Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon Review

20th Annual LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon

February 20, 2011
Austin, Texas
9th Marathon Completed
Overall Rating 1 2 3 4 5 

Spoiler Alert...
  • I loved this race ... my favorite to date!
  • Lance Armstrong ran the Half-Marathon in 1:22
  • Great SWAG, medal, and t-shirt
  • Local couple got married at mile 22.5
  • Start & Finish area close to everything downtown at the Texas State Capital Building
  • Best organized race I've ran to date
  • Great Expo - Dick Beardsley, Bart Yasso, and former marathon WR holder Steve Jones as guest speakers
  • Great tour of the city including run through University of Texas campus
  • A little warm ... 65 degrees/85% humidity, 10-15mph wind
  • Challenging, but manageable course - aprx 300ft climbs at miles 3-6 and 9-19

Finisher Medal and T-shirt...

(left) 2011 LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon Finisher Medal - nice heavy medal with
really nice detailed lanyard.  (above) High quality Nike Finisher Shirt.  This year's
version of the shirt ran really big.  I got a Large, and it was way too big.  I
contacted the Austin Marathon race committee to trade it in and was contacted
back, but they never replaced the shirt - no big deal.    

Race Expo...
Bart Yasso & Me
What an am amazingly well organized packet pick-up and race expo for an event with 20,000 runners.  It was held at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX, and there were knowledgeable volunteers everywhere waiting to point you in the right direction with friendly words of encouragement and well wishes.  The expo featured fantastic guest speakers including former marathon World Record holder Steve Jones, Runner's World writer Bart Yasso, and running legend Dick Beardsley.  All of these gentlemen offered great insight and expertise from their marathon experience. 

One of the biggest Expos I've attended
Steve Jones offered tips about the course with race director John Conley.  He also shared stories from the 1984 Chicago Marathon, where he set the former marathon World Record at 2:08:05. Bart Yasso shared information about the his Yasso 800's, a popular running workout named after him for his mid-week speed work. He also talked a lot about his world travels, including races on all 7 continents, and a naked race he ran in Washington.  He was a very funny and entertaining speaker.

Dick Beardsley & Me
Dick Beardsley was my favorite, telling the inspirational story of the 1982 Boston Marathon.  His second place finish to Alberto Salazar is detailed in the book "Duel In The Sun" by John Brant.  He also had a lot of inspirational advice about the marathon, and life in general.  It's simply a great opportunity any time you can hear world champion caliber runners speak, and this event had three of them.  I took a lot of great advice away from each of them.

To go along with the great guest speaker list, this was one of the best race packets I've received for a marathon.  The SWAG included a great commemorative LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon Messenger Bag, Spibelt Small Personal Item Belt (given to the first few expo attendees), yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, Stinger Protein Bar, Gear Check bag, and official race booklet.  The entry fee was $100, which is a little high, but overall the event was very well organized and supported, and the "give-aways" in the race bag were a nice bonus for the price.

Great S.W.A.G. including SPI Belt and Messenger Bag

This was the largest race expo I've experienced.  There were about ten rows - all fifty yards long, of back to back vendors promoting new products and upcoming races.   My favorite was the KISS guy who was handing out flyers for the upcoming race called "Hell Run" in Austin, TX later this year.  I usually don't stick around at most expos, opting for resting in my hotel room, but I hung out at this one for quite a while.  It was a great opportunity to look over new products, meet other runners, and listen to a few great speakers.  The only negative about the expo was the $7 to park at the event center, with no validation inside. For $100, I think they should cover the parking, but that's just me being a tight-wad. All in all, it was a GREAT expo!

Austin, TX
Although I lived in Killeen, TX as a baby when my father was stationed at Fort Hood, I had only been to Texas one other time, and never to Austin.  In a word, it was fantastic!  Austin is obviously the capital city of Texas, and the home of the University of Texas Longhorns, but there were so many other great things about the city that I experienced in the few days that I was there.  Here are a few pics...
View of downtown Austin from Congress Avenue

Largest State Capital building in the United States
Anywhere Willie has his own street is okay by me
Austin is the "Food Cart" capital of the world - tons of  food trucks & street vendors everywhere
Don't mess with Texas ... buses
Live music capital of the U.S.
NOTHING better than a Mariachi Band at a marathon
Hook 'Em  Horns (Definitely not a fan when they play Mizzou)
Heritage Boot Co.
The Texas Longhorn
Texas Memorial
Run Tex Running Store downtown Austin
Texas sunset
Spectators, Volunteers, & Waterstops
The spectators and volunteers at this race were also some of the best I have experienced.  There was a huge group of supporters at mile 9 as we ran back into downtown Austin after crossing Lady Bird Lake.  The crowd was probably 8-10 people deep for about 200-300 yards. The support was also very evident and vocal as you ran through the finish line corals.  The nice weather was a huge factor, and brought people out in droves.  There were a lot of Austin citizens camped out at street corners and lounging in front yards, offering encouragement as we ran by.

As far as volunteers go, all were dressed in green "Race Volunteer" t-shirts, which made them easy to spot.  All of the waterstopswaterstop tables on both sides of the street.  Although each stop was very long and well organized, there was only one row of water tables.  This caused runners who were running on the opposite side of the street at the time, to cross over through marathon traffic to fetch a cup of water.  At almost all of the waterstops, the pace slowed down to a walk, and there were several unhappy folks navigating their way through the confusion.  I know it's an issue that large races have to deal with, but for such an otherwise perfectly organized race, it was a little surprising that this wasn't handled a little better.  However, it in no way negatively influenced my opinion of the race weekend as a whole.

Police support was evident and appreciated at every intersection, and traffic was never a problem.  Thank you to all of the law enforcement officers that gave of themselves, not only to help with the race, but also with all they do on a daily basis!

Hampton Inn Downtown Austin
I was able to stay at my home away from home Hampton Inn.  It was located about a half mile from the start and finish areas, so well within walking distance.  The staff was incredibly friendly with great "Southern Hospitality"! Also, there was room service available from P.F. Chang's and a local steak house.  The only small criticism of downtown Austin is the lack of parking.  I had to have my car valet parked at the Hotel, which meant a tip each time.  And as stated earlier, good ol' tight wad Jim doesn't need someone to fetch his car for him thank you.  But there were a ton of hotels in the downtown area close to the race, so there was no need for shuttles, which is a great thing about a downtown race.

Race & Course
The race had a customary starting time of 7AM.  The gear check tents, located a block from the finish line, were well lit, staffed, and perfectly organized. I literally was able to drop off my bag in about 2 minutes, with no standing in line.

After runners dropped off their bags, there was a 5 or 6 block walk to the starting line, but it didn't really seem that far away due to the giant State Capital building setting in the middle of the path.  (It was a little surreal to see runners literally peeing on the State Capital in dimly lit corners.  Guess they were messing with Texas a little.)  As you  made your way to the starting line, the PA Announcer did a great job of keeping you lose and informed of the time and directions to various pace groups.  It seemed like, they had every little detail covered.

Pre-race gear check in the dark
One of the really cool details after the National Anthem and race countdown, were the fireworks at the starting line as the gun sounded.  The giant sparkler-fountain display lit up the dark Texas morning sky and made you feel like this was a really huge event.  It was a nice touch.  I started in the 3:30 pace group and it took over 4 minutes to get to the starting line due to the size of the race ... so unfortunately they were burned out by the time I crossed the starting line, but everyone could see them no matter where you started.

As advertised, the course was hilly and challenging.  Austin is nestled in the "Texas Hill Country", and this is very evident as you trek up and down the seemingly endless rolling hills.  And the 65 degree temps with 85% humidity at the beginning of the race did nothing to flatten the landscape.  When the sun came out, both rose a little.  Also, 15-20 mph winds during the last 5 miles made the hills seem a little tougher.
Austin Marathon elevation from my Garmin after the race
First major stretch of hills up Congress Ave

The first set of 300ft incline hills took us South on Congress Ave starting at mile 2.5 and peaking at mile 5.5. They didn't seem too bad.  Legs were fresh and the pace was pretty slow due to the runner congestion.

The good news was, after reaching the top of this first set of hills, you basically turned around on the next block and ran back down in the other direction.  The biggest challenge was controlling your pace on the steep down-hill so you didn't burn up your quads early in the race.
But starting at mile 9, it was GAME ON!  This was one of the toughest stretches I've encountered in a marathon.

It was a 350ft incline over the next 10 miles.  And it was a real test.  However, if you could make it to mile 19, the course got a little easier on the way home.  Most of the 10 mile path featured long gradual rolling hills that took you slowly uphill.  But there were also several "speed bumps" that were pretty steep, between 11-14% over a quarter mile.  Speaking of speed bumps, there several along the course that runners had to navigate.  Most of them were pretty evident, but if you weren't paying attention, it would have been pretty easy to turn an ankle or trip. 

Endless up and down rolling hills of the Austin Marathon
One of the best things about any marathon is running through the host city's various landmarks and places of interest.  One of my favorites at Austin was running by Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns.  Now, please understand the Texas Longhorns have issued several woopin's to my Missouri Tigers over the years in this stadium, but it was really cool to see this historic field in person.  We passed it at mile 25, and I was still coherent enough to enjoy it.

In some marathons, the course is arranged so that you are only in the city for a short time.  It can make for a boring run.  In Austin however, you never really felt like you were entirely removed from the city.  For the most part, runners spent time around downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake, the University of Texas Campus, and a few nice neighborhoods.  The sites along the course definitely held your attention.  And there were close to twenty bands and live performers to serenade us as we ran by.  I found the course, though a little challenging, to be very scenic and enjoyable.  Although I never saw him, apparently Lance Armstrong (an Austin native) ran the half-marathon and recorded a time of 1:22.  His time does not show up in the official race results, but he tweeted about it the next day.  There was also an article in the Austin paper the next day about a local couple that got married at mile 22, but I didn't see that either.  I guess they both really love running.

Post Race
The post-race activities were just as well organized as everything else to this point.  Great volunteers handing out medals and pointing you to the finisher t-shirt tent and helping you with fluids and snacks, which there were plenty of.  Even with 20,000 runners, I never felt rushed out of the finisher corals.  The volunteers let you take as much time as you needed to recover before leaving the area.  They were very helpful and considerate of your condition.

Jon and me at the Austin Marathon finish line
I had a very unique opportunity in this marathon to meet, and run a portion of the race with fellow blogger Jon from 2 Slow 4 Boston.  Jon was a great guy and I met him at the starting line in the 3:30 pace group where we both started.  We got separated at the start of the race, but met up with one another about half way through, and ran miles 13-17 together. We chatted about race strategies, family, and blogging as we ran.  And I think the company helped distract both of us from the tough Texas hills for a while.  We parted ways around 17.5, but it was one of the most memorable experiences I've had in a race to date!  I would love to run with Jon again sometime - he's really a great guy and I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet him.

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite things to do after I've showered and recovered a little, is go back down to the finishing area and cheer for the people still finishing the race.  It's so great to watch the expressions on their faces as they cross the finish line.  Some shout in celebration, forcing a smile to my face.  And some break down in tears, which always makes me fight back tears as well. (Hey, I'm emotionally spent after 26 miles, leave me alone!)  But spending time with these finishers reminds you what the whole experience is about.  I love it, and it always helps cap off the perfect day!

Post race at Austin

Was it one of my faster races ... nope.  Did I qualify for Boston again ... nope.   But did I enjoy almost every single detail of this event ... yep!

 I LOVED the whole Austin, TX experience.  The 12 hour car drive from my house in Lee's Summit, MO will most likely prevent me from running it again anytime soon, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great race, with a little bit of a challenge.

I had always read about what a great town Austin was and couldn't wait to experience it for myself.  I would have loved to spent a whole lot more time there than just a race weekend.  But it was an experience that I'll never forget.  I couldn't have asked for more for my Texas race.  Well done Austin!!!
... be great today!


  1. What a great report! Love the idea of a Mariachi band ... although hearing them through the whole run would make me a little nervous.

    Congratulations for a great time on Race No. 9.

  2. Man...I gotta start taking notes on these race reports... awesome job, great pics...great job Jim!!!

  3. You write great race reports! Congrats on a great race - you've made me even MORE sure I want to visit Austin some day...

  4. Great race report and pics! Thanks for sharing and again congrats!

  5. NICE! What a great race and so cool you got to meet Jon.

    Congratulations on a job well done! Now, you've got me interested in a trip to Texas :-)

  6. Sounds like you had a great time in Texas! Great report!

  7. Excellent race report! My wife and I ran Austin last year and we had such a good time. We will be doing this race for years to come for sure. Love that town too!

  8. What a great race report...makes me want to head to Austin right now!!!

  9. Love your race write-ups! Glad you had such a great time in Austin!

  10. Now this is what I call a race report! It was cool to see those running celebs at the expo. Great pictorial layout (except for the one of me having a bad hair day perhaps) lol. We're still in Austin, hope to have my own race review posted by the weekend. Look forward to seeing you again!

  11. Sounds like an amazing race! Thanks for the great race report... and congrats! :)

  12. MAN! Awesome race recap. Loving all the photos.


    Freaking. awesome.

  13. Love it. When are you coming to Michigan?

  14. Sounds like a great time. Gotta love Texas!

  15. Thanks everyone - I had a blast!

    TahoeG - dunno, not this year, but I'll definitely shoot for a summer run, right?

  16. awesome report, makes me want to come to austin to run that race next year!

  17. The whole thing sounds great. You got great SWAG! I saw a guy propose to a girl at the last marathon I went to that my daughter ran. That was pretty cool! Loved all your photos. It makes me want to do this one!

  18. Great report. It is obvious that you loved this race and everything about it. Congrats on finishing another marathon.

  19. I love this detailed race report

    Congrats on the race

  20. I loved reading this report! One of the best one I have read. As a slower runner I LOVE that you go back to see others finish. I cried when I finished my first half.

  21. You write some of the best race recaps out there, love all the details! Sounds like your race went great considering the massive hills in the race and the humidity. Hilarious about people peeing on the state capitol before the race started, haha

    Cool about Lance running the half marathon, 1:22 is fast!

    That is great that you were able to meet up with Jon, and saw him after the race as well!

  22. Holy Guacamole. You get an A+ for that race report. The narrative and pics were great. But, I would expect nothing less from you.

    Nice race too - with that humidity. Wa wa wee wa.

  23. Amazing Race report. I have to admit those hills are enough to keep me out of Texas (at least for a while). Good stuff. Way to go.

  24. Okay, seriously, that was the best race report ever. No wait, it was the best pre-race, sightseeing, race, and post-race report ever. Hands-down.

  25. Great report! All of my favorite races were becuase of the people I met/raced with! Glad you had such a great race.

  26. I loved reading your race/city report. Seems like you had a really great race!! I love that you tear up with those later finishers :)

  27. Congrats on an awesome race!! and report :D I would have commented sooner but I was wrapped up in pre race nerves :)

  28. I ran the half. It was a tough course for me since I'm not use to hills. I only took one picture during the race since I was too busy huffing and puffing. I can't wait to run next year so I can beat my time. Your race report was so much better than mine! I promise to always root for the Tigers as long as they aren't playing Tech if you promise to NEVER root for those pesky longhorns!

  29. Hi. I know this was 2 years ago, but THANK YOU for the excellent race recap. Best one I have seen so far of Austin 26.2. I am running Austin in a week and kind of terrified of the hills, but really, I like hills so I should be OK, I hope :)


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