The 2014-2015 Austin Distance Challenge, presented by the good folks at Austin Fit Magazine, still feels like a long way off. But come October, this six-race series, that encompasses most of the top races in town, will get underway again with the Uptown Classic 10-K. (A race site has yet to be determined.)
Originally, the Distance Challenge was conceived as a way to pool the best races in town at various distances over the fall and early winter to prepare folks for the Austin Marathon. But, it was also a way for the aligned races to get a break on T-shirts, timing and other race logistics costs. (That hasn’t always worked out as the races use different venders.)
Regardless, entering the Distance Challenge was simple: Just run the first race in the series and you were automatically entered in the five-month long age group and overall competition. As long as you continued to run the DC races, you were in the Distance Challenge race. (You needed to buy your own timing chip.)
Which was great. The competition for age-group and overall honors meant something (age-group leaders wore a yellow jersey in the DC races) and most of Austin’s most competitive runners stuck to the DC races. If you just completed all the races in the series, you were awarded a nice jacket, courtesy of RunTex. In its heyday, about 2,000-2,500 runners participated in the Distance Challenge points race which determined who the best runners in Austin were over a variety of distances. It was a big deal.
Today, it’s a very little deal.
As has been the case for several years and will continue in the ’14-’15 DC, if you want to participate in the Distance Challenge, you pony up $50 to get in. What you get for that $50, is a T-shirt, use of an ARC tent after each of the races and a jacket. Not coincidentally, you also get a one-year membership in the sponsoring Austin Runners Club. Oh and I almost forgot this clincher: You get a magnet from each race.
What you don’t get is any sort of bundled entry into the Distance Challenge races (you must enter each one individually). Nor do you get any break whatsoever on entry fees. Zilch.
In the past few years, the age group competition in the DC has dwindled to about 500-600 participants (mostly Austin Runners Club members) who are willing to fork over the $50 and essentially get a shirt and jacket for that. The DC age-group and overall competition is so limited and of such little consequence, that there’s absolutely no buzz or prestige around it.
Don’t get me wrong: The Distance Challenge races and its cumulative age-group competition is great. But, it is so misguided.
Before it becomes utterly irrelevant, it can be easily fixed.
First, there should be some sort of financial incentive to entering the entire Distance Challenge series of races. I’ve ranted about this before and probably will again, but if you enter the DC, you should—at the very least—get guaranteed entries into the Distance Challenge races and some sort of break on entry fees. I’m enough of a realist to know this isn’t going to happen in my lifetime.
But the second fix is much more reasonable: Go back to a free entry system into the DC points series. If you still want that DC jacket and shirt, opt in and pay for it. Simply, go back to the old, inclusive model and everyone who enters the first race is automatically entered into the Distance Challenge series (whether it be full or half track). Miss a race and you’re out.
What this approach would accomplish is opening the DC points competition to everyone (rather than just a comparative handful). Doing so, would make it a much more meaningful way to determine the best runners in town and also would ensure many more Austinites stick close to home and run the entire series, rather than run off to conflicting marathons on faster, better courses in Dallas, Houston, Sacramento, San Antonio and others.
The way the Distance Challenge points competition is constituted is archaic, expensive and self-defeating. If the idea behind it is to promote relevant age-group competition and keep Austin runners in Austin races, the Austin Runners Club and its Distance Challenge is woefully behind.
O The running/racing boom continues to grow. According to Running USA, the total number of races in the US grew seven percent in ’13 to a record of 28,200. The most popular race distance remains the 5-K with 8.3 million finishers accounting for 43 percent of all race finishers. The half marathon continues to expand and is the second most popular distance with a six percent increase in finishers to 1.96 million. Of that, 61 percent are women. More women than ever before finished a race last year, up to 10.8 million (versus eight million guys) which accounts for 57 percent of all finishers from the races that reported. Running USA also estimates that four million participated in some form of untimed, adventure-type races (color runs, obstacle and mud races) last year.
O Amy Marsh, the better half of Team Marsh, finished fifth (second American) last weekend at the European IM Champs in Frankfurt. Marsh had the fastest swim (49:43) among the women pros and a competitive bike (4:55), but lost ground in the marathon (3:15) to finish in 9:06:33.
O Kyle Merber, the former Columbia University miler who spent a postgrad year at UT, won the Cork City (Ireland) Mile last night in 3:56.72. It was his first PR in the mile in four years. In the same meet, Marielle Hall, UT’s reigning NCAA 5000-meter champion, won the 3000 in a huge PR of 8:54.48.
O Leonel Manzano, the USATF 1500-meter champ, runs on Saturday night in the the Glasgow (Scotland) Grand Prix 1500.
O UT sophomore-to-be Kendall Baisden won the 400 meters at USATF Junior Champs in Eugene in 52.21 and was named to the team which will compete in the World Juniors to also be held in Eugene (July 22-27). Other Texans named to the World Junior team include Trayvon Bromell, the NCAA 100-meter champion from Baylor (who is also the world junior record holder), Brian Barraza from El Paso (and the University of Houston) in the 5000, Myles Marshall from Kingswood in the 800 and Raevyn Rogers from Houston in the 800 meters. Robert Uhr of UT (and Lockhart) PR’ed in the 800 (1:50.79) and finished eighth in the final in 1:51.54.
O Congrats to our very own Ashish Patel and his bride Kelly and the impending birth of their son this winter.
O At the Peachtree 10-K road race in Atlanta last Friday (the national championships), Christo Landry won in 28:25. Austin Half Marathon runnerup Craig Leon was 15th in 29:51. David Fuentes, still recovering from his 1:04:30 half marathon two weeks ago, ran 30:43 to finish fourth in the open competition (not the elite division). Jared Carson of Austin finished in 32:10.
O Down in San Antonio, our Chris Serra reports that Moses Luevano won the Freeda Runs 5-K last Sunday in 15:05 with Jose Munoz finishing second in 15:31. Kristin Burciaga won the women’s division in 18:16. Top masters were Todd Heintz (17:05) and Liza Galvan (18:44). In the Freedom Day 4-Miler, Oz Hofstatter won in 22:06; Emily Daum won the women’s division in 23:36.
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty.
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