Twin Cities Marathon Course Report
Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Twin Cities Marathon: Practically Perfect in Every Way
Fallback Point: Mile 7.5, Mile 13.5
I freakin’ LOVE this race. It is hands-down one of my favorites. This is one race that is never a bad option for anyone. Wineglass is another. The weather errs on the cooler side, which is terrific for conserving energy once the ‘work’ sets in. The race has been around for years so the organization and execution is damn near flawless, and, frankly, Minneapolis is a terrific town to visit, but not so much fun you’d waste pre-race energy playing tourist from dusk till dawn.
Worst thing you can say about it is that it’s steady and predictable. It’s the boy your mother wants you to date, which makes him lamer than a two-legged mare. The opposite of exciting is boring, but there is a WHOLE spectrum in between the two; it’s not necessarily a binary continuum. The best races for performance lie within that continuum.
Focus on the Front. Go back to the post where I talk about my DNF at the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. My heart rate was where it needed to be but I did not have reliable GPS or pace data and had no idea I was going WAY too fast; I was running a downhill race. YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THE DOWNHILL MORE THAN YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THE HILL AT MILE 20.5. (You can expect to have reliable GPS data the whole course. Generally speaking, Chicago and NYC are the only major metropolitan races where GPS data tends to fail.) Be smart and conserve effort in the first twenty miles. You will need it later.
Just so we are absolutely clear on this, the way you approach the first 20 miles will make or break your race. Do not get greedy in those fast, easy, downhill-that-feel-flat miles. That hill will barely register if you’ve been smart up to that point.
Doglegs: Doglegs are 90-degree turns on the course. The crowd will slow down to hug the turn (but not quite enough they practically brake at the last minute), then they will speed up too much. The phenomenon is called 'braking' and it will take a toll on your ankles. Be sure to lock your cage and consciously slow your roll when you see the crowd narrowing to one side of the road (meaning a turn is coming) and focus on slowly resuming pace accelerator-style (slowly but controlled, NO SPRINTING) when the turn is behind you.
Everyone in this race is going to go out too quickly, burn up too much energy on the burps at mile 0.25 and 1.5-2.3, cross the halfway mark feeling strong, start to worry when they slow down on the incline to Minnehaha Parkway, burn too much energy trying to ‘make up time’, then hit the at mile 19 as they cross the bridge and totally poop out. Instead of using the slowdowns on the doglegs for recovery, they will speed up too quickly and burn up energy they should be conserving for the incline at the 20-mile mark.
They will speed up too much on the second dogleg at the end of the bridge, speed up again on the decline as they exit the bridge and attack the first small incline at mile 20 too hard. DO NOT FOLLOW THEM. LOCK YOUR CAGE AND LET THEM GO. Watch your effort level, do NOT worry about pace or even think about it.
Section 1: (Miles 1-13) Rounding the Lakes. The first 14 miles take you from Minneapolis to the Mississippi River, passing 6 lakes as you go (Cedar, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis). Most of these miles are through residential neighborhoods with serious house porn and lots and lots of folks cheering you on.
Note: this is another reason I love old, established races. The Twin Cities are very proud of their hometown race, and the course support is tremendous from start to finish. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, congregates in yards near the race course. It’s a giant tailgating party and they are all there to cheer for YOU. The energy is terrific from start to finish, soak it all in!
Back to the course: The dogleg at mile 7.5 around Lake Harriet will start to take out people who got greedy. The rest will be taken out at mile 13.5 as they climb to get onto the Minnehaha Parkway, a hill so subtle you probably haven’t noticed it on the elevation map. This rise shocks pretty much everyone.
I consider these to be the Fallback Points because the crowd will feel tightly packed in the first 3 miles, then those who were going way faster than they should have will start to fall back. As you pick more and more people off, you will have to resist the urge to speed up and dodge them. Don’t do it, do not do it.
Section 2: (Miles 14-18) The Banks of the Mississippi River. This is unremarkable except for the scenery changes. The crowd support thins a bit and you may find this section to be more mentally challenging in this short stretch. It’s relatively flat until mile 17, where you have a burp, followed by Mile 18, which initiates a really lovely downhill. Once again, do not get greedy. Now is not the time to try to get time back. Be patient. Use those two miles to glide and recover focusing on a locked cage and steady rhythm. Let people pass you, you will pass them right back when they start walking at mile 22.
Section 3: (Miles 20-26.2) That Hill. If you've been smart up to now, you have plenty left in the tank because you were using gravity to your advantage and not working any harder than you had to. This hill is LONG and demoralizing on paper. In reality, it’s one of the nicest zip codes in the state, lined with old, stately mansions from start to finish. Look at the ground, look at the houses, do not focus on the hill itself. The slope really isn’t that bad, the burp at mile 14 is way worse, don’t let fear drive the bus.
That said, it’s still a hill. Look left at the houses, look right at the houses, look at the ground in front of you, do NOT look for the top of the hill; you will psych yourself out. Focus on managing your effort levels as well as your breathing, stare at the ground a few feet ahead of you, just do not look up wondering when the hill is going to end. Accept that it is going to be awhile, and, until you see the top, you need to conserve. Stick to the middle and be ready to dodge all of the burning Bonnevilles. They will be all around you.
Recover Wisely. You will crest the hill right around the 23-mile mark. WE NEED TO RECOVER FROM THAT BIG-ASS HILL. Keep that cage locked, sit into the hill, let gravity do the work, and recover for half a mile. Mind the pace limit, downhills are for RECOVERY, not work.
Finish Strong. If you played the first section of the race wisely and recovered on the downhill, then you will make up all the time you 'lost' going up that horrid hill. NOW it's go time. PUSH. Negative split from 23.5 to the finish. Remember, you were holding back for the first 19 miles, all of which were downhill and fast, so actually you are AHEAD, YO.
Then Finish Stronger. When we see the finish line, we speed up! Imagine me standing there giving you a high-five and screaming to GO as you pass the Capitol building and cruise down to the finish line. It is a beautiful sight. Everyone is waiting to congratulate you. Go get 'em!
The “Fallback Point” is the point in the race when everyone who went out too fast starts walking. It feels like you are pulling away as the people you were running with start falling behind you. Generally speaking, if you run a smart race, this is the point past which no one will pass you. In fact, you will start passing pretty much everyone. This is a mindgame- you will feel strong relative to their weakness and will be tempted to speed up and pick people off, RESIST THE URGE.
 This happens ALL THE TIME with my clients. I promise you, trying to two-fer a race weekend with a sightseeing educational vacation for your kids NEVER ends in a PR unless you have a week as well as cash to burn.