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Texas

3M HALF MARATHON

Austin, TX


The Lone Star State


The only regret I have about my weekend trip to Austin is that it wasn't long enough. Other than running the 3M Half Marathon — which made Texas my 14th state in my 50 states half marathon quest — I had the chance to visit the Texas Capitol, experience some of the most amazing restaurants Austin has to offer, and reunite with one of my best friends from active duty in the Marine Corps after 12 years. We spent the weekend indulging in tacos, copious amounts of pizza, and 3M office supplies. Overall, it was a visit for the history books, and I'm thinking of doing another race in Texas since it's such a big state to explore with many bucket-list half marathons to choose from. I've had my eye on the BMW Dallas Marathon Festival for a while.


I learned early on that Austin is known for "being weird," and its eccentricity is the reason for the city's slogan "Keep Austin Weird." This "weirdness" endears tourists and locals to its quirky establishments, cute shops, friendly small businesses, talented musicians, beautiful murals, and restaurants that set themselves apart from anywhere else you have probably been. Austin's charm is what makes it brilliantly stand out among other Texas towns, which are unique and special for different reasons. During previous trips to Texas, I spent time in Houston and the Dallas/Forth Worth area, but I'd never visited Austin, and running a half marathon was a great excuse to finally make the trip.


Not Your Office Pizza Party: A Pizza Marathon Meets Office Supplies

Saturday, January 20, 2024



I'd arrived in Austin late on the evening of Friday, January 19, and with little time to do much else except shower and sleep, my exploration of Austin began the next morning. I started off Saturday with a trip to Caroline for brunch on Congress Avenue. Caroline serves all-day drinks, pastries, coffee, and food, and boasts a dining space on the ground floor and a coffeehouse on the upper level. The restaurant is a block away from the Capitol, which makes it a likely popular Congressional lunch spot during the week. I decided on the Marshmallow Latte, whipped ricotta pancakes, and a side of fresh berries. It was the perfect fuel for what was going to be a morning of a lot of walking downtown. If I were a Texas Congresswoman, Marshmallow Lattes would be a regular staple of my diet.



My next stop was the Texas Capitol and the Texas Capitol Gift Shop, which opened at 9:00 A.M. Predictably, the streets of Austin were deserted during that time of day. I was completely alone downtown with the exception of the occasional passing car, and one runner, who I presumed was getting in some miles before the race. My Uber driver confirmed my belief that Austin was asleep usually until mid-afternoon on the weekends, and it came fully alive at night. Austin reminds me a lot of Denver, in spirit, culture, and even somewhat in architecture. However, there is one thing that truly differentiates the two cities: They say everything's bigger in Texas, and whoever "they" are is absolutely correct.


In the center of a sprawling 22-acre park sits the Texas Capitol, with a dome that eclipses the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., by 22 feet. Free guided tours of the Texas Capitol are available, but I opted for the self-guided tour instead so I could take my time exploring. Inside the heart of the dome, on every level of the building, the walls are lined with the portraits of every Texas Governor. The architecture inside and outside were stunning, and the Capitol is home to more than 275 paintings, 175 works on paper, and 25 interior and exterior sculpture pieces, all of which I had the opportunity to admire and learn about.


As I explored each floor I learned about the history of the Texas legislature, the architecture and furniture of the Senate and House Chambers, and the history of the Texas Supreme Court Courtroom. The Capitol's interior had undergone quite a few renovations since it was built in 1885. One of my favorite fun facts was that historians had used a piece of carpet from 1889 that was discovered during research to reproduce the original carpet pattern during renovations. The Senate Chamber was furnished in 1889, and has since retained its historical ambiance in both the architecture of the Chamber and its furniture. Air conditioning was not installed in the Chamber until at least the 1940s. As someone with a deep appreciation for air conditioning, I found this historical fact to be significant.


The Texas Capitol Gift Shop was positively adorable, and it offered the expected variety of Texas-themed trinkets and gifts. The shop had everything from Texas coffee mugs to Texasopoly, and coasters, shot glasses, keychains, and artwork commemorating the state's history. At the register, guests could pick up copies of Daniel Kurtzman's books, How to Win a Fight With a Conservative, and How to Win a Fight With a Liberal. I was not disappointed that the gift shop offered playful political humor in addition to souvenirs.



I spent time in the gift shop until about 10:00 A.M., which was when the 3M Half Marathon Expo was scheduled to open. From the Capitol, I headed to the Palmer Events Center to pick up my packet. The goal was to do everything I wanted to do before the crowds got there, and for the most part, I succeeded. I loved the Expo, and can honestly say this race produced some of the most swag I've taken home thus far.


They gave us so much swag, mostly 3M products, and I came away from it feeling like I was hauling all of aisle 3 from Staples home in my bag. Other than 3M products, the goodies also included a signature performance race T-shirt, Gu Energy Gel in Salted Watermelon, Strawberry Donut-flavored Super Coffee, Wildway grain-free granola, and a commemorative 3M Half Marathon 30th Anniversary plastic water bottle. The Expo had an array of fun activities for runners and families, and one of those activities consisted of writing inspiring notes on Post-Its to share with everyone before the race and displaying them on the 3M Half Marathon motivational wall.



The Expo was where I met Blaze, the official 3M Half Marathon Mascot. Blaze was a symbol of the spirit of the race, in celebration of the 30th anniversary. Race organizers described Blaze as "an ethereal being, a manifestation of pure energy and vibrant colors." It was cute, and promised an exciting event for runners and spectators. Before long, it was time for lunch, and I dropped off my Expo treasures at the hotel and set out for some tacos.


I could not leave Austin without experiencing the best tacos the state of Texas has to offer, and I found them at Taqueria Jessica. This family-owned food truck specializes in authentic Mexican dishes and homemade tortillas. I can say with all sincerity they were some of the best tacos I have ever had, and I couldn't stop at two. I ended up with two al pastor tacos and one chicken taco. The food truck had an attached covered patio with seating and heat lamps, which conveniently kept us warm. If you are any sort of a taco connoisseur, Taqueria Jessica absolutely needs to be on your list.



The remainder of the afternoon was spent shopping at The Domain and sampling beautifully crafted artisanal desserts from Bakery Lorraine. Before I knew it, it was time for my pre-race dinner, which I was so thankful to enjoy with my Marine Corps buddy. During our time on active duty, we were obsessed with CiCi's Pizza and its pizza buffet concept, and made it a regular weekly occurrence. To commemorate our 12-year reunion, and in keeping with my tradition of sampling pizza in every state I visit, we decided on Delucca Gaucho Pizza & Wine. DeLucca offers a Brazilian rodízio-style experience with pizza, and I was immediately sold on this concept — being that I am both a pizza elitist, and Brazilian. I seriously thought this was too good to be true, and had a lot of questions for the waiter.


Texas does everything big, so when I say we had pizza, what I mean is our servers at DeLucca delivered pizza continuously to our table until we sampled all 18 pizzas on the menu. The restaurant offers one 5-course menu for one price, which is an amazing deal, especially for guests bringing a large group or their entire family. I've never heard something more ominous and exciting than when our waiter said, "The pizzas are going to start coming," delivered with the reverence of a Revolutionary War soldier warning us the British were coming. When we received our first pizza, we had fun guessing which pizza it was and used our menus as a reference. The purpose of my visit was to run a half marathon, but the real half marathon was eating 18 slices of pizza.



The Ups and Downs: Downhill to Downtown

Race Day: Sunday, January 21, 2024



There were three reasons I signed up for this race: the first was I knew there would be a ton of 3M products for swag, and I can't turn down free office supplies; second, this was a milestone anniversary for the race, so I believed it would be a big deal; and third, a net downhill course. The 3M Half Marathon course is hyped as one of the fastest 13.1-mile courses in the country, and on January 21, 2024, over 6,300 runners from 46 states and 8 countries turned out to celebrate the race's 30th anniversary. New PRs would be set by many, and I was cautiously optimistic it could be a remote possibility for me since I perform better in cold weather.


Race morning began with a snag. The morning prior, Saturday, I visited the hotel's bistro counter and doubled up on breakfast items to plan ahead, knowing the race began before the bistro would be open on Sunday. I stored my 2 bagels with cream cheese and bottle of orange juice in my room's mini-fridge, and didn't give it a second thought until I woke up on Sunday. When it was time for me to eat my pre-race breakfast, all of the items I'd stored in the fridge were completely frozen solid. There'd be no time for the orange juice to thaw, so instead I drank one of the Gatorades I had packed for after the race. Already I was going against the runner's adage of "nothing new or different on race day." I microwaved one of the bagels and the cream cheese for a few seconds, and then I was out the door.


I stepped outside and jogged across the street and down a block to the Regal Gateway Theater, which served as the starting line. I was so thankful in that moment I booked a hotel within a block of the start. At the finish line, I'd board the shuttle, which I pre-booked for $10, and ride back to the Regal Gateway Theater. Convenient all around. Runners showed up in droves to the start in bathrobes and pajamas, and I found the sight pretty comical but also very normal. The running community gets you used to a lot of things that would otherwise go against the ordinary, and there is never a dull moment when it comes to what others have chosen for their throw-away layers. The temperature was 38° F, and it was cloudy with a gentle 7 MPH breeze. I had a throw-away sweatshirt on over my two shirts, and planned to ditch it in the start corral. All layers discarded by runners were donated to charity. The portable toilets were plentiful at the start, and though I was tempted, the thought of removing any layers in that moment seemed daunting and I did not want to miss the start.


After the singing of the National Anthem, we hit the ground running promptly at 7:30 A.M. There was plenty of fanfare, however I felt I had been spoiled by the confetti cannons at the Route 66 start and half expected it this time as well. We headed out on Stonelake Boulevard and continued on it for the first mile, which was a consistent uphill incline until we hit Mile 2 and turned onto W Braker Lane. The irony was not lost on me that for a race with a slogan of "Downhill to Downtown," we were beginning with an uphill. When all was said and done, although the course is net downhill, it was about 50% uphill. If you decide to register for this race, I recommend training hills. I underestimated the course, thinking it would be easy because it was net downhill, and I learned Austin has some pretty respectable hills. That being said, there was no opportunity for the course to get boring.


Approximately every two miles, there were aid stations with water and Lemon Lime Nuun, porta-potties, and cheerful volunteers. There was no shortage of live music. During the first mile, the tone was set with Austin Taiko, a Japanese drumming band. Everett Wren greeted us at Mile 2.75 with his fantastic fiddle. As we prepared to cross U.S. Highway 183, we were treated to the steel drums of Inside Out Steelband, which infused the course with Caribbean vibes. Kupira Marimba, a Zimbabwe Marimba band, brought us joy during Mile 5. The 4411 played guitar for us when we passed Mile 6.65, a fun way to mark our halfway point. At the Mile 7 marker, we reached the "Energy Zone," stocked with Gu Energy Gel, which I opted to skip since I was carrying my Huma gels. Austin Thaalam, an Indian Drumming band, was a fun surprise at Mile 9.6. Mile 8 to Mile 9 was all uphill, and during the struggle of managing that beast of a mile-long incline, I was really appreciative of the music. Not only did Mile 9 consist of Indian drumming, but we also had Shirley Johnson waiting for us at Mile 9.84 to lend us her support with her accordion.


After the Mile 10 marker, I was extremely excited about the steeper grade downhill, and this was a downhill I felt comfortable enough to capitalize on at full speed. Even though I was running on tired legs by this point, I opened my stride and sprinted for a mile, letting gravity take the wheel. I was feeling really good, and surprised at the sudden amount of people I was passing. I looked down at my watch and realized I was running at an 8:40 pace for the first time the entire race (which is fast for me). It was short-lived, though, once the road flattened out and I reached Mile 11.


At Mile 12, we ran past the University of Texas at Austin, to the tune of banjo, string bass, and guitar, courtesy of the Stove Top Rangers. During the last mile, the crowds thickened, and the noise of the cheering spectators began to increase. As we rolled into downtown and crossed the finish line, the crowd support was amazing. DJ Gatsby provided the music for the finisher's festival at San Jacinto and 11th Street, a block across from the Texas State Capitol. It was really cold at the finish, and I could barely feel my fingers when I grabbed a bottle of water and my free banana. A volunteer handed me my finisher's medal while another draped a space blanket over my shoulders. I took my share of photos in the finisher's corral, and then hurried to the shuttle. I couldn't wait for a warm shower.


The bus barely kept us warm as we were shuttled back to the theater. I thought non-stop about taking a shower during the 20 minute ride, and was looking forward to setting the water temperature to third-degree burn territory. When I finally got to my hotel room and turned the shower on, the water was barely lukewarm. Okay, I thought, I'll just wait. I waited ten minutes and then finally got in. Bad turned to worse, and the water was ice cold. I tried every variation of shower head setting and turning the knob and resigned myself to my fate.


I was in tears, because all I wanted was a hot shower, and I couldn't get warm. I went down to the front desk and was informed hot water was out in the entire hotel due to maintenance issues, and every guest who had run the race was likely as unhappy. The hotel gave us $40, or the rewards points equivalent of $40, for our troubles. Knowing carbs make everything better, I headed to Maggiano's Little Italy at the Domain for lunch. I was correct, pasta solved every single problem I had. Maggiano's staff treated me like royalty, and the chef sent me a special free appetizer since I was a first-time guest. For my main course, I had the baked ziti, which was to die for.



My final, and equally excellent culinary experience that concluded my visit was a trip to Salty Sow for dinner with my best friend, and my best friend's best friend. Salty Sow was dog-friendly, and didn't mind a very well behaved 14-year-old German Shepherd (whom I had not seen in 12 years) joining us. The restaurant is an American gastropub that serves the most Texan farmhouse-style cuisine, with an impressive presentation for every dish. We went all out and ordered fried green beans, loaded duck fat fries, honey rosemary fried chicken, and the dessert that was the special that evening — coconut tres leches cake.



Every dish was better than the last, and we had an awesome server who made great recommendations. Saying goodbye to Austin was emotional and bittersweet, and I have many reasons to make another trip in the future.


LODGING:

Courtyard by Marriott

9409 Stonelake Blvd

Austin, TX 78759


Happy running and safe travels,

Stefanie


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