Road racing season is underway, every weekend providing a long list of race options. Sprinkled in this now-crowded calendar of races are some pieces of Minnesota history, legacy races that have drawn runners to the start line every year since the 1960s.
A lot has changed about road races since then. Back in the day, one registered on race day; entry fees were well under $5; a good-sized race drew 50 runners; water stations were infrequent or nonexistent; T-shirts were not a feature until the mid-1970s and then, were only awarded to winners; races were competitions, not fundraisers; timing involved a person with a stopwatch and another with a clipboard; and there was no post-race buffet or prize money. Analog as they were, these races served as the training ground for Olympians, then and now.
Here are some of Minnesota’s longest running road races and their inaugural years. As you lay out your racing schedule, consider signing up to be a part of Minnesota’s long and vibrant running history.
MDRA Mississippi 10 Miler (1963)
The race at first was held on Victory Memorial Drive in north Minneapolis. Later, it moved to East River Road and Summit Avenue in St. Paul. In the 1970s, the 10-mile race became the last event in a weekend trifecta called the Multi-Distance Classic. Participants ran a mile on the track on Friday evening, a 5-kilometer cross-country route Saturday, and finished up with the 10 Miler Sunday morning. Only the Mississippi 10 Miler remains.
This year’s race: It’s May 27, starting and finishing at Crosby Park in St. Paul.
Mountain Lake Four Mile (1973)
Most road races sprang up in the Twin Cities. Not so the Mountain Lake Four Mile in southwestern Minnesota. It was the brainchild of Mountain Lake’s high school cross-country and track coach, Paul Metcalf, who, though retired from coaching, is still involved in the race. “I wanted an incentive for cross-country and track kids to keep running in the summer,” Metcalf said. “The only thing we knew about putting on a race was you had to have a waiver. Pow Wow Days [in Mountain Lake] is on Monday and Tuesday, so we ran the race on Monday in the late afternoon so runners could finish in front of the crowd before the parade. We had 13 age groups, so I ordered 13 T-shirts — ringers, with green trim around the sleeves and neck. I had one shirt left over ... I could have sold that T-shirt nine times. I’m not that smart but somehow we figured out there were two things that would keeping the race going — quality T-shirts and thorough organization.”
This year: It’s at 4:30 p.m. June 17.
Hopkins Raspberry Run (1967)
The Raspberry Run website puts the first year at 1964, but founder Pat Lanin says 1967. Either way, this hot, hilly, finish-down-Main-Street-like-a-hero 5-miler has been around a long time, and still delivers small town fun. The midday start, in July, allowed runners to finish in front of crowds just ahead of the Raspberry Festival parade. According to Lanin, the inaugural Raspberry Run was won by local star Van Nelson, who, the next week, ran a world best 3-mile track race in 13:10. Nelson went on to represent the United States in the 1968 Summer Olympics.
This year’s race: The run starts at 11 a.m. July 15, followed by the parade, as always.
Park Point 5-Mile (1972)
Billed as northern Minnesota’s oldest race, this Duluth race preceded Grandma’s Marathon by five years (which started in 1977 with 150 entrants). The speedy Park Point course record of 24:16 was set in 1975 by Steve Hoag, who earlier that year had placed second in the Boston Marathon. That course record still stands.
This year’s race: The 5-miler takes advantage of long summer evenings: It’s at 6:30 p.m. July 19.
City of Lakes Marathon (1964)
Minnesota’s first certified marathon was organized by local runner Ron Daws for self-serving purposes — he wanted a national qualifying marathon to which he didn’t have to travel. He measured an 8-mile criterion course on East and West River Roads and recruited friends and some good college runners. Throughout the 1960s, the race drew a field of fewer than 10 hard-core runners. After three years of a loop course around Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear Lake, in 1975, the marathon was again moved to its current location around Lakes Bde Maka Ska (formerly Calhoun) and Harriet. Growth in the popularity of marathoning, though, meant race leaders were lapping slower runners on the four-loop course, making it difficult to keep accurate results. To solve the logistical problems and involve both Minneapolis and St. Paul, Twin Cities Marathon was established in 1982. City of Lakes became a more manageable 25K (2½ laps). In 2014, the race dropped to the popular half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles.
This year’s race: The City of Lakes Half Marathon begins at 8 a.m. Sept. 9.
Sarah Barker is a freelance writer from St. Paul.