AuSable River Canoe Marathon teams to battle for starting positions with three-day sprint event next week

Change is good? The AuSable River Canoe Marathon made a significant adjustment to the annual race’s time trials last year by moving the course. Time trials – a three-day event slated for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, July 26, 27, and 28 this year – determine starting positions for the AuSable River Canoe Marathon’s run to the river on race night.
The AuSable Marathon, a 120-mile nonstop canoe race from Grayling to Oscoda, will start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, this year.
The old course for time trials started at Penrod’s, sending teams downstream to a buoy turnaround at the halfway point and having them paddle upstream to finish the loop.
The new course? It starts at Penrod’s, same spot as in previous years, but teams now go upstream first, turn around at the halfway buoy at the Old AuSable Fly Shop, and finish coming downstream. One of the biggest differences is that spectators now have multiple viewing places for the buoy turn, an aspect of the time trials that some paddlers say is the most difficult part of the sprint.
With the old course, the turnaround area was not readily accessible to spectators.
Another difference? The final times. It’s a shorter course now.
Going into the 2016 AuSable River Canoe Marathon time trials, the record for the fastest sprint time was 5:22:17, a mark established by Andrew Triebold and Matthew Rimer in 2006.
In 2016, with the new course, 16 teams posted times better than the existing all-time record. The top team at sprints last year – Mathieu Pellerin and Guillaume Blais – posted a time of 4:47.93, a mark that was 36 seconds faster than the old course’s record. The slowest sprint time last year was 9:14:11.
Is there a key to having a good sprint? What are the biggest challenges associated with time trials?
“Learning how to pole your way upstream. Finding a piece of water locally that is as shallow and has a similar gravelly bottom to practice on takes some driving,” said Michael Schlimmer, a competitor from New York. “Getting a paddle you can push off the bottom with and not break is really helpful.”
“One big key is remembering technique. When people paddle fast and against a clock the technique usually goes out the window. When that happens the times slow down. Remembering all the things that go into making the boat go fast is very key to having a fast time in the sprint,” said AuSable Marathon paddler Austin Weiler.
“The upstream is probably the part of the time trial where you can lose more time if you’re not efficient. Buoy turn is important but if you have the best buoy turn it won’t make you first. Still have to work on my time trial. Never been higher than third position,” said Christophe Proulx, who won the AuSable River Canoe Marathon last year with Ryan Halstead.
The AuSable Marathon doesn’t start in the water; it starts on a road. Teams line up on Peninsular Avenue in Grayling, five teams per row, and when the race begins, competitors carry their canoes to the water at the Old AuSable Fly Shop. Teams with the best starting positions have shorter paths to the river, fewer canoes around them during the run to the river, and less congestion at the water once they reach the dock at the Old AuSable Fly Shop.
“Times trials are very important. You definitely want to have a good starting position, the longer the run, the more boat traffic you have to deal with in front of Ray’s (Old AuSable Fly Shop). The new course seems a little tougher because of the area of the buoy turn. There seems to be less space than the old course’s turn, so even a small mistake on this course seems to be amplified a bit more and could mean the difference in five to 10 starting spots,” said AuSable Marathon paddler Mike Hale.
“It is definitely beneficial to start as near the front as you can get. To reduce the distance carrying the boat on a full run helps a lot. To get in front of hordes of other racers jumping in the river on and around you is very beneficial. Further near the front you can possibly enter the river you are around better caliber paddlers and they can help suck your boat down the initial part of this race. You can see it in the results to upper Rayburn’s split times or even to Burton’s Landing timing location that every line you can move up on the street helps your position by 30 seconds to possibly a minute,” said AuSable Marathon competitor Eric Batway.
The time trials event usually provides a strong forecast of which teams might finish in the top spots during the AuSable Marathon.
Last year, 15 of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon’s top 17 finishers also finished in the top 17 during time trials. In 2015, 16 of the Marathon’s top 19 teams also finished in the top 19 during the time trials competition. In 2014, 13 of the top 14 teams at time trials also finished in the top 14 during the AuSable Marathon. In 2013, 10 of the top 12 teams at time trials finished in the top 12 during the Marathon. In 2012, all of the top 15 teams at time trials finished in the Marathon’s top 15. 
Teams with the slowest sprint times do not have a high finish rate in the Marathon. 
Last year, with the new course, 16 teams posted sprint times over the 7:00 mark. Half of them did not reach Oscoda in the required 19 hours. The highest finish among them was 66th.
In 2015, on the old course, one team had a sprint time beyond the 10:00 mark, and it did not reach the finish line. Seven duos had sprint times in the 9:00 to 9:59 range and three of them made it to Oscoda; they placed 58th, 65th, and 70th out of 71 teams that finished the race.
In 2014, three teams posted sprint times of 10:00 or more. Of those, one finished the AuSable Marathon. Two had sprints in the 9:00 to 9:59 range; they placed 68th and 69th out of 74 finishers.
From 2000 through 2015 – 16 AuSable Marathons – 39 teams took longer than 10 minutes to complete their sprint and only six of those (15 percent) reached the finish line. Of those 39, the best placement was 47th out of 58 (2007). The finish rate for teams in the 9:00 to 9:59 range at time trials from 2000 through 2015 is 45 percent (18 of 40). 
In the modern era of the Marathon, approximately four out of five teams that start the race are able to finish it. The exact percentage varies from year to year. In the 17 most recent AuSable River Canoe Marathons (2000 through 2016) the finish percentage has ranged from a high of 91 percent (2006) to a low of 71 percent (2001). During that span, 1,251 teams started the race and 1,027 finished it (82 percent). 
The time trials event is spread out over the course of three days. Before 2011, it was a two-day event. In 2011, after having three consecutive years of record breaking participation numbers – 76 teams in 2008, 90 teams in 2009, and 94 in 2010 – the AuSable Marathon Committee opted to add a third day in order to accommodate the event’s increasing number of teams.
This year’s time trials are currently slated for 3-5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 3-7 p.m. on Thursday, July 27, and 2-4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 28.
Best Sprint Times, 2000-2016 | AuSable River Canoe Marathon
Year Team Time
2016 Mathieu Pellerin Guillaume Blais 4:47.93 **
2015 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:23.04
2014 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.10
2013 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.34
2012 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:29.15
2011 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:32.04
2010 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:35.82
2009 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:34.45
2008 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 5:28.67
2007 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:26.24
2006 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:22.17  *
2005 Andrew Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:24.41
2004 Mo Harwood, Jr. Matthew Rimer 5:25.44
2003 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 5:34.04
2002 Mo Harwood, Jr. Matthew Rimer 5:39.74
2001 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 5:41.17 
2000 Tim Triebold Matthew Rimer 5:57.54 
* Record sprint time for the old course
** First year for the new sprint course


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