Fun (and not-so-fun) Facts about the Mackinac Bridge:
- It’s the 5th largest suspension bridge in the world.
- Travel and Leisure rates it as the 7th “scariest” bridge in the world.
- The bridge is 5 miles long and reaches up to about 200 feet above the water.
- In 1989 a gust of wind tossed a Yugo (with the driver still inside) over the side of the bridge. Even though it happened more than 25 years ago, Michiganders will never forget about this tragic accident.
- If you don’t want to drive across the bridge the Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a “Drivers Assistance Program” where a bridge employee will drive you and your vehicle across the bridge at no charge.
- In 2014 30,000 people participated in the annual Labor Day walk across the iconic bridge.
During the year you have two opportunities to (legally) run across the Mackinac Bridge.
1. Mighty Mac Bridge Race (11K) hosted by St. Ignace. (September) In this race you are shuttled from St. Ignace to Mackinac City, and then you proceed to run NORTH across the bridge to American Legion Memorial Park (next to the Mackinac Grille and Star Line Railroad Dock).
2. Fall Colors Bridge Race (5.6 miles) hosted by Mackinac City. (October) In this race you are shuttled from Mackinac City to Bridgeview Park at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, and then you proceed to run SOUTH across the bridge to Mackinaw City High School.
I think there *may* also be a third run during Memorial Day weekend but I wasn’t able to find any official info on it…
AUGUST 2016 UPDATE: I just found out that there’s now an official Labor Day Bridge Run too! You can find more info on that here: http://michiganfitness.org/labor-day-bridge-run
Other than the annual Labor Day bridge walk, I didn’t even think that running across the Mackinac Bridge was even an option. So when I saw the ad for the Inaugural Mighty Mac Bridge Run on RunMichigan.com I was like, “Heck ya…SIGN ME UP!!” I’ve traveled across the Mighty Mac many times during visits to my dad’s house in the Upper Peninsula over the years, and to me it’s the symbol of my “happy place” and my home away from home in the U.P.
This year was the INAUGURAL event and took place on Saturday, September 27, 2014.
Here’s a few other tidbits that you might like to know about the race:
Number of runners: 350
Where we stayed: Holiday Inn Express, St. Ignace. We stayed in room #222 and despite having a really beautiful view of Lake Huron and Mackinac Island I’m not sure I would choose to stay at this hotel again due to some unresolved issues we had with the bathroom. 🙁
Distance: 11K (6.8 miles)
Packet pick-up location: at the Chamber of Commerce in St. Ignace. I noticed for those people that weren’t able to make packet pick-up on Friday you could get your bib at the tent located at the Star Line Railroad Dock before you got on the bus to go to the starting line. There was not an expo for this event.
Race swag: at packet pick-up we received a blue cinch backpack with our bib, long sleeve cotton t-shirt, St.Ignace visitor guide, instructions on where to find our complimentary “time at the top” race photo, Kewadin Casino coupons, and our “participant” medal. I thought it was odd that they gave us our medals with our bibs but it was pointed out to us that these were NOT finisher medals so they felt OK with putting them in our race packets. Kind of a bummer, but I still would have done this race even if I didn’t receive a medal so I didn’t care TOO much. Running across the Mackinac Bridge is definitely the main attraction!
Pre-race dinner: Boccaccio bread (highly recommended!) and Fish n’ Chips at the Driftwood Restaurant in St. Ignace. Fish n’ Chips probably wasn’t the best choice as far as pre-race fuel is concerned, but when in Rome…
Pre-race breakfast: Nothing too exciting to report here especially since it was only an 11K…just a pumpkin muffin and banana.
How it worked: Staring at 6:00 am we got on school buses at the Star Line Railroad Dock in St. Ignace (there seemed to be plenty of parking available but we got there early) which transported us to the south end of the bridge at the start line near Fort Michilimackinac State Park.
Time of race start: 7:00 am (perfect timing for watching a BEAUTIFUL sunrise while running across the bridge!!)
Water/aid stations: There was one water station around mile 5 of the race at the Welcome Center in St. Ignace at the north end of the bridge. Other than that you’re pretty much on your own for 5 miles while you cross the bridge, although there appeared to be plenty of bridge workers standing by in case of an emergency.
Potty stops: The staging area at the Star Line Boat Dock had 4 porta potties. There was also restroom facilities at the American Legion Park but I’m not sure if they were open before the race. Once you were dropped off near the start line at Mackinac City there were also restrooms available both near the start line as well as near Lighthouse Park. There were no porta potties available on the course but I saw people run off the course to use the bathrooms at the Welcome Center in St. Ignace near the 5 mile mark.
Weather: Wow, we could not have asked for better weather for this race! It was in the high 50s with clear skies and no wind at all! The sunrise was definitely one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It was PERFECT. I’m afraid if I ever do this race again it just won’t be as good!
Crowd support: Nada. Kinda hard to get crowd support when you’re on a suspension bridge! Although there was a smattering of nice folks who popped out from the Straits State Park to cheer us on after we turned onto the path from the Welcome Center in St. Ignace. You may also get some people who honk and wave at you as they drive by on the opposite of the bridge. Hopefully, getting to the other side of the bridge is enough to motivate you! Plus there is plenty of scenery (see photo above) to keep you distracted. Once you cross the bridge the last 2 miles can get a little lonely, but with the momentum you gained from ascending down the bridge you should have enough of a boost to get you through to the end!
The course: First, I’m SO bummed that I forgot to wear my Garmin for this race! UGH!! I NEVER do that! When we were all gathering near the start line (if you want to call it that!) I realized I didn’t have it on and my heart dropped. Coolest race EVER and I didn’t have my Garmin to record my beloved map and splits! 🙁
Sadly, because I don’t have my Garmin map to share, you’ll have to check out the course map here: Mighty Mac Bridge Race course map
The start line was located directly underneath the big red Colonial Michilimackinac sign. There was a line of cones and a guy with a megaphone who said, “Ready, set….GO!” They let us off in a few different waves according to the bus we were on. If you were on the first bus, you were in the first wave, etc. so it wasn’t like typical races where you are placed in different waves or corrals according to your time. But there were so few runners…it really didn’t matter! My running group was in the second wave and by the time I got to the base of the bridge, I could see the last wave of runners being sent off.
I know some people think it’s crazy to run across the Mackinac Bridge but I felt VERY safe the entire time. Unlike the walk on Labor Day where the four lanes of the bridge are divided evenly between traffic and walkers (two lanes each), we were only given one lane during the run. Runners were given the outside lane (toward the railing) going northbound while cars were given the inside lane (toward the center of the bridge) and required to drive across the grates. It makes sense that runners were not given both lanes. First, there was only a small amount of runners and even if we had both lanes to run on, the metal grates would have been WAY too slippery.
Every so often we would go over the metal expansions which allow the bridge to flex and you had to watch your step. At the two towers they also had rubber mats covering the larger metal expansions to prevent us from slipping which I thought was nice. They also had a bridge worker positioned here which you can see in the photo above and when you watch the video courtesy of MichiganRunnerTV (which I didn’t even know was a thing?).
You could definitely feel the ascent going up the bridge! But I didn’t think it was all that bad, especially since I’m used to running on hills. It was totally worth it once you got to the top and started picking up speed on the way down. Wheeeee!!!
We turned into the Welcome Center at St. Ignace and I was glad to see the water station since I didn’t wear my fuel belt (didn’t really feel like messing with it for a 7 mile race). I had NO idea how far we had to go since I didn’t have my Garmin and nothing was marked (I actually like it better when races aren’t marked with mileage). But I had a pretty good idea of our whereabouts compared to the finish line, so I figured it was at least a mile or so.
After the water stop we turned right onto a dirt path which was kinda cool and unexpected. To the right I noticed a campground which later I learned was Straits State Park. I would love to camp there next year! We continued heading east and ran by a cemetery that was located close to the shores of Lake Huron. Although we were running on residential streets I never saw one car the entire time. The only motorized vehicle I encountered after crossing the bridge was a dirt bike and he was just sitting there waiting for a runner.
We made a few more turns on tiny residential streets with wooden street signs and I kept thinking EVENTUALLY I would see the finish line. Each time we had to turn a corner there was a nice volunteer holding a flag and pointing us in the right direction. At one point we ran by the Coast Guard station and I could see the lighthouse that was located close to our staging area at the American Legion Memorial Park. Aaaah! Getting closer!
At this point I was pretty much by myself but I passed a guy who was taking a walk break. Of course as soon as I shuffled by he started running again (I notice men tend to do this a lot). Other than stopping to take a few pictures and walking through the water station I didn’t take any walk breaks but I still felt pretty good. The course started to veer off S. State St. and there was a STEEP little hill heading down into the park. A nice little volunteer was standing there and she said, “You’re almost there!” It was the only time I’ve ever done a race where someone said that and I REALLY was almost there!
I saw the shadow of someone running up behind me (it must have been the guy I passed earlier) and I thought “I don’t think so!” and I kicked it up another notch as I crossed the finish line. A guy standing there with a microphone said, “Hey we’ve been waiting for you! Way to go 164!!”
Post-race goodies: The post race spread was very good! They had homemade granola bars, coffee cake, and muffins. There were also bananas and the BEST apple I’ve had in a very long time! And of course water bottles. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of food even for those that were in the back of the pack.
My goal and results: Even though I was SUPER bummed I forgot my Garmin it probably helped my time because I typically always do better when I run by feel instead of constantly checking my pace. I always tell myself that I’m going to ignore my watch but of course I never do. My goal for this race was to finish with an average pace less than 11:30 and my average pace was 10:48. Yay!! I am slowly (no pun intended) but surely starting to get my speed back. This gives me confidence that maybe I can finish closer to a 10:00 minute mile when I do my next 10K in November.
CLICK HERE for official race results.
I typically almost ALWAYS finish in the middle of the pack and this race was no exception. I was #14 out of 26 in my age group. Our running group did had some excitement though because our friend Carrie placed SECOND in her age group! So after cleaning up at the hotel we came back for the awards ceremony which was super fun. We didn’t stick around for the live band though.
Things I really liked about this race: It doesn’t get much better than watching the sun rise while running across the Mackinac Bridge on a clear, crisp September morning. I also appreciated the variety of runners. There were some people who were really serious about running a good race, and then other people were just there to enjoy a leisurely trip across the bridge. I also thought for an inaugural event that everything was very well organized and I really liked the free photo (not very many races do that) even though mine didn’t turn it out very well. 🙁
Things I really didn’t like about this race: I thought it was really strange that we got our medals at packet pick-up. Yeah, they were “participant medals” but still…it’s always fun and rewarding to get your medal at the END of a race! I understand that it’s one less thing for the volunteers to have to worry about, but maybe they can enlist someone to hand medals out at the finish line next year. It always feels good to know that you EARNED your medal. And having someone give it to you at the end of the race is like the cherry on top of a really good event.
Post-race activities: We debated going to Mackinac Island after the race, but since we had to head back home later that same afternoon we decided it wouldn’t be worth it if we could only hang out there for a couple of hours. So instead we had breakfast at the Hillside House (which apparently has the most interesting women’s bathroom ever…although I didn’t get to see it), climbed Castle Rock, bought some pasties, and walked around the shops of St. Ignace. It was a great way to spend the day!
Is this race worth putting on your bucket list? YES!
Would I do this race again? Yes…DEFINITELY! And next time I won’t forget my Garmin! 🙂