The Casual Runner

Columbus Zoo 5k

Event: 2016 Columbus Zoo 5K
Event Date: May 22nd, 2016
Event Location: Columbus, Ohio

Why I decided to run this race.

Mike and I had made plans to go to the Columbus Zoo with his brother’s family to see the baby polar bear, Nora.  After making these plans I received an e-mail advertising this race on the exact day that we had already made plans to go!  It just made perfect sense that we should sign up for this race. Plus, as this was a 5k that also had a family-focused zoo walk and kids races, we could include the nephews, who you know better as budding Casual Runners in their own right!


Getting there/the lead-up to the race

April had been a busy month full of races for Mike and I: The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C., the 10 Mile Drop Race near Cleveland, the runDisney Star Wars 10k and Dark Side Half Marathon in Orlando, and the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus. I had decided to take a break from running for the majority of May so I felt the race was going to be a kick start to getting me back into running before the Cedar Point Half Marathon in June.

The race Expo

There was not an expo for this race, instead it was a packet pickup at Columbus Running Company.  It was a quick and easy process to pick up the race packets for us.


Swag review

Each adult runner got a black unisex tech shirt with an elephant on it, and the kids sizes were cotton instead of tech.  The shirts along with our bibs were in a Mt. Carmel cinch bag.  There was a coupon for a free Egg White Delight at McDonalds.  The best swag of all tho was free admittance to the zoo following the race, which we planned on putting to good use.

The gear

The race time temperature was predicted to be in the upper 50s/lower 60s.  For me this is a very difficult to temp to dress for.  I had decided to wear compression shorts, a black under armour ribbed tank top, my runDisney Dopey Challenge long sleeve tech shirt, Swiftwick running socks, VSX incredible sports bra, and my new running shoes, Asics Gel-Noosa Tri-Fit 10s.  I ended up taking off the long sleeve shirt halfway thru the race so I’m glad I had made the decision to wear a tank top under.

To give you an idea of the weather, Mike started out with a long sleeve tech shirt, but just before the race switched to a short sleeve tech shirt. During the race the sun was so nice and warm that he began wishing he had gone to a tank top instead. But I guess that is Ohio spring weather for you!

IMG_6480The pre-race

We arrived at the zoo about 40 minutes prior to the race.  We weren’t sure exactly how far away we would have to park (the Zoo parking lot has a reputation for filling up, especially on nice weather days) or how long it would take us to get there that early in the morning. It turned out we were very early and we got to park very close to the start.  

There was some confusion to if we needed to go ahead and get into the zoo with our free tickets and receive a wristband or we could wait till after the race.  We decided to go with the crowd and went ahead and went into the zoo and got wristbands to exit and return as needed.  

It was very hard to hear the instructions the race directors were giving as they were using a small handheld bullhorn.  All the sudden we realized it was time to start and we were off.  Being a local 5k it didn’t bother me that this was how the start was, but if it were a longer distance that I was trying to PR I would not have been happy with this scenario.

Along the course

The course was pretty simple, a sort of modified out and back that didn’t feel quite like an out and back

We started off just outside the zoo entrance and ran along the tram stations that divide the zoo parking lot in half. This was a bit crowded as the course was narrow and did not open up for a while. There was a smattering of spectators doing their best to cheer us on. Once at the end of the tram stations, we made the first of several 180-degree turns to head back down the other side of the tram stations.


When we were nearly back to the zoo entrance, we turned right, where the course narrowed because of the curbs, and then opened up for a long, gradual uphill climb. This entire section was along the outskirts of the parking lot, so once at the top, we turned right to make our way towards the exit, where we encountered the only water station on the course. There were 2 volunteers working furiously to keep up, and I appreciate their efforts, but they just could not keep up with the demand. When we got there a runner stopped to get a drink and chat with the volunteers, parking a huge double stroller directly in front of the water station and blocking any other runner from getting a drink. It was no bueno.

We exited the parking lot and ran along the access road, which gave us a nice long downhill section. I really like downhills! At the bottom we did a second u-turn and had to go back up the hill, which really was not too bad, except the course was a bit narrow in this section.  It was definitely important to signal walk breaks/intervals to other runners with the trust raised arm.

We reentered the parking lot as, at this point, we were just reversing the route we did on the way out (hence the out and back). This meant some more gradual uphills and downhills, and we passed the same water station where the same 2 volunteers were working just as hard to support the runners. Thank you!

We saw two adorable interactions between parents and kids. First, a young cheerleader tried to take a seat for a little rest, and her mom nudged her saying “you came here to cheer, if you want to go to the zoo, you have to support every runner.”  Second, a mom reached out and gently put her hand on top of her young son’s head while the two were running, saying “no dear, that is way too fast of a pace for mommy.” I love these in-race moments.


Back at the tram stations reversed our prior path, but instead of stopping at the entrance we continued into the zoo itself! This was the best part of the entire race. The main extrance to the Columbus Zoo is gorgeous. There were a good number spectators in the main entrance plaza cheering us on, and we passed along the nice lake that welcomes visitors. We took a nice path up a small hill where we finished. It was a great way to end the race on a high note.

The SMOpinion

The medals are the same graphic that is on the shirts.  The lanyard has animal print around it stating the date and location of the race.  It’s a very nice medal for a local 5K.

The post-race experience

The finish line had lots of tasty treats at it.  You could get water or Gatorade to drink.  To eat there were cookies, fruit snacks, bananas, and rice krispie treats.

Playlist Peak

I had played my playlist from the Capital City Half Marathon and honestly didn’t notice it.  Mike stayed with me during the entire race and we were able to carry a conversation most of the race.  This is pretty impressive for me because I have a hard time running and talking at the same time.


Looking back now

OK, admittedly, we were disappointed that very little of the zoo race actually took place inside the zoo itself (it was mostly a parking lot race). I would love to see them change the course to add more in-park time. We were told that they didn’t want the runners disturbing the animals, which I understand, but the Columbus Zoo also has a full waterpark and amusement park ride area, so they could have run the course through these areas for a better in-race experience without taking us in direct contact with the animal residents.
Speaking of which, the perk of the zoo ticket is what would bring me back for this race.  The weather was wonderful which is always a nice bonus.  I’m not sure I would go out of my way to run this race again because I do not enjoy running 5Ks.  After I finished the race I felt like I needed to go run again later that day, but due to exhaustion of walking around the zoo for another 9 miles my head hit the pillow hard when I got home. That being said, if you are looking for a fun 5K in the Columbus area, especially one that is good for kids and zoo-goers alike, you make want to check this one out.

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