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City's trail systems offer something for everyone

Brom Hoban, Central Texas Runnin

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Austin enjoys a national reputation as one of the best cities for runners. One of the reasons is the number and diversity of places to train, and off-road is where Austin shines.

The most obvious example is the 10.15-mile trail around Lady Bird Lake. The city is blessed with dozens of trail systems, ranging from gentle rolling trails to very rugged, rocky affairs. Here's a look at some favorite courses.

South of downtown, the popular Barton Creek greenbelt is quite extensive, and definitely falls into the rugged category. Only about half a mile south from the one-mile marker on Lady Bird Lake, the trail head is easily accessible from the southwest corner of the Barton Springs Pool parking area.

From there, runners can navigate the seven-plus miles all the way to the corner of Camp Craft Road and Scottish Woods Trail off of Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway).

The course, which is used by mountain bikers and hikers as well as runners, follows Barton Creek, and is rocky, but mostly flat until you arrive at the "Hill of Life," a steep, jagged half-mile climb that finishes at the trail head at Camp Craft Road and Scottish Woods Trail. Many Austin runners use the Hill of Life for hill repeats when training for mountain races like the Pikes Peak Marathon.

More centrally located, the Lower Bull Creek greenbelt and District Park on Lakewood Drive just off of Loop 360 north of RM 2222 is another trail-runner's favorite. The main hike-and-bike trail in the greenbelt is only about 3½ miles, and is relatively flat with some gravel and some rocky terrain.

According to Joe Prusaitis, a trail runner and coach, there are some additional benefits to trail running besides the scenery and avoiding traffic.

"When you're running roads, you develop speed and endurance," says Prusaitis, who has run some of the toughest ultras in the country, including the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run in Colorado. "But when you're running trails, you develop your ankles, lower legs and lateral muscles."

For runners on the north side of town, the Brushy Creek Regional Trail is hard to beat. Though some older maps may indicate a shorter distance, the trail now measures 6¾ miles, running east to west on either side of Parmer Lane through portions of Round Rock, Williamson County and Cedar Park. There are plans to lengthen it.

In contrast to the Bull Creek and Barton Creek trails, it's a very gentle, easy course, suitable for strollers and walkers as well as runners. The trail west of Parmer Lane is all paved concrete. East of Parmer it is mixed crushed gravel. The trail is well maintained, and public bathrooms are available.

"I like to use it for most of my long runs," says Frank Livaudais, a software engineer with Autonomy Corp. who's run a marathon in all 50 states. "I usually park at Brushy Creek Lake Park, just off of Brushy Creek Road near Parmer Lane. By running the whole trail out-and-back, and tacking on a few extra miles, I can get in more than 15 miles," says Livaudais, who puts on the Frankenthon Monster Marathon each October, run entirely on the Brushy Creek Trail.

Upcoming races

Sunday: Zilker Holiday Tree 5K, 4:30 p.m. at Zilker Park. See www.runtex.com/events .