Tag Archives: Minnesota

Marathon Recap – Twin Cities Marathon, Oct 4, 2015

Welcome to Minneapolis!

Welcome to Minneapolis!


The first time I visited Minneapolis I didn’t really visit Minneapolis – my brother and I had a long layover at MSP and he took me to the (then) brand-new Mall of America to ride the (only) roller coaster there.  The second time I visited Minneapolis I was a jury consultant conducting research and Mambo No. 5 was the number one song.  The third time I visited Minneapolis I ran a marathon.  This is that time.


I flew in Saturday morning, arriving a little after 10 am and hopping onto the Metro light rail blue line to downtown Minneapolis (very cheap and easy!).  I planned on simply dropping my bags off at my hotel (the Aloft Minneapolis) but my room was actually ready at 11 am so I rested in the room a bit before taking the Metro green line to downtown St Paul for the expo.


The expo was unexpectedly unpleasant.  It was incredibly crowded and very difficult to navigate.  I’ve done enough big city marathons to be familiar with big, crowded expos, but this one was really chaotic.  Plus the branded merch was ridiculously expensive – we’re talking $100 for a nothing-special, long-sleeved tech shirt.  (Worse than NYC Marathon prices!)  And since they give you the finisher shirt at the finish line, the only thing in your packet was your bib and a buff.


I struggled to buy some extra gummies and snag two freebies (a piece of fruit leather and a box of rice), gaped at the branded merch prices, then headed to a drugstore for some water and Pop Tarts before taking the train back to Minneapolis.  I was pretty exhausted from the expo experience and I knew I’d never leave my hotel room again if I went back, so first I hit up Kindee Thai Restaurant.  Best decision I made all weekend.  I went during their happy hour special, so I had tempura green beans with sweet chili dipping sauce for $3 (better than french fries, just incredible) and a pumpkin chicken curry with squash strips and jasmine rice (normal price of $11).  As I ate I fantasized about going there again the next day.  My second biggest regret of the trip was that I didn’t manage a second visit.


My absolute biggest regret of the trip is missing the flour museum (Mill City Museum).  I should have gone that Saturday afternoon, or even after the race on Sunday, as it was closed on Monday.  I’m seriously upset I missed it, as I love flour and what it turns into when sugar and yeast is added.


At the start with the hat that got so much attention during the race.

At the start with the hat that got so much attention.

I didn’t do anything else that evening except rest in my hotel room and watch Elysium on TV (how I’ve never heard of that movie is a mystery, but a mystery I wish had continued my whole life (i.e. the movie was not good)).  I woke up early the next morning to eat as much as possible (I’ve never regretted eating too much before a marathon, but I’ve frequently regretted not eating enough) and get dressed in all my many layers (long-sleeved shirt, light windbreaker jacket, and fleece).  I also donned my normal hat onto which I had pinned a giant pink fake flower, which ended up getting a lot of cheers during the race!


In the shadow of the still-under-construction U.S. Bank Stadium.

Peeing in the shadow of the still-under-construction U.S. Bank Stadium.  ALL of the potties were removed that same day, btw.

I left the hotel relatively early (7:20 for an 8:00 start time) because I wanted to make sure to have enough time to get to bag check before it closed at 7:45.  I shouldn’t have worried because it took no time at all, and I was left to stand waiting in the corral that had zero porta potties.  Should I have left the corral and waited in line for the potties?  Absolutely yes.  But I didn’t.  And because I had hydrated well that morning, I needed to pee almost the second after I started running.  I stopped at the first bank of potties at mile 1.  There was a long line but I waited because I wasn’t sure where the next ones would be (turns out less than a mile later, dammit!).  I waited so long to pee that the sag wagon, several school buses, and all of the runners ran by.  By the time I got back on the course, I could barely see anyone and I “raced” (10 min mile pace vs the 12:30 I was aiming for) to catch up to the school buses and sweep vehicle.  Later I learned from my Garmin that I was waiting for four and half minutes (!!!) for the bathroom.  Ugh.


Most of the early miles wound past lakes like this.

Most of the early miles wound past lakes like this.

Other than that disaster, the race went pretty well.  The weather was perfect (mid-40s to mid-50s, partly sunny) and the course was not crowded (there were no half marathoners or relay runners).  I struck up a conversation with a lovely Marathon Maniac and we chatted for a long time, making miles 3-10 fly by.  She peeled off to wait with her boyfriend who was taking a rest stop and I thought I’d see her again later but I never did.  I slowed down a tiny bit after she left (I was doing around 11:40 miles with her and 12:05 miles afterwards), but then I sped up again for miles 17 to 19.  I can honestly say I enjoyed the running for the first 19 miles, but then all of a sudden I wanted the race to be done.  Yes, I realize this correlates pretty closely with “the wall” but once again I didn’t really realize it at the time.  I just agreed with the woman next to me who said “this isn’t fun anymore.”


Crossing the Mississippi River!

Crossing the Mississippi River!

The three-mile hill at mile 20 wasn’t really a hill.  There were slightly more significant rolling hills near the end, but it wasn’t the climb I was expecting.  I still slowed down to about 12:30 for those final miles, finishing in about 5:20 (but if it hadn’t been for that bathroom stop, my time would have been almost exactly the same as my time from Chicago last year).  So while I was certainly not fast, I wasn’t sick/injured, I finished exactly where I had expected/hoped, and I finished strong (and with only minor soreness that night and the next few days).  My several weeks of somewhat training really did help this time – imagine that!

Saint Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge.

Saint Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge.

I did less than nothing the rest of that day (boy I wish I had gone to that flour museum!), but the next morning I walked over the Stone Arch Bridge (built in 1881) and did a little flour walking tour myself.  Then I packed up and hopped on the light rail down to the Mall of America, where I stashed my luggage in a jumbo locker ($13 for an all-day rental, with unlimited ins and outs) and rode the roller coasters (I ended up buying a $31 all-day ride pass, which you can buy on the same day online with your phone to save $6, and they’ll just take your confirmation code and print out your bracelet).  I rode the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shell Shock, and the Pepsi Orange Streak (“Orange you glad you rode the streak?”) multiple times.  The other rides looked too spinny for me not to curse the day I was born (I’m looking at you, Avatar Airbender).

Because everything should be measured in volumes of New York City attractions, the Mall of America could fit 7 Yankee Stadiums or 258 Statues of Liberty.  But how many Empire State Buildings??  And how many Brooklyn Bridges?!?!  It’s gotta be a lot, because I walked around that mall so much I’m pretty sure I covered another marathon.  Luckily the food was much better (I want need a Tollhouse Cookie Kiosk in my apartment).  I also wandered into the See’s Candy where I ate two huge free samples and almost had a sugar shock.  I did have a real meal at Cadillac Ranch, which I would not recommend (if I had to do it over I’d get burgers at Johnny Rockets or cobble something together at the food court – or I’d go to the Rainforest Cafe, which hadn’t opened yet).


I didn’t buy much at the mall, but I did get some costume items for my upcoming Rocket City Marathon.  The funny thing was I finally visited the home of Target and it was one of the few times I didn’t actually go to one!

Breathtaking view of NYC during my flight home - the picture doesn't do it justice.

Breathtaking view of NYC during my flight home – the picture doesn’t do it justice.


As for my packing, I think I did a pretty decent job.  I’m glad I brought a rolling bag and didn’t have to carry everything all the time.  One thing I forgot (and should always bring) – dryer sheets.  (My toss fleece was a little musty.)  But I used every item of clothing except for the hat/gloves I brought just in case for the race.  I definitely could have skipped the thick scarf and used one of my fleece jackets as a blanket on the plane, and I definitely packed too many sweet things and not enough salty snacks.  I was craving salty treats after the race but was too lazy/tired to go get any.  I’m not sure how I’ll pare my items down more for Philadelphia, but I’ll try!


About to cross the starting line!

About to cross the starting line!

Thinking of Running the Twin Cities Marathon?


All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note that this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of over 5 hours.  Your experience may vary.


  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 10/10 – MSP is a major airport, so you can probably find a nonstop fight there wherever you live (my nonstop Delta flight from LGA was $303).  Once there, you can take the Metro light rail from the airport to downtown Minneapolis and from Minneapolis to St Paul (for the expo).  The Metro is only $1.75 one-way anywhere during non-rush hours, although I was never asked for my ticket (just like in Houston!) so I ended up buying a lot of “unused” tickets.  Don’t make the mistake I did and buy multiple tickets at one time – not only will you probably not need them, but they’re only good for the day you buy them so you can’t buy a bunch for future use.  At any rate, it was still probably the cheapest and easiest ground transport I’ve ever had for a marathon.
  • Staying There – 9/10 – I stayed at the Aloft Minneapolis, which was clean, very quiet, and at a great location only 3 blocks from the train and about 5 from the marathon start.  It was $159/night but make sure to book early (I tried staying at the marathon host hotel (Hyatt Place Minneapolis Downtown for $139/night) but it was already fully booked in April!).  Note they are doing a major construction project behind the Aloft slated to finish late 2016.  Also note there is a small grocery store, liquor store, and pizzeria just past the hotel (on Washington at 11th), but the best place to eat nearby has got to be Kindee Thai Restaurant on 2nd and Chicago.
  • Cost & Registration – 6/10 – The lowest registration price ($149 with processing fees) was still way too much for what you get – a see-thru white tech shirt (with lots of sponsors on the back – and you know how I hate white tech shirts!!), a buff, and not much food at the finish (a half-cup of chicken broth, small roll, fruit cup, banana, mini luna bar, and potato chips – all handed to you without a bag so you kinda had to pick and choose what you grabbed).  Oh, and you do get one can of beer, too.  But $149 is still a lot for a non-Disney, non-Majors, non-RnR race.
  • Organization – 6/10 – I’m dinging them a couple points here because the expo was one of the biggest sh*tshows I’ve seen, for no particular reason.  It was just so crowded and unnavigable, and I can’t figure out why.  They also lose some points for not having porta potties in the corrals.  Ugh!  Otherwise communication was decent and the course itself had good volunteers keeping it clean and always passing out the Poweraid before the water.
  • Course – 8/10 – Very nice.  I don’t know if it really was “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America” (it looked more suburban than urban), but it was pretty, runs past several lakes, fairly flat, and I always love a point-to-point.  Many of the early miles were also on this funky red asphalt that reminded me of a track – very nice to run on!  It was also blissfully free from half-marathoners as the 10-miler started and finished well before us.  Unfortunately the leaves were still mostly green this year so it wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been, but the weather was perfect so can’t complain.
  • Crowd – 10/10 – The spectators couldn’t have been better.  Lots of them, cheering, offering food, waving signs – and never getting in the way or blocking the course.
  • Other Factors – 7/10 – Fall in Minneapolis plus The Mall of America = good times.
  • Overall Rating – 7.5/10 – The nice course, ease of navigation, and (probable) perfect weather make this a very nice marathon to try!


18 down, 32 to go!  My next marathon is Philadelphia in November.  Cue the Rocky theme song again!


Have you ever been to Minneapolis?  What’s your favorite roller coaster?  Have all your favorite TV shows come back from hiatus?  Share in the comments!

Packing “Light” for a Fall Marathon

Yes, this is packing light for me.

Yes, this is packing light for me.

I haven’t done a normal marathon packing post in a while, and since I have four fall/winter marathons coming up, all (?) of which I’ll be traveling to without renting a car, I thought I’d share my experiments with packing “light.”  For this trip, I’m flying out to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, running the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, and flying back on Monday night.


I plan on visiting the Mall of America (to ride a roller coaster!) on Monday before my flight, so I’ll have all my luggage with me then (they have lockers for rent at the mall).  I’m also using the metro system a lot (to get from the airport to downtown (where my hotel is, not far from the marathon start), from downtown to the expo and back, and probably from the marathon finish back to downtown (unless I use one of the race’s buses)) so I decided to go with a small roller bag plus an expandable briefcase-style bag that will slip over the rolling bag’s handle for ease of carry.  I considered using my normal roller but I wanted to see how two smaller bags would work, and I also considered using just one large backpack and skipping a roller altogether, but I thought I’d get tired shlepping all my stuff through the airport and on the trains.


Ok, so what’s all in the picture above?  Starting from top left and working (sorta) down and across:

Packing stuff left side

  • Lipault Wheeled Pilot Case – fits two packing cubes, all my toiletries, socks & underwear, massage tools, two sandwich Ziplocs of gels/gummies and Clif bars, and a Garmin watch in a case.  Unfortunately it does not fit my shoes along with all those other items.
  • Nike Studio Kit 2.0 (almost invisibly sitting on top of the roller case) – to use as my “purse” but it’s big enough to fit my kindle, tablet, papers/notebook, snacks, etc.
  • Herschel Supply Co. Packable Daypack – to bring to the expo so I can carry all the expo goodies back
  • Socks and underwear (in Ziploc bags)
  • Hoka One One Clifton – I just got these but they’re actually the Clifton 1 from last year – I loved them in the 10-Miler and hopefully they’ll hold up for the full 26.2 (and beyond!)
  • Road ID (on the shoes)
  • Adidas Adipure Slides – This is the most important new thing I will always pack – slides!  I realized after South Dakota that once I was back in the hotel room, I really didn’t want to put my sneakers on after the race, so I actually just stayed in my room the whole afternoon.  Slides won’t hurt my toes post-marathon, and they can also be used as slippers so your feet don’t have to touch nasty hotel carpet (but can be used as actual shoes unlike slippers).  The Adipure slides are very lightweight.
  • CEP calf compression sleeves – just in case it’s really cold the morning of the race (it effectively transforms my capri running tights into full length tights, although it looks terribly dorky)
  • Garbage bag
  • Assorted head and neck warmers (e.g. Bondi Band, Buff, headband)
  • SPI Running belt
  • Hat (black and grey) – from Target, I think
  • Gloves (pink) – also from Target, I think
  • Oakley sunglass case & glasses (on hat) – I’m actually packing my training sunglasses instead of my fancier photocromatic ones because for some reason I want to wear them.  I got them years ago, but I think they are the Radarlock version?  Or maybe the Radar Path Asian Fit?
  • Packing stuff middle“Regular” sunglasses (on American Flag soft bag – great deal on Amazon – ‘MERICA!) – to wear while not running (I could have downsized here and just brought a single pair, but I splurged and am packing two).
  • Gas Cap Hat
  • Clothes – Zoot Sports IceFil shirt (in case it’s hot), long-sleeved pink shirt (for expected temps), white rain jacket (stained, to toss), pink rain jacket, CW-X Stabilyx 3/4 tights, “Everything Hurts And I’m Dying” cotton t-shirt and comfy black pants to wear Sunday night/Monday, pj shorts, cheap grey fleece to toss, and grey sweatpants & animal-print fleece for bag check (to wear after race).  The weather is supposed to be perfect running weather (partly cloudy and temps in the 40s to a high of 60) so I’m not packing as many “contingency” clothes as I sometimes do.
  • Koss Fitclips headphones
  • Charger and cables
  • Kindle and Samsung Tablet (Galaxy 4)
  • Footstar massage ball and a massage tool (I got the tool at some expo and it doesn’t have the brand on it – sorry I can’t remember! You could try this or this.)
  • Garmin 620 – with charger in a hard sunglasses case (otherwise I find the buttons get pushed in transit and the watch does weird things and dies).  BTW it’s been finding satellites much faster recently in NYC – more satellites up there now?
  • Pink flower, blue flower, and hot pink long gloves (back up at the top of the photo) – I don’t have a great costume for this race, so I’m just going with a pink theme.  No real reason.
  • A. Saks Expandable Tote Bag – only $35 on Amazon right now, this bag will swallow everything you own, so you have to be careful not to overpack (to leave room for Mall of America goodies!).
All packed up!

All packed up!  It’s a surprising amount of stuff, even still!


Also, yes, I PACK my marathon shoes.  A lot of space could be saved by simply wearing them, but after I was vomited on twice on airplanes, I pack my precious, precious shoes.


The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.

The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.


And now for my expectations!  I always try to include my expectations because I think a lot of how someone feels about a race depends on what they were expecting.

  • I’m expecting it to be “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.”

    Twin Cities Marathon elevation miles 20 to 23

    A three mile hill!

  • I think the course is mostly flat to rolling, except for a crazy 3 mile hill between miles 20 to 23!
  • Potentially cold (temps in the 40s at the start), but secretly I’m expecting it to be perfect weather.
  • Easy walk from my hotel to the start, but I’m expecting a long wait for the bus or train back to the hotel, so I’m checking sweatpants and a sweatshirt so I don’t freeze while waiting.
  • I’m aiming for 12-13 minute miles (ideally between 12:00 and 12:30 – or a 5:15 to 5:30 marathon), but I’m not sure how realistic that is considering my training (longest run was a single 16-miler at a much slower pace) and recurring knee pain.
  • And finally, I’m a little worried I’m sick – I’ve felt bad all day today, with a headache that won’t go away and a slight loss of appetite (only slight – I’m not dead!).  I even took a nap but the headache didn’t go away.  So…. yeah.  If I’m sick, I’m sick, and that’s gonna suck and change all of my expectations.  Hopefully I’m just tired and can go to bed early tonight and feel better for my big travel day tomorrow…


Have you ever visited the Mall of America?  What’s your favorite flavor of Clif Bar?  Do you have any packing tips or tricks?  Share in the comments!