It is 6:30 in the morning, on an overcast Saturday morning, in Kansas City, Missouri. Beth Salinger, race director of the 37th Hospital Hill, and her team, were hard at work on the last minute preparations for the event. The race, the most venerable event in the Kansas City running scene, features a 5k, 10k and one of the toughest half marathons in the country.
For me, the race was a step back in time. Off the elevator, I saw Mark Curp, one of the most
important elite American road runners of the 80s and 90s. I had not seen Mark since 1986, when I emceed a panel with Mark, Ed Eyestone and Bill Reifsynder at Bobby Crim Ten Miler. Mark was quiet as usual, and was now serving on the Hospital Hill Run race committee.
The half marathon is a text book example of how our sport is changing. While over one million runners finished half marathons in 2009, and most half marathons grew an average of twenty per cent in the same year, the Hospital Hill half marathon grew 30 percent in one year! In fact, the 3,500 runners in the half today is an example of four years of staggering growth at the event.
the breadth of sponsors is another example of how successful the event is--UMKC School of Medicine, Saint Lukes Health System and Blue Cross are the gold level sponsors.
On the silver level is Saucony, which was the reason I visited the race. Saucony supported the event through the official clothing line, bringing in their Hurricane (local running heroes) teams on both the men's and women's half marathon sides, and a team of Saucony management to observe the race, including Richie Woodworth, President of Saucony, Fred Doyle, VP of Specialty Sales, and unofficial guide to Hospital Hill festivities, and Mark Bossardet, VP of Global Sports Marketing.
Matt Rubel, CEO, Chairman of Collective Brands, Inc., the company that owns, among several other brands (Sperry, Stride-Rite, Payless), the Saucony brand, lives and works in metro Kansas City. A father of three, with a son who runs cross country, Matt saw the Hospital Hill run as a way for his company to support the local running community. In many ways, it was a judicious decision for Rubel, allowing him to have a virtual running research laboratory in his backyard. Along with Saucony being sold in the most popular running stores in KC: Garry Gribble Sports, Rubel can see how Saucony is building momentum in the local area.
Dawn Siebel and her bridesmaids
Some local color, #1: Dawn Siebel is getting married on June 5, 2010. Her bridesmaids and her were running the HH run today! There were two weddings that were to happen after the Hospital Hill run where wedding parties were running the race!
This gets us back to my mantra, think globally, but learn locally. Knowledge gained from local retailers like Garry Gribble, can help a brand win or loose. In this extremely competitive marketplace, the brands that are winning are pulling ahead of the brands who have lost their focus.
In speaking with runners of all ages, levels of interest, and abilities over the four hours I was on the Hospital Hill run start and finish, it is quite evident that the opportunities in running are boundless. Most of the runners I spoke too, from 35 year veterans, pick their races carefully,
based on their level of fitness and the quality of the races. It is obvious that the metro area has a strong running community, with high school athletes, local elite athletes and fitness runners all in abundance.
Kansas City Smoke
Some local color, #2: The Kansas City Smoke is a local USATF club, founded by Shawn Love, who is a huge supporter of Missouri Runner & Triathlete. The team members told us that Hospital HIll attracts the best local talent in the area, a key ingredient in its support.
After the race, I spoke to relieved Beth Salinger, who has directed the race for the past four years, increasing the numbers and quality of the event. Beth spoke of the support of the Medical center, Crown Plaza, her sponsors, board and many volunteers. If others would like to volunteer, please check www.hospitalhillrun.com.
Emily Potter, first women, 1:22:23, Hospital Hill Half
Local Color, #3: Emily Potter, of the US Army Elite Training group, won the half marathon today in 1:22:23. Emily has a pb of 2:45:03, and recently re enlisted in the
Army Elite program, after serving time in Kuwait and several other deployments. " I like the half marathon distance, but this is a tough course. My training is going well, as I
shoot for the Grandma's marathon and making the Olympic Trials Standards like I did
Roger Robinson and Sharon Barbano
A nice part of a local race is the announcing. A good announcer keeps the runners informed and the fans entertained. Roger Robinson, masters course record holder here (he finished third overall that year), author of many books on running (my favorite is Heroes & Sparrows), and former professor of English literature, kept the facts flying about our sport and recent sport happenings. Sharon Barbano, former elite marathoner and VP of communications of Saucony, had the runners going from 6.30 am to about 9:30.
An observer would be quite impressed with the finish area and the open space for finishers, who could grab drinks, fruit, beer and bbq after the race. People stayed around, brought their families and enjoyed the music and short (thank you) awards ceremony.
Local Color #4: While I was observing the race, I got to meet Kyle Schluben, who, at the advanced age of six, ran the 5k. He looked very relaxed, but was concerned to find his Mom & Dad (he did). A nice young boy having some fun with his family at Hospital Hill Run.
Kyle Schluben, Hospital Hill 5k runner
Local Color #5: I met three high school girls, from a local school, who were running
the 5k as a way to encourage them to start getting ready for fall cross country! They
did not race much, but were all here to run Hospital Hill!
High School XC team running 5k
From the couple who had vowed to stay in shape for each other, 25 years ago, to six year old Kyle Schluben, to the high school girls who were running the 5k for their workout today, it is obvious that the 37th Hospital Hill run attacts many types of runners. Beth Salinger, the race committee and the volunteers have provided a vehicle for fitness in the warm, humid Kansas City summer, that attracted 7,400 runners!
Next, year, June 5, we will see how many come back to the 38th Hospital HIll Run. My guess is the numbers will go up once again! (Oh, registration opens in the fall, check out the website,
www.hospitalhillrun.com, for details).
Stephen Muange, the winner of the Hospital Hill half marathon this year, had taken second last year. " The course is hot, and the hills are tough, " Stephen told RBR after the race. Stephen was holding four bottles of water, with two drank. Stephen ran 1:04:50 to win the race this year. A quiet young man, he told me that he did not remember how fast his splits were, he was just worrying about running!
The first Hospital HIll run was 6.8 miles, and run in 1974, had 99 runners. In 2010, in the 37th running, there were 7,400 plus runners in the 5k, 10k and half marathon! The Hospital Hill run has evolved, liked our sport. There are runners who want to run faster, who want to run farther an some who just want to run. There is a place for all of them.
And starting next week, Beth Salinger and her team will begin preparing for the 38th annual Hospital Hill Run. My guess is that you will see more than 7,400 in 2011! And remember, registration will open this fall, check the website for information!
For more on Hospital HIll, please click on www.hospitalhillrun.com.