Mark Pinales (# 1324) takes off at the start of the 2023 Decker Challenge Half Marathon

One of the oldest Central Texas races, the Decker Challenge is steeped in history (pun intended). The fantastically hilly course was originally used by the Texas Longhorn cross-country team to get in some serious hill work. But for the past 45 years. The course has been run in early December by runners looking to get in some solid distance work on a super-challenging route. Originally the race had two formats: once around for 11 miles, or twice around for 22 miles. Later, it went to a half and a full marathon option before ultimately settling on the ever-popular half marathon distance, Any way you look at it, the race is one of Austin’s classics.

This year, top area runner Mark Pinales conquered the hills and the rest of the field, trotting to a 1:15:32 finish—a 5:45 pace overall. It’s not the first time Pinales, a former University of Texas standout, has won Decker. He topped the field back in 2016 as well, setting the course record of 1:08:15.

Pinales, who has also won the Humana Rock ’n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon and 3M Half Marathon, ran it more as a training run this year, waiting till halfway through the race to make a move. Cruising through the early  hills with a pack that included Tyler Shirley, Antonio Sanchez, and Grant Grosvenor, Pinales took the lead at mile seven, going on to win the race ahead of Shirley’s 1:16:54. Sanchez was third in 1:18:47.

“Honestly the pace wasn’t too aggressive and I felt good the whole way through,” said Pinales, a running coach for people of all abilities, ages and distances (@markpinales).

Pinales’ plan is to train hard for the Austin Marathon (February 18, 2024), using the Aramco Houston Half Marathon as a fitness indicator on January 14, 2024.  “The main goal for this year is to keep my training consistent and buildup fitness,” he said. “I’m training about 80 miles a week right now.”

Sarah Rimel, a 2020 Olympic marathon trials qualifier topped the women’s field in 1:29:12, ahead of Kristin Starr’s 1:34:27. Sara Damiano took third in 1:34:44.

Rimel, who has a marathon best of 2:44:32, hit the 10K mark in 42:53 and passed through 10 miles in 1:08:21. When she broke the tape, the 41-year old mom had averaged 6:48 per mile.

Upcoming races: Sunday, December 17 at 9:30 a.m., the Dreamland Santa Run 5K in Dripping Springs. Saturday, December 23 at 8:00 a.m., the Holiday 5K, 10K, & Half Marathon at Pfennig Park in Pflugerville. Monday, January 1, 2024, the Resolution Run 5K, 9:00 a.m. at Gregg Clarke Park in Kyle.