How To Survive KC’s TLC Groundhog Run / Or At Least Find Your Way Out

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.

GH2011(1)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.

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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18 Responses to How To Survive KC’s TLC Groundhog Run / Or At Least Find Your Way Out

  1. Ptolemy says:

    Great thoughts. One more thing about this race that appeals to me is you can while-away the middle miles looking for people you know (I spied GH that way several years ago), or ogling the ladies, going the other direction during the race. Because of the limited space, the roadway is split among those coming vs. going for most of the course. Giving your eyes something to do makes this race go faster, or take your mind off of the claustrophobia from being underground.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Excellent point, Pt. The course has a number of turnarounds which gives runners the chance to wave at or high five their family members and friends as they pass each other in opposite directions.

  2. Scott says:

    Thanks again, Greg! I appreciate the effort to help out newbies like me.

  3. Renton says:

    Great write-up! Ran the race four times. Always surprised how much longer it feels compared to other 10K races, probably because of the double loop.

    If it’s really cold outside, that open area near back turn can give you some nard-wrinkling wind gusts as you’re heading around the course.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Renton, Good point about running past the outside doors. On those really cold mornings, that shot of cold air puts an extra giddy-up in your stride!

  4. Sportswaves Minneapolis says:

    Thanks for the tips! This will be my first 10K (first of several this year, as I also signed up for the Heartland 30K series in September), so it’s nice to have some idea of what to expect. It sounds like I should be very happy that I was one of the lucky 20 to get one of my employer’s entries!

    • Greg Hall says:

      SWM, Love that nostalgic moniker! A neat trick to play on the thousands of less fortunate souls who do not have access to the hospilaity room is to stand in front of the giant glass windows and eat bagels and Krispy Kreme donuts. The fat guys really love seeing you do this.

      • Sportswaves Minneapolis says:

        After-race report: Nice enough day outside that I almost wish the race wasn’t underground! Needless to say, the scenery didn’t change much. So I took a page out of your book, Greg, and found somebody who made unchanging scenery worthwhile. No skorts, but some people pull off black tights well!

  5. TR says:

    Thanks for the information Greg. My daughter is 9.5 and runs in the 23-24 minute range. Kind of nervous with the size of this.

    • Greg Hall says:

      TR, She’s running pretty fast times for a 9-year-old. Don’t expect too much this early in the year. Tell her to treat it like a fun run.

  6. Mark says:

    Greg, FYI, the forecast for Sunday is 56 and sunny which means at race time it will be close to 40 so don’t over dress. Also, I have won the race a few times and it seems long every time I run it.If you are looking for a confidence builder as far as a PR goes, this is not the race. You will likely run at least a minute slower. Also, plan to stand in line a long time to go to the bathroom as they don’t have near enough port a potties.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Mark, I still think it’ll be around 32 degrees Sunday morning when most runners are walking from the parking lot to the caves. They’ll want a warm sweatsuit/jacket for that walk and the walk back to their car. But you’re right about shedding clothes for the race. I run it in shorts and a singlet every time and am always sweating profusely by mile one.

  7. JP says:

    Thanks for the info Greg. My daughter just turned 9 and runs in the 22 minute range. She is looking forward to easily winning her age group.

    • Greg Hall says:

      JP, Good thing I’m not running this year or she’d probably beat me as well! I chased Yael for the last two miles at the Groundhog a few years ago and I never did catch that little elf.

    • Scott says:

      Jeebus, there are a lot of fast 9 year old girls (unless the second one was sarcasm). My 9 year old son is just getting into running (actually he likes triathlons more and the run is by far his worst area). He needs to train with these girls. He can’t run a 5K so the one he did was a run/walk in about 38 minutes. 🙂 Of course, he doesn’t actually do run training so maybe that impacts it. Ha! It’s amazing how athletic and/or dedicated some young kids are. On my son’s triathlon team there was a 6 year old that trained with them this summer and didn’t have issues staying up with the older kids. He ended up winning the IronKid Nationals for his age group (he never lost a race as far as I know). It will be interesting to see his development if he sticks with it (his older brother was Top 5 for his age group as well). Both are studs and really good kids to boot.

  8. Jeff S says:

    Greg. As always great stuff from you. I have a 14 year old boy who ran a 27 minute 5K last year. is a little chubby (5 foot 5 and 187 pounds) but loves to run. I make him run a mile before dinner at least to motivate him. Also has a HUGE appetite so it helps him stay in shape. Anyway, is there a training program you could recommend him? Thanks!

    • Greg Hall says:

      Jeff,
      Your son is a good size lad but I know a lot of runners who are built a little bigger than the average runner. Our youngest son was built along those same lines but he’s 16 now, quite a bit taller and a lot thinner. The fact your boy likes to run is a big plus. I wouldn’t get too complicated with his running but running five days a week would be a good start. You can vary the workouts to include different distances and even some sprints and speed work. Running with other kids is also more fun.

      I do think keeping a running log is a real motivator. You can buy a running log book (Gary Gribble’s has them) or create a spreadsheet in Excel to track his miles. Better yet, buy him a Garmin Forerunner 10 watch for $129 and it will track all of his miles, his pace, where he ran, etc. He will start to look forward to his runs to view his progress on his PC.

  9. Scott says:

    Thanks Greg and commentors for the tips. We had a nice time and the good weather was a plus. Not knowing what to expect we got out pretty early and were arriving about the same time as the volunteers. But it was nice to hop on a bus, no wait, get there and walk around, etc. The kids got a bit bored but fortunately we were able to raise some money and get passes to the corporate lounge. Having access to real bathrooms was incredible. My daughter (9) decided that morning that it was going to be a “walk only” day for her (she’s just getting over being sick) so I didn’t really get to run, but it was great just spending time with my daughter for an hour chatting. My son ran/walked with my friend so they went a bit faster. But no 22 to 24 minute 5K’s for my kids like the 9 year olds referenced above (although looking at the results I guess they didn’t make out it this year because I didn’t see any 9 year old girls with those times). It was great seeing people in the back with me putting in the effort to finish, not caring about the time but rather the accomplishment. All in all a very fun morning!

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