Hundreds of runners camp out and compete in an overnight relay race at Hanson Hills Recreation Area
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
More than a thousand people took turns running throughout the day and night on Saturday and Sunday at Hanson Hills Recreation Area during the Ragnar Michigan Trail, an event that organizers are already looking to bring back to Grayling in 2020.
“Definitely,” said CC Pelletier, Ragnar Michigan Trail Race Director. “We expect it to grow next year and carry on from there.”
“We got some good buzz going,” Pelletier said.
The Ragnar Michigan Trail, a relay race, featured more than 1,100 runners representing 139 teams, said Justin Andre, Director of Operations for Grayling Recreation Authority (the governing body for Hanson Hills). Starting Saturday morning, teams began the race; the event featured three different loops. Start times for teams were staggered throughout the day, and runners finished on Sunday. People ran throughout the night. Most teams consisted of eight runners. There were also a few four-person “ultra” teams.
Ragnar started its set-up on Monday, June 10, Andre said.
“It was pretty awesome to see the whole process,” Andre said. “This is well orchestrated.”
Ragnar set up a series of tents for participants, tents for apparel shops, a fire pit, and a tent for runners to exchange chipped wrist bands. Organizers marked spaces for individual camp sites, set up a yoga station at the Grayling Rotary Pavilion, and established a parking area behind the softball field at Hanson Hills. The “Ragnar Village” also featured a coffee station, food trucks, music, a shoe drying station, a potable water station, a beer tent run by the Grayling Rotary Club, a recovery station inside the lodge, and a medical station with Frederic EMS.
Pelletier said the majority of Ragnar Michigan Trail participants were from Michigan, but there were also many from out of state.
“They are definitely from all over the place,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier said the runners liked the area and many people visited Grayling over the course of the weekend.
“Pop in, see what’s there,” she said.
Andre said the event was good for “our local economy” as well as those of the surrounding communities as participants trickled into areas like Gaylord for shopping purposes.
“There’s people from everywhere. You’ve got a lot of people here that have never been to Grayling, never seen Hanson Hills,” Andre said.
Randy Stephens and his wife, Tanya, helped bring the Ragnar Michigan Trail to Hanson Hills. They live in Connecticut but they have a house on the AuSable River in Crawford County. Tanya grew up in Grayling and has been a frequent visitor to Hanson Hills over the years. Randy competed in the Ragnar Michigan Trail over the weekend.
Randy said he had participated in several “Ragnars out east” and Tanya – after witnessing one of the Ragnar events – thought Hanson Hills would be a great place to have one of the trail relays. They approached Andre, and he contacted Ragnar.
“We’re always looking for new markets. I’m glad they clued us in on this because it’s a real hidden gem,” Pelletier said.
Initial discussions between Andre and Ragnar established the possibility of having a Ragnar event at Hanson Hills in 2020. Ragnar sent a representative to look at the facility.
“They sent a trail guy out here and he toured the trails with me. After that they put in an offer for spring 2019,” Andre said. “They really like what Grayling and Hanson Hills have to offer.”
Randy and Tanya said the Ragnar event was able to provide a lot of valuable exposure to Hanson Hills and the Grayling area.
“It’s been able to expose like 2,000 people to the facilities and the area around it,” Tanya said. “This town is a gold mine for athletic people. This is a fun place to be.”
“In a lot of Ragnars, they’re not close to a town. There’s a lot of opportunity for the community to support this and make money doing it,” Tanya said.
“It’s a different type of running group. They’re dedicated to the entire experience,” Randy said.
Andre said many Ragnar events are not held near towns and do not have access to the “amenities” at Hanson Hills such as “power, running water, bathrooms, a building to show their safety videos, plenty of parking, and camping areas.”
“They’re prepared to pull into an empty field and set up,” Andre said.
Ragnar founders created it in 2004, Pelletier said, and the group started its trail series in 2012. The group currently conducts road races and trail races nationally and internationally. Pelletier said Ragnar has races in England, Sweden, Germany, and Australia, and it’s working on adding a race in Mexico.
She said the Mexico crew came to the Ragnar Michigan Trail “to see how it’s run so they can put one on.”
For the trail race, a few runners start at a time at different intervals throughout the event. They carry colored wrist bands. The bands can be one of three colors, and each color corresponds to a color-coded trail loop.
“To complete the race all teammates have to complete all three loops,” Andre said.
The race had an electronic monitoring station approximately a quarter of a mile from the exchange tent. When runners went through the station, the system read the chipped wrist band and displayed a notification on several TV screens located throughout Ragnar Village, letting teammates know it was almost time to switch runners. Just before the exchange tent, runners ran through a large Ragnar arch.
“It came off fantastic,” Randy said. “The event and the trails were excellent. The runners were pleased with the trails.”
“This is really well set up,” Randy said. “Really challenging.”
After visiting Hanson Hills post-Ragnar, Randy said he was impressed with how pristine the area was after organizers and volunteers did their clean-up. Tanya said they cleaned the camping area as well as the trails used for the course loops.
“There’s not a gum wrapper to be found,” Randy said.
“The place is in great shape. It’s almost like they weren’t even there,” Andre said.
Tanya said it was an added benefit having the Hanson Hills lodge renovations completed in time for the Ragnar event. Crawford County voters approved a millage to pay for the lodge renovation project in November of 2018. The first phase of the project involved installation of a new roof, new windows, new siding, and new doors at the lodge.
“For the 2,000 people that were there, the fact that the building was done was a huge plus,” Tanya said. “It showed really well for the town.”
Andre, who also ran in the Ragnar Michigan Trail in addition to serving in his role as director of Hanson Hills, said the event went well overall.
“I think it was awesome,” Andre said. “Probably just shy of 2,000 people, spectators and participants. We were just amazed at the whole atmosphere. The Ragnar organizers were extremely easy to work with and they put on a topnotch show.”
“It was a cool, relaxed environment. There were all kinds of activities for people not running. Just a fun atmosphere. Good boost for the community and the Grayling area,” Andre said.
Complete results of the 2019 Ragnar Michigan Trail were not available prior to press time.
Update: Results are now available online at: http://www.racetecresults.com/results.aspx?CId=16432&RId=4158&EId=5&dt=0