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Austin Trail of Lights Fun Run

The Trail of Lights Fun Run will go on, rain or shine.

Shine it did not.

My general rule about rain, cold, and dark is that I can do two out of three. Saturday night’s forecast violated that rule, so we debated all afternoon whether a Fun Run could really qualify as fun in these conditions. We’re not normally the bailing-out types, but a rainy, cold nighttime run sounded distinctly un-fun. Finally, I suggested that perhaps because of the weather, it wouldn’t be as crowded. And that was enough to tip the scales to the Go side.

We didn’t pay extra for on-site parking (I don’t understand parking as close as possible to the start of a run) so we parked at Austin High and walked across the bridge, through the park, and up the hill to the Zilker Tree. Spinning under the tree is my favorite Austin tradition, one of the last things Austin hasn’t screwed up. They tried two years ago when they plopped a Ferris Wheel (and its loud, garish music) next to the elegant, peaceful tree, but last year remedied that by moving the Ferris Wheel to the more -appropriate Trail of Lights side of the park.

This is the 50th anniversary of the Zilker Tree, and the star atop the structure along with banners around the base of the tree marked the occasion.


We took our obligatory spins under the tree, stumbling in laughter after only a few rotations. Then we went in search of freebie glow sticks that I remembered from last year.

Because of the rain, race organizers moved much of the finish line festival (team photos, tents, vendors, and port-a-potties) to the parking lot of the playground near the start. The fine folks at Schlotzky’s were handing out cookies, hot chocolate, and Jedi-style flashing light sabers. We made a tactical error of collecting freebies first, requiring us to figure out what to do with it during the run, but at least the cookies weren’t a problem in that respect. In the end, I rolled up the bag and tucked it into the inside pocket of my jacket. Awkward and bulky, but better than carrying it while I ran. Especially since I was already carrying a light saber.

We’d opted for the early wave (this one started at 6:30, and the second would begin at 8) so at about 6:20 we walked (in a steady drizzle) back up to the starting area next to the tree. The start line situation was typical of a Fun Run. We had no plans to sprint the thing, but we wanted to start ahead of obvious walkers so we kept moving forward. I felt ridiculous lining up so close to the front, but even then little kids, tweens in costumes, dads carrying umbrellas, and women wearing rain boots surrounded us.


I spotted us at the very end of this clip.

The first mile followed the road around the southwest side of Zilker Park. A couple of kids kept sprinting past us, then coming to a dead stop to wait for their parents to catch up. Others stomped in puddles. One dude admonished them (“Run to the left, walk to the right!”)  as he passed, but it didn’t make much difference. That kind of thing drives me crazy during a regular race, but since it was a fun run I was pretty chill about it.

Construction spotlights were positioned periodically to illuminate the normally-dark road, which helped me avoid some of the potholes too. A downhill stretch felt a bit precarious on the slick asphalt, but we made it unscathed.

By now the rain had stopped and I was warm in my jacket, but I couldn’t really take it off because I’d stuffed my goodie back into an inside pocket, and my zipped-up jacket was the only thing holding it all in place. Eh, it’s just two miles. I can survive.

I skipped the water stop in front of the pool, then followed the course up toward the playground. Then we crossed Barton Springs Road and entered the Trail of Lights itself for the second mile. Because of our early start, we weren’t caught up in the crowds of people who stopped to take pictures–we just kept running to the finish line. I thought perhaps we could just turn around and go back through the trail, more slowly this time, but we were turned away. Instead, we circled back out of the park and down Barton Springs Road to the trail entrance. A wave of walkers just now reached this part of the course, so we jumped back in, this time walking through the trail to look more closely at the light displays.


After our second trip through the lights, we decided to visit the Schlotsky’s booth again–hot chocolate would really hit the spot now–but they’d run out. A volunteer handed us a stack of cookies, though, so I was happy.

We checked out the rest of the freebie stuff, then walked back up to the tree. By now the second wave was ready to start, so we took that as our cue to exit and headed back to the car

Yeah, we had to dodge a thousand small people, strollers, and rain boot-clad families. And yes, the course was only 1.9 miles. But we never pretended it was a serious race–hell, it says Fun Run right there in the title. No, we went into it knowing the goal was to enjoy the Zilker Tree and the Trail of Lights, and we did just that–twice. The rain stopped just in time–our feet still got a little wet, but as our coaches say, Rogues run in the rain. Especially when it’s only two miles and involves a gazillion holiday lights.

About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.