Today I set a new speed record on the most scenic and awesome trail in Michigan’s lower peninsula, The 23 mile long Manistee River Trail. For the trip report, scroll down. But first, an ode to the most legendary pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned. Worn today for the last time.
For the last 3 years I’ve exclusively worn the Adidas Energy boost road running shoes. I wear them everywhere. I wear them on the most technical single track, the highest 14ers, 17,000’ volcanoes and everywhere else. Inevitably someone will always comment on how I “shouldn’t be wearing road shoes on a mountain” or some similar sentiment as I fly past them on the trail. I pay no attention.
They are the fastest and lightest shoes with so much cushioning I’ve never had an issue and that’s what I dig about them, so I keep on running. My current pair have past their useful life and need to be retired. Normally, there isn’t much ho-hum about old shoes as I burn through 10 pairs a year. But this pair… this pair has done things few running shoes will ever do and been places few shoes will ever go.
This particular pair of black and blue shoes have run in 16 countries. They’ve been the first pair of shoes to ever run from the Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean in one day. They’ve set the speed record for the highest elevation trail in the east… a gnarly trail usually reserved for plated hiking boots. They’ve run in 95 degree heat and 10 degree windchills. They’ve set the speed record for the most beautiful mountain trail in all of Georgia outside of the Appalachian Trail. Surpassed the marathon distance in 2 states and 3 countries. They’ve been on one mile runs and 50+ mile runs.
Today, in their farewell run, they ran the fastest time ever recorded on the most scenic and badass trail in my home state of Michigan. They say not to judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. We all have a story. These shoes have more stories than most. So, fare thee well, old shoes. You and your torn up Chinese stitching will have stories in shoe heaven that will be legendary and I’ll always look back at you fondly.
Anyways, the Manistee River Trail is a 23-ish (probably 22.5) mile trail near Cadillac, Michigan that is a loop along both sides of the Manistee River. It uses the Manistee River Trail (MRT) on the east banks and the North Country Trail (NCT) on the western side. The official FKT set back in 2014 includes a 2.8 mile “out & back” section from the Seaton Creek Campground. The trails are linked by a road bridge on the southern side and a suspension (walking only) bridge on the northern side.
The MRT section has constant amazing views of the river. I stopped twice for 2-3 seconds to snap a quick photo because the view simply had to be documented. For my money, this is easily the most scenic trail in Michigan (at least in the lower Peninsula, no one is dissing you, Pictured Rocks). The MRT side has slightly less overall elevation gain/loss but that gain/loss is a little steeper and there are lots of quick turns around trees you have to slow down for… and lots of roots. I mean, a lot of roots. Here is an actual conversation I had with myself in my mind:
Me: (thinking) Man, there’s a lot of roots and I’m not tripping or falling once.
Also Me: (thinking) If anyone thought I was clumsy for breaking my ribs in a fall on the BMCT FKT, they should see me now. I’ve got incredible balance and I’m killing this. Like, 7 miles of crazy roots and not one fall.
Me: ** (trips on root and falls) **
Also Me: D*&% it!!!
I did my homework on the course and figured I could hit a 3:07. The plan was to do the 2.8 mile out in back in 24 minutes or less, the eastern (MRT) section in 1:14 and the western (NCT) section in under 1:29. The “official” listed FKT is 3:33:01 by Peter Hubbard who set half a dozen speed records a few years ago. There are also two Strava segments that don’t include the “out and back” to the campground. One is the full loop with a CR of 3:19 and the other doesn’t include the ½ mile on Coates road linking the MRT and NCT but has a 2:53 CR (probably a 2:57 or 2:58 if the road was run at the same pace). So, I wanted to make sure to at least go sub 2:50 on the loop. I’m a bit of a “purist” with FKT’s and I wouldn’t claim a fastest known time if there was a segment for 85% of the course and I didn’t beat it.
I had a crazy allergy/sinus thing over the weekend and both my little kiddos are sick and I’ve been up at night with them. I considered not doing this today since this training block has been less than ideal, I’m still in sleep debt from Europe and I did a hard workout 48 hours before… but as Michael Scott says, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Lots of rain lately made the trail fairly muddy but it was a nice morning with temps at 50 degrees and nearly no wind.
I started at the campground and ran the first 1.4 miles easy and relaxed. I pushed a little bit on the MRT section because I was losing some time with the muddy footing and I also managed to get slightly off course, even with a GPS. I missed the trail around mile 7 after a very short section on a road and realized I was about 100 feet off the trail. To get over to the trail, I had to go directly up a ridiculously steep hill with thicket all over the place and I briefly felt like I was in the Barkley Marathons. I also definitely got poison ivy bush-wacking back to the trail. Lost at least a minute there.
Made the road around 1:25 and finished the full MRT section in 1:16 (according to the Strava segment). The NCT had two longer hill sections with 300+ feet of gain that I moved slowly up but I was cruising at around 7 minute mile pace when it was flat. Just before the suspension bridge there was an incredible view of a horseshoe bend in the river and I was too busy staring at that awesomeness to notice the trail split in two and I went the wrong way. Caught the mistake within 30 seconds but another minute lost.
It started to warm up to the mid 60’s with some humidity, so I was sweating hard and working for it those last few miles. Crossed the suspension bridge just after 2:55 elapsed time with just the 1.4 mile stretch to go. Ran it in for a 3:06:39 total elapsed time. Got the FKT by 26+ minutes, the full loop (bridge to bridge) Strava segment by 30+ minutes and the partial loop by segment by roughly 12-13 minutes. Overall, considering all the circumstances, I’m very happy with the run. This is a really rad trail and hopefully now that it’s more competitive, more people will go for it. The FKT deserves to be sub-3 as this is one of the coolest FKT’s in the Midwest.