Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Mankato marathon without hills? Well that's just plain crazy talk!

Attention runners of Mankato: You won't have to travel far to try out a marathon course. There is now one in your own backyard.

As the article in today's paper indicates, the Mankato Marathon Web site has been updated and now includes registration information, more in-depth event info and, most importantly (at least for the running nerds like myself), a finalized map of the marathon course.

After reading the article, there is plenty to get excited about for the inaugural race. For one thing, the race won't be a big dent in the pocketbook, with the marathon, 1/2 marathon and 10K races currently costing $50, $35 and $25, respectively. That's a lot cheaper than you're going to find for almost any established marathon. I would know; I just got done dropping $90 on Grandma's Marathon.

Secondly, the overwhelming interest in the marathon already has coordinators bumping their registration estimate up to 2,000 instead of 1,000. Several people have already registered since the Web site went online on Tuesday. This kind of interest, especially with the marathon still more than 8 months away, creates optimism that it will be a successful event and will become a yearly staple in the Mankato community.

But in all honesty, the thing to get most excited about is the course itself. Race coordinator Mark Bongers said in the article that the marathon course avoids the major hills in the area. Count me as a skeptic after reading that. Avoiding hills in Mankato? Isn't that like trying to avoid traffic in New York City?

So, with the course map in hand and some time to kill, I drove around the eastern loop of the course (miles 1-15, I'm relatively familiar with the rest of the course) to see for myself if they really were successful at dodging Mankato's hellish hills. Believe it or not, they pulled it off for the most part. The course doesn't avoid ALL of Mankato's hills, but it avoids the major ones.

The two biggest hills to climb occur within the first seven miles of the course, each featuring an initial downward slope into the Le Sueur River valley before their respective climbs. Both hills look fairly challenging (again, I drove it, I didn't run it), but neither is in the neighborhood of Gage hill, Main Street, Lookout Drive or even Madison Ave for difficulty. The fact that the hills are early in the race is encouraging enough, as I'm sure any runner would agree that it's better to climb a hill at Mile 6 than at Mile 22.

As a matter of fact, the longest and steepest hill on the entire course is one runners have the privilege of running down instead of climbing up. The hill in question runs along County Road 90 on the South Bend bike trail around Mile 18. It's a doozie of a hill, one that serves as good training for triathlon biking (coming from personal experience). If anything, runners should almost be as concerned about their descent on the South Bend hill as they are about the early climbs, as it's steep enough to cause problems if they're not under control.

The rest of the course is littered with minor hills here and there (one on the Red Jacket Trail, another while running around Sibley Park), but as stated before, runners won't have to fear a Main Street-esque climb at any point in the race. Overall, the course actually drops nearly 200 ft. in elevation from start to finish. It also features 13 water stations and has police stationed at numerous intersections to keep the course safe for runners.

The only concern I can see is trying to fit nearly 2,000 runners onto the bike trail portion of the marathon course (miles 16-23). However, the trails are late enough in the race where people shouldn't be as crammed together as they would at the start of the race. Besides, given the amount of planning that's already gone into the race, this is undoubtedly something Bongers and the rest of the event planners have thought of.

There's still a lot of organizing to be done between now and race day, but as far as the race course goes, bravo. Or, at the very least, bravo until I actually try to run it.

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