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Grayling prepares for 70th annual Ausable River Canoe Marathon

Ausable Canoe Marathon

Many people have either heard of or, in more rare cases, experienced first hand the pain that comes with running a marathon.

At the end of the month, Grayling, Michigan is hosting its 70th annual Ausable River Canoe Marathon. Our On the Map series brings us to a small northern Michigan community, for one of the largest most competitive canoe races in the nation.


The Ausable River Canoe Marathon is considered part of the Triple Crown of canoe racing, which involves the three most competitive canoe races in North America.

I spoke with Steve Southard, he is the communications director with the race. He elaborated on the races in the Triple Crown events.

“The General Clinton Canoe Regatta in New York over memorial day, the marathon at the end of July, and then La Classique de Canoes in Quebec over Labor Day. Those are the three major marathon canoe races in North America.”

Southard says there are a number of canoe races and marathons across the country and even in Michigan. But being a part of the Triple Crown, the race at the end of the month is a big deal.

“This is the most accomplished field of marathon canoe racers anywhere in North America, and so they know that they have to come to the Ausable marathon and compete on the Ausable River if they want to see how they measure up against the other best paddlers in North America.”

Southard says other canoe races and marathons are more casual, but Grayling has a cutoff time for those who aren’t on proper pace.

“The marathon is 14 to 19 hours long, top teams will finish in about 14 to 14 and a half hours, to do that they’re maintaining a rate of 60 to 70 paddle strokes per minute throughout the whole race. In order to be an official finisher of the race there are cutoff times along the race course where if a team is not maintaining that 19 hour pace, they are pulled out of the race.”

Southard says even of the big three races, the Ausable stands out due to the surprising number of people involved.

“The Ausable marathon in particular are quite different from other marathon canoe races in that they’re really also a spectator event. At these races there are as many as 50 thousand or more fans who see at least some part of the race.”

Can’t get out to the river? Southard says technology allows  you to track the race now, from the comfort of your own home.  

“All the canoes are equipped with GPS and there’s online mapping so folks can sit at home and follow the race.”

Spectators may stay home, but racers are drawn to the river in droves.

Some racers have been participating in the Grayling marathon for years. One will be attempting his 19th consecutive finish this year. Also, two of the three paddlers in race history with more than 30 canoe marathon finishes are participating.

There are also six paddlers in their 70’s competing this year.

There have been international entries in the past, and this year is no exception. Southard says they are anticipating a team from Australia, and a paddler from Belize.

“We have had paddlers from Great Britain and and we have had paddlers from Belize. Marathon canoe racing actually is a fairly active sport in the country of Belize.”

Southard says there are also racers from around the country, including participants from New York and Massachusetts.

Turns out, different racers bring different traditions to Grayling. A few years ago, Quebec paddlers brought along a uniquely Canadian craft, the Rabasca. It’s large and practical… and now, it’s a race.

“So these are 25-foot long cargo canoes that basically are similar to what were used in the early explorer days to move lots of people and supplies around the Great Lakes and across the state through the river systems and last year we added another racing event to the Ausable marathon and there are several voyager canoe teams Rabasca teams from Quebec who come down and participate in that race.”

The Canoe marathon runs from Grayling to Oscoda on July 29th.

It’s unusual but intense events like the Ausable River Canoe Marathon that remind people of the culture and sport that can be found within small Michigan cities. And it’s event like this that put Grayling, Michigan, On the Map.


More information can be found at the Ausable River Canoe Marathon website.

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