I didn’t plan on racing another half marathon just one week after the Rock n’ Roll San Antonio Half, but I won an entry to the Decker Challenge on Instagram from Team Snack Attack, so I couldn’t say no! The Decker Challenge is put on by the Austin Runners Club and is the third race in their five-race series called the Austin Distance Challenge, which culminates in the Austin Marathon (or half) in February. The Austin Marathon is a notoriously hilly marathon, but apparently the Decker Challenge is worse. There were almost no flat stretches the entire race – and our total elevation gain was 727 feet! It was certainly good hill training, which was my main goal.
The day before the race, I went to a shakeout run at Rogue Running with November Project, followed by a short yoga session, and injury evaluations and sports massages by RunLab. It felt great to loosen my muscles up before the race!
On Sunday morning I headed to the Travis County Expo Center bright and early. I met up with my friend Brittany at the start and we decided to run hard and see what would happen. She hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and had been traveling, I was getting over a cold and we were both nursing injuries, but we have similar half marathon PRs so we decided to just run together for as long as we could.
I didn’t expect to PR, but the weather was absolutely perfect – 40 and sunny at the start, going up to 50 two hours later – and pretty much the opposite of the 98% humidity we had had in San Antonio. I didn’t feel like the San Antonio Half adequately reflected my fitness and training thus far, so I was hoping for a little redemption at Decker, even if I wasn’t going for a PR.
And I tell you…those hills were NO JOKE! By Mile 6 my legs were exhausted and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I lost Brittany on an uphill that I absolutely had to walk, but I caught back up to her by Mile 7 and was determined to stick with her until the end, because I knew I would just give up and walk if I didn’t have someone else pushing me.
At Mile 10 was the infamous monster of a hill, the biggest of the race, and of course there was a photographer right at the top. Brittany told me to smile (she had run this race before and knew the photo stop was coming!) and even though our smiles are fake, I still like the picture – you can really see how big that hill was!
It was a very mentally challenging race because there were at least three times when we crested a hill and I felt so proud of myself for powering up, ready to enjoy the cruise downhill, and I could see the next hill right in front of us. It was excellent mental training for the marathon, in addition to getting the hill training under my legs.
I turned the corner at Mile 13 and found enough energy for a final push to the finish line:
DONE! One of the most painful and exhausting races I’ve ever run. But I ran 1:56:03, 6 minutes faster than San Antonio and only 6.5 minutes slower than my PR. I was really happy with that, considering I had raced the weekend before – AND the hills!!!
I stuck around to hang out with friends and get a quick post-race massage, and then headed to brunch at Red’s Porch with November Project.
If you’re thinking of running the Decker Challenge in preparation for the Austin Marathon, I would say go for it, for the hill training and a very well-organized race…but maybe don’t expect a PR!
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