Race Report: Lake Johanna 4 Mile

Springtime in the Twin Cities is a dicey time to run outside, but it was a beautiful day, there was a good cheap race, and I was in.

This race gets an A+ here on GoodFastCheap because it’s free with an MDRA membership, which is in itself a bargain. For $25, the membership also includes a race calendar/training log, an informative magazine, and discounts at local running stores, and two other free MDRA races: the Hopkins 7 mile (March 31), and the glorious Mudball trail race (April 28).

I am Queen of the Mudball! (F1 in 2016)

And the Lake Johanna 4 mile is darn good. With a tradition going all the way back to 1961, the organizers of this race do a brilliant job every time. Registration is a breeze; you can now sign up online, but same-day registration is also hassle-free. The results are promptly posted and reliably accurate. There’s bread and cookies from Great Harvest at the finish, and a lot of door prizes.

How is this all done on such a small budget? Well, as you can see, it’s not fancy. First off, the roads aren’t closed, sparing the usual top expense. The sleepy suburban roads surrounding Lake Johanna in Arden Hills don’t get a lot of traffic. I felt safe during this race (though I don’t think it would have been safe with headphones – MDRA didn’t ban them, but said wear them at your own risk, and I saw no one who took that risk). There is some slush on parts of the roadside this time of year, and I was worried about ice, but our diligent Steve had driven the course and taken photos of the few possible caution spots.

This is it! Most of the rest of the road was drier than this spot.

Second, because of our awesome athletic community, this race is supported by an unbeatable team of volunteers. Many thanks to both MDRA and the Northstar Running club. Rob, Sarah, Jack and the others made it look easy, but as anyone who’s ever volunteered on a chilly race day knows, it’s not easy.  I appreciated this course being so well-marshalled, so I made sure to say thanks to the volunteers even while I was running. If I missed anyone, thank you!

Another key money-saver: The bibs are re-used. Therefore, these super-cheap races come with super-accurate chip-timing.

There’s no shirt, no expo, no medal, no prize for winning your age group, no beer, no music or announcing sound system, no warming tent, no massage tent, no VIP area, no fanfare. A lot of people must want these things if they’re willing to pay so much more for them, but I could do without them. I like these smallish races – not so small that I can’t see the runner ahead of me, but big enough I have plenty of good company.

And PLENTY of good competition! The front runner turned in an impossible 20:49 on this hilly course. The aforementioned Steve, who had driven the course to make sure it was okay to run with his kids in a double stroller, placed 8th with a ridiculous 23:59 – yes, pushing a double stroller. (I don’t know how. He writes about it in his own blog here.)

Here I am with legendary Bill, newcomer to the M60-69 age group, who ran an impressive 28:19. Think he must have won his AG? He was third. But we’re just getting started this year.

I stopped to talk to Bill, who has paced me well in many track workouts made possible through MDRA. (These workouts, held Thursdays in the summer, are also free. The coaches are great and the turnout has been wonderful – all ages and abilities.) Though he has been running many years and was much faster at his peak than I ever was, he also seems to be holding up a bit better; I’ve teased him a few times, “It’s like I’m getting older and you’re not!” Today I said to him with a shrug that I had accepted slowing down as long as it was at a normal rate. “Noooo!” he said. He gets it. When my performance first started declining, he and Bobby were the first people I turned to for advice – and I gathered advice from all the best of the veterans – but for now, I’m not applying all of it 100%. I will someday, at least when I hit a new age group in two years, but one bit of advice I hear a lot is that it’s good to take it easy for a season, even for a year if it’s a hard year. This feels right to me right now. We talked a bit about adjusting goals to align with Goal Number One: keep running for as many years as possible.

Just then, I saw one of my Goal Number One heroes: Now 66-year-old Julie, who I hadn’t seen since the City of Lakes Half-Marathon. On that day, I was weeping because I didn’t finish, and she was smiling because she was cheering on her friends. I was a little bit injured – just pain, nothing really to cry about – and she was too injured to run. I was humbled by her strong determination to remain positive, but saddened that this amazing athlete, who had beaten me a year previously at the Twin Cities 10 mile, with a 92% age-graded performance, was sidelined. But today…”Julie, are you going to run?” She was! “It’s the first race I’ve run in a year and a half,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

So happy Julie’s back!

She ran a 33:14, tying with Sherry, who is 60.

So how did I do? I predicted I’d run at about the same pace as I did at last week’s flat 8K. I did, coming in at 29:27, good enough for first in my age group, surprisingly. Like last week, I started out at a cautious pace and progressed it. I had to pass the famous Kirt in the final mile, but Bill had informed me that he’s been working and hasn’t had time to train, so I wasn’t alarmed; I just said “Hang in there, Kirt” and kept pushing. I had some good push at the end, and almost caught Sue, who had won the women’s 50-59 category, but she beat me by a second.

This is a hilly, challenging course. I’m amazed by the stars who crushed this run, especially the ones who seem like they’ll keep crushing it their whole lives. I also said hi to Gloria, who won the women’s 70+ division with a 40:18. Like me, Gloria has sometimes experienced a weird twinge deep to the gluteus, maybe the piriformis; she termed it “Runner’s butt.”

I guess in total I ran a bit over 5 miles. I never get much of a warmup, because I’m too busy stargazing and gabbing, and I didn’t get much of a cool-down either. I ran a bit on a walking path and found the patches of ice got bigger and slicker, and finally found myself stepping over a sheet of ice that led to intersecting paths with a longer sheet of ice on one side and a long flooded stretch on the other.

Standing there looking stranded was Dash – yes-that’s-his-real-name Dash, please-don’t-ask-me Dash. We headed back together. I felt only what I always feel running with him – a little bit lighter, a little bit bewildered. He told me this was the second race he’d run today. Yes. He’d run a shortened 5K, picked up and figured he could make the 11:00 start. Of course! Why don’t more races have an 11:00 start? Then we could all be crazy and run two races in the same day. And yes, he beat me again – not by much, but this is going to be a good year for him, I hope. He didn’t stay for the prize drawing and I didn’t win any, and I bet neither of us realized until just now that he could have given me his ticket.

On a side note, someone asked about the ice-grippers I had on the shoes I was wearing for my warm-up. I found the old order on Amazon, and they are still available (for $14.99): Action Traction Ice Cleats for Shoes. They work pretty well on mixed terrain, and fit well over any of my size 8 women’s shoes.

On another side note, to help me recover, I went to the Tula yoga and wellness center, which was offering a free class sampler. I’ve always wanted to try aerial yoga.


It’s like getting an assisted stretch in a beautiful soft hammock. It felt wonderful. Stretch out all those tight spots, plus some tight spots you didn’t know you had. You can do inversions with ease, and your back is supported. I ended up staying for the boot camp sampler as well. I may have to go back to Tula. But that will be a separate topic.

Thanks to all who were a part of this lovely day!

Addendum side note: The next day at Sunday services at Groveland UU, a friend said she had seen me running on Snelling Avenue. I had to think a moment; then I remembered some cars honking and cheering in the slightly more trafficy section that was Snelling. I was a little bit zoned-out mentally at points during this race, but when I was tuned-in, I was feeling joy. My friend said I was smiling. Goal #2 is to keep it fun and feel the joy. I’m on my way.


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