Don’t worry. This year’s Decker will still be plenty hilly!

The Decker Challenge, one of Austin’s oldest (and hilliest) races has always served as a great marathon training run. The event, which has varied in distance over the years settled on the 13.1 half-marathon distance and has always been held the first week of December out at the Travis Expo center.

Not this year. The race, which began in 1979, announced three major changes. First off, it will be held on January 2 at 8:30 a.m., rather than early December. Second, it will be held at the Circuit of Americas race track (COTA is located about 12 miles east of I-35) this year. And finally, runners can choose from three distances: One lap around the track-3.4 Miles; Two laps around the track- 6.8 Miles; and Three laps around the track-10.2 Miles.

Brent Stein, president of the Austin Runner’s Club, which puts on the race, explained that he was notified on relatively short notice that the Travis Expo Center would not be available this year, as it had been allocated for use by the City as a Covid vaccination site.

“We were forced to pivot again due to the pandemic,” said Stein. “Our normal home is completely shut down to the public to handle emergency pandemic response operations. So our contract was cancelled and we were left without a home. Fortunately, COTA had one weekend available and we jumped on it, so we could still be able to offer an in-person race this year.”

Decker lovers, don’t’ despair. For those concerned that they’ll miss out on all of the formidable hills on the traditional course, not to worry. In case you didn’t know, the COTA course is actually pretty hilly, featuring one major climb, and if you opt for the 10.2 event and run three laps, well, then you’re going to get plenty of elevation gain. Runners will start on the same line as the Indy and Formula 1 cars and tackle the massive 150-foot hill on each loop! The rest of the course features the rolling hills Austin runners have come to expect from the Decker Challenge for the past 40-plus years. Post-race festivities include food, fun and live music by Trashy Annie.

Sure, it’s not the same as the old course, but race organizers faced significant challenges in finding a new venue on short notice and were very happy that COTA turned out to be a viable option. And if you think about it, why not? How often do you get to run a race on a world-class Formula 1 racetrack?

“What Decker has ALWAYS been is a challenging hilly race in questionable Texas winter weather, and we guarantee this year’s edition will live up to that heritage,” said Stein. “We are thrilled to be able to bring in-person racing back to the Decker Challenge and hope that you are excited as we are for this unique race experience.”

Note: To ensure the health and safety of all runners, full COVID protocols are in place. While not requiring proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test result, organizers ask that participants “please be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of race.” And “Please wear a mask at the start line and when social distancing is not possible.

Upcoming Races: Saturday, December 4 at 7:00 a.m., the Jingle Bell 5K Run at the Hill Country Galleria.  Saturday, December 11, at 7:00 a.m., the RunField Half Marathon, 6910 Sunfield Pkwy. in Buda.