A few years ago I entered a 5 mile race on Halloween with a friend. I didn’t tell her I was going to do this, but the night before the race I went to a costume store and bought a cheap blonde wig and then walked over to the department store down the street and bought a sports bra. On race morning, I put on the wig and stuffed the bra with socks… but didn’t shave, so I just looked like a burly hairy dude wearing a wig. I made plans to meet my friend April at the start line but I got stuck in traffic on my way there and ended up telling her to just go ahead and start and I’d either find her on the course or meet up with her at the finish line.
I got there just in the nick of time. I was one of the last people to cross the start line but I ran fast and eventually caught up to April. She still didn’t know I was wearing a costume at that point so I ran up next to her and in my highest pitched, most girly sounding voice, I said “helllllloooooooo”. She gave me a dirty look and then did a double take, realized it was me and started laughing so hard that she had to stop running for a minute. We finished the race together and after we crossed the finish line, she said “you know, when you first ran up to me, I was like who is this UGLY woman and why is she trying to talk to me while I’m running??” Fun times.
That was the only time I had ever worn a costume during a race. Over the years, I’ve seen runners dressed in a variety of costumes or carrying various props during races. I always chuckled for a second when I saw them and then thought to myself “man that would suck to have to run like that”. And it does. But it also has some odd benefits.
Last Saturday, I ran the Garmin Half Marathon. The race is in Olathe (pronounced o-LAY-thuh), Kansas, which is literally the Land of OZ. So, not surprisingly, the race has a Wizard of Oz themed expo and course, along with finisher’s medals that depict characters or scenes from the movie. I don’t know what made me think of this, but I wanted to do something funny so I decided to run this one dressed as Dorothy. It takes a real man to run a race in a dress…..
Here’s what I learned.
- If you make yourself look silly, people will love you and want to take pictures with you. Just like a few years ago, I purposely didn’t shave my face or my legs. I ordered a cheap Dorothy wig and dress online and threw them on over my regular running clothes. So there was no mistaking me for a girl. I totally looked like a guy in a Dorothy costume, which was even funnier than it would have been if I had actually put any real effort into it. I felt completely ridiculous while I walked from my car to the start line but within minutes, people started to crowd around me, laugh, and ask if they could take selfies with me. In the start corral it was no different. A lady standing next to me made a comment that I was like a celebrity after I finished taking selfies with a line of people. During the race other runners and spectators actually stopped me to ask if I would take pictures with them. After the race, some people specifically came up to me to ask for pictures after their friends told them to go find “the guy dressed like Dorothy”.
- Love is motivating. This was a really hilly course. None of the hills were as brutal as the ones in the Golden Leaf Half Marathon or some of the other races I ran out west last year but it was still 13.1 miles of rolling hills. My legs started to feel noticeably sore towards the end. The warm temperatures didn’t help, and the way I was dressed made running even more brutal. By the end of the second mile, my neck was already sweaty from the stupid wig. I wanted to stop a few times. I actually did walk for a few minutes here and there but it seemed like there was always some runner or spectator chanting “Go Dorothy”, which motivated me to keep running.
- Running in a costume still sucks. For as much fun as that was, I’m not planning on doing it again any time soon. It was hot and scratchy and the dress was made out of cotton so by the time I was done I was soaked. But if you ever feel inclined to dress up for a race, I would definitely recommend doing it once.
So now onto the race itself. Olathe is technically a suburb of Kansas City on the Kansas side, but it has its own history. During the 1800s, the town played an important role in Western expansion as the site where the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails converged. It’s home to a number of historic sites and in addition to the Wizard of Oz theme, the Garmin Marathon race organizers laid out the course so it would pass by some of them.
The race kicks off with a two day expo at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Olathe Conference Center. The Embassy Suites is also the official hotel for the race and not only is the Expo there, but the start and finish lines are both in the hotel parking lot. So if you’re looking for a place to stay, this is probably the most convenient option although there are plenty of other hotels in the area. If you stay at the Embassy Suites, you won’t have to worry about driving or parking on race morning. If you stay anywhere else, make sure to arrive early since there are only a small number of free parking spaces in the area (although there are a few offsite parking lots with shuttle buses, so that might be an option too depending on where you stay).
The course is a little bit more hilly than it looks on the elevation chart. None of the hills are steep, but there are a lot of them and there aren’t very many spots on the course with extended flat stretches. The course mainly goes through residential neighborhoods but a lot of local residents come out of their houses and sit on their front lawns to cheer on the runners, which makes it a fun race.
The race medals are nice sized and they’re pretty solid as far as their designs go. They’re all Wizard of Oz themed and they change every year. This year they were:
- Marathon: Wicked Witch of the West
- Half Marathon: Glinda
- 10K: Hot Air Balloon
- Kids Race: Munchkins
At the finish line, there’s a big post race party with free food and beer. There’s also a costume contest for runners who dressed up as their favorite Wizard of Oz characters. The winner gets a free entry into the next year’s race. I wasn’t planning on entering, but changed my mind after a bunch of people told me they were going to vote for me. I’m not sure when they’ll announce the winners, but if I get to go back next year, I’ll have to figure out a way to outdo myself.