With yet another long, hot summer finally – well, mostly – behind us, racing season gets underway this Friday night (September 11th) with the Zilker Relays followed by the the first race in the annual Austin Distance Challenge series: The Run Free Texas 8-K on September 27th in Cedar Park.
The Distance Challenge has been around for 19 years. It was started as a way to build interest in core races and have a logical progression of distances, culminating with the Austin Marathon in February. Over the years, the format for the Distance Challenge as well as the races and distances have changed.
But for the 2015-16 DC, logistics and the races have stabilized. Similar to the past two years, runners who want to be part of the Distance Challenge series have two options: the “full track” and “half track”. The full means runners are required to finish the full distance in every race to count as part of the DC standings.
In the “half track” option, runners need to complete the Free Texas, Run for the Water 10-Miler and the 3M and Decker Half Marathon. In the Rogue Festival, runners can do the 10-K option and the half marathon in the Austin Marathon.
About 500 runners have already signed up to be part of the Challenge and if you haven’t yet but want to part of it, you must register (a $55 fee) before the start of the first race. The DC registration fee is completely separate from the fees for each individual race which you must enter separately. Nor does paying the DC fee guarantee you entry in any of the races.
What the $55 registration fee does get you is a long sleeve shirt, one-year membership in the sponsoring Austin Runners Club and use of an ARC tent at the finish of each of the DC races. Additionally, all who complete the series (and are registered), get a jacket and a finishers certificate. There will also be awards in all age groups for the full and half track.
To enter the series, go to www.austinrunners.org to register for the Distance Challenge.
As for the DC itself, little has changed from last year’s. All the races remain the same as do the courses.
Here’s a quick overview:
O Run Free Texas 8-K (September 27th): This race stepped into the DC last year when the IBM Uptown Classic was canceled. Now, in its third year this mostly flat race starts and finishes at Gupton Stadium in Cedar Park – the high school football stadium shared by Cedar Park and Vista Ridge. The theme for this year’s race is Back to the Future.
O Run for the Water 10-Miler (November 1): Now in its ninth year, the Run for the Water is one of only two 10-milers in town and has the most scenic course in the DC with gorgeous views of Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake. The 10-mile loop course starts and finishes on the South 1st Bridge and even though it has plenty of ups and downs, it’s a fair course and if the weather is good, fairly fast. The Run for the Water is one of only two races in the DC which offers prize money (open and masters) and it annually attracts one of the best fields in Central Texas. This year the Run for the Water will be RRCA Regional 10-mile championship. As the prime fundraiser for the Gazelle Foundation, all revenue from this race go directly toward building water systems in Burundi, home country of Gazelle head honcho, Gilbert Tuhabonye. Entries are already way ahead of last year so expect a record field that could exceed 5,500 (including a 5-K).
O Decker Challenge Half Marathon (December 6): One of the enduring classics in town, this will be the 37th year of Decker. Although the distances have changed over the years, the venue hasn’t. Every year Decker is held on the monstrous hills surrounding the Travis County Expo Center. Toss in the usual headwinds and inclement weather and Decker always lives up to its name as a major Challenge. Another challenge for Decker this year will be maintaining its numbers as December 6th is the same day as Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio and just a week before metroPCSDallas and the BCS Marathon in College Station.
O Rogue Distance Festival (January 10): This will be the fourth edition of the Rogue Festival and this year there will be just two distances: 30-K and 10-K. (The half marathon distance has been eliminated.) Held in Cedar Park, both races will start and finish at Cedar Park HS (acres of parking) and its course is the flattest in the DC series. There are quite a few turns through mostly residential neighborhoods and the weather for the past two years has been challenging, but Rogue does just about everything right with this race.
O 3M Half Marathon (January 24): Because of its traditionally fast north-to-south, downhill course, excellent logistics and fabulous goodie bag, 3M is generally regarded as the best race in the series–and one of the best races in Texas. It’s definitely one of the fastest half marathon courses in the country. The 3M course has some sweeping downhills (and usually good weather), but there’s still that devilishly tricky uphill in the final 600 meters up MLK to the finish in front of Bob Bullock Museum. Still, 3M is the PR course.
O Austin Marathon and Half Marathon (February 14): The 25th anniversary of the Austin Marathon, this is still the big enchilada in the series. Last year, more than 12,000 ran one of the two races with nearly 9,000 in the half marathon. The hilly half and full marathon courses remain unchanged with several difficult climbs and some nice downhills. Both races start on the Ann Richards Bridge on South Congress and finish on Congress, just south of the Capitol.