Spike’s Challenge C-2 Paddler’s Tribute event to be held on Sunday morning as part of weekend of canoe competition

It’s a sprint, not a Marathon.
The Spike’s Challenge C-2 Paddler’s Tribute race – an event slated for this weekend – has many similarities to the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, but a few key differences – shorter distance, plus the race is held during daytime hours – set the two races apart.
The AuSable River Canoe Marathon ­– slated for Saturday, July 28 and 29 this year – features a course that runs from Grayling to Oscoda, 120 miles, and it starts at 9 p.m. It takes teams 14 to 19 hours to complete the Marathon. The Spike’s Challenge C-2 race runs from Grayling to McMasters Bridge. In general, Spike’s Challenge C-2 teams reach the finish line in 2.5 to four hours.
Many AuSable Marathon teams use the Spike’s Challenge as a warm-up race. It gives fans, feeder team members, and race organizers a daytime look at the paddlers on the first part of the Marathon’s race course. It can also offer paddlers practice at running with their canoes to the water and entering the river at the Old AuSable Fly Shop, since the Spike’s Challenge has the same starting style as the Marathon.
“The put-in will be a good practice for this year’s Marathon. With the water levels being low it is a big drop to the water and the angle of getting the boat in the water will be different from years past,” said Cheryl Lucey, one of the organizers for the Spike’s Challenge.
The Spike’s Challenge also features paddlers who want a shorter race than the Marathon, or teams that might want to attempt the Marathon in future years.
For Marathon paddlers, the large difference in time to finish the event – 2.5 to four hours compared to 14 to 19 hours – makes the Spike’s Challenge an easy race, right? Not necessarily. While the Marathon is a slow grind, the sprinting nature of the Spike’s Challenge offers a different kind of endurance test.
“For the paddlers it is a hard race,” event organizers said. “It is really a three to four-hour long sprint. The course offers many challenges from cuts, shallow suck water, to deep runs and lots of eddies to survive.”
“The spectators enjoy watching the race because they get to see the teams race the top section of the Marathon course, while Marathon night they only get to see them when they emerge out of the darkness for a few seconds before they once again disappear into the darkness,” event organizers said.
“For me the Spike’s race can be a lot of different things for different people.  Warm up, test run, feed practice, or just another race on their schedule.  It helps with Marathon prep by showing you a glimpse of the running start, showing who you may be around come Marathon night, getting to know other paddlers’ styles/plans that come from out of town,” said AuSable Marathon and Spike’s Challenge competitor Mike Hale. “The most enjoyable thing about it is that usually it’s a very competitive race from front to back so you’re always trying to finish as high as you can.”
Participation numbers overall for the Spike’s Challenge have been steadily rising since the event’s inception.
The first Spike’s Challenge C-2 race in 1991 featured 34 teams. The numbers moved into the 40s during the late 1990s and then into the 50s during the early 2000s. In 2008 the race featured 70-plus teams for the first time. In 2010 and 2011 the event had more than 80 teams.
The 2016 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race had 84 teams, a new all-time participation record for the event. Last year, the race had 66 teams, a number that was a little lower than normal.
In the last 10 Spike’s Challenge C-2 races, the event has had an average of 75 teams per year.
Organizers are expecting around 80 canoes this year.
“We are hoping to have around 75 Expert 1 and we usually have between three to five Expert 2 teams,” Lucey said.
Like the AuSable Marathon, the Spike’s Challenge determines its starting positions for the run to the river with a sprint event, but the Spike’s sprints are held on a different part of the river and they offer their own set of challenges.
“The sprint for Spike’s is  very different from Marathon sprints. Different water completely, more suck water where the boat just doesn’t want to move.  Marathon’s new sprint course is shallow and allows for more sprint spots where you can really get the boat up on the downstream,” Hale said.
“The pond and backwaters have changed since they took out the dam. It is becoming more river-like back at the buoy turn, so the sides are filling in with sediment.  Where we used to go wide to make the buoy turn easier and faster is now mucky and sucks the boat down and does not allow the boat to glide. So the buoy turn is becoming a tight turn and with the slow water takes more effort to turn the boat,” Lucey said.
The Spike’s Challenge C-2 sprints for starting positions are held at the city park. During sprints, teams paddle a looped course, going upstream first, then downstream, paddling under a railroad bridge twice, and finishing near the city park’s pedestrian bridge. Finish times usually range from 4.5 to 7 minutes. 
This year’s Spike’s Challenge sprints for position event will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 21. It takes a few hours to complete all of the sprints. There are breaks between heats to allow upcoming sprinters a chance to practice on the course for a few minutes.
Times at the sprints for position event on Saturday usually provide a strong forecast of which teams will finish in the top places during the C-2 race on Sunday. 
Last year, all of the top 13 teams at sprints also placed in the top 13 during the race. In 2016, 12 of the top 13 teams at sprints also finished in the top 13 during the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race. In 2015, 14 of the top 16 teams at sprints for position also placed in the top 16 during the race. In 2014, 10 of the top 11 finishers in the C-2 race also placed in the top 11 during the sprints for position event. 
The importance of sprints? Spike’s Challenge teams have to run with their canoes through the streets of Grayling to the river. It can be a challenge getting to the water and getting into the river due to the large number of competing teams and the limited amount of space. It can be a significant advantage to start near the front since it is less congested, especially in a race like the Spike’s Challenge that takes only a few hours to complete.
The 2018 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race will start at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 22. Teams will line up with their canoes on Ingham Street and run to the water at the Old AuSable Fly Shop during the start of the C-2 race. Based on past results, most teams will reach the finish line at McMasters Bridge between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
After the Spike’s Challenge C-2 sprints for position on Saturday, the weekend of canoe racing will feature a mentor race, which pairs young paddlers with experienced competitors in racing canoes. The approximate start time for this year’s mentor race is 1:30 p.m. at the city park.
“We have had kids as young as five do the (mentor) race,” Lucey said.
Spike’s Challenge weekend also features a C-1 (one person canoe) race. The C-1 event, which runs from Grayling to Burton’s Landing, is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 21. It begins at Joe Wakeley’s house, which is located next to Borchers AuSable Canoeing.
 
Only 13 different people have been Spike’s Challenge C-2 champions
 
It’s an exclusive club. In the first 27 years of the Spike’s Challenge Paddler’s Tribute C-2 race, out of the hundreds of paddlers who’ve competed in the event, only 13 different people have finished in first place. 
Andrew Triebold was the winner 13 consecutive times (2003 through 2015). Steve Lajoie has 11 Spike’s Challenge championships after winning it last year with Guillaume Blais. For Blais, last year’s championship was his second consecutive first place finish in the Spike’s Challenge.
Jeff Kolka and Bill Torongo were the winners of the first Spike’s Challenge in 1991. Kolka won the event eight more times for a total of nine first place finishes.
The record for most wins by a team is currently held by Triebold and Lajoie, who placed first in the Spike’s Challenge 10 times as a duo.
The first Spike’s Challenge started at Ray’s Canoe Livery in Grayling and ended at Camp 10 Bridge. (Ray’s Canoe Livery is now the Old AuSable Fly Shop.)
In 1993, the third year for the Spike’s C-2 race, organizers changed the start format to a “Le Mans style,” meaning that competitors had to carry their canoes to the AuSable River. Also, organizers changed the finish line from Camp 10 Bridge to Mio Bridge.
In 1994, the C-2 race added the sprints for starting position competition to the weekend of canoe racing.
In 1995 – for the fifth Spike’s Challenge – organizers changed the finish line again, this time to McMasters Bridge, and they changed the date of the race to the weekend prior to the AuSable Marathon. In the first few years of the Spike’s Challenge, the C-2 race was conducted in early July; the first one was on July 6, the second was on July 5, the third was on July 3, and the fourth was on July 10.
In 2016, a record field of 84 teams competed in the annual event. Last year, 66 teams paddled in the Spike’s Challenge.
 
Spike’s Challenge Paddler’s Tribute C-2 Race Champions
Year - Pro Class Winners - Time - Course - Pro Teams - Amateur Teams
1991 - Jeff Kolka - Bill Torongo - 4:41:36 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to Camp 10 Bridge - 23 - 11
1992 - Ken Kolonich - Steve Kolonich - 4:43:04 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to Camp 10 Bridge - 28 - 9
1993 - Jeff Kolka - Bill Torongo - 5:00:41 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to Mio Bridge - 29 - 9
1994 - Bruce Barton - Tim Triebold - 4:45:08 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to Mio Bridge - 29 - 6
1995 - Calvin Hassel - Bill Torongo - 2:37:43 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 35 - 8
1996 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:31:40 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 32 - 8
1997 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:36:50 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 42 - 7
1998 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:36:38 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 37 - 6
1999 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:37:28 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 42 - 7
2000 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:40:20 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 49 - 7
2001 - Calvin Hassel - Jeff Kolka - 2:44:09 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 53 - 6
2002 - Jeff Kolka - Serge Corbin - 2:39:27 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 45 - 7
2003 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:40:20 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 57 - 5
2004 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:39:01 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 47 - 4
2005 - Andrew Triebold - Matt Rimer - 2:35:58 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 47 - 4
2006 - Andrew Triebold - Matt Rimer - 2:38:46 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 54 - 11
2007 - Andrew Triebold - Matt Rimer - 2:42:43 - Ray’s Canoe Livery to McMasters Bridge - 57 - 12
2008 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:34:56 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 60 - 14
2009 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:39:06 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 67 - 12
2010 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:39:47 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 70 - 11
2011 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:38:26 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 70 - 12
2012 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:40:07 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 61 - 9
2013 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:38:11 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 56 - 5
2014 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:36:25 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 69 - 6
2015 - Andrew Triebold - Steve Lajoie - 2:34:53 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 70 - 7
2016 - Mathieu Pellerin - Guillaume Blais - 2:39:51 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 72 - 12
2017 - Steve Lajoie - Guillaume Blais - 2:38:34 - Old AuSable Fly Shop to McMasters Bridge - 61 - 5

 

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806
E-Mail: information@crawfordcountyavalanche.com

Comment Here