A Field Guide to Running in Kansas City


by Nadine B.A. Long

For runners in midtown, there are several options to weigh. Are you looking for beautiful lawns and well-maintained shrubbery?  Prefer running in a mindless loop while listening to shameful Top-40 hits? More in the mood to dodge people waiting at bus stops and less-than-level sidewalks?

If you run in Westport, you’ll find more of the latter. Depending on the time of day, it will be a bustling bar and shopping district, or a place as silent as the grave. Personally, I like the quietness of Westport very early in the morning, when it’s very different from its nighttime alter ego. At 6:30 on a warm summer morning, a run in Westport reminds me why I moved to the middle of the city and haven’t left: I can feel like I’m in a much larger place, passing empty bars and just-opened coffee shops, tucked in next to one another closely as if they have no intention of ever succumbing to the city’s unyielding spread toward the suburbs. I rarely see a soul, excepting one slightly harrowing encounter with a gentleman sleeping on a doorstep. Kansas City is a remarkably clean city, and even our busy bar districts are pretty tidy, yielding only a few stray pieces of trash to dodge here and there. An evening run through Westport is a much more calculated risk; worth it if it’s just rained in late spring – not as many people will be out – but less recommended on a busy weekend night in summer or fall, should someone you know spot you red-faced, dodging through a crowd, clad in performance fabric with a very small dog in tow. This is, after all, not a very big town.

Should you prefer a more consistently quiet route, never fear. Head west into Westwood, where generally modest but well-maintained houses await. A good route should include the Shawnee Indian Mission, so that you can contemplate the strange history of this area while loping past a lovely community garden. South of the Plaza, you can battle fantastic hills that lead you by sprawling estates. Many of the dogs here are kept in by electric fences, and though they may bark and start to run after you, they can’t get far, which is a little sad, even if it keeps you safe. You’ll see the occasional fellow runner, and a friendly wave is advised, along with a concerted attempt to look like you’re not breathing heavily, and that this hilly run is no big deal. These people will inevitably be much fitter than you and equipped with much better running gear than you. Use it as fuel to add another mile to your route. Or at least try.

To avoid these infuriatingly inspiring people while retaining some of the suburban stillness, consider a trek north of 39th Street to Roanoke Park and east to the Valentine neighborhood, where you’ll find more large estates, alongside old brick apartment buildings, allowing a peek into an interesting side plot in Kansas City’s history. If you’re like me, you’ll gawk at the castle-like houses as you run by, wondering who might live in and maintain these places, which look like they came straight out of a weathered middle school mystery paperback.

If rubberized tracks are more your style, you can find endless circles at Loose Park or Mill Creek Park, where you’re sure to see fellow runners and walkers, along with plenty of happy dogs to gawk at. The same goes for the Trolley Track Trail, which I have heard cuts far into the deep wilds of Southern Kansas City, though I have yet to explore the trail’s further ends myself. The Trolley Track Trail will take you past Brookside cafes and shops and into Waldo. If you can resist the urge to stop, get a coffee and croissant and walk the rest of the way home, I salute you.

(photo by Nadine B.A. Long)

Categories: Essay