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Austin Marathon Course Strategy

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Austin Marathon Course Report Race Strategy

Austin Marathon: You did not come to PR. DON’T FORGET IT (yes, I’m yelling)

Austin was hip before hipsters ruined the concept.  It is decidedly different from the rest of Texas, and as long as the Longhorns are winning, Texas doesn’t mind.  The nightlife and music scene are unmatched just about anywhere else I’ve traveled; I’ve never had a bad weekend in Austin.  That is in no small part because I have never, and will never, go there with the intent of ‘racing’.   I go for Austin, and the marathon is a great excuse to get down there.

Neither Austin nor this course provide a high statistical probability of PR.  Even if the weather was working for you and your allergies weren’t triggered, you would still have that hilly, hilly course.  Austin is the gateway to ‘hill country’, a region of the US so hilly that one of the top cyclists of all time[1] made Austin his home.

So there you have it.  Marathons are never easy, but this particular marathon is always harder than others.  It is going to be hilly, and it is going to be hot.  Be prepared.  Bring Zyrtec and #alltheNuun.


Race-day temperatures have been as low as 22 and as high as 112.  That is not a typo.  The average race-morning temp is 65 and increases quickly.  The average dew point is 56; the high has been 76.   Winds up to 25 mph have been recorded, average for the past 30 years is 9mph. 

What this means: it’s going to be hot.  Follow the protocol in ‘you are not a camel’.  Remember that hydration protocol is more than just ‘what to drink’, it’s optimizing what you eat the two weeks prior, the week prior.  MOAR NUUN is a good idea. 

Not convinced?  Think of it this way: that Tex-Mex is loaded with salt and fat.  You’ve had it before, you know how you feel afterwards.  Now, imagine having to run a hot, hilly marathon the next day with swollen salt fingers and gas.  You’ve chosen a hard path, let’s not make it harder.  You don’t get an extra medal for it.


If you are stubbornly determined to go for a PR here, you might not want to do it with the help of the pacers.  Their strategy is to run even splits.   BTW the pacers live in Austin and train where Lance Armstrong rode; they eat hills for breakfast.  I’m not calling you a pansy, I’m just saying you might not want to try to keep up with those Joneses miles 10-18.


You will start and finish downtown, hopefully you are staying close by.  The course won’t shut the city down, but once you finish it could be really really hot, and you may be sunburned, so less travel time is better.  You may want a change of clothes in your drop bag, especially a top and sports bra.

Elevation Breakdown

Miles 1-3 bring a 250ft climb. That’s a lot, dude.

Miles 4-6 are a sharp decline with one swift, short incline that will catch most people off-guard; they are expecting this section to be flat. Spoiler alert: only mile 7 is.

Mile 8-18 is the beast, a relentless 300-ft hilly climb. Remember to sit into each downhill and use it for recovery, they will be few and they will be short.  Try not to hate the halfers as they break off at mile 10 before sh*t gets real.

Mile 19 you will start a hilly descent.  The worst is behind you, but it is far from downhill to the finish; slow your roll and sit into each uphill and know that it will be over soon.  Now is NOT the time to push.

Mile 24 brings the penultimate uphill; it’s go time.  Recover, then push all the way to the rise from Mile 25.5, then keep pushing till the finish.

Course Breakdown

Section 1 (Miles 1-7): You start downtown then cross Lady Bird Lake via Congress Avenue, the city’s main drag.  (You are running uphill this whole time, and it will blow your mind that you’ve turned around and are STILL RUNNING UPHILL.)  It shouldn’t be possible.  Two doglegs bring you back towards the lake and spit you out on Cesar Chavez, where you will be running near the water.  Enjoy the flatness and the scenery while it lasts. 

Section 2 (Miles 8-17): When you hit MOPAC (another main road), you are climbing and you can feel it.  This is the beginning of the longest 10 miles you will ever run.  Settle in as you turn onto Exposition Road and let yourself use each of the many sharp little turns for recovery; settle into a steady groove and don’t waste energy trying to speed back up.  The good news about all the turns is that you cannot see the turnaround point, you can’t see far ahead of you at all.  I promise, it helps. 

Section 3 (Miles 18-23): The worst is behind you, but you are FAR from finished.  You will start your decline around St. Joseph’s Blvd and should take this time to recover on the downhill until you see the CLIF bar station at mile 19.  Now you are coasting.  Be warned, this is still a hilly decline- slow on the uphills and recover on the downhills.  Once you pass the golf course at mile 24 it’s go time.

Section 4 (Miles 24-26.2): You are basically running downhill all the way to the finish, save one bitchy little incline at mile 25.5.  Be mentally prepared for it, fly through it, then drink #allthemargaritas.

MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she trains runners for $29 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her most popular Marathon plan, Tenacious AF, free!

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