Words by Duluth runner Rebekka Stumme.
I did not grow up in Duluth, Minnesota, but I’ve lived here for longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life. I came to Duluth from a small-town farming county in south-central Minnesota to attend college. I still remember the first time I drove over Thompson Hill. Below that hill, laid out in all of its breathtaking glory is the St. Louis River, the stunning Aerial Lift Bridge, and then Lake Superior. I was hooked.
While attending school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I ran track and field. I was a sprinter in those days with the mentality that a mile was just “too far” to run. However, it was during my college years that I started to get tougher, to see the benefits of running farther and longer. I still thought that true distance runners were freaks.
Then, one evening my views were challenged when our college team hosted a track meet for local high schools. On that night, I had the privilege of watching Kara Wheeler, later to become Kara Goucher run for the first time. She annihilated the field in every race that she ran. There something about her running that was fun to watch. She ran with a fierceness and a grit that gave the other runners the clear message that today would not be their day. I was impressed. I have followed her career since then, marveling at how a girl from Northern Minnesota has gone on to Olympic and international stardom. I’ve also totally changed how I view distance runners. Distance runners are freaks still, but now they are my freaks.
Duluth, Minnesota is a port city built into a large hill on the western edge of the largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. The lake is a large part of Duluth’s economy, Duluth’s identity, and surely is a central piece of many Duluthian’s lives. The beauty of Lake Superior cannot be overstated. On hot days, Duluthians flock to its icy waters for relief from heat and humidity. On cold days, the lake almost appears to evaporate into the air in an eerie scene from old movies.
Distance running has a long history in Duluth. As you may know, Grandma’s Marathon began here during the “marathon boom” of the 1970’s. You may think that with the harshness of the northern Minnesota winters that outdoor distance running would be “too hard” or not worth it, but runners in northern Minnesota are a tough breed. We run in 20 below wind-chill, we run in snow storms, we run in the humidity and heat of the summer months, and we run straight up the many hills in town. Duluth runners are not and cannot be “fair weather” runners.
Running Routes in Duluth, MN
Below are some of my favorite runs in Duluth.
One of my favorite go-to runs is quick and easy for both residents of Duluth, as well as visitors. The lakewalk path is a paved path that runs from the Aerial Lift Bridge that spans the canal and permits ships to enter into Duluth’s harbor and extends all the way to Brighton Beach on the eastern edge of the city. This path is partially constructed of boardwalk and pavement and then switches to pavement only from 21st Avenue east to Brighton Beach for a total of 7.7 miles. The lake walk runs along beautiful Lake Superior for a good portion of this lovely run. The best part, for local runners, is that the City of Duluth does an amazing job of keeping the Lakewalk clear and plowed during the winter months to ensure that it can be used year round.
Use this 4.5-Mile route created with the FASTZach App to explore the Lakewalk Path.
7 Bridges Road
A solid go-to run for me to build strength and stamina is one of the hilliest runs in Duluth. 7 Bridges Road can be found in the Lester Park neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Duluth. This road has, you guessed it, 7 beautiful stone bridges that span Amity Creek and the Lester River. The road is very scenic and full of wildlife even though it is well traveled by walkers, runners, and bikers. The total distance from Superior Street to the top of the bluff (with a stunning view of the lake) is 4 miles and a 400-foot total elevation climb with several rolling hills along that 4-mile road.
Use this 4-Mile route created with the FASTZach App to explore 7 Bridges Road.
Hartley Park Trails
Hartley Park is a 660-acre park with forested hill and wetlands. Hartley has several hiking and biking trails that pass through gorgeous forests and provide amazing views of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Valley. Hartley contains over 5 miles of trails that are well marked and designated for foot traffic and biking.
Use this 5-Mile route created with the FASTZach App to explore the Hartley Park Trails.
Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) extends from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border to the Canadian border. The SHT is ideal for those runners who really love to get out on the trails and escape the busy world. The SHT has multiple accessible entry points for easy access and flexibility. Whether you want to run a mile or 10 miles, there are beautiful sections of the SHT that will blow your socks off. The terrain can be challenging and it can test you. The views and beauty of this trail will make the tough run worth your while.
Use this 7-Mile route created with the FASTZach App to explore the Superior Hiking Trail.
The Northshore/Grandma’s Marathon Course
Grandma’s Marathon has a long and storied history. The marathon began in 1977 when a group of local runners had a hair-brained idea – to run from the city of Two Harbors to Duluth. The race and the marathon craze took over and Grandma’s Marathon is still going strong. The race is beautiful and flat. If you’re chasing that Boston Qualifier, then this race is worth checking out. The only “hill” is called Lemon Drop Hill near the beginning of Interstate 35 and really isn’t much of a hill compared with 7 Bridges or the Newton Hills in Boston. This course is fast! Plus, Duluth is the home of the great runner, Kara Goucher, who also owns the course record for the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon run on the same date.
Use this 50+ Mile out-and-back route created with the FASTZach App to explore the Northshore and Grandma’s Marathon course.