According to my race calendar, but definitely not the thermometer, fall has nearly arrived.
The Zilker Relays, unofficial kickoff to Austin’s fall racing season, takes place Sept. 7 at Zilker Park. The four-person, 10-mile relay starts at 6:30 p.m. on roads in and around the park, and wraps up with a party on the Great Lawn featuring live music by the Staylyns, food from Tacodeli and free beer from Strange Land Brewery.
“There is no other race where you can run through Zilker Park in the evening, with a view of downtown Austin, and wrap it up with great food and drinks and live music into the night,” says race founder Paul Perrone, whose grin is perhaps my favorite in all of Austin.
The race will make anyone smile. Usually, it rains. Or it’s hot as heck for the first 2.5-mile leg, then a storm hits, then it gets muggy.
It’s a big deal. Last year more than 1,300 people participated.
A children’s relay kicks off shortly before the adult relay and every child participant will get a cape and Tacodeli meal.
This year, Zilker Relays will once again partner with the Lesedi Project to raise funds for the Ethembeni School in South Africa, a school for physically disabled and visually impaired children.
One year I met Superman – not an imposter, but the real deal. He was nice to me, probably because I was wearing my Wonder Woman costume (which, by the way, I wore to rappel down a 38-story building last year, and also to the movie theater once.)
Another year I met Batman, and that was scary, because he didn’t even crack a smile.
On Sept. 16, you can mingle with caped crusaders and superpower-wielding human beings at the CASA Superhero Run 5K and Kids 1K.
Superheros of all shapes and sizes turn out en masse for this run, which raises money for CASA, which advocates through the court system for children who have been abused or neglected. This year’s race also serves as the opening event of the Austin Distance Challenge, a series of running races that leads up to the Austin Marathon in February.
The race moves to a new location this year, the IBM Client Innovation Center at Broadmoor Campus, 11501 Burnet Road. The 5K begins at 8 a.m.; the Kids 1K, with villains to chase, starts at 9:15 a.m. A dance party and costume contest will follow. Besides the foot race, expect bounce houses, special superhero guest appearances and lots of fun family activities.
The event supports the CASA programs of Travis, Williamson, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, which works with volunteers to advocate for abused or neglected children in the court system.
Why superheros? Here’s what CASA says about that: “Superman was adopted. Spiderman was raised by his aunt and uncle. Batman grew up with his butler, Alfred, and later took in Robin to raise as his ward. Wonder Woman was made out of clay by Amazons and brought to life by the gods. Few superheroes grew up in a typical family situation raised by their own parents, yet they all accomplished great things as adults. CASA believes all children deserve the chance to grow up happy and healthy and become superhero adults themselves.”
Invitations printed on race bibs. A group run the morning of the wedding. A ceremony in front of a race start line. Running shoes with formal attire.
Iram Leon and Elaine Chung, the president and vice president of Austin Runners Club, tied the knot Saturday in a ceremony themed around running, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows them. They met, after all, through the Austin Runners Club, while both were training for a marathon.
I met Leon in 2013, just after he’d won the overall title at the Gusher Marathon in Beaumont – while pushing his daughter in a stroller. He’d been diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2010, after collapsing at a birthday party.
A marble-sized tumor is entwined in the memory and language hub of his brain and has invisible “tentacles” that even doctors can’t detect. The average survival time for the disease is four years; only a third of patients live five years after diagnosis.
But Leon is 38. At his most recent checkup in June, doctors told him his tumor is stable. He’s still running regularly, and if you didn’t notice the scar that snakes across the side of his head you’d probably never guess he was sick.
Chris McClung, a running coach and co-owner of Rogue Running, officiated the ceremony, working in as many running puns as possible. He wrapped things up with this: “With the power vested in me by the state of Texas and getordained.org, I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Daughter Kiana, 11, pretended to forget the ring, then dashed off to get the family dog, who carried it in.
The accompanying bash featured both Chinese and Mexican food, to honor both the bride and groom. Guests played lawn games, worked puzzles, and at one point joined a group stroll through the gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
“We wanted to show our guests a good time while showing them some of us,” Leon says. “I was marrying Elaine, not an idea or an institution.”
I’ve never raced up a mountain with a pack burro at my side, so on Sept. 8 I’ll do that, with a four-legged little beast named Little Jonah.
I’ve rented Jonah from donkey matchmaker Amber Wann in Idaho Springs, Colorado, who loans out animals so (crazy) people like me can participate in a series of pack burro races in small towns around Colorado. And no, I won’t be riding the burro – runners lead their partners up steep mountain trails in races that honor the gold mining history of the area.
Wann paired me with 17-year-old Little Jonah, a resident of Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colorado, because she thinks our personalities match. I looked up his results for previous years, and, well, let’s just say I’m not expecting to win this year’s race, not that it matters. Jonah’s track record makes me think he might just screech to a halt.
I’m fine with that. Plus, it’ll make a more interesting story if Jonah decides to pause to take in the scenery for a few hours.
“He has come in last ass on a time or two , but that is because the folks running him were not speedy people to begin with,” Wann told me. “Burros like Little Jonah could go either way, speed wise, depending on the person navigating and encouraging him to keep going.”
He’ll celebrate 20 years worth of running – calculated by combining two separate running streaks – with an easy cruise through Williamson County Regional Park at 6 p.m. today.
Streak running is a thing, in case you didn’t know, and different people do it different ways. (It’s also completely different than streaking, as in running naked through a public place.) Some streak runners count any run over at least 1 mile. For Schroeder, a workout doesn’t officially count unless it lasts at least 25 minutes.
Tonight, the public is invited to join Schroeder for a 25-minute run starting at the pavilion near the tennis courts. The group will run or walk out 12 and a half minutes, then turn around and come back. No matter what your pace, everyone should finish together.
The streak-iversary happens to coincide with Schroeder’s 56th birthday. Kona Ice will serve 100 free snow cones from 6:30-7:30 p.m. There will be cake, too. No glass containers are allowed at the park. Alcohol is permitted, but please drink responsibly.
When a marathon falls short, and Austin’s heat feels downright balmy, some folks head to Death Valley to prove their athletic mettle by racing long distances through the desert.
Take Austin ultra runner Brenda Guajardo, 41, the top female finisher in last month’s Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon, an invitational race that starts in the Badwater Basin of California and winds its way up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Guajardo, an office administrator and event planner, ran through 108 degree temperatures and beneath scorching sun, and climbed a cumulative 14,600 feet of vertical ascent. She finished in 28 hours and 23 minutes, first among all women and fifth overall.
The former aerobics instructor, who took up running in her 20s when she decided aerobics wasn’t keeping her fit enough, has entered the race three other times. She finished eighth female in her first attempt in 2011 and second in 2016.
She was favored to win last year but broke her foot from overuse 2 miles in. That injury makes this year’s victory all the more remarkable.
“In the last year I’ve had to relearn how to walk,” she says. “I had a limp I couldn’t get rid of and I had to rebuild my mileage. I made serious adjustments in how I train. I couldn’t do speed work, because it was too much on my foot, so I just did long and high volume at a slow pace.”
The training worked.
At the first checkpoint, at Mile 17, she stood in fifth place. She took over the lead at the second checkpoint, at Mile 42, and held it all the way to the finish. Her pace ranged from speedy, 7-minute, 45-second miles on the downhills to between 14- and 16-minute miles on the final uphill slog to the finish. The second place woman finished 25 minutes behind her.
The temperatures took their toll. In the blazing sun, heat radiated from the pavement. “It’s strictly asphalt, all road,” she says. “It definitely cooks your skin.”
Guajardo said that temperatures at the race this year felt relatively comfortable, thanks to the hours she spent training in the Texas heat.
“The humidity in Austin is my Kryptonite. Racing in the desert feels like a vacation compared to the insanity of Austin’s high heat with high humidity,” she says.
Guajardo, who crossed the finish time of her first marathon in 1997 in a not-so-speedy 6 hours, prepared for Badwater by spending 90 minutes in a 140-degree dry sauna, then running outdoors in Austin. She also trained in the Big Bend area to simulate the conditions in Death Valley.
“You teach your stomach how to process fluid in high volume,” she says. “It teaches your body how to sweat very fast and push water out. On race day I put ice-filled bandanas around my neck and my crew sprayed me with water every so many miles.”
But why enter such a grueling event?
“Why not? I think I’m most intrigued by the mind and body connection of what happens when you’re out there. For me personally, I’m very introverted and my job requires me to be very extroverted. To spend an extraordinary number of hours by myself is replenishing. It’s how I gain my energy back.”
Guajardo holds the women’s course record for the Nove Colli 125-mile race in Italy. In 2016 she won Pheidippides Race — a 304-mile race in Greece, where she broke the men’s course record by more than four hours.
Guajardo says she’s not sure what comes next, other than taking some time off for a full recovery, which takes at least a month.
Or maybe enjoying some quality time with her much pet — a turtle named Charlie.
“I consider the turtle my racing animal because turtles represent longevity and patience. … A turtle reminds me to always have patience, never give up. Well, and the obvious — slow and steady wins the race.”
A year and a half ago, I laced up my shoes, shucked off my clothes and ran the Bare Buns 5K race as part of my self-proclaimed Year of Adventure.
Aside from a little awkwardness when I first stripped down, I enjoyed the run. I know it sounds absurd, but once the starting horn sounded, it felt just like any other timed run – only with better airflow. It also marked the first (and only) time I won the overall women’s division of a running race, probably because most of the competition was male.
That race takes place in the spring, when flowers are blooming and butterflies are fluttering. Now Star Ranch Nudist Resort, a private residential community located east of Austin in McDade, has added a second naked run to its schedule. This time, leaves will be falling from trees as the runners take off.
Chances are it’ll still be warm then, and the course carries runners over the same pine needle-covered hills, sandy expanses and a hay field as last time. When I ran before, I wore running shoes and a straw cowboy hat, which blew off my head at one point. That attire should suffice this time, too.
Although runners can wear whatever clothing they want (sports bras for women, for example), most go nude except for shoes. The year I ran, the race drew about 120 runners, most of whom didn’t live at the park. The residents were enthusiastic, though, handing out timing chips and directing athletes along the course. Afterward, everyone gathered by the newly-renovated swimming pool for a celebration and burger cookoff.
Gates open for the Chilly Cheeks 5K at 9 a.m. The chip-timed race starts at 1 p.m. A 1K kids fun run is set for 10 a.m. Entry fee is $30 for adults and $10 for children. Sign up online here.
Star Ranch opened in 1957. The resort is member resort of the American Association for Nude Recreation. The Bare Buns 5K and the Chilly Cheeks 5K are part of a series of naked races in the organization’s southwest region.
Sometimes overly aggressive grackles throw a kink in the best-laid exercise plans.
Zach Thorne and his partner, both runners, live near 13th and Guadalupe streets, and head out frequently on 8- or 9-mile jaunts through downtown and around the University of Texas campus. Sometimes, though, dive-bombing grackles send them off course.
The birds, which he suspects are protecting nests, have, on occasion, drawn blood. (Watch a bird peck a movie star’s head in this trailer from the movie “The Birds,” which Thorne has definitely seen. It creeps him out.)
“We change our running routes ever so slightly to avoid them, but they seem to find us no matter our path,” he says, adding that he’s convinced the birds remember him and seek him out for harassment. “I’ve heard they have excellent facial recognition and can perhaps communicate between themselves to alert their flock about dangerous predators.”
Thorne is hard headed, though. He runs despite the birds, sometimes removing his shirt and twirling it overhead like a helicopter to keep the birds at bay. He’s even considered wielding a badminton racket for his forays, though he hasn’t reached that level of desperation. Yet.
He’s got one bit of advice for other runners: “Be nice to the grackles, cause they remember you.”
Anyone is invited to participate in this Saturday’s Back the Track Relays at Austin High School, 1715 Cesar Chavez Street. Proceeds will help fund the resurfacing and renovation for the school’s track and field, long a popular place for the local runners to train.
The USATF-sanctioned event will include 50-meter, 200-meter, 800-meter, 400-meter and 100-meter races, the long jump, and a 1-mile run dubbed the Austin Mile Challenge.
Entry fee is $15, plus an additional $5 for youth and $10 for adults who also enter the Austin Mile Challenge. All proceeds will go to the Back The Track account at the AISD Office of Innovation and Development. For more information go here.
The meet is capped at 175 registrants (no cap for the Austin Mile Challenge). Participants are limited to three events. No refunds or adding events the day of the meet.
Let’s face it. Most runners tend toward the obsessive when it comes to their health. That’s why a local running coach wants them to donate whole blood or platelets during a drive he’s calling Blood Runs Deep.
“It’s as simple as the fact that I believe running can be a huge force for good,” says Rob Hill, community outreach manager at We Are Blood and head of the Team Spiridon running group. “Runners, given their focus on health, understand how critical blood is – not just for performance, but for the community.”
One in seven people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives, Hill says, and summer is typically a slow time for donations. All blood types are needed.
Runners are asked to drop by one of three Central Texas locations of We Are Blood, which supplies blood to hospitals and medical facilities in 10 Central Texas counties, between June 21-30 to donate. Two running groups, Gilbert’s Gazelles and Rogue Running, have already vowed to participate.
Concerned that donating blood will put you off your running game? Don’t worry. You could experience an 8 to 10 percent decrease in performance the day after donating, and a slight decrease for a day or two after that, but it won’t last. Just time your donation for after a run and before your rest day, Hill suggests.
Donors must be at least 17 years old and weigh 115 pounds. Some travel restrictions apply, too.
Book an appointment at weareblood.org or call 512-206-1266. You can donate at any of We Are Blood’s three locations – Austin North, 4300 North Lamar Boulevard; Round Rock, 2132 North Mays, Suite 900; or Austin South, 3100 West Slaughter Lane.