The Throo the Zoo 5k is billed as “one of Louisville’s most distinctive road events, the course takes participants “throo” the Zoo — past many of your favorite animals and exhibits.” This year was the 23rd running of this unique race and the fourth time I’ve run it. The race as it is now takes you past polar bears, tigers, elephants, rhinos, lemurs, monkeys, and many other exhibits throughout the zoo.
Overall Impressions: Don’t let the distance fool you! With the course changes they’ve made in the last couple of years this is a pretty hill-filled course. The changes have been positive though as the race is now run almost entirely within the gates making this a super cool experience. This is also a very family friendly race with the course limit set at an hour and thirty minutes and strollers allowed.
T-Shirts/Swag: The t-shirt for this race is always cute but I inevitably end up giving it
away or donating it each year because they are a basic cotton t-shirt. This year’s shirt featured a trio of penguins who brought some chilly and wet weather along for the race. Also as part of you race fee you are given free admission to the zoo after the race, you just need your bib!
Aid Stations: There is one water stop just past the one mile mark as you hit the switch-backs in the parking lot. This is pretty simple with cups of water and a few volunteers manning the table.
Scenery & Course: The real reason to run this race is for the experience and the scenery. I’ve never done another race that takes you through over 90% of the zoo’s exhibits and enclosures and it definitely makes this race unforgettable. I’ve included the course map below.
The race starts out on Illinois Ave and takes runners in through the side maintenance gate and into the Oasis Special Event Tent. From there you head around the back loop of the zoo, following along the Zoo Train route and passing the Australian Outback enclosure, the Tigers, and the Gorilla Forest Exhibits and the first of four major inclines. Once past the Gorilla Hill, as I’ve taken to calling it, you head out of another service gate and into the parking lot for a few switch-backs and your water stop.
Then it’s back into the zoo through the main entrance and on to the second major hill, called the Yellow Brick Hill, due to the yellow brick road painted on it for the Zoo’s “World’s Largest Halloween Party”. As you come around the corner at top of the hill you’ll see giraffes, rhinos, warthogs, antelopes, elephants, mile two and monkeys. Even the newest baby camel was out to greet the runners! Once past the monkeys it’s time to head downhill for a bit and through one of the newest habitat areas, Glacier Run, home to Polar Bears, Grizzly Bears, Seals and Sea Lions, and the Stellar Sea Eagles. As we were headed through the Polar Bear was hanging out in the overhead exhibit bridge for all to see. Pretty cool!
Next up, you head past the flamingos, snow leopards, and the mane wolves and towards the Herp Aquarium and Meta Zoo and the third major incline, although a much shorter hill, and then the Islands habitat where Sumatran tigers, Galapagos tortoises, and orangutans take the stage. Before you know it, you’re at the last and longest hill! At the top of that hill it’s back out the main gate and just a few more yards to the finish!
Elevation: As I mentioned, when they changed the course a couple of years ago they made the race pretty awesome by taking your through almost all of the exhibits there are. They also added EVERY HILL IN THE ZOO! Not a bad thing just something to keep in mind as you take it on! It’s challenging but so WORTH IT!
Race Experience: Though I love this race it can be a tad crowded at the start and for some of the places along the route, like around the lemur and monkey enclosures. To compensate for this the race organizers release the runners in waves but without more than one person releasing the waves it’s a little crazy. The other main consideration for this race is the weather – being in mid-May the race can be hot and humid, rainy and humid, or as it was this year chilly and wet or anything in-between. Be sure you check the weather the night before and in the morning and dress accordingly. Neither of those things would ever keep me away from this race though. As I keep saying, it’s such a cool experience it makes all the rest worth it.
As an aside, there is also an optional costume contest that you can participate in and let me tell you, it make for some added hilarity along the course. From flamingos and tigers, to leopards and penguins, there are all kinds of animals on and off the course!
Parking/Access: Parking for the race is free at the Zoo. It is recommended that you arrive before 7:30 a.m. as parking closes by 7:45 a.m. to allow time to make sure the course is safe for participants. Parking is also available across the street at the Joe Creason Park Tennis Center.
Throo the Zoo has been one of my favorite spring races since I started running. With all the cool things to see along the route and the fun doesn’t stop. I definitely recommend this race if you’re tired of your average 5k on roadways!