Beware of Cars: Blue Ox Marathon Recap

Pre-race #selfie
My usual pre-race #selfie

I wasn’t sure if I should write a recap of the Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon that I ran on Saturday. As a general rule, I like to keep things positive when it comes to racing, and I usually try to stick to the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” mantra.  But I also think it is important that I am honest about my experience and also should provide feedback for the race and potential future runners of the race, so a recap is happening.

First, I should make it clear that this was not a race that I wanted to “race.”  What I needed was a little kick in the behind on my training to prepare me for circumstances that would model next summers run across America. This means that I need experience running long distances on consecutive days.  It is best if I run a longer distance on the second day to build the fitness I need, and that the second day mimics conditions I’ll find on the road next summer.  I like to do these runs as marathons because it adds accountability. Marathon courses don’t allow me to easily quit like I can if I’m just trotting on my treadmill because of pride and the fact that there is money involved, in the race fees and getting there.  I’m not in marathon shape yet, though (I’ve only been training since the beginning on September after taking a month off), so I wanted to choose a marathon that would an easier entry into these distances.  Enter the Blue Ox Marathon course description:

The route is fairly flat consisting of about 50% paved bike trail and 50% paved road. Most of course is partially shaded with some open areas along lake shore. 

Note what I bolded in the description.

This course is not fairly flat.  It is “fairly uphill” and almost completely and demoralizingly uphill for the last 13 miles of the course. Nothing like climbing a mountain,  just consistently uphill.  Without a break.

After running 13 miles on Thursday and 18 on Friday, my legs were already tired, as intended, but this course pushed me beyond what I was expecting from the race description.  Since Bemidji, MN is only 2 hours away from home in NoDak, and the race didn’t start until 9:40 am, I work up early and drove to the start, where a Bemidji-ite met me with my packet (she is awesome!). The first half of the run was “rolling hills” and since this was just a training run, I walked up the steep hills and ran the rest.  It was tough, because my legs were tired, but fun and a beautiful course.  Minnesota is beautiful in the fall.

From the out and back portion of the course
From the out and back portion of the course

However, as it would become a theme throughout the course, the road we ran on was not closed to cars, and several times I had to quickly move to the side of the road because cars were literally right behind me.

The first part of the course is an out-and-back, which, as a general rule, I hate – but then the course turned onto the trail around Lake Bemidji.  I was relieved to be back on the scenic trail and away from the cars, and content to deal with the hill that immediately arrived.  I slowed down to pace myself until I reached the peak of the hill.

Three miles later, the course turned, but after a slight descent, it started inclining again!  I kept thinking “this race is a loop, it can’t go uphill the entire way.”

Oh, but it can.  And it did.

Added to that, the course left the trail around the lake, and hopped onto a road.  A road that had a small or nonexistent shoulder and no cones or any such safety devices to keep runners and cars separate, so I found myself diving to the side of the road because cars were coming so close and so fast that they almost hit me.

Consistent inclines I could have dealt with.  That’s a fun race marketing trick (and I couldn’t find an elevation map for the course but maybe I didn’t look hard enough) and very rarely do courses say “this course will consistently go straight up for a circle, defying the laws of nature.” But I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that runners are protected from cars. Especially when I think that a car-free trail may have been available as an option?

Best sign ever
Best sign ever

Maybe not.  But still, protect me from dangerous motorized vehicles, please.

I made it through the course, faced by wind-advisory head and crosswinds, and after receiving my wooden medal (which is my least fun race medal ever, which is sad too, because I was hoping for something substantial to commemorate my miserable run) I ducked under the tape so I wouldn’t have to go through the post-race loop and say something about the course that I might regret. I wanted to give myself a day or two to cool down and hopefully come to see the race as a “personality-building” experience where I could say many positive things about it.

But here’s my final word.  The race volunteers were amazing.  They were positive and supportive (and please note, never EVER take race-day frustrations out on the amazing volunteers).  Parking to get to the race was easy, and the course was beautiful.  And, in retrospect, the consistent inclines and wind only made me a better runner.  Although, I’ll never run this course again, unless they change the direction of the course.  But the cars?  Not cool, and not safe.  And that needs to be changed before the next iteration of the race.

Ever have a “personality-building” race? 

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. I’m sorry you had a tough experience for the Blue Ox but I do think it’s awesome that you were running in northern-ish MN! I ran the Blue Ox last year, as it is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from my home area (close compared to other races).

    Totally agree – the course is far from flat. I went to college in Bemidji, but when I ran the race last year I somehow forgot how hilly the last half of the race would truly be. The last 13.1 felt like a death march. I was drenched, freezing, and my quads/hamstrings were near useless!

    Last year’s weather was rainy, windy, and cold so I don’t remember much traffic on the roads, but it is frustrating to run with cars on the road! Great job at seeing the positive in a tough race experience! I was going to be there running the half this year, but the first trimester of pregnancy kept me from any motivation to run those hills 🙂

    Anyways – I enjoyed your post and was excited to read about another runner in the MN/ND area! (and random – I just noticed you have the Wild Hog race shirt on in your selfie. I just wore that one out running this morning! So bright that I seriously must have glowed in the dark.)

    Good luck in future races this year!
    Amy @

      1. I’m done racing for now as I’m due with baby #2 for early June 2015. Though I won’t be racing, I really want to watch the Fargo Marathon next year!

        If all goes well with baby and my recovery, I really would like to race the Wild Hog again next year and then the Fargo full for 2016. That Wild Hog half is one of my new favorites!