Is new Austin Marathon course easier? Not so fast, runners say

Runners make their way along the course of the 2015 Austin Marathon and Half Marathon. Race organizers have unveiled a new route for the 2018 race. Stephen Spillman for the Austin American-Statesman

 

The rolling hills of Exposition Boulevard are out, along with that long, desolate stretch of Great Northern Boulevard. The east side makes a return appearance, too.

But runners of the 2018 Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, which unveiled a new course today, shouldn’t necessarily expect a faster, easier race.

Officials with High Five Events, which puts on the event, say the new route will highlight more Austin landmarks and improve traffic flow.

The first half of the course remains essentially unchanged. After Mile 12, though, as half marathoners peel south to the finish, marathoners continue east, then turn north onto Guadalupe Street. They’ll skirt the western edge of the University of Texas campus, pass the UT Tower and part of the Hyde Park neighborhood, then loop east before returning to Congress Avenue.

Runners participate in the Austin Marathon and Half-marathon presented by NXP. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“We like to think it takes out some of the hills, but there are still some, this being Austin,” said William Dyson, communications manager for the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon. “A lot of people have been asking if it’s faster. Ideally, that’s what we want, but we’re also not promoting it as, ‘You’re going to take 20 minutes off last year’s marathon.’ This is the Texas Hill Country and there’s no way to make this a flat and fast course.”

Some runners say the new course holds more challenges than the old one.

Chris McClung, a running coach and co-owner of Rogue Running, recently scouted a variation of the new course. He says the new route will cement Austin’s reputation as a hilly, challenging race.

“Some people will think initially it will be easier because Exposition is gone. But all those tough sections will be replaced by even tougher sections,” McClung said.

McClung, who presents a course briefing on the marathon route for runners each year, says statistics from his Strava mobile tracking app show that the new course has about 300 feet more cumulative elevation gain. The old course featured about 700 feet of gain; the new one has about 1,000, he said.

“They took the hard section of the race, the first half, and kept it, then made back half even harder,” he said. “It’s definitely not faster, and the facts prove it.”

High Five Events worked with the City of Austin Transportation Department and the Capital Metro Transportation Authority to plan the new route. Nothing’s official yet – the new course is awaiting final approval from the City Council, expected in mid-November.

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Last year nearly 3,900 athletes registered for the full marathon; another 8,300 signed up for the half.

This year’s race is set for Feb. 18. It will start and finish a few blocks apart on Congress Avenue, with the Texas State Capitol as a backdrop.

Check Wednesday’s sport section of the Austin American-Statesman for the full story.


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