Your Ultimate Guide to Austin Marathon Race Weekend
For the 32nd year in a row, thousands of runners will gather to compete in the Ascension Seton Austin Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K. On Sunday, February 18, all three races will cover the many beautiful landmarks that highlight the Texas State Capitol. Last year, over 17,000 runners competed on race weekend, and this year’s edition looks to deliver another great show in the Live Music Capital of the World.
For those who haven’t raced the Austin Marathon before, we interviewed local experts and community leaders about where to eat prior to the race, how to tackle this unique course, the best places to spectate, and where to celebrate after crossing the finish line, among other insider tips. Here’s everything you need to know about running the 2024 Austin Marathon.
How to Navigate the Expo
The events begin at the Austin Marathon Health & Fitness Expo, where runners can pick up their bib and other race day essentials to compete in the marathon, half marathon, and 5K. The expo is located at Palmer Event Center and will be open on Friday, February 16 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, February 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking in the Palmer Event Center garage is available for free. Street parking is also available at Butler & Auditorium Shores Park.
Be sure to bring your photo ID and bib number, which will be emailed to you along with a QR code 10 days prior to the race. To avoid heavy traffic entering the event center, arrive after the first hour on Friday or Saturday, advises Jack Murray, co-owner of High Five Events, which puts on the Austin Marathon.
After grabbing your bib, check out the many vendors showcasing the Austin running community and local businesses. If you're aiming to hit a specific time on race day, be sure to visit the Austin Marathon pacers booth at the expo. Led by pace captain Dr. Robyn Dodge, the team is made up of Austin locals who are experts on the course and available for questions ahead of the event. They also offer free wrist bands that include splits for specific finish times.
The marathon pacers lead groups to finish times in five minute increments between 3:00 and 4:05, an effort that provides more flexibility for participants on race day. “It allows people to start five minutes slower and speed up if they need to, and offering those regular intervals assists as many runners as possible,” Dodge says, while explaining that organizers also have pacers leading runners to 4:20, 4:35, and 4:50 finishing times.
On a course known for its rolling hills, running with a pace group can offer a grounding experience for runners navigating varying changes in the terrain. As Dodge explains, it can be easy to get caught up in the downhills and go too fast, but the support of a pace group can help you stay on track. “We’re there for the runners, and we’re there to make dreams come true,” she says.
Fleet Feet Events to Attend
For six days straight, Fleet Feet will host events to celebrate the excitement buzzing around the Austin Marathon.
“Whether we’re on site at a Fleet Feet store or off site, our goal is to highlight the run community and celebrate what race week means for us at large,” Ari Perez, the operating partner of Fleet Feet Austin, says.
Starting on Sunday, February 11, the Fleet Feet Circle C location is partnering with local groups Rise & Run South Austin and Circle C Run Club for a group run at 7:00 a.m.
On Monday, Fleet Feet will be joined by Endorphins for another run at 6:30 a.m., which starts at the Fleet Feet Seaholm location.
If you’re more of an afternoon runner, join Fleet Feet and the Eastside Beer Runners for happy hour at Hi Sign Brewery at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday night. The following day, the Austin Marathon happy hour will take place at Better Half and Holdout Brewery starting at 6 p.m.
Two days before the race, you can join the official Austin Marathon shakeout run at Fleet Feet Seaholm. Runners will meet on Friday, February 16, at 6:30 a.m. to enjoy some tune-up miles before the big day.
Where to Eat Before the Race
If you’re looking for a classic pre-race pasta dinner, Murray recommends two Italian spots close to downtown. Juliet is known for its Italian comfort food with locations on Barton Springs Road and the Arboretum. North Italia is another delicious spot with plenty of handmade pasta and pizza offerings.
Perez’s go-to is Patrizi’s, a local favorite that features homemade pasta out of a food truck outside the famous Vortex Theater.
Austin is well known for its delicious tacos. If you prefer this quintessential Mexican dish before a race, Wimberley suggests you check out De Nada Cantina, a popular spot on the east side with plenty of options for meat eaters and vegetarians. She also recommends Nixta Taqueria, co-run by a James Beard Award winner that creates inspired Mexican-American tacos.
How to Navigate the Austin Marathon Course
Miles 1-6: Prepare for an uphill start followed by a long downhill stretch
The course begins downtown on Congress Avenue with a stunning view of the capitol building at runners’ backs. The first three miles of the race are scenic with some of the city’s best shopping and dining spots in the heart of the city, but the street is also on a gradual incline. As local coach and Austin Marathon finisher Rachel Wimberley points out, it’s a lively stretch but an important area for runners to go at a conservative pace. “You have to save some for the back half [of the course], which is hard to do because there’s a lot of excitement at the beginning,” she says.
The hill ends at Ben White Boulevard, where runners make a right before quickly turning back towards downtown on South 1st Street, which holds rows of world renowned food trucks and murals. The road runs downhill for three miles, a welcomed reward for runners after tackling the South Congress hill. It’s also a stretch that can put a lot of pounding on your legs, so it’s important for marathoners to keep reserving energy for the later miles.
After navigating nerves on the start line and adrenaline from the crowd on South Congress, runners can finally settle into a groove with their pacing towards the end of South 1st, Wimberley says.
Miles 6 to 12: Dig into your pace on Lake Austin, use hills as a distraction
By the 10K mark, you’ve reached the end of the downhill section and entered a roaring crowd of spectators along Cesar Chavez Street. Use the energy of the crowd support to carry you all the way through Lake Austin Boulevard, which runs parallel to downtown and Lady Bird Lake. The flat stretch provides the perfect terrain to check in with yourself and settle into a steady marathon pace before attacking a series of rolling hills, Wimberley says.
Around mile 10, you’ll make a sharp turn onto Enfield Road, which passes Shoal Creek in the beautiful Tarrytown and Clarksville neighborhoods. From miles 10 to 12, you’ll need to stay tough while navigating more inclines and declines on Enfield and another massive hill on West 15th Street, but soak in the huge crowd support as you near the capitol building.
“The rolling hills can be great,” Wimberley says. “They can give your muscles and brain some distraction. Plus, I think Austin knows that you need some love on Enfield. There's a lot of people in funky costumes, some of the funniest signs I’ve ever read, and a lot of cowbells.”
Miles 12 to 17: Remember your motivation around the Texas campus
You’ll break away from the half marathon runners around mile 12, which thins out the field quite a bit. If you get passed by a lot of people heading into this section, don’t fret or get caught up in their pace. Focus on your own effort because most of them are running the half marathon and finishing soon.
“When you go into UT, it becomes much more your race because you don't have nearly as many people around you, and it becomes a mental game at the halfway point. This is where the work really starts,” Wimberley says, while explaining that with a sudden drop in participants and crowd support, this section will be a good place to start utilizing mental tools, including mantras.
This section also features some of the most scenic spots on the University of Texas campus. First, you’ll head up Guadalupe Street, which includes the halfway point for marathoners and a stunning view of the UT Tower.
At mile 16, you’ll start to descend towards downtown on the opposite side of the Texas campus, passing the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on your way. But be ready for another steep hill on Dean Keeton Street heading towards the I-35 highway.
With most of the hills filling the first half of the course, this is where the terrain starts to get easier, Murray says. With Austin being known as a “racer’s course” as opposed to a flat, fast “pacer’s course,” Murray recommends runners embrace the competition it brings out.
“What I love about the Austin Marathon is that you have to be very smart about this course. You need to know when to go, when to hold back,” Murray says. “This is the type of course where, if you’re strong on the hills and you’ve thought about your strategy, you can beat a lot of people that you couldn’t beat on a typical flat course.”
Miles 17 to 21: Dig deep through the quieter sections
This section tends to have fewer spectators, so it’s helpful to lean into the support of a pace group and the runners around you.
But this section is also home to much of the city’s rich cultural history with a few notable landmarks to marvel at, including the iconic Sam’s Bar-B-Que on East 12th Street, an Austin institution frequented by local legends including the late musician Stevie Ray Vaughan.
This area is typically where many runners start to hit the wall and need to be mentally prepared to push through, Wimberley says. “Have a plan for how you want to talk to yourself when [the wall] starts to happen,” she says. “In my opinion, it’s the hardest part of the race, but once you get to mile 22, it’s going to get better.”
Miles 21 to 26.2: Let the music carry you, and be ready for the final hill
After navigating a long stretch down Tillery Street, you’ll make a left turn on East 5th Street before turning back onto East Cesar Chavez, where a rocking band awaits your arrival outside Central Machine Works, a brewery and pizza restaurant. For the last three years, local run groups Morning Jo’s (the crew Wimberley leads) and East Side Beer Runners have partnered to create one of the biggest cheer sections in an area of the race where support is much needed.
“This is when people start to see hope, as the crowd support starts to pick back up on [Cesar] Chavez because you're starting to get closer, and you’re within four miles [of the finish],” Wimberley says.
Try to maintain your pace as best you can on Cesar Chavez as it's a flat stretch. The road also covers several historical sections of the city. Miles 24 and 25 pass the Tejano Trails, a 4.9-mile walking path developed by volunteers in an effort to preserve the cultural landmarks and diversity of East Austin.
One of the toughest and often unexpected parts of the race comes at the last steep hill on Red River Street, just before the 26-mile mark. Wimberley admits that she hated this section of the course when she ran it, but support is abundant in the form of cheering crowds–including Olympian Gilbert Tuhabonye. The head coach and founder of Gilbert’s Gazelles is known to cheer for hours and even run alongside participants who are struggling. “He’s this one-man pep machine,” Wimberley says.
As Dodge notes, once you tackle the final hill, “You feel invincible.” With a breathtaking view of the capitol to your right, you’ll make the last turn on Congress Avenue towards the homestretch, where a celebration awaits at the Austin Marathon finish festival, an experience Murray says is “unmatched.”
“We don’t just shoo you away with a banana and a medal,” Murray says. “We pride ourselves on our afterparty with different vendors in the recovery village, the Tito’s beer garden, and live music.”
The Best Places to Spectate
In true Texas fashion, the layout of the Austin Marathon course resembles the Lone Star state with four points heading in different directions from downtown. With multiple turnaround sections that bring runners back to the capitol area, the course is very manageable on a bicycle or electric scooter and even walkable in certain sections.
Castro, who has also supported event organizers and spectated the Austin Marathon for many years, says the race stands out from all other athletic competitions in the city. “It's a party. There are a lot of races in the city, but this is a celebration of runners,” she says. “It's a big run community bringing out all their energy.”
Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is home to some of the best artists around the globe. That energy is especially felt during the Austin Marathon, where bands line the course. This year will be another huge celebration with 20 bands scheduled to play for the crowds.
Wimberley notes that spectators can easily walk or bike from South Congress to South 1st Street, which run parallel to each other, and catch runners at two spots in the first quarter of the race.
With the first sections of the course heading in and out of downtown, the start line area is another good place to see runners at multiple checkpoints. After spectating the start, you can walk a short distance to the turn just after mile 6, where runners come onto Cesar Chavez. From there, you can make your way up to the huge cheer section on Enfield Road using a bicycle or an electric scooter as the runners approach the halfway point.
The east side portion of the course tends to be quieter, so Wimberley recommends spectators find places to cheer in the second half as that’s where runners need more support. On Tillery Street, near mile 22, you can grab a coffee and tacos at food truck staples Flitch Coffee and Pueblo Viejo, and cheer on runners as they close in on the last four miles. From there, you can cut through Linden Street over to Cesar Chavez and join the roaring cheer station at Central Machine Works, catching the runners once again at mile 23.
If you’re posting up downtown, Perez recommends spectating outside the Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue, where you’ll enjoy an incredible view of runners’ emotional moments as they cross the finish line.
Where to Celebrate After the Race
For the last few years, the RAW Running group has hosted a rocking Austin Marathon afterparty. This year, the bash will be held at Mayfair on West 6th Street at 6 p.m. CT. You'll feel the full support of the Austin running community when you celebrate your race here.
If you’re looking for activities in the days following the event, there’s plenty to keep you busy around town.
Barton Springs Pool is a favorite among locals with three acres of water that’s fed from underground springs. It’s also great for year-round swimming with temperatures hovering around 68-70 degrees.
You’d be hard pressed to find an area of town that doesn’t have a venue for live music. Whether you’re into rock, country, blues, hip hop, or something in between, Austin has plenty of show-stopping venues to enjoy.
Plus, you can’t leave town without sampling some Texas-style barbecue. Perez recommends Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, an Austin institution since 1962. There’s also Franklin Barbecue, a world-famous mainstay that serves the “best barbecue in the known universe,” according to Texas Monthly. Female-owned La Barbecue is another delicious option that features blends of salty and savory rubs inspired by long-standing family recipes.
No matter where you go after the Austin Marathon, it’s important to celebrate the overall achievement of preparing for and conquering a challenging course in a vibrant city. As Wimberley puts it, “You’re going to feel like a total badass when you finish.”