Three fun – and free – New Year’s Day workouts in Austin

Ashley Delonas takes the plunge into Barton Springs at the annual Polar Bear Splash in 2014. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Go getters will have to brace for the cold at a couple of traditional New Year’s Day events – and one new one – on New Year’s Day in Austin this year.


  • The Black Eyed Pea Run, sponsored by Rogue Running, offers 3, 5, 7 and 10-mile route options, each with a map and water stops along the way. When you finish, grab a dish of black-eyed peas and a mimosa, then stick around to enjoy the morning with the Austin running community. All run distances kick off at 8:30 a.m. To RSVP, go here.
  • Rather jump in the water on a chilly morning? Head to Barton Springs Pool for the annual Polar Bear Splash. Pool admission is free all day. Save Our Springs will sell commemorative T-shirts starting at 9 a.m. Free coffee and donuts while they last. Water temperature in the pool hover around 70 or 71 degrees, so the dash to the dressing room to get out of your wet swimsuit will hurt the most. Group costumes and plunges are encouraged. Use the hashtag #atxpolarbearsplash2018 to post your photos. No lifeguards on duty; shiver at your own risk.
  • Gixo, an interactive mobile fitness app that provides live coaching, will host its first-ever New Year’s Resolution Run and Walk For each mile run and walked per person, Gixo will donate $10 to Partnership for a Healthier America. Coach Emily Sears will lead a live class in Austin at 10 a.m., starting and finishing at FitAustin at 2919 Manchaca Road. Afterward, participants will head to Kerbey Lane Cafe, 3003 South Lamar, to toast in the new year of fitness. Download the app, sign up, get moving and get GixOing with your local community.

Forget football – start your New Year with a hike at a Texas State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park will host special hikes on New Years Day. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Forget lounging on the couch watching football games, some of us would rather get out and hike on New Year’s Day.

Dozens of Texas state parks are offering First Day Hikes to help you do that. A few are even offering Last Day or Midnight Hikes, so you can wrap up 2017 with a little stretch of the legs before flinging yourself. full force, into 2018.

Here’s a roundup of activities at nearby Texas State Parks. For a complete list of events, go here.

  • Blanco State Park – All ages and well-behaved dogs on leashes can participate in the 0.7-mile First Day Hike. Meet at 10 a.m. Jan. 1 at the Caswell Nature Trail trailhead. For more information go here.
  • Gorman Falls flows in a canyon at Colorado Bend State Park. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
  • Colorado Bend State Park – Meet at 10:15 a.m. Jan. 1 at the Gorman Trailhead for a 3-mile, intermediate hike along the Tie Slide Trail to Rusty’s Roost, an observation deck 200 feet above the Colorado River. For more information go here.
  • Lost Maples State Park – Choose from a short, family-oriented hike on the Maple Trail, or a 4.6-mile expedition on the East Trail, with stops at scenic overlooks. Meet at 10 a.m. Jan. 1 at the trailhead for the Maple Trail in the day use parking lot for either hike. For more information go here.
  • Inks Lake State Park – Wrap up 2017 with a 1.2-mile morning walk on the Lake Trail starting at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 31. For more information go here. Or start 2018 off the right way with a 2.5-mile easy to moderate walk. Meet at the Pecan Flats trailhead. After the hike, celebrate with hot cocoa, coffee, and snacks.
  • McKinney Falls State Park – Ring in the New Year with a midnight hike at the Lower Falls. The walk starts at 11 p.m. Dec. 31. For more information go here. On New Year’s Day, choose from two First Day hikes – a guided tour with history about the park and information about an ancient volcano, as told by a park ranger, or a rigorous, 6-mile primitive hike. For information about the easier hike, go here. For information about the primitive hike, go here.
  • People practice yoga on the top of Enchanted Rock at sunset in this file photo by Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
  • Enchanted Rock State Natural Area – Choose from a plethora of Jan. 1 hiking options at this huge granite dome north of Fredericksburg. Meet at the gazebo near the entrance to the Summit Trail for a 9 a.m. dog-friendly First Day Bark in the Park hike. All dogs must be on a 6-foot leash. For more information go here. A First Day Hike to Echo Canyon, the other side of the rock and Turkey Peak starts from the same meeting point at 9:30 a.m.. For more information go here. A late start hike starts at 2 p.m. For more information go here.
  • Buescher State Park — Learn about life in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave a jump start to the creation of many state parks, during the First Day Hike that at 10 a.m. Jan. 1. Meet at the Lakeview Pavilion. For more information go here.
  • Pedernales Falls State Park — Participants on this First Day Hike will walk to the river and explore the falls. Leashed dogs allowed. Meet at the Pedernales Falls trailhead at 9 a.m. For more information go here. The park will also host an easy, half-mile First Day Hike along the Twin Falls Nature Trail. That walk starts at 1 p.m. For more information go here.
  • Bastrop State Park — Learn how the Civilian Conservation Corps contributed to the creation of Bastrop State Park. Meet at 2 p.m. at the Refectory. For more information go here.

These free bootcamps can help you keep your New Year’s resolution

Gold’s Gym is offering free bootcamps Jan. 2-7. Photo courtesy Gold’s Gym


Add this one to the free fitness files.

Gold’s Gym is offering free bootcamp classes Jan. 2-7. And all during January, trainers from the national chain will help you develop a fitness plan at no cost. (The plan costs nothing, but if you want to use the gym to follow it, you’ll have to buy a membership.)

To check schedules or for more information, go here.

Gold’s Gyms operates plenty of locations in the Austin area.

  • Bee Caves, 12480 Bee Caves Road
  • Downtown, 115 East Sixth Street
  • Highland, 6001 Middle Fiskville Road
  • Austin North, 9101 Research Boulevard
  • Austin South, 4404 W. William Cannon Drive
  • Austin South, 1701 W. Ben White Boulevard
  • Austin Southeast, 801 E. William Cannon Drive
  • Westlake, 701 S Capital of Texas Highway
  • San Marcos, 1180 Thorpe Lane
  • Anderson Arbor, 13435 North U.S. Highway 183, Suite 102
  • Cedar Park, 1335 East Whitestone Boulevard
  • Cypress Creek, 1314 Cypress Creek Road
  • Georgetown, 1019 West University Avenue, Suite 100;
  • Pflugerville, 21315 North State Highway 130, northbound service road
  • Hester’s Crossing, 2400 South Interstate Highway 35
  • North Round Rock, 4201 Sunrise Road
  • Techridge, 235 Canyon Ridge Drive

Here’s what happened when two brothers tried to run 50 miles to Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange

Will Flanagan, left, ran 50 miles from Bastrop to Weikel’s Bakery in LaGrange to raise money for the Gazelle Foundation. Todd Flanagan, right, in green helmet, switched to a bicycle after 30 miles. FAMILY PHOTO


Chalk up the Flanagan brothers 50-mile kolache run as a success – mostly.

Will and Todd Flanagan of Austin finished their fund-raising jaunt from Bastrop to Weikel’s Bakery in LaGrange with mixed success. Will ran all 50 miles; Todd pulled up after about 30 miles because of a sore knee and rode a bike the rest of the way.

The brothers used their run to raise funds for The Gazelle Foundation, which builds clean water systems for people in Burundi. Both brothers started running with Gilbert’s Gazelles, a running group headed by Burundi native Gilbert Tuhabonye, about 10 years ago. They learned from Tuhabonye that many residents of the African country must spend up to 4 hours a day just fetching clean water.

The brothers started their Kolaches for a Cause Run at about 3:15 a.m. Saturday. They reached the bakery a little after 5 p.m. that afternoon. Once they got there, they celebrated by tossing back a few pastries. (Todd ate five in one sitting; Will ate one, plus four more later, after his stomach settled.)

The Flanagan brothers say they”ll follow a more traditional training program if they do the run again next year. FAMILY PHOTO

“It hurt,” Will Flanagan, 19, said of the run. “At beginning, we were stopping every 2 or 3 miles. At the end, we were stopping every mile to eat and drink water. We walked a good portion through Bastrop and Buscher state parks, because they’re really hilly.”
The hardest section came between miles 46 and 47, when they knew they were near LaGrange but couldn’t see the city yet. “Once you get to LaGrange you can kind of power through,” Will said.

Four days after the run, Will had mostly recovered from the effort, although his Achille’s tendon felt tender. Todd, 22, was still soaking his foot in a bucket of ice water, wondering if he’d bruised something or possible suffered a stress fracture.
“We learned from this experience,” Todd Flanagan said. “What I learned is it’s better not to train at all, because Will didn’t train at all. But sometimes you’ve just got to do it.”
The brothers may run again next year, although they might adjust the distance – and put in a more standard level of training.

They’ve raised about $4,000. To donate, go here.

“Strong is the New Pretty”: Twelve months of girls kicking butt

“Strong is the New Pretty” is a 12-month calendar with photographs by Kate T. Parker. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Here’s to girl power.

Pam LeBlanc, age 9.

When I was a kid, I scrapped in the mud, rode horses, set up tents in the backyard, and hiked. They called me a Tom Boy. I hated to wear dresses, and when I was told I had to, I wore long pants underneath them. I also paired my favorite brown leather combat boots with everything – and I mean everything – in my closet.

I was shy, but – I think – fearless in my own way. Other kids teased me because I had buck teeth. That hurt, a lot, but it shaped who I am today. It forced me inside myself, where I developed my writer’s voice, which got me to where I am today: A very happy place.

All that brings me to why I love this calendar, titled “Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves” (Workman Publishing Co. Inc./$14.99). It reminds me of how I felt as a kid, and that despite the value society places on physical beauty, the beauty of a confident and strong inner self shines brighter.

The calendar features photographs by Kate T. Parker. Each one is accompanied by a quote from the girl in the picture.

Consider 5-year-old Alice, who is pictured with her arms spread wide, her mouth wide open, water splashing hard on her head: “I am really loud, and when I am happy I like to scream at the top of my lungs.”

Or 12-year-old Kylie, who says “Strong girls never lose. They only learn, and come back stronger.”

That’s a good message, for kids of all ages.

Warm up with a free dip in this naturally heated, outdoor swimming pool

Pam LeBlanc took an early morning dip at Big Stacy Pool on Live Oak Street this morning.


Have you stepped outside today? Perfect swimming weather.

I know it sounds crazy, but I love to swim in the winter, when cold snaps turn outdoor swimming pools into cozy, steam-emitting ponds, and swimming laps feels like snuggling under a warm blanket.

RELATED: When you’re tired of sitting, head outside to work out the kinks

No, I’m not talking about Barton Springs here, although I’ve been known to strip off my wooly mammoth deck jacket and dive into that spring-fed wonder even when temperatures fall to the 40s or 30s. (Just remember, the air temperature is colder than the water temperature, so it’s not as shocking as it sounds. And water temperatures at Barton Springs hover around 70 or 71 degrees year round.)

RELATED: Four Austin pools open for winter swimming

Today I’m advocating a dip at Big Stacy Pool, 700 Live Oak Street. The pool, with its mix of tap water and water naturally heated through underground springs, steams like soup during the winter months. The old-school vibe will soothe your soul, too.

The pool closes if temperatures fall below freezing. Otherwise, hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 7 p.m. weekends.

If you’re prone to chills, pack a Thermos full of hot tea or coffee, or plan on a post-swim visit to nearby Magnolia Cafe for pancakes.

Entry is free. For more information call 512-445-0304.

Tired of those gnarly Barton Creek trails? Try biking at Slaughter Creek Preserve instead

Pam LeBlanc riders her mountain bike at Slaughter Creek Preserve. Photo by Chris LeBlanc


I’ve missed my mountain bike. It’s stayed in the shed too often lately, even if it is so I can spend quality time with my new canoe and get my running legs back.

Pam LeBlanc at Slaughter Creek Preserve

But I took it out for spin recently at Slaughter Creek Preserve, which I always recommend to folks looking for fun but not too intimidating terrain. (Full disclosure: I fell off my bike on this trail once and wound up at a minor emergency center with a bloodied knee and elbow. I’m a klutz.)

RELATED: At Slaughter Creek Preserve, tackle miles of unintimidating trails


The preserve features 5 miles of winding multi-use trail, built by the Austin Ridge Riders, that take cyclists up gentle hillsides and down cascading steps of limestone rock. I like it because unlike the Barton Creek Greenbelt, where I have to hop on and off my bike constantly, I can stay in the saddle for most (but not all) of this ride. Skilled riders will have no trouble.

The Slaughter Creek trail is open to mountain bikes, equestrians, runners and hikers. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

If you go, keep an eye out for equestrians, trail runners and hikers. They’re all allowed to use the trail, but in the opposite direction of mountain bikers. If you encounter a horse, pull off and let it pass; try not to spook it.

I didn’t see a horse this time, but I did flush half a dozen deer from the underbrush on my first pass.

The singletrack trail cuts through a 100-acre swath owned by the City of Austin and set aside for water quality. The trail is open from dawn to dusk daily, but closes after rain to prevent erosion. (Check here for closure information.) You have to drive through an automatic gate to get to the trailhead, which is next to the old Trautwein homestead.

The preserve is located at 9901 Farm-to-Market 1826.

For those who don’t want to run an entire marathon – we present the Manzano Mile

Track and field Olympic medalist Leo Manzano poses for a portrait before training at Mike A. Myers Stadium at The University of Texas at Austin on April 26, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman


People generally have two reactions to a 1-mile race – either they think it’s easy, because it’s a short distance, or they think it’s hard, because it requires flat-out effort.

Whichever camp you fall into, you can sign up for the Manzano Mile, the newest addition to Austin Marathon weekend, coming in mid-February.

RELATED: New Austin Marathon course offers more challenges, East Austin segment

The race, named for Austin Marathon race ambassador and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, will take place Feb. 17, the day before the Austin Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K.

The event will start at 11 a.m. Runners will sprint along Riverside Drive, next to the Health and Fitness Expo at Palmer Events Center.

Track and field Olympic medalist Leo Manzano trains at Mike A. Myers Stadium at The University of Texas in 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman


Participants can register for the Manzano Mile on the Austin Marathon website. Registration is $25 for the timed mile, $20 for the untimed mile, and $10 for children. Prices will increase by $5 after Feb. 1.

“The Manzano Mile is a special race and I’m excited to share my love of running with the world through the Austin Marathon,” Manzano, an Austin resident, said in a press release from High Five Events. “It’s an honor to have this mile race incorporated into race weekend for all to enjoy.”

The top three male and female finishers in the 19 and under, 20-29, 30-39, Masters (40-49) and Grand Masters (50+) age groups will get awards. Waves will run approximately every 15 minutes.

The Future Milers of America Kids Run and an untimed mile will follow the timed run.

RELATED: Manzano aims for Olympic Games

“The expansion of race weekend gives the marathon, half marathon, and 5K participants an opportunity to cheer for the milers or complete the Manzano Mile with their family,” said Jack Murray, co-owner of High Five Events.

Manzano is a four-time USATF National Champion and silver medalist in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 Olympic Games. He attended Marble Falls High School, where he was a nine-time Texas 4A State champion in track and cross country. He won five NCAA national championships and was a nine-time All-American at The University of Texas.

Would you run 50 miles for a Weikel’s kolache? These guys plan to try

Todd, left, and Will Flanagan, right, plan to run 50 miles to Weikel’s Bakery in LaGrange for kolaches on Saturday. Family photo

Some people will do anything for a few pastries.

On Saturday, Will and Todd Flanagan, two brothers from Austin, plan to run 50 miles from Bastrop to LaGrange in pursuit of a pile of cream cheese kolaches from Weikel’s Bakery, whose trademarked motto is “We gotcha kolache!”

Really, though, it’s not all about the kolaches. The brothers are using the run to raise money for the Gazelle Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Austin which builds systems that deliver clean water to residents of Burundi, Africa.

RELATED: At Run for the Water, I experienced what people in Burundi do daily

They plan to start their “Kolaches for a Cause” run at 2 a.m. Saturday, giving them – they hope – ample time to reach the bakery before 6 p.m., even if they have to hike part of the way.

Susan Hurry holds a tray of pastries at the Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange. The bakery opened in 1929. File photo by Alberto Martínez AMERICAN-STATESMAN


“We don’t want pace to be a factor,” says Will Flanagan, 19, who dreamed up the event. He loves kolaches, and makes the 70-mile trek (by vehicle) from Austin to the bakery each birthday just to indulge.

RELATED: Donations to help build water systems in Burundi surpass $1 million

Since 70 miles seemed extreme, though, Will and Todd decided to begin their run in Bastrop, thus shaving off 20 miles. Their route will follow back roads that parallel Highway 71. Their mother and older brother will join them on bicycles, and their father will provide automobile support. Friends will drive by and scream encouragement.

“We both like to run, but Will is much better at running that I am,” says Todd Flanagan, 22. “I’m hoping my mental strength can pull me through. We both run for a long time, but nowhere near this distance.”
The farthest either has run is 18 miles, and that happened only because they got lost. Todd is nursing a wonky knee, too. Both started running with Gilbert’s Gazelles, a running group headed by Burundi native Gilbert Tuhabonye, about 10 years ago. They learned from Tuhabonye that many residents of the African country must spend up to 4 hours a day just fetching clean water.

RELATED: Austin running coach returns to homeland, visits site where he almost died in massacre

Money they raise through Saturday’s run will help fund one of nine water projects slated for construction by the Gazelle Foundation in Burundi in 2018. Each project reduces the distance people must walk to get water from 3 miles to a few hundred meters. They hope to raise $10,000; by Tuesday they’d raised about $1,100.

RELATED: Don’t miss these five Texas road trip stops, including Weikel’s Bakery

Weikel’s is donating a tray of kolaches to the cause.

It probably won’t last long. At Texas A&M University, where Todd Flanagan attends school, students traditionally drop their class ring into a pitcher of beer and drink their way down to it. Flanaga skipped the beer and instead filled his pitcher with donut holes – 51 of them – and ate his way to his ring.

To donate, go here.

PeopleForBikes calls Austin’s $14.5-million bike bridge one of country’s best bikeways

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Barton Creek gorge next to MoPac Boulevard was recognized as one of the best bike projects in America by PeopleForBikes. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Remember the rumblings that surrounded the opening of the bike and pedestrian bridges over Barton Creek and Loop 360 earlier this year? Despite all that, a national bike advocacy group has named the project one of the 10 best new bikeways in America.

RELATED: Bike bridges open, linking South Austin to Zilker Park

The bridges were one of two Austin projects to make the list compiled by PeopleForBikes, which has 1.2 million members across the country. The protected bike lane along Third Street earned the same honor.

First, some background. The bike bridges along Loop 1 (Mopac Boulevard) were a $14.5-million joint project between the Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Austin. My co-worker, Ben Wear, criticized the project after it opened, questioning whether it was worth the expense to help so few bike commuters.

RELATED: Barton Creek bridge built, but few coming so far

That ticked me off, so I responded, pointing out that he didn’t see many cyclists on the day he researched his story because they didn’t know it was open, and it was an extremely hot day. Plus, I said, Austin needs a multi-modal approach. Just building more traffic lanes into downtown Austin just force feeds more cars and trucks into a city that can’t handle it.

A separated bike path runs along a section of Third Street in downtown Austin. BEN WEAR/American-Statesman

RELATD: LeBlanc: Give those bike bridges time before condemning them

Back to that list, though. Officials at PeopleForBikes made their picks based on how the projects contributed to connectivity throughout the city and a city’s level of investment. Staff members talked with local and national infrastructure experts around the country, and emphasized projects that linked low-stress bikeways such as protected bike lanes, off-street paths and neighborhood bikeways.

“Austin’s work connecting networks of bike paths and low-stress bike lanes is among the most impressive in the country right now,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation at PeopleForBikes.

He noted that the two Austin projects were part of the reason that Austin was chosen for the group’s Big Jump Project, an attempt to double or triple bike use by 2020.

“These projects clearly show Austin wants its bikeways to be not only comfortable for anyone to use, but also convenient to where people want to go,” Wagenschutz said. “That’ll pay off in health, happiness and congestion-proof mobility.”

The other project that was recognized, the crosstown bikeway on Third Street, serves thousands of cyclists each day, said Laura Dierenfield, active transportation and street design division manager at the city of Austin’s Transportation Department.

I’ve been using that lane a lot lately, while pedaling from swim practice at the University of Texas to the Statesman offices. Cement islands separate the bike lanes from motorized traffic, and include their own bike signals, which give cyclists a few seconds head start on cars and trucks.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Georgia Path Parkway, Atlanta
  • MoPac Mobility Bridges, Austin
  • Jackson Street / Capital City Bikeway, St. Paul
  • Third Street, Austin
  • Williamsburg Bridge approaches, New York City
  • Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California
  • Jay Street, New York City
  • Seventh Avenue bicycle boulevard, Ellensburg, Washington
  • New York Avenue / Michigan Avenue couplet, Indianapolis

Honorable mentions went to Northern Boulevard in New York City and Michigan Avenue in Detroit.