This is a particularly noteworthy year for the Austin Marathon. The race celebrates its 25th year and it is also the final year of race director John Conley’s ownership. After this year’s race, High Five Events takes over direction and ownership of the Austin Marathon.

By just about any measure, this is the biggest week of the year for the Austin running community. The level of excitement is palpable as Marathon Sunday (February 14th) approaches. The Austin Marathon, presented by NXP, and its much larger half marathon are the most prominent events we have that draw the greatest number of out-of-town runners to our fair—running—city. More than half of the registered runners are from outside of the Austin metro,

Registration is still open for both the marathon and half marathon. Last year, approximately 3,100 ran the marathon, while another 8,900 ran the half. Both races failed to reach its cap numbers and it’s unlikely either race will do so this year. You can register in person for the marathon, half or the accompanying Paramount 5-K at the Marathon Marketplace, beginning Friday at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Road) from 2-7 p.m and 10-6 on Saturday. If you want to switch from the full marathon to the half (or vice versa), you can do so at the race expo.

The Austin Marathon has gone through several name and sponsor changes and 21 course alterations in its 25-year history, but one aspect has remained constant: The race has always catered to the thousands of recreational marathoners and first-timers who are primarily focused on completing the 26.2 or 13.1 miles.

The Austin Marathon is the crown jewel and final race of the 2015-16 Austin Distance Challenge. It’s the big enchilada—the one race everyone points toward. The combined fields of the marathon and half will approach 12,000 runners who will make the long loop around Austin, starting at 2nd Street and Cesar Chavez, right on Congress Avenue, at 7 a.m. (The Paramount 5-K starts at 7:30, but its starting line is at 11th and Congress.)

Without a doubt, Austin’s course is a special one. It is the exact same course which was used last year. Beginning and finishing on Congress, the marathon course winds its way through many of the cozy neighborhoods and funky districts that make Austin the unique, friendly city it is.

In the early going, the course goes south over several hilly miles on Congress before turning north on South 1st along the famed Mexican Mile (a major downhill). The course crosses over Lady Bird Lake around 6 ½ miles at City Hall and then proceeds west along Cesar Chavez and before making a major climb up Exposition, Bull Creek and Shoal Creek. Halfway is at Bull Creek and Jackson, just outside Camp Mabry.

Northcross Mall is the most northern point on the course (mile 17). From there, the race continues east for a mile before finally heading back toward downtown at mile 19 and then picks up North Loop (mile 21) and down Red River (mile 23) and Duval (mile 24) through the gorgeous Hyde Park district. The course then goes past DKR (25 miles) before the ascent up a couple of tricky hills on San Jacinto near the Capitol before the climactic finish on Congress Avenue in front of thousands of cheering spectators who await their runners at the finish line.

The course certainly isn’t an easy one as there are plenty of ups and downs, particularly in the first half of the race. More than anything, it’s a marathon that requires tremendous patience (and a strong dose of confidence).

The half marathon and marathon course are identical for the first 10 ½ miles. Along Enfield, the marathoners head north on Exposition, while the half marathon field proceeds east over some monstrous hills along 15th Street back toward the Capitol. The final mile of the half has some ups and downs before briefly heading south on Colorado (on the west side of the Capitol) and onto the finish on Congress.

One of the greatest factors in any marathon is the weather. Although Austin has had its fair share of ideal marathoning weather, the race has experienced warmish weather for the past three years and Sunday looks like more of the same. Jim Spencer at KXAN forecasts temps in the low 50s at the start, but, but it should warm up quickly into the 60s.

A word of caution: Don’t overdress. That is, don’t even think about wearing tights, a jacket or long sleeves. You’ll be just fine in a singlet and shorts. You might consider wearing a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt to the starting corral and then toss it once the race begins. Also make sure to bring dry clothes to change into after finishing. You can check post-race clothes at the gear check, beginning at 5:30 a.m. The gear check tent is on Congress, south of the Capitol (between 6th and 7th streets), near the race finish.

Because it will almost certainly be unseasonably warm, make certain you drink at many of the 17 aid stations sprinkled around the course. Each aid station will have water as well as lemon lime Gatorade. There’s only a couple of ounces in fluid in each cup so you may need to grab a few cups at each station to stay properly hydrated.

Unlike in year’s past, there is no elite field to speak of save for a few runners from Japan and South Africa that are being flown in.  Without significant prize money and with a difficult course, top runners have shied away from Austin in recent years. Last year’s winning times in the marathon were 2:16:19 by Betram Keter and Cynthia Jerop in 2:54:21. The half was won last year by David Fuentes of Austin in 1:07:30 and Kristin Zaitz of Colorado in 1:14:21. But both Zaitz and Fuentes as well as several of Austin’s other top runners are running the US Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday in Los Angeles.

The Austin Marathon is the centerpiece of marathon weekend, but there are plenty of other race weekend activities, including the Marathon Marketplace Expo at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Road). Here, all entrants in the half and marathon must pick up their number, race shirt and race packet.

The Marketplace Expo is free and open to the public. There are plenty of cool exhibits, free demonstrations and running clinics, including a session with the Pace Team at noon on Saturday.

Again, the half marathon and marathon begin at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. The Paramount 5-K starts at 7:30.

Texas Running Post will have complete coverage posted on this site about noon on Sunday.