Last weekend I competed in my 29th race of the year, and my second in Michigan’s gorgeous – and incredibly remote – Upper Peninsula. I earned the biggest, heaviest finisher’s medal I’ve ever seen!
The race was called the Pine Mountain 500, and it was held at the Pine Mountain Ski Resort in Iron Mountain. There’s a ski jump there, and alongside the jump is a 500-step stairway.
The race is both a road race and a stair climb, but I’ll get into that later. First, let’s focus on those steps… because there are a lot of them!
Based on my research, I’m pretty sure this is the longest, tallest, outdoor stairway in the entire state of Michigan. (This is unverified, though, so if you know of a longer one, please let me know!) And it’s easiest to know there’s 500 steps, because every single one is numbered, on a plaque, alongside the name of a donor that may have paid for that step.
Parking for the race was at the bottom of the stairs, but the start line was at the top. They offered a shuttle bus to the top, that went up back roads, but I climbed the stairs, so I could gain some familiarity with them and also warm up for the race.
There’s a couple great things at the top of the stairs. First is the Upper Peninsula Veteran’s Memorial, a circle of monoliths, surrounding a flagpole, featuring bricks engraved with the names of every service member that’s died during a war.
Also at the top is the actual ski jump. The stairs go up the hill that skiers land on when they jump, but the ramp that they accelerate down is a giant man-made structure.
This is the second Upper Peninsula ski jump that’s hosted a race this year. In May, I competed in the insanely difficult Red Bull 400, where you run up the hill and the ramp. That was at a different ski jump, though, a couple hours away. (There are only three ski jumps in the entire state – and now I’ve visited two!)
There’s also a nice lookout, a wooden walkway extending out over the trees. It provides a nice view of the stairs from above, as well as the old stairs, in the distance, that these replaced.
And the lookout is a great place for scenic photographs!
I wore a bib with good ol’ lucky number 72.
The race itself started with a roughly 2.7-mile rule. We started just to the side of the Veteran’s Memorial, and headed down the backside of the mountain, on roads. There were a couple small inclines at the beginning, but most of the first half was downhill, and the second half was pretty flat.
The course was well marked, and there were volunteers at all the intersections pointing the right way. There was a drumline, probably from the local high school, at one intersection, and let me tell you, a kickass drumline is exactly what you want to hear doing a race. I loved it.
I felt good during the run. I was pushing myself, but not to the absolute limit, because I wanted to save some energy for the stairs.
And, soon enough, I was faced with a whole lot of stairs. And as if 500 stairs weren’t challenging enough, these varied a little bit. The first chunk were shallow, and then they got extremely steep, only to revert back to shallow again at the very top. There were handrails on both sides, but the stairs were wide enough that I couldn’t use both at one time.
To be honest, I don’t really remember my time on the stairs during the race. I know I double-stepped as much as I could, and gave it everything I had, and passed a handful of people, but that’s about it. Before I knew it, I was emerging at the top, and the finish line was about 100 feet away, across a flat area.
Actually, in order to cross the finish line, you had to veer away from the stairs, to the left of the women standing on the grass in the picture below, avoiding the final nine steps. The race is called the Pine Mountain 500, but maybe it should be called the Pine Mountain 491!
I crossed the finish line and promptly sank to my knees, and, milliseconds later, I was flat on my back, unable to budge, thanks to the fatigue and my racing heart. A volunteer lowered my medal onto my chest, because I couldn’t reach up and take it from her hand.
I’m not one to race and immediately hit the road, especially when I had driven 7.5 hours the day before to get here. So I enjoyed the views, got some water, and then headed down the stairs… and climbed them again. For fun. For the third time. 1,500 steps + 2.7 miles of running – not bad for a day’s workout!
But I wasn’t done. I saw some others climbing the ski jump, and I couldn’t resist. I needed to be at the top!
The jump didn’t have stairs – it had a walkway, on the side, with occasional lateral wood pieces for your feet, kinda like a gangplank on a ship, except this got progressively steeper.
It only took a couple minutes to get to the top, and man oh man, it was totally worth it.
Oh! Remember how I mentioned that all the steps were numbered and named? Step #4 was the Brett Favre step. He’s a legendary NFL player that was the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, so I made a little quickie visual aid for a photo opportunity.
I entered this picture in a contest where I could win an autograph from Brett… so… fingers crossed!
I finished the Pine Mountain 500 in 29 minutes, 21.1 seconds. Woohoo! I didn’t set a goal for this race, as I hadn’t done it before, but I went in thinking it would take me roughly a half-hour to finish, and I was pretty much spot-on.
I finished 67th overall, out of 184 total racers – roughly top third. I was 42nd out of 75 men, and 9th out of the 16 men in my division (men 40-49).
They also timed just the portion on the stairs, and I climbed 491 steps in 5 min, 16.5 seconds – good enough for 37th out of the 75 men that competed.
A couple friends were there, and both were named Josh. Josh Jackett, in the middle, came in 4th place overall, while Josh Duncan, on the right, won the whole damn thing!
Keep it up, Josh and Josh! And…
…Keep it up, David!
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