I don’t know who the best hill runner is in the ATX, but Jack Murray (and I) want to find out. Jack, the “Jack” of Jack & Adam’s Bike Shop on South Lamar, is putting on a fun little competition this fall—King of the Mountains—to determine just who are the toughest, fastest climbers in town.
We’re talking runners, not cyclists, so bikes aren’t allowed for this free, month-long event which will get underway in November. Here’s how it goes: there are 10 total hills (12.6 miles of climbing) that must be completed within a month once this gets going. There will be prizes (Mizuno running shoes) to the top climbers in overall, certain age groups and masters. To be eligible, all you have to do is register.
The rules are pretty simple: You have to run all 10 hills listed (more in a minute) and you can climb them as many times as you want within the designated time period. Your best time counts. All timing is on an honor system (neither Jack or I are going to time you).
There are plenty of great hills to choose from, but Jack has decided to use my list from an article I wrote last fall on the baddest hills in Austin. Here’s the link: Top 10 Biggest, Baddest Hills.
It lists the 10 toughest hills—all on road, no trails–in Austin from easiest to hardest, starting with Exposition and Balcones (I counted it as one) and going up all the way to what I consider the absolute toughest, steepest, punishing run-able hill: Beauford Road in the Northwest Hills.
You can quibble with my list all you want, but these are the top 10 we’re going with to determine who are the best climbers in town.
Some details of the contest still need to be ironed out and you can’t register quite yet, but once it’s set up, we’ll have a link to the registration site. Until it is, start practicing.
10. Exposition and Balcones (3.3 miles) MAP
Starting at Lake Austin Boulevard, Expo is a long, gradual series of ups and downs through Tarrytown up to 35th Avenue where, if you take a left at Camp Mabry and then a right onto Balcones, you can add a couple of much steeper hills through one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Austin. Finish at the intersection of Balcones/Mt Bonnel Dr.
9. Wilke Road (.2 miles) MAP
Wilke isn’t very long but with an average grade of 10.8 percent, it’s extremely steep. Wilke is so steep, you must really lean into it to maintain your momentum near the top or you’ll sputter out and feel like you’re going backward in the final 10 meters.
8. Lost Creek (1.3 miles). MAP
The Lost Creek stretch starts at Barton Creek (just past Lost Creek Country Club) and climbs all the way to Quaker Ridge. The hill itself is really several short, but steep pitches that when strung together provides a tough test at the end of a long run.
7. Mount Bonnell (4.9 miles) MAP
Mount Bonnell is the highlight of so many classic Austin long-run courses that start and finish at The Rock. If you start there, the hills get rolling just past the Hula Hut where you begin the climb with easily manageable hill after hill through the beautiful Tarrytown neighborhood until you go left at Pecos and another left at 35th. (Hint: There’s the famed garden hose in the bushes at the cleaners at 35th, right across from the entrance to Camp Mabry. Everyone uses it. Please turn it off after using.) After a brief downhill on 35th, you bang a right onto Mount Bonnell Road and that’s where all the fun begins. The first big climb is short (.2 mile), but steep. Once you get over that, there’s another one and then a brief respite before the final climb which is the steepest and longest. To the top, is a little more than a half mile but once you’re in marathon shape, you should be able keep rolling and recover on the flat section across from the Mount Bonnell park entrance.
6. Rain Creek Parkway (.70 miles) MAP – coming soon
Rain Creek is the hideous monstrosity in the northwest hills which used to punctuate the much-missed Motive Bison Stampede Half Marathon after about four miles. What makes Rain Creek so tricky is it’s actually three climbs with a short breather between each one where the road plateaus. The second climb is the longest and steepest (with a grade of 8.6 percent), but the final one is no picnic as you approach the summit at Lost Horizon. Do this two or three times and it might be your final horizon.
5. Scotland Wells Drive (.50 miles) MAP – coming soon
This is the evil twin to Rain Creek as it basically parallels it. Scotland Wells (nicknamed Scotland Wall) was the infamous climb on the old Pervasive Power Charge 10-mile course and although it’s not quite as long than Rain Creek, it’s even harder. The first part of Scotland Wells is the toughest with a staggering 13.8 percent grade. It mellows out in parts for an average grade of 7.6 percent that will turn your legs into mush.
4. Ladera Norte (.60 miles) MAP – coming soon
This tower of pain comes about halfway through one of my 20-milers and one of my training partners actually used to start praying for help about 10 minutes before we even hit this quad-crusher. What makes Ladera Norte even harder is the half-mile downhill approach on Far West is so steep you need a parachute to slow your descent. The only way out of this valley is the long climb up Ladera Norte. There are a couple of short, easy patches followed by a brief, flat section, but from there you are punished by a long, brutal uphill which never seems to end. The final stretch is the steepest as it grades out to 13.8 percent. Agony. Sometimes my ears pop as I reach the top.
3. Jester Boulevard (.50 miles) MAP – coming soon
Jester must have been named by someone who laughed at the first runner (or cyclist) who tried to climb this mother.(Actually, it’s named for Beauford H. Jester—more on him in a minute—who was the 36th Governor of Texas.) Jester isn’t all that long, but there is no break whatsoever to get your legs back under you. This winding, mountainous road off 2222 just climbs and climbs and just when you think you’ve made it, there’s one more little climb at the end to zap you. I’ve only run Jester in the darkness before dawn so I’ve never had a clear view of it. If I saw it in the daylight, I’d never go anywhere near it.
2. Shepherd’s Mountain/Courtyard Drive (.80 miles) MAP – coming soon
For years, my seriously deranged running buddies and I got together every Tuesday morning (well before sunrise) to test ourselves on this massive climb which is just north of the beautiful Pennybacker Bridge on 360. Towering above Lake Austin, Shepherd’s Mountain is its given name but is formally called Courtyard which just sounds wimpy. Shepherd’s rises in a majestic climb that is guaranteed to bring you to your knees. The first little section off 360 is barely a hiccup, but the serious climbing comes right after the stop sign. If you can get up that first pitch in good shape, you get about a 45-second break on a flat to catch your breath before a never-ending climb which is so extreme near the summit, you feel like your nose is almost touching the pavement. But once you reach the top, Shepherd’s reward is with a breathtaking view—literally—of Lake Austin, Austin Country Club and downtown. Depending on the time of year, if you time your run just right, you even get the sunrise. If you don’t black out, you might even enjoy it.
1. Beauford Road (.70 miles) MAP – coming soon
Every time I run this little known road in northwest Austin, I keep looking for a chair lift to get up it. Beauford is named for some reason after the first name for the former governor of Texas who is the only Texas governor to have ever died while in office. Anyway, Beauford Road is so steep that it is actually grooved so cars can get enough traction on wet pavement to climb it. (I’m not making this up.) Beauford is a hidden gem of a hill that goes through a ritzy neighborhood off 360 that has damaged a few of my brain cells from oxygen deprivation. It’s in the same general area as Jester, but trust me on this: it’s much, much harder. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess the last time I ran Beauford, I couldn’t make it all the way up. But then neither could my car.