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.
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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!
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!
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!