It isn’t called the Decker Challenge because it’s a nice Sunday jog around Lady Bird Lake. Hardly. Decker is absolutely one of the toughest road races in Austin and it’s not for the faint of heart. Toss in brutally cold weather and Decker, the third race in the 2014-2015 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge, is a true test of legs, lungs—and character.
Decker isn’t just another rugged, hilly race; it’s also one of the best (and oldest) races in Central Texas. This Sunday’s race will mark the 36th year this oldie but goodie has been held. Although the distances (and race dates) have varied over the years, the one constant has been the venue. Staged at the Travis County Expo Center, east of downtown, the course is a single loop that goes up and over the long, gradual hills on the country roads that surround beautiful Decker Lake.
For the time being, the sponsoring Austin Runners Club seems to have settled on the half-marathon distance for Decker, rather than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and even 12 miles which was in vogue for a bit. The difference between 20-K and the half marathon isn’t really a big deal as it’s only .7 miles longer, but that .7 miles is a devilishly difficult final stretch.
Of course, the entire race is one grinding hill after another. Dealing with the Decker hills, is always the key to running well. After a short downhill at the start on the Expo grounds, the course heads out to Decker Lane for three up-and-down miles. The hills along this stretch aren’t too tough, but if there’s a north wind blowing on Sunday morning (always a possibility), it can be pretty tough sledding. (There’s a clothing drop at the first water stop at the two-mile mark on Decker Lane.) The 5-K mark is right across from the entrance to Bluebonnet Hills Golf Course.
Once the course turns off Decker at about the four-mile mark, you get a reprieve from the wind as you enter the quiet of the country roads. This is a relatively easy stretch until about the fifth mile where the real fun begins. The steepest hill is just past the fifth mile, but it’s short and sweet. Most of the Decker monsters are between miles six and 10 with the toughest one in the 10th mile. This hill is the longest climb (maybe 4/10s of a mile). Following that, the course is relatively easy on the run back to the finish outside the Expo Center but there are a couple of more tricky little hills that can be a bitch, depending on just how tired you are.
For the second year in a row, the Austin Runners Club will present a King and Queen of the Mountain Challenge. Awards will be presented to the top guy and gal (and masters) who runs the 10th mile Mountain the fastest. Don’t worry. You don’t have to enter the Mountain Challenge. Anyone entered in the race will automatically be entered in it.
The Decker hills certainly present a challenge, but none are off-the-charts, insanely hard. Mostly, they are long, gradual grinders that won’t disrupt your rhythm too much. They will certainly get your attention though; grunting and complaining is permitted.
As is customary, the weather is almost certain to be a major factor on Sunday. It probably won’t be nearly as cold as last year’s ice box, but it could be a little wet. Temps for the 8 starting time should be in the mid-50s with an overcast sky and the possibility of some light rain. Another words, Decker weather.
How to dress on Sunday? Very carefully. Since it probably won’t be cold, leave the tights and long sleeves in your pack. A hat might be a good idea, but monitor the weather very carefully before leaving for Decker. Regardless of what you wear, make absolutely certain you bring dry, warm clothes to change into afterward. (You can leave your things in the Travis County Expo Center.)
Decker is such a traditional race that a hefty field of about 1500 runners are expected to run the Decker Half as well as another 500 runners and walkers who will be competing in the accompanying Brown Santa 5-K so parking will be a premium on Sunday morning.
Best advice is to get there by 7 a.m. to eliminate any parking hassles. There is plenty of room in the Travis County Expo Center to store extra clothes and if it’s wet outside, you can hang around in the Expo Center until moments before the start.
The Decker Half will start at 8 a.m. The Brown Santa starts 15 minutes later.
Packet pickup for Decker is Friday and Saturday (10:30-5) at Rogue Equipment (420 Pressler Street). On race day at the Travis Country Expo Center, same-day registration and packet pickup starts at 6:30 a.m.
Full raceday coverage (and results) of Decker will be available on TexasRunningPost.com.