Running in the Heart of Texas
by Julia Weatherby, RAC member
The place to run or walk in central Texas is Austin's Town Lake Trail. The majority of the trail is wide and flat with crushed gravel and limited sections of pavement, making it an excellent choice for a long weekend run. The most ample parking along the trail is available under the Mopac Bridge by Austin High School. Water fountains and restroom facilities are available all along the trail. Thanks to numerous bridges spanning Town Lake, the running loop options from the Mopac Bridge are 3, 4, 4.5, 7 and 10 miles. The Town Lake Trail hosts a variety of walkers, runners, and some cyclists. After a hard run, cool your legs in the 68 degree waters of Zilker Park's Barton Springs Pool, which stays cool and clear year-round with springfed water.
More rugged and scenic than the Town Lake Trail is the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Hikers, mountain bikers and ultra runners savor the quiet wilderness hidden within the large city. Bring plenty of water when the weather turns warm or hot. Trails are rocky and muddy when wet. Depending on rainfall, parts of the trail may either be flooded or have water crossings requiring wading through waist deep water. It¿s all part of the adventure and fun of the rugged Texas outdoors. There are several trail entrances, with one conveniently located in Zilker Park next to Barton Springs.
The Austin Runners Club leads several organized group runs every week. All running abilities are welcome, including runners who are visiting Austin. Distance options range from 3 to 7 miles. Visitors are welcome to all ARC events.
Central Texas has an abundance of well-organized road races, and it may be difficult to decide on which race to run on any given weekend. The prime running season lasts from October to March with a great number of runners focused on training for February's . The marathon's main appeal is the course's speed. It is a point-to-point, flat course with some pleasant downhills, especially in the first half. With about 9,000 total participants, nearly 4,000 take advantage of the fast first half and complete the half marathon.
Texans often say, "Everything's bigger here," and Austin hosts Texas' largest 10K, The Capitol 10,000 every April. Packed in the starting corral, you may find yourself next to a human sized armadillo, a group of hula dancers or a Chinese dragon vying for a win in the costume contest the race also sponsors. Around 15,000 runners hit the moderately hilly course.
In August, experience the weirder side of Austin with the Keep Austin Weird 5K. This goofy race through the streets of downtown Austin encourages runners to bring friends, relatives and pets and arrive at the starting line decked out in full costume. Water stops are not very weird at a 5K, so in addition to the regular water stops, participants will race to the ice cream stop, donut stop with Baconman, stuffed jalapeno stop, pizza stop and more.
Speed to your fastest road race finish time in the Congress Avenue Mile. The September race begins at the Texas State Capitol and follows Congress Avenue through downtown to the finish line on the Congress Avenue Bridge. The course is very fast, as the first 1200 meters are downhill. This is an exciting event for runners and spectators alike, especially when the top finishers break the four-minute mile.
The Wurst 5 Miler is part of WurstFest, a 10 day German festival of music, food and dancing held in November. The host city, New Braunfels, is rich in German heritage. Runners are treated to post-race German music, sausage, and complimentary entrance to WurstFest, where hungry runners can feast on even more sausage!
Texas is home to the largest ultra running event in the country. The popular Sunmart Ultramarathon, held in early December, offers two distance options, a 50K and a 50 miler. Both distances take place over two or four loops of dirt trails that wind through the scenic Huntsville State Park.
When You're Not Running
Austin's a fabulous running town, but the appeal doesn't end there. Try some of these outings after your morning run:Day or night, Mount Bonell offers a panoramic view of the city and hill country at the top of 99 steps.Take a tour of the Texas State Capitol or the new State of Texas History Museum.Catch a University of Texas Longhorns football game or other sporting event.Join the crowd of onlookers who congregate above and below the south end of the Congress Avenue Bridge to wait for the bats to emerge at dusk. North America's largest urban bat population lives right in the heart of town beneath the bridge. The 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats are in Austin from April to October.A cradle of musical talent for those like the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin, and a frequent stop for music luminaries like Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, Austin is the "Live Music Capital of the World." Downtown is alive with music in the evenings, especially throughout east 6th Street, the Warehouse District and South Congress. Drop in to famous spots like Antone's, the Broken Spoke, or the Saxon Pub.
Lodging and Dining
Any hotel located downtown near the Town Lake Trail is ideal for a runner and the best post-run meals can be found just footsteps away by the Mopac Bridge. The Magnolia Cafe is open 24 hours, serving specialty omelettes, breakfast tacos and custom pancakes, such as gingerbread or whole wheat with fresh fruit. And essential to having a taste of Texas is eating barbeque at Salt Lick or Rudy's and finishing off with a treat from Amy's ice creams.
With a variety of trails and races to experience, Austin is an attractive destination for walkers and runners. Of course, Austin has much more to offer its athletic guests far beyond the finish lines. Taste the best barbeque and Tex-Mex around from eateries bustling with character. See the local sights during the day. Listen to the musical talent late into the night. Stay somewhere near the Town Lake Trail, so you can start your next morning the way local runners do, at the Rock!
About the Author: An RAC member since 2005, Julia Weatherby regularly combines work travel with interesting runs in new places. She enjoys training and racing in marathons, ultramarathons and triathlons, especially in Austin.