Running the Chateau Grand Traverse Half Marathon offered us the chance to escape the suffocating heat of South Carolina in the summer and experience one of the many alluring events in Traverse City, Michigan: the Cherry Festival. If you're not from Michigan, you may be dismissing the state, however the combination of nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes and the nearly effortless experience of Chateau Grand Traverse Half Marathon has turned us into Michiganers at heart (at least in the summer).
Packet pickup was held at Eastern Elementary. This location allowed runners to easily retrieve their bibs and shirts and also check out the parking situation for race morning. Because race start was at Chateau Grand Traverse, runners were bused from Eastern Elementary all the way up to the Chateau. Our minds were at ease when we discovered the elementary school is part of a larger campus, meaning there was plenty of parking on race morning.
Of note, shirts this year ran big. We were able to trade ours on race morning for smaller sizes.
While this was more of a packet pickup than an expo, volunteers were giving out packets of dried cherries and white chocolate cherry cookies. Take advantage of the freebies. The cookies are delicious and the cherries (also delicious) are part of the experience. (This event is part of the Meijer Cherry Festival of races, after all.)
Hotels in Traverse City are expensive this time of year (expect to spend between $260 and $360 per night). We got a great deal with AirBnB, where we paid less than a hotel room per night and had a full one bedroom apartment (kitchen included) only 1.2 miles from the finish.
Be aware, it won't do you much good to stay near the finish, unless you can hitch a ride or cab it up to Eastern Elementary or Chateau Grand Traverse. Because cars for the race park at Eastern, it's best to stay at a hotel or rental close to it. You can get as close as a half mile from the school's campus by staying at one of these three hotels: Cambria Hotel & Suites ($330 per night), Sierra Motel (a modest $179 during the week, but booked solid on the weekends in July), or Best Western Plus Four Seasons ($290 per night).
Places to Eat
Downtown Traverse City is loaded with dining options. Beer lovers, consider stopping by one of Traverse City's many breweries. The town has been recognized for its beer; just a short foray out of town will reveal locally grown hops.
Locals recommended Stella Trattoria for Italian, Towne Center for those with a sophisticated palate, and Bubba's for good American food.
The course for this race was point to point, beginning at Chateau Grand Traverse on the Old Mission peninsula and ending in downtown Traverse City. School buses shuttled us from Eastern Elementary (site of packet pickup) to the Chateau. There was no line to board the shuttle at 6 am, and therefore no stress. Upon arrival at the race start, Chateau Grand Traverse had its porch (and its heaters) open to runners prior to the race start. A bag drop allowed runners to leave a drawstring backpack (provided by the race) of warm, dry clothes that would be shuttled to the finish line. Port-o-let lines were modest and manageable, and any runner that needed to was able to use the restroom before the race began.
The first few miles of the half marathon course took runners through the orchards at Chateau Grand Traverse via sandy, dirt paths. The course here consisted of small hills and some sharp turns. Once exiting the trail portion of the course, runners were treated to views of Grand Traverse Bay on the right as they ran down Peninsula Drive. While the 15K (also part of the Meijer Festival of Races, much like a 5K and 10K) had runners tackle the monster hill, Mt. McKinley at about the halfway point in their race, the half marathon consisted of small, gently rolling hills. In combination with the magnificent views, this was an easy course to run and one of the most beautiful.
Fan support was modest, and even the crowds at the finish downtown were quiet. Most spectators were actually just people who had arrived super early to stake out their spot for the Cherry Royale Parade. The calm quiet was in keeping with the calm spirit of the race as a whole. This isn't a race to run for massive crowds of cheering fans and loud music playing to pump you up. It's one to run to enjoy the beauty of Northern Michigan, and the fantastic weather Michiganers get to enjoy in July.
The post race party was held at the finish line in downtown Traverse City. While many races give out beer tickets for the post race festivities, the Meijer Festival of races provides each runner with a cherries ticket. The ticket entitles its owner to a small cup of delicious Meijer cherries (though if you stay long enough, you'll be able to grab more, no ticket needed.) In addition to the race's namesake fruit, runners also had another chance to grab more of the same delicious cookies offered at packet pickup, as well as bags of dried cherries, race standard bananas, and the most delicious chocolate milk we've ever had the joy of drinking. Once again, runners who stayed long enough at the post race party were rewarded: whole gallons of milk were given away and more bags of dried cherries were available for the taking. We were glad to help get everything cleared out before the 11:00 parade start, and left with a dozen packets of dried cherries.
Shuttles at the finish carried runners back to Eastern Elementary where our cars were parked. At no point did we ever see a line for the the buses back, making travel to and from the race almost as enjoyable as the race itself.
Northern Michigan in the summer is perfection. Fortunately, the Meijer Festival of races and its Chateau Grand Traverse Half Marathon allow runners to experience that perfection via a beautiful course and well managed race experience. Don't underestimate Michigan or the Meijer Festival of races. With nearly 80 half marathons run between the two of us, this race and entire vacation experience were one of our favorite race experiences.
Tips for Running a Successful Chateau Grand Traverse Half Marathon
- Do some running on trails prior to the race. You will be better prepared for the Chateau Grand Traverse portion of the course. Of the two of us, the one who trained on trails and ran some hills was only minimally sore after the race. The one who hadn't suffered a little bit!
- Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes while you are in the area, and don't be afraid of the dune climb. Our legs were no worse off after making the climb, and there were no lingering effects on us for race day.