The runners who lined up near the small-town Minnesota high school weren’t looking for a 26.2-mile run that was one-part race and three-parts rock-and-roll event. They weren’t looking for the wild post-race party. Nor a zero-K “race,” nor the big corporate sponsors, nor googly-eyed banana costumes in which to run.
The runners who showed up at Holdingford, Minnesota, at 7 a.m. May 14 were seeking the fast, mostly flat, well-supported Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon, a race in central Minnesota put on by a stalwart running group.
Two hours, 15 minutes and 28 seconds later, 32-year-old John Schreier, wearing a lumberjack-esque singlet and faux cut-off jean shorts, stepped over the finish line in St. Joseph, Minnesota. He beat out 196 other finishers to win the 14th annual event and become the 2022 Road Runners Club of America state marathon champion.
The Minneapolis man was only the third winner from the big city to the south in the 14 years of the race.
Not long after, the women’s winner came through. Kristen Giombi, 36, a research economist with a PhD from Virginia Tech, broke the tape in 3:15:37 and earned the women’s RRCA state title. She traveled from Raleigh, North Carolina, to run in the Stearns County race. Leah Knowles, 24, of Shakopee finished second a minute and two seconds later.
The no-frills race did have bubbles at the finish line. And experienced pacers. And plenty of pumped-up supporters who doled out water and cheered along the sunny course.
The runners traveled on a former railroad corridor that was turned into a paved recreational trail more than 20 years ago. The Lake Wobegon Trail, named after author Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, used to be a Burlington Northern track. Now it leads marathon competitors southwest from Holdingford to Albany, then east to Avon, and finally southeast to St. Joseph. And no, Garrison wasn’t there this year.
“We cater to the core group of marathon runners,” said race director Jeff Jansson. “The organizers are marathon runners.”
The Saint Cloud River Runners organize the race. Their club has been running the banks of the Mississippi since 1980. Jansson, who has run more than 80 marathons, is the third race director since the race began in 2008. Sharon Hobbs, a lawyer from St. Cloud, was the first; The second was George Bienusa, a physical education teacher at Clearview Elementary and winner of the inaugural Run for the Lakes marathon in Nisswa. They had to cancel 2020’s race due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Jansson said the locals missed helping put on the event.
“The community is very supportive of our endeavors,” Jansson said. “We couldn’t do [this race] without support like that. The same things have to be done here as have to be done for a large race, but we just don’t have the volume of volunteers.”
Jansson and all the volunteers worked to support another marathon this year as well. The Brookings Marathon in South Dakota was set to run Saturday as well, but on Thursday night, a massive storm took out trees, power, and buildings throughout the state. Brookings was badly damaged.
“The start and finish are at Pioneer Park,” Brookings race director Matt Bien said. “There was structural damage around there and trees down everywhere.”
The city canceled the race. While Bien worked to communicate without having power, the internet or consistent cell service, Jansson hopped on the Brookings Marathon Facebook page. He let runners know they were waiving the registration requirements for anyone who wanted to transfer to the Minnesota race.
Some runners made the trek to Holdingford and were able to compete alongside people who have run the race many years over, such as Wanda Gau.
This year the Little Falls resident finished third in 3:18:27. Gau knows the race well. She won the women’s division in 2010, when she was 47. She won a second time eight years later. In between, she racked up three second-place victories (2014, 2019, 2021) and two third-place wins (2012, 2015), making her the top podium finisher in the event’s history.
“Wanda is a wonderful person and a wonderful athlete,” Jansson said. “As she gets older, she gets smarter and uses a training regimen that works for her. I trained with her, and I struggled to keep up.”
This year also saw a contingent of runners from Texas up near the top. David Armstrong, 40, of Richardson, Texas, took second place in 3:00:17. Jerod Honrath, 48, of Dallas, was third in 3:06:24.
The number of runners was lower this year, following a trend seen in many 2022 marathons. And the times didn’t approach the course records. Chad Lutz came up from Ohio in 2015 to win in 2:33:59, and Amy Feit of Luverne, Minnesota, is the only woman to break 3 hours in the race. She ran a 2:58:13 in 2016.