From the get go, this was certainly not what we expected!  Mostly in a good way.

Coming to Minneapolis, we knew there was slim chance of participating in any races.  There’s a 5k and 10k this Saturday morning1, but it’s at Lake Nokomis Park, about 12 miles outside of downtown, and the whole reason we came to Minneapolis was for Flugtag.  It would really suck to drive out for a 5k and then get caught in traffic or not be able to park and miss the event we came here for.  Priorities, people!

So when we were at REI last week, shopping for wicked stylish headgear to protect us from the Egyptian sun, I literally tripped over a sign advertising the Torchlight 5k; a through downtown Minneapolis at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday.  With music and beer2 afterwards!  We even get a registration discount for being REI members.  Why the hell not?!

When is a race not a race?

We started to get suspicious when the clerk handed us two bibs with no indication of which one was for who3.  I didn’t exactly expect chip timing for a community race operated by Lifetime Fitness, but I figured they’d at least want to know who was who.  So I asked her.  Apparently this has never been an issue for them before, so we figured we’d stop harassing the girl who’s job it is to sell hiking gear and instead send an e-mail to the race coordinator.

Turns out, Lifetime Fitness takes “fun run” to a whole new level!  They have a clock at the start and finish, but there’s no timing at all.  Just come and run!  And hang out afterward, please.  Okay, cool.  Not what we expected, but fair enough!

This is completely new to me.  Every “race” I’ve ever done – even the first little 4th of July fun run in Manchester, VT and the series of odd-ball distance fun runs put on by a running club in Redding, CA – had timing.  To me, that’s what made it a race as opposed to a group run.  It may not be accurate.  It may not be perfect.  But an Attempt Is Made.  And it’s recorded somewhere.  And it’s Official.  But not here.  This is Just a Run.  For FUN.

And a good thing there was not timing, too.  When we got to the race fun run last night, there were people everywhere, finding parking or hopping off rerouted buses, registering, picking up bibs, finding the start line five blocks away from registration, and so on.  Plus all the people setting up on the sidelines for the Aquatennial Parade.  Pretty clever, actually; “kick off” a parade with a 5k fun run and all the runners have a crowd cheering for them.

Also, race directors take note: Instead of port-a-potties lined up horizontally with individual lines for each, they were across from one another at the end of a dead end street with one line feeding in to the corral.  Quick moving, nobody stepping in front of anyone else, and easy-in, easy-out action.  Bonus points for whoever came up with that plan.

For and event we thought was a small community run with minimal support, there was a hell of a turnout.  We were thinking maybe a couple of hundred, but there were easily over two thousand people running.  Way to crowded to really try to “race” anyway, so as we neared the start line we completely understood why it was a fun run.  It’s as if they’ve done this before…

The Run

My wife and I had decided that since it was a fun run it would be fun to run together.  For us, that means me going her pace4.  But after three days of intense heat and humidity, when we realized it was still going to be pretty moist at the 7:30 start, we decided to just go with the pace of the crowd.

We shimmied up to the start line – the crosswalk across Hennepin Ave at 12th Street – and broke in to a gentle trot along with many other people.  With the exception of a few dozen people who apparently lined up at the back of the pack so that they could bob and weave through slower runners for three miles, it went fairly smoothly.

The route starts just heading north…eastery…ish along Hennepin, hanging a right at 3rd Ave to Portland, then out 2nd Ave and back around Mill City on the River Parkway.  I should just upload the map, eh? … Just a moment … there you go.

Click for Zoomable MapMyRun Map

Love the way the Garmin thinks I was running on top of buildings.  So, yeah, as we cruised along River Parkway there’s an awesome view of the river as well as the faster runners crossing Stone Arch Bridge.  It was around this time that we realized we’d been here before.

Complete Tangent

We stayed briefly in Minneapolis somewhere in the middle of 2006.  We used an RV park in Maple Grove as a base while Ceridwen flew out to a conference in Washington.  Apparently, during this time I visited the Mystic Lake Casino, which is where we’re staying this time around.  At some point, we brunched5 at Hell’s Kitchen, which is now in a completely different building across the street.  We also strolled along River Parkway and believe there may have been another building there at the time, blocking the now wide-open awesome views.  But that part could be in a different state.  Our documentation of 2006 is not stellar.

Back on Course

A short time later we, too, were making a sharp right turn on to Stone Arch Bridge.  It was around this point that a group of four frat-ish guys caught up with us, blasting 80s dance tunes from a pair of computer speakers strapped to one of them with duct tape, wearing matching denim daisy dukes and brightly colored trucker hats.  And shoes.  But that’s it.  I think they scared small children.

I tried taking a photo of Ceridwen mid-bridge, but, well, it was still pretty crowded and didn’t exactly work.  Nobody went overboard and nobody got hurt, though, so that’s good.  Post bridge, we were on the brick streets of Hennepin Island Park with a final turn to the finish.  All in all, a great course, despite the heavy crowds.  Everyone looked to be having a good time, which is really the point in a fun run, right?

How Not to End a Race Run

The finish line is where the good things ended.  The first water was 100 yards further along the road, with no signs or volunteers or information of any sort.  They had a series of bins, maybe 25 yards apart, in the middle of the road, filled with rapidly melting ice and the occasional empty bottle.  After the third or fourth bin, we came to one that had drinking water left in it.  It certainly wasn’t being restocked.  And of course, since nobody had a clue when the next drink would come from, we all grabbed two or three bottles while to worked our way to Nicollet island where the “post race party” was.

Finish line food for the runners was handled via the bridge to Nicollet; runners used the road while spectators used the pedestrian sidewalk, keeping them from our valuable bananas, Marathon bars6, bagel chunks, and nut rolls.  Once we were in the park we were able to spread out a bit and figure out a way to set down the snacks and try to actually eat something.  There was no doubling back to grab something when you might want it; now or never, kid-o.

The post-race party featured a half way decent band that kept trying to do songs well beyond their singer’s abilities (or perhaps just outside his style) and a series of sponsor tents.  Including towels with Toyota logos you could dip in ice water IF you signed up for their mailing list.  Yeah.  No.

We found a quiet corner, got a few more glasses of water with our MGD 64 beer tickets, and watched the sun set over the river while we waited for our Daily Mile friend Cristy to find a parking space and catch up with us for a late dinner.

So, I can see why a lot of people hate this race.  It’s not a race.  I can also see why a lot of people enjoy it – it’s certainly a fun run, despite their inability to organize a decent finish line.  I’m still a bit in shock at the whole thing – not was I was expecting in so many ways.  But, if I were a stationary person and lived in Minneapolis, I think I’d make it an annual thing.  Now that we know what to expect, it’s lots of fun, and we know to skip the post-race party so we can actually see part of the parade.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. The Boston Scientific Heart of Summer race.
  2. Well, okay, not really beer.  MGD 64, which is like moderately alcoholic water.  But better than a kick in the face.
  3. Whom?  English be hard n stuff.
  4. Save for distances under a mile, in which she leaves me in the dust.  Quite literally at times.
  5. Yeah, I used brunch as a verb.  Step off!
  6. Shouldn’t they be 5k bars?