Twin Cities Marathon: Advice and Course Description


It’s coming!!  This was the sight along the highway on my way to work today (along US 10 right by the Medtronic campus).  One month and one day from now.  I’ll be ready – as ready as I can be, given the multitude of things life has thrown me throughout the duration of the 16 week training program!

I was sent this course description (see below – sorry, this post is a little on the long side!) two years ago when I trained for Twin Cities Marathon the first time, and I found it really helpful.  I’m going to share it with you now – with a few anecdotes from me.  Just for clarity (and full disclosure), anything in normal (non-italicized) font is to be credited to the original author (Kirk Walztoni), but my two cents can be found in italics throughout.

How to Run a GREAT Twin Cities Marathon

by: Kirk Walztoni (current MDRA President with a TCM PR of 2:40)

With comments by Kristen Genet (me!) with a TCM PR of 4:21:23 (FINISHING was a PR for me then!!)


Miles 0 to 1
Take it easy. Take it too easy. You will run faster than you think you are running, because of the adrenaline coursing through your veins and the veins of those around you. If you find yourself trapped amongst a bunch of people running too slowly for you, do not weave in and out of them. Save your energy. If mile one took longer to cover than you thought it would, do not panic. You have 25.2 miles left to go.

You will be ridiculously antsy in the starting corral, and there is an unbelievable mob of people packed into the starting corrals!  As soon as the gun goes off, it will take awhile for you to even get across the starting line and for your timing chip to activate.  Once you start, it may hit you (or it might not quite yet) that you’re running a marathon – a MARATHON – something you’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, and training for over the last several months, and maybe longer (at least the thinking part).  It’s crowded.  Really crowded. It WILL thin out, so enjoy the first mile where you can settle in among several thousand of your fellow marathoners and try to keep your nerves from frazzling into smithereens.

Miles 1 to 2
There is a nice downhill on mile two taking you down to the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden. Then, you will take a left and head up a long hill. Then, you will take a left and head up a long hill. Take it easy u;p the hill. Do not judge yourself on how others around you are running. Many people charge up this hill, because they are feeling good. Do not let your breathing rate increase up the hill, and hold your perceived effort, because…

because the hill doesn’t stop.  If your nerves and anxiety get the best of your bladder, there’s a port-o-potty right next to the Orpheum on Hennepin Ave.  You’d think there wouldn’t be a line for them at this point in the race (who pees before Mile 2?!), but you’d think wrong.  I still can’t believe that I had to stop before I got to Mile 2!  And yes, if you’re wondering, I DID go at the Metrodome before hitting the starting corral!

Miles 2 to 3
Just after you hit mile two, you take a hard right and continue to climb. Maintain an even level of effort here, letting people pass you. You still have 24 miles to pass them back. Conserve your energy. There is always a great crowd here, which usually includes Alan Page, the former Purple People Eater, playing his tuba.  The first water stop on the race is at mile 2.5. And this is a long water stop, so do not go the first table. More importantly, do not skip the Powerade here. It is important to hydrate often, hydrate early and hydrate with electrolytes in addition to water.  I like to take one Powerade and one water per water stop, especially if the Powerade is over-mixed and sticky sweet. Powerade is roughly six percent carbohydrate by volume. But, if it has more sugar, it impedes absorption into your blood stream.  Now that you have hydrated, enjoy the nice downhill, which takes to towards Lake of the Isles.

The crowds lining the route are amazing!  Let yourself relax and soak in the energy from the runners and the crowds.  The tuba WILL be there – and it WILL make you smile.  Cowbells don’t stand a chance against a tuba!

Miles 3 to 6
Cruise control time. You should be finding your pace here. If you ran too fast the first few miles, slow down, and get yourself back on schedule. If you ran too slowly, don’t worry here, and do not try to make up for time lost. There will be plenty of time later to try to get back the little time you lost in the first few miles.  Be sure to remember to run the tangents, as this is a curvy section of the course. Do not be the person who runs 26.5 miles, because you stick to one side of the road; 26.2 miles if far enough.  There is a water stop at mile five. If you’ve been running for more than 40 minutes at this point, consider taking your first gel here. Take a gel with two cups of water to get close to the six percent carbohydrate level mentioned earlier. Do not take a gel with Powerade, as this could give you a stomach ache.

Did you read that?  RUN THE TANGENTS!  Look at the course map ahead of time.  Look ahead when you’re running so you know when there’s a turn coming up.  He says not to be the person who runs 26.5 miles…last time I was the person who ran 26.6 miles!  Trust me – I could have done without that 0.4 miles when I was at 25.8!

Miles 6 to 7
Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet. You know the hill. You’ve run it a hundred times during training. However, this time it will feel longer and steeper. Let the people around you pass you. Once you reach the top of the hill, relax and regain any breath you might have lost. Let the view of the Bandshell pull you down the hill and around the left hand turn down to Lake Harriet. There is another water stop at mile seven, so if you haven’t done so already, down the gel now.

Somewhere around Mile 6 (Lake Calhoun was on my left) I was thoroughly enjoying the crowd and reading all the signs spectators were holding. The road is pretty narrow here, and it’s still pretty crowded.  You should also keep one eye on the road in front of you, because if you hit a pothole and roll and ankle,it might not be pretty.  I went down in the middle of the street with a ton of runners around me!  Fortunately a kind woman helped me up (I had scraped my knee, but nothing too bad), and she told me I had the same look on my face that Simba had when the wildebeests were stampeding down the gorge in Lion King.  Fortunately it ended better for me than it did for Mufasa.

Miles 7 to 8
Enjoy the crowds here at miles seven to eight as these are the thickets crowds you’ll see until Summit Avenue in St. Paul. After mile eight, take note as to how you feel. You should feel fresh at this point. If you do not feel fresh, take a mile off by slowing down by about 15 to 30 seconds off your mile pace and reassess.

There ARE tons of people around here – but it seemed to me that there were tons of people everywhere along the course (or most places, anyway).  Make sure you’re drinking enough water – stop at EVERY water stop if you’re not carrying your own water.  It got really warm and sunny in 2011, and that got tough towards the end of the race.

Miles 8 to 11
This is the trickiest part of the course. It is also where most people wreck their Twin Cities Marathon. Why? You’ve run the path countless times, but how many times have you run the road? The road is much hillier than the path. I’ve seen many people blow themselves up here by running these hills too hard. You may be tired of hearing this, but take it easy here. Let other people pass you on the uphills. If you are not getting passed, you are running too fast.  Once it flattens out, which is shortly after Portland Avenue, relax and find your goal marathon pace again.

Let people pass you.  If no one is passing you, slow down a little.  Also,if you feel great, don’t think that this is a good time to start pushing the pace.  I made that mistake around Mile 10…I felt good so I picked up the pace.  The good news is that lasted until about Mile 20.  The bad news is that I was nowhere near the finish line when I started running out of steam.  If you have a goal pace (better yet a goal pace range), don’t be afraid to keep it on the slow end of the range. 

Miles 11 to 13
You take the right hand turn on to Cedar Avenue. There is another water stop here and another hill. This might be another great spot for a gel, depending on how long you’ve been out and your personal fueling strategy. There is also another long hill here. Be careful, and let people pass you.  Once you’ve reached the top, relax, and find your marathon pace. Head over the bridge, take a sharp left hand turn on to Nokomis Parkway and head towards the half marathon mark. If you’ve followed the instructions so far, you should hit the half marathon mark feeling good. Mug for the cameras, as this is your chance to look good for a picture. These pictures are always better than the finish line photos.  Assess your situation. How do you feel? Does running another 13 miles sound easy? Does it sound impossible? Adjust your goals as necessary. There is no doubt about it. The second half of the race is tougher than the first half, so be honest with yourself.

Set your goal(s) reasonably and realistically.  I’m setting 3 goals this time around: (1) that I would be ecstatic to hit and if I have the energy left I just might cartwheel across the finish line, (2) the goal I’d be happy to hit, and (3) the goal I can make peace with and not be disappointed with.  Number 3 should always be getting across the finish line without medical assistance vertically. And if that’s your goal 1 or 2 – that’s fine too!

Miles 13 to 14
After you zip around Lake Nokomis, you take a hairpin curve back onto Minnehaha Parkway and, lo and behold, there is another hill. Hold your effort even up this hill. If you do, and you’ve taken it easy on the hills prior to this one, you will notice something new: people falling back compared to you. All of these people ran too hard, too early.  Do not be tempted by the Melo-Glaze donut shop, and keep on trucking down Minnehaha Parkway. I always take my second gel at the water stop at mile 13.5, leaving me with one gel left.

I totally didn’t even see the donut shop.  Probably better that way.  I remember thinking “How AWESOME is this!” – at the half marathon point.


This is me at about Mile 17. Yeah, I was excited and happy to be there!

Miles 14 to 19
If you’ve run a conservative race up to this point, now is the time to really start running your race. The course is flat to downhill through this section, and you’ve run these miles so many times that there should be no distractions. You’ll fly by Minnehaha Falls and then take a left onto West River Road into the area I call, “The Vacuum”, due to the lack of cheering fans and the isolation that it entails.   Motivation and cheers are at a premium here, so soak in the energy when you can. Keep up your water intake, and make sure to find the shade here, wherever possible. Also, remember to continue to run the tangents. However, if it is sunny, find the shade, and don’t worry about tangents. The sun is moving up in the sky by this time, and you want to keep as cool as you possibly can.  If you don’t feel great, take it easy through here, and conserve your energy. Don’t be afraid to slow down. You’ll want as much of it as possible come miles 20 to 23.  Lastly, there is a Clif Shot Zone here at mile 17. Take one only if you now for a fact that you can stomach Clif Shots, and they have a flavor you know you can stomach.

This is my favorite section of the course – I LOVE running up West River Parkway past Minnehaha Falls.  It’s a good place to plant friends and family you coerce to come out and cheer for you.  Mile 17 comes back to me in a dream every now and then.  Remember – the dream with the purple balloon.  As an aside – if you come out and cheer on October 6, please grab a purple helium balloon on your way.   It’ll make you look like a cool spectator, AND it will make it easier for me to find you.  I’ll be looking for purple balloons.   Again – he mentions the tangents.  This is IMPORTANT!  You’re not here to run an ultra, you’re here to run 26.2.  Let’s keep it to 26.2! I capitalized on the Clif Shots here – AND I had a few friends along the way bring me GU or Hammer gels that I knew I liked.  I started the race with 4 gels.  I consumed 4 gels during the 26.2 (or 26.6 because I failed to heed the advice about the tangents!).  I finished the race with 5 gels.  Do the math. 🙂


These are my friends DeNae, Mary, and Shaun on a training run across the Franklin Bridge last year. The views of the Mississippi River from the bridge are outstanding!

Miles 19 to 21
There is another short, but very tough, climb up to the Franklin Bridge. Again, take it easy here, and conserve energy. Once on the bridge, take a look to your right and enjoy the fall colors on the river bluffs. It is simply beautiful.   The Medtronic Plaza is located just after the bridge and so is the ALARC “Wall” once you’ve turned onto East River Road. Again, find the shade through this section of the course, if it is a sunny day. I always take my last gel early in this section of the race.  There are a few more hills for you to conquer through this section. The first one comes immediately after the “Welcome to St. Paul” sign and is a surprise every time I run this race. People should look like they are moving backwards relative to you on this one, if you’ve run a smart race.  There is a nice downhill to the base of Lake Street, and then the second half of the marathon begins.

Running across the Franklin Bridge is just about as awesome as it gets – make sure to take in the views, and if we’re lucky, it’ll be peak colors along the river.  This is a good time to think to yourself: “Look what I’m doing – am I not a freakin’ rock star?!”  I had to hit the port-o-potty again at about Mile 20.  You probably chuckled when you read the section about how this is the second half of the marathon (after you’ve already run 20 miles).  Reality check – that’s complete and utter truth.  The last 6.2 take as much energy (or more) than the first 20.  This is where you have to have your head in the game and keep that self-talk POSITIVE!!

Miles 21 to 23
The best thing that can be said about this section of the course is that it is only two miles long. Remember this: only two miles long.   First, there is a climb from the base of the Lake Street Bridge. Then, you will turn left and face the hill to the University of St. Thomas. Keep moving through here, and attempt to keep your heart rate as low as possible. Once you reach the base of the steep hill, stare at the top of the hill, and keep trucking until you reach the top.   Don’t worry abut the people around. Just keep moving, and just keep your effort even. Do not run so hard that you find yourself out of breath at the top of this hill. Once you’ve reached the top, the course turns right and then quickly left onto Summit Avenue.   Here, there will be crowds, sun and more uphill running. Find the shade wherever possible, and keep drinking water. Maintain your pace through here. If you do, you will be moving past people around you. Break this portion of the course into small chunks: Cretin to Prior, Prior to Snelling.  Once you’ve hit Snelling Avenue, you can smell the end of the climb and the end of the marathon.

One word: TOUGH. OK, this section deserves another word. SUCKS.  This is the section that darn near killed me…actually it was about Mile 22 to Mile 24.5.  Plant friends and family at approximately half mile intervals.  Or just look in the crowd (there will be LOTS of people along Summit!) and pick out the people you want to be your friends and family and imagine they’re there just for you!  Tip – have your name printed BIG on the front of your shirt so people can cheer for you by name.  It sounds silly – but it’s HUGE!!  At this point, there are water stops every mile.  I carried my own water, and I was very thankful, because when I needed water, I needed it NOW (even when I wasn’t near a water table!).

Miles 23 to 25
You are done with the hills. Are you passing people through this section? If so, keep it up. Find someone to “lasso”, and pull them in. Take a little break, and do it again. Note how strong the sun is. Aren’t you glad you avoided it the last 10 miles? There is no hiding from it in this section of the course. If there is a headwind here, work with other people going your speed, if there are any. Be greedy, and don’t be a hero by being in the front of this group.  Once you are inside of 20 minutes to the finish, do not stop for water. In fact, do not stop for anything, because it can be tough to get moving again.

I object.  Stop for water if you need it.  You can walk a little.  I give you my permission, for whatever that’s worth.  Be kind to your body – it’s taken you over 20 miles, and you are almost there.  Really…even if the finish line still seems so far away!

Miles 25 to 26
Did I say you were done with the hills? I lied. There is one more small hill right at mile 25. You can attack this one if you like. Once you take a left, remaining on Summit Avenue, there is one more mile left. Enjoy the scenery around you, and pull in that guy or gal in front of you. You either trained harder than they did or ran a smarter race than they did, right?

You can TASTE it at this point and the crowd keeps getting thicker and louder and you keep getting closer to the finish line.  All that’s good.  Very good.  I certainly didn’t pass anyone at this point (or maybe I did, I was almost to delirium by then), but the crowd definitely kept me going.  This is a good place to plant someone who you don’t want to see you walk or look weak.  Or someone who is a huge motivator and inspiration to you.  That person might just provide the encouragement to keep you going, and you will be forever grateful!

The blessed finish line. That downhill from the St. Paul Cathedral through the chute lined with thousands of cowbell-ringing, cheering spectators to the Capitol is so much fun. This is what I see every time I drive down this street, anytime of year (and a lump forms in my throat and tears prick my eyes).

Miles 26 to 26.2
Once the Cathedral of Saint Paul appears out of nowhere on your left, find the last drop of energy you have. It is a downhill sprint to the finish. Do not ease up, and keep moving. Pass as many people as you can in the last quarter mile. You’ll be surprised at how much strength you have left in those legs. Count how many people you pass and cruise to the finish. Congratulations on running a great Twin Cities Marathon!

This is the section of the course that I still – to this day – cannot drive down without my eyes stinging with tears.  It’s that powerful.  The Cathedral.  The DOWNHILL (!).  The crowds.  The firetrucks with the flag over the course.  The Capitol straight ahead.  The FINISH LINE.  You will have NO trouble getting through this section – this is clearly the BEST part of the race.  Time to celebrate (and maybe find some ice and stretch in the shade)!

One month and one day from now.

October 6, 2013

Please come and share this with me…with us…all of us that are working so hard at training for this.

And remember, this one’s for my Dad.  Click here for the back story, and your chance to make a difference.


One response to “Twin Cities Marathon: Advice and Course Description

  1. Pingback: Dreams or Goals? | Run for Living

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