It isn’t called the Decker Challenge because it’s a little 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 six-race 2013-2014 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 35th 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 town, 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. The key to running well at this event is learning to manage the hills. Here’s how to do it.
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 (as seems likely), 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 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 that also depends on the wind and just how tired you are.
For the first time, 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 gradual grinders that won’t disrupt your rhythm too much. They will certainly get your attention though; grunting and complaining is permitted.
The weather is almost certain to be a major factor on Sunday. The last two Deckers have been relatively benign, but Sunday looks like it could be the trifecta: Strong north winds, bitterly cold and freezing rain is possible, according to Jim Spencer over at KXAN. In other words, Decker weather.
How to dress on Sunday? Very carefully. Hat and gloves (maybe two pair) are a must, long sleeve technical shirts and tights are also a distinct possibility. 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 (11-7) and Saturday (10-5) at Rogue Equipment (500 E. San Marcos). On race day at the Travis Country Expo Center, same-day registration and packet pickup goes from 6:30 a.m. To 7:45.
Full race day coverage (and results) of Decker will be available at TexasRunningPost.com.