Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon
Welcome to Lake Wobegon!
For much of the country, the name "Lake Wobegon" conjures up images of Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town popularized in his "A Prairie Home Companion" radio program. Lake Wobegon, a noble and stoic town strong in Norwegian and German heritage, known for potlucks and hot dishes, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." For those like me who were raised in the small towns of the rural upper Midwest, we say, "Hey, that sounds just like my hometown!" Keillor's narratives strike a more familiar chord with those who are from here.
What a lot of people don't know is that Lake Wobegon also happens to be home to a nice little marathon.
Saturday I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed northwest to the town of St. Joseph to run in the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon. This region of the state is said to be Keillor's inspiration for Lake Wobegon, and it is now home to the Lake Wobegon Trail, a beautiful paved biking/hiking trail, which the marathon traversed.
Believe it or not, areas of Minnesota received snow overnight. On May 8th. Ocho de Mayo. I'm not kidding. Not much accumulated in this region, but there were patches of snow in ditches and low lying areas. That being said, it was not warm. Temps were in the upper 30's to start with a strong northwest wind (which would prove to be a blessing).
Yours truly, staying warm before the race inside the Holdingford school!
We were bussed to the town of Holdingford to the high school to start the race. We were even allowed to hang out inside the school before the race started to keep warm, which was most appreciated!
Meandering out to the start
The race got underway at 7:00 and a few hundred of us wound our way around the school, through a residential area, and then hit the trail which would take us to our destination. From here, the route ran roughly north to south, then more or less west to east. Remember that northwest wind I told you about? It would be either helping, or at our backs, for most of the way.
I purposefully left my watch at home. I have been doing this on occasion when I race and find that I run more relaxed when I am oblivious to what is going on! :) It allows me to just run and not worry about time, and I have found that these races often produce the best results. So I ran. Comfortably. I found my pace that I liked and set the cruise control.
The race takes you through four towns - from the start at Holdingford, you run to Albany, Avon, and finish in St. Joseph. So you get to take in the sights of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Catholic Church, Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, Skoeglin's Five and Dime, The Sidetrack Tap, and the Chatterbox Cafe. (OK, I made that last part up - those are businesses in the fictional Lake Wobegon! But what I am telling you is that these are really cute, picturesque towns)
And the Lake Wobegon Trail is really quite scenic. Outside of the towns, you pass through wooded areas, farmland, past lakes and swamps - a beautiful variety of landscapes. I heard loons calling from a lake, red-bellied woodpeckers squawking from wooded groves, and even a chorus of sedge wrens from a marshy area (which made my day - one of my favorite birds is back for the summer!).
As for the weather, there was an interesting mixture of sun (quite a bit at the start) and clouds (more of those towards the end), and the temperature wouldn't get any higher than the upper 40's. And with the wind helping, this was turning out to be a perfect day to race.
I was running well and enjoying myself immensely. The miles just seemed to clip on by. Volunteers at the aid stations were fun and friendly (and bless them for standing out in the chilly wind - running in it is fine, but standing around? Brrr!). Police officers controlling the busier intersections even shouted words of encouragement while holding up traffic. Runners chatted with each other the whole way, most going out of their way to say thanks to the volunteers and the police. What a cool race.
The only place I knew where I stood was at the halfway point on the outskirts of Albany. 1:56 something. This is roughly the same time I made it through the half at Fargo last spring, and I blew up with 3 miles to go, finishing in 4:04.
But today felt somewhat different. I had been running with two ladies who were running together, and their pace was to my liking. So I just tried to keep up with them. I will bet I ran with or near them from miles 11 to 23, where I eventually dropped them when they stopped for water. But I was feeling really good. I knew I was going a little slower than the first half, but I wasn't losing it. Pace was good, pace was steady. Still had something in the tank.
Just past the 25 mile mark, you can kind of see the finish line in St. Joseph. The water tower eventually comes into view, and the finish line is right by that. With a quarter mile to go, I even managed to find a little kick to bring it home to the finish. Quite a few folks were at the finish line, cheering wildly. They even had a guy calling out names of the finishers. I took a look at the clock and started grinning like the Cheshire cat.
When I crossed the line, a lady handing out the medals greeted me with an enthusiastic handshake. "You look GREAT!" she shouted. "How do you feel?"
"I feel great!" I replied, still grinning ear to ear as she slipped the medal around my neck and handed me water. And I wasn't lying. Aside from some stiffness in the legs, I was really feeling remarkably good. My stomach even felt good, which is not always the case after a big race.
I finished in 3:57:50. That is my first sub 4 hour marathon, and a new personal best. A significant milestone for me for sure, and I was absolutely thrilled with how everything went. After a brutal winter of training that made it difficult to get in the long runs, and not feeling like I was doing enough to ramp up the mileage in the spring once the weather improved, this was something of an unexpected, albeit pleasant, surprise.
A happy marathon finisher
I would highly recommend this marthon. If you like the "big" races, the huge crowds, the expo with the clinics and famous guest speakers, and don't mind paying the extortionary hotel rates, this might not be for you. But if you are looking for a small, inexpensive (I paid $45 to enter), friendly marathon put on by runners for runners (SCRR organizes this race), in a beautiful area of our state on a PR kind of course - then by all means, you should find yourself in St. Joseph next May.
And that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and the local marathons are way above average. :)
The cool medal and finisher shirt