As I neared the top of the Mackinac Bridge, a pink-diamond sunrise slipped above the horizon, covering Lake Huron in an incandescent glow. I thought of my friend Vicki’s words of wisdom: “Just remember to take a few minutes to enjoy the view.” Despite the fact that I was running a road/bridge race with approximately four hundred other runners, I stopped, fumbled with my armband to extract my cell phone, and snapped several photos. Other runners posed for photos or quickly shot photos of the gorgeous view from our extraordinary vantage point. This race seemed to be about more than just running a personal best.
The Mackinac Bridge serves dual purposes. It is the imaginary dividing line between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It also spans this enormous expanse of water and connects people from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you live south of the bridge, you might be referred to as a “Troll.” If you live north of the bridge, you are known as a “Yooper.” I suppose if you are on the five-mile long bridge for any length of time, you could be called a “Trooper,” a combination of both words. I, of course, am making this up, so I deserve all praise or criticism for this designation. On this particular day, I was a Trooper.
The Samuel Adams Mighty Mac Bridge Race morning began in St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula at 6:15 a.m. The 53-degree temperature was perfect for running. Along with friends Darcy and Dion, we climbed aboard the second of many school buses that transported the runners across the bridge to the starting line in Mackinaw City. People of all ages seemed eager and excited as our bus filled up, and we travelled across the bridge in the darkness. People sipped water and fiddled with their earbuds. I had decided to go naked—no, not like that, silly readers, I planned on listening to nature.
We began the race in waves. Since we had arrived in Mackinaw City on bus two, Darcy and I were in the second wave. Dion managed to take off in the first wave. As we wound our way up and around to I-75, we began the long slow climb to the top of the bridge. Although the Mackinac Bridge is five-miles long, the total race mileage equaled an 11K, or about 6.8 miles. I plodded along at a slow pace. As I soon realized, not everyone was concerned about their running times. The race was all about the bridge.
Despite being a “Trooper,” as I crossed the bridge, I soon learned that I absolutely do not like grates that slice through sections of the bridge. These expansion joints appeared like torture chambers for wayward running shoes. They also resembled gigantic teeth with gaps just large enough to peer through down to the water below. Since there was a bit of morning dew on the bridge, I pictured myself slipping and falling, being caught in several of the gnarly teeth, the bridge suddenly waking up, opening its jaws, and letting me drop two-hundred feet to the water below. The seemingly short green fence that separates drivers and runners from the edge of the bridge to the watery depths below didn’t seem as if it would hold me back if I tried to windmill my way out of falling. I forced myself to snap out of it and concentrate on running.
After I reached the top of the bridge, I began my descent to the bottom of the bridge. Holy suspension bridge, Batman! For some reason, the descent seemed much more difficult. I kept up my slow and steady pace as I neared the bottom of the bridge. As runners neared the Upper Peninsula Welcome Center, we turned right before heading towards the Straits Park. Volunteers lined the water station and gave words of encouragement. A man running next to me said, “The bridge was tough,” and I agreed with him. We still had just under two miles to go. As I turned right again to begin my trek through the Straits Park on a fabulous dirt trail, I thanked the volunteers for the beautiful weather. They laughed. As I continued on the trail, I realized I was far behind the people who had been in front of me. I knew there were runners behind me, so I knew I wasn’t lost or last. Pretending I was alone, I ran through the woods, enjoying the various reds, greens, and yellows that Michigan’s fall weather provides with its strata of pines, maples, and oak trees. This was heaven.
Eventually, I came to a clearing where a small group of people waited to cheer on the runners. I asked: “Is it still Saturday?” They laughed and wished me well. I began catching up to the runners in front of me even though the elevation began to rise. As my running shoes hit pavement again, I realized that I needed to kick it into gear as I passed by two groups of geese on opposite sides of the street. A woman on a bicycle smiled as she rode past me. Dogs barked out early morning greetings. When I had been on the bridge, I had been hypnotized by the water and the sunrise. Now I felt as if I had returned to reality. Time to get this thing done.
As I neared the finish line, I somehow kicked my very sore legs into gear and propelled myself forward on the dirt path along the water. Darcy, who had finished well before me and waited on the sidelines, high-fived me as I gave two-thumbs up to the announcer calling out my number. No, I didn’t win anything. I would find out later that I was 5th out of ten in my age group. Yes, I could have run faster, harder, not thanked every volunteer I passed, not said goofy things to people as I ran by, and not stopped to take a picture near the top of the bridge. But I didn’t run to prove anything to anyone else. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and that the bridge I had been driving over for the past thirty-plus years to go from one peninsula to another would not swallow me up. And as a bonus at the end, there were chocolate chip cookies. And much later…beer. Life is good. Run on, friends, run on.