Our History, Mission, Leadership and More. 

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Our Mission is to improve health and well-being in the community by promoting active lifestyles and physical fitness.

As the race of choice for thousands of runners throughout the region, Hospital Hill Run is known not only for its challenge but also for its contributions to charity and the local community. As a proud not-for-profit organization, we have given over $130,000 back to the community in the last six years.


Giving back to the Kansas City medical community is the root of who we are at Hospital Hill Run. By taking part in the Hospital Hill Run, a portion of each entry along with 100% of all fundraising efforts go to our official charity partner in Children’s Mercy Hospital. Make your miles count in 2022 by becoming an individual or team fundraiser. 

FULL History of Hospital Hill Run

1974 – The Beginning and the Early Years

In 1973, Dr. E. Grey Dimond, head of the UMKC School of Medicine, scheduled a symposium on physical fitness in May of 1974. Dr. Dimond thought it appropriate to include a run in the weekend event. Running had become very popular after the publication of Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book Aerobics in the late 1960s. In addition, an American, Frank Shorter, won the Marathon Gold in the 1972 Olympics. 

Dr. Dimond approached Dr. Ralph Hall of Saint Luke’s Medical System with his idea. Ralph, a runner himself, was supportive and looked to Jim Burnley for advice on administering the race. Burnley was the secretary-treasurer and newsletter editor for the young running group called the Missouri Valley Masters Track and Field Association, or MVTAFA for short. That organization’s current name is Mid-America Running Association.

Under Jim Burnley’s leadership, the race was held in early May of 1974 and consisted of a 6.4-mile run and a 1-mile race. The races started and ended at Crown Center. Crown Center was in its infancy, and the race and symposium provided public awareness of the new development in midtown Kansas City, Missouri. To this day, Crown Center is a sponsor and hosts the Hospital Hill Run, providing shopping, dining, two hotels, LEGOLAND® Discovery Center, and SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium.

Dr. Dimond approached Dr. Ralph Hall of Saint Luke’s Medical System with his idea. Ralph, a runner himself, was supportive and looked to Jim Burnley for advice on administering the race. Burnley was the secretary-treasurer and newsletter editor for the young running group called the Missouri Valley Masters Track and Field Association, or MVTAFA for short. That organization’s current name is Mid-America Running Association.

1975 – Year Two

The second year, 1975, the Hospital Hill Run was scheduled on the first Saturday of June. With the first year’s success, the organizers wanted to attract more runners and added a half marathon to the other events. The half-marathon race course was designed to cover much of the same route as the previous year’s 6.4-mile event with the addition of half marathoners crossing Broadway Street and circling the Penn Valley Park. Since Jim Burnley had work demands that kept him on the road, he had asked Russ Niemi to assist him.

The 1975 race itself was a disaster. A half-mile into the race, the lead runners went off course. Some runners followed the leaders, while others went off in many directions. Police, who had been paid and scheduled in advance to stop traffic on Broadway, never showed up. With all the confusion, race officials returned everyone’s entry fee (again $1.00) and did not declare a winner.

1976 – Year Three

The third Hospital Hill Run was again scheduled for the first weekend in June. After the previous year’s problems, the City of Kansas City, Missouri, wanted to become involved by providing police protection and routing the race along the many picturesque boulevards the city offered. Russ Niemi had become the sole race director and was assisted by Rich Ayers. The UMKC School of Medicine requested the race route to include as many health care centers as possible.

The scheduled events for 1976 included the half marathon, 6.7-mile run, and the 1-mile race. The half marathon run started at Crown Center, went north, circled back south by the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and continued passing Children’s Mercy Hospital down to Baptist Memorial Hospital. It then returned north on Brookside to the Country Club Plaza, passing by Saint Luke’s Medical Center and Trinity Lutheran Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital (now the Federal Reserve Bank) located across from the Liberty Memorial. The challenging course rewarded runners with a half-mile downhill stretch to the finish line in the Crown Center Square. The 6.7-mile runners followed the beginning portions of the half marathon but turned into the Country Club Plaza at the Nelson Museum of Art.
Several hundred runners entered the races in 1976, and no difficulties occurred. Scoring in the early years included giving runners a popsicle stick with their finish position and asking them to give their names to the scorers. Today, electronics provide instant results down to many decimal points.

Hospital Hill Run Receives National Attention

After the 1976 race, the Hospital Hill Run became THE race to run in Kansas City and the surrounding area. The event achieved national attention and attracted famous runners such as Joe Henderson, Frank Shorter, Bill Rogers, George Sheehan, and many others. Rich Ayers replaced Russ Niemi as race director in 1982. 

Several amazing people have worked together to bring the race to life and nurture it along. Russ Niemi, one of the early race directors, remembered how everything began:

For the first 2 years of the event, registration was $1. In 1978, it cost $3 to register for the event if you were under 19 years old and $5 if you were 20 or older. In 1981, the registration fee was $8. The organizers stated, “Hospital Hill Run has failed to produce significant revenues. Thanks to several of you, we were able to come close to the break-even point.” By 1983, the fee was $9. Ten years later, in 1993, it cost $23 for a bib. By 2001, the half marathon was $40.

Record Breaking:

Hospital Hill Run has hosted many record-breaking runners, ranging from Frank Shorter, winner of the Olympic marathon gold medal in 1972, to local boy Mark Curp, who held world and U.S. records in the half marathon from 1985-1990. In addition, Mark set a Hospital Hill Run record in 1983, then broke it in 1985. That record stood until 1996. That record time of 1:03:26 by Gert Thys still stands today.

1984 started a tradition of awarding prize money to the top 3 half marathon finishers. 1988 saw the first wheelchair athlete, Bill Botton of Overland Park, KS in the half marathon, and John Selmears of Kansas City, MO in the 7.7-mile race. In 1991, Jim Dawson, the Vice President of Marketing at Crown Center was quoted as saying, “I see fifteen years from today that there will still be a Trinity Hospital Hill. It will start and stop at Crown Center. It will still be a 7.7 miles and 13.1 miles, although we may add a 5k or something to augment that, but keep the core.” 2006’s Hospital Hill Run was a 5k, 10k, and half marathon that did start and end at Crown Center, though that’s the only prediction that was fully realized.

The Evolution of the Event and the Course

What started as a single 6.8-mile race with 99 runners has evolved into a world-class event that hosts thousands of runners completing three different distances. Athletes have participated during torrential downpours, high heat and humidity, and slightly confusing courses. (1975 was famously referred to as “an orienteering event” due to the large number of runners who ran off course. 1994 saw the top 6 half marathon runners being led off the course by nearly ¾ of a mile.) The event is always evolving and changing with the times to bring the best to Kansas City and the athletes who participate in the Hospital Hill Run.

The event has hosted a number of different distances over the years. In 1975, a half marathon was added. In 1976, the 6.8-mile event morphed to a 7.7-mile race. This changed again in 1994 when an 8k replaced the 7.7-miler. In 2001, the distances were a half marathon, 12k, and 5k. Eventually, the event settled at its current distances: a half marathon, 10k, and 5k.

In 1979, computers were used for the first time to compile results. Participants were told, “Hopefully, the complete results will be available and in the mail within 2 weeks.” In 1984, technology had moved to the point that computerized results were printed and available that day. Today, timing chips built into the race bibs allow runners to scan a QR code with their smartphones and get results almost as soon as they cross the finish line.


Volunteers have always been the backbone of the Hospital Hill Run. Each year, more and more individuals and groups come out over the course of 4 days to unwrap medals, pack post-race food packets, sort, stack, and pass out t-shirts, distribute bibs, set up and staff aid stations, cheer and steer participants on course, award medals, give wet towels, food, and hydration at the finish line, and then help clean it all up.


The weather has consistently played a considerable role in the Hospital Hill Run. High heat and humidity warnings have been common over the years, and several races were held in torrential downpours. 2001’s results could not be confirmed because the rain interfered with the timing system.

Transition to UMKC

In 2000, UMKC Athletics took over the event, and Lisa Drake became the race director. It was time to update the branding officially around the Hospital Hill Run, so Lisa was instrumental in updating the logo and branding, creating a Hospital Hill Run website, and expanding the event’s reach.

One of Lisa’s favorite memories was recruiting Marines from the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City to act as course marshals. “It was so cool to see the Marines in their yellow shirts and camo pants as course monitors along every street and corner, making sure the course was safe as each participant ran by! The participants really loved and appreciated it.”

It was vital to Lisa to bid on winning the National Half Marathon Championships in an effort to bring notoriety to the race.

Lisa’s efforts won the bid to secure 3 Men’s USATF Half Marathon National Championships and one Women’s USATF Half Marathon National Championship.

Hospital Hill Run Transitions into a Not-for-Profit

Lisa led the charge to turn Hospital Hill Run into a not-for-profit organization and created a board of directors. It was time for the Grandfather of all the Kansas City Road Races to become its own entity. A new mission statement for the organization was born, “To improve health and well-being in the community by promoting active lifestyles and physical fitness.”

Hospital Hill Run has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities. Special Olympics of Metro KC was the first official charity partner in 1996. A partnership program, allowing multiple charities to use the race as their own fundraiser, started in 2008. Over the years, more and more charities have used the event to raise awareness and money.

Once the transition was made, Lisa stepped down and brought Beth Salinger on as race director in 2007. Lisa loved the event, loved working on it, and was thrilled when she could be a participant again. “After Beth took over, I was finally able to participate and experience the incredible feeling of running down the hill to the finish line into Crown Center with the announcer calling my name. It was awesome!”


Leadership & Recognition 

The Hospital Hill Run was named one of the top 25 road races by Runner’s World Magazine in 1984. In February 2013, Runner’s World Magazine chose the Hospital Hill Run as the 11th best half marathon in the U.S. The Hospital Hill Run hosted the first USATF National Championship half marathon in 2002. 2009 was the first year that a competitive team challenge was offered with six men’s teams and four women’s teams participating.

Beth Salinger took an amazing race and tradition and brought it even further along. Under her leadership, the race has grown approximately 300% since 2006. New sponsors have come aboard, and past sponsors came back when they saw how the race was growing. Beth has leveraged social media, email, workshops, and television, including a “Training Tips” segment on Fox 4 TV, to make current and past Hospital Hill Run participants feel a personal connection to the event. Her excitement and enthusiasm for the race is contagious.


In 2015, Beth hosted a Race Director conference, inviting local Race Directors to Kansas City to share best practices. The half-day conference was such a massive success, with over 95 in attendance, the conference became an annual tradition.

Recent History 

In 2019, Lisa Drake took back the reins and became Race Director once again. In 2019, Lisa rebranded the event, focusing on the Hospital Hill Run as the oldest road race in Kansas City, as “The Kansas City Running Tradition.” In 2020, she took the event virtual and created challenges to keep participants engaged and continue the tradition. 

In 2020 and 2021, the Hospital Hill Run was selected as the reader’s choice award winner for the best-organized footrace in Kansas City in Pitch Magazine.

Moving Forward

As we look forward to 2023, Lisa is very excited to celebrate the 50th Running of the Hospital Hill Run, having lead the 30th Anniversary in 2003, as well. The 50th Anniversary will bring a wonderful city-wide celebration bringing back many who participated through the years. Lisa is focused on bringing the tradition of the event to life through the 50th event, reaching out to so many who have grown up running the event with family members and have such fond memories of this iconic event.    

2023 sets the stage to once again to partner with Children’s Mercy Hospital as the Hospital Hill Run’s Charity Partner, focusing on the I Love Children’s Mercy Fund, making a difference for so many children and their families. Within the two years of partnering with Children’s Mercy, our wonderful participants and donors have raised nearly $50,000 for the children at Children’s Mercy. 

The race had grown from the beginning 99 participants to more than 9,000 participants in 2013. In 2023, we will celebrate 50 years of success for Kansas City’s oldest race, as The Kansas City Running Tradition. We hope you and your family will make a weekend of it and come enjoy, stay at start line and bring your friends along to experience the “Thrill of the Hill and celebrate the 50th Anniversary with our running community!

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