Race: Austin Marathon in, you guessed it, Austin, Texas
Time of Year and Weather: Sunday of President’s Day Weekend, mid-February; 50-55 degrees and overcast for the race; high of 76 for race weekend
Size: With 17,000 runners (half, full, and 5k) this is the 25th largest marathon in the USA. Of course, the vast majority of those runners were doing the half.
Logistics: Logistics were super easy for this race. My husband and I flew directly from Denver to Austin on Frontier. I was pleasantly surprised with how close the Austin Airport is to the actual city (just 20ish minutes — woohoo!). We used Uber and a friend-chauffeur for the weekend, although much of downtown Austin was walkable. No need to rent car. We stayed at an Airbnb on 4th Street, right across from the Courtyard Marriott. There were several other hotels in this area; all are incredibly convenient to the race start and finish — no need for shuttle buses or pre-race traffic angst! Packet pickup was at the Palmer Event Center, which would have been a healthy walk or a quick Uber from downtown. (My husband and our friend just dropped me off outside the event center and then waited for me at a Hooters parking lot.) Packet pickup (available Friday or Saturday) was easy.
Swag and Expo: There was a typical expo for a race of this size, where one could get shoes, branded gear, and last-minute nutrition. I did a quick walk-through while picking up my packet, and it didn’t seem like there were many free samples, but I think the days of generous sampling may have passed us by. The race did provide a typical short-sleeved tech shirt (mine is bright green), an Under Armor cleat bag, and a free pair of Under Armor socks. I always prefer a long sleeved shirt or a quarter-zip to short-sleeved tees, but overall this was a decent swag bag. At the end of the race, the medal was very nice and Texas-looking (see above), although this is not usually a basis on which I judge races. Upon finishing I was also given a standard bottle of water and a food bag containing a measly pack of Oreo thins and a bag of cheese puffs, all in a plastic grocery bag. Aggressively MEH. There was apparently a beer tent at the end of the finish area, but I totally missed it. Particularly given the overcast conditions, the finish area — right in the middle of the street — wasn’t really a place you wanted to sit down and drink a beer anyway.
Course: This course was basically what you’d expect for a standard, bigger-city marathon: pretty nondescript. I’ve run a few races that were designed to have runners really see and appreciate the city — Nashville comes to mind first, Philly, and even Mississippi Blues. But this one wasn’t. By far my favorite sections were through some cuter neighborhoods but much of the race was on larger roads with cars taking the other half of the road. Boring! The first 13 miles of the marathon course overlap with the half marathon, which is pretty normal but also not my favorite. Maybe I’m just bitter and/or elitist but I don’t like being surrounded by springy half marathoners in matching outfits and cutely styled hair when I am out there for 26.2 miles of hard work. And I particularly don’t like when they are gearing up for their finish while I am trying to settle into the first half of my race. When I am running with other marathoners, I get the sense that we are sharing something together, but you lose that when you combine the marathon with course with a half-marathon. I. Don’t. Like it. (pouty face.) One other thing I’ll say about this course is that it is hilly. Strava registered over 1,100 ft of gain. If you train on flat roads, this will chew you up and spit you out. If you train in the mountains, you will be fine.
How It Went: Well… Let me begin by saying that I was suffering from a cold going into this race. On Thursday, my condition rapidly deteriorated — starting with a slight tickle in my throat in the morning and ending with the most painful sore throat I think I’ve ever felt as I went to bed. I slept upright and flooded my body with gummy vitamins and water and tea, but the cold progressed. Friday brought a congested face and nasty nose-blows, and on Saturday I was googling “where does all the snot come from” while simultaneously hacking up a lung. My ears popped and unpopped and snapped and crackled and clogged for a full 48 hours. On race morning, I was feeling a little better but my voice was that of a chainsmoker. So this race probably takes my PR for “most snot rockets launched during a marathon.” My stomach has also felt a little off since I returned from Mexico. Not the full blown stereotypical-Mexico-made-me-sick kind of “off” but just a little… off. That translated into about 5-10 minutes worth of time in and waiting outside of portapotties during the marathon — luckily there were a decent number on course! Beyond those excuses, I have one big revelation: training on trails does not translate to performance on roads. Even setting my pace issues aside (I was going pretty slowly), my glutes and hamstrings were getting destroyed during this race. How could this be?!, I thought, as I remembered all the hill climbing I’ve been doing. And the simple answer is that the impacts from the road — and the muscles needed to absorb and offset those impacts — are just totally different from the impacts your body feels on the trails. At about mile 17, my left upper glute totally seized up on a downhill portion, bringing me to walk. Even walking was painful, as I punched the muscle trying to get it to release. I ended up pulling over and stretching out my hips and legs for a couple of minutes and luckily was able to pick back up a little shuffle, but still with some pain. When I finished, my quads felt perfectly fresh but my hamstrings and butt were like WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED. My lower back is still killing me today! I am pretty sure that some of this is coming from my shortage of stretching and core work — my pelvis and hips and back are causing me all kinds of little niggles lately. But I think the fact that I have simply not run on roads for the past several months is a huge contributing factor. So I’m going to switch one of my runs each week to a decent-length road run as I prep for Boston. Finish time: 4:41:35.
Overall: This was a nicely organized race; it offered well-stocked and frequent aid stations, the typical big-race perks (expo, cool medal, post-race beer/massage if you want), and easy logistics. However, I’d say there wasn’t any aspect of this race that was particularly special or above-and-beyond, and the course was just meh. Although I’d recommend this race to anyone who wanted to visit Austin and maybe run a marathon while there, the race itself is a NOT MY FAVORITE. Am I getting picky in my old age?
Things To Do in Austin: Austin is an AWESOME city and the #1 reason to run the Austin Marathon. Here are some of the cool places we went:
- Papalote Taco House — probably the best vegetarian tacos I’ve ever had. I had a breakfast taco, a cauliflower taco, and a poblano pepper taco.
- Blenders and Bowls — for a pre- or post-race açaí bowl or smoothie.
- Brew & Brew — delicious coffee.
- Easy Tiger — baked goods on the ground floor, and drinks/snacks in the basement and back patio.
- Lazarus Brewing — cool spot for beers.
- Launderette — super hip little spot for a delicious dinner (see menu above). And mocktails!
- Red Ash — yummy Italian food and a hip but cozy setting.
- Fonda San Miguel — amazing, all you can eat brunch buffet in North Austin, complete with lots of vegetarian options and a massive dessert bar.
- Terry Black’s BBQ — not a lot of veggie options here (just sides!) but I brought my açaí bowl while my husband enjoyed some BBQ. Way easier than waiting in line at Franklin’s.
- Texas State Capitol — walk past and take a snap. The sixth tallest state capitol.
- Rainey Street District — hip restaurants and bars.
- South Congress Avenue — funky shops.
- Ann and Roy Butler Trail — walk along the water.