I rolled out of the sofa bed of my friends' South Minneapolis home, leaving my husband in a peaceful slumber at 5 AM Pacific Time, and laced up my road shoes for the first time in months. I slipped out the door with one water bottle and two double-caffeinated GU's, and skipped down two blocks to hop on the Minnehaha Parkway.
I don't know if most cities are this way, but the Twin Cities have such an amazing network of bike paths, you could literally run multiple marathons and not cross the same path twice. It almost seems pointless to own a car when you could run or ride a bike, on a designated path, to seemingly infinite city destinations. (Pointless, that is, until you recall the -20 temps common in January in these parts.)
Nonetheless, another bonus I recall of these trails is that they actually plow them in the winter. I think this is to keep everyone from getting cabin fever and going crazy. Even this SoCal girl learned how to haul ass on a frozen trail at sub-zero temps with her eyelashes frozen shut in order to maintain some sense of sanity. Midwesterners are hardy folk, so it should be no surprise why they breed some tough ultrarunners out here.
And in case I forgot why it's not actually that difficult for runners to motivate in winter time, this balmy August morning was a clear reminder: Summers aren't always that pleasant either. At seven AM the mercury neared 80 degrees already, and the air was so thick it clung to my skin like a wet towel. Humidity makes me wilt like old lettuce, (not to mention what it does to my hair!)
Still, after so many hours cramped in the Subaru, my legs were desperate to unfurl themselves and do what they love. I knew my value as a traveling companion would increase tenfold once I got some pent-up miles out.
I headed down the bike path that follows Minnehaha Creek, past Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Falls, until I hit West River Parkway along the Mississippi River. This was all familiar stomping grounds for me, but it had been more than a decade since my last romp here. I reveled in my own sense of power because I knew exactly how to navigate this place on foot, and I flew along the river as I watched the U of M crew team practice below.
Reaching the Lake Street bridge after 90 minutes of running, I knew I should turn around. I just couldn't resist the temptation to cross the river into St. Paul, past my old duplex and my old life as a 23-year-old. Old workouts, old jobs, old boyfriends. I smiled through the memories as I headed back on East River Parkway, this time ignoring an urge to run up Summit Avenue all the way to downtown. Andrew would wake up soon, ready for our day to begin, and I felt the call to return to the other side of town.
Back in 1995, before I was actually a resident of these parts, I chose the Twin Cities Marathon for my first attempt at the distance. With no clue what we were doing, my friend Charlie and I crossed the line in St. Paul in 3:33. Much of the route I was running this morning is also part of the marathon course. With several dozen marathons and ultras under my belt now, I can appreciate that this is not only one of the fastest, but also one of the most scenic urban marathons around. It was an excellent place to debut the distance.
I couldn't recall the last time I'd spent so many miles on pavement. Back at Helen Klein, perhaps? I took the opportunity to pick up the pace and made the return trip 20 minutes faster for a 2:40 run. I don't know how far it was, but I do know that I cured myself of every one of those miles that I sat cramped in the car across Nebraska. Thank you, Minnesota, for the trip down memory lane and the head-clearing miles for this vacation.
Back in South Minneapolis, Andrew was just waking up. "Good morning," I smiled contentedly, as I put the coffee pot on to brew. My mid was already spinning with exactly which trails I could run this week before we head up north.