Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Kansas City Hospital Hill Run race review

So, this past Saturday was the 40th Hospital Hill Run in Kansas City...
... and I ran in the half, for the 6th time in 8 years.

In that time, they have had their ups and downs as a race, the heat and humidity has played havoc with runners and they haven't had the best post-race food, but in the end it's one of the better organized races in Kansas City.  People come from all over to race the event and when they had large pro prize purses, it was an international event.

Saturday was a great day weather wise.  It started out cloudy and in the low 60's, and by the end the temps were in the high 60's and the sun was out.  You couldn't ask for better running weather.

Like I said, I ran the half marathon course for the 6th time, and did pretty well even though it was more of a training day than an A race.  I'll write up a recap of my performance and what worked and didn't work for my plan, but this post I'll dedicate to a review of the event overall.

The Price Was Right
If you register early, it's pretty affordable.  It was less than $40 when you registered in late 2012 for the 2013 race.  Sure, you're signing up maybe a year early, but you get a good price and if you sign up for the half, you can always drop down do a shorter distance if you aren't trained up for the 13.1 miles.

Otherwise, you could be paying around $75 if you waited to the last minute AND there were still spots left.  That starts getting pretty steep for a running race.

Packet Pickup
They have a pretty large expo near the race site at a major hotel in the Crown Center area near downtown KC.  It's run pretty tight and they have more vendors than you can shake a stick at.  If you want freebies, education on new products or to shop for your last minute running needs, the expo is your place.

The new twist was that runners need to show ID to get their goodies and bib.  That's all good unless you sent your friend to get your stuff.  They had workarounds, but if you weren't paying attention before you went to expo, it could have been time consuming to get packet and gear for someone else.

This year they also went with a track jacket instead of a shirt.  It was actually pretty convenient since it was actually pretty chilly that day and some people needed a jacket to wear home.  If you are a fan of the tech shirts, you would have to go and buy yours from the Hospital Hill shopping area.  So, at least their were options if you weren't feeling the jacket, but it appears to be a pretty high quality item.

What was also nice was the option to sign up for the 2014 race at a reduced price.  They built that up pretty big, but if you check registration the day after the race for 2014, it was the same price as expo.  You didn't need to sign up on the spot if you didn't want to.

Another perk was getting parking validated to park at the hotel parking garage to get your packet so you weren't out the parking fee.  It's nice to not have to spend extra money and get nickled and dimed for races.

Web Site / Instructions / Course Info
The site stays pretty current.  They have teamed up with bloggers about the event.  They stay up to speed with their Facebook page and posts and comments.  Most of the information is updated daily and is pretty reliable.  There are no complaints about finding what you need from the web site and if you can't, you get a pretty prompt response from emailing the RD or staff.

Location / Parking / Access
The location is the same area it has been for the past 40 years, Crown Center just off downtown Kansas City.  It's a very historic and re-invented area.  It has shopping (maybe a little over priced) and activities for families and adults.  It's an area where people congregate to have fun and enjoy various activities.

With that being said, there are 3 main parking garages accessible for the race as well as many open parking areas around the race site.  Parking isn't much of an issue unless you wait until the last minute.  Streets are shut down for most of the event so walking to the race start and back to your car isn't an issue.

Overall it's a stress free stroll to and from the race.

The one issue that stands out was access to the start corrals.  Kudos to organizers for staggering starts to cut down on race course congestion, but getting to the right corral wasn't very apparent. It was in an "L" shape corral setup and getting to the openings to get in without climbing through barriers was probably a walk all the way around if you found yourself near the start line on the wrong side.  Once on the side with the red corral markers, finding an open spot to walk through wasn't easy.  Many runners had to slide through the barriers and go under the rope dividers to get to the right corral.  It was possible, but it wasn't very straight forward.

There were potties by the plenty.  At least 50 and runners waited no more than maybe 10 minutes in line to get to a john.  It was a smooth flowing operation and the port-a-potties were placed in such a manner that the lines did not interfere with the overall flow of racers going and coming from the start line and spectators wondering the area.

The Actual Course
The course has been the same (with slight variations for construction in the past) for the past 8 years.  Hills, and lots of them.  The pavement was for the most part in great condition with few cracks and potholes.  The course was on wide streets that allowed for maneuvering around pavement issues and other racers.  The design to follow some of the steepest hills through downtown is intentional and makes this half marathon a little more challenging than your average half.

Signs marked turns as well as volunteers manning traffic interchanges.  Runners had to try to get off course if the wanted to.  They even stationed cheerleaders yelling and screaming at the 5k and 10k turns to get runners' attention.

Every aid station was stocked with drinks and volunteers handing out drinks.  The last aid station seemed a little low on staff as some runners had to slow down and wait for a cup of water or Gatorade with so much demand and runner traffic.

Race Day Instructions
The announcer was loud and constant, and the speakers were parked at key locations.  Unless you have hearing issues, you could not really miss any announcements.  If you missed your corral start or didn't know what was going on, it was on you and not the staff.

They may have had problems getting 9,000 runners fired up at 7am, but they tried and did their best.  It's nice to find a race where they have more than two speakers at the start line and you can hear from the spectator area to the start line, covering almost a half mile.

Finish Line
They had a separate finish for the half and the 10k/5k runners.  The clocks were up for runners to see as they came in under large FINISH banners.  It was really a celebration area of a race well done.  Volunteers immediately handed out water, cold sponges and medals.

After the initial decompression from the race, runners walked through the fruit, snack and drink area.  Chocolate milk, bananas, bagels, protein bars... they had it all.  No runner should have walked away malnourished.

Overall Impressions
The Hospital Hill Run has been around for 40 years.  They pretty much sell out every year for every distance.  It's a great capacity meeting demand dynamic that people are still wanting in when they sold out, but the race hasn't jumped the shark by opening up thousands of new spots from year to year.  They are measured in how many racers they want to commit to supporting and don't appear to be driven by the almighty dollar to get as many people running as possible.  It's refreshing.

If they keep selling out, then they must be doing something right.  It's a great race from registration to finish line.  They keep you informed through the entire process without being pushy and overbearing.  It makes people want to read their emails and know what's going on when you receive 1 or less a week instead of 1 a day.  Some RD's in Kansas City could learn a lesson from HH.

They have their minor hiccups, such as the corral system, but this is only the early years and they are still on the learning curve for implementing those types of measures.  The race directors care about runners enjoying the event and they are professional about their business,

Consider running in 2014.

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