Free Inspiration… For Free

Last February — hot on the trail of my then-recent commitment to get to goal weight and trying to settle into my relatively new job with the corporate overlords — I joined my co-workers as volunteers at the finish line of the Austin Marathon.

And, as usual, I recruited Dave to be my partner-in-crime.

It was cold in the shadows of the downtown buildings while we waited from 6:30 a.m. until the first half marathoners started crossing the finish line about two hours later. I remember being a bit peevish because I’d worn my black Chuck Taylors and my feet were freezing — and eventually I was out of coffee and bored with standing around.

But then the first runners started coming in. The crowd began to buzz. The sun started to peek onto Congress. Everyone’s mood lifted. I might have gotten a lump in my throat from the frexcitement.

The half marathon finishers looked proud and happy and fit and triumphant and just… beautiful. I saw a few couples cross the line together, hands clasped and stretched overhead as if to say, “We did it!”

And I thought, “I want to run next year… with Dave.”

Just like that. I was committed.

But I needed my partner-in-crime.

When I mentioned it to Dave later, he said he would consider it and that I shouldn’t push: “Let me think about it on my own time.”

So in a rare occurrence of patience, I waited.

On April 4, I got an email at work from Dave that said he wanted to start running:

“I’d like to get:
– Shoes
– Shorts
– A Shuffle … the cool red one that’s only at the Apple store.

And maybe a subscription to Runner’s World or something.”

We went to RunTex that night for running shoes, and on Saturday, April 5, we went for our first EVER run together.

We started with this training program from Runner’s World, and we stuck to it… when we went away for my birthday in May… through the hottest summer on record in Texas… and on into 5k, then 10k, then half marathon training. We’ve run when it’s 99-degrees and 31. At 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. When it’s just the two of us and surrounded by thousands of people in matching Nike jerseys. Hungry. Happy. Tired. Miserable. Sore. Elated. Proud. Defeated.

All so we could get to get to this weekend.

There isn’t a word descriptive enough to capture how achingly proud I am of Dave. He represents the joy of running: the pure act of moving around and breathing… just for the sake of it.

And now it’s time to celebrate! I’m very excited about Sunday’s race — and the packet pickup, and chicken-and-pasta dinner, and pre-race jitters, and all hoopla associated with this weekend.

I’m thinking you should be part of it, too.

The organizers of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon put together a course that’s very spectator-friendly, so you can grab a coffee and breakfast taco from your favorite dealer, then park yourself on a corner, in a field, or on a sidewalk and cheer your noggin off.

Watching can be ridiculously fun. When our pal Bernie did her first marathon a few years ago, Dave and I made signs (“Go, Bernie! Go!”) and drove from one spectator spot to the next so we could cheer for Bernie as she passed. It was a surprisingly moving event to watch. People are so cute and honest when they’re working that hard.

So think about getting caught up in Marathon Fever on Saturday morning. Take a tour of the course hot spots. Cheer for a stranger. Give a banana to someone who looks tired. Who knows… you might just find yourself out there on the course next year.

Click here to get course maps, info on the bands, and other details to make sure YOU have a good time at the Austin Marathon.

Austin Marathon & Half Marathon Spectators’ Guide

Every marathoner in the Austin Marathon, fastest to slowest, will share the same 26.2 miles through Austin, and all the half marathoners will push through the same 13.1 miles. Through those miles, the sights, music, and hills will be plentiful, but it’s Austin’s great and growing crowd support, that will give the event its energy – that will make it inspiring, memorable, and at times, just bearable for the runners.

The course offers plenty of points for locals and out-of-towners alike to gather en masse to cheer on friends and family, or simply to lend some inspiration, and be inspired in the process. Many of these “cheer points” will feature live music, and easy access to food and coffee.

With planning, it’s even easy to hit multiple points in the course of the race. If you’re supporting a runner, find out their projected pace, consult the course map and street closure information at, and plan a schedule and route. Finishing the race is something only they can do, but your presence and encouragement make a difference.

Mile .5/Mile 5.75/Mile 6.2 – Barton Springs and Congress/Barton Springs and South First/City Hall
Spectators who want to stay near the start and finish line can do just that, catching the runners coming across the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at the start. Then, they can either walk a few blocks west to see the pack coming down South First, or walk back across the South First bridge to the turn at City Hall.

Mile 3.1 – Fort McGruder and South First
Race organizers faced a challenge this year, with the usual route through the University of Texas campus closed due to the Clinton Initiative, and commitments to keep more downtown routes open to traffic. To keep the course substantially similar to the past two years, the best option was to extend the course a little further south.

The change opened up a well-placed and timed location for spectators to gather in (hopefully) large numbers. Spectators get ease of access and parking, and runners get some serious support as they top a straight 5K climb up South Congress.

Mile 7.75 – Veteran’s Blvd. and Lake Austin Blvd.

The runners have just come down the long, gradual downhill of Cesar Chavez. But, now that elevation lost is regained in a short, but steep climb up to the long flat of Lake Austin Blvd. Half marathoners will be over halfway through their journey, and marathoners will be preparing to enter the rolling hills of Tarrytown.

Mile 8.5 – Lake Austin Blvd. and Exposition
The mile-long, mostly flat, straight expanse of Lake Austin Blvd. is one of the two points on the course that may not be the most interesting or easily accessible spectating spots, but it’s an important one to the runners for those very reasons.

Mile 10.25 – Enfield and Exposition
The field splits almost in half here, with the half marathoners just under a challenging 5K away from their finish, and the marathoners turning left to continue pushing through the West Austin hills. This turn, at this distance, is where many marathoners are struck with the reality of the task that remains ahead of them.

Mile 11.75 (Half Marathon Course Only) – 15th and West Ave.
15th and West sits at the top of one of the steepest hills of the day. Some of the top half marathon finishers in the past couple of years have commented on that hill in particular, so close to the finish. This is a good place to cheer, and even coach a bit, telling runners to keep their heads up, keep their hips under them, and to move those arms. Remind them that they’ve come too far now, and they’re too close to finishing, to let up.

Mile 11.5 – Exposition & Westover
At Westover, the marathoners have crested a fairly massive hill, and are one more hill shy of closing out what is, in terms of terrain, the toughest portion of the course. But while they won’t see another true hill for almost two miles, and not another truly difficult one for another 13, they now have what some consider the more difficult mental task of simply grinding out the “middle miles” of the race.

Mile 15.5-16.8 – Great Northern Blvd.
With no turns, and no visible terrain change, set in the mentally difficult middle-miles of the marathon, Great Northern can feel like The Great Nowhere for many runners. While the road looks flat, it’s not, leaving many runners to wonder why things don’t feel as easy as they think they should. While residents are friendly and come out into their yards, the biggest crowd on this road is often the volunteers at the water stop.

Great Northern Blvd. is not the easiest stretch of the race to get to – access is either through the neighborhoods, from the interior of the course’s loop, or via the pedestrian bridge that spans Mopac from Far West. But if you’re willing to make the effort, runners can really use the help here.

Mile 17.3 – Foster and Northcross Blvd.
This right turn behind Northcross Mall has been one of the loudest and most talked-about locations for great crowd support on the course. After miles of running through scenic and supportive neighborhoods, the street is suddenly lined with throngs of cheering crowds that snap runners out of the doldrums and give them a boost for the miles ahead. The crowds continue down the street, usually swelling again at Burnet Road, before sending them off into the neighborhoods of Crestview.

Mile 21.25 – 51st and Guadalupe, University of Texas Intramural Fields
At mile 21, the race is not “almost over.” The average marathoner still has almost an hour of running left. Most first time marathoners are now going further than they have ever run. Bodies are running low on fuel, and the “wall” looms near. From this point on, you may get less energy back from the runners, but your encouragement makes a difference. If you’re catching up to a runner here, unless they’re turning better than six-minute miles, you have time to hustle down to be waiting at the finish.

Mile 24 – Dean Keeton
Runners have just enjoyed probably the fastest portion of the course, a mile-and-a-half downhill on Duval. In years past, they would have continued through a flat portion of the University of Texas campus. Today, though, they will be turning right on Dean Keeton, and running the half mile uphill to Guadalupe, a section of road that became infamous among the 13,000 that ran the hugely successful Human Race 10K here on a hot night last September.

Many runners will have hit “the wall” by now, their fuel essentially tapped out, moving only on periodic energy gels and determination. The hill will challenge cramping calves and hamstrings tight from the miles and the early hills. Portions of races through UT are notoriously quiet, right where many need the support the most. This is a good place to see people really digging deep, and to let them know they can get through it.

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  • Mallika says:

    Good luck Mel! Amazing progress over just a year…You will do great!

  • becomingtheafter says:

    Inspired, as intended – and for free, to boot. See you in Austin in February in Austin in 2010. Thinking of you this Saturday morning and wishing both you and Dave a fantastic experience and a satisfying run.

  • becomingtheafter says:

    I think I wrote my last comment as if today were Saturday. I’m taking today – Friday – off, so I think I may have confused myself a bit. The hair is definitely darker with age, but a blond by birth. Anyway, have a terrific run TOMORROW!

  • Lacy says:

    Hey Mel!! Good luck!! I’m turning the Congress Ave. holiday lights green for you brave runners!!