On-line registration closes tomorrow night (January 20) at midnight for the crown jewel of the Austin racing season: The 3M Half Marathon. Long recognized as one of the top half marathons in the country, 3M has earned national recognition due to its fast, north-to-south course, peerless race organization and over-the-top goodie bag of 3M products.
The fifth of six races in the 2015-16 Austin Distance Challenge, the 22nd annual 3M Half will be held this Sunday (January 24th), two weeks after the Rogue 30-K and three weeks before the final race in the series – the Austin Marathon on February 14th.
Like most of the races in the Distance Challenge (other than Rogue), 3M is also held on a hilly course. But, it’s a mostly downhill course – gradually downhill–which makes it just about the ideal PR course.
As usual, 3M will still start in the far reaches of north Austin outside the Gateway Shopping Center before it begins its plunge south toward downtown (there are a few short uphills) through various neighborhoods and skirts the UT campus to the finish at the Bob Bullock Museum (17th and MLK) in the shadow of the Texas State Capitol. The finish area in front of the Bob Bullock Museum is where all the post-race festivities (and clothing pickup) will be held.
The course is unchanged over the past few years, basically a simulation of the first half of the old Motorola Marathon route with long, rolling downhills on such familiar roads as Shoal Creek, Great Northern and Duval.
The 3M Half will begin on Stonelake Boulevard, just south of Loop 360, right off MoPac (exit Braker). After a mile north on Stonelake, the course heads east for the second mile on Braker, crossing over MoPac, before heading south down Burnet. After snaking through an industrial park, the course picks up Shoal Creek for two nice, gradual downhill miles and then continues down a southerly path on Great Northern (mile 7) before picking up Shoal Creek again. Just past nine miles, the course heads east east on 45th for a mile (a few ups and downs) until at 10 ½ miles, it picks up the always welcome Duval downhill.
The stretch along Duval and San Jacinto is always a favorite as the 2-mile easy gradual downhill gives runners a chance to really roll and pick up the pace as they head for the finish. (Watch out for a few speed bumps on Duval.)
At Martin Luther King Boulevard, the course hits the 13-mile mark and all that’s left is a short, but tricky climb up MLK to the final run-in on a flat section in front of Bob Bullock to the finish line at the corner of 17th and Congress, just north of the Texas State Capitol.
A major factor in any 3M is the weather. Sunday’s forecast looks ideal: Temps will be in the low 40s at the start with little threat of precip. You might need light gloves, but tights and/or a jacket won’t be necessary. It might be a little windy and if it’s from the north (which seems likely), it will be at your back for much of the race.
The race will start at 7 at its traditional spot along Stonelake Boulevard right outside the Gateway Shopping Center in north Austin. Race officials urge runners to arrive in the starting area no later than 6 a.m. The earlier you can get there the better, as traffic on MoPac is always a mess. Gear check opens at 5:30 a.m. There will be gear check buses lined up along Stonelake which will haul everything back to the finish area. It’s very important to check dry gear at the start so you have something warm to change into at the finish.
With nearly 6500 runners expected for 3M, parking is also a nightmare. The best places to park are at Gateway near Dave & Busters, Sam’s or in the Google parking garage along MoPac. But race officials urge runners not to even attempt to park in any of the Gateway lots.
Following the race, there will be transportation back to Gateway, beginning at 8:15 and running until 11:15. Race officials urge runners to park at Gateway as there is much more parking there than near the finish. (There is limited parking near the finish in the Capitol Complex Garage, but with so many street closures near the finish, parking near Bob Bullock is tough.)
This race used to offer substantial prize money, but in the last few years it hasn’t offered any which has limited interest among nationally competitive runners. Last year’s champs – Will Nation and Allison MacSas – are preparing for the Olympic Marathon Trials (February 14th in Los Angeles) and neither is expected to run 3M. In fact, the top four women from last year’s race – MacSas, Allison Mendez, Nora Colligan and Andrea Duke – are all running the Olympic Trials. So is Anita Quirino of San Antonio who was seventh last year at 3M.
So the women’s race appears wide open as is the men’s. Collin Smith, who was third last year, just ran Houston on Sunday and is doubtful for 3M. Bryan Morton, who was second last year, is a possibility but is coming off the Cal International Marathon in December and said if he does run, he might pace a friend. Joseph McCellon, a former Texas Tech runner who finished second at Decker the last two years and was runner up at the Rogue 30-K two weeks ago, could be someone to keep an eye on.
Both event records are virtually untouchable. The record for men is 1:01:05, set in 2009 by Martin Fagan. The women’s mark of 1:09:35 was set in 2008 by Jacqueline Nyetipei, but both were held on an earlier, faster course.
Since 3M has not reached its 6500-runner cap, there will be last-minute registration at packet pick up on Friday and Saturday (until the cap is reached) at the Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez) from 2-6 on Friday and 10-6 on Saturday. There is no race day packet pickup.
Again, race time is 7 a.m.