Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gunz Blazin' at the 2012 Austin Marathon

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 18,000+ runners for the 21st running of the Austin Marathon in Austin, TX. This hilly marathon has been on my bucket list for years, much in thanks to starting and ending in the live music capital of the US. The weather was perfect, the spectators were loud and plentiful, and we all had a great jaunt through the Texas "hill country".

(Austin at night)
I came down a few days early for work, and Austin welcomed me with a New Orleans brass band from the moment I opened the cab door. They were one of 20+ bands playing live within six blocks. Just a typical Thursday night in Austin! Such a young and vibrant city, embracing the diversity and "stay weird"-ness that makes this place a hub for culture and fun in the heart of hat-wearin' Texas. I'm learning that combining a marathon with a work-related trip opens to the door to explore a city beyond it's typical downtown and tourist fare, and an excuse to have a few serendipitous nights with its residents.  It's the only way you are going to "get" the vibe of a place like this.

(Beer prices change in real-time on the ticker at the Brew Exchange)
(The cozy Living Room at the W Hotel)
(May my kids someday understand this discovery ritual)
I had a great time spending the evenings testing out a great mobile application called TabbedOut, which allows you to pay your bar tab from your phone. It's amazing how much simpler life is when you don't have to wait for a check, not to mention the free drink offers. We tried out the Brew Exchange (where prices of beers change in real time based on popularity), Kung Fu (with giant-size Jenga), the Ginger Man (dive bar complete with fist fights), and the Living Room, a comfy meet-and-greet spot at the W Hotel that has a few thousand albums in their browsable library. I pulled down the 80's classic Frontiers by Journey (what 80's kid didn't have that album?) and asked the DJ to give it a spin. All in all, these few days are probably not the best kind of carb-loading for a marathon, but then again, they always say not to change too much of your day-to-day routine before a race! Beer it is.

(Hanging with Bart Yasso at the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial)

(A recovering Dick Beardsley and wife Jill prep us for the shake out run)
(Rain? But there's runnin' to do!)
(The Austin Track Club leads us out)
The morning before the race, Bart Yasso and Dick Beardsley organized a shake out run along the river, and the Austin Track Club (with motto, "Gunz Blazin'") braved the rain to come join us. It was fun for a few dozen of us amateurs to jog with such an accomplished group, and hear about their training towards the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR, this June, and the USATF Indoor Championships coming up in a few weeks. 1500m Olympian and Indoor Champion Leo Manzano (and soon-to-be 2012 USA Indoor 1500m Champion - nice work, Leo! Outkicked Centrowitz and Rupp!), 800m specialist Lea Wallace, and 4-minute miler Jake Morse were all good sports, talking up how they couldn't possibly tackle a full marathon. No matter what our preference, it was fun to be in good company and collectively jaunt through the sheets of rain coming down.

(18,000+ runners ready to go at the Capital Building)
By race morning, the rain had cleared at the LiveSTRONG(tm) colors lined the streets. This was an Austin race, but LiveSTRONG had definitely put a focus on cancer survivors among the crowds, and that yellow tone could be found in race shirts, mugs, and wristbands galore. I jogged up to the start, just in time to hear Lance Armstrong wish us well (and jump into the half marathon) and get a few tips from local triathlete Desiree Ficker, who was out to get some revenge on this course after coming up short in her Olympic Trial qualifier bid last year (she still won in 2:50). I saw super-Master Chad Ricklef lining up for the marathon, so I knew the 40+ division would be tough. At 7am, the cannon sounded and we left the capital building to take over the streets!

(The gorgeous and fun Desiree is ready to crush the marathon)
(On your mark, get set...)
The marathon and half marathon started together, so my 6:10 min/mile pace still had me about 50 people back. This was the goal today - head out at a PR pace (2:45) for the first half and see where that gets me. I had set a PR for the half marathon two weeks ago, so if the conditions were right, a marathon PR should technically be within reach. I didn't spend much time studying the course, but the runners around me confirmed that most of the hills are in the first 15 miles. I paced along with the Women half marathon front runners over the bridge, even joining a high school team for a bit, before we turned around (mile 4) and headed back downtown. My camera started flashing "incompatible battery", one of many disappointing glitches from this beat up Panasonic FX-48, but I held back from chucking it into the river in respect for the many miles it did serve. Too bad - the South Congress district looked like a picture-worthy bohemian faire.

(Runners take over Austin, photo courtesy of Rick Kern)
The hills were getting meaty now, and the elevation chart did not do justice to the steepness of these San Francisco-worthy pitches. I was running in the same Spira Stinger XLT's that had pulled me to a half marathon PR at the SF Half two weeks ago, and they felt great on the long descents. I cruised along with Brad Whorton, a former Wake Forest track athlete now finishing up his MBA at UT Austin and trying his first marathon after a 10-year running hiatus. Brad pulled us back over the bridge (mile 8) and to the West side of town (mile 11), before we gave our best to the half marathoners who peeled off for their final kick. We hit the half marathon in 1:22:46 - right in line for a negative split.

(Lance Armstrong joins the half marathoners, fresh off his 2nd place finish at Ironman Panama)
Brad and I could barely make out a runner five blocks ahead of us, and once we were joined by 27-year-old John Doehring, there was nobody behind us either. It was going to be a quiet second half! The front pack of Edward Kiptum, locals Jynocel Bosweti (2:14 here in 2007) and Scott Rantall, and Bartosz Mazerki were all on a 2:23 marathon pace, well ahead of the rest of us. John pulled us through mile 15, where local schools made for great cheering sections among the rather remote sections of the course. I pulled for a few miles to help John with the headwind, and then at mile 20, Brad came around and set a pace we couldn't match on the ample long downhills. Those milers sure can fight the pain!
(One of many great signs along the way)
My local friend Paige Alum ran along with me for a few blocks (in her clogs, natch!), getting lots of cheers from the crowd and runners alike. It was just the boost I needed! Runners would later ask me "if you're getting beers with her after the race, let me know where...there is definitely a party wherever she is going!". Yep, that is pretty much Paige in a nutshell. I dropped a slowing John, and picked up a few spots of cramping runners as I did my best to keep Brad in sight. Once I caught sight of the capital building again, I splurged with a sip of beer at mile 25, and hit the last few hills.

(Nice pic, Brightroom)
That last little hill felt like K2, but I found plenty of motivation from the hoards of half marathoners coming in alongside of me. I crossed the finish line in 2:46:05 for 18th place, about 50 seconds short of a PR, but feeling good about the effort. I had a massage, beer, and shower and came back to the finish to cheer on finishers.

(Edward Kiptum with the win)
(Shannon Bixler brings the crowd to its feet with her win)
(First time marathoners enjoy a well-deserved break at the finish)
Edward Kiptum had persevered for the win (2:22:50), with Jynocel Bosweti (2:23:51), and Bartosz Mazerski (2:25:55) completing the podium. Chad Ricklef won the Masters in an impressive 2:30:57, kicking me down to 3rd in our age group (but I'll take it!). The crowd went crazy when local athlete Shannon Bixler won the Women's division in 3:02:58 carrying the Texas flag, with Inna Vishik and Pia-Maria Molin coming in a dead heat for 2nd/3rd in 3:08:51. (all results) The finish line had plenty of stories of PR's, first time finishes, and new friends made along the course.

Marathon (2012 Livestrong Austin Marathon) from Jordan J. Miller on Vimeo. The time lapse photography starting at 30 sec is pretty cool.

Overall, a wonderful race and fantastic weekend retreat! I now know why they call it Hill Country, the Live Music Capital of the USA, and can appreciate all the "Keep Austin Weird" signs. This is truly a magical place! My thanks to the race directors, volunteers, and spectators for a great time.

- SD


  1. Looks like a good time, Scott! Nice job on a great finish time on a tough course. I hope you got to enjoy some queso while you were there!


  2. great write-up & great race. the brewery exchange place sounds like a great concept for sure. wonder if there are any of those in chicago yet. like the concept for sure. thanks Scott -


  3. WOWW!!! you are all amazing guys, I was looking on how many of you joined! That was a hugeeee!!! looking forward of joining next year!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it! I grew up running on the lake and racing parts of that route. It's a great city to run in. Try to find yourself in town for the Capitol 10K one year.

  5. Good job, Scott, you can certainly shave a few seconds off, if not minutes, with better conditions (flat course, no wind, no beer..., no pictures... ;-)!

  6. It was great to see you out cheering on the 6hr+ finishers and getting their pictures, Scott. Especially running along with the final few to keep them energized. I was the medical volunteer at the final turn, and as I said, we didn't have too many runners unable to finish this year!

    Hope to have you back to Austin soon.


  7. Nice to meet you at the Expo Scott. Hope to see you on the ultra trails some day. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Austin.
    Steve the 3:10 pacer.

  8. Manzano was born in Mexico, but he's a U.S. citizen & champion.

  9. Excellent blog entry! Congrats to you on this accomplishment and thank you for sharing the wonderful photos. Keep up the great work!

  10. Hi Scott,I liked your work and blog, is simply wonderful.
    I will accompany more times.
    Hugs from abercrombie uk Girl.


    He also won USATF Indoor Championships this weekend.

  12. Glad you had fun in our fair city! That is our Paige summed up so well!

  13. That sounds like great fun. I'm just a beginning runner and this is very inspiring. Thanks.


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