Each spring, while the birders and fishermen make their way up to the Northwoods, so does another group – runners coming to set the pace on the Journeys Marathon course. This year marks the 22nd annual Journeys Marathon in Eagle River and to celebrate we’re taking a look back at how the race got started.
While outdoor enthusiasts already know what the Northwoods has to offer, there weren’t too many recreational sports activities going on here at the time. And who better to appreciate the tranquility and experience of this little slice of heaven than the runners and their families? So, nearby communities worked together to promote tourism to the area with a race, and Journeys was born. But why the name? Well, it represents the “journey” between two communities and embodies the idea that life is not a destination, meaning we all need to experience new places and to move about from one place to another.
The first Journeys Marathon had one race event distance – a full 26.2-mile marathon – and had 140 runners compete in May of 1997. The half marathon was added the following year with 143 registered runners. The race continued to grow in participants and event offerings with a 5K added in 2000, power walk in 2002 and 10K in 2016.
What makes the “journey” so special is the beauty of the course that lets you experience all of the scenery of the Northwoods – including some minor hills – but hey, what do you expect when you’re in our neck of the woods? The marathon is set in a rural setting with the large majority of it set on roads through the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest and Vilas County Forests. With the World’s Largest Chain of 28 Connected Lakes and a name like Eagle River, it should come as no surprise that you’ll pass some area lakes and maybe even see an eagle overhead during the run.
While the original course was designed to appreciate the area’s landscape, there have been minor updates along the way to make it even more enjoyable – and if you can believe it – even more scenic. It’s this beautiful course, along with the friendly volunteers, affordable travel, a spaghetti dinner, great organization and wonderful running weather that makes this a favorite among many athletes including those at Runner’s World Magazine who named Journeys one of the top 5 “Best Kept Marathon Secrets” in February of 2000. But we like to think it has a little something to do with our area offering plenty of resorts, restaurants, activities and shopping to make their trip even more fun.
Want to get in on the action? Volunteer or Sign up and start training. Journeys Marathon is a certified full marathon course by the USATF (United States of America Track and Field) which makes it a Boston Qualifying race. The half marathon is also a certified course for those seeking qualified race times.