A week ago I ran the Garmin Oz Marathon in Olathe, Kansas (ok, a week and a day). Olathe (pronounced “Oh-LAY-thuh”) is about 45 minutes southwest of Kansas City, Missouri, is surprisingly hilly, and has an excellent Bass Pro Shops.
WELCOME TO KANSAS
I flew in from San Francisco via Minneapolis, arriving late Thursday afternoon. Before leaving the airport, I met up with a friend who happened to be flying into the Kansas City airport at the same time for work (and when that happens, you have to meet up at the Kansas City airport). After some iced tea and failed attempts to convince him to run Garmin Oz with me, I picked up my rental car. The intermediate-sized car I reserved was not available so they gave me a minivan; unfortunately it didn’t come with a husband, mortgage, or a dog, so I had a lot of empty space to myself. After getting my sweet ride I headed straight to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Olathe. I missed the expo/packet pickup but knew I’d have time the next day to do that.
Even though it was late and I had eaten multiple meals during the travel day, I was hungry for a real dinner so I asked the receptionist for some nearby recommendations. She suggested crossing the street to get either Mexican or BBQ. I went with Mexican and was not disappointed at The Salty Iguana. Was the food good? It wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good! Was the venue loud? It was pretty loud considering there were like 10 people there! Was the food cheap? Yes, it was amazingly cheap! The hotel receptionist said to mention I was staying at the hotel, which got me a 10% discount, which meant my chicken burrito with chips and salsa was only $8.93 with tax (not including tip). Thumbs up!
The next day I had big plans – first, hit up the free breakfast at the hotel, then visit the expo to get my bib and any other goodies that appealed, then visit the Super Target for fun and snacks, and at some point visit either the trampoline place or the IMAX theater. I managed to do all those things except the trampoline or IMAX, due to a headache and weird fatigue probably brought on by all my recent travel. It was especially disappointing because I got a free 30 minute coupon to the trampoline place (Cosmic Jump) at the expo, but I just couldn’t manage even trying it out. Next time? Instead, I watched Pitch Perfect 2 on HBO in my room while eating mountains of popcorn and treats from Target. It was a Pitch Perfect 2 way to spend an evening before the race (in that it wasn’t amazing or as good as the first time I ever ate popcorn in bed, but it was comforting and familiar and a fine way to relax).
I spent race morning fussing about my hotel room for as long as possible before the marathon, since the start was literally in the hotel’s parking lot (and I have no desire to use porta potties when I don’t have to). I ended up spending a little too much time in my room and eating too much in the process. I was weirdly hungry and overate, which was a bit, ahem, upsetting to me later in the race, but it probably only cost me about 8 to 10 total minutes (two stops), and ultimately I didn’t feel that bad and finished the race feeling fine.
While stuffing Pop Tarts and granola bars into my mouth, I got all gussied up in my witch costume (complete with homemade paper bag broom attached to my back), headed out to the start, and almost immediately lost my hat to the gusty winds. I jammed the hat back onto my head but it flew off again right as I crossed the starting line, forcing me to go back and retrieve it (and giving me mild anxiety that I screwed up the electronic chip reading from crossing the mat twice and would be flagged as a cheater). Since the hat wouldn’t stay on, and I didn’t want to lose it (because, well, awesome hat), I folded it up and tucked it into the back of my tights. Yep, I ran with a full witch’s hat complete with long black ribbon tucked into my CW-X tights for 26.2 miles. It was a little warm but not as uncomfortable as you’d think.
As you might know from the map or flyover video, the race starts out on North Ridgeview Road, forming a jagged loop for the first half before heading out and back on the (paved) Mill Creek Trail for the second half. The most shocking thing was how hilly the first half was. It felt like running a really boring roller coaster. For comparison, it was hillier than Central Park, and compared to Central Park, the hills were longer, for the most part steeper, and more “regular” like waves in an asphalt ocean. It wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t mountainous (monotonous yes), but it was surprising for what I expected from Kansas. The only good part was it offered more shade than I expected, mostly because the sun was so low in the sky that the hills blocked it.
The second half wasn’t nearly as hilly, except for the very steep (but fairly short) hill down to and up from the paved trail. The trail was about 5-6 feet wide, paved, and not as shady as I had hoped or expected. It’s often demoralizing to be heading out to run 12 more miles when others are heading back in to finish, but the other runners were friendly and mostly in good moods, so it was actually nice to pass them. There were a lot of encouraging words and even one high-five! (I was hoping his speed would rub off on me.)
My goal was to “run” until mile 20, then let myself walk the rest of the way to the finish. I managed to run a bit until about mile 22, when I switched to full walking, partly because I was thinking I had the Delaware Marathon in 2 weeks (it was actually 3 weeks), but mostly because I was tired and I simply didn’t want to run. My philosophy these days is not to torture myself with any of these races and try to enjoy the day and the experience as much as possible. So if I want to walk, I walk! It was a gorgeous day to be outside and I was actually enjoying it.
We were very lucky with the weather – it was in the 60s to low 70s and overcast for almost the entire race – a tiny bit warm, a bit humid, and a bit windy, but otherwise perfect. If it had been sunny (or rainy, which some said it has been for the past several years), it would have been torturous in various ways. The water stations were only every 2 miles (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), which was ok since it was overcast, but if it had been hot and sunny, it would have been really rough.
The hill from the trail to the main road (not pictured) was so steep and painful I immediately and un-affectionately nicknamed it “Cramp Hill.” Even walking it almost made my legs seize up. I heard others complaining about this hill after the race so I know I wasn’t the only one who struggled with it. But we were back on the main (Ridgeview) road and had only a few more rolling hills until the hotel shimmered in the distance and the finish line awaited. I whipped out my witch’s hat, ran the .2 through the finish, and collected my surprisingly enormous medal.
I heard several other runners say they ran this race every year just for the medal, and I can see why – it’s pretty nice and much much larger than the preview images indicated. The green portions are a translucent glass, which is cool. The only disappointing thing is that the metal has permanent smudges and fingerprints on it – and they were there before I even touched the medal. I washed it several times with soap and warm water, buffing it with a soft towel in-between, but some of the stubborn prints remain.
After the race I was feeling well enough to check out the Bass Pro Shops (yes, it ends in an “s” even though it’s one shop, which is just as weird as “Brussels Sprouts” – it’s correct but seems wrong), and I’m so glad I did. It’s only about a 6 minute drive from the hotel, and it’s the best Bass Pro Shops I’ve visited yet, mostly because of the shooting arcade!
I didn’t do much else that day (I mean, really, anything else would have been a let-down), and my flight home was super early the next morning (I left the hotel by 4:15 am!). Overall, it was an okay race, a pretty fun visit, and I’m glad to have another state down!
Thinking of running the Garmin Oz Marathon?
There were 512 full marathon runners, 1,838 half marathoners, and 559 10K runners (a total of 2,909 runners). Because it’s a relatively small race and the marathon starts first, it wasn’t too congested (the halfers peeled off at about mile 12). A decent portion of the runners wear costumes (more in the half or 10K, of course). The medals for all the races are pretty nice.
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 5 1/2 hours. Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – Olathe, Kansas, is about 45 minutes outside of Kansas City, MO, which is probably the airport you’ll fly into. It’s nice that the start/finish of the race is in the hotel’s parking lot, but there is no easy way to get to that hotel, nor is there much else near the hotel, so that means you’ll probably have to rent a car for the weekend. (For what it’s worth, the front desk said a taxi would probably cost $50 one-way to the airport.) You can run across the street for Mexican or BBQ, and the hotel itself has a bar and restaurant.
- Staying There – 9.5/10 – The Embassy Suites Olathe is new (opened in late 2015 I think), and it was great. The rooms felt new and while they’re not large, they were nicely laid out and still provided a pretty full kitchen (mini fridge, separate sink, and microwave, plus coffeemaker). They had free breakfast (with made-to-order eggs) and even had an afternoon happy hour with free drinks and snacks (like chips and small slices of pizza). The gym looked ok but the pool is very small. Parking is ample and the spaces are large enough for your minivan. My total for 3 nights was $454.
- Cost & Registration – 9/10 – I paid $76 (with processing fees) for the marathon back in October 2015. You get a nice short-sleeved tech t-shirt with minimal logos, a big medal, and decent finisher food (the chicken sandwich was excellent, but the only beer left for slowpokes like me was Bud Light). They also had bananas, granola bars, and tubes of yogurt. On-course support was ok and included a couple Gu stations, but there were no bananas or pretzels or anything like that.
- Organization – 8/10 – Pre-race communication was fine, but the redesigned website needs more (or less?) designing (it’s so big and unwieldy for such a small race). The expo was small and simple with limited vendors, so if you need a particular gel don’t expect it there (they had some Gu but no salted caramel, for example). They don’t have a pasta dinner, and the “virtual” goodie bag is a joke. I think they could have done a lot more with the Garmin sponsorship, since so many of us runners have Garmins and often have complicated and serious relationships with them, but it seems like it’s in name only (plus the winners get a watch).
- Course – 6.5/10 – As I described above, it’s pretty hilly in the first half. It’s also a little boring, but that was to be expected. It is closed to traffic, not too crowded, and not very cambered so pretty easy on the legs. I think they had a porta potty at almost every water stop, but the water stops were only about every 2 miles, give or take. The Garmin tracking was spot on except for mile 8, but at some point got back on as my watch beeped “26” at almost exactly the 26 mile marker, which NEVER happens in a race! Starting and finishing in the hotel parking lot was really nice and easy.
- Crowd – 2/10 – Almost zero, except for that one awesome guy with the cookies and the sign. One bonus point for a spectator in a “Fear the Tree” t-shirt.
- Other Factors – 6/10 – Bass Pro Shops shooting gallery, Super Target, Cosmic Jump, and IMAX, and that’s just in Olathe. I think there’s a lot to see and do in Kansas City, but I didn’t have the time.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – The race was just ok, but I actually really enjoyed the overall experience.
23 down, 27 to go! My next marathon is the Delaware Marathon in, you guessed it, Delaware, in two weeks!
Have you ever visited Kansas? Have you ever gone to one of those trampoline places? Have you ever visited a Bass Pro Shops? Share in the comments!