So you decided to enter Kansas City’s TLC Groundhog run this year for the first time? Or maybe this is your first time in a long time to chase Phil? I received an email from a reader last week asking for my advice on his family’s first time running the Groundhog and I thought I’d share my advice with anyone else heading to North Kansas City on Sunday, January 26th. I ran my first Groundhog in the late 1980s and I’ve run it probably a dozen times since. I will be training for Boston that morning so I’ll probably miss this year’s race. Here are some thoughts to help you conquer the caves.
1) The race will have 4,500 participants and hundreds of volunteers / officials – and it seems like every one of them will drive their own car to the Hunt Midwest caves. There is sure to be a traffic jam heading east on 210 Highway starting around 7:00 AM and continuing throughout most of the morning. If you can figure a way to drive to the caves from the east you will start your race day way ahead of the pack.
2) Depending on the forecast, be sure to wear warm clothes to walk from the parking lot to the entrance to the cave. It is a LONG walk! There are shuttle buses but the lines are often long and it seems like they are never there when you’re ready to go. So dress warm!
3) While the caves are about 67 degrees year ’round, it feels a lot colder in there on race day — especially when you first arrive. But do not overdress for the race. Your wife and kids are going to want to leave their sweatpants on for the race and even their jackets but advise them not to. A comfortable running outfit for this race is shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. No hat. No gloves. You will warm up fast once the race starts.
4) Bring one or two sport bags to store your warm clothes while you run. I don’t remember ever seeing a gear check at the GHR but there will be a number of tables set up near the finish area where they will be handing out drinks and food. I always stow my gear bag(s) behind one of these tables and then retrieve it after the race. I have never had a problem with theft but if you’re concerned about your billfold and keys, buy a waist pouch for your valuables and wear it while you race. Be aware that the Start and Finish are in two different locales! Leave your bag of clothes by the food/drink area near the finish and not the start.
5) This is a HUGE race as far as how crowded it is. It is better now that the 5K and 10K start times are now two hours apart (8:00 AM and 10:00 AM) and they now start both races in multiple waves. But the cramped space is more noticeable for this race than any other. I cannot overemphasize how crazy it is in here with the number of runners trying to find the start and then the meandering course through the dark underground. Make sure you have a plan if you get separated from your family or friends. Just saying, “I’ll meet you at the finish line,” is not a plan. It is crazy crowded at the finish and once you leave the finish area you will not be allowed back in. It’s easy to overlook seeing even somebody you know as you try to peer over, around and through the many sweaty bodies.
6) A lot of people complain about the stagnant air in the caves and how it feels and “tastes” dusty in their nose and throats. I have a friend who absolutely refuses to run this race because he thinks the air is contaminated. I think this is mostly mental and I doubt it is damaging (as some believe). You will want to drink some fluids before and after though, because your throat will feel dry.
7) The start is a mess. It is so crowded and so narrow that your best bet is to queue up near the middle/rear and be patient with how long it will take you to get to the start line. The race is chip-timed so it won’t matter if you have to start in the back in your final race time. BUT if you plan on running a decent time (sub 21:00 or at least a 7-minute pace) get to the front of the pack. Starting back in the pack will cause you to have to weave in and out of hundreds of recreational runners just out to enjoy a jog in their Christmas togs.
8) You’ll feel like the finish line is never going to show up. Spectators along the course will say, “You’re almost there!” and they are all liars! I can’t tell you how many times I have thought, “It’s got to be right around this corner…” only to be disappointed. Your Garmin and GPS watches are worthless down here in the caves but you should be able to judge where you are at in the race by your time. Just don’t expect to recognize the final few turns because they all look the same.
9) Your cell phone in all likelihood won’t work in the cave either. My family has Sprint service and my work phone is AT&T. Neither provides service underground. But your phone will still take great photos of your fun day. So bring it along but don’t expect to be able to tweet, text or make a call on it.
10) There is an indoor hospitality “building” near the finish area for those who paid the big bucks to be part of a corporate team or are affiliated with one of the race sponsors. This space has a guard stationed out front to keep the riffraff like me out on the cold street. Inside (oh yes, I’ve snuck inside many a year), runners have some space to stretch out, use the bathrooms and dine on a more-upscale menu of pre- and post-race treats. You too can probably crash this party if you tag alongside someone who has the proper wrist band. I do not suggest making a mad rush for the door. It never worked for me.
11) This is one of the most unique races in the country. People from all over the world know about this race and they would love to have the opportunity to run it. You can still register online here. So enjoy the fun day with your family and remember to take some pics to tweet to me @greghall24.