A Review of the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon
Editor’s Note: This post is written by guest contributor, Steve Patten, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
Minnesota marathons have some incredible diversity in size, setting, and atmosphere. The country’s oldest indoor marathon, the “most beautiful urban marathon,” and races of various distances on the beautiful Superior Hiking Trail all take place in our great state. Recently, I took part in the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon and was moved to share my experience with other runners.
The Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon
The Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon, organized by the St. Cloud River Runners, fits right in with these events. It’s a small, yet well put together race. One of the the things I’ve learned as I strive to run every marathon in Minnesota is that each race has its own unique personality. The Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon takes place on a former rail bed that has been covered entirely with blacktop. The course is billed as flat and fast and it definitely is that, plus it’s mostly straight and protected from the wind to boot. Those hunting for a Boston Marathon qualifying time might well find this race a good place to look. The pace groups are even scheduled to finish a full three minutes below Boston qualifying times.
This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon, but my first time running, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. One thing that makes this race unique, compared to many others is that the full marathon is the only race of the weekend; no half marathon, 5k, or even kids races. The whole day is about the 26.2!
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The race began at Holdingford High School and runners were allowed to be in the gym until race time. It was an almost cloudless 45-degree day with just a slight breeze when we started the race on the school running track and started heading toward the finish line in St. Joseph. In less than a mile we were on the Lake Wobegon Regional Trail. There were a number of bridges to cross during the race, but the most memorable one was a little before the two-mile mark; a picturesque covered bridge. If you have time there are even historical plaques and pictures to stop and check out; but, then again, I was running a race even if I didn’t plan on winning.
The next part of the course consisted of shaded miles through farm and pasture fields. At mile 9, we made a little jaunt around the corner of a field and the little rolling hill it included was a nice variation from the flat trail. It was actually so gentle that my body realized the difference of the terrain because of the change in effort even before any other senses became conscious of it. Around mile 12 we entered the town of Albany. The race, in general, isn’t packed with cheering spectators, but the section through Albany, about two miles long, had some gentle hills and plenty of spectators to cheer us through. With the exception of the finish line this was my favorite part of the race and I found my pace quickening just from the great energy through this section, and the fact that I enjoy running these types of hills.
After leaving Albany, the trail headed back out into the country as we made our way to the town of St. Joseph, but there wasn’t quite as much shade as the first half of the course. Many races that take place on trail systems finish off the trail, so there may be some zig-zagging to get from the trail to the finish line. But Wobegon is perfect for that final kick to the finish. The finish line is actually right on the trail and you can see and hear it for at least the last quarter mile. For those runners hoping to cut off those last few precious seconds it’s a straight shot on a wide trail all the way to the timing mat and a finisher’s medal which had a very nice design. Just like the rest of the race, the finish line was simple, but there was sufficient food and drink for the runners, and plenty of grassy areas to recuperate.
Thoughts on the Race
There were runner of all levels, including first time marathon finishers, but, in my opinion, Wobegon may be best suited to more experienced marathoners. On the whole, the field seemed faster than other marathons I’ve run of similar and even larger size. Normally I at least finish in the top 50% or so, but here, with a similar time, I was in the bottom third.
The aid stations were staffed well with sports drink and water, and the later stations also offered ice, oranges and pretzels. There are a limited number of places where the trail crosses roads so for those runners that rely on the energy of a crowd, like Grandma’s Marathon or the Twin Cities Marathon, this may be a tougher B.Q. Aid stations and road crossings had spectators, but plenty of miles were spent with only other runners and cows in sight.
A Few Final Notes for Potential Participants
Take note of the course map, including aid station and toilet locations. There are not quite as many locations as you might find at other races so be prepared, particularly between miles 12 and 18. On-course medical assistance was also not as prevalent as what you might see at other events, and the race observes a pretty strict 6-hour cutoff because the trail is still open to public use during the race.