE CITY — Mother Nature may have dampened a lot of footwear and clothing, but it did not damper the spirits of the organizers and competitors at the inaugural Traverse City Trail Running Festival, held Friday and Saturday at Timber Ridge Resort.
Runners at the festival, competing in races such as a kids race, a two-person 10K, as well as an 11K, 25K and 50K, persevered through a variety of inclement weather conditions to make for a successful first time through the two-day event.
“All things considered, with the bad weather and the snow, it went well,” said Joel Gaff Jr. of Endurance Evolution, the group that got the festival up and running this year. “There were a lot of smiles out there. It was great to see everyone with smiles on their faces. As bad as the conditions were, everyone had a good time.”
The conditions, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark and featuring on-and-off bouts of precipitation, made for an interesting test for the more than 150 competitors over the two days. The weather didn’t make things easy on the organizers either, as they had to scramble to keep all the races on as scheduled, re-routing the course three times. Ultimately, a modified 3.2-mile loop was used.
“We had a couple of 4-5 minute bouts of blowing snow and whiteouts. Then the sun came out, we had a little wind, then it was calm” said Gaff Jr. “If it had been any warmer it would’ve rained and that wouldn’t have been too much fun.”
Jeb Stone of Traverse City was the first runner to cross the finish line, completing the 11K course in 40:48. Jessie Houghton of Traverse City was the first female finisher in the 11K (54:14.8) and was sixth overall. Denny Myers of Traverse City took top honors in the 25K (2:12:04.9), while Julie Jenkins of Traverse City had the best female time in the 25K (2:31:08). In the 50K, Kenny Thomas of Traverse City ran a top time of 4:40:58. Kelli VanOoteghem of Essexville clocked the best female time in the 50K (5:09:05).
Traverse City resident Jeff Schiller had run two marathons in his lifetime, but had the itch to try and conquer a 50K. He battled through the conditions and accomplished his goal of completing a 50K before his 50th birthday. He’s a little over a week away from turning 46 years old.
“It’s the hardest run I’ve ever had,” said Schiller. “Between the cold at the start, and after it warmed up a bit, it went from hard pack to slushy and a little watery. It was everything northern Michigan can give you in one afternoon, but it was a really well put together race.”
Schiller finished in a time of 7:22:23.2. He had hoped for a little better result, but conditions factored into the end result. After training every day for the run, Schiller was excited to complete the race and meet his goal.
“I just needed to do it,” he said. “There was no way I wasn’t going to finish it. I’m exceptionally proud to get it done.”
Gaff Jr. said his group had hoped for a better turnout when it initially planned the festival, but everyone knew the weather would keep some competitors from getting into the mix. He felt the entire event was a success nevertheless and already has an eye on making it an annual series of races.
“I was really pleased with the numbers that came out. We’d like it not to be snowing, but there was nothing we could do about that,” Gaff Jr. said. “People already were saying they’re looking forward to next year.”