Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon Recap
Celebrating its 36th year, the Wells Fargo Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon is touted as “Minnesota’s Original Half Marathon.” The race’s 36-year history was evident in the smoothly run, well-organized and positive race experience for the 2633 runners who crossed the finish line in 2016.
As one of seven races in the Minnesota Running Series, the half marathon featured 30 corporate teams and 12 running club teams. A half marathon relay, comprised of a 5.75 mile first leg and a 7.35 mile second leg, hosted an additional 145 teams in 3 divisions for men, women and mixed duos.
The official race distance is 13.1 miles, but the organizers bend the rules for the littlest and most enthusiastic members of the running community. The race offers a Kids 1K Run at the finish line for runners whose carb-loading consists of mac and cheese.
I ran my first half marathon at the Lake Minnetonka Half in 2014. The race was my first attempt at anything longer than a 10K and the first race which required me to follow a specific training plan. It was an overall positive experience, but I hadn’t raced a half marathon in the two years since. After a short break from running this fall and winter, I proposed this race to my sister and sister-in-law, who eagerly accepted the opportunity to run their first half marathon. I was excited to return to the course in 2016, confident I’d beat my previous time of 1:47:44 and curious just how much I’d grown as a runner in the past two years.
Race Day Logistics
Most runners parked at Wayzata Central Middle School and boarded a bus to the start area. Race day packet pickup wasn’t available, so packets were mailed, picked up midweek in Maple Grove or picked up in Wayzata on Saturday. The starting area on Superior Street featured a bag check, a plethora of porta-potties and a full street blocked to traffic for warm-ups. My workplace is only a few blocks from starting line, so I was spoiled with a private parking spot and an indoor bathroom before heading to the corrals.
The race offered 13 pace groups, led by experienced and encouraging pacers, with target times ranging from 1:30 (6:51/mile pace) to 2:30 (11:26/mile pace), followed by a “sweeper” group. Each of the four starting waves launched 2 minutes apart, and the corrals were clearly marked for runners to line up according to estimated pace.
An early May race can bring anything, but Mother Nature smiled upon this year’s runners, offering a start line temperature around 43 degrees and a 10 mph northeast wind for the mostly southwest course.
The point-to-point course started on Lake Street in downtown Wayzata, hugged the western shores of Lake Minnetonka and ended in Excelsior’s bayside park. Along the way, the route featured a bit of everything: downtown streets of lakeside communities, neighborhoods with cheering fans, country back roads with rolling hills, lake-tracing shoreline roads and a packed gravel trail. Lake Minnetonka’s gorgeous mansions, scenic bays and changing environments kept the route fresh as the distance increased. Runners encountered aid stations at miles 3, 5, 8.5 and 11 with water, Powerade and medical tents, staffed by enthusiastic and generous volunteers.
My Lake Minnetonka Half Experience
As a relative newcomer to races longer than 5K, pacing and long distances aren’t my strong suits. I estimated I’d be around 7:30 pace, but I didn’t want my primary goal in this race to be time-based. Instead my goals were to reign in my tendency to start too fast, run smoothly and keep negative thoughts at bay. My last goal? “Don’t choke while drinking at the water stations.”
As veterans from Team RWB (Red, White & Blue) displayed the American flag during the national anthem, I was humbled by the thought that any personal race challenges would pale in comparison to the daily experiences of our veterans. That reality check calmed any lingering pre-race nerves, and as our corral moved to the starting line, I was ready to find my stride.
In order to start conservatively, I tucked behind the 1:40 pace group, listening to the entertaining conversations around me and feeding off the starting line energy. At mile 3, I happily found my cheering husband and in-laws. Feeling strong, I gave myself permission to leave the pace group and fly solo. Miles 3-5 follow Fox Street, frequently part of my running route from my Long Lake home, and the familiarity allowed me to run smoothly and confidently.
As the route turned down Old Crystal Bay Road, I found myself in stride with another runner. Kari introduced herself, asked my goal pace and proposed running together. As a notoriously terrible pacer, this was as close as I’ve come to encountering a mid-race miracle. Kari is one of those mythical runners who runs by feel, without a watch. My own $10 non-GPS watch was my only connection to pace, but finding a partner to run with rendered even that gadget unnecessary.
Kari and I ran together until somewhere around Mile 11, when she kicked a little and I didn’t quite trust myself to do the same. I kept her in my sights though, making myself fight the self-doubt that told me I’d fizzle out before the finish. Per usual, the sight of the finish line revealed I had a lot of kick left in my legs.
My official time was 1:35:52—faster than I expected, but more importantly, accomplished in conjunction with my other goals. I ran relaxed, kept negative thoughts mostly at bay, and successfully swallowed water at all four hydration stations. But the best part of the day came when I reconnected with my family to celebrate my sister and sister-in-law’s first half marathon experience!
Congratulations to all who completed the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon, especially the 2016 winners: Dan Nielson in 1:09:30 and Krisana Hoff in 1:26:30! For more on the 2016 Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon, check out race photos and overwhelmingly positive comments on the race’s Facebook page or browse this year’s race results.
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Your Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon Race
Did you run the 2016 Wells Fargo Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon? Let us know your highlights (or lowlights!) in the comments below.