High Five Events, the folks organizing the Austin Marathon, have announced a new course for the event, set for February 18, 2018, and have provided prospective runners with a detailed map of the course.
The course, which a decade ago was a downhill point-to-point run, remains a loop course—in fact the first 12 miles of it are the same as last year. Those first 12 miles have quite a few hills, and while previously, it had continued to climb northward until its high point at mile 17, the course now continues east after mile 12, before turning north and running through the Drag, a portion of Guadalupe St. that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus.
The course will highlight Austin staples like the University of Texas Tower and historic Hyde Park neighborhood, while taking marathoners on a tour of East Austin’s restaurants, murals, and landmarks.
High Five has stated that, “The new course was designed to provide a better participant and spectator experience and allow enhanced traffic flow along the course, while still finishing with the picturesque Texas State Capitol as every runner’s backdrop.”
The old course continued to climb after mile 12, so changing it up should make it easier, right? Wrong.
That new course takes runners right up that wicked hill on Enfield Boulevard—right alongside the half-marathoners—as it crosses over Lamar heading east towards the Capitol. once reserved for half marathoners? And as they near the finish, they’ll have to deal with a very steep climb on 11th Street before the familiar finish on Congress Avenue in sight of the Capitol. In fact, the course made “honorable mention,” in this month’s Texas Runner and Triathlete as one of the toughest marathon courses in Texas.
While it would be easy to criticize the new layout as a tough course for participants, it’s important to keep in mind the myriad challenges of mapping out a big-city marathon that pleases everyone, including those who are not running it. The logistics are incredibly challenging, from working to get things right with the Austin Police department, Capital Metro, and numerous churches, all the while trying to have the least impact on traffic, while providing a scenic course that showcases what Austin special.
“The marathon is a hard distance whether you’re running uphill, downhill or flat. If you train on hills, you’ll do well on hills. But there are three things that anyone designing a race course have to keep in mind,” said former race director John Conley, who directed the marathon for 20 years.
“One: It has to be agreed upon by the community that you live in. The second one is that the runners have to like it. It has to be scenic, spectator-friendly, and have easy parking. And you have to be able to get thousands of runners on to the course and off of the course. That’s a big concern for safety reasons. I think High Five has paid attention to all three of those variables, and that’s not an easy thing to do the other thing that’s not an easy feat is matching up the start and finish of both the full and half marathons.”
“We’ve been working on mapping out the course for a year,” said William Dyson, communication manager for High Five. “There are a lot of players involved, like Cap Metro, the City of Austin, and trying to make it beneficial for the whole city. Last year the marathon brought in more than 34 million for the city. So there are a lot of things to take into consideration. The idea for the new course was to get more businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, and so forth involved—really make it a showcase for the city of Austin. In fact we’re still waiting to go before the City for final approval.”
Ultimately, the best approach is not to sugarcoat it, but appreciate it for what it is. It’s Austin, it’s hilly, and it’s a marathon, so it’s going to be tough. If you are looking for a fast point-to-point net downhill marathon, head to Utah, and run the St. George Marathon in St. George, UT.
If you are looking for a well-organized, fun, scenic race with plenty of opportunities for spectator support in one of the best cities in the world, then the Austin Marathon fits the bill.
“Upcoming races: Saturday, September 23, at 8:00 a.m., Camp Agapè Memorial 5K at Johnson Park – Marble Falls. Also Saturday, September 23, at 8:00 a.m., Run to Hear 5K, Camp Mabry,2200 West 35th Street.