Mid-winter racing weather in the ATX is notoriously fickle. Especially for the 3M Half Marathon, the crème de la crème of winter races, which either has great racing weather or rotten.
But on Sunday morning, the confluence of chilly temps, overcast conditions and a howling north wind made for the Perfect Storm. Temps at the start outside the Gateway Shopping Center were in the high 30s, but once the race began and the pace picked up, the brisk tailwind provided a lift for the 6300 runners.
Quickly establishing themselves at the front of the pack, on the smoking fast north-to-south course were 39-year-old Sammy Cheptoo of San Antonio and 25-year-old Chass Armstrong of Austin. Armstrong, who is from Boerne, went to school at Trinity University in San Antonio and was well aware of the Kenyan.
“He’s a very strong runner,” said Armstrong who has been dealing with a chronic anemic problem.
The two ran side by side for the first five miles but on Shoal Creek, Cheptoo lowered the boom with a 4:40 mile and left Armstrong to fend for himself.
“Sammy’s tough and once he threw in that big move, I just couldn’t get back up with him,” said Armstrong who would finish second in 1:06:54 to Cheptoo’s winning time of 1:06:05. Jared Carson of Smyrna, Georgia was third in 1:07:02 and Paul Morris, a former Columbia University star who now lives in Austin, was fourth in 1:07:34. Jeremy Daum of San Antonio was fifth in 1:08:35. Defending champ Scott Rantall was ninth in 1:10:35.
Armstrong was mildly disappointed he didn’t better his PR of 1:06:46 which he set three years ago in San Antonio. “I came close to it,” said Armstrong,” but I really only had four solid weeks of training under my belt. Right now, I’m just excited about going into my 2013 season healthy.” Up next for Armstrong is the Livestrong Austin Half, the Statesman 10,000 and then a few 5000s on the track.
Kelly Williamson knows what’s in her immediate future: More triathlons. The 35-year-old pro from Austin easily defended her 3M title on Sunday, but her winning time of 1:16:19 was much slower than her PR from last year of 1:14:42.
Williamson and her husband-domestique-coach Derick Williamson spent the Christmas and New Year holidays back in her native Indiana. But the weather was so bad and there was so much snow, “I barely trained at all,” she said. “I don’t want to make excuses, but I’m just not as fit as I was last year at this time.”
She proved to be fit enough on Sunday as Williamson took the pace out with a series of miles between 5:40 and 5:45 which opened up a gap between her and Amy Shackelford of San Antonio and Kit Hoang of Flower Mound.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to run sub-1:15,” said Williamson who will do her first triathlon of the year in Panama in three weeks, “so I wanted to run under control.”
Williamson was able to hold onto her 5:45 pace through about 10 miles, but then the tough 11th and 12th miles took their toll. Just for this year, the course veered east up Dean Keeton up a test of character and then headed south on Red River for a difficult series of ups and downs on Red River before the final climb back to the Bob Bullock Museum off MLK. Next year the course will return to a more friendly final three miles, but the final hilly two miles certainly slowed times this year.
“Those last couple of miles kicked my ass,” said Williamson who lost about 45 seconds in the final three miles. “I was running as hard as I could, but they sucked the life out of me.”
Even so, said Williamson, “I was happy with how I ran. You can’t always run a race in your best shape—and I wasn’t—but I was glad I could compete and run solid.” Williamson, who is one of the best runners in the pro triathlete ranks, will probably run just one other race this spring, possibly a half marathon in The Woodlands in March.
Following Williamson to the finish, were Shackleford who finished in 1:17:06 and Hoan in 1:19. Lauren Barrett of Dallas was fourth in 1:19:05 and Ashley Johnson of Dallas was fifth in 1:19:50.
The masters were led by Jose Garcia of Richardson. The 40-year-old ran 1:17:45 to beat out Michael Budde, 45, of Cedar Park who ran a brilliant 1:18:35. Phil Oldham, 45, of Lincoln, Vermont was third in 1:21:06.
The old guys were paced by 51-year-old Scott McIntyre who ran a solid 1:21:39 with the amazing 56-year-old Greg Baxter next in1:23:20 (when is this guy gonna slow down?) and James Potts of Mesa, Arizona third in 1:23:52.
The really old guys were dominated by 60-year-old Doug Pautz of Blanco who ran a super 1:29:29. Charles Will, 61, of Strausberg, Pennsylvania was second in 1:31:28 and 61-year-old John La Claire was third in 1:31:42.
Jennifer Fisher, 45, led the masterly women with a fine clocking of 1:24:28. Amanda Marks, 44, of Lafeyette, Colorado was second in 1:25:57 and 47-year-old Jamie Patterson was third in 1:26:10.
The top 50-year-old on the morning was 51-year-old Audrey Herold who ran 1:38:51.
The 3M Half was the fifth of seven races in the Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series. Next up is the Rogue 30-K on January 27th.