Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Trails: Book Review - Minnesota Running Trails

Hello loyal Tuesday Trails readers! I'm still recovering from my light ankle sprain, and while I ran Hyland and Lebanon Hills this past weekend, overall, I've been doing less mileage as I try to heal. Less running = more time for reading! And so that makes this the perfect week for the first (and probably last) Tuesday Trails Book Review! (my English teacher would cringe at that transition).

I counted 9 Minnesota trail books in my own library (7 of them pictured above)

There are many guidebooks to trails around the state of Minnesota. Some focus on certain regions (North Shore, Metro Area) while others look at the most popular trails around the entire state. A quick search on Amazon found that most focus on hiking (69), some on walking (which may be different than hiking?), some on cross country skiing (21), several on bicycling (9), but there's only one guidebook that is dedicated to the trail runner.
Truth in advertising, it IS a great guide for hikers too
"Minnesota Running Trails", by Kate Havelin, a St. Paulite, is the only book that I've found that gives trail reviews from the perspective of a trail runner. You may be wondering why that is important distinction from "hiking". There are at least 2 major differences in running and hiking reviews:
  1. Distance. This is the big one. To a day hiker, 5-6 miles is a nice, long hike, worthy of a trail review. To a trail runner, 5-6 miles isn't worth the drive. We're looking for 8, 10, 15, 20+ miles of scenic trails.
  2. Surface. A rooted and rocky surface on a trail may not even warrant a mention in a hiking trail review, but that is an important feature for a trail runner. 2 years ago, after reading a hiking trail review of Cascade State Park on the North Shore, I decided to check it out. I found much of the trail unrunnable due to the heavy roots throughout the trail, while just a few miles away, the state parks were just as scenic, without all the ankle-turners. (Confession, I'd run Cascade again, it just would have been nice to know about the trail surface ahead of time.)
"Minnesota Running Trails: Dirt, Gravel, Rocks & Roots" was published in 2006. A disclaimer on the inside reminds the reader that they are to run trails "at their own risk"! I'd add that we are to run trails to our own enjoyment as well! I picked up a copy of this book 4 years and have used it several times.

The book (like most guidebooks) is organized geographically: North Shore, Headwaters (Itasca area), Red River (NW MN), Prairie (SW MN), Bluff (SE) and Twin Cities trails. As with most guidebooks, the North Shore and Twin Cities areas have the most trails listed, with 13 and 15 respectively.

Each trail review starts out with the basics: Mileage, surface type, hilliness, races, directions, other uses for the trail, and directions. While Kate then suggests a single route for the park, there are often many other routes in the parks too. Those extra routes are shown on the map, but not specifically reviewed. For the selected route, the book gives pretty much a turn by turn review of the park. Kate ends each chapter with her personal reflections on the trail.

My favorite part of the book comes at back of the book. Each trail has a small index card that can be cut out and carried on the trail during the run to help with directions. My biggest frustration with running unfamiliar trails is getting lost or the fear of getting lost, which causes me to stop every half mile at EVERY trail map and reassess my location. I can't count how many times I have stared at a trail map online for a new park, trying to memorize 8 different turns so that I only run 15, not 50 miles. Usually by mile 5 I miss a turn and have to readjust. Running blind like that can be fun when that doesn't result in running way too long, or when one has enough time to get lost. Unfortunately. I don't usually allow myself enough time to get lost. I probably should simplify my life a little, but that's a topic for another blog post!

Tear-out, turn-by-turn directions set this book apart from all other guidebooks

As I eluded to above, one thing that really sets this book apart from the other guidebooks I have is that these are running routes, not short hikes. I understand that the hiking guidebooks are trying to serve a larger market of hikers with all levels of abilities, but even when I'm out for a hike, I don't care about the 0.8 mile round trip route from the parking lot to a waterfall overlook. I want a substantial hike/run with some challenging terrain. So whether I'm running or hiking, I use Kate's book to help plan the route. I may modify her route when I want to run a little longer, or cut a bit out if I'm out for a hike, but her suggestions are the best first cut at routes I have seen.

If you want great trail reports that are perfect for running (or hiking - I've given this book as a gift to hikers too), you can't do better than "Minnesota Running Trails". It is far better than any other trail guidebook I've seen, and is a more consistent and comprehensive resource than anything I've seen online, including this blog (OK, ESPECIALLY this blog).

There are only a few things I will caution you about regarding the guidebook:

  • The book is REALLY light on trails in southwestern and northwestern Minnesota, so if you're specifically looking for trails in that area, you may be disappointed.
  • The book has only one edition that I'm aware of, so some trails may have changed slightly since 2006 when the book was published. I know that the Africa Loop at Afton has changed some and the directions in the book aren't exactly as you will find them at the park.
  • The book doesn't review every trail in every season. For example, there may be times (spring) when a trail is waterlogged, but Kate may have reviewed the trail in late summer and so all trail conditions may not be in the book. I know that 4 years ago I used the book for some runs on a camping trip to Itasca State Park over July 4th weekend. I was not prepared for the apocalypse being ushered in by biting, black flies. Obviously, the book doesn't cover every possible trail condition.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! I know Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble have them. I've seen copies at running stores too. Maybe you can even get a signed copy like I have!

Enjoy the trails!


Theo Wirth Runner said...

I would take what she says about Theodore Wirth being an unsafe place to run with a grain of salt. She obviously has spent very little if any time running there, and the story that she fabricated makes me not trust anything at all that she wrote in the book. My wife and I live in a neighborhood adjacent to the park and have been running the trails for years. Not once have either one of us, nor any of our neighbors that frequent the park ever had a problem or felt uncomfortable being in the park. If she ever does another addition of the book, I hope she updates the section on Theodore Wirth.

Julie said...

Thanks for the running trail book suggestions. Trail running is on my list for next year:)

Nathan said...


I had forgotten she wrote that about Wirth. I haven't read that section in 4 years! I agree, I run Wirth weekly and have NEVER felt remotely uncomfortable.

Everyone should take precautions when running ANYPLACE. A state park along the North Shore presents many of the same dangers as urban running. Avoiding running poorly-lit places alone is a good strategy anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I think I would want it signed by you.

How were the flys last weekend?

zbsports said...

I like books about running trail too...Better check some copy of them for running references...:D

per head service said...

Thanks for the review. I hope that you can recover fast from your injury. Thanks for the recommendation I hope that I can get it for Kindle of iPad