The most dire Arctic forecasts along with the ice fog, never quite materialized. Instead, the 35th running of the Decker Half Marathon Challenge in East Austin was just plain, old fashioned, bone-chilling cold. At 31 degrees it was damn cold to be sure, but miracle of miracles there was almost no punishing north wind. And despite the predictions, the roads were dry and free of slippery spots.
Still, it was perfect Decker weather which is supposed to be…challenging. Most of the 1000 runners assembled at the Travis Country Expo Center for Decker were up to the challenge as the outfit of the day was tights, hats and gloves. Those who eschewed the standard winter wear suffered; those who didn’t, mostly enjoyed the morning.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two big winners of the day—Erik Stanley of Rogue and Jennifer Harney of Team Mizuno (and Luke’s Locker)–were among those who froze to the core. Especially Harney.
The 35-year-old single mother of two young boys ran virtually unopposed to win in a two-minute PR of 1:23:10, but she paid dearly for her victory. Harney ran in a light singlet with arm warmers but no gloves and then after five miles, inexplicably tossed the arm warmers.
“I got so cold out there,” said Harney who ran collegiately at Sam Houston State, “that the last two miles I could barely lift my legs. I couldn’t feel anything. I was just numb.”
Harney took off at a comfortable 6:10 pace, but couldn’t find anyone to run with. The pack of guys up ahead were too fast and the guys in back were too slow. Second-place finisher Keri Rimel was more than a minute back and Harney never even saw her.
“It was a little lonesome,” said Harney whose 10-mile split of 1:03:13 was also a PR, “but I didn’t have any choice. I didn’t want to wait around for anyone. Once I really started to get cold, my legs felt dead and I died a little in that last mile. But all in all it was a good day.”
Still, Harney, who is running the entire Austin Fit Distance Challenge Series, was shivering and so chilled after the race that she couldn’t wait around for the awards ceremony. Instead, after she called her mother with the good news, Harney rushed home for a hot shower.
Erik Stanley could have used one too.
The former UT miler was also all by his lonesome—and froze. “It was just me and two cyclists for 13 miles,” said Stanley who also won the IBM Uptown Classic, the first of the six-race Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series.
Stanley, who won by two minutes in 1:09:16 (3½ minutes off his PR), had been secretly hoping all week that Decker was going to be canceled. After putting in a bunch of 100-mile weeks after the Run for the Water 10-Miler, Stanley was dinged with calf and back injuries and his mileage plummeted to about 30. Racing a tough up-and-down course like Decker wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.
Still, he showed up Sunday ready to roll and blasted the first mile along Decker Road in 5:02 which just about ended any suspense. “I enjoyed the majority of it,” said Stanley who was running Decker for the first time. “I feel like I ran pretty well, considering how banged up I’ve been. Really, I was just going for the win.”
Although Stanley was better prepared for the cold than Harney (he had gloves, hand warmers and mid-tights), he also suffered. “I kept hitting these pockets of cold air out there that really got to me,” said Stanley. “Because I was so alone, it became a challenge for me to race by myself and forget about the cold.
“There were a few moments when I doubted myself, but I would see the volunteers on the course shivering and they made me feel better and that I wasn’t quite so alone. I made sure to thank them as I went past.”
After mile 10 (reached in 52:20), Stanley coasted in the last few hills and the final mile around the Expo Center. “I’m trying to win the Distance Challenge and have fun. I don’t know if this was fun because of the cold, but it was satisfying.”
Finishing second to Stanley was Alejandro Ruiz in 1:11:16. Following him was former A&M runner Alex Moore of Leander in 1:15:57 and his friend Brian Wade of Cedar Park in fourth in 1:17:27. Consistent Marc Bergman rounded out the top five in 1:18:57.
First masters runner of the day was 49-year-old Larry Bright in 1:23:06 (10th overall) who once he finished, braved the cold to go back out on the course and cheer on some of his Rogue teammates. Antony Zaia was second masters in 1:23:34 and Stephen Gartside was third in 1:23:46.
Age group winners included Jim Cleary (50-55), Doug Jacobson of Pullman, Washington (55-59), Wish (60-64) and Vance Taylor (64-69).
Finishing second to Harney in the women’s division was Keri Rimel in a huge PR of 1:24:46. The last time Rimel ran Decker she pushed her two children in a twins stroller the entire way, but this time she ran about five minutes faster than her goal. The third woman was Meredith Johnson of Cedar Park in 1:33:38 with Jessica Tranchina fourth in 1:33:41. Lisa Ansin was fifth overall and the first masters woman in 1:33:59. Anne Clemons was the second masters woman in 1:36:10 and Sharon Wood was third in 1:39:06.
The 2013-14 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series takes a break until January 5th for the fourth race in the series—the Rogue 30-K in Cedar Park.