Matthew Keenan

The down and dirty of local races … here is the 411. Published 435 South, September 2013

by on Sep.07, 2013, under 435 South Columns

The return of fall brings with it a renewal of our city’s many running events. From the Kansas City Marathon on Oct. 19 to countless 5Ks, 10Ks and walk/run events, on any Saturday in September there are two to three organized running functions in the city.

This sport is booming, with record turnouts at local races. The Hospital Hill, for instance, started in 1974 with 99 runners. From 2000 to 2013, the number increased almost three-fold from 2,767 to this year’s number: 9,120. Likewise, Rock the Parkway went from zero to 5,000 runners in five years, normally maxing out weeks before the start date.

This is a national trend. Those who track these numbers tell us that running is increasing in popularity, with 50.1 million Americans running at least once in 2011, up 17 percent from the preceding year. The number of marathon finishers has increased to a high of 518,000 in 2011, compared with 353,000 10 years earlier, an increase of 47 percent. And these gatherings are turning into parties.

The New York Times, in a story earlier this summer, observed that “once perceived as largely a solitary pursuit, running today is a more social endeavor, as runners train with friends for shorter races like five-kilometer charity runs.”

A couple years ago I dipped my toe into this water and quickly saw things first-hand. The adventure started when two of my college sons were back from school in May. Both participated in cross country at Rockhurst. I proposed running the Amy Thompson Run — the year was 2011. They nodded, and we ran it and have returned twice since.

But it wasn’t until late last year that my neighbor Dave Dickerson convinced me to run the half at the Gobbler Grind on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Four months later I was chasing him at Rock the Parkway and then Hospital Hill.

Generally speaking, the participants can show wide variance in terms of experience. Some have a high social component to the gathering. For others, like the Grind, it is a military exercise, with participants appearing as if they are about to rush the beaches of Normandy. In the mix are newbies who are trying to find their own comfort zone. That was me.

So what follows is my attempt to separate out the players — the contenders from the pretenders. The significance of those with pre-race rituals, special gear, headphones, headbands, even tattoos.

What’s least predictive? The most important thing — shoes. Anyone can buy shoes. Even those toe shoes.

So here is the 411 on what to expect at the next race near you.

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