Time trials to determine starting spots for AuSable Marathon
Three-day sprints for position event to feature looped course between Penrod’s and Old AuSable Fly Shop
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Before they race a long distance, they will race a short distance. The 2019 AuSable River Canoe Marathon – a 120-mile non-stop race from Grayling to Oscoda – will determine starting positions for all of its teams with a three-day time trials event on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week.
During time trials, teams paddle a looped course, going from Penrod’s to the Old AuSable Fly Shop and back to Penrod’s. Most teams finish in five to nine minutes.
Before 2016, the course ran from Penrod’s downstream to a buoy at the halfway point and then back upstream to Penrod’s. The current course has teams going upstream first and then paddling downstream to finish.
With the change, spectators can now view the teams going around the halfway buoy, part of the event that many paddlers say is the hardest aspect of time trials. Other challenges associated with the sprints from a paddler’s perspective include shallow water and paddling upstream.
What are some keys to having a good sprint?
“Don’t make any major mistakes. Missing a buoy, flipping on the turn, breaking all of your paddles, these things cost a lot of time,” said Rebecca Davis, who’s raced in the Marathon nine times so far. “Warm up well so you don’t cramp up. Visualization is big for me, so I run through the course, and practice each maneuver in my head. If you make a mistake, don’t sweat it – there is a 16-plus hour race to make it up.”
“The force of the current isn’t unreasonably strong, but combined with the shallow water makes it very tough to get a good deep catch and power. I do love the buoy turn and the rush from the first few strokes getting up to full speed coming out of the buoy,” AuSable Marathon competitor Bryan Bearss said.
“People practice the buoy turn 20 times and it’s only one small part of the course and it won’t always go the way you have practiced it. The hardest part I think is managing the stress the hour before you do your sprint,” said AuSable Marathon paddler Sarah Lessard. “The most enjoyable part is to see your result at the end. I always like where I started.”
The new course is shorter than the previous one.
The record for the fastest sprint time on the old course is 5:22:17, a mark established by Andrew Triebold and Matthew Rimer in 2006.
In 2016, the first year for the new course, 16 teams posted times better than the all-time record. In 2017, 16 teams posted sprint times better than 5:22:17. Last year, 11 teams had sprint times faster than the 2006 record. One of them – Triebold and Steve Lajoie, winners of the 2018 AuSable Marathon – established a record for the new sprint course with a time of 4:47.15. The previous new course record was 4:47.93, set in 2016 – the first year for the new course – by Mathieu Pellerin and Guillaume Blais.
Andy Moore, AuSable River Canoe Marathon Committee Chairman, said the shorter course has helped keep the event on schedule, and the added level of visibility has been a plus for fans.
“I think the committee loves the new course. It’s shortened the sprint times. It’s more fan friendly to all. I think after a couple years of adjustment, everybody likes it,” Moore said.
What’s the advantage of a fast sprint and the starting spot that comes with it?
The AuSable Marathon doesn’t begin in the water; it starts on pavement. Teams line up on Peninsular Avenue in Grayling, five teams per row, and when the race begins, competitors carry their canoes to the water at the Old AuSable Fly Shop. Teams with the best starting positions have shorter paths to the river, fewer canoes around them during the run to the river, and less congestion at the water once they reach the dock at the Old AuSable Fly Shop.
“The running start is fun and a great way to get the heart pumping prior to hitting the water. It’s crazy rounding the corner at Ray’s and jockeying for a spot on the boardwalk and timing the safe entrance into the river. One miscalculation and a paddler or a canoe could be damaged by landing wrong on a rock, the dock, or another team. Once in the water the river no longer resembles a gentle flowing river, but instead it becomes a washing machine of waves sloshing from every direction, and bouncing off the river banks. These waves throw the canoes to and fro, making steering and getting a good catch a challenge, compounded by having other canoes so close you may take your next paddle stroke inside of a competitor’s canoe,” Bearss said.
“If you are near the front of the pack, that limits the number of canoes you have to maneuver around on the boardwalk and puts you with the faster teams once you get in the water. Riding with the faster wakes makes you faster. Trying to catch up with those fast teams once you fall back is like trying to climb a mountain while they are running on level ground. It’s probably a race you’re not going to win,” Bearss said.
The time trials usually provide a good forecast of which teams might finish in the top spots during the AuSable Marathon.
Last year, 18 of the top 20 teams at time trials also finished in the top 20 during the Marathon. In 2017, 11 of the Marathon’s top 13 finishers also placed in the top 13 during time trials. In 2016, 15 of the AuSable Marathon’s top 17 finishers also finished in the top 17 during time trials.
Teams with the slowest sprint times do not have a high finish rate in the Marathon.
Last year, the four slowest teams at time trials all posted DNFs. In 2017, the seven slowest teams at time trials posted four DNFs and placements of 69th, 70th, and 73rd out of 80 total teams (73 finished). In 2016, the first year with the new sprint course, 16 teams posted sprint times over the 7:00 mark. Half of them did not reach Oscoda in the required 19 hours. The highest finish among them was 66th.
In the modern era of the Marathon, approximately four out of five teams that start the AuSable River Canoe Marathon are able to finish it. The exact percentage varies from year to year. In the 19 most recent AuSable River Canoe Marathons (2000 through 2018) the finish percentage has ranged from a high of 91 percent (2006 and 2017) to a low of 71 percent (2001). During that span, 1,415 teams started the race and 1,167 finished it (82 percent).
The time trials event is spread out over the course of three days. Before 2011, it was a two-day event. In 2011, after having three consecutive years of record breaking participation numbers – 76 teams in 2008, 90 teams in 2009, and 94 in 2010 – the AuSable River Canoe Marathon Committee decided to add a third day in order to accommodate the event’s increasing number of teams.
This year’s time trials are slated for 3-5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24, 3-7 p.m. on Thursday, July 25, and 2-4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 26.
The new public launch at the State Police Crime Lab will be closed during time trials, Marathon officials said.
Weyerhaeuser is the sponsor for time trials this year.
The 2019 AuSable River Canoe Marathon will start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 27.
Best Sprint Times, 2000-2018 | AuSable River Canoe Marathon
Year Team Time
2018 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 4:47.15 ***
2017 Steve Lajoie Guillaume Blais 4:51.58
2016 Mathieu Pellerin Guillaume Blais 4:47.93 **
2015 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:23.04
2014 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.10
2013 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.34
2012 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:29.15
2011 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:32.04
2010 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:35.82
2009 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:34.45
2008 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.67
2007 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:26.24
2006 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:22.17 *
2005 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:24.41
2004 Mo Harwood, Jr. Matthew Rimer 5:25.44
2003 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 5:34.04
2002 Mo Harwood, Jr. Matthew Rimer 5:39.74
2001 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 5:41.17
2000 Tim Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:57.54
* Record time for the old course
** First year for the new course
*** Record time for the new course