The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Course Preview
The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, appropriately billed as “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America,” is one of the scenic highlights of the year for the CLIF Bar Pace Team. Beginning in downtown Minneapolis, it takes runners past four gorgeous lakes; through stunning neighborhoods dotted with opulent homes; along the Mississippi River and past the St. Paul Cathedral to a screamingly fast and stunning finish at the state capitol building. With more than 300,000 enthusiastic fans and 10 official Cheer Zones, it’s a fall marathon made in heaven. Except for one little challenge – the course consists of a fast start followed by a very hilly and very challenging finish. But that’s where the pace team comes in!
The Twin Cities Marathon begins at 8am sharp, which means your pacers will be lined up in the starting corrals by 7:30 am sharp. If you’re hoping to run with us, that means that you should also be getting lined up at 7:30. We know it’s tempting to hang out in the Metrodome with friends, warmth, and indoor bathrooms, but the longer you wait, the harder it is to get to us. Line up early, then use those final moments before the race to center yourself and relax. And remember: there’s no need to stay on your feet for that extra half hour! Bring a garbage bag or an extra sweatshirt, and have a seat on the road! Your feet will thank you later in the day.
As the gun goes off and your race begins, the basic rules are simple: conserve your energy, stay with your pace leader, and don’t get greedy. The start of any race this size can be chaotic, and your pacer will do their best not to wind and weave. Remember to stay relaxed, and simply keep your eyes on the balloons. As long as you can see your pacer, you’re right where you need to be, and you’ll be able to work your way closer to them as the field shakes out.
Twin Cities is a very tricky course. The first half, save for a few special treats, is primarily downhill, and it’s all too easy to go out too fast. Tuck in behind your pace leader, and trust their judgment – their goal is to get you to those final hills in St. Paul with enough energy to conquer them.
After winding through downtown Minneapolis, you’ll need to negotiate your first hill just as you approach mile 2. It’s a rather steep hill, but we’ll use it as a warm-up for what’s to come. The hill will continue for a bit after the mile 2 marker, and includes a turn. You’ll finally get to head down the other side of the monster as you head towards the mile 3 marker; you’ll also be heading toward the first of the four lakes - Lake of the Isles. This is a somewhat tricky section in with lots of snaking and winding roads. Though the course narrows, you can accidentally pick up speed through this section – don’t do it. Stay tucked behind your pace leader and focus on conserving energy. Miles 4 through 8 will take you along lakes Calhoun and Harriet, where spectators (and their very well-behaved dogs) are out to cheer you on; you will face another climb between miles 6 and 7. It’s nothing insurmountable, but it may take a little of that momentum out of your legs. Take some deep breaths and recover well; you’ll have some rolling hills now as you travel through some beautiful neighborhoods and toward Lake Nokomis. Your half-marathon mark will come on Lake Nokomis itself; it will be preceded by another solid hill. Focus on the cheers of the spectators and having the first half of your race behind you; it’s time for a bit of a break before the really tough work begins.
After circling part of Lake Nokomis, you’ll head onto Minnehaha Parkway for a mile and half, then veer off to run along the Mississippi River at about 15.5 miles. From miles 14 – 19, you should be in recovery mode; this section is relatively flat and forgiving. Use these miles to recover from the work you’ve already done, and to gear up for the work to come. Spend some time enjoying the scenery and the area (as well as a Clif SHOT at mile 17!) before your next tough climb – the Franklin Bridge at mile 19. It gets a bit tougher here, a taste of what’s still to come.
You’ll need to push through from the bridge to milestone marker 20, where you’ll get to “break through” ALARC’s inflatable “Wall” that always gets a laugh (even if it’s bitter). You’ll face more rolling hills here, but nothing terrifying. All too soon though, you’ll be going downhill toward mile 21 – and getting ready to start the toughest part of the Twin Cities course.
At this point there will be quite a few steep hills and you will be climbing them for the better part of the next two miles. Do not count them; do not look at them; try not to even pay attention to them. Lock in behind your pacer, put your head down, and climb. You knew this was coming when you signed up for Twin Cities; now all that’s left is getting it done.
There is good news. There are great crowds here. The streets are often beautifully shaded, sometimes with falling fall leaves. There is music and drums; there are noisemakers and cheers. Focus on the sights, focus on the sounds, focus on your pace leader’s voice. Focus on anything but the hills, and simply climb until you reach mile 23. There is almost always a water stop right at the mile marker, and it marks the end of the worst of the hills.
The elevation subsides a bit here, but even the smallest hills will seem like mountains. Do your best to recover from what you just did as you enter the final 5K push. Soak up the crowds lining Summit Avenue, and store that last single drop of energy for the problem at mile 25 – a tiny, but very steep hill that feels like a punch in the gut. It looks terrible. It is terrible. But it is also short, and it marks the end. So don’t worry about being graceful; don’t worry about stride. Just dig in, and get up it. The view from the top is amazing – it’s the Cathedral on the left and your finish line at the bottom of a screaming downhill.
Be cautious in your approach; remember, steep downhills on battered quads look much better than they feel. Slowly pick up your pace, and soak in the moment as you coast on down to the final left hand turn. It’s a finish you’ll never forget – especially after how hard the course has made you work for it. Celebrate your victory, and know you’ll never look another hill quite the same again. You did it!
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