The event has been staged the third Saturday of January over the years and has featured either a late-morning or early-afternoon start time in hopes of utilizing the warmest part the day. This race is one of the most challenging half-marathons around considering the course and the uncertainty of mid-January weather in Kansas.
The race course is point-to-point, starting on the streets in and around the capital city of Kansas and proceeding onto rural roads to the finish in the village of Auburn. Auburn is southwest of Topeka and the course travels primarily south and west from Topeka. Over the lifetime of the race the start has taken place at a number of different locations in Topeka and the finish in Auburn, which has always been near the same location, has encountered changes in the way the finish line has been reached by participants. The course has stayed nearly the same the last several years and 2009 will mark the seventh year the event will have been run on a certified course (USATF course certification number: KS02052BG).
The first eight miles of the course are on paved asphalt streets and roads; the next four miles are on country roads and the last mile plus is back on asphalt. The course start is at an elevation of 1013 feet and the finish is at 1084 feet, but with continuous ups and downs throughout most of the route the elevation difference seems greater. The low point is near 1 ½ miles at 956 feet and the highest point at 1190 feet is near 6 ½ miles. There are several steep inclines along the race course, with at least three gaining over 100 feet in elevation.
If the course is not daunting enough, the conditions the day of the race may be. The unpredictability of Kansas’s weather is a certainty, even during the middle of winter. With the course traversing mainly north to south and with a predominately north or northwesterly wind, there is usually a tail or side wind. That normally means colder temperatures. Race day has featured temperatures as low as the single digits and readings well below zero with the wind chill factored in. Conversely, there has been occasion when the sky has been clear and under bright sunshine mid-day temperatures reached into the 50s or 60s and shorts and singlets were the apparel norm. Snow, sleet, or even rain before or during the event is also a possibility and that means more often than not there will be some footing issues to consider. Paved roads are generally manageable, but the country roads can often become a sloppy mess or may be mostly ice covered.
So, why does someone run this race? It could be because of the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment when completed. It’s a good way to begin each new year and a great way to start preparations for other spring long-distance events. The Topeka to Auburn Half-marathon is the only event of its kind in the area during the middle of the winter season. The participant numbers have steadily grown throughout the years and the majority of those who have run the race keep coming back year after year.
For more information or to sign up visit http://www.sunflowerstriders.org/
. Race entry, volunteer opportunities, etc. are listed under the Topeka to Auburn tab.