There is something really special about the city of Austin, TX. It is a bastion of liberalism in a conservative state, a wholesome mix of weird characters, friendly people, great bookstores (especially Book People), comfortable hotels, TERRIFIC food, and folks who enjoy their pets so much they bring them to the many outdoor cafes so dogs and people can dine together. I feel right at home in this city and that’s probably why I come here as often as I can.
What better excuse to visit than to do the Austin Marathon? I signed up last June and looked forward to this trip with eager anticipation. The event is now sponsored by the Livestrong Foundation and includes a half marathon as well as a 5k. I did the marathon back in 2008 and remember it as a very well-organized race. It is also walker-friendly, with a generous 7 hour time limit. Although the 2012 version had a few changes to the course, it was basically the same route, beginning and ending near the impressive State Capitol Complex.
Early Saturday morning, my husband and I drove to our local airport, flew to Atlanta, and on to Austin, arriving around 10:30 in the morning. We had arranged for Super Shuttle to take us to our hotel, the Embassy Suites Downtown at Town Lake, one of our favorite places to stay in Austin and one of the very best Embassy Suites anywhere. Even though it was still early, our suite was ready so we checked in, dropped off our suitcases, and walked a few blocks to packet pick up at the Palmer Events Center. There was a full schedule of speakers, including Bart Yasso and Dick Beardsley , but we concentrated on getting my bib, D-chip, and tee shirt (a bright yellow cap sleeved tech shirt that actually fit). We spentg a moments touring the booths before heading to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, Guero’s, for a long-awaited fajita lunch.
After eating , we headed back to our hotel and I began to arrange my race paraphernalia for the next morning. We were both extremely tired so it was an early night. I was up at 3:30 the next morning for my light meal of bread and coffee. I dressed and was ready to go by 5:45. Both races began at 7 am but we had about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the starting line so we left just before 6. There were signs up with pace times but no strict corral system, so I stood by the next to last sign (I think it was 11:30 – 12:30 minutes per mile) and we waited patiently to begin. There was music, announcements, and a sense of gaiety spreading throughout the crowd as more and more people began to line up. The weather was in the mid-40’s, cold but not unbearable, and the temps were supposed to get into the mid-60’s. I was dressed in layers as usual but I wore my jacket for much of the race and was grateful for my long-sleeved shirt, since the wind was fairly brisk and cold throughout most of the day.
The wheelchair athletes took off at 6:45 and promptly at 7 the rest of us headed for the start line. It took me about 12 minutes to cross it but immediately afterwards, the crowds thinned out and we headed through a circuitous route towards the downtown area on our 26.2 mile journey through attractive neighborhoods, business areas, and the University of Texas campus. The course is extremely hilly and reminded me at times of the Georgia Marathon in Atlanta (but not THAT hilly). I like the change of terrain so the hills were a welcome challenge, especially after the very flat Tallahassee half marathon, and it was enjoyable to run the frequent downhills. This was FUN!
A few stretches of the course were bereft of spectators but elsewhere there were throngs of people lining the streets and cheering on runners; some set up informal aid stations, with drinks and eats. There were lots of kids and dogs and a general atmosphere of frivolity. Official aid stations were plentiful; it seemed like there was one every mile or so, although the handbook stated that there were only 21 of them. That is still quite a few. And, of course, since Austin is famous for its music, there were a lot of bands playing a variety of music, including a mariachi band.
Half marathoners split off from the full marathoners at about mile 10.8. Usually that means that I spend a good deal of the second half of the course by myself, but with over 3500 marathoners, that was not the case here. I don’t remember seeing any signs or directional arrows pointing out the course, but I never had to worry about which way to go since there were always people ahead of me and behind me. One of my biggest concerns – getting lost on the course – turned out to be not a worry at all.
A final couple of hills just before turning towards the finish line and I completed my 107th marathon/ultramarathon in 5:35:59 chip time. I received an attractive heavy medal on a yellow and black lanyard, a couple of bottles of water, and some snacks, met up with my husband, and we walked the few blocks back to the hotel. After a shower and brief nap it was back to Guero’s for a celebratory fajita feast (yes, more fajitas – we really like them). We had another early to bed night since our flight at 5:30 the next morning (and I was starting to feel the effects of running down all those hills). It was definitely a rewarding visit to one of my favorite cities.