It isn’t called the Decker Challenge because it’s a little fun-run through Zilker Park. Not quite. The Decker is absolutely one of the toughest road races in Austin and has been for decades. Decker, the third race in the six-race 2015-16 Austin Distance Challenge, is a true test of legs, lung power—and character.
It isn’t just a tough race, Decker is also one of the best (and oldest) races in Central Texas. This Sunday’s race will mark the 37th year of Decker. 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 quiet, country roads that surround Decker Lake.
It’s great prep for the always tough Austin Marathon/Half Marathon on February 14th. Finish the Decker half marathon hills in good shape and Austin’s hilly course doesn’t seem quite as daunting.
But Austin is still a ways off. On Sunday, the key will be dealing with the Decker hills which is one grinder after another.
The course is unchanged from the past couple of years. After a short downhill at the start on the Expo grounds, the course goes for three up-and-down miles along Decker Lane. If there’s a north wind blowing on Sunday morning (as the forecast currently predicts), the first few miles can be tough as the field looks for fellow runners to team up and draft with. (If you wear an extra jacket or long sleeve shirt, there’s a clothing drop at the first water stop at the two-mile mark.)
Once the course turns off Decker at about the four-mile mark, runners get a reprieve from any prevailing north wind. This is a relatively easy, peaceful stretch until about the fifth mile where going gets tough. The steepest hill is just past the fifth mile, but it’s short and just a warmup. Most of the Decker monsters are between miles six and 10 with a nice downhill stretch between miles seven and eight. The toughest climb is over the 10th mile. This hill is the longest climb (maybe 4/10s of a mile). After those hills have been tamed, there are just a few tricky little hills in the last couple of miles back to the Expo Center that be deceivingly tough, depending on the wind and just how tired you are.
All in all, the Decker hills will get your attention, but none are off-the-charts, insanely hard. Still, grunting and complaining is permitted.
Although Decker isn’t that far from downtown, it feels like it is. There isn’t much traffic to deal with on the country roads (other than an occasional truck on Decker Lane), but the weather is almost always a factor. Usually it’s a combination of strong north winds and bitter cold (with an occasional chilly rain and even sleet) but–amazingly–the Decker weather should be close to ideal with temps in the low 40s at the start at 8 a.m.
Although Decker faces stiff competition this year for runners with the California International Marathon in Sacramento or the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Sunday and next week’s Dallas Marathon and Baylor Scott & White BCS Marathon in College Station, Decker is such a traditional race that a hefty field is expected. Plus, the crowd gets a boost from the Brown Santa 5-K at the Expo Center which will begin 15 minutes after Decker gets underway. Because of the crowds for Decker and Brown Santa, 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 your extra clothes and chill out.
Packet pickup for Decker is at Rogue Running (the downtown location at 410 Pressler) from 1-5 on Friday and 10-4 on Saturday. On race day at the Travis Country Expo Center, same-day registration and packet pickup is available for out-of-towners.