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Five-race Austin Distance Challenge begins Oct. 17

Brom Hoban: Central Texas Running

Staff Writer
Austin 360

The fall racing season may be underway, but for an estimated 4,000 marathon runners who call Central Texas home, the season begins Oct. 17 with the IBM Uptown Classic 10K, the first leg in the five-race Austin Distance Challenge.

Created in 1995 by John Conley, the Challenge is a series of road races designed to help runners build toward the finale, the Livestrong Austin Marathon in February. The Challenge is " a chance for people to participate in something that gives them a sense of community," says Conley, who is director of the Livestrong Austin Marathon. "It's a series of milestones that allows runners to establish benchmarks and keep track of their fitness."

"Many people just train on Lady Bird Lake, so that does not make them familiar with a race setting," says Challenge series director Paul Carrozza. "If you're going to run 26.2 miles on the road, then you've got to be ready for it. So the Distance Challenge races will help you get ready for things like aid stations, bathroom breaks, what you eat or drink to take in the night before, etc. Runners can think of the series as practice runs with all the elements of racing."

The races in this series are:

• Oct. 17: The IBM Uptown Classic 10K in the Domain and IBM area. This is not considered an easy course, but Eric Chirchir set the Austin men's 10K record of 29:03 on it in 2004. Last year's champs were Derick Williamson (31:53) and Allison Macsas (35:39). See www.uptownclassic.com .

• Oct. 31: Run for the Water 10 Miler. This race covers a portion of the Austin Marathon course. The course follows Cesar Chavez into the Scenic Loop area of West Austin and includes challenging climbs during the first seven miles. Winners last year were Keith Pierce (51:33) and Shawneen Garrahan (1:01:02). See www.runforthewater.com .

• Dec. 12: ARC Decker Challenge Half Marathon. One of the longest-running races in Austin, Decker's course is based on an old University of Texas training route, on the rural roads surrounding the Travis County Expo Center. Known for long, grinding hills. See www.austinrunners.org .

• Jan. 30: 3M Half Marathon. One of the fastest half-marathon courses in the country, drawing an international elite field. Starting at the Gateway shopping center, it's a downhill route, losing 335 feet in altitude before the finish at Trinity and 15th streets. The event record for men was set by Martin Fagan (1:01:05) in 2009, and the record for women was set by Jacqueline Nyetipei (1:09:35) in 2008. See www.3mhalfmarathon.com .

• Feb. 20: Livestrong Austin Marathon and Half Marathon wraps up the challenge series. Race organizers promise to celebrate the event's 20th anniversary by changing the course and increasing the combined field from 15,000 to 20,000. See www.youraustinmarathon.com .

"Our plan is to move the start of the race from near the Congress Avenue Bridge to north of the Capitol in order to accommodate a larger field size, and to improve traffic control," says Conley. "We've also attempted to add more downhill in the first 17 miles. It's still a giant loop course, and the greatest changes are in the first half. We're expecting approval of the new course by the end of October."

Keith Pierce won last year's marathon in 2:20:35. Elle Pishny won among women in 2:53:16.

See www.runtexdistancechallenge.com for more information.

Upcoming races

Saturday

Rattan Creek Festival 5K, 7:30 a.m. at the Tamayo Bridge Drive at Rattan Creek Park . See www.rattancreek.org .

Get Your Rear in Gear 5K, 8 a.m. at the Hill Country Galleria. See www.getyourrearingear.com .

Southside Sausage Stampede 5K, 8 a.m. in downtown Elgin. See www.elgintxchamber.com .

Pink Heals 5K Run, 8 a.m. at 9th & Main streets in Georgetown. See www.georgetown.org.