People who run marathons do so to escape the tedium of everyday existence.
Marathons offer a controlled adventure and an escape from cell phones and computer screens in exchange for a strong reconnection with nature. Of all the marathons in the Midwest, the Eugene Curnow trail marathon traversing Jay Cooke state park offers possibly the most spectacular scenery, and is also the event most likely to provide runners with a spiritual experience.
The Eugene Curnow marathon is as much an adventure hike as it is an actual marathon. The race starts at 6AM at the Lake Superior zoo. This is a very early start time compared to most marathons because race officials know participants will need the extra hours of daylight to complete the course.
The first part of the marathon is the journey to Jay Cooke Park. Runners cover a huge variety of trails. There is everything from gravel roads, to hiking paths, to boulder fields, to mud walls that require participants to climb on their hands and knees. There is even one near vertical descent where a rope has been added for racers to rappel down. Anyone participating in the marathon should be advised to bring a high volume hydration system, and replenish the liquids they’re carrying at every aid station.
There is a noticeable difference in trails when the runners finally reach Jay Cooke state park. Jay Cooke has over 50 miles of hiking trails, some of which are also open to mountain biking. These trails can be anything from mowed grass to a nice mix of soil and boulders that have been worn down by the passage of visitors throughout the years. The park is famous for its swinging bridge which crosses the raging St. Louis river. The bridge has existed in the park in some form for about 90 years, and has been washed out or refurbished a half-dozen times.
In the closing miles of the Eugene Curnow marathon, racers cross the swinging bridge and then run along a series of trails that parallel the rocky gorge the river has cut through the stone. This part of the park is stunningly beautiful, and seems more like a vision from the Rocky mountains than a natural formation in our own back yard.
Runners finally emerge onto the Willard Munger state trail. This is a paved railroad bed that goes all the way to Duluth. It is a 15 mile trip to Duluth, which is a comfortable distance for camping cyclists who wish to make a day trip to the city. The Willard Munger trail takes exhausted runners to the welcome finish line.
If you are fortunate enough to get a camping site, you’ll find that the camping zones are clean and modern with showers and flush toilets. Campers should be advised to reserve a spot early, however, because the campgrounds fill up quickly.
Jay Cooke state park is truly one of the most spectacular places in our region. The raging water of the St. Louis River is hypnotic and beautiful, and the 13 mile gorge on the western side of the park is truly something to behold. Hikers, runners, and mt. bikers will find more than enough physical terrain to keep them stimulated, exhausted and satisfied. This year, the Eugene Curnow marathon takes place on July 11th. Whether you participate as a runner or a volunteer, any day spent in the Jay Cooke state park is guaranteed to be great.
About the Author:
Walter Rhein is the author of the celebrated novel about the American Birkebeiner: “Beyond Birkie Fever.” The book is a humorous travel memoir that attempts to capture the essence of the Birkie spirit. Read more about it at: www.FreshAirAthlete.com. To learn more about the Eugene Curnow marathon visit: www.CurnowMarathon.com. To learn more about the Gandy marathon visit: www.GandyMarathon.com.