Its A Sprint, Not A Marathon

Paddling teams to determine starting positions for the AuSable River Canoe Marathon’s running start with three-day time trials event
The Consumers Energy AuSable River Canoe Marathon will determine starting positions for the race’s running start with a three-day time trials competition next week, and the event will likely feature a record number of sprints with more than 100 teams signed up for this year’s race.
The AuSable Marathon – an annual 120-mile non-stop canoe race from Grayling to Oscoda held during the last full weekend of July – doesn’t start in the river; teams line up on Peninsular Avenue according to sprint times, five per row, and run with their canoes to the water at the Old AuSable Fly Shop during the beginning of the event. 
The 2023 AuSable River Canoe Marathon – the 75th race in the event’s history – is likely to feature a record field this year with 108 teams signed up as of Tuesday, July 11. The event’s current record for most teams is 95, a mark that was established in 2016. The Marathon has hit or topped the 90-mark six times – 93 in 2022, 90 in 2019, 95 in 2016, 90 in 2011, 94 in 2010, and 90 in 2009 – but prior to 2023 the event has never surpassed the 100-team mark.
As of Tuesday, July 11, sprints for this year were slated for (approximately): 4 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26; 3 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. on Thursday, July 27; and 2 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. on Friday, July 28.
Before 2011, sprints were conducted over the course of two days. 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 added a third day in order to accommodate the increasing number of teams.
The current time trials course is a loop that runs from Penrod’s upstream to the Old AuSable Fly Shop and then downstream back to Penrod’s.
In 2016, the AuSable River Canoe Marathon Committee changed the course of the time trials to its current version. Prior to 2016, the course ran from Penrod’s downstream to a buoy at the halfway point and then back upstream to Penrod’s. A benefit of the current course is that it offers more quality locations for spectators to view the sprints, including the turnaround buoy at the Old AuSable Fly Shop.
This year, people can watch a portion of the AuSable Marathon sprint course via the TV 9&10 weather website (through the Consumers Energy Camera provided by Matt LaFontaine Automotive) at
The camera/website shows a 24/7 live view of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon starting line (also the location near the time trials turnaround buoy) at the Old AuSable Fly Shop and offers time lapse viewing options (six hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours) from now through the start of the race.
The current sprint course is a little bit shorter than the previous version. 
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, on the new course, 16 teams posted times faster than the all-time record of 5:22:17. In 2017, 16 teams posted sprint times better than 5:22:17. In 2018, 11 teams had sprint times faster than the 2006 record. In 2019, 16 teams had times under the 5:22:17 mark. The Marathon was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, 14 teams had sprint times better than 5:22:17. Last year, 13 teams completed the course in under 5:22:17.
The record time for the current course is 4:47.15 (established in 2018 by Triebold and Steve Lajoie).
Most teams take between five minutes and nine minutes to complete the current sprint course during time trials. 
The sprints offer a unique set of challenges for paddlers, including shallow water, upstream paddling, and a buoy turn that sometimes causes competitors to tip over. What’s the most difficult part of time trials for the competitors? Paddlers have offered different answers over the years.
“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,” one paddler said.
“The hardest part I think is managing the stress the hour before you do your sprint,” said another.
“The upstream is probably the part of the time trial where you can lose more time if you’re not efficient,” said another.
“Low water and paddle damage,” said another.
Keys to having a successful 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. Warm up well so you don’t cramp up,” one paddler said.
“The key to a good time trial is the upstream. Knowing the technique involved to keep a good glide in just a few inches of water is the difference between third and 15th,” said another.
“One big key is remembering technique. When people paddle fast and against a clock the technique usually goes out the window. When that happens the times slow down. Remembering all the things that go into making the boat go fast is very key to having a fast time in the sprint,” said another.
The time trials competition tends to offer a strong forecast of which teams will finish at the top of the Marathon and which will finish at the bottom of the standings (or not at all).
Last year, 14 of the top 15 teams at time trials also finished in the top 15 during the AuSable Marathon. Of the nine slowest teams out of the 95 that competed in last year’s time trials event, only one of them finished the 2022 AuSable Marathon.
In 2021, all of the top 11 teams at time trials also finished in the top 11 during the Marathon. In 2021, five teams out of the 83 that competed at time trials posted sprints that exceeded the eight-minute mark, and none of those five finished the race.
In 2019, 12 of the top 14 finishers at time trials also placed inside of the top 14 during the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. In 2019, of the 11 slowest teams during sprints for position, the highest placement in the Marathon was 60th. The group included one DNF.
In 2018, 18 of the top 20 teams at time trials also finished in the top 20 during the Marathon. In 2018, the four slowest teams at time trials all posted DNFs.
In 2017, 11 of the Marathon’s top 13 finishers also placed in the top 13 during time trials. In 2017, the seven slowest teams at time trials posted four DNFs and placements of 69th, 70th, and 73rd out of 73 finishers. 
A high placement during time trials offers an advantage for the AuSable Marathon’s running start. Teams with the best starting positions have shorter paths to the river, fewer canoes around them during the running start, and less congestion at the water once they reach the dock at the Old AuSable Fly Shop/Ray’s BBQ, Brews & Blues.
“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,” one paddler said.
“The running start is unique to the race. Having a good sprint is crucial to a good start, which can make the difference of several minutes over the duration of the race,” said another.
“It is definitely beneficial to start as near the front as you can get. 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 can see it in the results to upper Rayburn’s split times or even to Burton’s Landing timing location that every line you can move up on the street helps your position by 30 seconds to possibly a minute,” said another.
The start of the 2023 Consumers Energy AuSable River Canoe Marathon is slated for 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 29. Unless there is a record finish time, teams will reach Oscoda between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 30.
According to the AuSable River Canoe Marathon’s website,, Weyerhaeuser is the Title Sponsor for this year’s time trials, Home Waters Real Estate is the Presenting Sponsor, Arauco is the Contributing Sponsor, and Penrod’s is the Property Site Sponsor.

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