Lake Wobegon Preps for 14th Annual Marathon; Opens Doors to Brookings Runners
Words By Jonathon Heide
Central Minnesota Marathon accepts South Dakota runners who faced race cancelation
The 14th running of the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon takes place May 14, and a few late entries will be at the starting line after 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds destroyed portions of South Dakota, forcing a cancellation of the Brookings Marathon set for the same day.
Normally the last day to register for the Lake Wobegon race is 10 days before the start. But when race director Jeff Jansson heard about the tragic turn of events May 13, he reached out to let runners know they could join with the nearly 300 already registered for Saturday’s event.
“The runners’ schedules are set, and it would be a shame to give it up,” he said while noting his respect for the well-run event in Brookings.
Both Minnesota and South Dakota have had cooler, wetter spring seasons this year. Although there were storms in the forecast for the week, the weekend weather looked good for both Brookings and Holdingford, Minnesota, where the Wobegon race begins. The weather got serious on Wednesday night, setting off tornado sirens and uprooting trees across the Midwest. It was followed by a devastating front that carried straight line winds to Brookings the next night, May 12.
Runners change plans after winds devastate SD city
“It was about 5:30 the sky literally turned black and within 15 minutes you could see the wall of clouds and dust coming,” Brookings race director Matt Bien said Friday. “They were estimating 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds. Hundreds of trees across the community are down. We haven’t had power for 20 hours or so now.”
Bien said that after the storm went through Thursday night, he knew things were going to be challenging for the race to run on Saturday. So at 4:30 a.m. Friday morning, he was out with the other marathon organizers and volunteers, each on a separate section of the course, cutting and clearing trees to prepare for the race.
“We were going for it,” Bien said. “Though we were all seeing pieces of [the storm’s damage] and couldn’t see the bigger picture.”
As the morning went on and the full scale of the damage came into view, the city assessed the scale of the damage and canceled the race, which has been run since 1970. Bien said he was shell shocked, but that it was out of his hands.
“The city made the decision … it was the right call. With no power, no street lights, there’s literally an accident waiting to happen on every corner.”
“They were estimating 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds. Hundreds of trees across the community are down. We haven’t had power for 20 hours or so now.”
—Brookings Race Director Matt Bien
Runners who had already traveled into town didn’t have options for restaurants, gas stations, or hotels, unless the place had backup generators running. One gas station under generator power had a line of cars that snaked down the road.
“Runners are hearty; there’s no question some could have made it happen. But that’s not where the city needs to focus today,” Bien said. “I just feel bad for people when you can’t make the decision until that close to the start. People have put a lot of effort into training; a lot of effort into preparation, it’s still not easy.”
For runners who couldn’t make it to Minnesota for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon, Bien said that Brookings may try putting on a fall event to keep the longstanding race tradition from missing another year.
mn race is rrca championship
The Lake Wobegon Marathon race has been named the Road Runner’s Club of America State Championship Marathon. The RRCA is a national group, but state clubs often designate state championships as well.
The marathon was started in 2008 and has been run each year except 2020. The route is unchanging as the horizon over the farm fields it runs through. Only one year did the route shift: the first year, because of construction on a bridge. Another year, an arsonist set fire to the wood planks on a bridge that crosses Schwinghammer Lake, but the bridge was repaired in time for the race. And as of 2021, three runners have made the trek each year.