Runner’s Guide to Kansas City

Whether you are local, a 50-stater, or just in town for the weekend, Kansas City has a ton to offer when it comes to races.

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The Kansas City Marathon

Note!: If you are a 50-stater, make sure you pay close attention. Despite being named KANSAS City, we actually lie in both Missouri and Kansas. I made sure to note which state each race applies (where the finish line is located)!

I’ve ranked my favorite races by distance below as to what I consider the best that Kansas City has to offer. Remember, these opinions are my own and I’ve ran them all (unless specified!). I also have no affiliations with any of the races or organizations. If you want to see the full, unbiased list of races offered, scroll to the bottom!

The best of the best: Marathons

Kansas City Marathon – October (Missouri)

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I’m a big fan of the KC Marathon. For a city this size, this race is still on the smaller size, but it is very well put on (with the exception of the expo location). The course is hilly, but not unreasonable (I set my PR on this course!) and the October weather is usually perfect for running in KC. The course takes you through all the must-see regions of the city (downtown, the Plaza, Crossroads) and while spectators are minimal, the swag gets an A (name-brand tee, gorgeous medal). Parking is also easy and there is a place to wait inside before the start. This is the best city marathon (or half) that you can choose for Missouri. (Downtown KC is also only 15-20 minutes from the KCI Airport, so travel is easy and you might not even need a rental car!)

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As a bonus, the KC Marathon is part of the I-35 Challenge: Run the KC Marathon on Saturday and the Des Moines Marathon on Sunday (yup, back to back) you get a special medal and tee.

Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz – April (Kansas)

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I have not personally ran the full, but I’ve ran the half and the now defunct 5k. Paul ran the full though, so I feel comfortable recommending it. I do, however, have some beef with the Garmin Marathon. I think they have an incredible concept with a GREAT Wizard of Oz theme (hello! Kansas!), but they fall short and the race is overall a bit underwhelming. I think their communication is lacking and part of the course is run on narrow trails (problematic really only for the half which is way more crowded than the full). However, if you are a 50-stater, this is your best Kansas option. It is only about 45 minutes from the KCI Airport and while I think they could do a much better job (and make this a really awesome destination race), they do put on a solid race with easy parking, an okay shirt, great medals and free GOOD beer at the finish line. The Wizard of Oz touches are really cute (I wish they would play up the theme more) and the course is hilly at the beginning, but overall flat and fast (Paul BQ’d here).

The best of the best: Half Marathons

Rock the Parkway – April (Missouri):

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While I think the half during the Kansas City Marathon is the option that gives you the best taste of KC, my favorite race of any distance is Rock the Parkway in April. It sells out early every year because it is so well put on and has an incredibly flat course (the last mile is on a gradual downhill). I nailed my first sub-2 half here in 2011. Most of the course is run on Ward Parkway and you pass by some iconic KC fountains as well as run around gorgeous Loose Park.

Running with the Cows – May (Kansas)

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I love Running with the Cows and it represents every stereotype about Kansas that you can imagine. It is held a local Catholic grade school and you spend 13 miles with nothing, but green pastures as far as you can see. The course has rolling hills and I always like to make the joke that you are running with the cow SMELL, but the hospitality at this race is what you come for! Aid stations are staffed by students and afterwards is a HUGE food smorgasbord put on by the student’s families. If you like post-race food, THIS is your race. Homemade desserts up the wazoo, pot luck casseroles, homemade breakfast burritos.. they have EVERYTHING. Their first year there was 60 people in the half. This year there were 2,600. THIS is the Kansas race that you want to run.

The best of the best: Trail Runs

Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run – February (Kansas)

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This race is awesome. Trail Nerds, who sponsor a whole series of trail runs in Wyandotte COunty Lake Park, Kansas (Wyco) and this one is their biggest race. It offers 50k, 20 mile and 10 mile around a looped course and it is tough, but SO fun. Being in February, it is usually freezing and snowy (or muddy), but sometimes warm and dry (That’s Kansas for ya) and every Trail Nerd is friendly, welcoming and absolutely insane. Their races make you feel like family. You can read my reviews of the Alternative Chili Run or Psycho Psummer.

The best of the best: Other Distances

Like any decent sized city, you can find a 5k pretty much any weekend. While there are dozens of options out there, I think these are the coolest LOCAL (non-chain) options:

The Big 12 12k – March (Missouri)

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Kansas City is home to the Big 12 Basketball Championships (Mens and Womens) and this year I am really excited that they have added a 12k in 2015 to the typical 5k. For a Big 12 fan (IOWA STATE!!!), this is a great race to show off your school pride (CYCLONES!!!) and they have some great prizes ($1,000 Phillips 66 gift card and game tickets). The course also loops right around downtown KC and starts at the Sprint Center where the games are held.

Kansas City Zoo Run (4 mile) – October (Missouri)

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I love this race. A short 4 mile course mostly through the zoo is just a fun time for the whole family (they also have 1 mile walk). Each year the race sponsors a new endangered animal and I would be lying if I said my Penguin medal is not one of my favorites. Running the race also gets you free membership to the zoo all day, and the KC Zoo has had some seriously awesome updates in the last couple years.. definitely worth your time and a race I run annually.

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Plaza 10k – September (Missouri)

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A great race put on by the Kansas City Running Co, the Plaza 10k tends to be rather crowded, but is in the iconic Country Club Plaza area and offers a really sweet medal. Parking can be a real B, but this race has long been on my bucket list because it is fast and flat as well! As a bonus, it is part of the Heartland 30k series where you can run 3 10ks in 3 weeks.

The Kickoff 5k – Superbowl Sunday (Missouri)

This 5k is really cool because it is held at Arrowhead Stadium, Home of the Chiefs. You also get the chance to test your speed with a timed 40 yard dash after the race. I love that this race is on Superbowl Sunday; a great start to usually pretty unhealthy day!

The Best of the Best: Triathlons

Legends Triathlon (100 mile, 70.3, Olympic and Sprint) – June (Kansas)

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I can’t speak much to this race yet as this will be its inaugural year, but I am registered for the 100. It is replacing Ironman Kansas and I have high hopes that the gimmicks they are touting on Facebook (custom finish line, largest medal in the world?) are not a cover up for a horribly managed race. Worthy of noting (and why it made the list anyway) is that they have a 100 mile race (2 MILE SWIM – 80 MILE BIKE – 18 MILE RUN). A great step up for those toying with the idea of a full.. or a great training race for those with a late summer/fall Iron distance race (me!)

Kansas City Triathlon (Olympic and Sprint)– May (Missouri)

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I can’t lie to you. Kansas City is fairly lacking in the triathlon arena. There are a handful of races in the area, but there is really nothing that stands out as MUST DO (besides the now defunct IM Kansas). Kansas City Triathlon is worth mentioning because they have AWESOME swag, a solid wet-suit legal course and manage to put a decent race. This is also a GREAT race for beginners. Course isn’t scenic by any means, but I guess that’s a good reason to knuckle down and dig deep 😀 I even hear there might be a slip n slide at the finish line this year?

Matt Mason Memorial ‘Cowboy Up!’ Triathlon (Sprint) – August (Missouri)

I have not had the chance to participate in this race yet, but it gets rave reviews. On the smaller side, this race honors, pays tribute, supports and celebrates the lives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Runners Up:

Prairie Fire Marathon – October (Kansas)

I have not run the Prairie Fire Marathon, but it is on my to-do list as my state of Kansas marathon. The only reason I chose Garmin as the Must-Do is because PF isn’t convenient to get to and Wichita isn’t technically “Kansas City Area”. You can fly into Wichita, but otherwise it is a 3 hour drive from KC. They have a slighter more entertaining course than Garmin, a fall race date, and is overall a small-city, big-charm race worthy of checking out!

Hospital Hill Half Marathon – June (Missouri)

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I have to mention Hospital Hill because it claims to be THE race of the area.. but to be honest, I’m not a fan. It is a tough course and it is a little too late in the season so weather is often really hot. I also thought it was a little too crowded for my liking. However, it is a great challenge, has good swag, now offers a 5k and Half challenge and is in a great area of downtown (with easy parking).

Broadway Bridge Half Marathon (Missouri)

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This is my favorite half course in Kansas City. You get to run through all my favorite parts of KC AND over the Broadway Bridge (I’m a KC Northlander.. so I prefer the skyline from the North!). I also train religiously on the road around the Downtown airport where this course goes, so I’m a little biased there J This race is still up and coming, but they offered name-brand tech tees and had great race-day communication.

Heartland 39.3 – April/May (Kansas AND Missouri) Sponsored by KC Running Co, this series is made up of 3 half marathons: Rock The Parkway, Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz, and the Running with the Cows. A fun challenge (3 13.1s in 4 weeks) and has great swag for finishes (especially multi-year finishers). I’m really bummed that this will be my first year missing the series.

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KC Running Resources:

KC Running Co – If the race you are looking at is organized by the KC Running Co, you are in good hands. They offer a whole slew of 5ks, 10ks and Halfs throughout the year and each one is very well run and reliable. They have great communication and really great medals for every race they do (even 5ks). They also just opened a store with really knowledgeable employees and great KC themed running gear. Check out their race calendar here: You really can’t go wrong with one of their races.

The Running Well Store– This is the best gear store in the city. It is up North, but worth the drive if you forgot something while in town. Friendly, knowledgeable staff, gait analysis, gear and shoes. They host group runs every Tuesday (including runs at my favorite brewery (Cinder Block) the first Tuesday of every month) and also host a variety of smaller races throughout the year.

The Complete* List of Kansas City Area Marathons:

Marathons (by date):

Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz (April), Free State Trail Run (April, Lawrence, KS), Prairie Fire (October), Kansas City Marathon (October), Gobbler Grind (November), Pilgrim Pacer (November)

Half Marathons (by date):

Chocolate Rush (February), Rock the Parkway (April), Free State Trail Run (April, Lawrence, KS), Garmin Marathon/Wickedly Fast Half (April), Buffalo Bell Stampede (May), Running with the Cows (May),  Prairie Fire Spring Half Marathon (May), Race for Hope (May, 2015 is the inaugural race), Hospital Hill Run (June), Go Girl Run (September), Broadway Bridge Run (September), Prairie Fire Fall Marathon (October), Kansas City Marathon (October), Gobbler Grind (November), Pilgrim Pacer (November), Kansas Half Marathon (November, Lawrence, KS), Longview Half Marathon (November)

*more or less

For more races, be sure to check out these race calendars!

Kansas City Running Co Complete Calendar

Trail Nerd’s Race Calendar

2 thoughts on “Runner’s Guide to Kansas City

  1. Kristen @ Glitter and Dust

    You have NEVER seen Star Wars!?! Courtney, Courtney, Courtney! I think it is finally time to commit. ☺ Cute running costume, btw.

    I like your runner’s guide to KS. You even included triathlon. <3 Are there any notable running paths or trails that you could add? For instance, if I were to visit KS, where should I go running (if I’m not there for a race)?

    Reply

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