Running in the Dark: Startaca p.2

Second Annual 5K Mine Run in Hutchinson, Kansas

One of the many awesome advantages of being a full time RVer and traveling around the country is being able to attend some one-of-a-kind events.  Enter Strataca’s Annual 5K Mine Run!  

Last year, we were camp hosts in Wichita, Kansas at USI RV Park.  On our days off, we had ample time to see and explore the city and surrounding areas.  We heard about an underground salt mine museum, 650 feet below the surface, less than an hour away in Hutchinson and couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  

We wrote an extensive review on our first visit to Strataca which you can read here.

Upon purchasing our entrance tickets, a flyer advertising a 5K run in the mine caught our attention.  The course, we learned, zigzagged through the underground  labyrinth of excavated chambers and darkness. Participants were required to wear a safety hat like a bike helmet and have at least one flashlight. Runners followed a rope and reflective arrows marking the entire course.  

Employees were stationed all along the trail to direct traffic and provide assistance. Since the terrain could be uneven, narrow, and dark, the run was not advertised as a race but rather a fun experience! Runner’s were not timed but received a t-shirt and bib for participating.

What a fun and unique run! Maybe we’ll sign up in the future if we find ourselves in Kansas, again, we agreed.  Fast forward a year later. We ended up returning as camp hosts in Wichita for another winter/spring season.  What was one of our  first “To Do” items?  Yup, we registered online for Strataca’s Annual 5K Mine Run (the second mine run for the establishment, to be exact) which was held Saturday, February 18, 2017.

To register for the run, we had to choose a specific start time.  Start times began at 8 AM and the final start time was at noon.  A new start time was set every fifteen minutes and only 30 participants were slotted for each time period.   The spacing of participants was another safety precaution.  We chose to begin our run at 9:45 AM.

A side note: Registration fees started at $55 plus taxes/fees and increased after set dates. Profits are set aside for upkeep and future advancements of the public attraction.  Since this is considered a fundraiser and contribution to a charity, each ticket purchase is a tax write-off.

After a month and a half of mediocre training (i.e.,we averaged about one running day a week according to my runner’s journal), we were headed to Strataca on the day of the run. A few weeks before the date, we received a steady stream of emails, from organizers of the mine run, detailing preparation tips.  We followed their advice and wore light clothing since the mine lacks wind and stays at a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit.    We donned our bike helmets with headlamps, and Levi mounted his Go Pro camera to the top of his hat hoping to catch some event footage.

Inside Strataca’s lobby, we were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of event preparations.  Runners were stretching and watching the clock, waiting for the announcement of their start time. There were runner’s of all ages, 10 and over, novice and veteran.  A few participants were covered head to toe in flashing lights and glow sticks.  A group of Girl Scouts were enthusiastically selling their famous cookies.

We signed waivers and collected our participant packets.  They contained a bright yellow 5K Mine Run t-shirt, runner’s bib, coupons and advertisements, and a metal!  The metals were given to the first 350 people who registered for the event. Altogether the 5K rounded up a little over 450 runners; last year’s run had less than 300 participants!

At around 9:35 AM, runner’s with the start time of 9:45 were called into a separate room for orientation.  We were briefed about the course and safety protocols before escorted to the double decker hoist that would send our group down 650 feet to the starting line.  The descent was a minute and a half of darkness (unless you turned on your flashlight).  Based on your comfort level, the hoist can be anywhere from exhilarating and adventurous to Claustrophobia Central.  I am in the middle.

Once the doors opened, we rounded the corner to the starting line (the mine entrance).  A staff member detailed the route with examples of course markings and descriptions of the terrain.  She told us to be mindful of our surroundings and enjoy the run!  We were off!

The staff was not undermining the description of the course in their many emails and speeches.  The ground was all degrees of crushed salt, had areas where mine car tracks intersected, and had a few dips and mounds thrown in the mix. Much of the run was dark. The air was salty and still; running warmed us up quickly.  

We took the route slow and steady.  We used our headlamps and the lights from other runners and staff to guide our way. We huffed and puffed along the rope’s route and marveled at the underground abyss!  What an exhilarating experience. We managed to run the entire course, but there were a number of participants that stopped to take a rest and walk or take pictures.  After crossing the finish line with cheers, we were invited to enjoy refreshments and browse around the museum at our leisure.

Strataca’s 5K Mine Run happens to be our first 5K, our first organized run!  I don’t think we could have chosen a better event!  The entire experience, from online registration to enjoying unlimited fruit and water after crossing the finish line, was seamless and enjoyable!  The staff was well-organized and efficient.  Between the informative emails and packet distribution before the event, escorting of various groups to begin the run, encouraging and helpful safety staff along the route, and congratulatory smiles afterwards, Strataca really shined!

If you find yourself traveling through these parts and jump (or run) at new adventures, Strataca’s 5K Mine Run should be at the top of your Bucketlist!

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