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The Great Lakes Relay
- By Doug Kurtis


The Great Lakes Relay is one of Michigan's most challenging yet inspiring team running adventure races.  Just a few weeks ago co-race directors, Bob Baril of Utica and Nick Papas of Grosse Pointe Park gave 750 runners plus support crews an intoxicating look at 275 miles of back roads and trails through northern Michigan. 

For a dozen years now, Baril and Papas have been uncovering spectacular trails. Its one of the highlights of the racing season for upcoming cross country runners as well as seasoned veterans. 

Open and mixed teams of ten men and/or women compete together based on handicapped adjustments to their age and sex differences.  Team captains spend weeks determining the logistics of who will run various sections of the course.  Each runner is required to cover a minimum of 24 miles during the three day event. 

Sections, or legs, vary in length, terrain and scenery.  Captains distribute maps to their teammates with descriptive directions and ratings for each these categories.  Special names are given to a number of legs, some are dedicated to runners for their past contributions.

Many sections also have corporate sponsors to help defray the some of cost of putting on the event as well as helping contribute to Michigan State Parks and Special Olympics.  Over the past twelve years the event has donated more than $55,000 to various organizations.

According to long time competitor, Ann Gere, "One thing that makes this event so different than your typical race is that you always have a group of people anxiously waiting for you at the end of each of your legs. It puts a little pressure on you but it's exhilarating too."

Teams are limited to three vehicles during the event due to congestion at exchange points. Teams spread out quickly based on abilities and ages but exchanges often have a line up of 100 cars plus.  Rules are set up to ensure the safety of the runners and also to keeps the trails clean after the runners pass through.  Teams have had thirty minutes deducted from their time for leaving things behind. 

There is a wonderful sense of competition, creativity and fun at the relays.  Teams names such as 10 Hotties and one bar of soap, Wha' Happened, Team Chubby and TrailZilla encourage everyone not to take themselves too seriously.  One year a Detroit team dressed up in red evening gowns as they crossed the final finish line.  A Bunch a Runnin Savages team from Ann Arbor dons Indian face paint every year on the last day to let everyone know they're serious and will take no prisoners.

Trying to stay on course is another key ingredient in the competition.  This year a new course was created.  It started from Oscoda a short jog from Lake Huron and finished in Mackinaw City at the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge.  While the maps helped considerably, some turns in the trails are hard to find and 30 minutes of backtracking a day per team is not uncommon.

Baril and Papas have quite a job on their hands developing a course.  The DNR has been supportive and contributed to choosing trails and back roads that offer the least amount of inconvenience to locals.   A major section was altered this year because the Pigeon River Forest Advisory Council requested that the race be denied a permit to use the area for its intended purpose, recreation.  In prior years the DNR has ignored the request because the event has been less obtrusive than hunters and off road bikes.

According to Baril, " The race provides runners a chance to see the beauty of the state in a way that 99 percent of residents don't get the chance to experience.  It builds bonds with teammates and other runners in the field that they will carry inside of them and cherish.  It only takes one trip up north on the relay for runners to get hooked, and give them a special summer event they won't soon forget."

Entries close fast. Want to sign up for next year?  Watch for information on the GLC website:

Contact Doug Kurtis at Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Fort St. Detroit, 48226


Doug Kurtis the former Race Director for the Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank International Marathon is the world record holder for most career sub 2:20 marathons (76) and most marathon victories (39). Doug is a five time Olympic Trial Qualifier 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. He was voted into the RRCA Hall of Fame in 1998 and Michigan Runner of the Year - 1985 and 1990. Doug coached two 2000 Olympic Trial Marathon Qualifiers.

Personal Bests:
26.2m - 2:13:34, 25km - 1:17:58, 13.1m - 1:04:51, 20km 1:02:37
10m - 48:33, 15km - 46:01, 10km - 29:44, 8km - 23:25



You can e-mail Doug at:


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