Destination: Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis is a Midwestern running oasis

Minneapolis frequently ranks as one of the top cities in America for health and fitness. Annual battles with Portland, OR, over who owns “best cycling city” title shift the focus away from a true hidden gem: Running is woven into the lifeblood of Minneapolis. Many local races have been in existence for more than 40 years. The city government champions more than 50 miles of running paths and honors that commitment year round. When winter snows arrive, the Chain of Lakes running paths are often cleared before surrounding city streets, with hearty locals regularly logging miles in sub zero temperatures. With a network of supporting running clubs and customer service oriented running specialty stores, Minneapolis is a city on the run.

Highlighted Runs

If you’re a trail runner, mark your calendar and save the date because those in the know plan their training programs to peak in July. The Afton 25k and 50k trail races are bucket list events, and are suitable for runners switching from road to trail. Test your dirt skills on a 50k two-loop, off-road course that features 14 leg-churning climbs and 4,670 feet of elevation gain. Held within the borders of Afton State Park, the roller coaster route moves through glacier moraines with deep ravines, rolling hills and oak savannah prairies. Glimpses of the St. Croix River through the stands of tall aspen, birch and oak trees keep you moving. With 11 aid stations and a 9-hour time limit, first timers cross the finish line tired but thrilled. The park has 20 miles of trails to enjoy even if it’s not race day.

The Twin Cities has hundreds of miles of dirt trails to explore minutes away from downtown. Photo courtesy of the TC Running Company Facebook page

The Endless Summer Trail Run series offers beginning trail runners four short distance options to get your feet wet. A 10k and 7-mile race are held at the popular Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Two other short distance 5k and 7-mile races are held at French and Hyland Regional Parks.

The 51-year old Hopkins Raspberry Run is an iconic Twin Cities tradition. Created by the Twin Cities Track Club in support of youth running, the race is free for racers 18-years old and under. The 5-mile course circles Shady Oak Lake, a popular local running route, and ends in a main street celebration.

A mix of trail and road, the Urban Wildland Half Marathon & 5K winds around the Woodlake Nature Center and surrounding neighborhoods. A great route to run anytime, the flat and fast July race is a great training event for runners registered for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

Local Flavor

Kurt Decker has almost 25 years experience with trail running. Since finishing the Minnesota Half Voyageur trail marathon in 1998, Decker has added more than 50 ultramarathons to his racing resume. That list includes iconic races like the Western States 100 and Leadville 100 and a long list of Midwestern races. A member of the Upper Midwest Trail Runners group, Decker lists Theodore Wirth, Lebanon Hills, Minnesota River Bottoms and Afton State Park as his favorite places to run. For the last nine years, Decker has been the general manager at TC Running Company, one of the go-to running specialty stores in the Twin Cities metro area.

Sara and Ryan Hall leading a talk at the TC Running Company. Photo courtesy the TC Running Company Facebook page.

Minneapolis Buzz

When the pace of urban life gets overwhelming, head to the Minnesota River Bottoms for an 11-mile single track trail that parallels the Minnesota River. While meandering through the river’s floodplain, watch for turkey, deer and eagles circling overhead. With three trailheads offering ample parking, it’s easy to carve out a soul-soothing run. Plus, it’s amazing to run in a wild place just minutes from the Minneapolis International Airport (keep it in mind if you have a layover!).

Local Eats and Sips

Near the north end of the Chain of Lakes running paths, Sebastian Joe’s is a well-known gathering place for runners. Early morning runners share their stories over gourmet coffees like Dark Dancer and Saturday Streetcar. After work, the outdoor patio is filled with runners rewarding a hard workout with raspberry chocolate chip ice cream cones.

If burgers and craft beer is your preferred post-run treat, the award-winning Surly Brewing’s beer hall is a popular place to re-hydrate. Pair an Axe Man IPA with the oven-toasted trout. When finished, work your way through a tasting of beers like Furious, Over Rated and Witches Tour for a wonderful way to finish a long run.

Community Knowledge

With 2,200 members, joining the Minnesota Distance Running Association can be a gateway to the running lifestyle. Founded in 1961, the MDRA hosts 14 races every year and offers low-stress training groups. From 5k to marathon, there’s a group for every skill level and goal. On the trail side, the Upper Midwest Trail Runners welcomes runners new to the dirt with open arms.

Go Fast

Twin Cities runners embrace winter by running the New Year’s Day Polar Dash Half-Marathon, with 5K and 10K distances. Temperatures at the start can be below zero, so layer up. The April Get in Gear race is a motivating carrot after months of winter treadmill training. The 40-year old trail event has evolved to include a 2k family fun run, 5k, 10k and half marathon. The courses parallels the Mississippi River and post race activities are held next to Minnehaha Falls.

Frequently mentioned in top 10 marathon lists, the 35-year old Twin Cities Marathon lives up to its tagline, “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.” Held in the fall, marathon race weekend includes family events, 5k, 10k and 10-mile races.

Runners approaching the finish line at the 36th Annual Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Photo courtesy of Twin Cities in Motion by CT Ryan Photography
Lou Dzierzak
A full-time freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Lou Dzierzak has written about outdoor recreation since 1997. Although slow and steady, he’s completed multiple marathons, triathlons and finished Ironman Wisconsin before the midnight deadline.