Although almost 3,000 runners completed the Minneapolis half marathon, we were able to find our stride very quickly and never really felt like we had to jockey for position around slower runners. Before we hit the first mile we passed the famous Guthrie Theater, a giant navy blue metal building, which boasts the towering “bridge to nowhere”. The next few miles on a shaded road along the Mississippi River were quite enjoyable. At mile 4 we entered what I called “the Tour de France equalizer” or more commonly known as a long stretch of cobblestoned streets. The cobblestones weren’t too bad and the payoff was well worth it – as the cobblestones led directly onto the Stone Arch Bridge, which looks like it belongs in medieval England not Minnesota. The views of St. Anthony’s Falls from atop the bridge were great and we even got to see the touch of a rainbow as we passed the mile 5 marker. The remainder of the race was an out and back along the banks of the Mississippi river. Despite a few hills – we decided to take advantage of every downhill on the out-loop as we knew we would be running up that same hill on our return – the course was fairly shady and overall very enjoyable. We ran miles 9-11 with Allan Duffy, 1:45 pacer extraordinaire, which served as a nice distraction from the building heat. Unfortunately, not every runner fared so well in the heat – as we witnessed two runners collapse in the final few miles (no serious injuries and I believe both received medical attention). Lucky for us we were able to stay hydrated and ran strong through the finish to a pair of fresh PRs!
Highlights: A long-term running goal was to eventually complete a half marathon in under 8:00 minute/ mile pace, and while it happened much sooner than we ever expected – we successfully completed the Minneapolis Half in an average pace of 7:59!
Tips: Great race value: a well supported course, a nice finisher medal (doubles as a sun catcher) and the swag bag was awesome - nice dry-fit shirt not littered with sponsor logos (male and female cut) and a free dry-fit visor or hat for all participants. If you have the option stay at The Depot hotel (Marriott) – it’s less than 1 block to the start/finish and you can park at the expo for free (room key to enter/exit).
Day 1 (Saturday):
Our first meal in the land of 10,000 lakes was soup and sandwiches at the Bewiched Deli. We both sampled the Jamaican jerk chicken soup – made with light and dark meat and a bit spicy, but very tasty and unlike anything we have ever eaten. The half sandwiches were pretty small – Kristin got the ham and brie (ham was a bit fatty) and I got the shredded chicken – but both were fresh and tasty. After our lunch I was still a bit hungry so I got a huge dark chocolate covered rice krispie treat for the road and it was delicious (Kristin was stuffed by too tempted by the evil deliciousness not to indulge a taste).
The weather was beautiful, which made our stop at the Walker Art Center for a tour of the outdoor sculpture ideal. The gardens are fairly large and have a ton of interesting art pieces on display including a 2-story tall glass fish in a greenhouse, a 3-ton steel beam structure designed to sway at the most gentle breeze and of course the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry (i.e. giant cherry on a spoon). The gardens are a great spot to walk around on a beautiful day.
Tip: Take a walk over the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge for some great elevated views of the city as well as the Walker Art Center, which is designed to look like a scowling face – do you see it?
Minneapolis was a happening place and our stop at the Minnehaha (pronounced mini-ha-ha; but I still think it should be called small chuckle or maybe even giggle) Falls was truly enjoyable. The Tour de Cure bike ride was just winding down when we arrived (ended in the Minnehaha Park) so parking was a bit of a mess, but once parked we easily found Wheel Fun Rentals and rented two “beach cruisers” for an hour long self-guided tour of the park. The leisurely ride, which included an impromptu ride over the Mississippi River, was quite enjoyable even if the bike was eight sizes too small and the handle bar was missing a grip! The bike tour is a great way to see the entire 5 mile Minnehaha park is under an hour.
After a slight snafu of not realizing that Schell’s Brewery was located in New Ulm (about 75 miles north) we regrouped and visited the University of Minnesota campus. The campus has a very eclectic array of buildings. While each building looked fairly nice and normal on its own, together the campus seemed more like a mis-match hodge-podge of structures than a university. In order to fend off some hunger pains we made a quick stop in Chilly Billy's for a fruit smoothie - mmm....tasty.
After playing "college kid" we zipped off to check out the Nicollet Mall area in downtown Minneapolis. The Mall area, lined with upscale shops and restaurants, is a great place to enjoy an evening stroll and take a quick photo with the iconic Mary Tyler Moore statue – “You’re going to make it after all Kristin!” We also saw the coolest invention ever - a pedal pub which 10 people pedal like a bike from bar to bar, while drinking the entire way (still not sure how that is legal).
Along the Mall is Brit’s Pub, home to the only roof-top lawn bowling (sort of like bocce ball) league I have ever seen. Unfortunately all the lanes were taken when we arrived (it was perfect weather on a Saturday night, so we weren’t surprised there was a long wait) but this looks like a great place for a beer and some lawn bowling. We’ll be back at some point in the future to put our mark on those greens!
Our pre-race dinner selection was Al Vento, which served up some tasty Italian fare. Kristin sampled the fresh halibut served on a bed of risotto, which was light and very tasty. I ordered the home-made bucatini (image the love-child of a spaghetti noodle and a straw) with home-made meatballs, which was piping hot, very moist and quite delicious. For desert we split a scoop of the cappuccino gelato with chocolate chunks – yes, it was as good as it sounds. Good dinner, but a very poor selection of beers (the Lake Superior Stout was the only locally brewed beer the menu - a decent stout but not a typical pairing for spaghetti or fish).
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
Based on the recommendation of a former native of the Minneapolis area we headed to Lucia’s for a post-race meal. The brunch menu was short, but everything looked delicious – and it was. I devoured the baked French toast topped with strawberry rhubarb sauce and a Fulton Brewery Child of Vine IPA (on tap and quite a good local beer) and Kristin enjoyed a lighter option of yogurt, granola and fresh fruit with a perfectly poured cappuccino. The food was excellent but this is not the type of place if you are looking for a heavy meal or a lot of menu options.
As if we hadn’t done enough exercise for the day we headed to Lake of the Isles and walked the 2.5 mile path around the entire lake. The lake is surrounded by an interesting collection of very nice homes ranging in style from full-front glass modern super mansions to old-world homes with turrets (no draw-bridges though) to more conventional homes with unbelievable gardens. The paths around the lake are well designed with the inner path for only walkers/runners and the outer path for bikers/skaters. Not having to dodge bikers made the walk very leisurely and enjoyable.
After a brief drive-by the Cathedral of Saint Paul we drove to the Grand Old Days celebration. Grand Old Days is St. Paul’s first rite of summer, which literally takes over historic Grand Avenue (21 straight blocks are closed) the first Sunday in June. The weather was beautiful and the festival was crowded, but we still managed to find our way to the local Summit ESB beer tent (6 beer gardens in all and each had different beer – but Billy’s on Grand had the best drinks and was the place to be). We also tried our first ear of Mexi-corn; which is grilled corn, basted in butter and sour cream, coated in Parmesan cheese and doused with red chili powder. The corn was ok (fairly spicy), but we both prefer traditional corn on the cob.
Tip: Parking is awful, be prepared to circle the block several times and park 0.5 mile or more away.
Minnesota Half Marathon Medals
June 5, 2011: Minneapolis Half Marathon