**Ed. note: For more of our 2014 Austin Marathon & Half Marathon coverage, visit our guide page: http://texasrunningpost.com/race-coverage/2014-austin-marathon-guide**
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the key to having a good race during Sunday’s Austin Marathon or Half Marathon are the numerous hills that characterize both courses. Push too hard on the uphills and you’ll run out of gas. Fly down some of the steep downhills and you’ll pound your quads and have nothing left for the tougher portions.
S. Congress Avenue (miles 2-5). Heading south on Congress from Cesar Chavez to Ben White is the longest uphill on the course and the one with the greatest climb. Fortunately, the stretch along Congress comes so early in the race that the 17,000 runners have plenty in the tank at this point. The steepest part is the two miles between Riverside and St. Edward’s University where Congress plateaus out before a short, final climb to the Ben White access road (five miles). The tendency along Congress is to push too hard and get away from your marathon goal pace, but veteran Austin marathoners know to relax and settle in on this stretch.
Winsted (miles 10-11). Bordering MoPac, Winsted is familiar to the thousands of runners who race the Capitol 10,000 every spring. But instead of heading down a gentle downhill on Winsted, marathoners and half marathoners continue north on the rolling hills that are mainly up. Not very tough, but you’ll notice the climb.
Exposition hills (miles 11-13). The half marathoners have left the marathoners to climb the long series of Expo hills that are the most difficult on the course. Training on Expo is one thing; racing it is altogether different. Although it’s a long ascent on Expo to 35th Street at Camp Mabry, there are also three steep downhills that can not be attacked because right after each one is another uphill. The climb up Expo is one of the key sections of the marathon course as it’s important to maintain your momentum and stay on goal pace without pushing the downhills too hard. The final Expo hill comes as you approach 35th Street and it’s the hardest one. Unfortunately, once you crest Expo, there’s one more little stinger on a short climb to the MoPac overpass.
Jackson/Bull Creek/Shoal Creek (miles 13-16). After the MoPac overpass, the course hooks a left on Jackson for a long, gradual grade that you might not even notice. This is a beautiful part of the course through the Allandale neighborhood on an uphill section which is not difficult. But, it’s still a climb.
White Rock/Great Northern (miles 16-18). Following the uphill grade along Shoal Creek, there’s another short uphill on White Rock which funnels the marathon field onto Great Northern. This 1 ½ -mile stretch also isn’t very difficult, but it’s a gradual incline and you’ll certainly notice it as you approach the Northcross Mall. This is the most northern point of the course and almost all of the most difficult climbs are behind you—except for the final one.
San Jacinto (25.7 miles). You will actually ascend the San Jac hills in the first mile—and the last. These final little hills—just east of the Capitol grounds—come at a very bad spot in the race when everyone is very tired and just want to get to the finish. You can hear the finish line announcer and the crowd at the finish, but first you must get up and over three San Jac hills before banging a left on 11th to the finish on Congress.
The downhills on the Austin Marathon course are also plentiful; Here’s what they look like:
Guadalupe (miles 1-2). After starting at the Bob Bullock Museum and barreling down a short section of MLK and then ascending San Jacinto for the first time, the marathoners and half marathoners face the nearly mile-long descent on Guadalupe. It’s a nice, easy stretch to warm up on, but don’t free wheel and go down too fast.
S. 1st Street (miles 6-8). This is the longest continuous downhill on the course and, in one part (between miles seven and eight), outside the Texas School for the Deaf, the steepest. A good spot for the half marathoners to gain some momentum and also a key section for the marathoners to get back on marathon goal pace.
Duval (miles 23-25) and San Jacinto. One of the beauties of the course are these two downhills, through the Hyde Park neighborhood on the run back through the fringes of the UT campus, come in the closing stages of the race. Unlike some of the downhills in the early part of the race, Duval is a gradual downhill on which you can open up your stride and if you have anything left, pick up the pace. At mile 24 ½, the course crosses Dean Keaton and picks up San Jacinto. At this point, San Jac is mostly flat with one nice downhill section alongside DKR Stadium.
11th Street and Congress. Once up and over the San Jac hills, you bang a right on 11th Street for the short downhill to Congress. Yippee.
The marathon and half marathon course are identical until just past 11 miles (on Winsted) where the marathoners head west on Enfield and the half marathoners head in the other direction back toward downtown and the Texas State Capitol.
Although the half marathoners only have a two-mile stretch left, it is the hardest section on the entire course. The 12,000 half marathoners must climb several major hills along 15th Street (with one downhill) before hanging a right on San Jacinto. And just like the marathoners, the half marathoners must ascend the San Jac hills between 15th-11th streets for the second time before the finish on Congress.