For the 70th time
2017 AuSable River Canoe Marathon – a 120-mile non-stop race from Grayling to Oscoda – to start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 29
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Last year’s AuSable River Canoe Marathon was historic; it featured a record number of teams with 95, and for only the second time in the event’s seven decades, the race was decided by a sprint to the finish with only one second separating the first place finishers from the second place canoe.
Christophe Proulx of Quebec and Ryan Halstead of Grayling edged the team of Andrew Triebold of Grayling and Jacob DuBois of Texas for first place during last year’s photo finish. What was it like being in those two canoes?
“It was an amazing feeling, especially because Ryan and I had a super race. We felt great all race long, and to have to sprint for the first place against my idol Andy Triebold and his partner Jacob DuBois was crazy,” Proulx said.
“I have had experience with sprinting to the finish at the end of races,” DuBois said. “I finished the General Clinton that way and also nationals. I remember thinking probably around Loud Dam that I knew it was going to come down to the sprint at the finish. Neither us or the other team was getting away from each other no matter what we tried. It was an amazing way to finish such a great race.”
“I know the fans love seeing a good race like that and I was glad we could give it to them. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way. It’s easy sitting here a year later thinking we could have done a couple of things differently, and maybe it would have made a difference, but I have no regrets and it was such a great experience,” DuBois said.
This year’s AuSable Marathon will not have as many teams as last year’s record number.
If no teams withdraw between now and the start of the Marathon on Saturday night, 80 duos will attempt to complete the race’s 120-mile course this year. The 2017 AuSable River Canoe Marathon will mark the race’s 70th year.
Paddlers have to put in hundreds of training hours to get ready for the 14 to 19 hours of non-stop racing it requires to finish the AuSable Marathon. During the race, the weather can bring rain, cold, heat, or fog. They have to eat meals out of plastic baggies and thermoses. Fatigue, sickness, pain. Why do more than 150, sometimes close to 200 paddlers, go through it, and then come back next year to do it all over again?
“The most enjoyable part of the race for me was hearing my family and my best friend Steve Corlew and his family cheering for me along the course of the race,” DuBois said. “Another thing that I think was the most enjoyable parts of the race was of course the start. Jumping out to a 45-second lead by Burton’s was super fun. I actually really enjoyed the stretch between McMasters until after Mio when Andy and I were by ourselves out there. It was so peaceful and the boat was moving so smooth and fast. I have heard people say both ways that they hate being out there alone and some like it. I thought it was amazing. It was just super relaxing and fun. Andy was a great guy to race with. He never made me feel like I had pressure on me to do anything other than have fun out there. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
Proulx took second place in his first AuSable Marathon in 2013 with Nick Walton. Proulx wasn’t even signed up for the event until after the Spike’s Challenge, a week before the Marathon. During the 2013 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race, Walton’s partner sustained a significant knee injury during the running start, leaving Walton – a paddler with several top 10 Marathon finishes – without a partner for the race.
“First time I went to the Marathon it was non-plan, if I can say it like that. I was coming back from Australia and had few canoe training hours. I saw on the Spike’s day that Nick Walton’s partner got injured, and Nick was looking for a partner, so I (wrote) him and told him I was interested to race that race with him. He (was) really nice by teaming up with me. I was 18 and we didn’t know each other. We finished second that year so I guess I’ve been coming back since then because it’s an amazing week; there’s a lot of activities going on in Grayling, and the race is my favorite,” Proulx said.
“Everyone is so nice and so welcoming,” said AuSable Marathon competitor Sarah Lessard. “The Marathon is not just about the night of the race. It’s also about the entire week of meeting, talking, and sharing time with amazing people. Of course, the Marathon itself will always stay a great challenge.”
“To me, the appeal of the Marathon is the challenge it brings to each person individually. Each person usually has their own goal in mind when they decide to race it. And even then, for racers that do it year after year, that goal can change from year to year,” said AuSable Marathon paddler Mike Hale.
Before the AuSable Marathon teams race from Grayling to Oscoda, they will race from Penrod’s to the Old AuSable Fly Shop and back to Penrod’s on the time trials course during the annual sprints for starting position event. The time trials schedule for this year: Wednesday, July 26, from 3-5 p.m., Thursday, July 27, from 3-7 p.m., Friday, July 28, from 2-4:30 p.m.
The Marathon changed its sprint course last year. In previous years, the looped course for time trials had paddlers going downstream first, turning around at a buoy, and then finishing the loop paddling upstream. The new course – Penrod’s to Old AuSable and back – is shorter, and it allows spectators an opportunity to view the turnaround at the halfway point. The buoy turn can be one of the most challenging aspects of the time trials event. Other challenges associated with the sprints include shallow water and having to paddle upstream.
“The upstream is probably the part of the time trial where you can lose the more time if you’re not efficient,” Proulx said. “Buoy turn is important but if you have the best buoy turn it won’t make you first.”
“The new course seems a little tougher because of the area of the buoy turn. There seems to be less space than the old course’s turn, so even a small mistake on this course seems to be amplified a bit more and could mean the difference in five to 10 starting spots,” Hale said.
During the start of the Marathon, teams will line up on Peninsular Avenue near the post office, five teams per row, for the running start, an event that features the paddlers carrying their canoes downhill to Ingham Street and then heading for the dock at the Old AuSable Fly Shop. It’s an exciting event for the fans, but it can be a challenge for the competitors, especially those in the middle and in the back of the pack.
“It is definitely beneficial to start as near the front as you can get,” said AuSable Marathon competitor Eric Batway. “To reduce the distance carrying the boat on a full run helps a lot. To get in front of hordes of other racers jumping in the river on and around you is very beneficial. Further near the front you can possibly enter the river you are around better caliber paddlers and they can help suck your boat down the initial part of this race.”
“You definitely want to have a good starting position. The longer the run, the more boat traffic you have to deal with in front of (Old AuSable),” Hale said.
What is it like, the anticipation, lining up, picking up the canoe, carrying it to the water in front of hundreds of cheering fans?
“The running start is crazy. The best strategy is just to survive. Stay in the moment and stay calm. The race is long and you have to survive the running start,” said AuSable Marathon competitor Austin Weiler.
“The running start of that race is unlike anything that I have ever done. While I have watched a lot of AuSable Marathons, it is the craziest feeling standing on the line. I just wanted it to start so we could get going,” DuBois said. “A challenge is getting to the river safely. I can speak from starting at the back and front since the week before we started the Spike’s race from the back row because we didn’t sprint and it was tough passing all of those canoes to get up towards the front. It’s tough getting over all of the wakes from the canoes in such a tight, twisty river.”
The 2017 AuSable River Canoe Marathon will start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 29.
Once the teams are in the water, what are some of the keys to having a successful race?
“Have a good clean run and entrance to the river and make it out of town as smooth as you can and settle in as soon as you are able. When you calm the nerves from the start, the race then gets easier for you in the early parts of it,” Hale said.
“For me, to have a good Marathon is to be able to stay on a positive vibe even when you (are) in the dark and have no clue where you are and how long to go. If you stay motivated and focused you (are) going to have a fun and a great race, whatever your finish result,” Proulx said.
“Keep eating and drinking. Keep a steady pace and don’t wear yourself out for no reason. Have a good light and GPS and do some long paddles beforehand. Make sure your canoe is comfortable,” said AuSable Marathon paddler Michael Schlimmer.
“For me it is staying in the moment and realizing that this race is incredibly long. Knowing the river is also a huge key. Not only the cuts and shallows but where to go on the ponds in the daytime is also a huge key. The biggest thing I’ve learned in my five previous Marathons is that it is too easy to start out too fast and have a bad second half of the race. The best idea is to go steady at night and pick it up when the sun comes up,” Weiler said.
Based on decades of AuSable Marathon results, some of the teams that start the race on Saturday night will not reach the finish line at Oscoda on Sunday. Reasons? Fatigue. Injury. Illness. Equipment failure or boat damage. Speed. The Marathon has checkpoints with specific timing criteria, and failing to meet them results in disqualification.
In recent history, four out of five teams that start the race make it to Oscoda in the required 19 hours.
Last year, 95 teams – a new participation record for the AuSable Marathon – started the race. Of those 95, 80 were recognized as official finishers (84 percent). Four of the 15 teams not recognized as official finishers reached Oscoda, but they did not do so in under the 19-hour cutoff.
This year’s AuSable Marathon will have a diverse field, featuring paddlers from Australia, Canada, Belize, New York, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, and Kentucky.
Approximately half of the 2017 Marathon’s paddlers are coming from places outside of Michigan, AuSable Marathon officials said.
The AuSable Marathon is the second leg of the Triple Crown of Canoe Racing. The first leg – the General Clinton Canoe Regatta – is held during Memorial Day weekend in New York on the Susquehanna River. It’s “a one-day, nonstop 70-mile race from Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, to Bainbridge, New York,” according to the Marathon’s website. The third leg of the Triple Crown – La Classique Internationale de Canots de la Mauricie – is a three-day race conducted in three different stages on the St. Maurice River in Quebec during Labor Day weekend.
What kinds of foods and drinks do AuSable Marathon paddlers consume during the race?
The paddlers who race in the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, 120 miles non-stop from Grayling to Oscoda, have to eat and drink during the journey. What kinds of foods and beverages do they prefer?
It depends on the competitor. Some items – drinks like Gatorade and foods such as protein bars or peanut butter sandwiches – are common. Others? Some items might make even longtime Marathon fans think: “Someone eats THAT during the race?”
A common element among most of the foods that paddlers eat during the AuSable Marathon? It needs to be something that can be consumed quickly. It’s a race, and sometimes every second counts.
Some paddlers tend toward salty items, some prefer sweet items, and some use a combination of the two.
According to several paddlers and feeders, some of the most common food items for Marathon competitors during the race are: fruits (bananas, strawberries, grapes, melon, cherries), protein bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mashed potatoes, pasta, and a variety of soups.
GU Energy Gel is a popular substitute for solid food.
What about beverages? Plain water is one of the most common drinks for AuSable Marathon paddlers. Other popular drinks include electrolyte products like Gatorade, Powerade, Cytomax, SmartWater, Pedialyte, Vitaminwater, and HEED. Many competitors mix their electrolyte drinks with water in order to dilute the sweetness.
Many paddlers drink protein/nutrient beverages such as Ensure, Boost, Perpetuem, and Sustained Energy during the AuSable Marathon. Some like to get an occasional caffeine boost from 5-hour Energy or a caffeinated soda such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew.
Some paddlers also like to drink coffee, hot chocolate, and iced tea at different stages of the race.
Paddlers are known to have odd cravings during the Marathon. According to an assortment of Marathon competitors and feeder crew members, unusual foods for paddlers in recent years have included olives, cheeseburgers (and other fast food sandwiches), doughnuts, Jell-O, pizza, Skittles, gummy candy, beef jerky, and egg salad.
“I didn’t have any weird feeds during the race,” said Jacob DuBois, who finished second (with Andrew Triebold) during last year’s AuSable Marathon. “It was my first (Ausable Marathon) and longest canoe race I have done so I wasn’t sure what I would want. I took a mix of what Andy was doing and some things I thought I would want. I found that I mostly just drank liquids, a couple bananas, and I really enjoyed a cup of chicken noodle soup at Mio Dam. I had a beer after the race, which was good, and I ate like a horse at the awards dinner.”
“I eat all kinds of stuff,” said Michael Schlimmer, an AuSable Marathon paddler from New York. “I try to go for things that have sugar and are easy to digest. A list of things I have used in the past include: Hammer gel, GU gels, GU brew soup, SIS stuff, meal replacement shakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, gummy bears, chocolate bars, rice crispy treats, fig bars, Clif bars, Coke or Mountain Dew. A big variety in your pit bag can help. If you seem to be liking one specific thing, it’s there. You are getting your calories. Four-hundred to 700 calories per hour in your stomach are good numbers to shoot for.”
Sarah Lessard, a five-time AuSable Marathon competitor from Quebec, said her food tends to be on the “sugary” side.
“Poppy seed bread from Goodale’s Bakery. Miam miam! And (Clif bars) and GU, Skittles, Boost. I don’t do much salty food,” Lessard said.
(“Miam miam” translated is “Yum yum.”)
An explanation of some of the products mentioned in this article, according to various online product descriptions: Hammer HEED (High Energy Electrolyte Drink) is “an all natural electrolyte sports drink.” Hammer Gel is a “carbohydrate energy gel.” Cytomax, Gatorade, and Powerade are “electrolyte” sports drinks. SmartWater is “electrolyte enhanced water.” Vitaminwater is a “nutrient enhanced” water. Pedialyte is a drink designed to “quickly replenish electrolytes” and “prevent dehydration.” Boost and Ensure are drinks high in protein and vitamins. Perpetuem and Sustained Energy are drink mixes from Hammer Nutrition that have carbohydrates and protein. GU Energy Gel has carbohydrates, amino acids, and electrolytes to provide “long-lasting energy” and “essential nutrition” for athletes during competition. SIS is “Science In Sport” products, which includes powders and gels for athletes. Clif bars are organic energy bars.
For more information about the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, visit the event’s official website at www.AuSableCanoeMarathon.org or check out its social media feeds on Instagram and Twitter (@ausablemarathon, #HupAllNight) or check out videos on its YouTube Channel (youtube.com/AuSableCanoeMarathon).