Great Lakes Endurance History


July 2000.  First Keweenaw Trail Running Festival (KTRF)  with 10K at McClain State Park, Hill Climb at Mt. Lookout in Eagle Harbor, MI, and 25K at the Maasto Hiihto     Trail in Hancock, MI.

October 2000. Runner’s World names KTRF as one of the Top Five Races Worth Traveling To.

July 2003.  Tom Henderson’s seven page story on the KTRF appears on Runner’s World.  Full page photos by Carter Sherline feature the beauty of the three     courses.

June 2005.  Suzanne Van Dam’s article on the ecological efforts of the KTRF appears in Running Times Magazine.

July 2005.  10K KTRF course moved to remote course at Gratiot River North.  25K  KTRF course moved to the highlands surrounding the Keweenaw Mountain     Lodge in Copper Harbor.  Breakfast moved to Sunday after the 25K.

July 2005.  First Grand Island Trail Marathon & 10K (GITM).

July 2006. 10K KTRF course moved to Copper Harbor, linking historic Ft. Wilkins (start) on Lake Fanny Hooe with the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge (finish).

January 2007.  Great Lakes Endurance, LLC formed to coordinate KTRF and GITM.

April 2007. First Navarino Trail Run featuring an all local foods cookout.

July 2007.  KTRF first event to use the new Keweenaw Mountain Lodge Convention Center.

August 2007. First Tahqua Trail Run in Paradise, MI.

January 2008.  Runner’s World names Grand Island Trail Marathon one of the Top Ten New Marathons in North America.

Februrary 2008. Vasque Footwear becomes naming sponsor of the six event Great Lakes Endurance Trail Series.

March 2008.  First Navarino Snowshoe Adventure.

July 2008.  KTRF 25K features challenging new ascent trail from Lake Manganese to finish at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.

October 2008.  First La Demi Grand Half Marathon & 5K on Grand Island.

October 2008. First Aldo Leopold Half Marathon & 5K at Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI.

November 2008.  Runner’s World names the Great Lakes Endurance Trail Series one of the Top Ten Greenest Running Events in North America.

November 2008.  Trail Runner Magazine awards Great Lakes Endurance with its  inaugural Sprout Award for the Greenest Race Director in North America.

Keweenaw Trail Running Festival (KTRF)

The Keweenaw Trail Running festival featured its innaugural race in 2000. It started as an idea on a trail run through the Swedetown Creek Gorge in 1999.
"Wouldn't be great to organize an event with three trail races in one weekend - a 10 Km to test speed, a hill climb to test strength, and a 25 Km to test endurance,"
I said to Tom Lindley.

We mapped out a leisurely 10 Km course at McLain State Park that featured a spectacular stretch of beach with long reaching views up the Keweenaw Coast. For the hill climb we selected the trail from the beach in Eagle Harbor to the top of Mt. Lookout because the summit featured the most panoramic, ultra scenic views of any place in the entire Keweenaw. Finally, the venerable Maasto Hiihto became the easy choice for the 25 Km, mostly due to the remarkable glacially cut Swedetown Creek Gorge and the sweet single tract on the adjacent Churning Rapids trail system.

We also decided to organize a breakfast that would be served to runners following the 10 Km. It featured mostly organic and locally made foods and served it with real dinnerware, cups, and glasses. We composted all the food waste and recycled everything else. I had grown tired of participating in races that generated huge amounts of garbage (styrofoam, paper, extra food, etc.). So this was an opportunity to demonstrate that we could do things differently. Runners loved the breakfast and it has become a regular part of the trail festival weekend. In 2005 we moved the breakfast to Sunday morning following the 25 Km in response to suggestions from runners. We were pleased when environmental writer Suzanne Van Dam wrote an article on the breakfast and other ecological aspects of the KTRF in Running Times Magazine (June, 2005).  

KTRF in the Media

Van Dam's article was not the only time the KTRF drew attention from the print media. The late and much loved Silent Sports editor Greg Marr wrote an story on the KTRF even before the inaugural race. Nancy Hobbs, President of the All American Trail Running Association wrote an article in Runner's World (October 2000) that featured the KTRF as one of the top five trail races worth traveling to. Later, best selling novelist Tom Henderson, a KTRF veteran, wrote a seven page story on the event in the July 2003 issue of Runner's World. Well known sports photographer Carter Sherline captured some spectacular images for the RW article. By this time the KTRF was attracting runners from over 24 states and Canada. Runners from Austria, Ireland, and England had also participated.

KTRF 10 Km

While the McLain State Park venue was a favorite of many runners, the delicate trail there could not withstand the 300+ runners we were attracting to the event. In 2005 we moved the 10 Km to Gratiot River North, a relatively new trail system jointly managed by the North Woods Conservancy and Keweenaw County. It featured some of the most awe inspiring coastline anywhere in Lake Superior. Despite this, the course was too remote and parking was difficult to non-existent. It was a great experiment and brought much needed attention to protecting Keweenaw coastline from development.

Based mostly upon runner feedback, we decided to move the 10 Km course up to Copper Harbor for 2006. The new course started in the grassy field at Ft. Wilkins State Park overlooking Lake Fanny Hooe. The route took runners along the lake and then wound through Clyde’s Meadow, filled with wildflowers, a large pond, and rumbling creek. Runners then headed up the much loved and serene Garden Brook Trail for several miles before finally arriving at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Sam Raymond and his crew of expert trail builders at the Keweenaw Adventure Company constructed much of this trail, finishing the last stretches just days before the event. Runners enjoyed this route so much that we decided to keep this route for 2007 and beyond.

KTRF Hill Climb

The second race in the weekend series has become the favorite of many runners from all over the U.S. and Canada. The summit faces northwest and the fierce winter winds limit tree growth at the summit. Rare flowers, wild blueberries, and juniper drape the surrounding terrain. A spin at the top reveals all the Keweenaw's major peaks plus Lake Medora, Lake Bailey, and the world's largest body of fresh water, extending on to what seems like forever. After a warm down run from the summit and a sunset plunge in Lake Superior runners can head back to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge for lasagna, mixed greens, home made garlic bread, and deep dish peach cobbler. Wild fruit preserves and jams made by the monks at the Jam Pot are awarded to age group winners. Thimbleberry is awarded for first, Wild Apple-Ginger for second, and Wild Blueberry for third.

KTRF 25 Km

Less than 12 hours after the Hill Climb runners toe the line of the weekend's toughest event, the 25 Km. For the first five years of the KTRF, the Maasto Hiihto (Finnish for "ski land")Trail in Hancock provided the terrain for the long event. Craig Hughes designed the course and Tom marked most of it. Runners loved the Maasto. One runner from Colorado said, " This trail is better than anything in Aspen." Richard Magin, a professor at UIC in Chicago, described running the Maasto course as "a religious experience." The trail featured waterfalls along Swedetown Creek, lush hardwood forests, highland meadows, and winding single track along Finney Creek.

Despite having a world class trail system in the Maasto Hiihto, the City of Hancock seemed more interested in building roads, sewer systems, and a new trailer park than saving their famous, well loved trail system. So, we moved the 25 Km to Copper Harbor in 2005 and hosted the event from the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. A spectacular trail system leaves right from the lodge and travels along the ridges, streams, and wilderness lakes of the far northern Keweenaw highlands. We received volumes of postive feedback on the new Copper Harbor course and location and will keep the 25 Km here indefinitely. A wild thunderstorm visited the area during the 2006 race providing what many participants described as the "running experience of a lifetime" and a "redefinition of epic."  Over the next two years, Sam Raymond, owner of Keweenaw Adventure Company, and a hard working crew of volunteers, built a beautiful and sustainable network of trails on the north face of highland overlooking Copper Harbor.  In 2008, the 25K course incorporated the new world class single track in its ascent up from Lake Manganese to the finish at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.

Grand Island Trail Marathon & 10 Km (GITM)

Jim Engel and I had been thinking about organizing this event for several years. We both knew the trail was world class. We had both run the island's trails and kayaked its shores. The logistics would be difficult. The north end of the island was remote and mostly inaccessible, we would have to obtain a detailed use permit with the US Forest Service, and then we would have to arrange transportation for several hundred runners over to the island.

In December 2004 we decided to go ahead with it. The U.S. Forest Service was unbelievably helpful, with Dick Anderson providing critical assistance in logistics and trail preparation. Janel Crooks agreed to provide interpretive sessions on the geology and ecology of the island. The island residents graciously agreed to help out by staffing three aid stations. The local mountain biking club, the Anna River Peddlers, volunteered to staff the two remote aid stations (hauling aid via bike trailers!) on the north and west end of the island. Norma Harger, the well respected, long time race director of the Pictured Rocks Road Race, provided absolutely invaluable help in community organizing. The business community in Munising contributed exceptional support in marketing and advertising. Jeff and Nancy Dwyer, owners of the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in downtown Munising agreed to provide their cafe for race registration and the awards ceremony. Rochelle Cotey of Altrans orhestrated a flawless bus service for runners to and from the boat dock. These individuals and countless others made directing this logistically difficult event a breeze.

Two hundred and forty seven runners from 23 states made it to the innaugural event in 2005. They included the likes of Bob Clark from Los Angeles and Robert Parker who flew his small plane from Benson, North Carolina and landed in a small grass airfield outside Munising. Women's marathon winner, Vicki Asmus of Plymouth, Minnesota, said, "This was the most beautiful marathon I have ever run," when interviewed by WLUC-TV's Mike Ludlum. Joel Patenaude, the editor of Silent Sports Magazine, ran three marathons in 2005: Grandma's, Chicago, and Grand Island. He wrote a superb account of his Grand Island experience in the September 2005 issue of Silent Sports.

The 2006 GITM filled in late May. Runners started in cloudy and cool conditions but soon the sky cracked open wide and rain hit the island as a system moved quickly in from the big lake. Although it created tough conditions in some parts of the course, runners embraced the cool weather the system carried with it. About 4 hours into the race the sun came out and the typical clear, cool Lake Superior weather returned.

The marathon and 10K courses were modified in 2007.   The inland out and back section to Echo Lake and interior highlands was replaced with a new loop out into island's Tombolo and up the ridge along the island’s thumb.  Runners returned on a one mile stretch along Trout Bay, one of the most spectacular stretches of Lake Superior shoreline anywhere. The modified 10K course featured a new ascent up into the island’s interior that allowed for both the start and finish to be at William's Landing.  The new route also ran counter clockwise and featured a long gradual one mile descent to the finish.
Runner’s World named the Grand Island Trail Marathon one of the Top Ten New Marathons in North America in its January 2008 issue.  The national media attention resulted in the race reaching permit capacity in late February.  The 10K filled in early May.  The Marquette Food Co-op catered the finish line food service in 2008 with 80% organic foods.

A new hybrid-electric bus will be used on the island in 2009 to transport spectators to several view points on the marathon course.

Great Lakes Endurance (GLE)

In an effort to more effectively manage the KTRF and GITM, Great Lakes Endurance was formed in January 2007.  GLE soon added the Navarino Trail Run in April, 2007 and Tahqua Trail Run in August 2007.  GLE introduced the Navarino Snowshoe Adventure, its first snowshoe event, in March 2008.  The La Demi Grand Half Marathon & 5K and the Aldo Leopold Half Marathon & 5K were added in October 2008, bringing the total number of GLE events to seven.  Vasque footwear became the naming sponsor of the Great Lakes Endurance Trail Series for 2008. In November 2008, Runner’s World named Great Lakes Endurance one of the Top Ten Green Race Events in North America.  Trail Runner Magazine awarded Great Lakes Endurance with its inaugural Sprout Award as the Greenest Race Director in North America.

Navarino Trail Run

The Navarino Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Wisconsin had been one the favorite training areas for GLE race director Jeff Crumbaugh for several years.  It is an ecological gem, featuring high diverse terrain.  Its 20Km of well maintained trails traverse pine forests, oak savannah, tall grass prairie, lush tamarack lined bogs, and massive flowages and wetlands that attract abundant populations of birds and other wildlife.  The onsite Navarino Nature Center provides environmental education, guided tours, and a wide variety of interpretive programs.  In the fall of 2006 we approached NNC director Tim Ewing with a proposal for a trail run on the Navarino trails.  The proposal was approved by the NNC board of directors and the event debuted in April 2007, attracting 120 runners.  In addition, a local foods cookout was provided for runners, where all foods were sourced within 100 miles of the NNC.  Participants were served buffalo and elk burgers served on whole grain-flax buns with cole slaw, honey sweetened cranberries, maple flavored baked beans, and cherry juice.  All runners also received a one pound block of Oak Grove Cheese, crafted in nearby Clintonville.  Proceeds from the event are donated to the Navarino Nature Center for environmental education.
    Participants in 2009 will be treated to a new LEED certified Green Building addition to the Navarino Nature Center featuring geothermal and photovoltaic energy systems.

Tahqua Trail Run

Trail runner Karla Werner had been teaching at the remote Whitefish Township School and running the regions extensive network of trails in the Tahquamenon wilderness.  She contacted Great Lakes Endurance about the possibility of organizing a trail run in the region.  After about a year of planning the Tahqua Trail Run was introduced in August 2007.  It included a 25K that started on the Tahqua Rd 4 miles west of Whitefish Bay.  Its course included the remarkable North Country Trail that flowed over spruce swale, past bogs and remote lakes, and along high Aspen covered ridges until it reached the Lower Tahquamenon Falls.  The course then followed the notoriously technical River Trail for six miles before reaching the finish at the Upper Falls.  The companion 10K followed the River Trail from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls.  Proceeds from the event are donated to the Whitefish Township School for environmental education.

La Demi Grand Half Marathon & 5K

If you have ever run on Grand Island in the Fall you know that it is an extraordinary experience.  Keeping this idea in mind, GLE held the inaugural La Demi Grand Half Marathon & 5K in October 2007.  The course featured sections along Murray Bay, Duck Lake, Trout Bay, the interior Highlands, and trails above the colorful sandstone cliffs of the island’s western coast. Coco’s Restaurant in nearby Marquette catered the event with croissant sandwiches, European fruit tarts, and dessert bars.  Great Lakes Coffee served fresh roasted, organic free trade coffee and cherry juice from King’s Orchards in Traverse City was provided.  Students at Central Elementary School in Munising staffed the aid stations for the event.  Proceeds from the event were donated to Central Elementary School for science and environmental education.

Aldo Leopold Half Marathon & 5K

Craig Maier, a trail runner and communications specialist with the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin contacted Great Lakes Endurance about the possibility of trail running event at Devils Lake State Park in 2007.  After extensive planning we introduced the event in October 2008.  The course featured a start on the shores of Devil’s Lake and and ascent up to the south face of the East Cliff Formation.  The course then followed the Ice Age Trail and a variety of park trails through highly diverse terrain including hardwood forests, pine forests, tall grass prairie, and oak/pine savannah before returning to shores of Devil’s Lake.  The event reached its permit capacity three weeks before the race date and attracted runners from seven states.  We worked with the chefs at Baraboo’s Java Cafe to organize a local foods lunch following the event which included Harvest Vegetable Soup, Whole Grain Bread, Apple-Cranberry Sauce, Pumpkin Bars, and Apple Cider.  Much of the food was grown locally by Four Elements Farm & Orchard.  The cider was produced at nearby (4 miles) Ski-Hi Orchards.  Age group award winners received one pound blocks of Butterkaase Cheese from Cedar Grove Dairy in nearby (28 miles) Plain, Wisconsin.  Students at River Crossing Environmental Charter School in Portage, Wisconsin served as volunteers for the event.  Great Lakes Endurance donated proceeds from the event to the school for its science program.