Road-racing in KC


Did you know Kansas City was recently dubbed “Coolest” city in America? It has great food (BBQ!), culture, a reasonable cost of living, and we’re hospitable.

We’ve also got a pretty good race calendar – if you want to run a timed road race, you can find one just about every single weekend.

Here’s my top five (ranked in distance order from longest to shortest). The Kansas City metro covers two states and both Missouri and Kansas represent on my list.


1. The Kansas City Marathon (a Half Marathon and 5K are also offered)

I’m proud that my home town boasts spring and fall marathon options. KCM is the biggest of them, and every year in mid-October it poses a challenging but scenic course. It starts and ends in the Crown Center district (named for Hallmark cards), and you’ll venture up into the downtown loop and then on to the iconic Liberty Memorial, Westport, Country Club Plaza, Brookside, Waldo, Hyde Park and the 18th & Vine Jazz district, just to name a few. Trees and fountains (it’s the City of Fountains, after all) are plentiful. KCM is hilly, but not excessively so. I’d say there’s really only two sections in the course that spike your heart rate – getting up to the Liberty Memorial early in the race, and when you climb up into the Sunset Hills area after mile 10 or so. The stretch from mile 20 up to the Paseo is tough but gradual – mainly because of where it is in the race. Crowd support is sporadic apart from the start/finish line, but there are pockets of real enthusiasm. KCM will never be able to bill itself as “flat and fast” – in some ways I almost find it more difficult than Boston – but it’s a beautiful, well-thought out course.


2. Hospital Hill Run Half Marathon (also, a 10K and 5K)

This race has been run 42 consecutive years and has great tradition as Kansas City’s oldest road race. It started as a shorter race, but has included the half marathon distance almost since its inception. Frank Shorter, Billy Mills, Bill Rodgers and Jim Ryun have all competed in it. You can expect a challenge, duh, the race has “Hill” in its title – named for the climb up Gillham past Children’s Hospital. There’s also a lesser known Hospital Hill reference – a steep short hill towards the end of the course passes the former site of Trinity Hospital. In my opinion though, the toughest hill is the long, gradual Broadway hill, coming up out of the Plaza in the last few miles of the race. HHR always has great swag – you can usually count on at least a t-shirt and recovery flip-flops – and for the 40th Anniversary they had some sweet warm-up jackets. That’s due to their association with Leslie Jordan, one of RW’s “The 50 Most Influential People in Running” list. The incredibly popular half marathon distance makes this a well-attended event with registration near the 10,000 mark. The race director is also on the cutting edge of trends in running – like the “double” – running races on consecutive days. Instead of just multiple distances all taking off at the same time on Saturday, there’s now a Friday night race and special medals for runners who race on Friday and Saturday.

3. Amy Thompson Run – 8K (also a 5K and a walk)

The maths have never been my thing, but thanks to on-line calculators, I know that an 8K is a hair under 5 miles. That’s an interesting distance – it’s longer than a 5K and you can still race it more anaerobically. This race, like so many shorter distance races, evolved as a charitable cause. The namesake of this race was a gunshot victim who died of her brain injuries three years after the fact. The race, run every Memorial Day for the last 28 years, has now outlived her. The course begins and ends at Loose Park and winds through several tree-lined older neighborhoods, with a few rolling hills tossed in for good measure. It’s well attended and always seems to draw a pretty competitive crowd.

4. Westport St. Patrick’s Day Run (4 Mile) 

This is one of the more festive and well-attended shorter distance races in Kansas City. Green and costumes abound – there are prizes for best costume, and a fun centipede (attached team) division. The race is approaching its 40th year, and if you’re going to race it, make sure you’re near the front for the crowded start! One year I lined up with my appropriate pace flag and found myself shuffling for far too long. Lesson learned – you have to be more optimistic than the overly optimistic. Have I mentioned that Kansas City has some hills? This course is no exception, so running the course ahead of time or at least looking at the elevation chart is recommended to adjust your pace. Competition-wise, I’ve noticed that the “team” division attracts teams with a lot of fast runners. Bonus: a long sleeve tech-t that my wife proclaimed the coolest race shirt ever!

5. Head for the Cure 5K 

This race was started by an avid Kansas City runner to raise money and awareness for brain cancer – a diagnosis which ultimately took his life. Just over 10 years later, the foundation he inspired has expanded the race to sixteen cities. I’d guess it’s the biggest 5K in the area, held annually in late August. A big 5K has its disadvantages if you really want to race. For instance, trying to get around kids jogging in the racing line with their Beats over-ear headphones on because they can’t run the 2K-5K as fast as the first 1K. Just an example. On the other hand, a big 5K has such a deep bench that there is always someone you could pass or that could pass you, so it keeps you motivated! The setting is nice, in a landscaped kind of way – it runs through a corporate park with nice wide thoroughfares. All things considered, I’d put it on your local to-do list.

 If pavement is your thing – Kansas City’s got a race for you at any distance!

Any events that I missed?

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