ESSAY: Gravel roads and cornstalks? Exotic!

  • May 15, 2012 - 2:32 PM

I ended up in Minnesota because of a college recruiting brochure that showed three runners on a gravel road framed by cornstalks.

I was a high school senior trying to choose a college. It had to be a place where I could run, and it had to be far from home, a gritty, Massachusetts mill town that had been in a state of semi-permanent decline since the Great Depression. One loop from my home took me along fetid canals and past abandoned textile mills, a public housing project and boarded-up gas stations converted into used car lots. A friend and I dubbed it the "Urban Blight 10."

Gravel roads and cornstalks, in contrast, seemed impossibly exotic.

I've since run the streets of San Francisco and the avenues of Paris, across pastures in northern England and along the twisting alleyways of Venice. I've raced the inaugural London Marathon and the 100th Boston Marathon.

But Minnesota remains, hands down, my favorite place to be a runner.

I like being able to run 10 miles around three lakes in the middle of Minneapolis and, worst case scenario, have to wait at only four traffic signals. Or running 10 miles along the Mississippi River and having to wait for none.

I like that there are a lot of water fountains and Porta-Potties along the way.

I like that there's a footrace going on, somewhere in Minnesota, almost every day of every weekend, and that everyone is welcome.

I like showing up at these races, even if only as a spectator, and re-connecting with people that I raced with 10 or 20 years ago.

I like that the Minnesota Distance Running Association has been welcoming, plus it has helped train new and experienced runners for 50 years.

I like that Team USA Minnesota has proven that world-class runners don't have to move to Boulder, Colo., or Eugene, Ore.

I like driving down to Northfield in November to watch the high school cross-country championships.

I like sending new runners to one of the many independent specialty running stores in the Twin Cities because I know they'll leave with the right shoes.

I like that the store I go to continues to give me a team discount even though I once ran on a competing team.

I like that Minnesotans are so diligent about shoveling their sidewalks. Still, there is something magical about running in the dark, on newly fallen snow, before they've had a chance to do so.

I like people knowing that I run outside year-round, and that I did so when the windchill was 80 below (January 1982) and when the air temperature was 103 (June 2011).

I like telling people back East that there's a cornfield about half a mile from my St. Paul home.

They think it's exotic.

By Eric Wieffering

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