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Scouting the Austin Marathon (and Half) Hills

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the key to having a good race during next Sunday’s Austin Marathon or Half Marathon (February 15th) are the numerous hills that punctuate 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.

You still have time to familiarize yourself with all the hills on the course. If you haven’t run them before (hard to believe), divide the course into sections this week and either run or drive the most critical ones.

Here’s a breakdown of the major hills on both courses, beginning with the uphills:

S. Congress Avenue (miles 1-3). 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 all the marathoners and half marathoners have fresh legs at this point. The steepest part of the Congress hills comes right at the beginning as soon as the field crosses the Ann Richards Bridge and crosses Riverside all the way up to St. Edward’s University (just past the 2-mile mark) where Congress plateaus out before a short, final climb to the Ben White access road (three miles) and then another gradual uphill to South 1st Street. 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.

Enfield (mile 10). After a flat, 2-mile long stretch on Lake Austin Boulevard (miles 8-10), the course takes a hard right (just past Hula Hut) onto Enfield. There’s a very short, but steep ascent to Enfield where there are three rolling hills that aren’t especially difficult.

Exposition hills (miles 10.5 – 12). 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 climb up 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 steepest. Unfortunately, once you crest Expo, there are two more little stingers on the short climb to MoPac and then another short one to the MoPac overpass.

Jackson/Bull Creek/Shoal Creek (miles 12.5 – 15). 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. If you ran 3M, you ran downhill in the opposite direction.

White Rock/Great Northern (miles 15 – 17). 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 (mile 25.7). One major change is that instead of climbing the San Jac hills twice as in years past, this time the marathoners only have to do it once. (The half marathoners avoid it completely.) The problem is these final little hills—just east of the Capitol grounds—come at a very bad spot in the race when everyone is depleted and 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 the 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:

S. 1st Street (miles 3.5 – 6). This is the longest continuous downhill on the course and gos from Ben White all the way back to Riverside. In one section, (between miles five and six), opposite the Texas School for the Deaf, is the steepest downhill on the course. 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.

Red River, Duval and San Jacinto (miles 23 – 25). One of the beauties of the course are these three downhills, through the Hyde Park neighborhood on the run back through the fringes of the UT campus, that come in the closing stages of the race. Unlike some of the downhills in the early part of the race, these three are very gradual (with one steep pitch on Duval) 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 around mile 25, San Jac has one nice downhill section alongside DKR Stadium.

11th Street and Congress (mile 26). 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 around 10 ½ miles (on Enfield) where the marathoners head north on Exposition and the half marathon field heads east toward downtown and the Texas State Capitol.

Although the half marathoners only have a 2 ½ -mile stretch left, it is the hardest section on the entire course. Half marathoners must grind up several major hills along 15th Street (with one downhill) and then 13th which takes the field to Colorado (just before hitting the Governor’s Mansion) and then the finish on Congress.

Good luck!