The Strataca of Hutchinson, Kansas, is a salt mine museum 650 feet underground. The mine began operation in 1923, and is 1 of only 15 salt mines in the US. Since it’s the only mine open for tours, it has become a very popular tourist destination since opening in 2007.
In 2015 it was decided to offer a guided bike tour in the mine for $115. Tour de Salt was the first event of its kind, and sold out 3 months in advance. Given the success of Tour de Salt, it was only logical to add another event to the yearly fundraising offering. Introducing the first ever Mine Run 5k at Strataca. Though this wasn’t really a race, and it’s $55 fee is higher than your typical 5k, the opportunity to run 650 feet underground is well worth the cost.
When we arrived on site I picked up my packet just like any other race. The participants were separated into heats every 20 minutes, with no group having more than 30 runners. After a quick instruction video we loaded into the two shaft elevators, which lowered us 650 feet below the lobby. Once we made it down to the museum, we had one more quick talk as a group and off we went!
In order to run in this event, each participant was required to wear a helmet and light. Most of us wore a standard bike helmet with a light attached. Speaking of wardrobe, I will note that I chose to wear my Vertical Running shirt for a very specific purpose. I thought it would be neat to represent the highest running store in the county while running in the only race 650 below the surface. Being a self timed course we were all ready to set our time pieces before we went on our way.
The course started out in the museum entry hallway, so the first section was nice and flat concrete. Once we made it into the unoccupied part of the mine it was pure salt floors, which were a little uneven. I would compare the path terrain to a flat mountain trail, but a harder surface than dirt. It required me to pay attention to the ground in front of me, so I wouldn’t trip or roll my ankle.
The mine tunnels were extremely dark, and the only light was coming from the light on my helmet. I realized then just how weak of a light was on my head, and I knew it didn’t leave much light to watch out for mine monsters. The path followed a yellow rope on the floor with the occasional reflective strip on it, along with small cones with reflective arrows for turns. This was really hard to see at times, and at one point I actually missed a turn. Luckily for me a kid behind me didn’t miss this turn, and I noticed he “disappeared” on me. Once I swiveled my head around I noticed he had turned, so I got a little extra distance in my run. I wouldn’t be too concerned about getting lost, as the Strataca folks had plenty of helpers running around to make sure people were accounted for.
Unfortunately GPS’s don’t work 650 feet underground, so I wasn’t able to keep up with my distance. Sometimes knowing your distance can make it seem longer, but when you have no idea where you are I assure you that if feels you’ve run longer.
The air itself was pretty dry. The mine is a constant 68 degrees with 45% humidity, so the dry air was a little harder to breathe than topside. It was much easier once I had gotten away from other runners, and didn’t have a cloud of salt dust rising up in front of me. I will note that without any runners around me, it wasn’t only dark but silent. Creepy silent.
The end of the race came back into the museum area, where you would run past exhibits you would see on the actual tour. Once we crossed the finish line there was water and fruit waiting for us.
This was an absolutely phenomenal experience to take part in. I would recommend it as a must-run event for anybody that enjoys running or walking. Remember, there’s no shame in walking these events. Overall the Strataca staff did a wonderful job with this event considering it was their first attempt for the Mine Run 5k. I have no doubt that next year they will offer better reflective guide ropes/signs to make the experience even better. I for one will be sure to make this a yearly event, as the $55 entry fee was well worth it.
My gracious brother-in-law let me borrow his GoPro to record the run. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to see for most of the run, as my light simply wasn’t bright enough. Since most of the video is pretty dark, I cut out a big chunk in the middle and left the beginning and end of the run. The below link will open the video I put together. Keep in mind this version is 1080p HiRes, so it is a large file. Slower connections may struggle to keep up. I have also added a smaller, lower quality version for those with slower connection speeds.