A Couple of Reruns: Tallahassee Half (February 8) and Austin Marathon (February 15)

About Tallahassee:

There’s not really too much to say about the Tallahassee races – the courses for both the half and full begin on the Florida State University campus outside the gym and end on the university track. I do the half marathon here because of the strict 6 hour time limit (which I might be able to meet but it would be very lonely on the course at the very back); besides, I like doing the race with my oldest son who lives nearby and is willing to do a half with minimal training.

While both races wind through some uninspiring areas of town, I can manage to deal with the boredom because it’s fun to see lots of familiar faces (lots of people from around Florida and Georgia sign up). The volunteers are great and so are the police – there is excellent traffic control. Lots of people who want to try and qualify for Boston do this race because it is extremely flat. The temperature this year was relatively mild for Tallahassee in the winter so I soon tied my jacket around my waist and enjoyed the mild weather.

I finished in just under 3 hours, which pleased me, but I was extremely impressed with my son, who shaved over 30 minutes off his finishing time to complete the half in2:14. We celebrated with a buffet lunch at Azu, a really great Asian restaurant in Tallahassee.

About Austin:

This weekend was supposed to include the Love Run half marathon in Huntsville, Texas, as well as the Austin marathon. Our original plan was to fly into Austin, pick up my race packet plus those of a few friends who were also doing the double, then drive 3-4 hours to Huntsville, spend the night there, do the half marathon on Saturday, drive back to Austin, prepare for the Austin marathon on Sunday, and fly home on Monday. However, our flight to Atlanta was delayed for over 4 hours, causing us to miss our connecting flight to Austin. We had to scramble to find other flights that would still get us to Texas on Friday. This meant that we had to jettison our plans for Huntsville since we would be arriving too late for the long drive in the dark.

Oh, well. The unexpected happens so I had to pull out Plan B. We used Hilton Honors points for an extra night at Embassy Suites Town Lake (our favorite hotel in downtown Austin), canceled our rental car, and decided to make the most of our extra day in a city that both my husband and myself enjoy. We had a great dinner on Friday at Guero’s and a delicious barbeque lunch at Ironworks (the beef ribs were amazing!) on Saturday. We walked to the expo at the Palmer Center on Saturday to visit the expo, pick up the race packets for myself and my friends, and then walk to REI and Book People.

The marathon and half marathon relay are very popular in Texas and about 80% of the participants are Texans; however, according to the race announcer, every US state is represented as well as dozens of foreign countries. I’d done this race at least 3 times in the past and enjoyed it every time. The course begins on South Congress and goes as far north as Northcross Drive, then heads back to town via the University of Texas campus, and finishes near the Capitol. There are just enough hills to present a challenge but it is not a roller coaster course like at Blue Ridge or Georgia marathons. Aid stations are plentiful and offer water, Gatorade Endurance, and occasionally orange slices and pretzels. Many neighbors set up informal aid stations and offer everything from red licorice sticks to beer. Lots of people sit outside with children and dogs along to cheer. As for entertainment, there are musicians playing everything from country to rock to hymns. The Westside Presbyterian Church even had its choir outside clapping and singing to motivate us – that was great! In addition to a gender-specific technical short-sleeve shirt (bright orange this year), finishers get a handsome medal. Post-race food includes bagels, chips, granola bars, and fruit, but I hankered for fajitas, so I was willing to wait until after my usual shower and nap. I finished in 5:55, good enough for 3rd place in my age group. It was satisfying to complete the race in under 6 hours (my 2nd time this year).

This race is definitely recommended for walkers. There is a 7 hour time limit and with over 3000 full marathoners, it is not so lonely at the back. The logistics are easy, with several hotels within easy walking distance of the expo and race start and finish. Taxis to and from the airport run about $25-$30, pretty reasonable compared to cab fares in some of the cities I’ve traveled to. Restaurants are plentiful and the food, especially Tex-Mex and barbeque, is great. It is very easy to enjoy Austin and its marathon.

 

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Kicked Asphalt at the USA FIT Marathon (Sugar Land, TX) – February 1, 2015

This is an extremely walker-friendly race, with marathon, half marathon, and relay options. The course stays open for 8 hours (and even longer if people need it, though they would have to move to the sidewalks). The marathon is a double-loop, not my favorite type of race, but it is hard to get lost since it is mostly one very long out-and-back and is very well marked with directional signs.

Sugar Land is an upscale suburb of Houston, so Darcy and I flew into Houston-Hobby airport on Friday morning. At least, we tried to fly out – our first flight was delayed and then canceled so Delta gave us a voucher for a cab ride to Jacksonville so we could catch our flight to Atlanta from the JAX airport. We missed our connecting flight to Houston and were put on a later flight. Fortunately, I had planned for us to have an extra day before the race, so it was not critical that we arrive early enough to get my race packet on Friday. My thinking was that we would need that extra day to pick up our rental car and drive the hour long trip to Sugar Land but it sure came in handy now that we were arriving much later than expected.

Our hotel was the host hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, just minutes from the race site. That made it very convenient on race morning and afterwards. Although we didn’t take advantage of these perks, there were other advantages to staying there: a discounted race for one night, early morning breakfast, late checkout after the race, a pre-race pasta dinner for purchase, and a shuttle to and from the race itself. During our weekend in Sugar Land, we managed to eat our fill of fajitas at a nearby Taco Cabana and we also had a decent pre-race meal at Cheddars, a local chain that was within walking distance of the hotel.

Packet pickup was available from Wednesday through Saturday; it was easiest for us, considering our delayed arrival, to take advantage of the Saturday date. We drove several miles to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Sugar Land soon after packet pickup began at 10 am. I received my bib with chip on the back, a little backpack with offers and race information, and an exceptionally nice red finisher’s windbreaker. I really liked the jacket – a women’s medium fit me perfectly and it was well-made, much better than the average premium. I was told that after the race we would also get a technical tee shirt that was race specific. We were to get medals as well, but about a week before the race the RD sent out an email saying that the medals were hung up on a ship in Long Beach Harbor in California because of a labor dispute. That was okay – I would rather know beforehand not to expect a medal than be disappointed after I crossed the finish line. The good news is that the medals actually arrived sometime on Saturday so it turned out to be not a problem after all.

An early start was offered for racers who would need more than 5:50 hours to finish (that’s me) so on Sunday morning, I was toeing the start line at 4:30 am. It was still very dark and I was glad I brought my headlamp along; I used it for several hours until sunup around 7 am. There were at least 40-50 of us ready to go at that time, with several Maniacs including my friend Evelyn from Chicago; after a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, there was a countdown and we were off. The weather was cool but not cold at the start. It was supposed to rain and there were a few drops early on but most of the day was warm and breezy.

Since the first loop was in almost complete darkness for me, I didn’t mind the second loop so much because it was daylight at that point and everything looked completely different. Still, the race takes place on wide suburban streets and so there is not much to see other than residential homes and traffic. The first 3 miles of each circuit are on a loop just east of the start/finish; the remaining 10 miles consist of a very long out-and-back that enables runners and walkers to cheer each other on going and coming. I found the other participants to be extremely supportive and cheerful, giving me thumbs up and high-fives for the entire distance.

There were porta-potties on the course, but not enough of them. A few real restrooms dotted the park areas just off the course and I found it necessary to make use of those at times. Aid stations were every 3 miles or so but there were some points were there were no aid stations at all. This was especially needed during the first 3 miles or so at the beginning of each loop. The first loop was not critical but by the time I was ready to head out on my 2nd loop, the weather had warmed up considerably, there was no shade on the course, and I was desperate for some water. I had to wait until the next aid station around mile 6/17 to find a drink.

I was very happy to reach the finish line (at around 6:13), get my medal (heavy, race specific, attractive) and shirt (white short-sleeve – good but not as nice as the jacket), and have some of the post-race food (pizza, sausages, pulled pork, and more). The food was plentiful, even after the race was over and the regular start people had finished.

There are a few things that early starters should be aware of (but that are not mentioned in the race instructions):

  • When you arrive for the early start, be sure to check in with your name and bib number
  • Carry a headlamp or small flashlight because the street lighting is sporadic (at least for my aging eyes)
  • Consider carrying a water bottle to get through the sections without aid stations

This race is very walker-friendly as long as you take the early start, and it was fun to finish while it was still early in the day.