Running off the beaten path

by Natalie Conrad

Sun CURRENT Newspapers


There is nothing quite like taking in the fall colors while running on trails through the woods.

I had plenty of time to enjoy that feeling when I ran the WhistleStop Marathon recently in Ashland, Wis.

During my 18 weeks of training, and especially in the last few weeks preceding the race, many people asked if I was doing the Twin Cities Marathon. Someone even said, “Why not? Couldn’t you get in?”

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely plan on doing the Twin Cities Marathon at some point and have done several bigger city marathons (Des Moines, Fargo and Grandma’s half-marathon.) But there are thousands of marathons to choose from. Why not go off the beaten path?

As a former cross-country athlete, I felt at home on the gravel and running through the woods. While big city marathons are fun and known to have great spectators, sometimes it’s fun to enjoy the small-town atmosphere. The spectators at WhistleStop were a bit scattered, but it made me appreciate their presence and goofy signs all the more.

The expo may not have been much to rave about, but the town came together to support the race, from the delicious pasta dinner the night before to the fully-stocked water stops and cheering, music and snacks at the finish. It also didn’t hurt that the trail was all flat or downhill and surrounded by trees decked out in the beautiful changing colors of fall. In addition to their beauty, those trees also provided a barrier from any wind.

Like always, the last three miles weren’t pretty and I found myself asking, “Why did I decide to do this again?” The only thing worse than the last few miles of a marathon is the pain you feel after you stop running. But it only takes me about a minute or two to start setting a new goal and planning what race to do next.

It was nice to hear my name announced as I crossed the finish, followed by the cheering of random spectators. I felt like more than a face in the crowd.

If you’re looking for a fun small town race or just something different – a break from the bustle of city life – give WhistleStop or any small-town race a try. And you just might just be rewarded. I enjoyed a 12-minute time drop from my last marathon and a whole lot more.

As for the Twin Cities Marathon, I’m sure it will still be there when I feel like taking on the big city challenge.


Contact Natalie Conrad at [email protected]