A marathon along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail


By Jennifer Symons
Sun contributor

Fall racing has arrived. Let the excitement sink in. For many, this is the optimal running season. It is also common for runners to spend the summer training for a fall marathon. The relief that comes with the cooler temperatures can be felt in every inch of the athlete’s body. If there is one race on your fall calendar, make it the Sleeping Bear Marathon, Half Marathon, & 5k. This sixth annual event is held on Oct. 7th.

The marathon and half marathon take place almost entirely on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The 5k turns around just before hopping onto the trail. Not only is the beauty of the Heritage Trail a tremendous benefit, but runners do not have to worry about automobile traffic for the majority of the race.

Fall colors in northern Michigan are expected to peak the week of October 7-14—a bit early, owing to the cooler weather this summer, particularly at night. The beauty of the peak color season will open up on race day. What a glorious gift for both runners and onlookers.

All three races begin on Niagara Street near the beach in Empire. Runners wind through the neighborhood before heading out onto Lacore Road. Those running the 5K turn around at the end of Lacore while marathoners and half marathoners continue onto Voice Road. Runners then jump onto the Heritage Trail. The first few miles include both rolling hills and short but steep inclines. As this is an out-and-back course, be prepared to tackle these hills again coming back. Trust me, these rises and dips are much crueler at mile 23 than at mile 3. At mile 5, runners have the pleasure of running past the entrance to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Shortly after that, Little Glen Lake appears to the east, which is when the half marathoners turn around and return to Empire.

At the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb marathoners briefly veer off the Heritage Trail to run along M-109, past the iconic DH Day barns, they cut across Glen Haven, and then through DH Day Campground. The next section of the Heritage Trail becomes especially wooded, so pay attention to the beautiful trees around you. Runners emerge to the west side of Glen Arbor and run into town before turning around on Northwood Drive. Then comes the return trek back to Empire.

This is truly one of the most scenic races I have ever completed. You get views of Lake Michigan, The Sleeping Bear Dunes, and miles of forest-lined pathways that showcase the fall colors. The scenery combined with the crisp weather make it the perfect race.

As luck would have it, the Empire Hops Festival is also on Oct. 7, from noon until 10 p.m. What better way to celebrate the end of a race than with delicious, Michigan-made beer and local food? The Hops Festival also has live music, including delightful jams by the Benzie Playboys. It is truly the perfect post-race celebration.

Participating runners get a sweet tech shirt, but the sweatshirts available for purchase are extraordinary. This swag is worth your money if you’re a fan of this race. Additionally, many of the proceeds from this event go to local organizations, such as Friends of Sleeping Bear, the nonprofit group that maintains the Heritage Trail. There is still time to sign up for this amazing race, but spots are going fast. There is no day-of registration either, so do it now. You won’t regret the opportunity to run what is arguably one of the most beautiful races in this region. Visit Endurance Evolution’s event website for more information.