Other than being in optimal shape, the greatest single factor in running a good marathon isn’t the hills, the race logistics, your shoes or even your final pre-race meal. It’s the one factor we have no control over: The weather.

Good marathoning weather—that is, cool, calm and dry with a bit of cloud cover—is what leads to good marathons. Lousy, rotten, no-good weather, like this morning’s deluge, often sabotages a marathon, whether you’re in good shape or not.

Ironically, the big three of marathons—I’m thinking Boston, Chicago and New York City—also have some of the worst marathoning weather. Especially Boston and Chicago. I’ve been to the Boston Marathon somewhere north of 30 times and maybe five of those races had great running weather. The vast majority have been death marches. Same with Chicago, which has suffered up-and-down weather (mostly warm), ever since the race date was shifted from the last Sunday in October to Columbus Day weekend.


Nobody is suggesting that the Austin Marathon is in the same league with the top marathons in the country—the course is simply too hard for fast times—but in at least one respect Austin is the leader in the clubhouse: Our marathon weather.

The 23rd Austin Marathon will be held on February 15th and if anything, marathon Sunday has usually been characterized by crisp, dry weather. Not all of them have been like that—last year was awfully warm and humid—but most of our marathons have had good to great marathoning weather. (Average low temp is 44 degrees.)

I haven’t been at every Austin Marathon, but have run most of them (sometimes, the half marathon) since 1997. During that time, we’ve had perfect conditions more times than not. Still, some nightmare years stand out, especially the steam bath of 2005 and the ice bowl of 2006.

The ice year, in particular, has become infamous in Austin Marathon lore. To recap, the night before, an ice storm blew through town, making MoPac look like a parking lot with stranded cars all over the place. The race that year, the last of the much beloved, point-to-point, north-to-south course, started at the Freescale plant in north Austin and because of the conditions (and the fact that so many runners couldn’t get there on time), the start was delayed.

By the time, the field lined up at the starting line in the Freescale parking lot, the asphalt had completely iced over. Just getting to the starting line was hazardous as runners slipped and slid all over the parking lot. That was also the year of the panic-stricken deer who made his appearance—sliding across the ice–right at the start.

But, once the race got underway, conditions actually weren’t too bad. There was a little ice and a lot of sand on parts of the course and even though the temps were right on the freezing mark, the wind was from the north—a tailwind—which made it mostly tolerable.

Don’t remember what time I ran that year, but do recall that I was so depleted and frozen to the core at the finish that when a friend handed me a cup of coffee, I shook so uncontrollably that I just spilled it all over myself. I also remember a guitarist in one of the bands on the course who later told me his fingers had froze to his guitar strings.

Not sure if he was kidding, but that 2006 race was more the exception than the norm. It’s soon to say what the conditions will be like on February 15th but chances are pretty good that it’ll be a lot nicer morning for marathoning than today.

Let’s hope so.


O Couldn’t get down to Houston last weekend for the USA Half Marathon Championships—won by Diego Estrada of Flagstaff in 1:00:51 and Kim Conley of Sacramento in 1:09:44 who both made their competitive half marathon debuts. (Conley had run one half marathon before Houston, but it was a training effort.) Fastest Texas women was Becky Wade of Houston who was 11th in 1:12:18 followed by Sarah Pease of Austin who was 26th in an Olympic Trials qualifier of 1:14:36. (Pease, a finalist in the ’12 Olympic Trials steeple finals, PR’ed for 10 miles, 15-K and the half in Houston which was her first.) Trigal Kelly Williamson was 32nd in 1:16:10 and Andrea Duke of San Antonio ran 1:17:37. Jennifer Bergman, an occasional Austinite (her parents live here), was 23rd in 1:14:03.

O None of the local guys had their best days. Fastest Texan was Scott MacPherson who lives in Missouri these days but is from Plano and retains ties to Austin. ScottyMac finished 35th in 1:04:17. Right behind MacPherson (who has already qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials) was Jarrett LeBlanc of The Woodlands who PR’ed and qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1:04:19. His friend Kiya Dandena of Houston, who occasionally races in Austin, also PR’ed with a Trials qualifier in 1:04:44. Former Vista Ridge stud Zachary Ornelas, who now lives in Michigan, placed 54th in 1:05:43. David Fuentes shut it down at eight miles with bad issues, but still finished 57th in 1:05:45. Collin Smith, the former Austin HS and UT star who won the Rogue 30-K the week before, PR’ed in 1:09:45. Smith is running 3M Sunday.

O Classy move by the Houston Area Road Runners Association which awarded the Joy Smith Award (and $1000) to the Houston-area runners who punched their tickets to the ’16 US Olympic Marathon Trials. Kiya Dandena and Jarrett LeBlanc picked up their award off their Houston times, while Becky Wade and Kate Papenberg of Sugar Land have already qualified for the Trials (and also earned the $1000 stipend) from their times at the California International in Sacramento.

O BTW: Houston has increased its cap to 27,000 for the ’16 races, equally divided between the Aramco Half and the Chevron Houston Marathon. Both races have sold out for 10 consecutive years for good reason (both races are the best in the state). Believe it or not, early registration for the ’16 races opened on Sunday. There are all sorts of other registration dates (including for guaranteed entrants). Best to go to chevronhoustonmarathon.com for details.

O The Buena Suerte 50 was held last weekend way out west in Big Bend State Park with plenty of Central Texans in attendance. The top masters in the 50-miler was Eric Gilbertson of San Marcos in 8:04 who also placed second overall. Joseph Niland, the former UT runner who now attends medical school in Houston, dipped his toes in the ultra and won his age group (20-29) in 9:06. Jeremiah Nelson of Fort Hood won his age group (30-39) in 8:29 and was fourth overall. Patrick Creel of Austin was 30 minutes in back of Nelson to finish fifth overall. Amy Stephens of Austin ran 13:17 to win the 40-49 age group and Lynne Weber of Austin ran 13:42 to finish first in the 50-59.

O In the Quicksilver 30-K, which was run the same day in Big Bend, Rory Tunningley of Austin was an easy winner in 2:12:04 as was Gretchen Sanders of Austin in the women’s division in 3:00:23. The top woman master was Michelle Beninato of San Antonio in 3:14. Robbie Balenger of Austin won the 30-39 in 2:55:59 with Lee Simmons, another Austinite, winning the 40-49s in 2:55:22. Shelley Howard of Austin took the 20-29s in 3:06 and Taylor Jackson of Austin won the 30-39 also in 3:06. The Austin American Statesman’s gift to Austin running—Pam LeBlanc—was third in her age group (50-59) in 3:51. Not bad for a swimmer.

O A bone marrow swab/jam will be held on Saturday (January 24th) all day at Austin Tri-Cyclist (903 Barton Springs) in honor of pro triathlete Amy Marsh who is in Seton Medical Center where she has been since late December, being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. At the bone marrow event on Saturday, people can get orally swabbed and then their results will be entered in a national data base for bone marrow donors. Any donations can be made in Amy’s name.

O Leo (The Lion) Manzano will run his first indoor mile of the season next Saturday (January 31st) at the Camel City Elite (part of the Hilton Garden Collegiate Invitational) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. First place is worth $4000 with another $1000 bonus tossed in for anyone who breaks the track record of 3:57.81.

O Our friend Gilbert Tuhabonye will speak Friday, February 6th at a leadership conference at the UT Alumni Center. Tuhabonye will speak at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $40 and includes lunch. For more info, go to www.superleadership.com.

O One of Tuhabonye’s Gazelles—author Jimmy McWilliams—has a new book. It’s called “Modern Savage: Our Unthinkable Decision to Eat Animals (St. Martin’s Press). A professor of history at Texas State, McWilliams is a prolific author on a variety of topics but most often writes about food and animal rights. Loved his last book on the history of the pecan. Just guessing, but doubt his latest work will be sold at many of the barbecue places scattered around town.

O Best of luck to Jack & Adams wrench Mike Thompson—a cancer survivor– who is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, beginning Saturday. Go to his FB page to follow his epic journey.

O Paul Pugh’s been missing in road-racing action since he took a job with Amazon in Seattle where he was creative director of Kindle products. But Pugh is back with us in the ATX as this week he was named VP of connected fitness products for Under Armour where he’ll report to my old boss, Fritz Taylor. Paul will be based here where he’ll be in charge of the design and production of hardware for exercise performance tracking.

O Congrats to Gary Brimmer—the sage of San Antonio—on being named the distance and cross-country coach at Central Catholic HS.

O What I’m listening to this morning: “Sailin’ Shoes” by Little Feat with the Lowell George classic “Willin”.

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