The Decker Challenge half marathon was on Sunday, the third race in the annual Austin Distance Challenge. Runners finally had good weather for a race, with clear, dry, cold conditions for the hilly loop around Decker Lake.
The men’s race was incredibly close, with Collin Smith, Mitchell Germann, and Tomek Baginski running together through 10 miles. Smith sprinted in for the win, just ahead of Germann, both at 1:17. Baginski fell off the pace over the last 3 miles, but held on for third overall and first masters in 1:18.
The women’s race was not as close, with Natasha Van Der Merwe leading from the start to win in 1:26. Kendall Dinwiddie was second in 1:33, just 30 seconds ahead of Ashley Voeks. The masters winner was Tammy Bogle in 1:34.
Natasha Van Der Merwe (we’ll just call her Natasha from now on) is a pro triathlete and brand ambassador for Bicycle World. She trains a group of talented athletes who also raced at Decker. Natasha won the 80’s 8K, the first Distance Challenge race back in October. She finished ninth at the recent Ironman Arizona, 2 places behind former Austinite Kelly Williamson, and closed with a 3:22 marathon. I emailed with Natasha about Decker:
Armadillo Running: Decker is a tough course, with late hills. How did you approach the race?
Natasha: I decided ahead of time that I was just going to run the course and let the hills and downhills dictate my speed while keeping my perceived effort the same. That meant that I was really moving on the downhill and just running nice and controlled on the ups. I only looked at my watch out of curiosity to see what heart rate and pace was but didn’t let it dictate my race.
With that being said, the first few miles are just rolling so I was able to hold sub 6:30’s with the first mile being a 6:10 (with a lot of downhill), knowing that at the back end of the race my miles would slow with those big hills. I was happy not to see any mile over a 6:50 though, which I thought for sure would be the case since I really don’t run a lot of , if any, hills in my recent training.
AR: You were way ahead of the other leading women. Was it difficult to maintain your focus?
Natasha: Not at all. I had a biker lead riding alongside me, Candy, so we actually chatted and she told me she was a fellow triathlete so I asked her about her season and her training. That kept it fun. But what kept me engaged is that I was focused to have a good effort, trying to hold Marathon Goal Pace, knowing the fitness gains that would come in preparation for the Houston marathon, from being able to do so would be huge. I ended up running 8 sec per mile faster than MGP pace so it was great confirmation that I am on target for that elusive sub 3 hour marathon.
AR: As a pro triathlete, are these fall races part of your off season training?
Natasha: Yes, Definitely. I feel that any race I do is a) a fitness booster since I never run that hard in training, b) a fitness test, to see if the training I am doing has me on track for my race goals, and c) great preparation mentally to go through the pre-race day, race morning preparation as well as learning how to focus and stay determined and positive when things get hard during a race. The 80’s 8K was a great test for c) since I was leading the race all the way but had a VERY fast charging Katie Gwyn behind me. I was hurting that final mile since I could feel the 120 mile bike ride in my legs from the day before but in my mind I knew this was an opportunity to truly test myself and see what I was made of, so I dug really deep and had to run a 5:46 final mile uphill. Which was a big ask for me but a great confidence booster. Love being put in those positions and you only get to experience that in a race.
AR: You train a pack of athletes, many of whom raced at Decker. Who had a good day?
Natasha: They are all great friends and training partners of mine that will all be representing Bicycle World, an ambassador program that I am in control of for 2018 and super excited about. Who had a good day? They all did. All placed on the podium in their AG and all hit or exceeded their goal paces and times, which is super fun and rewarding for all. One of the girls, Brandi, actually ran a half marathon PR which means on a course like 3M, she would have crushed her current best half marathon time by a lot. All are doing Houston Marathon as well so they were all looking to get the same experience as I was.
Congratulations to Natasha and best of luck to her as she completes training for the Houston Marathon on January 14.
Iram Leon, the president of ARC, told me about a couple of other runners at Decker: sisters Emily Philips and Jessica McClure. They ran Decker together, just like the first 2 DC races. They plan to run the 3M and Austin half marathons to complete the DC. Iram liked that they are sisters running together and that Emily is 4 months pregnant. I emailed with Emily:
Armadillo Running: What is your running experience before this fall? Do you often run with Jessica?
Emily Phillips: Jessica started running a couple years before I joined in. We’ve been running together for probably about 2 and a half years now. We’ve done three half marathons together, as well as several other smaller races.
AR: For most people running the Distance Challenge is hard enough. Tell us about running while pregnant.
Emily Phillips: The pregnancy is definitely adding an extra little challenge to the distance challenge. My feet and back hurt more than normal, and sometimes I just really need to slow down or take a break. Staying hydrated is also more of an issue than normal. I’ve had my doubts about trying to do the distance challenge while pregnant, but I’ve really learned to listen to my body, and I’ve gotten lots of advice and encouragement from other moms.
AR: You and Jessica have 2 more half marathons to complete the DC. How will you prepare for those races coming up in January and February?
Emily Philips: For our upcoming races, we’ll continue on with our training through Austin Fit. Having each other to rely on and keeping each other accountable has been a big help in the preparation for the races.
Best of luck to Emily and Jessica for the next 2 races in the DC.
Decker results are here.
With the DC now 60% complete, we can look at the standings. For the Full Track men’s division, it’s quite close with Tim Bayliss, Kyle Cockayne, Michael Martins, and Grant Glauser all within 4 minutes. The women’s division is a 2 person race, with Ashley Voeks and Kim Dimwiddie just 40 seconds apart. For the Half Track men’s division Ryan Steglich has a 5 minute lead on Peter Huff. The women’s division is led by Lauren Howell, 4 minutes ahead of Jennifer Harpel. Current standings are here.
Trail runners went to The Circus on Saturday. This Spectrum event, with individual 10K and 30K races, plus individual and team 12 hour races, was at the McKinney Roughs park on the way to Bastrop. All of the events rely on 3, 5, and 7 mile loops that all start and finish at the same point. Spectrum puts on quite a show, this year with stilt walkers, face painting, goat yoga, kids, dogs, vendors, music, and dozens of runners all milling around together.
The 10K women’s race and the overall race was won by Kaitlyn Johnson, in 47:21. Amy Stephens and Amanda Marrero were about 20 minutes back for second and third places. The men’s 10K was won by Jacob Bremer in 48:45, with Samuel Griffith at 49:04 and Andy Bitner at 52:44.
The 30K men’s field was full of recent race winners, with Mike Kurvach, Colin Hagan, and Brandon Ostrander competing for the win. Kurvach had the speed and power to deal with the muddy and hilly course and won in 2:28. Hagan was second in 2:33, with Ostrander third in 2:41. The women’s 30K was won by Chris Kimbrough, in 3:05. Molly Van Holten was second in 3:23. Ashtyn Johnson was third in 3:41.
Full results are here.
The other events were to determine who could run the most miles in 12 hours. Divisions included 1, 2, 4, or 6 runners. My TrailRoots comrade, Dennis Runyan, won the solo division, completing 55 miles. A 2-person team of Jennifer Lee and Tyler Mathews completed an amazing 71 miles, the second most of any team, to win the 2 person division.
The team with the most miles was Dilly Dilly, a 4 man team that completed 83 miles. An impressive result given the muddy conditions, but short of the TrailRoots event record of 88 miles from 2016. I emailed with Allen Daniell, the el jefe of Dilly Dilly, about the Circus:
Allen Daniell: First off I would like to thank Jonathan Garner if I may for hopping in to assist us as JJ Tiscareno unfortunately fell sick. The other guy on our team was David Escobedo who is an extremely talented dude that ran amazing all day.
Armadillo Running: How were the conditions? Was it as muddy as last year?
Allen Daniell: Not quite as muddy as last year. Josh Beckham started our team out on the 7 mile loop this year and it was still pretty muddy as he reported.
AR: Last year the top teams avoided the 7 mile loop. Was it the same strategy this year?
Allen Daniell: Yeah we avoided the 7 mile loop this year and stuck to the 5 and 3 mile loops as I think most of the other teams did as well.
AR: Were you guys hoping to get the course record?
Allen Daniell: Absolutely! You guys (TrailRoots) set the bar high in 2016. It was a great goal to go after.
AR: What was the scene like around the start/finish area?
Allen Daniell: A lot of fun! Everyone cheering each other on. Plus face painting, GOGA (goat yoga) and I mean who else has stilt walkers at a trail race?!
A semi-local race to mention: the BCS Marathon in College Station. In the first part of a big week for Pam Hess, she won the women’s marathon in 3:13. Her next event this week is the opening of The Loop, a new store for runners. Check out Pam LeBlanc’s article on the opening.
Finally, in the Desert Solstice 24 hour race, Thomas Orf completed just over 100 miles in about 16 hours before calling it quits. Read his race report, it’s excellent.
A new age group world record for the mile. Gary Patton, 71, ran 5:29 on the indoor track at the New York Armory. I’m trying to decide if this is motivating for me or if I should just find a new hobby. From Runner’s World.
I enjoyed this Trail Runner article on trail running meccas. I’ve been to many of these trails, but not all. Road trip!
Runners looking for a BQ at the Mississippi Gulf Coast marathon are hopping mad. The course was short and their times don’t count as qualifiers. It sounds like the organizers had measured correctly, but they made a mistake on race day in placing cones for a u-turn. (H/T to Andy Bitner)
Strava released a report: 2017 Year in the Sport Report. Runner’s World got access and published a review. The #3 segment in the US is mile 2.5 to 3.5 on the hike and bike trail. Lots of other tidbits as well.
Jason Koop, an ultra coach for Katie Graff and many other runners, has written a good article describing the gender gap in ultra races and some ideas to improve the situation.
Not much happening the rest of the month, just the annual Black Eyed Pea Run from Rogue.
Next month is the Houston Marathon, 3M Half Marathon, Bandera Trail Race, and more.