Sometimes marathon training feels like more of a chore than a privilege. As the miles pile up, and the days when you simply don’t feel like running (but know you should) creep in, it can be easy to forget that having the time, space and ability to run is a beautiful thing.
As such, I thought I would take a step back this week and list a couple of my favorite places to run. None of this is earth-shattering. Mostly it’s to remind myself of why I do this and to attempt to put into words why not all routes are created equal.
1 The Lake Harriet/Calhoun Loop. Distance: Approximately 6.7 miles.
This is, to me, the best run in the Twin Cities. About 70 billion people seem to agree, since these paths are always packed. When I first started running in 2008, this was part of my “home course,” since Julie and I lived a little less than a mile from Lake Harriet.
The usual quick run was from our condo, down 46th street, around Lake Harriet and back – about 4.6 miles. Run this route with me, and I can probably tell you, without a watch, how far we’ve gone at any point (down to, say, a tenth of a mile). That’s how many times I’ve done that run. It was quick and breezy, usually about 40 minutes.
For a longer run, I’d mix in Calhoun, making the total distance about 8.5 miles. I’d always feel good about going the extra distance, but if I wasn’t training for anything in particular, randomly running 8.5 miles was a little out of my typical range – not that I couldn’t do it, but why would I?
As such, I’ve become a big believer in driving to one of the lakes and going around both, plus the space in between. You get the change in scenery that comes from hopping between lakes. You have built in water stops. And for me, the 6.7 mile distance is perfect for my midweek marathon training run, which at this point is a Wednesday run of 7 miles. I can do it in a little less than an hour, so it’s still efficient. What’s not to love?
2) River Road Loop. Distance: Approximately 6.5 miles.
Since we moved to the Longfellow neighborhood in 2012, I’ve become more of a river runner. The West River Road trail is a little less than half a mile from our house, and last summer I finally discovered my route of choice:
From our house down to the river, north to the Lake Street/Marshall Bridge, over to St. Paul, south on the East River Road trail to the Ford Parkway Bridge, then back north on the west side before heading home. Aside from being in that perfect distance/time comfort zone (6.5 miles, a little less than an hour for me), it has great views of the Mississippi (including spots where I’m often tempted to stop on the bridges to take pictures). Also, like the lake loop, it avoids redundancy. I’m not a big fan of out-and-back runs. I’d rather see as much new ground as possible.
That said, this past Saturday was the longest training run Julie and I have had since we started prepping for Grandma’s Marathon several weeks ago. It was 12 miles, and it was the perfect chance for me to concoct one of my special plans (that Julie LOVES), whereby I take a simple situation that has become complicated and solve the problem by making it even more complicated.
The situation: 12 mile run. Back before we had our daughter Anabel, this was the end of the problem. Run 12 miles. That was the problem, that was the solution.
With the baby, though, we had to figure out: Could we go for a run of that distance without her getting bored/pitching a fit (Anabel, not Julie).
Our best guess was, “no.” We’ve pretty much decided that an hour, maybe a little more, will be her threshold in the jogging stroller. So that’s the complication. We can’t run 12 miles in an hour. So my inclination is to solve the problem with a 32-step plan.
The basics of the plan: Julie leaves on her run at 9 a.m., by herself. She brings her cell phone. When she is about 15 minutes away from a designated meeting place along West River Road, after finishing almost all of one 6.5-mile loop, she will text me. I will leave our house shortly thereafter, with the baby in the jogging stroller (and a big water bottle that conveniently fits right into the stroller). I will time it so that I reach the River Road around the same time she is getting to the checkpoint. We will then do a loop together – her second and final loop, my first. At the end of that loop, she will take the baby in the jogging stroller and head back home, while I will do my second loop.
Usually when I have a 32-step plan, something invariably fouls up the timing ever-so-slightly, turning it into an 87-step plan. This is why I am late to things, to the point that arriving 10 minutes after the start of something is now referred to as “Rand Standard Time” by my friends. A lot of things could have gone wrong here. The baby could have been fussy or needed to be changed, lousing up the timing. One of us could have forgotten to text/check texts. A phone could have died. An eagle could have swooped down and snatched Julie right off the path (seeing eagles is another great part of this run).
In this case, though, pretty much everything went off without a hitch. We even got in an extra mile above and beyond what was called for because of the loop distance. The only thing that feels better than the completion of what turned out to be basically a half marathon comprised of two loops of one of my favorite runs is the execution of a good plan.
3) I’ve run the Minnehaha Parkway and enjoyed it. I’ve run down Summit Avenue in St. Paul and enjoyed it. I’ve done a lot of different races in the area and usually enjoyed the courses. But those two above are my go-to runs. That said, Julie and I are always looking for new routes. If you have favorite runs in the Twin Cities (be specific!), we'd love to hear about them in the comments.