Runners take to Carlton County trails for virtual races

Runners from around the country use Carlton County trails to complete virtual marathons and half-marathons.

(From left) Robin Johnson, Peter Motley, Bethany Motley and Martha Motley pose for a photo Saturday, June 20, on the Munger Trail. Johnson and Bethany Motley ran their virtual Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon from the spot south of Carlton to Johnson's home near the trail in Esko. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Robin Johnson and her daughter, Bethany Motley, were well into their training for the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon when the news broke that the 2020 race was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Not long after, the race organizers announced another option. Runners could complete their own virtual race on a course of their choosing — including a treadmill — and submit their times. They would still receive their race T-shirt and medal.

Since they were already training to run the race Saturday, June 20, Johnson and Motley decided to keep the date and start their race on the Munger Trail south of Carlton and run back to Johnson’s home in Esko.

They didn’t have crowds of people cheering them down London Road in Duluth, but they were able to start with Johnson’s grandchildren — Martha and Peter Motley — cheering them on as they raced home.


Peter Motley chases after his mother and grandmother with a cowbell after they began their virtual half-marathon Saturday, June 20, on the Munger Trail south of Carlton. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

While Johnson might not sign up for a virtual-only race, she was able to find some benefits to choosing her own course. The Munger Trail is just a few blocks from her home and “familiar territory,” she said. Johnson runs and bikes on the trail when she is training.

With the mild weather, they were able to wait until about 9 a.m. to start — instead of driving to Duluth to catch a bus for the traditional 6:15 a.m. start of the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon.

Ending the race at Johnson’s home near the Munger Trail had some benefits too.

“It was just so nice to be home and not have to get on a bus to go to our car at the mall,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s husband, Phil, raced home and got his bike out to support his wife and daughter on the trail. He even set up ribbons for Johnson to run through when she finished her race in just over 2 hours, 37 minutes. Motley's finishing time was about 1:51, Johnson said.

Robin Johnson crossed the finish line of her virtual half-marathon Saturday, June 20, at her home in Esko. (Photo courtesy of Phil Johnson)


Johnson and Motley weren’t the only racers out on the Munger Trail Saturday morning. Just a few minutes later, siblings Chuck and Hannah Voss ran by on their virtual Grandma’s Marathon.

The pair were supported on bikes by their parents, Charles and Nayda Voss of Pike Lake.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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