Trail Review: Gitchi-Gami Trail (Gooseberry to Split Rock)

The Gitch-Gami State Trail is a paved trail with segments scattered along the North Shore. Its intended route, when finished, will run from Two Harbors to Grand Marais (89 miles, I guess), but right now it only has a few sections.

I ran the section from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, which is 8.1 miles, if you start at the actual trailhead. The trailhead is located at a picnic area a bit over a mile down the road through the state park (actually the terminus of the road), so a State Parks vehicle pass is necessary. The route is a bit shorter if you start near the Visitors’ Center – the trail crosses the road near the entrance to the park, so parking alongside the road (for free – and by the road I mean the one inside the park, not Highway 61) and jumping on the trail there will save about 1.1 miles.


This is the elevation map of the trail (it’s from my GPS watch, so I’m sure there are some errors). It looks pretty jagged, but note the scale on the y-axis. That flat little part at the beginning is the section of the trail that winds from the trailhead back to the park entrance (at about 1 mile) – after that, the trail crosses Gooseberry Falls (the bridge has the potential to be a bit crowded) and then there’s more climbing up to the highest point of the trail segment. It’s not exceptionally steep, but it’s still about a mile of uphill running, right at the beginning of the run.

A lot of the trail is along Highway 61, so it isn’t secluded or exceptionally peaceful. On a busy weekend day in the summer or early fall, there will be a lot of traffic, and probably a lot of bikers. (I ran on a Sunday late afternoon, so it was quieter.) This also means the trail is fairly exposed, so there’s not a lot of shade. There are a few short, blessed sections of shade, but overall it’s not a woodsy trail.

There are several sections with nice lake views that are very tempting to a runner who just wants to be done. Come, sit at my picnic table, enjoy listening to the waves, these spots seem to say. Stop torturing yourself, aren’t you hot? Look at these nice, shady trees. If I wasn’t such a businesslike runner, I’d listen. The first of these sections comes after the first big descent.

About 4 miles in, the trail reaches the Twin Points Beach public access. This is an alternative spot to start the a run, one I am going to consider for the future when I do other segments – and I’d also like to explore the beach. It provides a brief respite from the sun, before dumping you back out along the highway.

Shortly after that, the trail descends to the mouth of the Split Rock River. I wanted to veer off the trail and right into the lake, it looked so cool and clean, with a typical North Shore rocky beach. Instead I endured a series of ascents for the final 2 miles (give or take) of the trail segment. This section separates from the highway, so it’s a bit more secluded. It finally winds its way down into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. It does not actually end at the lighthouse, it ends before the lighthouse, at the trail center near the campground.

I like this trail when I want to get out of the city and my typical road routes, but I still want easy to manage terrain. I actually did it as an out and back for a long run (I prefer the Split Rock to Gooseberry direction) and found it really pleasant, except for the long periods of exposure to the sun, but that would be the same on a road run.

I’m looking forward to running additional segments of the trail, although I don’t know if I’ll venture beyond the Silver Bay endpoint – for a paved trail along a highway, it doesn’t seem worth driving all the way to Schroeder or Lutsen. (If I learn those segments are more scenic, I’ll give them a try, otherwise I’ll have to wait til I’m up there for another purpose.)

Superior Fall Races Recap

“That was harder than Wasatch.” – a 100 miler at the finish, to the race director.

I will do this race someday. The 100 mile race, I mean. But volunteering was a perfect place to start.

Emily and I arrived at our communal townhouse at Caribou Highlands around 9:00. We scoped out where we needed to go in the morning, and then attempted to get to sleep before our 2:45 am wake-up call. I am pretty sure I slept maybe an hour and a half, non-consecutively. Ah well, I was going to greet runners who hadn’t even had that. (Well, except for one, who took a 3 hour nap somewhere along the way before continuing.)

We missed the first place runner for the 100 mile race as we were helping up at the lodge with the 50 mile racers. Jake Hegge finished in 19:31, destroying the course record by an hour and a half. We returned to the finish line just a little while after Jake came in, but were too late to cheer him on. There’s little fanfare for the winners of the 100 miler, since it happens so early in the morning. We didn’t have much to do for awhile, as the next runner didn’t come in until 21:03. We waited around in the cold for him to come in, cheered him on, took a picture at the finish since his girlfriend’s phone died just then, and then went back to the townhome to warm up and relax until it was time to help load up the marathoners. I wish I’d been able to sleep for a little bit, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to wake back up again. Instead, I wrote a tiny bit of this recap!

I was hooked on the atmosphere of the race, even in the early morning when few people were out. I missed the 3rd place runner’s finish (I was getting stuff out of the trailer to bring to the finish area at the time), and by the time I got back he was sitting at a picnic table drinking a beer. It was like 7 or 8 in the morning. I don’t think you see that at road marathons too often! It was COLD at the beginning and I was wearing tights under pants, a tshirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a bandana, a ball cap, and was wrapped in a blanket. I never really warmed up fully, so I was in the sweatshirt and both pairs of pants (mostly because I didn’t want to bother with removing my pants) while children were swimming in the pool.

My job for most of the day was to hand out finisher’s medals and belt buckles (for the 100 milers only) as people crossed the finish line. Sometimes there were very long lulls, although once the marathoners started to come in, it picked up a bit. I answered people’s questions (“Did so and so finish?” “What was my time?” “What was my place?” “Is there a lost and found?”) as best as I could. I talked to crew members and learned about their runners, so I was a fan before by the time the runner came in. I fetched lemonade and water for a few people whose crews weren’t readily available. Mostly I just clapped and cheered and talked with people. And I ate a small bowl of chili, which to me seems like such an odd food for a post-race meal. Oh, you just ran for 100 miles? Here’s some chili, that’ll sit well in your stomach!

I ate my chili while talking to one of the early finishers. I really hope I wasn’t bothering him, but he seemed interested in talking, or at least very good at faking it. He was from BC so maybe he was just being polite? I asked him a few short questions about the race, which he seemed to really like, and he loved the location. I tried to avoid looking at his toes. Or anyone’s feet, as there were a lot of feet on display that looked like they had been run over by an ATV while barefoot. Is there a way to avoid this or is it just something I’ll have to accept when I finally cross the finish line of my future 100s?

So many interesting people came through the finish line, some with their pacers, some with their family, one 100 mile finisher came through with his kids, carrying one of them. How is that even humanly possible? The power of love, I guess. I tried to hang back and let people have their moments with family and friends before handing off the swag, but that sometimes resulted in me chasing them down. 100 miles does something funny to the brain, understandably. The women’s masters winner and I were talking, and she said something like “It’s really bright out, and kind of bothering my eyes.” I told her to put on her sunglasses, which were on her head. It genuinely had not occurred to her, and she thanked me for reminding her, and we both laughed. Everyone was so happy and friendly! Only one person crossed the finish line looking genuinely upset (he seemed annoyed with his time), and even that didn’t last.

I enjoyed this race so much. I am hooked. I WILL be back, both as a volunteer and as a runner. John, the race director, was such a cool, genuine, down to earth guy. He was at the finish line greeting runners as they crossed (when he was available, I handed over the medals and buckles to him) and so many people complimented him on a great race, thanking him for the 103 miles of torture (or 50 or 26.2) they just endured. Some people even hugged me! I watched John and how he talked to people as they finished, and I thought man, I want him to shake my hand at the end of a 100 mile race someday. When a volunteer or a multi-finisher came through, he made a huge deal of it and made sure everyone knew.

Oh! NO ONE puked on me! Or even in my vicinity! So that was great. It is my understanding that most puking occurs at the aid stations or somewhere along the trail, but it was still a concern of mine.

I don’t know why this race isn’t ridiculously popular. It started in 1991, so it’s one of the older ones out there, and the course is beautiful and challenging. There might even be wolves. There were a lot of out of state people running (including the entire city of Thunder Bay, ONT) and I hope they go back home to their running communities and sing the praises of this race. Although maybe it could wait to get too ridiculously popular until after I’ve had a chance to race it? They already have a lottery in place… I suppose I need to hurry up and get stronger.

Midnight Sun Midnight Run 5K Goals

Today’s the day! I’ve got the Midnight Sun Midnight Run 5K coming up at 11:59 PM! I am excited, I feel ready for this race, physically. I took yesterday off from running after a nice speedwork session on Wednesday (9×400: 10:49, 10:39, 10:50, 10:46, 10:46, 10:42, 11:47 due to an intersection I think, 10:54, 10:58), and ate a bunch of food.

This isn’t my goal race, of course, but I’d like to build some confidence going into the PP5M, to really feel like my training has paid off and to feel I’ve improved. The main thing I’m worried about is the time of day. Will I feel sluggish? Or will I be able to shake off any tiredness? I’m probably going to grab a latte in the late afternoon/early evening, just to give myself an extra little perk up.

I’m a little worried about pacing, because my heart rate monitor isn’t working and it will be harder to see my watch. I did re-set it so that the “light” button is in toggle mode. I’ll probably just leave it on the whole race so I can glance at it as needed. I hope I don’t end up eating pavement as a result; tripping and falling is a little bit of a concern, too, but I do know the Lakewalk is well-illuminated at night.

I don’t want to go out too fast, but I do also want to challenge myself and push myself harder this race. There’s no sun to heat me up like last time, and I was just over 36 minutes that time. The evening caffeine boost plus a longer warm up plus a cool lake breeze might be a chance for a big PR for me. I know I’m supposed to downplay my hopes for the race and just smile humbly after the fact if I do well, but I don’t think that will work when I post my goals.

A Standard: 35:00
B Standard: 36:00

Yep. Both are below my current PR. Both are achievable for me, if I can dig deep and I don’t run into any abnormal issues (falling, coming down with a cold somehow between now and the race, getting lost on a completely well-marked trail). I do wonder if this race is going to be a little more crowded than I’d like, but I think I can fight off the crowds if I need to, and blame them for my abject failure if I can’t.

Trail Review: Minnesota Point (Winter)

I really, really love this trail, but it does have some drawbacks.

This is not one of the drawbacks.

The Minnesota Point trail is a mix of access road, single-track, and wider trails that extend to the very tip of the spit. It’s somewhere between 4 and 4.6 miles, depending on which route you take. I took a longer way out than I did back, hugging the edge of the Superior Bay side, and then cutting back in at Point Zero Lighthouse. The ruin of the lighthouse actually once stood at the tip of the spit, but sand deposits from the lake changed the location of the harbor entry. I saw it on an episode of Lost Duluth on public television last summer, which was what prompted me to head out there in the first place.

The major drawback to the trail is the terrain. Much of it is sand. Running in sand is annoying. I am sure that it was a good strength workout for my legs, or something, but it is still incredibly annoying. I had hoped since it was winter, the sand would be compacted and covered in a bit of snow, but that was not the case.

All the snow had blown off the trail, I think. That’s the other drawback to the trail in winter. The vicious wind. At the beginning of the run, I was questioning if I was appropriately dressed, and if I had made a horrible mistake. One side of my body was being pummeled. The trail heads into the woods early on into the run, so I was somewhat shielded, but it was whistling and howling above me through the treetops, which made me imagine it was colder than it was.

Those are the only two drawbacks to the trail (in winter). The rest is beautiful. There are a few small “mounds” but no great changes in elevation, the sand was a little bit compacted so it was easier to run in than it is during warmer temperatures, and the scenery is amazing. Some of the trail is in the trees, other parts along the shoreline, and the end of it is…

…even better in person. The only downside is having to look at Wisconsin sometimes.

It’s still better in the summer (despite the sand), because the sound of the waves against the shore is heavenly, but it is a great place for a hike or a run. It is not a great place for speedwork or tempo runs. I don’t know what the trail grooming is like if there is snow, I’ll try to get out there when/if it snows a bit more to see. The trail, other than the sand, is not difficult; there aren’t trees or boulders or other obstacles. In a few spots the trail gets a little overgrown, but it’s not too hard to push a few branches out of the way.

A great long run would be an out-and-back of the entire strip of land, from the lift bridge to the tip and back again. I have run from the entrance to the park to the lift bridge and back (which is about 7.5 mi) but I’ve never put the two together. Sounds like a bucket list item for a time with warmer temps and a better training base.

Trail Review: Lakewalk (Winter)

I’m not sure if this review counts as a “winter review” since it’s not usually 26 degrees with scant snow cover in January here, but it will for now. I’ll probably re-review it or update this review when we’ve gotten more snow. I will not be re-reviewing it when it’s colder because I will not be out there. Tomorrow the high is -5 so I probably won’t be out there anytime soon. I wore my shoe chains today and felt kind of stupid because it wasn’t very slick at all and the trail was almost entirely clear.

The Lakewalk is about 2.3 miles long and is a nice out-and-back. The terrain is predictable and there are only few small hills, so it’s a good trail to use as a benchmark for improvement. It also starts/ends right in Canal Park and winds through the backyard of most of the hotels and Leif Erickson Park, so it is always going to have people on it. It’s multi-use, with a boardwalk for walking along a portion of it, and blacktop for running (and walking past a certain point) or biking.

It’s unbelievably gorgeous on one side. I took this at the finish of my run today. It was snowing when I started and I was hoping to take a lovely picture of snow on the lake, but it stopped before I was done.


It also has some major drawbacks. Even though there’s a lovely view of the lake, it’s not a serene path. The freeway goes right alongside, as does the scenic railroad. The railroad went by me last summer when I was slogging along (the same night I found the cat) and I felt like an idiot. Past the two mile mark there’s some kind of sewage storage building that smells unpleasantly as you pass by. The smell doesn’t last very long and isn’t too terrible, but it detracts from the experience.

Parking in the public lots in Canal Park is free during the winter, and the lot at the far end of Canal Park by the Army Corps of Engineers museum is basically trailside parking. If you time your run right, you can watch a ship go through the canal with 200 of your closest tourist friends. Caribou Coffee and Amazing Grace bakery are nearby to grab a coffee or snack post-run.

Bottom line: the Lakewalk is a nice, predictable, non-technical trail with beautiful views of Lake Superior, but can be a little crowded or noisy.