Your Guide to Running the Kansas City Marathon / Half / 5K #RunKCM

The Kansas City Marathon is my home town’s fall marathon, and we’ll toe the line this year on October 15, 2016. I also ran it in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015.

The course has evolved over the years. It was initially run in 1979 as a point-to-point heading south from downtown. More recently the course has become a challenging but scenic loop. It starts and ends in the Crown Center district. If you’re coming in from out of town, look for a hotel there, or downtown. From Crown Center you’ll head up Hospital Hill, and then on to the iconic Liberty Memorial, Westport, Country Club Plaza, 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. Crowd support is sporadic apart from the start/finish line, but there are pockets of real enthusiasm and the course is well-staffed with lots of friendly, supportive volunteers. KCM can’t bill itself as “flat and fast” – but it’s a beautiful, well-thought out course that follows the Chicago model of showing you the town.

KCM is indeed hilly. The gain/loss (it’s a loop) is right around 1000 ft for the course. For comparison’s sake, Boston, a point-to-point course, is net downhill, with just over 500 feet of gain and 1000 feet of loss. Chicago has only about 100! There are only two sections in the KCM 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 — mainly because of where it is in the race — but gradual.

The race is well-timed on the calendar for optimal racing temperatures. In my experience it’s always been in the 40s at race start, where average daily lows sit at that time of year (46 F). The average high on October 15th is 67 F – a temperature not typically reached before noon. Anything over 60 F starts to affect most people’s performance. As far as rain on your marathon day (not ironic, Alanis, just inconvenient), I’ve never experienced a rainy KCM. Precipitation starts to drop off in October in Kansas City, so the odds of rain are only 1 in 3. My good fortune can’t last forever! Tip: the start can be chilly. Dress in some clothes you were going to give away to charity anyway, and peel them off at the start line just prior to the national anthem. This clothing is collected and donated to a local charity. I’ll also cut the end off some old tube socks to make temporary arm sleeves which can be discarded at an aid station when temps start to rise.

I wrote the preceding paragraph about a month ago. Unfortunately, it looks like the weather will be uncooperative in an unexpected way. I got this email today:

Prepare for warmer than seasonal average weather conditions on Saturday
Greetings runners! While there is still time for the forecast to change, we wanted to make you aware that warmer than historical average temperatures are expected on Saturday for the 2016 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon with Ivy Investments. If the current forecast holds true, you can expect temperatures in the 60-65 degree range at the start of the race with a noticeable wind from the south, and a high temperature around 80 degrees late in the day.

Well, that’s a bummer. The 10 day forecast looked much better. Can I get a “reset”? I’m probably going to have to readjust my goal pace expectations by at least 30 seconds per mile.

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The course is 100% paved, a mix of concrete and asphalt on city streets. There are minor changes from year to year, often due to road construction or neighborhood considerations. This year’s changes include a detour beginning around mile 16, where it will head east for a bit before taking a different, hillier route back north to the Plaza. A couple of other sections are altered to accommodate this one. When I first started running this race, there were several turns in the last mile, but more recently the final stretch has been modified to get everyone out onto Grand sooner, putting the finish line in sight after you make the turn. It’s a big boost!

You’ll want to incorporate hills into your training – both ups and downs. Not only are they “speedwork in disguise,” but you’ll be running quite a few of them on this course. Nothing scary – no 10% grades – but you’ll be ready if you practice “even effort” on hills. Also, the race offers great pace groups at a wide variety of paces, and they follow the “even effort” mantra. In other words, it’s not just a fit 20-something with a GPS watch leading a group to the exact same split every mile. They’ve actually split up the entire course accounting for elevation change in each mile, as well as a warm-up period at the beginning. Another training tip is to train on the course. Familiarity breeds confidence. Those tough sections aren’t as tough when you know exactly when you’ll be through them. On race day, hitting the tangents can help quite a bit on a course that has a lot of turns. If you run with a pace group, they focus on this. Otherwise, if you’ve trained on the course, you’ll know how to set up for the next turn.

I’ve focused on the marathon course, but a half marathon is also offered. It follows the marathon course for the first 6+ miles into the Plaza, then rejoins it in mile 9 (just before 23 on the marathon course). There’s also a 5K and Kids Marathon, as well as a Team Relay. The presence of the relay runners is a good reminder that you need to set your own pace goals and not get caught up in what others are doing!

Kansas City is a great place for a marathon, and a great place to feast afterwards. For me, it’s usually one of our great BBQ restaurants. I hope you’ll join me in running this great race!

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