Ten thousand lakes, 10,000 running routes. Or is it just 10,000 laps around the same lake? The iconic Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and the Big Muddy that runs through our twin towns make for easily accessible running routes, and that’s sort of the problem. Those routes are such no-brainers, it’s easy to get in a rut.

The larger metro area is thick with great places to run. As you start cranking up mileage for fall racing, now is the perfect time to explore new running routes and add venues to your training repertoire to keep those extra miles fresh.

Top competitive runners — folks who log upward of 100 miles per week, sometimes more — have, out of necessity, cultivated long lists of running venues, some tailored to a specific workout such as a long run, recovery, hills and intervals. We asked some people who run like it’s their jobs (and in some cases, it is their jobs) for their non-Chain-of-Lakes go-tos. Read on, then run on.

Katie McGregor Six-time winner of the TC 10-Mile

McGregor has been running competitively since she was 14 and still puts in a lot of miles. “Cleary Lake, in Prior Lake, is just over a 5-kilometer loop — good for shorter tempos or intervals. Bathrooms along the way are a plus. There are grass trails for summer/fall easy runs, and dirt or paved paths for short sprint intervals. Hyland Hills in Bloomington for hard, hilly runs — good for kicking your butt on softer ground. When I lived in St. Louis Park, I used to jog to Westwood Hills Nature Center for a second run [of the day] or an easy day — wood chip trails and boardwalk over the marsh.”

Carrie Tollefson Former Minnesota Olympian (1,500 meters)

Tollefson is now running longer distances; it just doesn’t take her as long as most people. If you happen to be out near Dawson, Minn., where she grew up, she recommends a 4-mile stretch of gravel road called Skunk Hollow. Otherwise: “I love the trails at Crosby Farms and Hidden Falls along the Mississippi River in St. Paul. You can do a 4K loop on the grounds of St. Catherine University: soft and shady. Pike Island [confluence of Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers] is one of my favorites! The beautiful 5K loop is great for tempo or long runs.”

Dan Docherty Team USA Minnesota elite development group

Docherty’s picks? “Gateway Trail, by I-694 and Hwy 36. Love it for the length — 10 miles — and option of soft or paved surface. It’s nicely shaded and there are no stoplights. I also like the trails along the Minnesota River from Sibley House in Mendota.” Round-trip, Sibley House to Cedar Avenue bridge is 12 miles.

Paul Giannoble Masters runner

If you’d like to blame someone for raising the bar in age group competition, you could start with Giannoble of Minnetonka. He ran a 5:11 mile at age 57. “The Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail has been my go-to for 20-plus years. Fifteen miles of flat-as-a-pancake crushed limestone, and it’s well-plowed in the winter. I’ll pick out shady sections on super hot days. Great for long, tempo and easy runs.”

Meghan Peyton Team USA Minnesota

As a pro specializing in the long stuff — 10K up to the marathon — Peyton has done a lot of 20-plus mile runs. She looks for trails that are shady overhead and soft underfoot to make those long runs easier on the mind and body. “Lebanon Hills [in Eagan] is one of my favorites. I also like the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail; most of it is flat but the Hillside Trail, as the name implies, has some nice hills!”

Heather Kampf Professional runner and former Gophers star

Kampf’s job involves covering 800 meters, 1,500 meters and the mile quickly indeed, but hills, tempo sessions and long runs help build that speed. Like her Team USA Minnesota teammates, she sticks to forgiving soft surfaces for longer workouts. “I love the trails at Pike Island, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and Sibley House [in Mendota Heights]. They’re beautiful spots that feel remote but are so quick to get to from the Twin Cities.”


Sarah Baker is a freelance writer from St. Paul.