Karen Saenz, Wes Johnson Take Top Honors for Distance Challenge

The 2012-2013 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge wrapped up last weekend at the Livestrong Marathon, closing the books the latest version of the long-standing series. Started by RunTex in the 90’s, the Distance Challenge in it’s current state features six events and allows participants an option of a Full Track or Half Track. According to Vance Taylor – who has volunteered his time the past two years to manage the series – more than 700 runners registered, a significant jump from last year.

Full Track
Karen Saenz, no stranger to the Austin road racing scene, led the female division wire to wire. Culminating with a marathon of 3:17 that was good enough for first place in her age group amongst the 4,000+ runners, Saenz took the female overall title by more than 12 minutes. She was so dominant over the series that her time is better than all but eight of the men’s full track competitors.

Taking second was 35-year-old Alisa Gardner, holding off a late-surging Ashley Johnson who gained five minutes in the final two races but wasn’t enough to overcome the near nine minute deficit she faced.

On the men’s side, Wesley Johnson turned in a solid marathon performance to stave off a challenge from Michael Budde. The 45-year-old Budde has competed in five of the last six Austin 26.2 races, but never broken the three hour barrier. Last weekend was his day as he recorded 2:58:09, seven seconds ahead of Johnson after trailing at the 20-mile mark.

Taking third was Taylor Collins, garnering his first Boston Qualifier time with a marathon PR of 3:01.

Half Track
Added a couple years ago to answer the call of people not wanting to run a full marathon, the half track offers two 10K’s, a 10-miler, and three half marathons. This year more than 300 individuals signed up, making it the largest participation since inception.

Cornelia Kamp and Jennifer Lowry were neck and neck for the entire series with the latter holding a 24 second lead going in to the final 13.1 miles. The 47-year-old Kamp was not to be denied, however, as she closed with a 1:38 – almost as fast as her time at the 3M Half. Lowry cross the finish line 57 seconds later to take third, and Audrey Herold rounded out the top three.

Herold owned a near five minute lead after stellar performances at the IBM 10K and Run for the Water but gave way to Kamp and Lowry at the challenging Decker Half and was never able to regain the lead.

In the men’s division, Michael Chavez used Decker and 3M to put six minutes on his next two competitors which turned out to be the difference maker. Masters stud Peter Huff went in to Livestrong with a one second lead over his third place competitor but left no doubt when he turned in a 1:21:53 last Sunday, outkicking Chavez by six seconds and besting eventual third place winner Tony Orozco.

Orozco actually held a 30 second lead at mile 10, but the steep climb up Enfield/15th did him in as Chavez and Huff sped by to secure their top finishes.

Awards are being distributed on Thursday, March 7 at El Mercado Restaurant on S. First St. All results are available at www.austindistancechallenge.com.

Distance Challenge Continues Sunday With Inaugural Rogue 30-K

The Rogue 30-K, which will be held this Sunday (January 27th), is a new race that’s been added to the  2012-13 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge series, but it’s not a new distance. The 30-K distance (18.6 miles) has been part of the DC series for many years, most notably with the RunTex 30-K, which was held for seven years on the rural country roads in Buda.

But after the RunTex 30-K disappeared from the Distance Challenge in ’05, the distance and its venues have been spotty. The last 30-K was five years ago and for a couple years the RunTex 20-miler took it’s place. An out-back race in Georgetown on similar country roads, the event featured a 10-miler but was dropped in ’10. Two years later, the Distance Challenge is back up to full capacity with six.

The Rogue race is the fifth of the six races with the big enchilada—the Livestrong Marathon and Half Marathon—coming up on February 17th.

Coming two weeks after the 3M Half Marathon and three weeks prior to Livestrong, the Rogue 30-K and accompanying 10-K will start and finish at Cedar Park High School (2150 Cypress Creed Road in Cedar Park). The 30-K will start first at 7 a.m.; the 10-K will begin at 7:20.

Both races will be held on loop courses and neither course is exceptionally hilly. Says Danny Spoonts, who measured and certified both courses: “I would characterize the 30-K course as relatively flat with some hills. There are a lot of tight turns, but since it’s such a long race the turns shouldn’t be a problem. The first 3-4 miles of both courses are almost entirely flat and since that’s the first three miles of the 10-K course, that race is really flat. From miles 8-10, there are some uphills, but none of them are very difficult. Certainly not as tough as the hills on the Decker course or even Livestrong. So I think it’s a fair course with some rolling hills that really shouldn’t be much of a problem.”

The size of the fields shouldn’t be much of a problem. Ruth England of Rogue expects about 500 runners in the 30-K and another 400 in the 10-K which is sold out.

There is still time to enter the 30-K. Packet pick and registration will be held Friday (10-7) and Saturday (10-6) at both locations of Rogue Running. The downtown location is at 500 San Marcos Street and the Cedar Park store is 2800 East Whitestone Blvd.

The weather for Sunday morning should be ideal with temps in the mid-40s.

Cheptoo, Kelly Williamson Dominate 3M Half

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.

Beginning Runner Issues Asked and Answered

If you’re training for your first race this fall as part of the Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge or even thinking about entering your first 5-K, it’s important to understand that not every run will go perfectly. Some are wonderful and easy; some aren’t. It’s simply the nature of the activity.

Typically, what holds many beginning runners back is the fear that running will hurt and be self-inflicted torture. Beginners tend to have stereotypical notions that any running is painful and there is overall muscular discomfort. They fear not being good enough. Or looking foolish and out of shape.

Fear not. Beginning a running program properly can be done easily and pain-free. The key is avoiding some of the pitfalls all runners make when starting out.

Here are some of the most common mistakes beginners make—and easy solutions.

1. Too far. You were too ambitious and attempted to run two or three miles your first time out which was too great a distance. Your friends run that far, but you couldn’t. Just trying it was painful and discouraging.

Solution: Run by minutes, not miles. Don’t worry about how far you cover; merely run by time. Start off with two minutes of walking, followed by a minute or two of slow jogging. Alternate walking and jogging for 15 minutes and gradually progress from there.


2. Too fast. You tried to run a set distance in a certain time and flamed out. Trying to run fast was painful and left you wheezing and out of breath.

Solution: Slow down. When you run, run easily at a comfortable pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation with your running partner while running. If you can’t, you’re going too fast. Ease up. At this stage in your development, speed is not a goal. Fitness is. That comes with being able to sustain the activity.


3. It hurts. If even slow jogging just a minute or two is painful, you might not be ready for it.

Solution: Stick with walking for a good month or two before you attempt to run. You need to get used to being on your feet and doing some aerobic exercise before starting to run. Take your time and walk. Gradually increase your distance and pace. Eventually, you’ll get aerobically fitter to the point where you can start a running program.


4. You hated it. The run was no fun at all. You always hated running and you still do. You remember your old football coach punishing you with laps and all that negativity came flooding back the moment you started to run.

Solution: Out with the old, in with the new. This isn’t punishment. Running or walking should be a relaxing, energizing time of day. Nobody is watching over you with a stopwatch or whistle. Chill out and think positive. Banish your old conceptions of running to the garbage bin.


5. You’re bored. You know you should run, but you find it boring.

Solution: Go to the Butler (Lady Bird Lake) Trail or one of Austin’s beautiful parks. Find a partner to run with who you enjoy spending time together. Take your dog. While running, try solving some problems that confront you. Or empty your brain and enjoy some stress-free, relaxing time. If you’re running on a treadmill or track, get off and explore all the great spots Austin has for running.


6. Too hot. Fall’s finally here, but it might be too hot to run at certain times of the day. Trying to fight our humidity and heat, is a losing battle.

Solution: Go early. It’s cooler in the morning and the air is fresher. For many Austin runners, it’s the best time of day. If you can’t run or walk early in the cooler air, at least go later at sunset. Avoid the heat.


7. You’re still too hot–even in the morning. Let’s face it, running at any time of the day is rough when it’s still warm and humid.

Solution: Wear as little as possible. Don’t wear sweatpants or tights; merely wear some lightweight, breathable running shorts and a light T-shirt. Don’t make the mistake that sweating a lot will get you get in shape faster or burn more calories. It won’t.


8. Your feet hurt. They get hot and sweaty and you feel like your tennis shoes don’t provide enough cushioning. Chances are they don’t.

Solution: Buy a pair of running shoes. You must get running shoes and not just any type of athletic shoes such as basketball, cross-trainers or tennis shoes. Running shoes are designed to cushion and support your feet. Go to one of the three RunTex stores for expert fitting and advice.


9. The sidewalks feel too hard. You’re right about that: Sidewalks are too hard for daily running. The surface is also uneven and often crowded with pedestrians.

Solution: Go to the Town Lake Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The dirt surface isn’t nearly as stressful on your body as a sidewalk and it’s a lot fun more to run there. If the trail isn’t readily accessible, run on some quiet roads facing traffic. Any asphalt road is better than a sidewalk.


10. Your legs are sore afterward. The big thigh muscles on the front (quadriceps) and back (hamstrings) are sore. You’re even stiff the next day.

Solution: Some soreness is normal. If you haven’t run in several years, your leg muscles will take a week or two to adapt to this new activity. After finishing your  run, stretch your leg muscles for a few minutes. When you get home, gently ice your leg muscles and take some Advil or Aleve to ease the soreness. Go for a walk later in the day.

Heard Around The Lake: News, Notes and Idle Gossip

NORCROSS, Georgia—Been here for three days and on my very cold morning runs, I have yet to see a single runner. Weird. That almost never happens to me in the ATX, even at 6 a.m.

Only reason I bring this up is this incredible feeling I had last Saturday morning. I mean, many cities are just jumping on Friday and Saturday nights. Certainly, Austin is—at least I hear it is—but our town really comes alive on Saturday mornings.

There was nothing unusual about last Saturday. It was a beautiful, clear, cool morning and on all the classic long-run routes, there were platoons of runners getting in one of their last long runs before Livestrong. Up and down Duval, Exposition, Mount Bonnell, North Loop and Great Northern, there were hundreds of Austinites from the various training groups putting  final touches on their long marathon buildups.

Back down on the Butler Trail, it was filled to capacity (as usual) with the typical assortment of runners, walkers and even some bikers threading their way through the crowds. On Lady Bird Lake, the single scull rowers and the UT women were out in force in the morning mist.

Taking off from the various bike shops along Barton Springs, were massive pelotons cruising up 360 and along the MoPac frontage roads. At the Springs, the hard-core swimmers were doing laps.  And, I’m sure the yoga studios, CrossFit groups and other boot camps, were also bustling at full capacity.

Then, there was the Gorilla Run which I’m not sure I quite get. Regardless, it was a perfect morning for it—i.e, cold—and the primates had their own little party going in the RunTex parking lot before and after their run.

I mean, the town was just busting with aerobic energy and yet, it was simply another Saturday in the fittest city in America. Made me proud to be part of it.


  • Mr. Gazelle—Gilbert Tuhabonye—was honored last night by the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce with its Citizen of the Year Award for being an inspiration (and coach) to so many Austin runners. Can’t think of a more deserving person. Also honored last night as Advocate of Year was Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, a vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement at UT, and Khotso Khabele as Community Leader of the year who is the founder of the Khabele School.
  • The Decker Challenge is on the move, jumping up the calendar a few weeks to November 24th, 2013. The event was staring at a big confluence of big races next year with San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Dallas Marathon, and Bryan/College Station Marathon all falling on December 8th – Decker’s usual weekend.
  • More Austin Runners Club as they announced its Daisy 5K would not be held on May 18th to avoid conflict with the Congress Avenue Mile. The ARC hasn’t set a revised date yet for Daisy (maybe Mothers Day again?).
  • Congrats to Scott MacPherson. The top dog in Austin running, ScottyMac opened up his season in Phoenix with a win in the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 1:05:25. It was his third half-marathon win in a Rock ‘n’ Roll race to go along with Seattle and San Antonio. In the women’s marathon, Shannon Bixler of Austin finished fifth in a PR of 2:57:49. Bixler, who works at Luke’s, won last year’s Livestrong Austin Marathon in 3:02.
  • Tia Kool won the mile last weekend in Leonard Hilton Indoor Meet in Houston. Tia ran 4:54.17 to beat Jessica Harper of UT who ran 4:57.58. BTW: Today is Tia’s 25th birthday.
  • Quin Carrozza had a busy weekend at the Austin Grand Prix meet. Although multi-Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin dominated the meet at UT with three victories, 16-year-old Quinn Carrozza closed the gap a little. Quinn, daughter of Shiela and Paul, finished second to Franklin in the 200-meter free in 1:59.42 to Franklin’s 1:57.69. Carrozza was also seventh to Franklin in the 200-meter back and seventh in the 200-meter IM. In the 400-meter free, Carrozza finished third in 4:11.16 with Franklin more than a second back in fourth.
  • While in Atlanta this week, got to spend some time with Renee Metivier Baillie. The former Marcus HS (Flower Mound) star lives in Bend, Oregon now and ran 2:27:17 in her marathon debut last fall in Chicago on only about four weeks of marathon training. Renee was scheduled to run the Houston Aramco Half Marathon two weeks ago, but bowed out as she is focused on the London Marathon in April where she hopes to go sub-2:25.
  • In the USATF Masters rankings for 2012, only two Austin women –Chris Kimbrough (who is pregnant) and Carmen Troncoso—made the list. Chris made honorable mention in the 40-44 category and Carmen made honorable mention in her 50-54 age group. Former Austinite Paul Zimmerman made honorable mention in the 50-54 age group.
  • Former University of Oregon All American and two-time national marathon champion Ken Martin has been battling cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) for three years. He’s been trying to run and use an exercise bike throughout his illness, but is awaiting a biopsy to find out whether the cancer has spread.
  • What I’m listening to this morning: “Greatest Hits” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Have any juicy news for me? (It doesn’t have to be entirely true.) If you have something, send it to wish@runtex.com.

How To Recover Quickly from 3M

If you finished the 3M Half Marathon yesterday, congratulations. Clearly, it was a tough race and even though conditions were very good, 13.1 miles is a long way to run. What might not be so easy are these first few days after the race. Especially if you are part of the Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge series and have the Rogue 30-K on January 27th and the Livestrong Marathon next month.

With those tough races coming up, recovery from 3M is imperative. You’re probably still tired and your muscles—particularly your quads– are probably a little tight and barking at you. That’s the norm. Even if you aren’t too tight today, you might be surprised how stiff and sore your muscles will feel in the next few days.

It’s called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). What happened during the course of running 3M, is your muscles suffered some damage by the repetitive nature of the pounding they took. Since there was so much up and downhill in 3M, the muscles have to absorb even more pounding than a normal flat race. Don’t worry, damaged muscles repair themselves quite quickly. The fitter and the bettered conditioned you are, the less damage and the faster the muscles will repair themselves.

Here’s what you can do to minimize the soreness and recover quickly:

O Keep walking. After finishing 3M on Sunday, you should have kept moving. For the next few days you might not feel like running, but at least go for a walk every day to flush the lactic acid from your muscles and improve circulation.

O Cold, not heat. If your muscles are still sore a day or two later, use ice, not heat. A dip in a Jacuzzi might feel good, but it will inhibit recovery. Cold is better. Cool your leg muscles with cold water or ice them down. Pay particular attention to the calf muscles and hamstrings. Icing these muscles, will reduce inflammation and post-race soreness. Also, avoid heating pads.

O Drink and eat. The first thing you should have done after finishing the race was rehydrate and refuel your muscles with carbohydrates.  Continue to feed what your muscles are craving—carbs—and avoid greasy foods.

O Don’t run. If you don’t feel like running, don’t. Don’t force it. If you must run, go short and easy on the Lady Bird Lake Trail or another soft surface. Walking is fine; running inflicts more damage on the sore muscles. When you can walk without any soreness pain, is when you can consider running again.

O Use alternative exercises. In the next few days, go for an easy bike ride or gentle hike. The weather might be chilly, but try any type of non-stressful exercise.

O Continue icing. If your muscles are still sore on Wednesday or Thursday, continue icing to further reduce inflammation. Also consider taking some Aleve or Advil to reduce the soreness.

O Massage. You might not have wanted to get a massage immediately after the race (it’s better to keep moving), but a massage this week might be the perfect remedy for sore muscles. Seek out a reputable sports massage expert and get a solid hour of bodywork. There are plenty of good ones in Austin who specialize in athletes.

O Stretch. If you are able to stretch, a light routine of 20 minutes of leg stretches will help alleviate the soreness. Emphasize the hamstrings, calf muscles and quadriceps.

O Avoid long car rides or plane flights. There’s nothing worse than trying to cram your sore, tight legs into a car or airplane seat for a lengthy period. If you possibly can, put off any long trips for an extra day or two.

O Relax. Give yourself a break. If you feel like getting an extra hour of sleep, being a couch potato and not doing much of anything for a couple of days, you’ve earned it.

3M: The Fastest Half in Texas On Tap for Sunday

Almost all of the races in the 2012-13 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge are held on tough, hilly courses that aren’t especially conducive to fast times. The relatively flat IBM Uptown Classic 10-K is the notable exception, but IBM was in October and feels like a long time ago. Since then, the DC has had the rolling ups and downs of the Run for the Water 10-Miler in late October and the always tough Decker Half Marathon Challenge in December. The 18th annual 3M Half Marathon—the fourth of the six races in the Distance Challenge—is also on a hilly course. But, it’s a mostly downhill course which makes it just about the ideal PR course.

Long recognized as one of the top half marathons in the country, 3M has earned a substantial national recognition due to its lightning-fast, north-to-south course, peerless race organization and over-the-top goodie bag of 3M products. It is one of the best races in Austin and it’s one that runners keep coming back to every year in droves.

This year’s 3M is on Sunday the 13th which is a week earlier than the norm to give runners a little more rest and recovery before the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 17th.  Two other changes: the field has been expanded to 7000. That cap hasn’t been reached yet and you can still enter at the race expo. The other change is this year’s course is slightly different. Don’t worry, it’s still a north-to-south course with long, sweeping downhills, but the final mile has been altered again.

The starting line has also been changed slightly although will still start in the far reaches of north Austin outside the Gateway Shopping Center before it begins its downward plunge south toward downtown (there are a few short uphills) through neighborhoods and skirts the UT campus to the finish at the Bob Bullock Museum (18th and MLK) in the shadow of the Texas State Capitol. The finish area near Bob Bullock is where all the post-race festivities (and dry clothing pickup) will be held.

The race will still begin on Stonelake, but the starting line has been moved up to the corner of Stonelake and Capital of Texas Highway, right in front of NXNW. After a short bit on Stonelake, the course heads east on Braker (rather than west) and crosses over MoPac before heading south along Burnet. At around five miles, the course picks up Shoal Creek for nice, gradual downhill mile and then continues on a southerly path down Great Northern before picking up Shoal Creek again. Just past nine miles, the course heads east east on 45th for a mile (a few ups and downs) until at 10 miles, it picks up the always welcome Duval downhill.

The stretch along Duval is always a favorite as the 1 1/2-mile long downhill gives runners a chance to pick up the pace as they head for the finish.

But unlike last year where the course took a right turn onto MLK, the course this year heads east (a left) at Dean Keaton for an attention-getting uphill before picking up Red River (just past 12 miles) along I-35. From there, there’s about a half-mile until the course reaches MLK where it goes west, flying down to San Jacinto and then one last, cruel uphill with the finish line in sight at Congress Avenue.

A major factor in any 3M is the weather. Last year conditions were ideal. The forecast for Sunday morning is iffy. A cold rain is possible. If it doesn’t rain, it still could be damp and cool with temps in the low 40s at the start and you might need light gloves. If there’s a north wind, it will be at your back for much of the race.

The race will at 6:45 a.m. along Stonelake Boulevard right outside the Gateway Shopping Center in north Austin. Race officials urge runners to arrive in the starting area no later than 6 a.m. The earlier you can get there the better, as traffic on MoPac is always a mess.

With 6500-7000 runners expected for 3M, parking is also a nightmare. The best places to park are at Gateway near Dave & Busters, Sam’s or in the parking garage closest to Microsoft. Following the race, there will be transportation back to Gateway, beginning at 8 a.m. and running until 11. Race officials urge runners to park at Gateway as there is much more parking than near the finish.

Although there’s a two-person relay and a kids run, almost all the registrants are in the individual half marathon and most are hoping for a fast time.

Unlike prior years, there will not any prize money for 3M which has chased away some of the top locals such as Scott MacPherson and David Fuentes who are not running. (Fuentes is still recovering from the Dallas Marathon.)

Fuentes’ roommate and high-school teammate—Chass Armstrong who has a 1:06:44 best—has committed to running 3M and is probably the favorite.

Neither course record is likely to even be approached. The event record for men is 1:01:05, set in 2009 by Martin Fagan. The women’s mark of 1:09:35 was set in 2008 by Jacqueline Nyetipei.

Since 3M has not reached its 7000-runner cap, there will be last-minute registration at packet pick up on Friday and Saturday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (6121 North IH-35).

To pick up your race packet at the Crowne Plaza, you’ll need photo ID to pick up your packet. If you are picking up for someone else, you’ll need a signed letter from the participant authorizing it. Or there is a form on the 3M race site.

Again, packet pick up will be at the Crowne Plaza and not at 3M where it has often been held. Packet pick up at the Crowne Plaza will be from 11-7 on Friday and 8-6 on Saturday.

Beneficiary of 3M is the Communities in Schools of Central Texas. The sponsoring 3M Corporation has guaranteed a $40,000 donation to CIS from race proceeds to help ensure that at-risk students stay in school.

Again, race time is 6:45 a.m.

See you there.

Reach a Mental Peak for 3M and/or Livestrong

As the two most important races on the ATX race calendar –3M Half Marathon (January 13h) and the Livestrong Austin Marathon and Half Marathon (February 17h) – approach, many Austin runners will be trying for a peak performance in either one or both of these key races.

It’s probably best to peak for just one, rather both of these races. Even so, beginners or experienced runners tend to think of peaking for a specific half-marathon or marathon as primarily a physical process. We reduce our training runs, limit any cross-training we are doing, load up on carbohydrates and fluids and rest up for the big day. All good, smart things.

But peaking for a race as long as as a half marathon or full marathon is more than just getting the body ready for the physical demands that will follow on race day. Peaking should also involve getting your mind ready for the event as well.

In the final days or month before 3M or Livestrong, your mental focus must become more intense, clearer and specific as the race approaches.

Work on these important mental characteristics as race day draws near:

  • Confidence. A runner should be confident of his/her ability to run well. In order for the runner to be confident of running well, he/she must realistically look at the training which has been accomplished and set an achievable goal. That goal should be based on recent races, long runs and speed workouts. The success you have had in your workouts will give you the confidence that you can meet your goals—whether time, place or simply finishing—in the race. By setting a goal of what you’re capable of running, it simply becomes a matter of following through and not screwing up to achieve that goal.
  • Calmness. Every marathoner and half-marathoner is geeked to the gills at the starting line and can’t wait to get rolling. That’s perfectly normal. The mentally focused runner can channel the excitement inward and not get too carried away on a sea of emotion in the first few miles. If you do, you are likely to start the race way too fast which is suicide in a race as long as 13 or 26 miles. Try to isolate yourself in a sea of calm at the start and begin the race slowly and under control.
  • Control. By now, you should have done this before—that is, raced—and know what it’s like. You’ve prepared properly and arrive at the starting area early enough so you can complete your warm up routine in an unhurried manner. You stretch, you hydrate, you lubricate, you make a final bathroom stop—you take care of everything that needs to be done in a timely manner. You’re in charge of your race.
  • Engaged. This means going over your race plan one last time as you wait for the race to begin. And then once the starting gun goes off, sticking to your plan. That is, going out at a relaxed, even pace, checking your splits, hydrating properly and taking on any planned nutrition at specific spots on the course. This also means not trying to run over your head in the early miles. Being engaged, is all about following your race plan and not getting carried away with emotion until the latter stages of the race when you can use an emotional surge to carry you to the finish line.
  • Internalize the course. We’re lucky. We can run either the 3M or Livestrong course—both of which are idiosyncratic. The 3M course has plenty of downhills with some tricky uphills, while Livestrong is characterized by several sets of tough uphills in the first 12 miles. Familiarity with each course can only help with visualizing each race.
  • Be process driven, not results driven. Concern yourself with what you need to do in the race, not with what you want to run. Treat the race like a long run. You have practiced that often enough and know what you have to do and when you have to do it. You know how to pace yourself judiciously. If you do, the results will follow.
  • Be fearless. Neither Livestrong Austin or 3M will be easy. Races this long aren’t supposed to be a cakewalk. But you have run countless miles, you have prepared for months for this and will not be denied. You are the one who is in control. You are in the driver’s seat. All you have to do is trust in yourself and your race plan and then execute it.

Honing Concentration Skills for 3M and Livestrong

With two of the biggest, most important races in Austin coming up—the 3M Half Marathon on January 13th and the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 17th—one of the most important factors which will determine how well you do in these great races is your ability to concentrate.

Without a doubt, concentrating in a race as long as a half marathon or a marathon is much different than in other sports. In racing, the ability to concentrate doesn’t mean screwing your face up with a serious look and focusing all your attention on your form. You simply can not concentrate intensely for two or three hours or longer. Not even elite runners can.

But concentration in running is still important, yet surprisingly simple. It means paying particular attention to the things that are happening to you and monitoring how you feel at precisely the right time.

Clearly, being in great shape for a race as long as 13 or 26 miles is key, but so are strong mental skills. In the heat of a race, many things compete for your attention that can lead to distractions from your primary goal. With strong concentration skills, you can better focus your attention on your race which will go a long way to determining how you perform.

During your workouts, the primary focus is normally on building running strength and speed. But as 3M and Livestrong approach, a solid mental training plan should also be included. And that follows a similar pattern of general to specific, from long endurance runs to mentally peaking for the race. Early mental practice focuses on the ability to concentrate while doing long runs or speed work. Many race specific skills, such as self-talk control, focus under pressure and mental imagery, should be practiced and honed during your base training.

As you practice and build your concentration skills, you can begin to control what thoughts are present in your mind and focus your attention where it needs to be. Learning to focus your mind requires practice and time. Developing the power to focus full attention on one task can be done with simple exercises performed daily such as:

Focus on a single task. While running, count your pulse for 60 seconds without thinking about anything else. If other thoughts wander into your mind, start from scratch. The goal is to have 60 continuous seconds with your complete attention focused on counting your pulse. This exercise builds the skills of attention focusing, distraction filtering, thought control and self-talk control.

Maintain a clear mind. Just before you run, start the timer on your watch, close your eyes and clear your mind of any and all thoughts. As you run, maintain this clear mind with no thoughts for as long as you can. Aim to lengthen this time with practice.

Control distracting thoughts. Fill your mind with various thoughts about training, racing, work, family, etc., until your head is buzzing with them. Then choose a single thought to keep in your mind and banish all the other thoughts. Continue to think only about this single thought for one minute.

Observe a single function Clear your mind of all thoughts. Use all of your senses to observe your breath. Listen, feel and hear the air moving in and out of your lungs. Recognize and quiet any distractions.

How To Train on the Downhills for 3M and Livestrong

If you’re planning to run the two biggies on Austin’s running calendar—either the 3M Half Marathon on January and/or the Livestrong Marathon and Half Marathon on February 17th, please be advised that one of the keys to running these races well will be your ability to get up and down the formidable series of hills in good shape. Most runners training for Livestrong have already put in plenty of time training on some of the huge hills Austin offers. Great. Running up some of the monster hills will certainly develop great strength, endurance and mental tenacity which you will need come marathon morning.

But being able to run the downhills of Livestrong and 3M effectively may be just as important as running the ups. There are plenty of long downhills on the 3M course and even a few on the much harder Livestrong course.

Running downhills is an art which few of us spend much time practicing. As a result, many of us run the downhills with our brakes on, slamming our quads with each stride. When it comes to the ups, we foolishly try to bull our way up. But, it’s the sucker who pushes the uphills and brakes slowly on the downhills. Without a doubt, you can make up much more time on the downhills than the flats and uphills.

Unlike training on the ups, downhill training has—well—it has a downside. Train too much or too fast on the downhills and you’re likely to be awfully sore for a few days. The problem is the natural tendency to brake somewhat. And the brake is your quadriceps (the huge muscles on the upper part of the front of your legs). As a result, all the jarring can injure your back, hips or quadriceps. Especially if the downhills are too steep (such as on South 1st Street which is in the first few miles of Livestrong) and your technique is sloppy.

What you need to find in your training program is a middle ground: A balance of hills—both ups and downs.

Here’s how to train for the downhills:

1. Run downhills weekly. You’ll need to train on the downhills on a regular basis to get accustomed to the pounding. But one or two runs a week on a formidable downhill is plenty. Some good, long, moderate downhills to train on in town include Exposition (which is part of the marathon course), Balcones, parts of Duval, Far West, Ladera Norte and Mount Bonnell. Even running south on Congress Avenue gives you plenty of good downhill running.

2. Warm up first. Don’t begin any run by flying down a steep hill. Your muscles simply won’t be ready for the stress. Run for at least 15 minutes before your first major downhill. If you are doing a series of downhills, run progressively faster on each one with the slowest one being the first.

3. Start with an easy hill. Pick a gently sloping hill—not some monster like Jester—and run up slowly and then push the pace on the downside. Allow yourself to go with the flow of gravity. But don’t pinwheel (i.e., run too fast). Control your speed. Use your arms like outriggers for balance.

4. Shorten your stride. Just like on the uphills on which you have to shorten your normal stride, you should do the same on the downhills. The tendency is to open up your stride too much–this leads to overstriding and running out of control. Better to keep your stride relatively short and increase your leg turnover. If you find yourself going too fast, shorten the stride even more until you feel comfortable—comfortably fast.

5. Don’t slap your feet. When running on a downhill, your feet tend to slap the ground. Slapping your feet can be a sign of weak shin muscles so you might need to strengthen them with leg extensions. You can reduce the slapping by shortening your stride which reduces the chances of your feet “reaching” too far forward. Your knees should come forward first before the feet. The feet should follow the knees.

6. Maintain an upright body posture. The tendency on steep downhills is to lean backward. Don’t. Try to keep your torso perpendicular to the horizon and your head still.

7. Step lightly and keep feet close to the ground. Since you’ll be running so much faster on the downhills, there is the natural tendency to want to “get air” with each stride. But this is inefficient and simply increases the pounding your legs take.

8. Let gravity work for you. On a downhill, you won’t have to overcome as much gravity to run faster. Visualize gravity pulling you steadily downhill and across the flat section.

9. Use your momentum. Once you can see the next flat section (or uphill) on the course coming up, try to extend the speed you have built from the downhill into that next section for maybe a minute or so before slowing your leg turnover and getting into your normal cadence.

When doing a normal hill workout which incorporates both uphills and downhills, emphasize one over the other. That is, either push hard on the uphills and coast down the other side (working on good downhill technique) or ease up the hills and speed down the other side. Don’t try to run both the ups and downs hard. It’s too hard and carries with it a high risk of injury.

One final tip: If you are running 3M or Livestrong (or both), make absolutely certain you do some training on each course to prepare for the hills.