2014 Aramco Houston Half Marathon Race Recap

I’ll start with this: going forward, it’ll be tough deciding whether to run 3M or Houston every January. 3M has always been one of my favorites: a net-downhill course, comfortable field size (6-7K), perfect weather, affordable registration fee, and a start line less than 20 minutes from my house. Living in Austin, running 3M is a no-brainer – especially if you’re interested in a PR.

Then Houston happened and I’m not sure I can put into words how awesome this race was. From the beginning it seemed like your standard “big box” race in a busy city, complete with the pricey registration fee and a lottery for runners not meeting the qualifying times. But “big-box” race it was not. It was the complete opposite of what I expected.

Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Pre-Race: Our original plan was to take the rail into downtown on race morning. Then the Pats/Broncos were announced as the early game on Sunday and we wanted to be on the road back to Austin ASAP post-race. We ended up parking in a garage near the GRB / finish area. I used the distance to the start as a warm-up jog and settled into Corral B just before it closed.

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Race: Well, this was certainly the most painful race I’ve ever run. My arches were killing me pretty much from the get-go, an issue I haven’t run into since last March. I’ve been running/training in the same shoe model (Brooks Ravenna) since April and my current pair has ~100 miles on it, so they should have been fine. No idea what the problem was on race day. I saw Brad (and Luke!) cheering on the side of the course in the first mile or so and somewhere during mile 2 heard a familiar voice yelling my name. I turned to see Courtney on the right side of the course running with her friend Cateline. Seeing her smiling face was just what I needed at that moment because I was super pissed about my arches ruining the race for me. We chatted excitedly for a couple minutes before wishing one other good luck and heading our separate ways. Wish I could have stuck with them for the rest of the race!

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Despite the fact I was hating life, I fell in love with this race. It was flat, shaded with beautiful trees, and the spectators were packed deep along both sides of the course. I truly believe the friendly & enthusiastic spectators are what kept me moving forward in the race. My arch pain resulted in the internal “do you want to run this race or do you want to run forever?” debate. I REALLY did not want to end up injured. Around mile 7, I stopped attempting to run (which was more like a shuffle at that point anyway) and worked on perfecting my power-walking skills. And took the opportunity to pet every.single.dog I came across. And cheered on the marathoners hauling ass to the finish, trying to qualify for Boston. If I couldn’t run, I was going to enjoy the final miles and race experience in Houston. And it was in those final miles where I decided I’ll be entering the lottery for 2015.

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Crossing the finish line was bittersweet because while I was super happy to be done, I was also disappointed in my finish time. But it is what it is.

Post-Race: Immediately after the finish line, you’re ushered into the GRB where you can grab food, collect medals, pick up your finisher shirt, etc. Everything was really spread out and not congested at all, which was great.

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After receiving the medal for the half, I grabbed a bottle of water and an ice cream sandwich <—- weird, but it tasted amazing that morning. Then I waited in line to pick up my second medal for running both the half and the 5K on Saturday. The booth behind it was for the finisher shirt so I picked that up and made my way to the HEB Food Court for the free hot breakfast. Eggs & Sausage > Doritos & Granola Bars

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Overall: I’m struggling to come up with anything negative about this race. For such a large event, they seem to have all of logistics nailed down. I’ve run comparable sized races which have fallen short in countless departments so I went into Houston with low expectations and ended up very impressed. The Houston Marathon and Half Marathon is everything the Rock n Roll races should be but can’t figure out how to execute.

The lottery opens on June 4th for the 2015 race … who wants to head to Houston with me?

2013 Shiner Beer Run Race Recap

Shiner Beer Run

We almost didn’t run this race. All week the forecast called for high winds, cool temperatures, and rain. 38 degrees isn’t exactly standard Texas weather, considering it was 89 on Thursday evening as I drove home from work with the A/C on. And I don’t mind running in the rain when it’s warm, but when it’s that cold? Eh, not really that interested. I took a few polls on Twitter and changed my mind more times than I can count between Wednesday and Saturday. Crazy thunderstorms Thursday night had me saying “no freakin’ way!” but the calm, somewhat dry morning on Saturday at 3:30am helped me make the final decision: we were heading to the Shiner Beer Run.

Race Day Wear: Poppy Lux Layer, Oiselle singlet, Lesley Knickers; also added a throwaway sweatshirt and gloves, neither of which I was able to toss. Definitely warmed up in a mile or so, but once we started running into the wind there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d part with the extra layer.

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The city of Shiner is two-ish hours from our house so we left at 5:30. Packet pickup was available during the week at 2 locations in San Antonio or the Shiner brewery itself, but since we live so far away we opted for race day packet pickup. The ride out to Shiner was long and boring, with a lot of country roads and views like this:

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Pre-Race: We were able to score a perfect parking spot across the street from the brewery, allowing us to sit in the car until 5 minutes before the start. This was clutch. Also pre-race I made a quick bathroom stop and somehow the drawstring of my pants disappeared inside of the waistband. Massive fail. I spent the ENTIRE RACE hiking up my pants. ugh.

Swag: Awesome, some of the best I’ve seen. The shirt was a Brooks Podium tech tee and I loved the design – AND the color. Glad some races are starting to move away from white shirts. We also got koozies, an iron-on decal, bandana, and pretty sweet cups at the finish line to hold our beers. And it should come as no surprise that the finisher’s medal doubles as a bottle opener.

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Race: Ugh. The first two miles were through town and neighborhoods, but after that? Absolutely boring. Very hilly with lots of cows, horses, and farmland. Miles 2-6 were uphill into the 20mph wind. Even though you were running, you actually weren’t moving at all. We ran with our heads down, holding onto our hats and headphones. The wind was an issue pretty much the entire time (unfortunately never at our backs) and light rain came in later miles. The race coordinators had reminded us repeatedly of what to expect at mile 6/7 and I expected to hate it… but it was actually my favorite part of the course. They were on a gravel/dirt path and my legs welcomed the change from the asphalt. The last 3 miles of the course resembled the final miles of ZOOMA Texas and were basically a death march. To be honest, the entire race was a death march.

There was a fair amount of spectators lining the course despite the weather and the course being somewhat inaccessible to cars. Everyone was super enthusiastic, offering high-fives and words of encouragement. There were plenty of water stops and two fuel stops: one had GU gels and one had GU Chomps. The course was clearly marked, with markers at every mile and arrows painted on the ground to ensure you wouldn’t make a wrong turn.

Post-race: What we’d been looking forward to for 13 miles!

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Each runner gets 4 (yes, 4!) beers at the finish. Shiner had a few of their regular brews on tap, as well as limited edition White Wing and seasonal Shiner Cheer. I loved the options!

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As for food, everyone received two huge smoked sausage links: one on a french roll and one in a tortilla. Strange, but hey – this was a Texas race. There was also potato salad but I wanted nothing to do with food that wasn’t warm.

We went on a tour of the Spoetzl Brewery and had the rare opportunity to see production in progress (usually it’s shutdown on Sat/Sun, but was kept open due to the holiday next week).

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After the tour we grabbed another round of beers and checked out the race merch tent. It was all Brooks items so while that meant great quality, it also meant higher prices. Last year’s race tees were on sale for $10 but seemed like an odd purchase for someone who didn’t run in 2012. Our final stop was the brewery’s gift shop, where we were able to grab a beanie and two coasters for $20. Pretty affordable for touristy items!

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Overall: Unless you’re a freak of nature and hills are your jam, this really isn’t a PR course. The weather is Texas is so unpredictable (as previously mentioned, comparing Thursday to Saturday) and last year’s race was hot and humid. My recommendation is to approach it as a fun run with friends and enjoy the post-race party. It’s super organized for only being in its second year. If you love Shiner Beer, you’re going to love this race – PR or not.

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Looking Ahead & Reevaluating My Goals

While reviewing my training log in Google Drive on Monday night I realized the Shiner Beer Run was NEXT WEEKEND. Obviously I knew it was soon since we recently flipped the calendar over to November, but  didn’t realize just how close it was until counting long runs between now and race day. Yikes.

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Shiner was supposed to be my 2013 goal race but it’s been downgraded into a training run for Houston in January. We’ve done all of our runs with the dogs (the puppy desperately needs this time to get some energy out) and while the miles have been at a decent pace, we’re still taking breaks every mile or so for the dogs.

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This hasn’t prepared us enough to properly “race” Shiner, so we’ll be using it as a training run. After next weekend, I’m going to start doing treadmill runs during the week to supplement our puppy runs. This way I should be able to get in some speed/hill work that will boost my potential to run a fast race in Houston.

Do I think I’m going to go sub-2 in Houston? No I don’t. And I’m okay with that. It was a lofty goal I hesitated to put out there in the first place – but it’s still a goal.

Do I think I’ll PR in Houston? I’m not sure. My 13.1 PR was set last year after a really strong marathon training cycle. I’m nowhere near that fitness level right now. And I’m okay with that.

Life happens. Things came up that were unexpected (like adopting a super high energy but ridiculously adorable puppy!) and sometimes I chose those things over my running goals. I chose to bring our dogs on all of our runs because I absolutely LOVE exploring Austin with them and how excited they get when I lace up my running shoes.

So, am I disappointed that this 13.1 won’t be the grandiose race I expected it to be? A little bit. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to run strong and enjoy every scenic, hilly mile through the Texas countryside.

There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon and I’m really excited to see what 2014 has up its sleeve.

Nothing’s Finer than a Shiner {especially after 13.1 miles}

I’m sure race envy will rear its ugly head at some point, but for right now I’m really relishing the fact my life this summer isn’t tied to a training plan for a fall marathon. Like, REALLY loving it.

A few months have passed since my last race and it’s been nice to run only when (and for as many miles) as I want. In the back of my mind I knew there would be a fall 13.1 but wanted to enjoy the beginning of summer and easy miles.

I loosely drafted a training plan back in May and didn’t open it again until last weekend. And then on Tuesday I registered for a race:

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Running this race in 2012 didn’t quite pan out so I knew it needed to happen in 2013. Since Brad and I are pretty much in love with this beer, it only seems right to travel a little over an hour from Austin out to Shiner for the race in November.

As a creature of habit, I generally default to the FIRST Run Less, Run Faster training plans. Nearly every plan I’ve created over the past two years has been an even mix of speed, tempo, and long runs. But the first time it truly failed me was last summer while preparing for Philly. Nailing the paces I needed on 400s and mile repeats in the humid 95 degree evenings of summer was nearly impossible and every run was a struggle. I had set myself up for failure with RLRF.

I dug up my training log from Marine Corps in 2011 and poured over it. Since it was my first marathon and still fairly new to running, I dropped most of the speed workouts and subbed in easy runs. So I ran easy on Tuesday, tempo’ed on Thursday, and long on Saturday. The plan didn’t include any paces – I ran by what I felt was “fast” for me on any given day. That probably sounds absurd to you but it worked. Now that I’m looking back, one week my tempo pace was 10:45 and then a couple weeks later it was 10:15. I was getting faster and it wasn’t forced. And I wasn’t getting injured. (IMPORTANT!!)

The TL;DR – I’m going back to basics for Shiner.

Shiner Half Marathon - Training Plan

Low mileage, slow build, no paces – but still only running 3x per week. Because that’s what works for me. And if it ain’t broke? Don’t fix it.

Oh and while I was tweaking this plan to my liking yesterday, I remembered another little race which I should probably plan for:

Houston Half Marathon Registration

Oh hey Houston, guess I’ll be seeing you in January! Since technically a 12 week plan would start on October 27th, I’ll probably take a small break post-Shiner and run maintenance mileage through December to keep my fitness level up. Logistics on that front are TBA, but most importantly – I’m in for Houston!

Houston Half In-Training

And now that I’ve registered for two half marathons and my credit card is cowering in the corner begging me not to use it again in the near future, it’s your turn:

What is your fall goal race? Do you have to travel or is it local? Where does your training plan come from: a coach, the internet, or do you create it yourself?

2013 Long Branch Half Marathon Race Recap

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The Long Branch Half Marathon was initially slated to be my spring goal race. I ran into an issue with my arch in March and scaled back on running so things wouldn’t get worse. Obviously it was a disappointment to realize Long Branch wouldn’t be a PR race, but I was happy to be returning to run the shore nonetheless.

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Race day started super early with a 3:30am wakeup call. The half kicks off at 6:45am and traffic starts to build pretty early on local roads. I made sure we were out the door, hit Dunkin Donuts (one of the 35 trips I made while visiting NJ) and on our way to Oceanport by 4:45am.

We hit traffic. It wasn’t terrible. I read plenty of complaints on the Facebook page about how traffic was horrendous and some even said they’d never run the race again because of it. Had they been paying attention to the many race director emails and daily (seriously, DAILY) posts on FB to arrive early, maybe they wouldn’t have had that problem. Just sayin’.

My longest run prior to race day had been 10 miles during the Austin 10/20 a few weeks earlier and I was oddly okay with it. Usually I’m antsy at the starting line of a race I don’t feel particularly prepared for. Instead of antsy and nervous, I was completely at peace and actually excited to hit the streets and run 13.1 miles through Monmouth County.

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By 6:35 I was tucked into my corral, thankful for body heat from fellow runners that kept me warm on the chilly 40 degree morning. Starting around 6:50 (slightly late start), each of the five corrals were sent off with the traditional bugle Call to Post (since it started at Monmouth Racetrack) followed up with Sweet Caroline (for Boston) and Born to Run (by Bruce! for Jersey!).

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My race strategy was to run 3:1 intervals and simply take it one mile at a time. No need to go crazy and push the pace. My only goal was to enjoy the miles and wrap up spring race season with a smile on my face, on the Jersey Shore where I grew up.

Most of the half is on residential streets…

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and over a couple small bridges.

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The course support was great! So many families were out very early Sunday morning to cheer us on, offer us screwdrivers/mimosas/jello shots, and blast Bruce Springsteen + Rocky from huge speakers at the end of their driveways. Race volunteers were amazing as well, positioning themselves before each water stop with a megaphone letting runners know which tables had water and which had Gatorade.

My father works near Mile 10 so my family was able to park there and walk to the mile marker to wait for me. I thought I’d be sad to have to wait so long to see them but it actually helped since it gave me something to look forward to! By that point my Nuun water bottle was empty and I was DONE carrying it. I tossed it to my mom, thanked her, and kept running.20130505_091045

The half/full split. I let out a little sigh of relief to be heading to the left of the barricades as we made the turn onto Brighton Ave.

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Once on Brighton I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I’d see the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The boardwalk portion of the final miles was no longer intact, the beach had shrunk, and many homes had been destroyed due to the massive storm that hit my home state last October. IMG_20130505_093257_082

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The headwind on Ocean Boulevard was pretty brutal so I tried to keep my head down and hold a steady pace.

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Half marathon #13 – DONE!
Spring race season – DONE!

NJ Marathon Finisher

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After last year’s DNF in the full marathon, I really had no desire to return to this race. This year’s race had a different feeling to it. It could have been returning to the hometown race post-Sandy. Or maybe it was the way all of the runners banded together that day dressed in blue and yellow, with “Boston Strong” and “Run for Boston” shirts, singing the lyrics to Sweet Caroline. Maybe it was that I toed the line without an ounce of stress weighing on my shoulders. The only thing that showed up that morning was my desire to run.

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And for all those reasons, I ran one of the best races I’ve had in a long time. This is probably the worst time of year for me work-wise to take a vacation, but I’m almost positive I’ll be back to run this race again in 2014. And if the stars align, I will be running alongside my sister during her first half marathon! Ahem, Kylie, go register. NOW! Please and thank you.

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Long Branch, I hope to see you next year.

Run. Restore. Rebuild.

Jersey Strong.

Fall Racing Decision :: Will Run for BEER

It might seem a little premature to be talking about the fall racing season as the spring one hasn’t even wrapped up yet. However, the racing scene in Austin pretty much shuts down (with the exception of 5Ks) after April. The Austin 10/20 is coming up this weekend and then I head to NJ the first week of May for the Long Branch Half.

Upcoming Races

And after that, I’ve got nothing on my radar.

SO! It’s time to think about the fall. Every year since I started running I’ve done a fall destination race. 2010 was Disney’s Wine & Dine Half, 2011 was Marine Corps Marathon and 2012 was Philly Marathon.

I had a few half marathons in mind for 2013: Hartford, Wineglass, Mohawk Hudson River Half, OUC, ZOOMA Cape Cod. But after mapping out our travel schedule for the rest of the year {with Nuun Hood to Coast tentatively penciled in *fingers crossed*} we realized a fall destination race probably isn’t in the cards.

The plan for the next 13.1 is to stay semi-local. I’m 90% sure we’ll be heading south in November for the 2013 Shiner Beer Run.

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This race combines two of my favorite things: running + Shiner beer. 4 complimentary frosty beers at the finish for each runner? A medal that doubles as a bottle opener? A race that starts and finishes at the Spoetzl Brewery? I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons NOT to run this race.

Shiner Beer Run

My sub-2 goal might get pushed to the beginning of 2014 considering the arch issues I’ve been having lately. Long Branch is not going to be a PR attempt and I’m absolutely okay with that. It’s part of a vacation to New Jersey to see my family and I’ll just be happy to see how far the area has come since I was up there in November post-Sandy.

If I had to guess, I’d say my sub-2 attempt will be at 3M in January 2014. But that’s REALLY far away, so we shall see!

Do you have your fall goal race picked out yet? Is it a destination race?

2013 LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon Race Recap

Yesterday morning I ran my third LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon.

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223I’m going to end up buying this one once all the photos have been uploaded, so don’t get upset that I borrowed it, MarathonFoto.

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While 3M may be my favorite race in town to really race, LIVESTRONG Austin is my favorite race to run. It starts just north of the Capitol building, runs south on Congress past many amazing restaurants + bars before turning to come back into the city on South First, heads west on Cesar Chavez to Mopac and then takes 15th Street back east to end up finishing just south of the Capitol building. It’s an awesome way to see this amazing city!

LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon Course

The course isn’t flat or fast, in fact, it’s pretty damn tough. Rolling hills miles 1-3, uphill miles 3-6, downhill 6-9, uphill 10-11.5, a little downhill followed by a hill that will make you cry at mile 12, a little downhill to recover and then back up the San Jacinto hill to the finish.

LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon Elevation

The weather was absolutely perfect yesterday – 42 at the start and roughly 55 at the finish, with beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine.

Miles 2-6

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Miles 6-9

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Miles 9-12

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Mile 12 (where “The Hill” lives) – Finish

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From my 2011 recap:

Austin Half Marathon Enfield Hill

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What I thought of the Enfield Hill:

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Austin Mile 12

Austin Finish 2

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And, DONE!

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Austin Finish

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Overall, I highly recommend this race, whether it be the half or the full. It might not be your goal race for the year or a super speedy PR-producing course, but I can promise you will NOT be disappointed. Everything from the expo to the finish line is incredibly organized and well executed. There may be hills but the course is scenic so there’s a lot to keep your mind off of the elevation side of things.

Never been to Austin? Sign up for the race, book a hotel downtown, and take in all this great city has to offer. You will eat the best food you’ve ever had in your life while you’re here. Yes, IN YOUR LIFE. No exaggeration. You’ll fall head over heels for the Live Music Capital of the World – I guarantee it!


The finish line of the LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon also marked the end of the Austin Distance Challenge. Brad and I covered 61.7 miles worth of races between October and yesterday, side by side, stride for stride. (I still feel bad that his first half marathon was Decker. Yikes!)

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If Brad thinks he’s going to hide four chocolate chip cookies behind his back in the picture and not get caught, he’s clearly mistaken. Busted.

I loved every minute and mile covered together over the past few months. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in the future!

2013 3M Half Marathon Race Recap

Austin’s 3M Half Marathon is one of my favorite races and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off racing in 2013. I mean, with an elevation chart like this, how could you go wrong?3M Half Marathon Elevation ChartThe temps on race morning were 35-40ish. Race start was scheduled for 6:45am, so we were parked by 6:25 and made the short (windy!) walk to the race site shortly after. It really wouldn’t have felt cold that morning – the weather was actually PERFECT – but the wind made it worse than it actually was.

3M Pre-Race with Paulaphoto courtesy of Paula

We dropped speedy Paula off near the 2:10 pacer and headed to the back of the line where we’d be able to settle in to our “fun run” pace.

3M Pre-Race with Bradphoto courtesy of Paula

We had absolutely no time goals for this race (although secretly I wanted to get Brad in under 3 hrs, which would be ~30 minute PR) and since it was only his second half marathon, we were planning to just run and have fun.

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from the 3M Half Marathon Facebook Page

3M Half Marathon Course Map

3M is a point-to-point race. It starts in North Austin at the Arboretum, right in front of NXNW Restaurant on Stonelake Boulevard, and runs south through Shoal Creek, along Mopac, past the University of Texas, and finishes just north of the State Capitol.

It’s by no means a scenic course, but the elevation more than makes up for it. The first nine miles are “mostly” downhill. I say mostly because there are a few minor uphills but you hardly feel them. The elevation map 3M provides is a little bit different than the one from my Garmin:

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For the most part, the course was exactly the same as last year. Except for one thing:

3M Half Marathon Course 2012 vs 2013

In 2012, 3M was held on the last weekend of January. This year, it was held on January 13, which happened to fall on move-in weekend for the University of Texas. Rather than continuing down Duval and running through campus as usual, we made a left onto 26th, right on Red River, and then a right on MLK to take us back towards the finish line. Unfortunately, this added an unwelcomed hill around mile 11. If there was a spot we struggled, it was certainly during this stretch. My legs were pretty fatigued once we made the turn onto Red River and the downhill didn’t feel as easy as it should have.

Paula finished quite a bit before us (you need to read the speed demon’s race recap) so she stationed herself near the finish where she could see us come in.

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We managed to sneak in under 3 hours, landing Brad a new PR!

And I’m borrowing this one from MarathonFoto in all it’s watermarked glory because I like it but not will-pay-$34.95-for-it like it.3M Half Marathon Finisher Photo

And then a non-stolen photo (unless you count me jacking it from Paula) of her and I before brunch:

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And the standard post-race shot with fellow Austin Distance Challenge runners, Jeanette & Trinity:

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Yet again 3M put on a great race! With roughly 7,000 runners, it’s the perfect size – not too small, not too large. The race start is self-seeded and everyone seemed to line up accordingly. Water stops were well-stocked and had plenty of volunteers. APD did a great job of blocking off the streets and rerouting traffic so we could get our 13.1 miles in that morning. We waited less than 5 minutes to hop on a shuttle back up north to grab our cars, so that process was efficient as well. Absolutely no complaints from us!

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If you’re looking for a January race which pretty much guarantees you a fast finish & PR, the 3M Half Marathon is one worth looking into! Registration opens June 1st for next year’s race, which will be held on January 19, 2014.

2011 3M Half Marathon Race Recap

2012 3M Half Marathon Race Recap

Muscle Milk Light Half Marathon Challenge :: ZOOMA Texas

Have you conquered the 5K distance? Dabbled in 10Ks? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you’ve contemplated clicking “Register” on a 13.1 race but just can’t bring yourself to do it. I think I can help…

Apply for a spot in the Muscle Milk Light Half Marathon Challenge!

ZOOMA Women's Race Series

ZOOMA Texas is giving five local runners the opportunity to take part in a 12-week program that will get them to the starting line of their first half marathon. This amazing challenge is definitely something I would have loved to have taken part in back in 2010. Big support system? Check. Training plan? Check. Nutrition tips? Check check check! You will be 100% ready to tackle 13.1 miles come race day.

Here are the full details:

Commitment:

  • Runners must be able to currently run 5k and committed to training for a half marathon
  • Must be willing to be interviewed and featured on ZOOMA blog and ambassador blogs
  • Weekly check-ins with ZOOMA staff and ambassadors through email, phone or video logs
  • Attend 4 events between January-March

Perks for 4 H-E-B Athletes:

  • Support network of amazing runners, our Texas ambassadors
  • Training Plan
  • Training shirt
  • Education: tour of H-E-B healthy living department with dietician meeting to help you learn how to fuel for your runs
  • Cross training: yoga session at local studio
  • Race entry into ZOOMA Texas half marathon
  • Recovery: Muscle Milk Light

Perks for one Muscle Milk Light Athlete:

Sound like something you’d be interested in? Apply here!

2012 ARC Decker Challenge 1/2 Marathon Race Recap

December 9, 2012 marked three weeks post-marathon.

It was the morning of half marathon #10.

But most importantly: it was half marathon #1 for Brad. Shortly after running the IBM 10K in October, we discussed the possibility of him joining me for the Austin Distance Challenge. The furthest he had ever run was 10 miles, so the thought of three half marathons looming on the horizon made the decision difficult. After some convincing on my part (and mayyyybe a text that said “it’s definitely a possibility” interpreted as “sign me up”) I was registering him for both the Run for the Water 10-miler and the Austin Distance Challenge.

I then came to the realization that half marathon #10 was no longer going to be 3M as planned – it was going to be the next race in the ADC: the Decker Challenge.

Decker Challenge 2012

From the race’s website:

The Decker Challenge course covers 13.1 miles of rural roadway on and surrounding the Travis County Expo Center grounds. The course is USATF certified. Be prepared for rolling hills for the first half of the race, followed by several steady downhill miles at miles 7 and 8. Large hills at the end of Mile 8 and Mile 10 are the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective) of the tough final 5 miles.

death-march

I’ve been avoiding this race pretty much since I started running. The hills that surround Decker Lake are no joke. Mile 10 is dubbed “Quadzilla”. Due to the location, course support is pretty much nonexistent. But since it’s race #3 of the distance challenge, there’s no avoiding it.

It was a December morning that felt like June. What should have been a frigid 40 degrees with a biting wind was actually 71 degrees with 84% humidity and a warm breeze. Not exactly “winter” here in Austin.

The car was exceptionally quiet on the 30 minute drive to the race Sunday morning. I think Brad was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he was about to run 13.1 miles. I was tweeting and constantly refreshing the Weather Channel app in hopes that the forecast was some sort of joke. (It wasn’t)

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Weather

We arrived around 7:35, which was just enough time for a bathroom stop before we jumped in line at the start. An elite runner who was announcing the start of the race commented how happy she was to only be running the 5K. Um, NOT something you want to broadcast to a sea of half-marathoners. She might as well have said “Look at you morons running 13.1 miles. I’ll be done with my race before you even hit mile 2!”

I pumped positive thoughts as best I could into Brad’s head. You’ll be fine. You’ve run 10, it’s only 3 more. I’ll be right next to you the whole time. You’ve got this! I had two goals for this race: (1) no time goal – just finish and (2) make sure Brad doesn’t hate me (or running) when he’s finished. It wasn’t a PR day; it was a day to get Brad across the finish line of his first half marathon.

DCIM\101GOPROThe horn blew and we were off! A quarter-mile into the race we were already sweating. ALREADY. The humidity just would not break. We were super thankful for the Nuun (Tropical for him + Orange for me) in our handhelds. Right before the Mile 1 marker, we took our first walk break. I had thought about running 3:1 intervals but decided we should just walk the mountains, and run the downhill/straightaways. Unfortunately, there were more mountains than anything else so I knew early on that our finish time wouldn’t be the speediest. (see goal #1)

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Course

We made a few friends along the way, chatting it up with fellow runners. I received countless compliments on my Pro Compression Holiday Marathon socks! One runner even commented: “I’ve been chasing you and your candy cane socks the entire race – you kept me moving!”

Here’s what we were up against:

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Elevation Chart

It’s safe to say we did NOT like this race. 99% sure that our first time running the Decker Challenge will also be the last. Brad let out a “F*CK THIS RACE” at mile 12. I assured him not all races are like this and that 3M will be a dream in comparison!

Once we came around the bend to head towards the finish, we began to pick up the pace. The announcer boomed over the loudspeaker “This guy coming into the chute now, I saw him before the race. Wearing a BOSTON RED SOX hat. I thought to myself, I have a friend here.” Brad and I started laughing.

As we got closer to the finish line, Brad grabbed my hand and we threw our arms in the air as the announcer called out our names “Coming across now is Brad Sawyer and Melissa Carlson, way to finish it together! Congratulations!”

Decker Challenge Medal

The Decker Challenge was a PW (personal worst) for me but the finish time stamped on this race means absolutely nothing to me. Brad and I conquered 13.1 miles of hills in less than ideal weather, side by side. We crossed the finish line TOGETHER. And that’s all that matters to me.

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