This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Minnesota was my 48th state.
Never would I have thought I would be running a half marathon in tiny little Lake City, Minnesota, but my life has often taken unexpected twists and turns so really I shouldn’t be too surprised. I was supposed to run the Tiki Run in St. Paul, Minnesota for my Minnesota race in 2020 but of course that was cancelled because of the pandemic. In fact, the race director’s response time to messages and emails last year was so poor (he never responded) that I decided even if the race was held this year I would not run it.
When I saw things start to open back up including in-person races in the spring of this year and I was fully vaccinated, I started looking for half marathons in Minnesota and Iowa to run. I knew my race registration from the half marathon in New Mexico would roll into the November 2021 race so I didn’t have to bother finding a race for that state. Iowa was easy, with the race director for the Des Moines Marathon and Half Marathon basically stating the race would be held in-person come hell or high water, so I immediately signed up for that, leaving Minnesota.
My search for a half marathon in Minnesota was further complicated by the fact that my teenage daughter wanted to run it with me but didn’t want to miss school for it. That meant I needed to find an in-person half marathon in Minnesota between mid-June and the end of July (we already had a trip planned in August just before she goes back to school). That didn’t leave many options, and given the fact that the pandemic still wasn’t 100% over and some races were at limited capacity or going the virtual route, that left barely any races. To further limit my choices, I knew how hot it gets in Minnesota in July, so I had my fingers crossed I could find a race in the last two weeks of June.
As luck would have it, I found the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, about an hour from Minneapolis. Knowing absolutely nothing about the race course, the town or surrounding area, or really anything other than the race director assured me it would be an in-person race, I signed up myself and my daughter and began making travel plans.
I found a good flight deal using travel credits I had from cancelled flights in 2020 and flew into St. Paul/Minneapolis a few days before the race, giving me plenty of wiggle room before the race, should anything happen with the flights (everything went smoothly). We checked out the National Eagle Center in nearby Wabasha, https://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/, walked around the very few shops in the towns of Wabasha and Lake City, and just took it easy until the race Saturday morning.
It turns out Lake City is the birthplace of water skiing, and there is a huge festival every June that includes concerts, an arts and crafts fair, a water ski show, a car show, a parade, and more. Most of the events began on Friday evening and ran through the weekend but I had planned on checking out immediately after the race on Saturday so we missed all of that. Oh well. We were there for a half marathon anyway, right. On to that.
Packet pickup was quick and easy at the same place as the race start/finish: Underwood Park in Lake City. I picked up a cotton t-shirt, bib with a chip embedded in it, and a plastic bag with a granola bar, water bottle, some coupons, a local booklet, and some other odds and ends, most of which went in the trash or recycling.
I always like to drive the race course the evening before a race and this one was no exception, only this time I was a bit early. I happened to see someone putting up small signs by the road near packet pickup and noticed he was putting up mile markers. Great! I thought! But it wasn’t so great because he was going pretty slowly, driving to each mile, getting out of his truck, grabbing the mile marker sign and hammering it into the ground, sometimes also adding direction arrows as well. I quickly felt like a stalker, which I pretty much was. I tried to follow behind him with some distance but a few times I would catch up sooner than I thought I would and not have anywhere to “hide” the car so I would just sit off the side of the road until he moved on. My daughter had a good time laughing at the situation and we made a sort of game out of it. Who knows if the guy saw me and if he did what on earth did he think about a woman and her teenage daughter following behind him for 13’ish miles.
It was good and bad that I saw the course before the race start. The good was I knew fully what I was in for, the bad was I knew fully what I was in for. Part of the course was on a gravel road, which I detest running on, and even worse, some of it went uphill. There’s not much worse than running uphill on a gravel road. Further, there was a steep hill near the finish, which I’ve always felt is cruel and unusual punishment by a race director.
Even though the weather forecast had called for a downpour around 7 am, which was race start time, by the time I checked that morning, it had gotten downgraded to showers starting around 9 or 10 am. It was overcast and around 73 degrees, but no humidity, which my North Carolina self is used to, so it didn’t feel bad at all. We all lined up at the start and promptly were on our way.
My first mile was faster than I knew I should be going but I thought I would go by feel and most likely slow down on the gravel and hills, so I went with it (8:38). I still felt good for the next few miles (8:56, 8:48, 8:34) but then around mile 5.5 the paved road ended and was a gravel road. We had run by some homes in the first couple of miles but quickly were out in the country with not much other than farm land to distract us.
I felt like I couldn’t get my footing on the gravel and at times felt like I was almost running in place. Still, I was surprised I didn’t slow down too much (9:13, 9:08, 9:13). By the time we got back on paved roads, my quads were so tired from working so much harder on the gravel road, I knew I’d have to push mentally to keep anywhere near a 9-minute mile. We got a break and actually got to run down a short hill and I gained a tiny bit of time (8:54).
I struggled through the next mile (9:29) and I started to feel beat up, only to get another break with another short down hill (9:02). For the last 3.1 miles, I kept repeating to myself over and over, it’s only a 5k, I can run a 5k in my sleep, it’s only 2 more miles, it’s only 1.5 miles, it’s only a mile, I can crawl a mile. Those miles were tough ( 9:32, 9:48, 9:31) and were only made tougher with a steep hill we had to run up around mile 12. I was genuinely elated when I could finally see the finish line in sight.
My Garmin and Strava clocked me at 13.13 miles in 1:59:58, but the official time according to my chip was 2:00:00. There was bottled water, Gatorade, oranges, bananas, and huge cookies at the finish, along with medals for finishers, all 18 women and 25 men who ran it, by far the smallest half marathon I’ve ever run. I heard someone say at packet pickup how more people were running it this year than normally. There were no age group awards, no big party afterwards, everyone just got in their cars and went on their way after they cooled down and chatted with their friends. I was just happy to cross Minnesota off my list. It was definitely one of the hardest half marathons I’ve run, but the people I talked to before and after the race were also some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met at a race.
Date of my half marathon was June 26, 2021.